[By Samuel Mazzuchelli]

Francesco Podesti
Mazzuchelli as a Student in Rome, 1825

It should be noted that, out of modesty, Father Mazzuchelli always refers to himself in the third person.



The lately deceased Bishop of Cincinnati had expressed his desire some months before his death that the Missionary would go to announce the word of the Gospel to the Winnebago Tribe in Wisconsin Territory. He left the Island April 16th, 1833, and after a few days’ sojourn with the good Redemptorist Fathers at Green Bay, he pushed on to the west on horseback for a hundred and ten miles to a place called Fort Winnebago, because the Government held a little fort there as defense against the incursions of the Indians. On the western bank of the swift, impetuous Wisconsin River, about eight miles from the Fort, is a village of the tribe, perhaps a hundred families altogether. These Indians are more fierce and evil disposed in character than either the Menominees or Ottawas; their habits were bad, addicted as they were to drunkenness, immorality and homicide. Their language differs entirely from that of the neighboring tribes.

The Priest was cherishing the fond hope, with the help of Divine Grace, that he might convert some of these. He had the good fortune of finding an excellent interpreter in Mr. P. Paquette, whose mother was a Winnebago. Mr. Paquette was in Government employ,—often engaged to deal with the tribe, on account of his character and influence over the Indians. Many times they were assembled in a cabin to hear the instructions given for their conversion to the Faith; on these occasions, the Priest spoke to them of the Unity of God and of the Three Divine Persons, of the mystery of the Incarnation, how from the Fall of the first man proceeded the poverty, ignorance and slavery to sin of those who, tempted by the Evil Spirit followed their many superstitious practices; then he exhorted them to a change of life, declaring that the Great Spirit had sent his servant to speak to them in His Name; and that whoever would still continue in their ways of evil would after death be punished forever, both in body and in soul, by that same Great Spirit in whom they themselves believed, and by Whom they had been created. These discourses were usually expressed by simple and natural examples suggested by circumstances. The holy Sacrifice of the Mass was also celebrated, for which these Indians have great respect, because they find therein a conformity with their own conceptions of the Divinity, Whom they believe can be propitiated by voluntary sacrifices.

The hardheartedness of the Winnebagoes, too sadly known by whoever has lived among them, did not permit these hearts to be penetrated by the power of Truth, still less to be persuaded to a better life. A few responded that the subjects of which the Priest had spoken were of too grave moment to be decided upon at once, and they also alleged as an excuse that as they had lately sold a part of their lands to the Government, they did not yet know to what place they would be assigned. All this did not hinder a few women from presenting their children for Baptism, and within three weeks, twenty-three received that Sacrament, among them eight adults who had been carefully taught the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Credo, translated into their own dialect. And here must be noted the great help given to the cause of Religion by Catholic women, children of Winnebago mothers married to Canadians. These good women instructed in Christian doctrine and knowing the language of the tribe, would go from house to house to speak of Religion. There was great difficulty, however, in expressing in their dialect, ideas for which they had no corresponding expression, for these religious ideas were entirely new to these people. To supply the deficiency of Religious terms, it was necessary to use compound terms, for instance: The Trinity, Mystery, Altar, were expressed by Three in One, Hidden Truth, Table of Sacrifice, etc.

This visit was made for the sole purpose of finding out the true state of things, and whether or not there was any well-founded probability of establishing the Faith among the Winnebagoes. Notwithstanding the very slight success, the Priest still cherished the hope of succeeding better on another occasion, when he could arrange to make a longer stay there and thus might be able to consecrate himself to this mission with yet greater intensity of purpose.


The Very Reverend Frederic Rèsè at that time Administrator of the diocese,1 wrote to our Missionary on the twenty-fifth of July, 1833, to the effect that as the Mission to the Winnebagoes had been entrusted to him by the Right Reverend Edward Fenwick, the lately deceased Bishop of Cincinnati, and as it had already borne some fruit, the mission had been conferred upon him, the Missionary, anew; and that he begged him to devote himself, with all earnestness, to carry on to a successful issue what had been begun by Divine Grace. Accordingly towards the middle of August, when the crowd of traders had left Mackinac for their various posts, the Priest set out on his journey of two hundred miles by boat, and more than one hundred on horseback, to reach the western bank of the Wisconsin River, a second time. The first thing to be done in his estimation was to learn something of the difficult dialect of the Winnebagoes, but as his progress was too slow, he secured the assistance of a Catholic Indian, named Michael, and of others who had learned the prayers which Reverend Father Baraga had printed in the Ottawa language. He then applied himself to translating these prayers into the Winnebago dialect. The language of the Ottawas and Chippewas is especially rich in compound words, suitable for expressing Religious ideas and particularly the mysteries of the Faith. This useful labor had been begun by the first missionaries of Canada and continued by the holy Priest of the Chippewas, Father Baraga.

Several of the Winnebagoes spoke the Chippewa dialect; so with their assistance, not without much difficulty and various errors, were translated the Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, the Pater, Ave, Credo and several hymns. Translating from one Indian language to another is far less difficult than translating from French or English into any Indian dialect; experience proved this fact to him who was making the attempt, for the simple reason that the languages of the various North American tribes, although differing somewhat, are in reality of one family; however, in the orthography of each word the simplest use of the letters was adopted, giving to each, one single and invariable sound and omitting diphthongs entirely. Reading this alphabet correctly is the same as having a sure key to the pronunciation.

The good example given by the few who had been converted during the spring, incited many others to come to the cabin where instructions were given upon the principal truths of Faith. The children were the first to learn the prayers, the Priest repeating each, until the children could say them without help; the adults were present at these meetings, and were delighted to see their children preparing to become Christians, or as they express it, to be consecrated to prayer. As a further means of increasing the spirit of devotion, more and more in their hearts, they remained kneeling while learning their prayers and the Missionary was very often obliged to show them how to kneel down, for they found this an entirely new posture. Those who knew the melodies of the hymns translated from Ottawa into Winnebago, sang them in this language; they were assisted by the young men, highly delighted at finding themselves so soon raised to the rank of choristers to the public. In three weeks, more than fifty Indians were judged to be in suitable dispositions for receiving Baptism. The Sacrament was conferred with great solemnity before Mass on Sunday. On this important occasion Mr. P. Paquette, Government interpreter, translated into the Winnebago language the long instruction made by the Priest to the newly baptized converts.

