Wisconsin Historical Society


Habitat of the Winnebago,

1 6 3 2 - 1 8 3 21

By Publius V. Lawson, LL. B.

The fine monument in Smith Park at Menasha, raised in honor of Jean Nicolet by the Women’s Clubs of that city, unveiled with fitting ceremony on September 3, 1906, commemorates one of the important voyages in the history of the New World. Although it revealed the interior of the continent and opened a vast empire, the records are silent concerning this event for ten years after its accomplishment. Vimont’s Relation of 1643 first described this undertaking, when Nicolet

1 Mr. Lawson’s paper is in opposition to that entitled “Some Historic Sites about Green Bay,” presented to this Society on November 9, 1905, by Arthur Courtenay Neville, Esq., president of the Green Bay Historical Society, and published in our Proceedings, 1905, pp. 143-156. Mr. Neville’s contention is, that Nicolet first met the Winnebago of Wisconsin (1634) at Red Banks, on the eastern shore of Green Bay; Mr. Lawson’s, that this notable conference was on Doty’s Island, in Fox River. In this antiquarian controversy, the Wisconsin Historical Society of course takes no part; as usual in such cases, it acts merely as the medium for presenting fully the arguments of both sides—it cannot be held responsible for the individual views of members or others who contribute papers to its several publications. Adopting Mr. Lawson’s view, the Women’s Clubs of Menasha have erected a monument to Nicolet on Doty’s Island; the Green Bay Historical Society informs us that, acting on Mr. Neville’s view, it has in contemplation a monument of similar import, to be erected at Red Banks.— Ed.



The Nicolet Monument at Menasha
Erected by the City and the Women’s Clubs of Menasha. Unveiled
September 3, 1906



Habitat of Winnebago

with his seven Huron Indians braved the terrors of unknown America but fourteen years after the Pilgrims landed on the coast of Massachusetts, and only twenty-six years after the founding of Canada. Thirty-nine years went by before Marquette followed in his path, pushing still farther toward the setting sun; and forty-five years were to elapse before La Salle, the great explorer, entered the Far West.

Singularly enough the events of this memorable voyage were lost to history until about fifty years ago. “Previous to 1852, Jean Nicolet was unknown to history as the discoverer of the Northwest. In his Discovery of the Mississippi, published that year, John G. Shea identified the Men of the Sea, spoken of in the Jesuit Relations, as the Winnebago or ‘Ouinipigou’ of those days.”2 The date of this voyage was at first supposed to be 1639, and not until 1876 did Benjamin Suite, a Canadian authority, prove it to have been 1634, further verified by the late Consul W. Butterfield of Ohio. The agreement of these two authorities “fixed the date at 1634 beyond the region of doubt.”3 All knowledge of the first exploration in the Wisconsin region would be unknown today, but for the interesting account of Jean Nicolet’s remarkable canoe voyage up the Ottawa, down the French, along Georgian Bay, and after skirting the shores of Green Bay, up the Fox River to where that stream nearest approaches the Wisconsin River. The account of Nicolet’s expedition appeared in the Relation of 1642-43, known as Vimont’s Relation, from the name of the superior who compiled the manuscript for the printer, obtaining his data from the letters of individual missionaries in the field. A translation into English was not made until volume xxiii of the edition of the Jesuit Relations edited by Dr. Reuben G. Thwaites appeared in 1898. In his preface to this volume, the editor notes that owing to the fact that the Iroquois had captured the year’s report of the Huron missions, “the Relation

2 Wisconsin Historical Collections, xi, p. 1.
3 Ibid, p. 2.


Wisconsin Historical Society

of 1642-43 is written wholly by the superior, Vimont; it is without date, but doubtless was written in the early autumn of 1643, in time for the vessel returning to France.”4

Nicolet, from long residence in the cabins of the Algonquin, knew their language, and was sent to “make a journey to the nation called People of the Sea and arrange peace between them and the Hurons, from whom they are distant about three hundred leagues Westward. He embarked in the Huron country with seven Savages; and they passed by many small nations, both going and returning. When they arrived at their destination, they fastened two sticks in the earth, and hung gifts thereon, so as to relieve these tribes from the notion of mistaking them for enemies to be massacred. When he was two days’ journey from that nation, he sent one of those savages to bear tidings of the peace, which word was especially well received when they heard that it was a European who carried the message; they despatched several young men to meet the Manitouiriniou—that is to say, ‘the wonderful man.’ They meet him; they escort him, and carry all his baggage. He wore a grand robe of China damask, all strewn with flowers and birds of many colors. No sooner did they perceive him than the women and children fled, at the sight of a man who carried thunder in both hands—for thus they called the two pistols that he held. The news of his coming quickly spread to the places round about, and there assembled four or five thousand men. Each of the chief men made a feast for him, and at one of these banquets they served at least sixscore Beavers.”

