Origin of the Decorah Family

translated by Richard L. Dieterle

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

Previous episode of this story ("First Contact").

(22) One of the leaders, after he landed, found a woman there whom he liked. The woman whom he liked was the daughter of a chief. "May I marry her?" he asked the parents. (23) And they said to him that it's her two brothers that are in charge of her. And they said to that man that they were going to do it for him. Thereupon he married the woman. There they said something for him. The man stayed a long time there with them. He taught them the use of tools. And the woman he married would go home with him, but he would come back again. (24) In the course of time, a child was born. They had a son. Yet one more they had since then. They had themselves two sons. This man said that in time he would take back home from here the eldest of the children. (25) He would go back there so that he might survive, as there is nothing there to trouble the heart. But as it is, the people always make life dangerous for themselves. They said that, in any case, the youngest one should live here with his mother.

Then he took him and went home. With his oldest boy, the man returned home to his parents. (26) He had not made a marriage, and in his affairs he was most emphatically a leader of men. So in this way he would continually exert himself every day. They liked him (the son) very much. They would also come to see him. They would also lavishly bestow things on him. They gave him all kinds of toys. In spite of this, however, he became homesick. (27) Every day he would cry. There, as he was still crying, he would fall asleep. As he became sleepy he cried, this way he would always do. Also, he would not eat. Therefore, he should go home. "Ho," they said. Having become sick, he might die in the end, they said.

So then before long he brought him back. And this is what he said, "My sons are now men. (28) So they will live here," he said, and, "in whatever way you men intend, indeed that way they will be raised," he said. And they would make them fast. One day the eldest one got himself up early in the morning and he did not fast. Thus he did, and when he got ready to prepare some green corn, his oldest uncle did this: (29) he snatched it away from him, and taking a piece of charcoal, he mashed it, and rubbed it on his face, and threw him outside. He made him take to the ground, and so he went to the wilderness. As there was a good place to hide out there, there he hid. And they searched for him, but did not find him. (30) And they said to Kunuga, "In this you did wrong, but it is done," they said to him. In truth, however, since he had already done thus, he was afraid to meet with his father. In the course of a full month, then he came home. He had dreamt. And he brought back a circle of wood. A small drum, this he brought back. (31) "With this they have blessed me," he said. "It is not to be used in war. It is a life-obtainer," he said. And if a feast were made to this, Earthmaker himself would be blessed by it; and as he had obtained life, he was called upon to serve the people, (32) and he himself would take care of them, he said. Therefore, this he was.

They depended on him. Whatever thing it was that they undertook, he was foremost. They called him Waxopininąka, "the Spirit." They called his younger brother Cap’ósgaga, "White Breast." As a result, this is the way it is — it is always one of the Spirit People who is chief. (33) In truth only he alone could accomplish anything there among the Spirit People. At the present time they are numerous. They have led good lives. At the present time, the number of this group alone is not the same size as the rest of the families. (34) And their holy thing is indeed as it was. It is holy. Therefore, with what they were blessed, it is that way. It is powerful today. Finally, all of it will be fulfilled. The way the whites do things is good. At this time, it is already that way. This is what he had said, they say.

This is the end of the history of the Spirit People, the Decorahs.1

Commentary. "leaders" — the impression that this narrative leaves is that this unnamed leader was with the party of Jean Nicollet in the initial meeting of 1634. However, the gentleman in question is Sabrevoir De Carrie, a French Army officer, who arrived in 1728.2 He was known to have been under the command of Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand (21 February 1675 – 7 June 1736) in 1699.3 In 1719 de Boisbriand turned his attention to the more northern reaches of Louisiana, establishing Fort de Chartres on the Mississippi in what is now southern Illinois. The inset shows the reconstructed main gate of the fort. In 1722 the French established the town of Prairie du Rocher nearby. It was from this base that contacts with the north were conducted. The fort was designed to establish trade with the Indians and exercise some control of them, particularly the Fox, who neighbored on the Hocągara. However, from 1724-1726, de Broisbriand was called to serve as the new Governor of Louisiana in New Orleans. So it was under his successor, Étienne Périer, that De Carrie was involved in renewing contacts with the Hocągara.