A few observations upon the new Christians may serve to edify our readers. An Indian chief called Decari, who took the name of John in Baptism, had two wives, polygamy being commonly practised in the tribe. The Priest having taught him that according to the Law of Jesus Christ he could keep but one wife, the husband replied that he was willing to give up one,—but had no choice between the two. The wife who had no children came privately to the Missionary with the proposal that as the other wife was the mother of a little boy, and was of a somewhat dissatisfied temperament, it would be more prudent to leave the latter with the husband so as to put no obstacle in the way of her conversion. So our worthy John was married to the mother, although the other had been his first choice and more worthy of affection. A few months afterwards Providence called the mother out of life; then the husband and son fell as prize to the generous woman who with brave unselfishness had heroically separated herself from her husband for the sake of Religion. This zealous family is still living full of faith and hope in the happiness of the life hereafter.

While the Priest was preparing to administer the Sacrament of Baptism to a great number of Indians, one of them called “The Little Prophet” cast off the woolen blanket in which he had been wrapped and threw it far away; being asked the motive of this singular behavior, he answered that thus he desired to show his sincerity, in utterly despoiling himself of all his evil ways and becoming a new man. This was the fruit of the familiar instructions. This Indian had comprehended the true meaning of the change which Faith in Christ should operate in the soul, that is, that change which makes us live by the spirit and die to whatever is carnal and sinful. All Christians are acquainted with this doctrine, but few indeed cast far away the mantle of their vices as did this poor savage.

Among the most fervent souls converted to the Faith was the daughter of the chief of the tribe; at Baptism she took the name Agatha. She was a maiden of singular modesty, always occupied with her work; she was the best beloved child of the old chief, her father; she was first in attendance at every Religious duty, and was a model to all the maidens of the tribe. She was afterwards married to a young Canadian, but died soon after in sentiments of true piety, while recommending her soul to Almighty God.

The new Christians had already increased to the number of two hundred when the Missionary left by way of the Wisconsin River for the city of Detroit, about six hundred miles distant. This journey was for the purpose of having the few things printed which had been translated into Winnebago. These form a little work of eighteen pages, in small octavo, containing an Act of Adoration and of Consecration to God, the Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Credo, the Confiteor, Act of Firm Purpose of Amendment, the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, a Hymn calling the Sinner to Repentance, an Invocation to the Holy Ghost, a Hymn to the Holy Eucharist, an Invocation to Jesus, and a Hymn to Mary; added to these, in a very few words, the principal Truths of Faith in the form of a dialogue, lastly the alphabet, and the mode of reckoning. The little book was entitled “OCANGRA ARAMEE WAWAKAKABA,” that is, “Winnebago Prayer Book,” Detroit, 1833.

To facilitate the conversion of this tribe the Priest had brought with him to Green Bay, two Winnebago youths about fourteen years of age. His intention was to have them trained in a Catholic household, to render them able to teach reading and writing in their own language, and in this manner, impart the Truths of Catholicity to their own tribe. But having no means to pay their expenses, he was forced after three months to let them return to their own country. There is no doubt that a few years at school would have produced the most salutary results in these two well-disposed Winnebago youths.


In the summer of 1833 the immense Diocese of Cincinnati was divided by the Holy See, a new Diocese being created of the Territory of Michigan, which at that time embraced the present Territory of Wisconsin. The thickly settled State of Ohio remained to the Bishop of Cincinnati. The city of Detroit, which counted at that period about six thousand inhabitants, became the Episcopal Seat of Michigan, which the Right Reverend Frederic Rese was appointed to occupy. This new order of things led the Vicar Provincial of the Order of Saint Dominic in Ohio, to hope that he might be able to recall our Missionary to that State. The latter having reached Detroit for the purpose of having the prayers printed which had been translated into Winnebago, wished to continue his journey and thus carry out the wishes of his Brother in the Order. But the Bishop elect with determined will opposed this plan and desired the Priest to return to his Missions, requiring him besides to preach in his Cathedral every Sunday in October, in the morning to preach in French, at Vespers in English.


More notable was the establishment begun in 1834 at the expense of the Winnebago Indians and put under the direction of a Presbyterian minister; it was a few miles from Prairie du Chien near the western bank of the Mississippi. In 1832 this tribe, the Winnebagoes, had sold to the United States a rather extensive stretch of land which their forefathers had inhabited; in addition to the annual payment of many thousand francs, which the Indians received for the sale, the Government was to build a school and support it for thirty years at a yearly cost of three thousand one hundred and fifty dollars. In the summer of 1834, the chiefs of that tribe had demanded through their agent, Captain Robert A. McCabe, that the Catholic Priest be appointed director of their school; in spite of this a Calvinistic minister was assigned to the place. So he with his wife and sons came into possession of a fine dwelling, as much land as he desired, and the aforesaid annual sum with other sources of revenue which it would take too long to enumerate. In this school a few Indian children of Canadian or English fathers received the first rudiments of education, but the chief benefit fell to the minister, who then became the Indian Agent with a good salary from the Government. If it were asked how many adult Indians were converted to the Presbyterian creed, I believe that no one could answer to the very difficult question.


In the spring of 1834, Monsignore Rese, Bishop of Detroit, sent to Green Bay a brother-Priest to assist our Missionary in the varied offices connected with that Church, on which devolved the spiritual care of more than two thousand Catholics, scattered far and wide over an immense space of wild country. Then, therefore, it became possible to visit again the Winnebagoes, many of whom had received Baptism the year before. After a journey of one hundred and ten miles on horseback through the wilderness, the Priest reaching the Wisconsin River was met by a party of Indians, all intoxicated with the whiskey just sold to them by the traders, and all boisterous and quarrelsome accordingly. One of the Christian Indians advised him not to attempt to reach the lodges which were about six miles distant, for as nearly all who were not Christians were drunk and would continue so until next morning, he was afraid that the Priest might be molested that night. In spite of this wise advice, the Priest, with a great deal of difficulty, crossed the river, and before night dismounted in the valley where three hundred of these Indians were living; most of these, poisoned with the liquor, were yelling and quarreling over the last remains of the whiskey barrel. The lodge of one of the Christian Indians gave shelter to the Priest with his interpreter, and there they ate the scanty meal that Providence had provided them.