Historical students now generally admit that Nicolet made this famous voyage from Quebec in 1634, to the Winnebago tribe, living in the region now known as Wisconsin. The Vimont narrative—the only account of the voyage—has the disadvantage to the modern student of not explaining just where

4 Wisconsin Historical Society Proceedings, 1905, p. 160. The Vimont Relation is given in full in Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, pp. 1-3.


Nicolet met the Winnebago and held his council. Probably the council was held at their village, located on the small island in Fox River at the foot of Lake Winnebago, between the cities of Menasha and Neenah, since known as Doty Island—a beautiful region, until recently covered with great oaks and elms, where the home of Gov. James D. Doty stood for sixty years. This island is one and a half miles long, and three quarters of a mile wide, encircled by the Fox River as it emerges from Lake Winnebago separating into north and south channels. Just below or west of the island is Little Lake Butte des Morts, a pretty lakelet about three miles long and less than a mile wide, on the west shore of which once stood the prehistoric hill of the dead, and the historic Fox fort and village. Neither the island nor little lake are large enough to be represented on any map of territory larger than a county. Lake Winnebago however, is the largest lake in the state, forty miles long by seventeen wide, covering an area of 350 square miles, and depicted on all maps. The authority for the location of the Winnebago village and fort on Doty Island will be followed in detail, reversing the usual chronological order.

The last mention of the village I have found, is in an account of a voyage undertaken by the Rev. Cutting Marsh, who crossed Doty Island in the late summer of 1832, and found “it was occupied by a small band of the Winnebago tribe.”5

When Mrs. Kinzie in 1830 made her first voyage up Fox River she alludes in her narrative Wau-Bun, to “Four Legs’ village at the entrance to Lake Winnebago, a picturesque cluster of Indian huts, spread around on a pretty green glade, and shaded by fine lofty trees.”6 Four Legs, the last of the Winnebago chiefs to hold forth at the ancient village on Doty Island, had killed himself by strong drink just before the Kinzies arrived at Fort Winnebago on the site of the modern town of

5 Wis. Hist. Colls., xv. p. 29.
Kinzie, Wau-Bun, edited by R. G. Thwaites for the Oaxton Club, (Chicago, 1901), p. 41 [53].


Portage. However, on a voyage down the river in 1832 Mrs. Kinzie again mentions the village: “Into the entrance to the river [from Lake Winnebago] or as it was called Winnebago Rapids, on a point of land to the right [Doty Island side] stood a collection of neat bark wigwams—this was Four Legs’ village.”7 Still again in Wau-Bun, Mrs. Kinzie, narrating the death of Four Legs, says: “Preparatory to this event [the agent’s payments], the great chief of the nation, Four Legs, whose village we had passed at the entrance to Winnebago Lake, had thought proper to take a little carouse.”8

Augustin Grignon, in his famous interview with Dr. Lyman C. Draper, mentions “Neokautah or The Four Legs, who lived at Four Legs’ village on Doty’s Island, at the mouth of Winnebago Lake.”9

August 16, 1830, James McCall, one of the commissioners to arrange the differences between the New York Indians and Four Legs’ tribe of Winnebago, met with that chief and ten other chiefs at his lodge on Doty Island; he notes that “the head chief was seated on his Mat cross legged, in all the majesty of an Asiatic prince,” and describes Four Legs as “about 40 years of age, of middling stature, is a most interesting man in his appearance and deportment. Speaks in his own tongue fluently and forcible. In short, he is a great man.”10

Morgan L. Martin, who had just been appointed district attorney, made a voyage with Judge James D. Doty and other court officials over the historic Fox-Wisconsin route from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien, in 1828, in order to try Red Bird for murder. In his description of the journey he says, “On Doty Island, very near the mouth, on the west channel, was the village of Hootschope, or Four Legs, the well known Winnebago chieftain. There were from one hundred and fifty to two hundred lodges there covered with bark or mats.”11

