Comparison of the Manners, Customs and International Laws of the Win.nee.baá.goa. Nation of Indians
with those of their Neighbours, the Munnoáminnees

Charles C. Trowbridge

(85) The Winneebaagoas are generally acknowledged to be a proud, independent, brave, sensitive, warlike and industrious people, compared with the surrounding nations. They have had little connexion with the whites, and seem to desire an entire separation from them. They pretend that they were never subdued in war, they commit frequent aggressions upon their neighbours and not infrequently upon the traders and others who pass through their country.

On these and some other accounts it has been supposed that every incident in their history, as well as all their manners and customs, would possess a great share of interest, from their peculiarity and novelty; but a close investigation shows that with very few exceptions they dame laws, customs and superstitions which prevail among the Munnoáminnees, are found with the Winneebaágoes.

To save the fatigue and perplexity of a comparison between two accounts of the same manners and customs, I have deemed it prudent to notice only such as do not agree with those of the Munnoaminnees, which occupy a number of pages in this book.

The name by which they have always been known among other nations is Winneebaágoa, but that by which they distinguish themselves is Hoa-tshúng.ger.ra., of the Rolling Fish.

They acknowledge no direct relationship with any other tribe, but address them indiscriminately by the appellation of brothers or friends as (86) is most convenient to them. To this there is one exception, with the Stockbridges, whom they call their Grand Children, but for what reason, they are unable to say. It is probable that they were discovered after all the other nations within their knowledge, which, according to the limited ideas of a savage, would be sufficient proof that they were formed and placed upon the earth, after all others. In favor of this opinion is the fact of their belief that their own nation was brought into existence before any other. They suppose that they descended from the air by direction of the great spirit, bearing the human form at the time of their descent. They first inhabited the Winneebaágoa banks, so called, on the south east side of Green Bay, 12 miles from the mouth of the Fox river. It was during their residence at that place that they discovered the Munnoáminnees, who crossed the Bay in their bark canoes to the village at the Banks.

Some time after the arrival of the french among them, the Winneebaagoas removed to the Lake of that name, where they had previously been accustomed to hunt in the winter, finding it rather inconvenient to reside at a place so distant from their hunting ground. From the Lake they extended their discoveries by hunting, to Rock River & the Mississippi, and at this day more than one half of the nation are occupants of the former, from its mouth to one of its sources; and they have a village on the latter about seventy miles above prairie du Chien, of eighteen lodges. On the Ouisconsin river too, are a number of Indians of this nation. Nine miles above the portage there is a village of fourteen lodges.

The first white people whom they saw were the french, who visited them at the Banks. They were somewhat surprised at the sight of them, but they do not confess to have any tradition like that among the Munnoaminnees, of the wonderful astonishment created by their colour, dress & merchandize. (87) On the contrary they claim to have surveyed them in perfect tranquility and to have rejected for a long time their offers to exchange their goods &c for the furs & skins with which the indians were clothed.

Some of them appear to regret that they ever saw the whites, and seem to dwell with delight upon all the characteristics of their nation as they were before the introduction of rum, which they say was first refused with resolution but is now the companion of the man from his cradle to his grave.

The Winneebaágoas believe that there was a time when all the indians of the earth spoke the same language, composed the same society or nation, and lived in harmony & peace: that after some time they began to separate from each other and to choose different places of residence; that immediately succeeding this separation their languages became confused and changed so that they could no longer understand each other, and then commenced the wars, murders & shedding of blood which are known at the present day. They say that they do not fight as the whites do, for the purpose of securing to themselves large tracts of country, or revenging a natural insult, but that their first wars were commenced merely for the pleasure of seeing each other die, and that such a cause at this day actuates them more frequently than any other.

The Ottaúwaus are the only indians in this part of the country with whom they have not been at war, next to whom may be ranked the Munnoáminnees, with whom they have had but one trifling difficulty.

The first war in which this nation was engaged, was with the Osages, who then inhabited Rock River. It commenced before the arrival of the french, (88) and there has [not] been any thing like a treaty of peace between them to this day. Their hatred is so inveterate that if an Osage should now appear in the country the first man who saw him would consider it his duty to kill him. They were also at war with the Sacs & foxes, before the arrival of the french, the Sacs at that time occupying the Country about Winneebaágoa lake, from whence they removed to the mouth of the river upon the establishment of a trading post. In the war between the french & Munnoáminnees & the Sacs, they were neutral. They have no old belts commemorative of wars or other events in their history.

