The Last Camp on Lake Koshkonong

by Hannah Luella Skavlem


Hannah Luella Skavlem

The following account of what was perhaps the last Winnebago or other Indian camp on the shores of Lake Koshkonong is an extract from an article by Miss Hannah L. Skavlem, published in the Janesville Gazette, December 15, 1898.


WINTER HOME of INDIANS.

(100) In one of the lonesomest, most secluded spots on the northwestern shore of the lake in the midst of a wilderness of swampy wood, close beside the banks of Koshkonong creek, stands all that remains of Lake Koshkonong's last Indian village. It is as if nature herself would keep sacred this last vestige of a bygone race it is so completely hidden under a cenotaph of green. Through the dense foliage the sunlight falls in a glimmering golden shower that illuminates but scarcely dispels the melancholy gloom of the interior, which contains the denuded frames of a few scattered wigwams and a debris of whitening bones and mouldering tatters of fur, rush mats and pieces of clothing. "Until within the last few years a small band of (Winnebago) from the northern part of the state have wintered here, but in the spring of 1895 they broke up camp for the last time and Koshkonong knows them no more. Their camp or village numbered five lodges and their band was composed of the members of three separate families. These were Charlie Decorah and his squaw. Charlie was about 50 years old, and the "medicine man" Moses Decorah, squaw and three papooses; (101) Henry Decorah and squaw. Henry was the learned man of the party, and could read and write English fairly well; Charlie Green and squaw, and War Club, squaw and one papoose.

PERSONNEL AND PECULIARITIES.

Old Grandma Decorah, mother of Charlie, Moses and Henry Decorah, appeared to be at least 100 years old, and was so crippled and bent that she could not walk. She seemed to be well cared for by her sons. Charlie Green's mother was also a very old squaw, but remarkably smart and active. She would rustle around the woods gathering fagots and was an expert at dressing the dead and frozen carcasses of the calves or pig that they had gathered up around the neighborhood. A dead calf or hog was all good meat for the Indians, and they lived more on carrion than on fresh meat. With old mother Green lived her daughter, a comely dame apparently some years past the meridian of life. She was the one and only bachelor maid in the community.

TRAPPPED MUSKRAT AND MINK.

The Indians were quite industrious in their trapping for muskrat and mink. Their winter's work amounted to about $200. They also cut considerable cord-wood for some of the neighboring farmers. When cutting wood the first thing they did was to build up a fire. Then some of them would swing the Axe while the others sat around and warmed themselves. Thus they took turns, one keeping the axe going while the other kept the bonfire bright and big. The women when not engaged in attending to their simple household duties, gathered wood and watched the setlines. In their spare moments they made rush mats and wove baskets of ashwood.

LIVED IN HARMONY.

Their domestic relations were of a superior quality inasmuch as they lived very peacefully together. Occasionally to vary the monotony of their connubial felicity or perhaps in imitation of the ways of their white brothers, there would be (without recourse to the law, however) an amicable exchanging of wives. They appeared to be honest Indians. At one time they were indebted to the storekeeper of Sumner to the amount of nearly $100. "When they had disposed of their furs, the first thing they did was to fill up on poor whiskey, hire a livery outfit at Edgerton and drive from there over to Sumner in the middle of the night. Then they very unceremoniously awoke Mr. Kump, the storekeeper, from his slumbers to pay him their dues. But they found themselves a little short as it took "heap money for whiskey."However, they turned over to Mr. Kump what money they had left, something over $80 in gold.

SANG THE DEATH SONG.

The last Indian burial was in the spring of 1894, when the little son of Moses Decorah died. For several nights before and after the death of the child, the old trees that line the banks of Koshkonong creek and stand sentinel over the abandoned village echoed the death song of perhaps the last Indian who will ever take his departure to the (102) happy hunting grounds in truly aboriginal style. For a burial casket they cut in two one of their canoes, in which little Mose Decorah now sleeps in the Sumner cemetery.


Commentary. "Hannah L. Skavlem" — her life and untimely death are briefly recounted here:

Hannah Luella was born in the Town of Newark, Rock county, Wis., October 13, 1875. She came with her parents to Janesville, Wis., in 1880. She was educated in the Janesville public schools and for a time served as assistant in the Janesville public library. Having a decided literary bent of mind, she was from childhood a great lover of good books. Already at her young age she was familiar with the best of modern literature. Her ambition was that of a literary career, having already made her first bow to the reading public, by the publication of several of her short stories in some of the popular magazines. Just at the opening of what appeared to be a most promising and happy career, a severe cold developed into pulmonary troubles, which in spite of all that could be done, finally terminated her young and promising life. She died at the home of her parents in Janesville, Wis., December 2, 1898, and is buried in the family lot in the Janesville cemetery.1

S. D. Peet
Antiquities at Lake Koshkonong

"Koshkonong creek" — this village is assigned to Wąkšígᵋručká (People Eater) on the map in Jones (et alia).2 The rough location of this village is shown on Peet's map above.3 Hannah Skavlem's description allows for a more precise location at 42.885122, -88.983204.