7 Ibid, p. 333 [329].
8 Ibid, p. 60 [70].
9 Wis. Hist. Colls., iii, p. 288.
10 Id, xii, pp. 189, 192.
11 Id, xi, p. 395.


When Col. John Miller, the first American officer to command at Green Bay, established his post (1816) and quartered United States soldiers for the first time in Wisconsin, his supply agent James W. Biddle reports regarding this locality, that there were “the Winnebago, a bold and warlike tribe who lived at Lake au Puant, or Stinking lake—now Lake Winnebago.”12

Judge Lockwood also declares that in 1816 “the principal villages of the Winnebagoes were at the lower and upper end of the lake of that name.”13

Antoine le Claire, a trader who settled in Milwaukee in 1800, mentions sending out engagés to trade with the Indians, “on Winnebago Lake to the Winnebagoes.”14

In 1786 the merchants of Montreal reported to the agents of the British crown that the Winnebago numbered six hundred men, and had their first village only twelve leagues (30 miles) from “La Baye,” and “being on the road to the Mississippi, they are frequently troublesome to the traders passing.”

In the winter of 1777-78, the French creole, Gautier, half brother of Charles de Langlade, was sent out from Old Mackinac along the tomahawk trail on the border of Fox River to gather the tribes as far west as the Mississippi, to aid the English arms against the American colonists for the spring campaign in New England. In his report, replete with vigorous action and faulty grammar, he refers to the Winnebago village in these words: “the Season was advancing too far, which made me leave and I continued to Write back all along the road as far as the great Village of the puants of the Lake which was the strongest one.”15

It was in 1766 that the celebrated Capt. Jonathan Carver made his voyage up the historic Fox and passed four days enjoying

12 Id, i, p. 52.
13 Id, ii, p. 177.
14 Id, xi, p. 241.
15 Ibid, p. 109.


the hospitality of the Winnebago village on Doty Island, then presided over by the chieftess, Glory of the Morning, or Hopokoekau, who in 1834 “was reported to be over one hundred and forty-three years of age, and who lived several years after that date.” She had married Sabrevoir de Carrie (or Decorah) an officer of the French army, who after resigning his commission (1729) became a trader among Wisconsin Indians. Three sons and one daughter were born of the union. He reentered the army, and being mortally wounded before Quebec, died April 28, 1760.16 Captain Carver called the village “the great town of the Winnebagoes,” and said it “contained fifty houses, which were strongly built with palisades.”17

In October, 1761, after the conquest of Canada by the English, Lieut. James Gorrell was left in command of the “rotten Fort,” and “falling stockade” of the old French fort at La Baye, and in his report of the “Indian warriors, besides women and children depending on this post for supplies,” he names, “Puans, 150, at the end of Puans Lake, and over against Louistontant.”18

Some years ago a Milwaukee dealer in maps and books obtained in Europe some historic maps which came into possession of Mr. James G. Albright of that city. One of these, apparently removed from an atlas, was published at Amsterdam in 1756 by D’Anville. It shows the “Otchagras” [Winnebago] on “Foxes River” at the foot of Lake Winnebago. An other of New France, published in Paris in the same year, prepared by Bellin, engineer to the king, also shows the “Otchagras” at the foot of Lake Winnebago. Yet another of 1757, gives the same location for this tribe.

When the convoy set out from Montreal the sixteenth of June, 1727, to establish a post on Lake Pepin, in the Sioux country, there accompanied it Father Guignas, who made a

16 Wis. Hist. Colls., v, p. 297; vii, pp. 375, 376.
17 J. Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North America (London, 1778), p. 32.
18 Wis. Hist. Colls., i, p. 32.