Government, &c.

The title and powers of a Chief always descend from father to son or other next of kin, and the authority and duties of the War & Council Chiefs differ from the others in one point only, viz: that after a declaration of war & preparation for departure the responsibility of conducting & managing the party devolves upon the war chief at its head, who has power of himself to form plans of attack, &c, but who generally submits them to a council of warriors before they are executed. The War Chiefs in this nation are numerous but no so much so as the chief of the council. Of the former, the eldest, if he be not disabled by wounds, sickness or age, takes command of the parties.

Anciently there was a body of counsellors, composed of fifteen chiefs, over which the Chief of the Thunder tribe presided. It was their duty to meet occasionally and regulate the government of their villages. They received propositions for peace or alliance with other nations and attended to the general welfare of the nation; but this society has long been extinct, (89) owing to the separation of the tribes. It is considered the duty of the brother of a person murdered to avenge his death, but if the brother should decline any other relative may do it. A murderess is seldom in danger of punishment, whether her friends take the trouble to make the usual presents & concessions or not.

The nation is divided into nine tribes whose names are taken from animals and birds sent with them by the great spirit to the earth, and transformed into indians, with the power & capacity to govern. These names are as follows, viz:

Hoan.tchér.ra. Or  the  Bear
Shoánk.tshaunk. Wolf
Wauk.hú Thunder
Wauk.hú Snake
Wauk.tshé   Devil
Hoa.wú Elk
Tshau.waúk.shep. Grey Hawk
Hoo.rá.rau. Eagleép. Hawk

Of these tribes, the Eldest Chief in the Thunder tribe is the most powerful. While the nation resided on the borders of the bay, they had but one village, which extended from the Banks to the river rouge, a distance of nine miles; and these indians assert that the remains of their villages are still visible. The chief of the Thunder tribe exercised an immediate and complete control over that village and his government was so strict that a single family could not leave the village for a hunting excursion without his permission.

(90) At this day the Thunder is considered the superior of the tribes who have received their names from birds, and the Bear & Wolf have the greatest power in the other tribes. The latter are consulted on all points relating to their lands or civil negotiations with other tribes, and if these three persons should oppose the passage of any resolution in council, all others would submit without a murmur.

War &c.

When any of the chiefs feel disposed to make war upon their neighbours, they propose to the Chief of the Thunder tribe to call a council of chiefs, and submit to him their plans for the war. He then dispatches a messenger, and having assembled a council lays before the members the propositions of the chiefs. They are discussed and the opinion of the council is expressed to the Thunder Chief, who then determines the question, to which decision all parties submit amicably.

If a war is determined upon the War Chief who is to command commences to fast and continues for four days & four nights, during which time it is usual for them to dream of the future success or defeat of his party in case he undertakes the war. If his dream is favorable a feast is prepared and they depart, but if unfavorable their departure is proposed and he continues his fast. When he becomes satisfied that his dreams portend misfortune or death to his party, the Thunder Chief collects a present of goods and having made a feast presents the whole to the warriors to appease their anger and to induce them to abandon the enterprize. This present has the desired effect and the war is postponed until some future period, when another proposition brings together another council & the (91) same ceremonies. During the war with the Sacs, each nation burnt the prisoners taken in battle, but no instance has occurred within the recollection of any of this tribe now living.

Previous to the introduction of guns, every warrior carried with him a circular shield, constructed of a strong wooden hoop 2 feet in diameter, covered with the thickest part of the Buffaloe's hide, which was rendered impenetrable to the arrows of their enemies. It was always borne in the left hand. At this day they use no weapons of defence whatever.

These indians do not pretend to have had just grounds for any of their wars. Like all other nations, they practice dreaming from their youth, and if one of them dreams that the Great Spirit wishes them to attack their enemies and take a number of scalps, such dream is considered binding upon the nation and to accomplish the object they would make great sacrifices. Most of the disputes with their neighbours have originated in dreams, and the hatchet being raised, any reason, however trifling, would be considered as sufficient for repeated aggressions.

