The Hills of La Crosse

told by Doctor Lafayette Bunnell

Commentary by Richard L. Dieterle

This story is shared by both the Dakota and the Hocągara. The Dakota give the background of this story. Witcheain, the daughter of Waubasha, a chief among the Dakota, was infatuated with the warrior Chaska. Chaska attempted to flee her affections, and was given asylum among the Hocągara. The warriors of Remnechee's, Chaska's father, and Wabasha met to fight the issue out, when through the magical power of the chief priest, whom Witcheain had enlisted, a terrible explosion was caused that cast a large region of Remnechee's land far downstream on the Mississippi. Soon Witcheain with a band of warriors arrived in the Hocąk village.

"Just above the present landing, at the mouth of the La Crosse river, known to ancient Dah-ko-tahs as Chapa-cah-pu-tay, or "Beaver Alder" stream, from the growth of tag-alder on the branch and the work of beaver cuttings, the party discovered the smoke of an Indian camp on the branch that entered at North La Crosse or the Fifth ward of to-day. Paddling up the sluggish lake of the Minnie Sappah or "black water" of Black river, they came to a large encampment of the Ho-chunga-rah [Hocągara] or Winnebago tribe, who, when asked if Chaska [Ćaské] was there, acknowledged that he had been, but was then at the camp of Yellow Thunder, to the east of the present village of Onalaska. Thither with due haste the enamored maiden repaired, and found her inconstant Chaska paying court to the most prominent charms of He-noo-gah [Hinųga] Yellow Thunder's oldest daughter. He-noo-gah was famous for her beautifully rounded breasts, and although she affected a modesty not her own, by covering them with Indian lace, woven from the strong fibre of the wild linen of the west, a kind of asclepias, the gauzy material only piqued the curiosity of Chaska, who, in an unguarded moment, was making some allusion to the symmetry of her form, when Witch-e-ain broke in upon their privacy. With distended nostrils and flashing eyes, she hurled herself upon the yielding form of He-noo-gah, as if to rend her into fragments, but bethinking herself in time of a word-charm given her before her departure from Ouse-shoots-cah [Usšucka], or Rem-nee-che, by the venerated priest, to be used only in an emergency where she herself was in danger, she ceased her attack, and then in scornful menace told He-noo-gah that from that time on her breasts, lauded by Chaska and her people, should leave her to adorn two peaks which she pointed out and named Wah-kan-ka-ma-ma [Wakáñka-mamá], or "Old Woman's Breasts," for you shall soon wither. But the Winnebagoes, after failing in their incantations to overcome the magic of Witcheain, called in admiring remembrance of their own He-noo-gah's perfect symmetry, E-nook-wah-ze-rah [Hinųkwazera], meaning the "Woman's Mountain Breasts."

Chaska, for the time being, at least, gave up his dream of marital reformation, and took Witcheain as wife, and for some time after, the Wah-pa-sha [Wapaśa] band continued to be known as the Ki-yuk-sah band of Sioux, or those who disregarded relationship, as contrary to all customs of the Dahkotahs, they married their cousins.

He-noo-gah never married, but lived in retirement, after her misfortune, for it is true of the Winnebagoes, even today, that only the most perfect and physically vigorous, can hope to marry a chieftain, and to insure a perfect genealogical transmission, a female lodge is maintained, with especial duties assigned to it. The moon houses are also under the care and inspection of women of the lodge, and if there are any irregularities, they are at once reported to parties interested, and with power to compel reformation.

Yellow Thunder was pacified upon being assured by his own medicine men that Chaska was not to blame for the misfortune that had befallen his oldest daughter, and that he himself should prosper in his reign. The priests' words were verified, for his younger daughter married into Dah-kotah families, which cemented a strong alliance, and Chaska, in time succeeding to the title and name of Wah-pa-sha, proved himself friendly to the Winnebago people."1

Commentary. "Ćaské" — this is a Dakota birth order name for the first born male.2

Yellow Thunder, Chief of the Tribe, prior to 1874

"the camp of Yellow Thunder" — the Wisconsin Archeologist reported, "The Winnebago Indians camped along Black river just above the village [of Onalaska] in 1850-60."3 It is impossible to say for how many years the site had been used in the past.