careful report of the expedition to Beauharnois the governor, in which he described their voyage up the Fox River as follows: “On the third day after their departure from la Baye, very late in the evening, even somewhat far into the night, the chiefs of the Puants came out three leagues from their village to meet the French with their peace calumets, and with refreshments of bear’s meat. On the next day, the French were received by this nation, now very small in numbers, to the sound of several discharges of musketry, and amid great demonstrations of joy. They asked us with so good grace to do them the honor of spending some time among them, that the rest of the day was granted them, from noon until the following night. There may be in this village 60 or 80 men in all; but all, both men and women, are very tall and well-built. They are upon the borders of a very pretty little lake, in quite an agreeable place, both for situation and the good quality of the soil, at 14 leagues [35 miles] from la Baye.”19 How closely this corresponds with Vimont’s description of the reception given to Nicolet, can be best understood by reading the two together: “When he [Nicolet] was two days journey from that nation [Winnebago] he sent one of these savages to bear tidings of the peace, which word was well received,” and the Winnebago “despatched several young men to meet him.” “They meet him; they escort him, and carry all his baggage.” This reception of Nicolet by the Winnebago was in essential details the same as that given to Father Guignas. Some have supposed that Nicolet met the Winnebago at the Red Banks on the east shore of Green Bay.20 If so he would have crossed the bay, only eleven miles wide, in his canoe, and not sent his men around the head of the bay on a hundred-mile journey

19 Id, xvii, p. 23.
20 In the map attached to the paper on “Historic Sites about Green Bay,” Wis. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1905, p. 147, made by Arthur C. Neville, he marks a square near the Red Banks, and labels it “Fort Winnebago;” but such location is, in my estimation, made without any authority.


over marshes and three deep rivers. The only explanation of “carrying all his baggage,” is the assistance the Winnebago gave Nicolet around the rapids in the Fox River, an event worthy to be recorded ten years after.

In the wars with the Fox tribe, De Lignery’s expedition arrived (August 17, 1728) at the old French fort at Green Bay with twelve hundred savages and four hundred and fifty French. Father Crespel, the best chronicler of the raid, says, “we went up Fox River which is full of rapids.” “The 24th of August we arrived at the village of the Puants, much disposed to destroy any inhabitants which might be found there; but their flight had preceded our arrival, and we had nothing to do but burn their wigwams, and ravage their fields of Indian corn, which is their principal article of food.” In De Lignery’s official report he says, “I also had the village of the Puants burned.” None of these state the location, but as Father Crespel says in the same connection, “we afterward crossed over the Little Fox Lake,” we may understand that the Puants’ village was on Doty Island.21

In a census of the Indian tribes made by an unknown person, dated October 12, 1736, it is remarked that “the Puans have retired, since 1728, to the Scioux to the number of eighty.”22 When they returned and planted their fields again in their old home, they were attacked by the Foxes and driven under the walls of the stockade fort at La Baye, commanded then by Marin. Leaving their families under the protection of the post at La Baye, they returned to their own country, and finding the Foxes had retired took their families home. “They camped on a small Island at a distance of about an arpent or two [200 feet], from the island, on which their former village was situated.” In a note to this sentence, the editor of the Wisconsin Historical Collection says, “The island on which

21 Wis. Hist. Coll., v, p. 90; xvii, p. 33.
22 Id, xvii, p. 248.


the Winnebago village had formerly stood was that now known as Doty Island.”23

Hennepin’s map, 1698, has over against Lake Winnebago the word, “Ocitagan,” which is his rendering of the native Winnebago name given by Charlevoix as Otchagras.

Wisconsin Section of Hennepin’s Map, 1698.
[Reproduced from Thwaites, Hennepin’s “New Discovery” Chicago, 1905), 1.]

Jolliet, after his famous voyage of 1673, lost all his papers in the wreck of his canoe near Montreal, but afterwards he

23 Ibid., p. 90.


prepared copies of them, and of his noted map, for the French government. Upon this Jolliet map the Puans village is placed on Fox River, near Lake Winnebago, Doty Island and Little Butte des Morts being both too small to be shown on any map of larger area than a county. On returning to the mission at De Pere, where he wintered, Marquette sent to his superior his journal of the voyage wherein with Jolliet he had discovered the Mississippi River. One copy of this journal was sent to Paris, and another remains on file in St. Marty’s College, Montreal. Marquette’s journal does not mention the Winnebago. There are, however, two maps attributed to him; one filed in St. Mary’s College at Montreal, with the copy of his journal, bears evidence of being the map prepared by Marquette at St. Ignace, described so carefully in his journal before he commenced his journey. As the Jesuit Relations were not issued after 1672, Marquette’s journal sent to Paris was not published until 1681, when it appeared in Thévenot’s Collection of Voyages. This publication includes a map regarded as Marquette’s, which Parkman thought was not his, principally for the reason that it does not correspond with the St. Ignace map of Marquette found at St. Mary’s College. However, Parkman supposes that the Thévenot map was made up by the Jesuits and does not discredit its authenticity.24 This map places the Puans’ village at the foot of Lake Winnebago. As his journal was made up at De Pere, twenty-eight miles away, Marquette must have known where the Puans village was located. In searching for evidence of the Thévenot-Marquette