The antecedants of Sabrevoir de Carrie are difficult to establish. The name denotes a "carrier" or carter, and seems to have originated in Languedoc (southern France). In France it has a myriad of forms: Carrier, Carier, Carrié, Carié, Carriey, Carriay, Carryer, Caryer, Carriaie, Carriais, Cariaie, Cariais, De Carrier, De Carier, De Carrié, De Carié, De Carriey, De Carriay, De Carryer, De Caryer, De Carraie, De Carriais, De Cariaie, De Cariais, Du Carrier, Du Carier, Du Carrié, Du Carié, Du Carriey, Du Carriay, Du Carryer, Du Caryer, Du Carriaie, Du Carriais, Du Cariaie, Du Cariais, Le Carrier, Le Carier, et alia.

"he landed" — these events are treated as if they had taken place within several days after the 1634 landing of Jean Nicollet at Red Banks near Green Bay, where the Hocągara had an encampment. For the story of this landing, see First Contact.

"The Landfall of Jean Nicollet," by Edwin Willard Deming (1904)

"woman" — this is Hąboguwįga, whose name means "The Glory of the Morning," or "The Coming Dawn." A complete account of her is given in The Glory of the Morning. For more on the meanng of her name, see Commentary there (1, 2).

"the daughter of a chief" — some say that she was the daughter of the head chief of the tribe.4 However, Grignon and others following him, asserted that she was his sister.5 According to Lyman Draper, One-Eyed Decorah (Wajxatega) (b. ca. 1772), the son of Cap’osgaga, told Judge Gale that he was descended from the chief of the tribe through his grandmother.6 The tradition gathered by David Lee Smith says that she was the daughter of the chief and succeeded him upon his death in 1729.7 Their village was on Doty Island.

"married" — this marriage may have been undertaken for political reasons, although our narrative suggests that her father was living at the time of her marriage, and is believed to have been chief then. However, it has been suggested that by this time, Glory of the Morning had already ascended to the chieftainship.

Around 1730 Habogųįga allied her people with the French in the usual way by marrying a French army officer and fur trader. ... Like royalty worldwide, elite Indian women frequently served their people by marrying for diplomatic reasons, and Habogųįga's marriage clearly linked her people politically and economically with the powerful ascendant French.8

In the tradition collected by David Lee Smith, she was already queen in 1729, but her marriage was said to be for love and not politics.9

"stayed a long time" — Sebrevoir de Carrie is thus credited with being the first white settler of Winnebago County.10 His wife, Glory in the Morning, as a daughter or sister of the chief, would have been a member of the Thunderbird Clan. A foreigner who marries a woman generally is integrated into her clan.11 Inasmuch as the Thunderbird Clan is the chief's clan, his descendants were eligible to become chiefs in their own right.

"home" — the narrative seems to suppose that this is France, but specifically where in that country is not stated. However, it has been suggested that he was a native of Quebec, and that is the place to which he returned.12

"son" — in Hocąk this word is wąk, which literally means "man." So more literally it says, "They had a man. ... They had themselves two men."

"two sons" — in his reminiscences, Judge Lockwood (b. 1793) said of Glory of the Morning's sons,

Tradition says that their father was a French trader, who during the time the French had possession of the country, married a Winnebago woman, the daughter of the principal chief of the nation, by whom he had these sons and daughter; that at the time the country was taken possession of by the English, he abandoned them, and they were raised among the Indians, and being the descendants of a chief on the mother's side, when arrived at manhood they assumed the dignity of their rank by inheritance. They were generally good Indians and frequently urged their claims to the friendship of the whites, by saying they were themselves half white.13

The departure of De Carrie occurred far earlier than Judge Lockwood supposed, since the British did not take possession of the country until after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, several years after Sebrevoir's death. As Lockwood mentions, the couple also had a daughter, and that it was the daughter whom he took home with him contrary to the present Hocąk account. This is affirmed in another Hocąk tradition, which gives her name as Nąno'abewįga, "Oak Leaf," and asserts that she and her father left for Quebec in 1737.14 Lawson says that De Carrie had two daughters and three sons, but does not cite a source.15 The name of the eldest son is given variously as Choukeka, Chau-ka-ka, or Chou-ga-rah. Since he was known as "Spoon Dekaury," we know that his tribal name was properly Cugiga, "Spoon, Ladle." The younger son was known as Chah-post-kaw-kaw, or "Buzzard Decorah." This is in fact a corruption of Cap’osgaga, "White Breast." He was perhaps named after his famous contemporary, the war chief Cap'osgaga, who also resided in this same Doty Island village (see The Fox-Hocąk War).