Next morning before sunrise, the first sound heard was the voice of an aged Indian convert, who passing up and down among the huts gave notice of the Missionary’s arrival and reproved the bad conduct of the young men who had given themselves up to vicious behavior the day before; he concluded his self-imposed office by admonishing them to be converted to the Christian Religion. This mode of publishing the orders and warnings of the Chiefs is said to be an ancient practice still observed by the well-disciplined tribes.

To avoid repeating what has already been said of the manner in which these people were converted, it may be briefly stated that more than three weeks were spent in instructing, baptizing, hearing Confessions and administering the Sacrament of Matrimony to the new Christians. Provisions were obtained from the traders, and we shared the common table with the poor Indians; the bed consisted of a mat laid upon the bare ground or perhaps upon strips of bark, with a blanket. A kind Providence ever supplied their real needs and blessed their temperance by granting them perfect health. The holy Sacrifice of the Mass was usually celebrated in one of the lodges, all things necessary for this having been brought by the Priest on horseback, the bread and wine for the altar also forming part of his little burden. The Winnebagoes showed themselves more docile than usual; those who did not wish to become Christians, gave no annoyance to those who were attending Catechism; indeed they often came to the instructions themselves, but chose to stay outside, listening to what was spoken within, so the truth was making a little progress.

A noteworthy circumstance was the baptism and funeral rites of an Indian woman of this tribe. During her last prolonged illness the poor creature had put into operation every superstitious charm known to the savages, hoping to obtain a cure of her sufferings. Her husband, a noted warrior, was equally famous for his pretended gift of curing diseases in virtue of the secrets of what might be termed magic. In the sick woman’s lodge, sacrifices were offered both to the good and to the bad spirit, who were both invoked with strange prayers a thousand times repeated, in noisy ejaculations. He tried the efficacy of a snake-skin, the skin of several other animals, but each failed him, while the poor woman was plainly drawing near her end. As the Indian doctors were unable to discover the cause of the severe pains that the patient was suffering, one of them professed to discover by means of a tortoise-shell; he thrust the head part of this into the mouth of the sufferer, declaring that the spirit formerly dwelling in that shell had entered into the woman’s body to examine into the condition of the disease; withdrawing it after a few minutes and lifting that portion to his ear, he told the bystanders that he heard from the turtle the account of the true condition of the malady. With such superstitions are the poor creatures deluded, for they not only obtain no relief, but they are even obliged to reward the pretended wisdom of these medicine men who will not move a finger without pay.

The Priest had heard of the desperate case of the invalid, and went to her lodge; there with his interpreter’s help, he succeeded first in convincing her of the false and foolish doctrine of those who had promised to cure her; then explaining the consoling promises of the Christian Religion, he awakened her to belief in the Unity of God in the Trinity, and in the Incarnation and Divinity of Jesus Christ. At the close of the second day, with the gift of grace, and with a limited but sufficiently clear knowledge of the Divine Truths, the sick woman received Holy Baptism and died that night. Happy the soul passing so speedily from the waters of Regeneration to the life of the Blessed!

This was the first Christian death in that tribe, and the Priest thought it might promote the cause of Religion to carry on the funeral rites with all ceremony, and thus teach the Indians the sanctity of the true Faith not only in her doctrine, but also in her care for the dead. The corpse was borne to the lodge which was called the church; every one was invited to the religious services, pagans as well as Christians, those who could not find room within, stood outside. During the celebration of Mass, the Baptized Indians were repeating from memory the few prayers that they knew, the others looking on, assisted most respectfully and in profound silence. After Mass the Priest began to explain the saving grace of Baptism coming upon one who has died after receiving it with Faith and contrition, as he hoped the deceased had done. The doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead formed the principal theme of his discourse, for this great truth has greater power than any other to touch the hearts of these people, and lead them to God; a natural consequence of this doctrine is the respect due to the body of the dead, who will rise again, vivified by the soul which inhabited this body.

After the funeral ceremonies in the Church, the procession was formed, composed of the whole tribe, men, women and children, Christians and pagans; then followed four boys, who filled the place of clerics; the body was carried by four Indians; the father of the dead woman, chief of the tribe, although not yet a Christian, walked before the bier carrying a cross in his right hand; the Priest with several assistants closed the procession. Proceeding thus about a mile, they reached the summit of a hill, the site of the cemetery where a grave was dug, and the mortal remains of the new Christian were solemnly deposited therein with all the ceremonies of the Church’s Ritual. And here the Missionary took occasion to discourage the practice of burying the favorite possessions of the deceased in the same grave with the body, a practice common to nearly all the North American Indian tribes, according to their affectionate wish that these objects may be of some use and consolation to the dead hunter in the “happy hunting grounds.” The immortality of a man’s soul might well be called an article of faith among the tribes of North America.

This village where the Priest was staying was called Decari after its tribal chief; the place and its surroundings were infested with rattlesnakes, whose bite is most venomous, usually deadly. One morning just as he opened his eyes at daylight, he discovered one of these rattlesnakes coiled round a beam which crossed the lodge. Knowing that these creatures do not attack unless molested, he waited quietly until it crawled out through a hole in the side. Later while he was attending a sick man, the Missionary sat upon the ground near the patient for more than half an hour; on rising to leave the place there lay an enormous rattlesnake quietly sleeping, which had been all the while coiled up under the folds of his cassock. The Indians present cried out and instantly killed the reptile which this time at least had done no harm. There was a Winnebago there who to display his daring and peculiar power, used to grasp a rattlesnake by the neck and let it coil its full length around his naked arm; then he would throw it from him and circling round it to escape its deadly thrust, would grasp it again by the neck. Wherever these venomous snakes are found, is also found a provision of a loving Providence in a certain herb, which when chewed and quickly applied to the wound made by the poisonous fangs, neutralizes the effects of the venom.