"Charlie Decorah" — he is mentioned twice in the Congressional hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs. We learn from the testimony of Scott Mokey that he had once owned land on the Nebraska reservation, and that he had died sometime prior to these 1910 hearings:

The Chairman: "Do you understand that there was a part of the land in Nebraska set apart for the Wisconsin Winnebagoes?"
Scott Mokey: "Yes sir, I always understood that."
The Chairman: "Do you understand whether any Wisconsin Winnebagoes got any allotment in that strip?"
Scott Mokey: "Why, yes sir."
The Chairman: "Who?"
Scott Mokey: "Charlie Decorah had. He died a couple of years ago, I guess."4
 ...  Senator La Follette: "Do you know of any Wisconsin Winnebago Indians who received allotment of lands in Nebraska?"
James Eagle: "There is Charlie Decorah that I remember."
Senator La Follette: "Do you know of any others besides Charles Decorah?"
Moses Decorah: "I know some of them."
The Chairman: "What is that man's name who has just spoken?"
Scott Mokey: "His name is Moses Decorah."5

In this last exchange, we see a connection between Charlie and Moses Decorah.

"Moses Decorah" — genealogy sites show his lifespan to have been 1854-1929. In his 1910 testimony before Congress, Moses Decorah stated that he lived in Mauston, was the son of Four Deer, and was born in Tomah. His father was born in the village at Portage. He further states that he homesteaded 52 acres of land about 21 or 22 years ago [1889-1890].6

 
Little Priest and Henry Decorah (Standing),
of Co. A of the Omaha Scouts,
Nebraska, ca. 1865

"Henry Decorah" — a member of the Omaha Scouts. His unit is given this overview: "Organized at Omaha May 3, 1865. Attached to District of Nebraska Scout from Fort Kearney, Neb., May 19-26, 1865. Powder River Expedition June 20-October 7. Actions on the Powder River September 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8. Operating against Indians on the Plains and protecting lines of communications and emigrants till July, 1866. Mustered out July 16, 1866." He is pictured above standing behind Little Priest, the last Hočąk War Chief.

"Old Grandma Decorah" — genealogical sources say that the wife of Four Deer Decorah was CheNokHooTdaWeGa, which appears to be Cinąk-hotawįga, "Woman Who Remains in the Village."

1895
Value
2018
Value
"$200" $6,020
"$100" $3,010
"$80" $2,408

These are measured as income or wealth at historic standards of living.

"Sumner" — located at coördinates 42.917488, -88.954336.

"Edgerton" — located at coördinates 42.833246, -89.070267.

       
Edward Kump   Polly Ann Kump   Barbara Naylor Kump

"Mr. Kump" — the residence of Edward Kump (1828-1912) can be found on the 1887 plat map of Sumner township, N ½ of the SW ¼ of Section 16, Township 5N, Range 13E (42.896612, -88.973288). He also owned 40 acres of land that he had purchased for $550 from James A. Conklin in 1859, located at the NW ¼ of the SW ¼ of Section 9 in Township 5N, Range 13E (42.910619, -88.969575).7 Fortunately, genealogical research can tell us something more of his identity. His father David (1801-1872) was born near York, Pennsylvania. In 1825 he married Barbara Naylor (1806-1880). Around 1832, he moved his family to Ohio. "Wisconsin Census [1850] lists the Kump family at Town of Koshkonong, Jefferson County, indicating a move to Wisconsin. The census lists David as a 'farmer' and his two oldest boys, Edward and Zachariah, as 'laborers'. The census lists David, Barbara, and children, Edward, Zachariah, Amanda, Lewis, Harriet, and Israel. 1856: David and family in Sumner Township, Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Edward married Polly Ann Plum [1838-1920] 20 Nov 1856."8 Edward shows up in the 1870 census: "Sumner, Jefferson, Wisconsin (Post Office Busseyville): Edward Kump, age 42, Farmer, value of real estate $2500, value of personal estate $950, birthplace Pennsylvania, male citizen of the U.S."9


Notes to the Commentary

1 Halvor L. Skavlem, The Skavlem and Ödegaarden Families (Madison, Wisc.: Tracy & Kilagore Printers, 1915) 133-134.
2 Tom Jones, Michael Schmudlach, Matthew Daniel Mason, Amy Lonetree, and George A. Greendeer, People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879–1942 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2011) 15.
3 Steven D. Peet, Prehistoric America, 2 vols. (Chicago: American Antiquarian Office, 1896) 2:241-242; the map above is from 240 verso.
4 Condition of Indian Affairs in Wisconsin: Hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, [61st congress, 2d session], on Senate resolution, Issue 263 (1910): 1150.
5 Condition of Indian Affairs in Wisconsin: Hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, [61st congress, 2d session], on Senate resolution, Issue 263 (1910): 1155.
6 Condition of Indian Affairs in Wisconsin: Hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, [61st congress, 2d session], on Senate resolution, Issue 263 (1910): 1163-1164.
7 eAncestry.org > Chad G. Nichols, War. Deed Abstract - James A. Conklin & Wife to Edward Kump.
8 Laura C. Kump, Historical Sheet of David Kump (1801-1872).
9 eAncestry.org > Noah Plum, #5.


Source

H. L. Skavlem, "The Archeology of the Lake Koshkonong Sites: The Village Sites," Wisconsin Archeologist, 7, #2 (April to June, 1908): 74-102 [100-102].