24 Although dubbing this map as “spurious,” in his article on “Place Names la Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters Transactions, xiv, p. 32, Henry E. Legler appears to admit its authenticity in his “Narratives of Early Travellers,” Wis. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1905, p. 170, wherein he says: “It was not until nine years later that Thévenot, a Paris publisher, brought it [Marquette’s Journal] out, together with the missionary’s map, in a small duo decimo volume comprising forty-one pages.” See reproduction in Miss Kellogg’s article, post.


map in Paris, Parkman found another map of 1672-73, which also places the Puans’ village at the foot of Lake Winnebago.25

Wisconsin Section of Jolliet’s Map, 1674.
[Reproduced from Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, lix.]

Father Claude Allouez, who was the first Jesuit missionary to pass the rapids of lower Fox River, wrote the earliest description

25 This map is known as “Parkman No. 5,” and his copy thereof 1b found in a collection given by that historian to Harvard University Library. See reproduction thereof, from a photograph of the Harvard copy, in Miss Kellogg’s paper, post; the sketch given in Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, iv, p. 221, is incorrect in many particulars, and in general insufficient. —Ed.


of that stream, in which he says that it was named “River des Puans,” and that when he came to Lake Winnebago in April, 1670, it was uninhabited. His account reads as follows: “We arrived in the evening at the entrance to Lake des Puans [Winnebago] which we have named Lake Saint Francois; it is about twelve leagues long and four wide, extends from the North-Northeast to the South-Southwest, and abounds in fish, but is uninhabited, on account of the Nadouecis [Sioux] who are there held in fear.”26 On May 13, 1670, he crossed Green Bay from the west to the east side, of which he says, “on the 13th I crossed the Bay to go to find the Ovenibigoutz in the clearing where they were assembling.”27 These extracts from the journals’ of Allouez, clearly show that the Winnebago were fleeing into the wilderness on the east shore of Green Bay to escape the Sioux. Dr. R. G. Thwaites takes this same view of the language used by Allouez, for in his summary of this chapter he writes, “The Winnebago [were] at present camping on the east shore of Green Bay.”28 Allouez, in the Jesuit Relation for 1666, speaking of the Potawatomi tribe, says: “The country lies along the Lake of the Ilimouek [Michigan] a large lake which had not before come to our knowledge, adjoining the lake of the Hurons, and that of the Stinkards, in a southeasterly direction.”29 These statements of Allouez indicate that the Winnebago had fled from their village on Lake Winnebago to the clearing on the east side of Green Bay to escape the Sioux, as in another place he relates that the Fox Indians had fled into the wilderness on Wolf River in order to escape the Iroquois. This is further proven by Dablon in the Relation of his voyage in 1670-72, “Approaching the head of the Bay, we see the river of the Oumloumines or translated the wild Oats [Menominee], which is a dependency of the Mission of

26 Jesuit Relations, liv, p. 197; Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 69.
27 Jesuit Relations, liv, p. 236.
28 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 66.
29 Ibid, p. 55.


St. Francis Xavier, as also is the Pottuwatamies, Ousaki [Sauk] and other tribes, who were driven from their own abode, the lands toward the south.” In the Relation of 1673-76 Father Louis André refers to the war between the Winnebago and Sioux as if it were still in progress.30 This invasion of Sioux from their prairie homes west of the Mississippi River, through the forests of Wisconsin, resulted from their claim to the greater part of the territory now covered by the State, which they attempted to make good by frequent conquests. As early as 1641, the Potawatomi of Green Bay, “were at Sault Ste. Marie, fleeing before the Sioux, who claiming the country at least to that point, were driving the intruders from their soil and country. In 1642 a missionary was killed near Keweena on Lake Superior, by the Sioux, as an intruder on their territory. From 1652 to 1670 the Huron appear to have been wandering about the country, between Green Bay and La Pointe, when they were expelled by the Sioux. In 1667, the Kiskasons, a band of the Ottawas, were driven, by the Sioux, from the eastern to the western shore of Lake Michigan south of Green Bay.” In 1668 the mission was established among the upper Michigan and Wisconsin Algonquin Indians at Chequamagon Bay, and by 1670 they were driven by the Sioux as far as the Sault Ste. Marie, all of which goes to prove that “the Sioux claimed and exercised jurisdiction of the territory as far east as Lake Michigan and St. Mary,” as late as 1670. The records thus show the Sioux were on the warpath at the time the Winnebago were hiding on the east shore of Green Bay.31