Continuing the brief history of this Mission it may be noted that in September of 1834 the Priest paid another long visit to this tribe. On that occasion, a number of the Indians manifested a great opposition to the true Faith for the reason that they feared being influenced by the example and authority of the chiefs, in the matter of giving up the practice of polygamy, the use of ardent spirits, an important article of trade, as also of relinquishing the superstitious practices to which they were accustomed to resort for averting sickness or war. One proof of this was the means employed that very year in order to avert the cholera. The superstitious nation had heard the news that there had been some deaths from this plague at Prairie du Chien, a hundred miles to the westward. That same day when the sun was about setting in a clear sky, the braves set to work loading their guns and shooting them off towards the west in order to kill the cholera, as they said. This warlike fusillade against the setting sun was kept up for more than half an hour.

The eldest son of the venerable chief Decari discovering that his mother and several of his younger brothers and sisters had been baptized, threatened to kill his own father, if he would dare to follow their example. The good old man, intimidated by these threats, did not dare to join the Christians openly, although he often came to the services. His own exemplary life free from those vices which are really the true cause of obstinate unbelief, merited that God’s Mercy did not abandon him at the hour of death which occurred in the winter of 1836. Then remembering the holy truths which he had so often heard repeated by the Christians, he longed to die like a Christian; he could not have a Priest at his death-bed, so he sent for an old Canadian who like himself spoke the Chippewa dialect, and begged his friend to baptize him, received the saving Sacrament with the greatest devotion and rendered his soul to God a few days later. Who could doubt that the good life of the aged chief Decari won for him the Sacrament of Regeneration in this life and the fruit of our Lord’s Redemption in Paradise?

It was not only the wickedness of some of the people of the village where the Missions were given that hindered the progress of Religion among the Winnebagoes; various other causes contributed to the same result. In 1834 the tribe numbered more than five thousand persons, two thousand of these having sold to the Government their lands on the east of the Wisconsin River—had imposed themselves and their vicious practices upon the few Christian Indians; the money which the newcomers received every year, only swelled the tide of immorality among them; the traders, greedy of gain, fostered their craving for brandy and in the train of drunkenness all vices followed. Just at this time there was under discussion a plan to remove the whole tribe to the west of the Mississippi, and in fact the plan was carried into effect the following year. This naturally threw the Indians into a state of apathetic indifference towards their present abiding-place and towards that Religion whose duty was to restrain them within the bounds of social and community obligations. The Protestant Mission to the west of the great river, with its abundant means and influence, both pecuniary and sectarian, put many obstacles in the progress of Catholicity. The Missionary found himself entirely destitute of means, even the most necessary—for instance, to pay for the services of an interpreter, expenses of travel and even of food; on one occasion he lived for a week on bread and butter only, which he had brought himself in his scanty luggage, for the bad weather and absence of the hunters made it impossible to procure other provisions. Once pressed by hunger he made a meal off the flesh of a prairie rat, which turned out to be eatable in an emergency, though rank and ill-smelling.

For effecting the conversion of these people, known as one of the most immoral, intractable and least amenable to virtue of all the tribes, more powerful means would have to be employed than those at the disposal of one solitary Priest. A permanent abode with these people, a thorough command of their language, with the necessary time for its acquisition—none of these was possible for one laborer, compelled to give his time also to the service of those Catholics of many different nations, scattered far and wide over a vast country. Money was sorely needed for building some structure to serve as a Church, for a cabin as dwelling, for paying an interpreter, for even supplying the daily wants of the Indians themselves, especially in winter, for establishing a school, and lastly for introducing agriculture among these poor people. In the total lack of all these things the propagation of the Faith would be a miracle in truth.

God has ransomed through His own Precious Blood His elect of every tribe and every tongue as is written in the Apocalypse, and He has called to the knowledge of the Gospel, to the participation in the merits of His Precious Blood, and to the glory of His Kingdom, a few souls among these Winnebago people, notwithstanding the great, almost incredible difficulties in the way of their conversion. The heavenly seed of the Divine Word will yet in the decrees of God’s Mercy be able to produce greater fruit of eternal life, and give new consolation to the heart of him to whose lot it fell to first sow the seed in the midst of these poor people. The few faithful Christians among them having learned the saving doctrine of Holy Baptism bestowed on their children, in danger of death, are continuing this holy practice.


In January, 1835, the Register of Baptisms administered among the Winnebagoes showed three hundred and ten names, including children, who constituted the greatest number, and here and there thirty or more Baptisms of natives which had not been registered. Up to this time only four of the natives had been considered sufficiently prepared for the reception of the Most Holy Communion, and seven others, children of Winnebago mothers and Canadian fathers, had the same privilege. The Sacrament of Matrimony was conferred upon about twenty-five couples. Many of the Christian Indians passed to the next life confirmed in grace, we have reason to hope; while many have persevered until this day in Faith and in the practice of the obligations of a good Christian, others have strayed from the right path because they were too far from the Priest, and exposed to temptations in the midst of heathens and deprived of those instructions necessary in their case to perseverance.


It may be well for the reader of these Memoirs to know that the Catholic Missions among the Indians of Wisconsin and Northern Michigan have now almost ceased to exist, for within the last few years, the Government of the Republic has bought up those tracts. The Ottawa and Chippewa tribes sold a great part of their lands in the vicinity of the Island of Mackinac and migrated elsewhere. The Menominees ceded the lands along the Fox River, the Bay and Lake Winnebago and have withdrawn more to the northern section of the Territory. Since the year 1836, the poor Winnebagoes have possessed nothing of that immense tract of country which they had occupied to the east of the Mississippi and have been provisionally settled upon the opposite shore of the great River only to be ordered to move yet farther away, in a brief time. The tribes of Sacs and Foxes who made war against the United States in 1832 had been occupying the lands in the vicinity of the Mississippi, but after their outbreak evacuated all those regions and are now found not far from the Missouri River. A similar case is that of the Potawatomies who have been living in Wisconsin Territory along the shore of Lake Michigan where they used to have a Missionary.* And thus are the savages slowly moving towards the setting sun. But change of place alone would be an affair of no importance as regards Religion, were it not accompanied by many and varied fatal circumstances opposed to the propagation of the Faith. The money received in payment of their lands ceded to the Government is a source of many disorders, and settling in a new country in the midst of heathen tribes, contributes not a little to shake their Faith and demoralize the Christians. Besides all this, it is exceedingly difficult and costly to send Priests and to build new Churches in places which are almost wildernesses and destitute of all things necessary.