"there is nothing there to trouble the heart" — in other words, it is safer in France, where people are not set upon by warparties, the necessary consequence of the American obsession with war.

"dangerous" — at this time, particularly in 1730-1731, the Fox were on the warpath against the Hocągara and had them trapped and under siege on Doty Island where De Carrie's father-in-law was chief. For these troubles, see The Marin Letter, and The Fox-Hocąk War. Peace was not established until 1737, but relations continued to be bad with the Fox for sometime thereafter.

"went home" — Sabrevoir De Carrie resigned his commission in 1729 to become a trader among the Hocągara, but later returned to home with his daughter. It has been suggested that his home was not in France, but in Quebec, and that he had returned therefore to Canada.16 However, when the French and Indian War broke out, he reentered the service, returning with his daughter to Quebec. During the siege by Wolfe he was mortally wounded (April 28, 1760) at the Battle of Sainte Foy, later dying in the hospital in Montreal. His daughter married Laurent Fily, an Indian trader in Quebec, and a clerk for Augustin Grignon.17

"lavishly bestow" — the narrator uses the word hok'ųk'ų, which is an emphatic reduplication of the standard word for giving, hok'ų.

"fast" — the word used here, hataganąc, actually means "dream." Fasting invariably accompanies the vision quest, which is called "dreaming." In theory it makes the person more worthy of the pity of the spirits, but as a practical matter, fasting helps induce visions, the deprivation of food causing the mind to fall out of its normal (and therefore worldly) patterns of behavior.

"he did not fast" — people who are unusually holy, especially if they are spirits reborn as humans, show a disinclination to fast. The spirits bless such people not because they pity them, but because they are one of their own.

"uncle (hitek)" — this is the oldest brother of the boy's mother. The relationship between a hitek and his nephew is the closest of bonds. The hitek is not a disciplinarian — that role falls to the father. However, in the absence of the father the roles become confused. Just the same, it is unnatural for the hitek to force his nephew into anything, or even get angry with him, since they have a "joking relation." The fact that the oldest son of the old chief was passed over for the chieftainship in favor of his sister Glory of the Morning would suggest that he was considered somewhat foolish.

"rubbed it on his face" — in the practice of fasting for vision, which is conducted at puberty, the seeker traditionally engages in mourning behavior in a secluded place in order to induce the spirits to have pity on him (or her) and grant him a blessing. This is also known as "crying to the spirits," since the supplicant engages in loud crying and tears. An important part of the ritual is smearing the face with charcoal. This practice is really derived from the mourning rite, in which the bereaved person, as an expression of depression, emphasizes its symptoms by taking deliberate steps to become disheveled and dirty, just as a person suffering from acute clinical depression might in a like fashion "let themselves go." This expression of emotional suffering in a vision quest will invariably affect the spirits who fall into sympathetic suffering themselves, a melancholy which they can relieve only by bestowing the powers inherent in their blessings.

"to the ground" — the initial clause is not translated by Radin. In Hocąk the word used here, mąra, is highly ambiguous. Among its many meanings, the two that might apply are "ground, earth" and "arrow." It may be that the uncle made him take his arrows with him, but the practice of carrying arrows on a dream quest is not attested elsewhere.

"Kunuga" — the birth order name for the oldest brother. This is a reference to the uncle, who is the oldest brother of the boy's mother.

"a circle of wood" — a ritualistic expression for a drum.

"the Spirit"waxopini-nąka, the word for a Frenchman. This name was acquired at first contact when Jean Nicollet fired his pistols in the air and was mistaken for one of the Thunders. See First Contact.

"the whites" — a literal translation of ska-ra. This is the only known instance of a literal translation into Hocąk of what white people call themselves. Normally, white people are called "Spirit People" (paradigmatically Frenchmen), "workers" (deprecating), or "Big Knives" (paradigmatically white Americans).

Comparative Material. The marriage of fur traders and Indians was almost the rule.

The Great Lakes Métis, like their Canadian siblings, typically derived their mixed ancestry from the union between a French-Canadian fur trade employee or bourgeois and an American Indian or métis woman. Hence important kinship alliances were formed that not only aided in the perpetuation of the fur trade, but also allowed for a more fluid and dynamic cultural exchange, bonding people to each other through common lifestyles and familial ties, rather than a strict adherence to racial affiliation. The tribal history of the Ho Chunk, according to Radin and Smith.18 includes an origin story of just such a marriage. Around 1729 Hopoe-kaw, alias "Glory of the Morning" (the only known female Ho Chunk chief), married by Indian custom Sabrevois de Carrie, a military officer and fur trader.19

In the 1820's and 1830's, the fur trade as a way of life essentially collapsed with the flood of white settlers.20

Links: The Wazija.