The third voyage of Radisson, 1659, mentions his visit to the Fire nation, known to us as Mascoutin, who resided on the upper Fox near Princeton; and when about to leave them, he mentions their desire to accompany him “to the great Lake of the Stinkings.”32

Jean Boisseau’s map, made up in 1643 from the latest Relations

30 Jesuit Relations, 1, pp. 103, 163; Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 95.
31 Wis. Hist. Colls., iii, p. 136, iv, pp. 226, 227.
32 Id, xi, p. 69.


[From Prince Society. Voyages of Samuel de Champlain (Boston, 1880). 1.]


and historical accounts obtainable, though much distorted for lack of surveys, has “La nation des Puans”, on “Lac des Puans,” which discharges through the “R. des Puans.”33

It is not known when the Winnebago came to this region; but as rumors of their home on Lake Winnebago had reached Quebec, years before Nicolet’s visit, they had been there a goodly number of years before 1634. Samuel de Champlain had prepared a map in 1632 from these oral Indian narratives, on which he had marked the “Lac des Puans,” discharging by “R. des Puans,” and though topographically he has placed Lake Winnebago north instead of south of Lake Superior, his intention is clear. That the author is not alone in this view is evident from the remarks of Consul W. Butterfield, in his paper on the “Bibilography of Jean Nicolet:” “a knowledge of the Winnebago was early obtained, at least before the year 1632. They were spoken of by the Indians who gave the French an account of them, as the ‘Winnipegou.’ More was learned of this nation than of the Mascoutins [who were first heard of in 1615]. They were known as a people who had originally migrated from the shore of a distant sea, and their name had reference to this fact. The settlers upon the St. Lawrence had however, very erroneous ideas of the location of these savages. Winnebago Lake was supposed to be to the northward of Lake Huron, and the Fox River flowed southward into it, while the Winnebagoes were known to dwell not far from the last mentioned lake. Lake Michigan and Green Bay had not as yet been heard of.”34

There is an old tradition, mentioned by Charlevoix and Allouez, of an implacable war in ancient times between the Winnebago and Illinois, by which the Winnebago were nearly exterminated,

33 This map, found in the Lenox Library, New York, published in Paris in 1643, was reproduced in the Thwaites edition of Jesuit Relations, xxiii, and is here republished from the same plate.
34 Wis. Hist. Colls., xi, pp. 10, 24.


of which Dr. John G. Shea says: “If this strange event took place at all, we must ascribe it to an earlier date than 1634, for Nicolet visited the Winnebagoes in that year, and found them prosperous, and we can hardly suppose a tribe almost annihilated and then restored to its former number in 30 years.”35 Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix in 1721, says: “The rest took refuge on the River of the Outagamis which empties into the end of the Bay. They settled themselves upon the shores of a sort of Lake.”36

It is scarcely a proper inference to suppose that there was a Winnebago village on the shore of Green Bay, simply because the Bay was long known as La Baye des Puans, for Jonathan Carver in his Travels disputes this, and says that, “it is termed by the inhabitants of the coast Menomonee Bay; but by the French is called Puant or Stinking Bay.” Captain Carver and Rev. Alfred Branson refer to this confusion of names in narratives and maps as having been for the purpose of misleading the English, so that the traders might freely converse among themselves by using nicknames not understood by the natives.37 Moreover, Father Charlevoix, who visited Green Bay in 1720, says La Baye des Puans was named from the Puans at Lake Winnebago. He continues: “The Otchagras * * * settled upon the Shores of a sort of Lake; and perhaps it was there that, as they lived on Fish, which the Lake furnished them in great abundance, the name Puans (‘foul smelling’) was given to them; for along the entire length of the Shore where their Cabins were built, one saw only rotten Fish, with which the air was tainted. At least it seems probable that such was the origin of that name, which the other Savages had given them before we did, and which has been transferred to the Bay from which they have never strayed far.”38