It would be difficult to give a correct estimate of the number of Indians who still hold possession here [Iowa Territory]; the principal tribes live in the northern part, that is, the Chippewas and Sioux; there are also a number of Winnebagoes from Wisconsin, Sacs, Foxes, Iowas and other tribes. All together, they number about fifty thousand Indians.


The diocese of Dubuque comprises the vast Territory of Iowa, only a thirtieth part of which is occupied by civilized people who are of European descent, — the diocese comprehends therefore within its limits about fifty thousand Indians, of the tribes of Iowas, Sacs and Foxes, some Winnebagoes in the south, Sioux and Chippewas in the north. ... When the Reverend R. Petiot, now of Galena, by the advice of Bishop Loras went among the Winnebagoes in 1842, his ministrations brought great consolation to those few Christians who had been converted previous to the year 1835 and had persevered in the path of rectitude; but as his experience convinced him of the almost entire impossibility of helping the others, he remained there only for several months.

Notes to the Text

1 This was the Diocese of Cincinnati, of which Rev. Frederic Rèsè was appointed administrator on the death of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati, September, 1832 (page 83, Memorie). Rev. F. Rèsè was consecrated first Bishop of Detroit, October 6, 1833.

“Christian Indians in the Territory of Wisconsin in North America”


Father Mazzuchelli with Builders in Iowa City
Father Mazzuchelli Directing the
Building of St. Raphael Church
   Father Mazzuchelli
Ministering to the Indians
   St. Augustine Church
New Diggings, Wisconsin
   Sisters and Students
at the Benton School

"Samuel Mazzuchelli" — Samuele Carlo Mazzuchelli was born November 4, 1807, of a prominent family in Milan, Italy. At age 17, he entered the Dominican monastery at Faenza. While in Rome n 1828, he happened to hear an address given by Edward Fenwick, the Bishop of Cincinnati. This inspired him to devote himself to missionary life among the Indians, and left for Cincinnati in June, 1828. He was ordained there on September 5, 1830. He showed some talent as an architect, and erected at least 25 churches in his jurisdiction. In 1843, he returned to Italy to secure donations for his projects, and there he wrote the Memoirs here excerpted. He returned to build a college at Sinsinawa Mounds in Wisconsin. In 1847, he founded the Sisters of St. Dominic, who took up residence at Sinsinawa Mounds, but he later transferred them to his Dominican Order so that he could free himself for missionary service. They were resettled at Benton, but after Mazzuchelli's death, they reestablished themselves at Sinsinawa Mounds. He died of pleuro-pneumonia in Benton on February 23, 1864, a disease which he contracted while making long distance sick calls during a stormy night.1

Edward Fenwick, Bishop of Cincinnati

"Bishop of Cincinnati" — the Reverend Edward Fenwick, a member of the Dominican Order, around 1796, was called upon by Bishop Flaget, who was in charge of the old Northwest Territory, to establish a mission in what is now Somerset, Ohio, then a wilderness. In 1814 Bishop Flaget established a Catholic presence in the little settlement of Cincinnati, erecting its first church in 1822. In that same year, Edward Fenwick, a native of Maryland, was ordained the first Bishop of Cincinnati. His church, made of logs, had to be moved by oxen to a more convenient location. After a trip to Europe in which the French nobility generously contributed funds for his project, he was able to lay the cornerstone to St. Peter's Cathedral in 1826. He died during the cholera epidemic on Sept. 26, 1832. During his tenure, the flock that had in 1822 numbered 50 families, by 1832 had reached a total of 7,000 members.2

The Emblem of the Redemptorists

"Redemptorist Fathers at Green Bay" — a Catholic missionary congregation founded in Italy on 9 November 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. It was originally established to meet the spiritual needs of the poor in Naples, and was recognized as a congregation by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749. After initial difficulties in eastern Europe, the congregation was able to expand in Germany, beginning in 1793. The Redemptorist mission was to care for the poor under the inspiration of John 15:12, "Love one another as I have loved you." In the New World, they functioned as missionaries. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they priest of the Redemptorist congregation take a vow of perseverance. The congregation in Green Bay owes its origins to Mgr. Résé, Vicar-General of Cincinnati, who went to Europe in 1828 to recruit three priests to work in the Michigan Territory.3

Ft. Winnebago by Juliette Kinzie

"Fort Winnebago" — a fort built in 1828 in response to the Winnebago War of the previous year. It was situated at the Portage in order to control traffic that passed from the Lakes to the Mississippi River. The only military activity in which the fort was involved was the Black Hawk War of 1832. Given the pacification of the region after that war, the fort was decommissioned in 1845. Still extant is the Indian Agency House built as a residence for the Subagent to the Hočągara, John Kinzie in 1832. The painting of Ft. Winnebago, done in 1831, is by the talented Juliette Kinzie, the author of Wau-Bun.