"Onalaska" — this sounds as if it were an Indian name, but it actually comes from a line in the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) that refers to a village in the Aleutians now known as Unalaska (< Ounalashka). The relevant stanza goes,

Now far he [the Angel of Life] sweeps where scarce a summer smiles
On Behring's rocks or Greenland's naked isles
Cold on his midnight watch the breezes blow
From wastes that slumber in eternal snow
And waft across the waves tumultuous roar
The wolf's long howl from Oonalaska's shore.4

There are in fact a number of towns in the United States who were sufficiently inspired by these stanzas to have named themselves "Onalaska."

"Hinųga" — a birth order name for the first born daughter. Its equivalent in Dakota is Winona.

Butterfly Weed,
Asclepias curassavica
  Showy Milkweed,
Asclepias speciosa

"asclepias" — a genus of perennials known by the common name of "milkweeds." Because of their extensive use in folk medicine, the weed bears the scientific name of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The bast fibers of this plant can be used not only for the lace described here, but even in the manufacture of rope.

"Witch-e-ain" — this is closest to Dakota wićíte, "the human face," although like some of Dr. Bunnell's other names, it is highly corrupted. The name "Face" could allude to her beauty and seductiveness. The name may also be a corrupted front formation from Wićítokapa, "the eldest born," although this posits such a degree of corruption as to defy probability.5

"Usšucka" — this is a Hocąk name, "Red Musk Gland."6 The word ús is encountered in just one story, Ocean Duck, where the young hero of the tale is riding a Waterspirit whom he drives onto the beach on the far shore of the Ocean Sea. There the unfortunate Waterspirit is attacked by its mortal enemies, the Thunderbirds, and completely vaporized except for its ús, translated as "scent bag."7 The scent bag, which gives the Waterspirits their terrible odor, is also the source of many magical potions. Ocean Duck apparently uses this scent bag to make a deadly poison. A name such as Us-šuc-ka would naturally be associated with the Waterspirit Clan, but apart from the clan, as an independent name, it would be most naturally associated with a witch. It seems most appropriate that the Hocąk name be that of the priest or magician, although it is put in apposition to the name of the witch's father.

"Rem-nee-che" — this is a highly corrupted version of Ḣemnićaŋ. This is ḣemníćaŋ, "a hill that appears as if it were in the water."8 Khemnichan is in fact a place name for a bluff overlooking the Cannon River.

Red Wing's Village at Ḣemníćaŋ

The Dakota who camped there came to be called the "Khemnichan band," and so the group name was apparently imparted to their chief, Red Wing. That it was a place name is evident even from what Doc. Bunnell himself says elsewhere, when he tells us that the Mdewakanton "spread themselves along down to the Cannon river and to Rem-ne-cha, or the Red Wing village ..."9 Here he has the terminal /cha/ rather than the even more corrupted /che/ or even /chee/ in the chief's name. Otherwise, the corruption is effected merely by replacing the initial /kh/ with /r/, which is possible in cursive script where, with inscrutable handwriting, /k/ can be confused with /R/.

There were four generations of chiefs among the Mdewakanton Dakota named "Red Wing." The eldest of these was a contemporary of our Wabasha. The most famous Red Wing was his son (d. 1829). The city of Red Wing, Minnesota, is named after him and is near the site of his village. His birth name was Tataŋkamani, "Walking Buffalo," but later in life he acquired the name by which he habitually called himself, Shakea, "The Man Who Paints Himself Red." It was the French who took to calling him L’Aile Rouge, or "Red Wing," probably in memory of his father.

