The Spanish Fight

by Captain Jonathan Carver

(30) "The time I tarried here [Doty Island], I employed in making the beſt obſervations poſſible on the country, and in colleƈting the moſt certain intelligence I could of the origin, language, and cuſtoms of this people. From theſe enquiries I have reaſon to conclude, that the Winnebagoes originally reſided in ſome of the provinces belonging to New Mexico; and being driven from their native country, either by inteſtine diviſions, or by the extenſion of the Spaniſh conqueſts, they took refuge in theſe more northern parts about a century ago.

(31) My reaſons for adopting this ſuppoſition are ... thirdly from their inveterate hatred to the Spaniards. Some of them informed me that they had made many excurſions to the ſouth-weſt, which took up ſeveral moons. An elderly chief more particularly acquainted me, that about forty-ſix winters ago [1720], he marched, at the head of fifty warriors, towards the ſouth-weſt, for three moons. That during this expedition, whilſt they were croſſing a plain, (32) they diſcovered a body of men on horſeback, who belonged to the Black People; for ſo they call the Spaniards. As ſoon as they perceived them, they proceeded with caution, and concealed themſelves till night came on; when they drew ſo near as to be able to diſcern the number and ſituation of their enemies. Finding they were not able to cope with ſo great a ſuperiority by daylight they waited till they had retired to reſt; when they ruſhed upon them, and after having killed the greateſt part of the men, took eighty horſes loaded with what they termed white ſtone. This I ſuppoſe to have been ſilver, as he told me the horſes were ſhod with it, and that their bridles were ornamented with the ſame. When they had ſatiated their revenge, they carried off their ſpoil, and being got ſo far as to be out of the reach of the Spaniards that had eſcaped their fury, they left the uſeleſs and ponderous burthen, with which the horſes were loaded, in the woods, and mounting themſelves, in this manner returned to their friends. The party they had thus defeated, I conclude to be the caravan that annually conveys to Mexico, the ſilver which the Spaniards find in great quantities (33) on the mountains lying near the heads of the Coloredo River: and the plains where the attack was made, probably, ſome they were obliged to paſs over in their way to the heads of the River St. Fee, or Rio del Nord, which falls into the gulph of Mexico to the weſt of the Miſſiſſippi."1

Similar ideas put forward by William J. Snelling:

"The [Winnebago] tribe, as their traditions say, were driven from Mexico by the companions of CORTEZ, or their successors. The tradition is probably correct in point of fact; for they state that they resisted all attempts to expel them from their native land, till the white invaders hunted them with dogs of uncommon size and ferocity; probably these were the blood-hounds since employed to subdue the Maroons in Jamaica. The Dakotas have a similar tradition. Be that as it may, the Winnebagoes retained an inveterate antipathy to the Mexican Spaniards, till very lately. They have now transferred it to the people of the United States. Some old men among them still remember the excursions they were wont to make in their youth to the borders of Mexico, whence they brought horses, captives, &c. These people have more courage, and more national character, than any tribe of the North West. Drunkenness is not so common among them as among other tribes, and they are not so fond of mixing blood with the whites."2

1721: Charlevoix Visits Wisconsin; His Description of the Tribes

Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix

translated and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites

(413) "About two years ago, some Spaniards — who had come, it was said, from New Mexico, intending to penetrate as far as the Illinois, and drive out thence the French, whom they saw with extreme jealousy advancing so far on the Missouri — descended that River, and attacked two Villages of Octotatas [Otos], People who are Allies of the Aiouez [Ioway], from whom, it is even claimed, they take their origin. As those Savages had no firearms, and were taken by surprise, the Spaniards had easily the advantage over them, and made great carnage there. A third Village of the same Tribe, not very far from the other two, learned what was occurring; and, not doubting that these Conquerors would proceed to them, prepared for the enemy an Ambuscade, into which the Spaniards rashly fell. Others say that the Savages, having learned that their Enemies were nearly all intoxicated, and sleeping heavily, fell upon them during the night. But it is certain that nearly all of the Spaniards were slain.