35 Id, iii, p. 127, iv, p. 234.
36 Id, iii, p. 285, xvi, p. 412.
37 Id, iv, p. 227.
38 Id, xvi, p. 412.


In this connection we will add that from the earliest times the river since known as the Fox river, which runs north from Lake Winnebago into Green Bay, was known as River des Puans, as shown above from Allouez (1670), the first missionary to ascend the river, and from the maps of Champlain (1632) and Boisseau (1643), the map of La Hontan (1709) also, known as the Long River may, has it “Revière des Puants;” and another map (1709) of La Hontan has it “R. des Puants.”39 To continue the relation of name to place, Lake Winnebago was called by Allouez (1670), “Lac des Puans,” and is so named on the maps of both Champlain (1632) and Boisseau (1643), and was by Radisson called “Lake of the Stinkings.” If there is any inference to be drawn from ancient names it is in favor of the Winnebago village being situated on the Lake of the Winnebago, at the river where they so long took tribute.

That astute historian of the West, Francis Parkman, who searched contemporary records for his facts, places the Winnebago south of Green Bay. George Bancroft placed them between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay; but in his map he makes the northern limit of their territory at the foot of Lake Winnebago.40

By 1760 some members of the great village of the Winnebago, at the foot of Lake Winnebago, had gone up the lake and commenced other villages, which finally became divided into several villages, with the head-chief still at Doty Island, until he died in 1830; that village was last mentioned in 1832. There is no attempt in this paper to trace other than the Doty Island village, which was the only site occupied by the Winnebago tribe from 1632 up to 1760, when the first bands broke away, and which was still their seat in 1832, making a continuous occupation of two centuries.

Much of the area of Doty Island contains archaeological material

39 See accompanying reproduction.
40 Bancroft, History of the United, States, iii, p. 240.


evidence of Indian occupation, and numerous artifacts in stone, copper, clay, shell, and bone have been recovered.41 Dr. Increase A. Lapham visited Doty Island in 1850, and found on the “Eastern end of the Island the regular corn hills of the Indian, covering nearly the whole surface.”42 Many acres of these corn hills still remain undestroyed. From the exact accounts of the location of the Winnebago village on

Mounds and Winnebago Village Site, City of Neenah.
[From Lawson, “Archaeology of Winnebago County,” Wis. Arch. Soc. Bulletin, 1903.]

Doty Island, we have identified the earth-mounds made by the heaping of this material against the palisade of stakes composing the fort, to hold the pickets erect. After these had rotted away, the earth embankment appears as mounds. The area

41 See the author’s “Summary of Archaeology of Winnebago County,” in Wisconsin Archaeologist, 1903.
42 Increase A. Lapham, “Antiquities of Wisconsin,” in Smithsonian Institution Report, 1854.


enclosed was less than an acre. These stockade embankments are situated partly upon land of L. J. Pinkerton and William Striddie, at a distance of forty-seven rods east on Ninth Street, in the city of Neenah on Doty Island. This fort was burned in the French raid made by De Lignery in 1728. The peculiarity of a double enclosure indicates an enlargement of the earlier stockade. The northern side of the enclosure is two hundred feet in length, the southern side three hundred feet; and the extreme width one hundred and sixty-one feet. The embankment is now from 18 inches to 3 feet high. These embankment mounds correspond to the known location of the village, but may have been made for some other purpose.

There is no map, no narrative of travel, nor any historical reference which gives any other location for the Winnebago village during the century in which Nicolet made his celebrated voyage to the Wisconsin region. All evidence for an other site is based upon three questionable Indian traditions, often cited, but none of which certainly refers to so early a period. Augustin Grignon has been cited as saying that the Winnebago were once located at Red Banks on Green Bay. What he did say, was: “I remember, very many years ago, having an aged Ottawa relate to me, as a tradition he had heard in his younger days,” that the Ottawa made war on the Winnebago at the place O-kee-wah calls the Red Banks, but always known to the French as La Cap des Puants.43 This is essentially different from making Grignon responsible for the location. As the Ottawa always lived about three hundred miles from the Red Banks, such a tradition is not worth as much credence as that of O-kee-wah, who Colonel Robinson said was upwards of one hundred years of age, as “she sat over the wigwam fire” in 1856, and related how a long time back, when she was about three feet high, her grandfather told her the tale of how the Sauk and Foxes lived in the “old fort at the Red Banks. * * * They had lived there a long time