"Hinųkwazera" — this name, which is also used for the town of La Crosse in Wisconsin, is attested elsewhere as E-nook-wah-zee-rah,10 He-nook-was-ra (Jipson), Enookwas (Virgil), Enoogquasaraw (Durand).11 Hinųk is the common word for "woman"; the word for "breast," was (plural, wazera) is found in wordlists and dictionaries (George, Dorsey, Lipkind, Marino, Miner). So the topographical name actually means, "Woman's Breasts."

"Wapaśa" — from wápa, "leaf," and śa, "red." There are several generations of Dakota chiefs of that name.

The more remote origin of the name, which means "red leaf," and thence "red hat or cap," and "red battle-standard," as applied to the first chief named Wapashaw, was on the occasion of his return, as tradition relates, from a visit to Quebec, at some time after the cession of Canada to Great Britain in 1763. He had received from the English governor presents of a soldier's uniform, with its red cap, and an English flag, which, being displayed triumphantly on his arrival among his own people, led to their hailing him as Wapashaw.12

This Wapaśa, judging from what is said elsewhere by Dr. Bunnell, is the one of our present story.13 The city of Wabasha, Minnesota, was named for the third generation chief of that name in 1843. The village of Chief Wabasha was about 30 miles upstream from the present city.

"Ki-yuk-sah" — this appears to be for Kiyáksa, which literally means "to bite in two in the middle."14 This is also an alternative name for the Oglala Lakota: "According to Mr. Cleveland the whole Oglala tribe had two other names, Oyúḣpe, Thrown-down or unloaded, and Kiyaksa, Bit-it-in-two."15 An alternant form of the name is Kiyuksa, which is given the translation, "Breaks-his-own (marriage custom)."16 So the Kiyuksa/Kiyaksa "bite in two" their own tribal marriage customs, even among the Lakota.

"a female lodge" — this is different from the "moon houses" mentioned in the next sentence. This lodge is apparently meant for unmarried females of an age where they no longer live with their family (if their family still survives). It is made to sound rather like an "old maids'" lodge. To my knowledge, nothing is said about this in Radin. However, with respect to the practice of lovers visiting the menstrual huts,

Some theorists may be inclined to look on this feature of the practices connected with the menstrual lodge as a survival of a "women's house." To those the fact may be emphasized that it is only a few times in the life of a woman that such a feature exits, because she is married shortly after leaving the lodge.17

The "feature" in question is the practice of men visiting a menstrual hut.

"moon houses" — it is not a residence for women generally, like a clan lodge, but an out-building, a small lodge constructed for a menstruating woman (hence the reference to the moon). However, if a small group of two or three women are menstruating at the same time, they may occupy a single lodge. A menstruation hut is constructed apart from the main residence so that the ritual pollution of the woman so affected does not impart itself to contaminate the supernatural power vested in the war weapons and warbundles possessed by the males of the main residence. The warbundles, in any case, are protected by cedar and medicines, and in fact pose a danger to the menstruating woman, whose blood flow would increase to life-threatening proportions if she came into contact with this kind of holy object.18

"irregularities" — when a woman is menstruating, she is infertile. Therefore, if a male can lie with her he need not fear that she will become pregnant. Consequently, certain males may try to covertly meet with women in their menstrual huts to seduce them. The family of the woman residing in the hut are on guard against this. One of Radin's informants says,

It is said that if the young girls have any lovers they always come to the menstrual lodges at night. This is therefore the time for wooing. It is said that the girls cohabit with their lovers in these menstrual lodges. Those girls who have parents are attended by watchers, so that no unworthy men may visit them. They are especially guarded against ugly men, who are very likely to have love medicines. However, generally it is of no avail to struggle against such men, for they are invincible.19

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Witches, Waterspirits.