The chief or leader of a war party is always a member of the juggling society, and carries with him a medicine which his followers believe has the power to charm the enemy into a consciousness of security, and otherwise to assist them in the attainment of their object.

Females never accompany a war party unless it be very large, but when they do go, they are found to be very brave, and always take part in the battles.

Since the arrival of the french, the Winneebaágoas, Sacs, Foxes and Ioüwas fought against the Osages on the Missouri, in canoes. They used (92) guns altogether in the battle, and the contest was for a long time doubtful, but the Osages were defeated with the loss of an hundred men. This is the only battle in canoes of which they have any recollection, and they cannot give the details of it from their traditions.

They never prosecuted the siege of any place, nor was it customary to fortify their villages, the lodges being so numerous as to warrant them against sudden attacks.


A desire to make peace is manifested by the nation through the medium of their principal council Chief, who goes alone, naked and unarmed, to the village of the enemy. His body is painted with pale blue clay, and he carries a pipe and a flag painted in the same manner. His person is generally respected and if he arrives safely at the village of the nation with whom they are at war, he expresses in council the desire of his people and they consult upon the propositions of his friends. If they are willing to put an end to the war, they accept the pipe & smoke, after which a small feast is prepared. At the feast the ambassador and all the attendants of the feast eat out of the same dish, in token of their friendship, at the same time repeating their determination to sit by the same fire, smoke out of the same pipe and eat out of the same dish thereafter. The ambassador returns and communicates the result of his mission, which is promulgated throughout the nation. A meeting of the chiefs & others of the nations, with a feast & dance, take place, and thus peace is established. For some time after the conclusion of a peace they make feasts for each other to strengthen the cords of amity between the nations.

The person of an ambassador is generally considered sacred, but instances (93) of their murder have been known, when they were met before their arrival at the village of the enemy.

Before their knowledge of the whites these indians used a flag, composed of a deer skin, painted blue, surrounded by the feathers of the eagle and other large birds. The staff of this flag was painted blue, and it was used only in negotiations with or visits to other nations.

They had nothing like wampum, for which that article is now made a substitute, the introduction of belts being altogether casual.

Death &c.

As soon as a person dies the body of the deceased is habited in the best clothes and placed upon the bench or platform in the wigwam, where it is kept before interment one day. The relatives & friends, then assemble, each carrying some article of merchandize, skins, &c, which, with the corpse they take to the place of burial. There they make a feast for the deceased, and after the feast a game or play is proposed, at which all the articles are distributed among the players, having previously interred the body. After these ceremonies all the relatives, without exception paint themselves in gaudy colours and cease to mourn.

The Winneebaágoas never kept the corpse more than a day, they always bury the bodies upon the top of the ground, and they never burn them.

They believe that persons dying of old age will be returned to the earth, in some other form or some other person, that is, if they wish to return. If not they are permitted to remain above. They do not preserve a roll of cloth as an emblem of the child they have lost, as is the custom with some other nations. (94)

Birth &c.

The only point in which they differ from the Munnoáminnees is in that of christening. Two persons are chosen from the "bird tribes" and two from the "animal tribes," to name the child. A feast is prepared, and at the feast these persons dispute with each other for the privilege of naming it. The bird tribes generally succeed, the child is named, the parents are instructed in their duty towards it, and they disperse.

It is said that illegitimate children were never known in this nation, until they had seen whiskey and rum, to the introduction of which liquors they attribute this stain upon their character.

Marriage &c.

The courtship among the Winneebaagoas is commenced by the young man, who goes to the lodge of the female whom he has in view, in the night, and after the family are asleep. He lights a small torch, enters the lodge and awakes her. If she bids him to go away he cannot reasonable expect success, but if she says nothing he remains a short time and then leaves her. On the following night he repeats his visit and as the girl is then aware of his intention, if he does not receive the signal for departure he make known his love and solicits her to become his wife. She rises and accompanies him to the lodge of his parents or friends, and in the morning she is presented to them by her lover. If the marriage is agreeable to them they make a collection of goods, skins, &c, and present them to the parents of the young woman, who returns a similar present, and the marriage contract is then considered as concluded.

