by Captain Don Saunders

Arthur Langford
George LaMère, "Hotonga" (1900-1956)

"Born on the Winnebago Indian reservation at Nebraska to the soft beat of ceremonial drums, cradled to sleep by the rhythmical beauty of the primitive lullabies, inspired to racial pride by the ancient ceremonial chants, blessed with a strong voice and gifted with rhythm, it is not surprising that Chief Ho-ton-ga's one ambition from early childhood was to perpetuate the culture of his people.

The ambitions was intensified when the Chief met the late Professor Charles Sanford Skilton, one of America's great composers, while a student at the Indian school at Lawrence, Kansas. Professor Skilton's string quartette music based on Indian tribal chants made a never-to-be forgotten impression on the young student. Ho-ton-ga yearned to [perform on the] string instrument as a medium for his expression and chose the violoncello. His faithfulness to his music enabled him to win a scholarship to the University of Miami (Florida) where he was graduated in 1928 with high honors.

Chief Ho-ton-ga's trained voice is the result of many hours of study with noted voice teachers including Reinald Werrenrath of New York; Carl Craven of Chicago and Maynard Jones of San Francisco.

Ho-ton-ga has been a featured singer at the world famous Stand Rock Indian Ceremonials (Wisconsin Dells) for eighteen consecutive seasons. Thousands of visitors have thrilled to his voice in the Amphitheater and many thousand more have enjoyed the beauties of the Lower Dells sunset boat trips because of his legendary songs and Indian Love Call which concludes every performance."1

Notes to the Text

1 Editor's Note: Like all Indians, Chief Ho-ton-ga has a wonderful sense of humor and he likes to tell of the time that a lady approached him after he had finished one of his performances. She was very supercilious and said, 'Chief Honky Tonk, what reservoir did you say that the Lumbago tribe comes from?'

Commentary. "Ho-ton-ga" — if this is a Hocąk name at all, it would be transcribed as Hotǫga. This name, as it stands, appears to be Omaha-Ponka, where it means "Hocąk," being a translation of the Hocąk meaning of their name for themselves, the "Big Voice." The name is found in the alternance, Hotǫga/Hutǫga, not only among the Omaha-Ponka, but among the Osage as well.1 The cąk in Ho-cąk can also mean, "praiseworthy," so that the name given to a man whose voice happens to be praiseworthy has the striking double meaning of "Hocąk" ("Winnebago"). Thus, his name means, "Winnebago = Praiseworthy Voice." That this is correct is seen in the fact that a newspaper, in reporting that Hotonga was returning to school, says, "Big Voice ... is the Indian name of George La Mere, Winnebago, who has just returned to classes at the University of Miami for special work in education."2

Hope College, 150   U. of Miami, IBIS   Daily Iowan
George LaMère
  Graduate of Haskell Hope College

Hotonga was used as a stage name by George LaMère. The 1920 census recorded him living on the Nebraska reservation as being the son of Alex LaMere, and brother of Moses LaMere. He is probably related to Radin's translator, Oliver LaMère. The Writers Program tells us that

George La Mere, a Winnebago Indian, has collected and written many Seminole stories. La Mere came to Florida after graduating from a Nebraska high school and performing as a singer on Broadway. He received his A. B. degree from the University of Miami.3

In 1919, when he was attending Hackles Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, he met Charles Sanford Skilton, an Indianist composer. He supplied Skilton with almost all his themes, singing them for him to use in his compositions. Not long thereafter, he won a scholarship to Miami through a vocal audition.4 The 1926 Hope College Bulletin shows that George LaMère was on their faculty with a specialty in the cello.5 In 1935, in order to teach "Indian Music [as] a living thing, not a mere preservation of a dead or dying art," Carson Indian School in Stewart Nevada, hired George to teach music, dancing, and dramatics. Even as early as this, George LaMère was performing Indianist compositions, as well as his own, at the Standing Rock Amphitheater at the Dells.6 In 1938, he returned to the University of Miami for additional study in education.7 Rudolf Kvells was another composer whom LaMère helped. It transpired that the latter was a member of the La Crosse Sketch Club, yet another artistic dimension to his character, when he met Kvells in 1949. He sang a number of songs that Kvells strung together in his “Winnebago Suite.”8

George LaMère married and had six children. He later rose to the position of director of the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonials, and in the ’50's took jobs broadcasting in Cleveland, and as a sales promoter in Waterloo, Iowa. He died December 22, 1956.9

"Chief" — it is not clear to me that Hotonga was actually a chief, since Saunders seems to refer to every Hocąk that he mentions as being a chief.