Stories: mentioning Yellow Thunder: Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Brawl in Omro; about famous Hocąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), Black Otter's Warpath (Dog Head, Black Otter), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Osage Massacre (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hocąk War (Cap’ósgaga), The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mącosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), How Jarrot Got His Name, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter); mentioning witches and warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (v. 2), Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic.

Themes: ...


1 Lafayette Houghton Bunnell, Winona and its Environs on the Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Days (Winona, Minnesota: Jones & Kroeger, 1897) 113, 115-117.

2 Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992 [1890]) 96b, s.v.

3 Charles E. Brown, La Cross and Monroe County Notes, The Wisconsin Archeologist, 11, #3 (Jan., 1913) 97-103 [100].

4 Thomas Campbell, The Pleasures of Hope. 2d ed. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1859 [1799]).

5 Riggs, Dakota-English Dictionary, 570b, ss.vv. wić-í-te, wić-í-to-ka-pa.

6 Kenneth L. Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon (Kansas City: University of Kansas, June 1984) s.v. ús.

7 Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #13, 70-71 (Hocąk Syllabic Text); Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago V, #14, 70-71 (English translation).

8 Riggs, Dakota-English Dictionary, 164a, s.v. ḣé-mní-ćaŋ. He adds, "Red Wings' village, a short distance above Lake Pepin, is so called."

9 History of Wabasha County: Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, Ec. : Gathered from Matter Furnished by Interviews with Old Settlers, County, Township, and Other Records, and Extracts from Files of Papers, Pamphlets, and Such Other Sources as Have Been Available. By H. H. Hill and Company (Chicago: H. H. Hill & Co., 1884) the section on Winona County.

10 History of Wabasha County, Chapter 5.

11 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923). Virgil J. Vogel, Indian Names on Wisconsin's Map (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). Paul Durand, Where the Waters Gather and Rivers Meet: An Atlas of the Eastern Sioux (Author: 1994). Based in part on interviews with Francis Perry at Black River Falls, Wisc. The list of Hocąk place names was presented to me by Louis Garcia. The version given in Vogel comes from Spoon Decorah (d. 1889), Reuben Gold Thwaites, "Narrative of Spoon Decorah: In an Interview with the Editor," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 13 (1895) 448-462 [454].

12 Warren Upham, Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 17 (1920) 1-735 [555]. History of Winona County: Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, Ec. By H. H. Hill and Company (Chicago: H. H. Hill & Co., 1883) 31.

13 This is from the Winona section of History of Wabasha County (1884), this part of which is written by Dr. Bunnell.

Again they tell that in this paradise of hunters dissensions once more arose among them, and, disregarding the warnings of previous counsels to avoid strife, the great Red Wing and the noble Wah-pa-sha became involved in that quarrel. The friends and adherents of both were equally strenuous in the support of their respective chief and after a prolonged council of the entire band, ending in an outburst of angry passion, the respective partisans seized their war-clubs and quivers and were about to fight, but before the war-whoop was given for battle Wah-pa-sha commanded silence by a wave of his red cap, and telling the assembled multitude to cease their strife, threw his totem or badge of authority, the red cap, into air. A whirlwind took it up and it instantly disappeared. At the same moment a convulsion of the earth was felt, darkness fell upon them, and in the morning, when all was once again serene, they found that a portion of the bluff containing the bones of their dead, had disappeared. A party of their principal braves were dispatched in search of the lost mountain, and as they descended in canoes they recognized what is now known as the "Sugar Loaf," as the red cap of their chief, transformed into stone.

For more concerning these incidents, see The Serpents of Trempealeau.

14 Riggs, Dakota-English Dictionary, 292a, s.v. ki-yá-ksa.

15 Rev. James Owen Dorsey, Siouan Sociology. 15th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1893-1894 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897) 205-244 [under the heading, "The Oglala"]. The list was collected by the Rev. W. J. Cleveland in 1884.

16 The form Kiyuksa comes from a letter by Rev. John Robinson to J. O. Dorsey in 1879.

17 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 88.

18 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 89.

19 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 90.