Stories: mentioning the Decorah family: The Glory of the Morning, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, The Tavern Visit, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Hocągara Contest the Giants; about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hocągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hocąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Black Otter's Warpath, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; about entitlement to chieftainship: Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Glory of the Morning, Pigeon Clan Origins, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins.

Themes: an Indian woman marries a white man (fur trader): The Glory of the Morning, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Migistéga’s Magic; a man is adopted into a family who live in a distant village: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, Moiety Origin Myth, The Captive Boys; a (step-)father is too demanding of his son: Moiety Origin Myth, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Boy Who Became a Robin; a young man, who later turns out to be holy, is criticized by his elders for not conducting his puberty fast: The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Moiety Origin Myth; spirits bless someone with an artifact: Waruǧábᵉra (warbundle, warclub), The Warbundle of the Eight Generations (warbundle, flute), The Blessing of a Bear Clansman (warbundle), The Thunderbird (warclub), The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds (warclub), The Rounded Wood Origin Myth (ceremonial object), The Friendship Drum Origin Myth (drum), Paint Medicine Origin Myth (magical paint), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (flute and gourd), Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka (flute), Ancient Blessing (pot, ax, spoon), The Blessing of the Bow (bow and arrows), Heną́ga and Star Girl (Thunderbird Medicine, arrow).

Members of the Decorah Family
Big Canoe (One-Eyed Decorah) Old Gray-Headed Decorah Little Decorah Wakan Decorah Wakąhaka Angel Decorah


1 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Contact with the French," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #17, 22-34. A loose translation is found in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 19-21.

2 Publius Virgilius Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907) 77-162 [136]. Some have suggested that his name was Joseph de Carrie. Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, A Gathering of Rivers: Indians, Métis, and Mining in the Western Great Lakes, 1737-1832 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000) 28.

3 John T. de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 7 (1876): 345-365 [347]. Publius Virgilius Lawson, The History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin; Its Cities, Towns, Resources, People, 2 vols. (Chicago: C. F. Cooper & Co., 1908) 57.

4 James H. Lockwood (b. 1793), "Early Times and Events in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2 (1856): 98-196 [178]; note by Draper in McBride, "The Capture of Black Hawk," 297; Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 136.

5 Augustin Grignon, "Seventy-Two Years' Recollections of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 3 (1857): 197-295 [286]; de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," 347; Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 136. Lawson, The History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, 57.

6 Note by Draper in McBride, "The Capture of Black Hawk," 297.

7 David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 156.

8 Murphy, A Gathering of Rivers, 28.

9 Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 156-157.

10 Lawson, The History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, 161.

11 That Sabrevoir de Carrie was adopted into Glory of the Morning's clan is stated (without attribution) by Charles Philip Hexom, Indian History of Winneshiek County (Decorah, Iowa: A. K. Bailey & Son, Inc., 1913) under the chapter "Genealogy and History of the Decorah Family" (unnumbered pages).

12 Murphy, A Gathering of Rivers, 28.

13 This passage has been widely and incorrectly attributed to Captain Jonathan Carver, Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (London: Printed for C. Dilly; H. Payne; and J. Phillips, 1781 [1778]). However, it comes from Lockwood, "Early Times and Events in Wisconsin," 178. Much the same story is related in de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," 347; Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 137.

14 Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 156. Murphy gives a simplified version of the name as Nąnoap (A Gathering of Rivers, 28.). According to Miner, nąno means "oak wood."

15 Lawson, The History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, 57. On p. 46 he says that it is three sons and one daughter.

16 Murphy, A Gathering of Rivers, 28.

17 de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," 347. Lawson, The History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, 57.

18 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 19-21. Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 156.

19 Linda M. Waggoner (ed.), "Neither White Men Nor Indians": Affidavits from the Winnebago Mixed-blood Claim Commissions, Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, 1838-1839 (Roseville, Minnesota: Park Genealogical Books, 2002) 4 nt 1.

20 Waggoner, Neither White Men nor Indians, 1.