(95) It is common for each man to have two wives, but they seldom take a greater number, on account of the difficulty of supporting them, tho’ custom would permit any number, they frequently marry two sisters. The youngest is generally preferred as being the most tractable & industrious, and she prevents the effects of jealousy in the other by a careful division of her presents &c.

Divorces, tho’ governed by the same laws, are much less common than among the Munnoáminnees. The Winneebaágoa women are more neat, industrious and vastly more chaste, than those of any other nation around them. They seldom visit the white settlements, which may account for the preservation of their character.

They frequently unite after a divorce, and instances of reunion after a separation of years, have been known.

Each tribe in the nation considers itself in some degree related to the tribes of the same name in other nations, and they use to each other the appellations of brothers.

The custom of the Munnoáminnees to consider the male descendants as belonging to the tribe of the father and the the females to those of the mother, prevails also in this nation, and consequently, marriage with near relations is not prohibited, but on the contrary seems unavoidable.

The son in law considers himself bound in common with the sons to aid in the support of the father & mother in law, particularly if they be aged, or otherwise unable to support themselves.

Medicine, &c.

The Society of Jugglers in this nation is considered by them to be (96) very respectable, much more so than those in the neighbouring tribes. They are more severe in their laws & more mysterious in their ceremonies. My informant, who is the principal chief of the nation has resisted very considerable temptations, and at last plainly told me that it was useless to attempt the investigation of the subject, for no person in the nation could be induced to reveal its secrets.

Astronomy, &c.

According to the ideas of these indians, the earth is a plane, resting upon the water: that it was imperfectly formed, and moved like a balance, with the motion of the waters, to remedy which the great spirit formed the four winds and placed them upon the four corners of the earth, commanding them to rest there and keep the earth in its proper position, since which time it has always retained its place. This description applies peculiarly to america, which is supposed to be an island, surrounded by a vast sea, on the opposite side of which in an easterly direction, is a very large country bounded at its eastern extremity by the skies.

From this great country came the French, English, Americans and others whom they have seen or heard of, and from its extremity came the blacks, who are supposed to be burned by the heat of the sun to the colour which they bear.

The Sun is a circular plane, composed of wood, which burns perpetually. It is supposed to have life, to be furnished with heat by the great Spirit and to have for its resting place the eastern extremity of the earth before mentioned. It commences its journey every morning and having passed over the great earth & the island upon which they live, it moves suddenly under (97) it and returns to the resting place, where it remains until another day. They suppose that the day is not far distant when this luminary will cease to burn, and that then the world will be reduced to chaos. They believe the sun to be nearly as large as the earth which they inhabit.

The moon is similarly shaped, but composed of cold substances. It has the power of gestation and is the female companion of the sun. Her resting place is near that of the sun. She does not appear during the six months of spring and summer, but sends one of her children, who possesses less cold than herself. In the winter she comes herself, prepared to congeal the rain as it falls and to freeze the rivers. The sun performs his tour with more rapidity than the moon, and sometimes travels in the same track, which causes moderate weather in the midst of winter, and excessive heat in the summer.

They suppose that when the sun and moon meet above the earth, they cohabit with each other, which cause an eclipse — and they believe that such an occurrence portends war, sickness, murder or other misfortune to those who live in the direction of the eclipse. They generally fire their guns to produce a separation of these heavenly bodies and prevent the fatal consequences of their union. The stars are supposed to be the issue of the sun & moon, to possess life, and to be composed of unequal parts of the heat and cold of their parents, which accounts for the difference in their appearance. They have an abode near the sun & moon, to which they resort during the day, and they are sent in the night to relieve their mother, the moon.

The year is divided into four seasons, viz: (98)

Waa.nú Spring.
Tau.gér.ra. Summer.
Tshá Autumn
Mau.neé.na. Winter

And into twelve moons, as follows:

Hoá Moon of Spawning fish (April)
Mauk.aá Planting Moon
Mau.aá.wee.ra Hoeing Moon
Wee.haútsh.raa.wee.ra. Blossom Moon (in allusion to corn).
Wee.tátsh.oa.ger.ra. Roasting (Corn) Moon.
Hoa.wúnk.hee.roak.her.ra. Deer running moon.
Wee.zé Snow bird Moon. (This bird then feeds on the ground.)
Tshu.aá Falling horn Moon.
Mau.neé.wee.ra. Winter Moon.
Hoan.tshe.ník.kee.toamp.hoa.noa.nee.ger.ra.   First young bear moon.
Hoan.tshe.ník.kee.toamp.Ha.taa.ra. Last young bear moon.
Wau.kǘ.kee.roo.har.ra. Raccoon running moon.