"Mr. P. Paquette" — His name is variously rendered as "Pauquette, Poquette, Boquette." Satterlee Clark in his memoir of this period, has an interesting account of Pierre Pauquette (1796-1836):

(2) I now come to that part of my recollections in which the people of Portage and the Fort Winnebago region, feel the greatest interest, and have the most curiosity. I allude to my acquaintance with Peter Pauquette. His strength was so immeasurable, and his exploits so astonishing, that while relating what I have seen I shall tell only the exact truth, I will promise not to be offended if some of my readers should be a little skeptical. Peter Pauquette was born in the year 1800 of a French father and a Winnebago mother; the latter was buried nearly in front of the old agency house opposite the fort. He was thirty years old when I first knew him, and was the very best specimen of a man I ever saw. He was six feet two inches in height, and weighed two hundred and forty pounds — hardly ever varying a single pound. He was a very handsome man, hospitable, generous and kind, and I think I never saw a better natured man. I had heard much of his strength before I left Green Bay, and of course, was anxious to see him perform some of the wonderful feats of strength of which I had heard. From my first acquaintance with him to the day of his death, I was his most intimate friend, and consequently had a better opportunity to know him than any other person. I will now endeavor to give an idea of his strength and activity, which to me seemed almost superhuman. He often told me that all persons seemed alike to him. When I was nineteen or twenty years old, my business kept me constantly in training, and though I weighed less than one hundred and fifty pounds, my muscles were like iron; notwithstanding he often said it was no more trouble to take me across his lap than a child one year old, and so it seemed to me. I was told that on one occasion when he was making the portage with a heavy boat, one of his oxen gave out, and he took the yoke off, and carried the end against an ox all the way over. I did not see this, but I asked him if it was so, and he replied it was. I once saw him take hold of the staple to a pile driver weighing 2,650 lbs., and lift it apparently without any exertion, and swing it back and forth a minute of time. I have several times seen him get under a common sized horse, put his arms round the hind legs, his back under the horse's stomach and lift the horse clean off the ground. A great many other things I have seen him do which would tire the reader's patience were I to relate them. It can readily be imagined, however, that scarcely anything could be impossible to such a man. He was employed by the American Fur Company up to the day of his death. For the last four years of his life he had a bookkeeper, but previous to that time (not being able to read or write), he gave credit to hundreds of Indians, relying entirely on his memory, and their honesty. ...

(3) [On the 18th day of October, 1836,] Pauquette came to my store to rejoice over our victory [in frustrating Gov. Cass in buying the lands of the Winnebago]. On this occasion he drank too much wine, and became just enough intoxicated to be impatient of contradiction. In this condition he started home on foot, and when within about one quarter of a mile of the ferry, opposite his house, he found an Indian and his wife sitting by a little fire in the bushes. The Indian was Mahzahmahneekah [Mą́zamąnį́ga], or Iron Walker, who was also drunk. What there occurred, is only known as related by the squaw that night. She said Pauquette kicked the fire apart, the Indian arose up and said something that offended Pauquette, who slapped the Indian's face, knocking him down. The Indian (319) got up, saying, "You knocked me down; but I got up. I will knock you down, and you will never get up. I will go for my gun." Pauquette only laughed, and sat down. The Indian returned, when Pauquette stood up, pulled open his coat, placed his hand on his breast and said, "Strike and see a brave man dies." The Indian fired, killing him instantly, the ball severing one of the main arteries leading from the heart. No man in Wisconsin could have died who was so much regretted. His death can safely be attributed to intoxication, though it was the first time I ever knew or heard of his being in that condition.4

For other references to Pauquette, see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Robert “Brett” Edenton
Bishop Frederic Baraga

"Father Baraga" — Frederic Baraga was born 29 June, 1797 in Dobernice in the Austrian Empire in what is now Slovenia. He took a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1821, but decided to attend the seminary at Laibach rather than practice law. He was ordained on 21 September, 1823. He came to New York City on New Year's Eve, 1830. About two weeks later, he arrived in Cincinnati, where under Bishop Fenwick, he ministered to the German Catholics there. In the spring of 1831, he went as a missionary to the Ottawa in what is now Harbor Springs, Michigan. In July of 1835, he became a missionary to the Ojibwe at La Pointe, Wisconsin. In 1843, he founded the L'Anse Indian mission in Upper Michigan. In 1853, he was elevated to Bishop at Sault Ste. Marie, later relocated to Marquette. During his life, he published a Chippewa Dictionary and the first grammar of that language. In addition, he published many minor works in that language and in Ottawa. He died at Marquette, Mich., 19 January, 1868.5

"one family" — this is, of course, radically in error.

The Peace Pipe Given to Zach Taylor by Old Decorah

"Decari" — called "Old Decorah," he was the grandson of a French Officer and fur trader, Sebrevoir de Carrie, and his Hočąk wife, Glory of the Morning (Hąboguwįga). His father was Čugiga, "Spoon," the first of several known as "Spoon Decorah." As the first born son of Čugiga, he had the birth order name Kunúga, sometimes misinterpreted as meaning "Old." His Thunderbird Clan name, given to him as a child, was Čaxšépsgaga, "White Eagle." He was born ca. 1747, and in time replaced his father as head chief.6 Juliette Kinzie gives a flattering description of "Old Decorah":

There was the old Day-kau-ray, the most noble, dignified, and venerable of his own, or indeed of any tribe. His fine Roman countenance, rendered still more striking by his bald head, with one solitary tuft of long silvery hair neatly tied and falling back on his shoulders; his perfectly neat, appropriate dress, almost without ornament, and his courteous demeanor, never laid aside under any circumstances, all combined to give him the highest place in the consideration of all who knew him. It will hereafter be seen that his traits of character were not less grand and striking than were his personal appearance and deportment.7

In his younger days, he fought in the War of 1812 on the British side during the attack on Ft. Stephenson (August 2, 1813), and at the Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813), where Tecumseh was killed. He had the largest village in the Hočąk nation with approximately 100 lodges at Baraboo. Of his nobility there are many testimonials. At the conclusion of the Winnebago War, Old Decorah submitted himself as a hostage on the understanding that if the perpetrators of various crimes were not surrendered to the government, then he was to be shot. Being in imperfect health, he asked Col. Snelling if he might not take the local waters for his health. The Colonel agreed on the solemn pledge that he would return to captivity at the end of each day. He replied that if he had a hundred lives, he would sooner lose them all than forfeit his word, or deduct from his proud nation one particle of its boasted honor. Some at the fort advised him to take this chance to escape, but he responded, "Do you think I prize life above honor?" He faithfully abided by his oath until the fateful day of his appoint execution arrived. When no one was surrendered, he remained as calm as ever, and by the good fortune of Gen. Atkinson's arrival, he was spared execution by the General's pardon.8 In the winter of 1832-1833 his village suffered a famine, with about 40 families with inadequate food, so Old Decorah went to the Kinzies at Ft. Winnebago to see if he could secure food for his people, but all that was available was a supply of flour adequate for his family alone. When offered this, he declined, saying that if his people could not be supplied, then he would starve with them.9 He died at Peten Well on April 20, 1836.

