Xųnųnį́ka (Ho-no-ne-gah)

by Edson Carr

Steven Mack was perhaps the first white man in the Rock River area in Illinois. He had set up a trading post first at Bird's Grove, where the Hocągara resided. At some point he set up his business at the Pottawatomi village at Grand Detour.

“Mack's relation with this tribe was not productive of the best of feeling; and although he had taken the chief's daughter, Ho-no-ne-gah [Xųnųnį́ka], for his wife, still his life was in danger, because he refused to sell firearms and liquor to the tribe. During one of his trips to Chicago with three of his ponies, a plan was fully matured to dispose of him on his return and take possession of his effects. His Indian wife learning of their intentions, was on the lookout for her husband's return, and meeting him far out from camp, apprised him of his danger.

It was quick work for her to mount one of the ponies, and together they started out for the Winnebago tribe at Bird's grove, where they were gladly welcomed and promised protection. It became their future home for a number of years.

His Indian wife was a very faithful and devoted woman. She was largely absorbed in the care of her home and children, save when sickness of the early settlers called for her kind and skillful care and attention. Then with her supply of nature's remedies which the Great Spirit had so kindly spread out all around her, she would seek out the afflicted and bring sunshine and relief to many a suffering one who fell a prey to the ills of a new country. The high tribute of respect to Mack's Indian wife was genuine and sincere, and although of a dusky hue, she possessed a noble soul and did all she could to make those around her comfortable and happy.

Not only in sickness were her many virtues shown in a marked degree, but the poor and destitute around her incident to the struggles of many an early settler, shared of her provisions in a generous manner. She delighted in doing good. Only once was she known to assume the garb of her pale-face sisters, and then it was by great solicitation; but she felt so ill at ease, and afraid to make herself conspicuous, she soon laid it aside and forever after 'was content with the costume of her tribe.' Mrs. Jesse Blinn, who was a near neighbor, says of her:

She was very skillful in ornamenting her clothing. She made herself for extra occasions an Indian dress of fine blue broadcloth, with a border five inches deep all around it, worked with various colored ribbons; her taste in blending colors to have a pleasing effect was very fine, and her needle work almost perfect. Many articles about her home bore witness of her skillful handiwork. Being a Pottawatomie, she like her tribe, felt above the Winnebagoes in skill, and showed much ability in fashioning many articles of merchandise.

Mrs. Mack's relatives from Grand Detour, often came to visit her, and on such occasions she would array herself in her best garments, visit their tents and for a brief time be a child of nature again. She died in July, 1847, leaving a child about a year old. She was the mother of eleven children, two of whom died in infancy.”1

Commentary. "Ho-no-ne-gah" — Barge quotes a Hocąk rendering of this name:

John Blackhawk, an intelligent and well-educated Winnebago says that Ho-no-ne-gah is a Winnebago word meaning “dear little one.” and is the name given the first girl born in a Winnebago family.2

The birth order name for the first girl is Hínųga. This is, needless to say, missing a syllable and composed of the wrong phonemes. The name Xononįka, however, means "Little One": xono ~ xonu ~ xųnų, means, "little, young"; nįk means, "little, small" and functions as an affectionate diminutive. The suffix -ka is a definite article used primarily for personal names. Nevertheless, in court papers Blackhawk's version of the name does appear. In one she is said to be Inoquer Hononegah, the former name being a distortion of Hínųga, "First Born Female." She is there said to be the daughter of Inoquer, which is to say that her mother too was the first born girl in her family. At her mother's death, she was raised by her uncle, who is identified as Co.no.shep.kah.3 This name is the birth order name Kunu(ga) and the name Šepka, which means, "Black One."

"welcomed" — this is because she was Hocąk (Winnebago). The narrator has an awkward time of explaining how the Potawatomi wished harm on the daughter of their own chief and his husband, and doesn't even attempt to explain why the Hocągara were so happy to give them refuge.

"being a Pottawatomie" — this is easily shown to be false, not only because she bears a Hocąk name, but from extensive legal testimony to that effect without contradiction from any source.4 Why would anyone wish to suggest that she was Potawatomi? There may have been some resentment directed at her husband for making a claim on behalf of his family for a share in the government award to the members of the Hocąk nation in payment for the surrender of their lands.

"Grand Detour" — in 1839, William M. Adams testified that the first child was born to the couple on Nov. 14, 1830.5 They were married in February, 1829.6 In Adam's testimony, we are told that he began his trading in the area as early as 1821. It is sufficiently obvious that he met his future wife sometime between 1821 and 1829 at Bird's Grove.

Links: ...

Stories: mentioning the Potawatomi: Fourth Universe, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), The Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact (v. 2), Little Priest's Game, Introduction; occurring in Illinois: The Waterspirit of Rock River, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon’s Crossing, First Contact (v. 2), How Jarrot Got His Name, Witches; set at Rock River: The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon’s Crossing, Witches.


1 Edson Irving Carr, The History of Rockton, Winnebago County, Illinois, 1820-1898 (Rockton: Herald Office Printer, 1898) 6-8.

2 William D. Barge, Early Lee County, Being Some Chapters in the History of the Early Days in Lee County, Illinois (Chicago: Barnard and Miller, Printers, 1918) 29.

3 this according to a statement made by Steven Mack himself, October 6, 1838. Linda M. Waggoner, "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) 29a.

4 Waggoner, "Neither White Men Nor Indians," 25a-30a.

5 Waggoner, "Neither White Men Nor Indians," 26.

6 Barge, Early Lee County, 28.