The Cardinal points are,

Haú Whence comes the day.
Wee.oá.naa.tsher[a].   Where the sun sets.
Tá He demands bad weather.   The soft wind.

The meteors called Shooting Stars are supposed to fall upon the earth, and are the forerunners of war. Those who reside near their place of descent are by them advertized of the intentions of their enemies.

(99) They frequently use the appellations of Grand Father & Grand Mother, when speaking of the sun & moon, but have no ceremonies upon the reappearance of the latter.


These indians believe that there are four worlds of the same description, placed one above the other; that the one which we inhabit is the first, that the second is people with similar inhabitants, the third is occupied by the son of the great spirit, who is one of their inferior deities, and that the fourth is the residence of the great spirit himself.

The souls of persons who die ascend immediately to the third world, where the Son institutes an inquiry into their life below. If it has been good, he then demands whether the soul will return to the earth, and if such is the wish of the soul it is returned in some body other than that which it left; but if not it remains with the Son, taking a human form, and enjoying all the pleasures of the chase &c, without alloy. If the soul be that of a wicked man it is sent to a place in the west, where the evil spirits & souls of evil men are kept in tortures. They suppose that the souls of the whites undergo a like examination and treatment, and if suffered to remain, pursue the occupation which furnished the means of subsistence below.

These opinions they claim to possess of themselves, without the intervention or instruction of the Jesuits or other missionaries.

Numbers, appearance, &c.

I know of no nation of indians whose personal appearance is more (100) prepossessing than that of the Winneebaágoas. They are generally large, well formed, of a healthy appearance, and have a peculiar air, manner or formation of person & features, by which they can be immediately distinguished form the Munnoáminnees by one who has seen them together.

The principal part of the nation reside on Rock River. Of those who inhabit the Fox, Ouisconsin & Mississippi rivers, Winneebaágoa Lake and the country adjacent, the following list will give a faint idea.

Winneebaagoa Rapids. N.E. end of the Lake 10  Lodges.
Island of the Eye. in the Lake 8 "
Shore of the Lake opposite this Island 1 "
Fox Lake. An Expansion of Fox river 2 "
Near the S. W. End of the Lake 14 "
At the S.W. Extremity 24 "
Great prairie, 12 miles from the S.W. Exit of Lake 30 "
Near the portage between the Ouisconsin & Fox 2 "
Swampy Lake 36 miles above W. Lake & 4 fr. Fox river 2 "
Green Lake, near the last mentioned 13 "
Little Green Lake near the last 7 "
Fox Lake. 24 miles from W Lake & 18 fr. F. river 6 "
Above Ouisconsin portage, On the Ouisconsin river 14 "
70 Miles above Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi 18 "

Making in the whole one hundred and fifty one lodges, of which the last eighteen are said to have contained in the spring past nearly one thousand men.

The number of warriors is estimated by themselves to be from three (101) to four thousand, including those on Rock River; and there is little doubt that the number of women & children exceeds the number of men.

These indians have a Manabuéshoa, whose history and character resembles that given him by the Munnoáminnees. His name is Wauk.tshúnk.hau.kau. They have no objection to recount his feats in the chase, for which he was obliged to transform himself into some animal, to describe his birth and occupation, which agree with the history of the Munnoáminnees, but on every point connected with their Juggling Society, they preserve a secret and mysterious air, which nothing can induce them to remove. They pretend to fear the anger of the serpents which inhabit the earth, if they disclose any secret, however remote, touching that society. This is not the opinion of one man alone, but of different chiefs, with whom I have conversed at different times with a view to draw from them something on the subject.