There were in that Troop two Chaplains; one of them was killed at the outset, and the other escaped among the (414) Missourites [Missouria], who kept him a prisoner; but he very adroitly escaped from them. He had a remarkably fine Horse, and the Missourites enjoyed seeing him perform feats of Horsemanship, in which he was very skillful; he profited by their curiosity to free himself from their hands. One day when he was caracoling before them, he gradually increased his distance from them; then suddenly using both spurs, he quickly vanished from their sight. As no other Prisoner was taken, we have no definite knowledge, either from what part of New Mexico those Spaniards had come, or what their intentions were; for what I told you at the beginning of this account was founded only upon the reports of Savages, who perhaps desired to court our favor by making known that they had, through this defeat, rendered us a great service. All the articles brought to me were from the spoils of the Chaplain who had been slain; and there was also found on him a Book of Prayers, which I have not seen; it was probably his Breviary. I bought the Pistol; the Shoes were worth nothing; and the Savage was never willing to part with the Ointment, having taken into his head that this was a sovereign remedy against all kinds of ills. I was curious to know how he intended to use it, and he answered me that it was sufficient to swallow a little of the medicine, and whatever Malady attacked a person would be immediately healed; he did not assert, however, that he had yet proved this by experience, and I advised him not to do so."3

Commentary. "the Black People" — in Hocąk this would be Wągesebera, which is otherwise unattested, the only known word for Spaniard being Spanioraga. However, the name for Christians generally is Waisép’įra, "Black Robes," after the attire of the Jesuits. These two words could be confused; but the problem is that they seem to have been speaking in Ojibwe. Since the only survivor of the actual ambush whose personal articles survived to be viewed by Charlevoix was a chaplain, it becomes much more plausible that "Black People" refers specifically to this Spanish cleric who would have also been identified as a "Black Robe."

"white stone" — this would be ini-sga in Hocąk. The word for silver as money is žura, which is undoubtedly a loan word from Ojibwe zhooniya, "sliver." The term for the substance silver is mąsgá, which is mąs, "metal," and sga, "white." However, if the word is analyzed wrongly, it becomes mą-sga, "white earth."

"River St. Fee" — this is the Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Rio Grande.

"Rio del Nord" — for Río del Norte, the name used for the Rio Grande by the Antonio de Espejo expedition to New Mexico in 1582-1583.4

"People who are Allies" — the three tribes mentioned here, the Oto, Ioway, and Missouria, form the Chiwere peoples, whose languages are dialects of one another.

"an Ambuscade" — this account makes it plausible that the account of Capt. Carver was a legendary elaboration of an historical event in which the Hocągara did not participate. Being themselves on good terms with the Ioway, they probably obtained these goods in trade or as gifts.

"from the spoils" — since a good many horses will have been captured in the massacre of the Spanish, we can expect that the spoils shown to Charlevoix were not all that were extant, inasmuch as we can expect, in conformity with Carver's account, that the silver accouterments of the horses would also have been collected.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Horses.

Stories: 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, Origin of the Decorah Family, 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 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 the migration of the Hocągara: The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Hocągara Migrate South, The First Sauk and Fox War, Quapah Origins, cf. Hocąk Clans Origin Myth; mentioning silver: Silver Mound Cave, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Tavern Visit, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, see also Chief's Medallion; mentioning drunkeness: The Drunkard's Self-Reflections, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, The Brawl in Omro, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Version 1, Little Fox and the Ghost, Version 1, Migistéga's Death, Version 1, Snowshoe Strings; set at Doty Island (Winnebago Rapids): The Fox-Hotcâk War, The Glory of the Morning, Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth.

Themes: descriptions of human warfare: Black Otter's Warpath, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Wazųka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fox-Hocąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, White Fisher, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, The Osage Massacre, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka.


1 Captain Jonathan Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (Dublin: Printed for S. Price, 1779) 30-33. An excerpt is also found in Reverend Alfred Brunson, "Early History of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 4 (1859): 223-251 [235].

2 William J. Snelling, "Early Days at Prairie du Chien and the Winnebago Outbreak of 1827," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 5 (1868): 123-153 [142].

3 Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, Journal historique (Paris: 1744) 187-189, 290-296, 299-301. "1721: Charlevoix Visits Wisconsin; His Description of the Tribes," trs. ed. Rueben Gold Thwaites. Wisconsin Historical Collections, 16 (1902): 408-417 [413-414]

4 Diego Pérez de Luxán, Expedition into New Mexico Made by Antonio de Espejo, 1582-1583: As Revealed in the Journal of Diego Pérez de Luxán, a Member of the Party. Volume 1 of Quivira Society Publications (New York: Arno Press, 1967) 59, 64.