"Skilton" — Charles Sanford Skilton (August 16, 1868 – March 12, 1941) was an "Indianist" composer who flourished in the 1920's. He studied in Germany before the War, and afterwards obtained a position at the University of Kansas where he remained the rest of his life as a professor of musicology. His compositions were based on American Indian themes, most of which he derived from George LaMère, whom he first met when LaMère was attending the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. In exchange for being taught harmony, he offered to sing his considerable repertoire of traditional Indian music to Skilton. LaMère supplied the songs for Skilton's "Three Indian Sketches, Songs for Piano, Sheet Music" (1920), which contains a "Winnebago Revel."10 George LaMère played an important part in Skilton's magnum opus, Suite Primeval, whose "Sunrise Song" and "Moccasin Song" were Hocąk. "All the melodies in the Suite Primeval were originally sung to Skilton by George La Mere,"11 and were recorded by the Columbia Gramophone Co. that same year.12

Musical America, June 18, 1921   Library of Congress   The Music News, March 3
  Reinald Werrenrath, 1917   Carl Craven, 1922

"Reinald Werrenrath (August 7, 1883 – September 12, 1953)" — a famous singer who began his career in 1907 singing Wagner. At the same time, he also sang popular songs, and had a career on radio. He is said to have made over 3,000 concert appearances. In 1932, he joined NBC's music staff. He spent his later years teaching in New York state.

"Carl Craven" — a famous tenor in Chicago who taught especially talented students. He was well known as a singer of both opera and popular works. The Chicago Tribune (1925) waxed enthusiastic about him:

Carl Craven, whose fine tenor voice and its intelligent use win added respect at every hearing. Here is a singer who speaks as one in authority, one who knows what to do, how to do it and why he does it. His singing is like any great art — simplicity itself.13

"Maynard Jones" — rather more obscure than the others associated with the career of George LaMère, he is mentioned once as a conductor in San Francisco of a 1917 concert that included a piece by Schumann.14

The Stand Rock Amphitheater

"Amphitheater" — an area not far from the beach near Standing Rock serves as a natural amphitheater where performances had been conducted for decades.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Rev. James Owen Dorsey, "The Social Organization of the Siouan Tribes," The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 4 (1896): 331-342. Howard, The Ponca Tribe, 134. LaFlesche, Dictionary of Osage, 67, s.v. Hótǫga, 356, s.v. "Winnebago Tribe"; 68, s.v. Hútǫga.
2 The Daily Iowan (Iowa City), Vol. 37, #218: Sunday, February 27, 1938, last page.
3 The Seminole Indians in Florida, Compiled by Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Project Administration in Florida (Tallahassee: The Florida State Department of Agriculture, 1941) 53.
4 John W. Troutman, Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879–1934, Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Texas at Austin, 2004) 323.
5 Hope College, "1926. V64.01. May Bulletin." (1926). Hope College Catalogs. Book 87, p. 150-151.
6 John W. Troutman, Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879–1934 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013) 256 = Ibid., Ph.D. Dissertation, 323.
7 The Daily Iowan (Iowa City), Vol. 37, #218: Sunday, February 27, 1938, last page.
8 Richard Boudreau, National Attention: Local Connection. La Crosse’s contributions to the Arts and Entertainment in America (La Crosse: the author, 2013) 42.
9 "Director of Dells Indian Music Dies," Janesville Daily Gazette (Mon, Dec 24, 1956): page 20. My thanks to Julia D. Berg, University of Miami, for bringing this source and the graduation picture to my attention.
10 Catalog of Copyright Entries: Musical Compositions, Part 3, Volume 15, Issue 2 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1920) 1416b, s. v. "Skilton."
11 The Sun Bride: A Pueblo Indian Opera, Volume 33 of Recent Researches in American Music, ed. Thomas Warburton (Middleton, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, Inc., 1999) xviii nt. 52.
12 The Southern Workman (Hampton Institute Press, 1921) 383.
13 Third Annual Midwest Musicians' and Allied Artists' Directory: Chicago and Midwest, 1925-1926 (Rayner & Dalheim) 10.
14 Musical America, Volume 26, May 19, 1917, page 45.


Don Saunders, "Chief Ho-ton-ga," in Captain Don Saunders, Driftwood and Debris: Riverside Tales of the Dells of Old Wisconsin by the River Guides, 2d ed. (Wisconsin Dells: Wisconsin Dells Events, 1959) 71.