The Winneebaágoas all cultivate in their villages, considerable fields of corn, squashes, pumpkins, &c, and their subsistence depends in an equal degree upon the products of their fields and the chase. They are more provident than their neighbours, and are enabled at this season of the year (August 20) to exchange a part of their corn for whiskey and goods, with the whites. They gather the wild rice, in common with other indians inhabiting the borders of Fox river, but it cannot be considered as a very considerable part of their subsistence, although others place much dependence upon it.


The Winneebaágoa language is thought to be more difficult to attain than that of any other nation in the North Western Territory. Even the (102) ... [end of the manuscript in my possession].


"Hoa-tshúng.ger.ra." — for Hocągᵋra. The word ho does, among other things, denotes fish, but it is not clear whence "rolling" comes. Indeed, it would be odd to call anyone a "rolling fish," let alone oneself. The name Hocąk actually means, "Great (-cak) Voice (ho-)."

"Winneebaágoa banks" — they came to be known as "Red Banks," a translation of the Hocąk Moga-šuc.

"names" — Hoan.tchér.ra. = Hǫcᵋra [for Hųjᵋra]; Shoánk.tshaunk. = Šǫ́kcąk [for Šųkcąk]; Wauk.hú = Wakhą́cera [for Waką́jara]; Wauk.hú = Waką́na; Wauk.tshé = Wakcéhina [for Wakcéxina];   Hoa.wú = Howų́na [for Hųwų́na]; Tshau.waúk.shep. = Cawákšep [for Cawą́kšep]; Hoo.rá.rau. = Hurára [for Xurax’a];ép. = Kerejusép [for Kerejųsep]. The clan referred to as the "Devil," is actually the Waterspirit Clan. The Ca-wą́k-šep is not a bird at all, but the Bull Moose (literally, "Male Black Deer"), probably a subclan of the Deer Clan. The Cawą́kšep was said to have been the Gray Hawk, but the gray raptor is actually in the next entry as the Xurax’a, the "Gray Eagle." The Ca-wą́k-šep may have been confused with Caxšep, "Eagle." Kerejųsep, said to be the Hawk Clan, is more specifically the Black Hawk (American Swallow-tail Kite). This is the corrected table:

Hųjᵋra Hoan.tchér.ra. Bear
Šųkcąk Shoánk.tshaunk. Wolf
Waką́jara   Wauk.hú Thunderbird
Waką́na Wauk.hú Snake
Wakcéxina   Wauk.tshé   Waterspirit
Hųwų́na Hoa.wú Elk
Cawą́kšep Tshau.waúk.shep. Bull Moose (Deer)
Xurax’a Hoo.rá.rau. Gray Eagle (Eagle)
Kerejųsepép. Black Hawk (Hawk or Warrior)

Left out completely were the Pigeon Clan, Buffalo Clan, and Fish Clan, the latter being associated with the Snake Clan.

"the females to those of the mother" — this is impossible. If a woman from the Bear Clan were to marry someone from the Thunderbird Clan, being patrilocal, the couple would live among the male's clan. Since marriage is between moieties, the mother of the bride will have been from the Bird Clan, and her mother would have been from one of the Earth Moiety clans, and so on. For the purpose of marriage, females are considered to belong to their father's clan, which is their mother's clan only by marriage.

"the Society of Jugglers" — this is the Medicine Rite.

"four seasons"Waa.nú = Weną́na; Tau.gér.ra. = Togᵋra; Tshá = Cąnį́na; Mau.neé.na. = Mąnį́na.

"Cardinal points"Haú = Hą́pokuna (east); Wee.oá.naa.tsher[a]. = Wíorécara (west); seems to be rak, "to ask, tell"; and hohuhí, "winds" — Rakohuhina, "He Tells the Winds," which is the meaning assigned to Tá This latter actually means, "Hot Winds" (Ta-huhí-na), and must therefore refer to the south.

"Wauk.tshúnk.hau.kau" — for Wakjąkága, Trickster. There is some confusion here, since the primary figure in the Medicine Rite is Hare (Wašjįgéga). The basis for this confusion is that Manabozho shares most of his stories with the Hocąk Trickster, but he is said to be a hare. In both cases the Medicine Rite is founded by a supernatural hare, but in the Algonkian case, that hare's adventures correspond thoroughly with Wakjąkága.


Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 85-102.