"The Little Prophet" — the Hočąk of this name is not given. Nevertheless, "Little Prophet," "Little Priest," and "Little Chief," are all common translations of Hųgᵋxųnųga, where strictly speaking, the initial Hųk denotes a chief. The -xųnų- element can mean either "little" or "younger." An individual of this name is shown as a signatory of the treaties of 1828 and of 1832. He also had the clan name Mórajega ("Travels the Earth"), as well as the names Mąčosepga ("Black Grizzly") and Rohąt’ehiga ("Kills Many"). He was known to have been of the Bear Clan.10 In Congressman, and Minister to France, Elihu B. Washburne's speech on the Winnebago Prophet, he said, "Little Priest was one of the most reputable of all the chiefs, able, discreet, wise, and moderate, and always sincerely friendly to the whites."11 When the Black Hawk War broke out, Col. Gratiot, who was the Winnebago Agent, was ordered by the Army to seek out the Winnebago Prophet in his village at Prophetstown, and to dissuade him from entering the fray. In this endeavor he was accompanied by Little Priest, Broken Shoulder, Whirling Thunder, White Crow, and Little Medicine Man. When they landed at Prophetstown, they were surrounded by hostile men intent upon killing them, but the Winnebago Prophet intervened and gave them his protection. After giving them his personal hospitality for three days, he warned them that his young men were intent upon killing the lot of them, and that they must make a dash for their canoes and make good their escape. This they did, and they were vigorously pursued, but Little Priest and his friends proved stronger, and escaped to Rock Island.12 It was shortly thereafter that they visited the Kinzies at Ft. Winnebago to inform them of this failed embassy (q. v.).

Jipson also comments upon the elder Little Priest:

The Little Priest of Black Hawk fame was also called Horah-tshay-kaw [Horačeka], meaning the Traveler. He was said to have been one of the most reputable of the chiefs: able, discreet, wise and moderate and always sincerely friendly to the Whites. In 1829 and also in 1832, his residence was given as Koshkonong. One side of his nose had been destroyed and he was frequently called "Old Cut Nose." His death is said to have occurred in 1882, in a Winnebago village, on White Creek, Adam's County, Wisconsin, at an extremely advanced age. He was one of the Winnebago chiefs held as a hostage in the Black Hawk War. Little Priest had several sons, among them one called Hoank-khoo-no-nik-ka (Hųk-xųnųnįka) meaning Little Chief. He was also called Little Priest by the whites, and he was a man of much sagacity and bravery.13

Horačeka is actually a corruption of Mórajega of much the same meaning. The elder Little Priest was eclipsed in fame by his son of the same name, the last war chief of the Hočągara, after whom Little Priest College is named.

"OCANGRA ARAMEE WAWAKAKABA" — for Hočągara Aramíhe Wawagáǧᵋra.

"Captain Robert A. McCabe" — as an Ensign, Robert A. McCabe shows up in the records of the First Infantry Division as having been wounded in the Battle of Maguaga, 9 August 1812, and made prisoner in Detroit.14

Robert A. McCabe of Pennsylvania was in the War of 1812-15, and was second lieutenant of Fifth infantry, May, 1815, and the next year first lieutenant. In 1824 he was captain; resigned in 1833, and was appointed Indian agent and postmaster at Fort Winnebago. From 1836 to 1845 he was sutler to the troops on Mackinaw island ...15

He was "later to be celebrated as the 'engineer' of Fort Snelling."16 He was a friend of William Clark (of "Lewis & Clark" fame), who later gave him the compass that he used on his 1803 expedition. "Long after his epic journey was over, Clark gave the compass to Capt. Robert A. McCabe, a veteran of the War of 1812 who was commandant of Fort Crawford in Wisconsin in 1825, when Clark went there to negotiate the Treaty of Prairie du Chien with the Indians."17

"a certain herb" — to my knowledge, this practice, and the herb central to it, are not now known to science.

"polygamy" — before white intrusion caused the cultural decline of the tribe, the practice of polygamy was generally frowned upon as a species of greed.

"cholera" — as can be seen from the hand bill posted by the New York City Board of Health in this same year of 1832, the true cause of this disease was unknown. It is in fact caused by water or food contaminated by human feces. The disease, which is concentrated in the small intestine, is actually caused by a bacterium, the Vibrio cholerae. Its immediate effect is diarrhea so severe as to cause rapid, intensive dehydration, producing such symptoms as cold skin, decreased skin elasticity, wrinkling of the hands and feet, sunken eyes, and bluish skin. In epidemics, the death rate runs anywhere from 5 - 50%. The great pandemic that occurred in the Mississippi valley in 1832, originated in the Ganges River valley in India, then progressed to Russia in 1828 and on to western Europe, where it killed hundreds of thousands. From there it entered North America in 1832.18

Little Decorah

"the eldest son of the venerable chief Decari" — known as "Little Decorah," whose Hočąk clan name was Mąxikušinąžįga, "He Raises up to the Sky," a name in the Thunderbird Clan.19 He was also known by the name Cha-ge-ka-ka, which I am not able to interpret. He was the eldest son of "Old" Decorah. In 1840, he had a village on the Iowa River.20 Hixom says of him, "Little Decorah was of medium height, five feet, eight or ten inches, and was chunky and fleshy. It is said that he was slow of action and speech, but possessed a mild and kind disposition and was very sensible."21 When Old Decorah died in April, 1836, he succeeded him as chief. De la Ronde, however, claims that he died a mere 6 months later,22 according to Moses Paquette (the son of Pierre Paquette),