43 Wis. Hist. Colls., iii, p. 203.


and had their planting ground there.”44 There is doubtless truth to this location, for the Potawatomi and Sauk lived on the east shore of Green Bay from the earliest times. Another tradition cited, is that of Spoon Decorah, in which the error is made of reading “Frenchman,” for “Frenchmen,” which has led some to conclude that “this first Frenchman was undoubtedly Jean Nicolet.” This tradition was received through an interpreter from the old Indian, then “living with his aged squaw,” while “his progeny reaching to the fourth generation were clustered about the patriarchal lodge in family wigwams;” “the old man’s memory was occasionally jogged by Doctor Decorah, his nephew,” while he repeatedly declared, “I am getting very old, my memory is not as good as it was,” or “I am getting old and feeble.” This is what he did say: “My memory is getting very poor * * * It has been told me by my father and my uncles, that the Winnebagoes first lived below the Red Banks on the east shore of Green Bay. There was a high bluff there, which enclosed a lake. They lived there a very long time. From there they moved to the Bed Banks, and met the first Frenchmen whom they ever saw * * * the Frenchmen gave them guns, powder, blankets, kettles and other goods. * * * The Frenchmen were good to our people and bought all the furs.”45

It is not necessary to quote Henry S. Baird’s saying of the Winnebago, “their lying propensities were proverbial;” for as Dr. Lyman C. Draper says, “it is not safe to discard historic records for mere traditions.” As this tradition points back only to a period when traders swapped beads and red cloth for beaver pelts, there is no one to dispute the array of historical evidence that the Winnebago then had their great village at Lake Winnebago.

The third and last tradition cited, purports to be from

44 Id, ii, p. 432.
45 Id, xiii, pp. 448-458.


Henry Rowe Schoolcraft,46 but on consulting the reference we find the paragraph cited is made up in an ingenious way from remarks in two volumes, so as to make it appear that the tradition was of a fort at the Red Banks; whereas the author of the notes in Schoolcraft distinctly locates the fort on Rock River, and another note names it Aztalan, which is located near Lake Mills.47 This authority does, however, mention the tradition of a residence at Red Banks; but Rev. J. E. Fletcher, who wrote the paper for Schoolcraft, distinctly says he does not place any credence in these traditions: “On the subject of their origin, the Winnebago can communicate nothing entitled to credence or respect.” “No information respecting them can be obtained from white persons now living with them.” “It is difficult to arrive at the correct history of a people who have no written language. Where reference can only be had to oral traditions, always vague and often contradictory, much difficulty arises in deciding on the relative claims of such traditions to authenticity. Such is the tradition of the Winnebago Indian as here related.”48

The Potawatomi and Sauk were located at the head and foot and east side of Green Bay in 1640 and later.49 Information from Indian tradition is most liable to be misinformation. Better authority would be Bacqueville de la Potherie, a French author of the late seventeenth century, who obtained much information from the pioneer coureur-de-bois of Wisconsin, Nicolas Perrot, who paddled his canoe over Fox River twenty five years after Nicolet. His chronicles of the region, credited to the years 1640-60, after describing Green Bay say, “The Pouteouatemis, Sakis, and Malhominis dwell there [on Green Bay]; and there are four cabins, the remains

46 Schoolcraft, History of Indian Tribes, (Philadelphia, 1854), iii, p. 277, iv, pp. 227, 228, 231.
47 Id, iii, p. 278.
48 Id, iv, p. 277.
49 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 3.


of the Nadouaichs.” This is a contemporary tribal history of a period ranging back almost pre-Columbian, as it refers to the ancestors of Winnebago met by travelers in the days of Perrot, long prior to Allouez or Marquette, and here at this very early date refers to the tribe living on an island on the border of a lake.50

Therefore, to sum up, the entire range of historic reference, narrative of actual travel, and contemporary maps, as well as tradition for a long period prior to the coming of Nicolet down to a very late date, show that the head village and for many years the only Winnebago village was located on Doty Island, in Fox River, at the foot of Lake Winnebago, where Nicolet was sent as ambassador to make peace, being thus the first man to visit the region erected into Wisconsin and to hold there the first tribal council within our borders.

50 Ibid, pp. 3, 4.



Publius V. Lawson, “Habitat of the Winnebago, 1632-1832,” Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1906: 144-156.