The oldest Wisconsin Winnebago now living (1887) is Little Decorah, who has a place near Millston, Jackson county. He is the oldest son of the late Grey-headed Decorah. I suppose that Little Decorah must be about one hundred years of age. I remember that he seemed to me an old man as far back as 1836. He is now a childish helpless wreck.23

He was among those who went to Washington in 1828, and again in 1837.24 Little Decorah died a centenarian at Blue Wing's settlement, near Tomah, Wisconsin, April 1, 1887.25

"Reverend R. Petiot" — Remigius Petiot was a French cleric who became one of the "pioneer priests of Minnesota."26 He was recruited by Mathias Loras, the Bishop of Dubuque, to serve on the frontier, but initially spent time in Baltimore learning English.27 He was ordained in the autumn of 1839, when he assumed a position as priest at Galena, Illinois.28 In 1841-1842, Petiot was sent to work among the Hočągara opposite Prairie du Chien.29

A Stained Glass Image
of Bishop Loras
in St. Raphael's Cathedral

"Bishop Loras" — Pierre-Jean-Mathias Loras, whose father and uncle were both guillotined during the French Revolution, was born in Lyons, France, on 30 August, 1792. He was ordained in 1815 and served initially as a seminarian. In 1829 he served as a priest in Mobile, Alabama, and was appointed by his bishop there to be the Bishop of Dubuque, Iowa. He went to France to recruit ideal candidates to be priest on the frontier. He came back in 1839 with six such men, including Reverend Petiot. The French of Lyons also gave generously to his enterprise. He died in Dubuque on February 20, 1858. When he ascended to his office, he had but one priest with a small scattered flock, and when he departed, he had 48 priests, 60 churches, and 54,000 followers.30

Notes to the Commentary

1 James Davie Butler, "Father Samuel Mazzuchelli," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIV (1898): 155-161 [notes of the editor, 155-157].
2 John Gilmary Shea, A History of the Catholic Church Within the Limits of the United States: From the First Attempted Colonization to the Present Time, Volume 3 (New York: John G. Shea, 1890) Chapter XIX. Matthew O'Brien, "Cincinnati," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908).
3 Joseph Wuest, "Redemptorists," The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911).
4 Satterlee Clark, "The Early History of Fort Winnebago as Narrated by Hon. Sat. Clark at the Court House in Portage, on Friday Eve., Mar. 21, ’79," The Portage Democrat, March 28, 1879 = Satterlee Clark, "Early Times at Fort Winnebago, and Black Hawk War Reminiscences," Wisconsin Historical Collections, VIII (1879): 316-320.
5 Chrysostom Verwyst, "Frederic Baraga," The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907).
6 Charles Philip Hexom, Indian History of Winneshiek County (Decorah, Iowa: A. K. Bailey & Son, 1913) 29-32.
7 Juliette Augusta McGill Kinzie, Wau-Bun, The "Early Day" in the North-west (Chicago & New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1873 [1856]) 73 (q.v.)
8 "Indian Honor: An Incident of the Winnebago War," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V (1868): 154-155 = Western Courier, Ravenna, Ohio, February 26, 1830.
9 Kinzie, Wau-Bun, 373 (q.v.).
10 Nancy Oestreich Lurie, "A Check List of Treaty Signers by Clan Affiliation," Journal of the Wisconsin Indians Research Institute, 2, #1 (June, 1966): 50-73 [58, name 31].
11 Charles Bent, History of Whiteside County, Illinois, from Its First Settlement to the Present Time (Morristown: L. P. Allen, 1877) 524.
12 Bent, History of Whiteside County, Illinois, 524-525.
13 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 231.
14 The First United States Infantry - Clemson's Company & Missouri Rangers > History > Officers Wounded, Killed, and Taken Prisoner during the War of 1812. Viewed: 5/11/2016.
15 Edward E. Neill, Fort Snelling, Minnesota, while in command of col. Josiah Snelling, Fifth infantry (New York: reprinted from The Magazine of Western History, 1888) 10 nt f. Henry Merrell, "Pioneer Life in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 7 (1908): 366-404 [403-404]. The latter says that he was sutler from 1836-1840.
16 Helen McCann White, "Frontier Feud: 1819-1820. How Two Officers Quarreled All the Way to the Site of Fort Snelling," Minnesota History, 42, #3 (Fall, 1970): 99-114 [103].
17 Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Catalog #: 38366, Accession #: 12264.
18 Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
19 Lurie, "A Check List of Treaty Signers by Clan Affiliation," 69, name 100. As to the status of the name, see Rev. James Owen Dorsey, "Winnebago Gentes, including Personal Names Belonging to each Gens" (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution: T.D., 1878-79?), cat. #4800 DORSEY PAPERS, Winnebago (319).
20 Spoon Decorah, "Narrative of Spoon Decorah," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIII (1895): 448-462 [455].
21 Charles Philip Hexom, Indian History of Winneshiek County (Decorah, Iowa: A. K. Bailey & Son, 1913) 46.
22 John T. de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VII (1876): 345-365 [356].
23 Moses Paquette, "The Wisconsin Winnebago," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XII (1892): 399-433 [429-430].
24 de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VII (1876): 346, 359. He is also shown as having signed the treaties of 1837, 1846, 1855, 1859, and 1865. Missing, apparently, is any reference to 1828. Lurie, "A Check List of Treaty Signers by Clan Affiliation," 69, name 100.
25 Paquette, "The Wisconsin Winnebago," 429 and nt 2.
26 John Charles Stuart, "Dubuque," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909).
27 John Gilmary Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States, Vol. 3 (New York: D. H. McBride, 1890) 706.
28 The American Catholic Historical Researches, Volume 12 (Philadelphia: Martin I. J. Griffin, 1895) 83-84.
29 Shea, A History of the Catholic Church Within the Limits of the United States, 3:705.
30 Stuart, "Dubuque."


Samuel Mazzuchelli, Memoirs: Historical and Edifying of a Misisonary Apostolic of the Order of Saint Dominic among Various Indian Tribes and among the Catholics and Protestants in the United States of America, trs. Sister Mary Benedicta Kennedy, OSD (Chicago: W. F. Hall Printing Co., 1915 [1844]).