Warbundle Sacrifice

by Dr. Alphonse J. Gerend

Dr. A. J. Gerend

(24) The Winnebago. — The Winnebago of Wood County live on Hemlock creek in Seneca Township and for several miles along the road to Wisconsin Rapids. There are 127 adults and children in Wood County, and in the entire state they number 1284. They came to the Hemlock about the year 1910 and bought land from the white settlers. The Winnebago, have however, resided in the southwestern part of Wood County and on the Wisconsin and Yellow Rivers for a very long time.

They still observe many of their tribal customs. Here they have small farms and gardens. In front of their frame houses they construct round or oval shaped tepees covered with canvas or mats of rushes. Here the women can be seen during summer making baskets or bead work, sewing, or cooking. Occasionally the bough frame of the medicine lodge remains standing, indicating where the dance was conducted. The Winnebago Medicine Lodge Dance is somewhat similar to the Potawatomi. These religion dances are conducted in the most solemn manner. The Medicine Dance and the War Bundle Sacrifice are their main religious functions.

During the first part of August these Wood County Indians attend the annual pow-wow held in this county, when many scenes and customs are enacted for the benefit of the many white visitors. At the conclusion of this, almost the entire Indian population of Wood County resorts to the Wood County cranberry marshes, where they are employed during the cranberry-raking season. At some of the several large cranberry marshes in this county only Indians are employed raking cranberries. During the raking season, which lasts about two weeks, the Indians live in tents and wigwams at the marshes. After the day's work is completed the hours are spent at games, dances or other amusements. In the fall many go hunting, and in the winter they often hunt or trap, either at home, or else visit distant hunting grounds.

The Warbundle Sacrifice, Wood County, Wisconsin

The War Bundle Sacrifice. — The war bundle, of which there are a number of antique ones among the Indians of Wood County, originated through their legends at an early period. The original war bundle was given to an Indian by the thunder (25) birds or Gods Above where the Indians carried this bundle in battle. It was supposed to protect them. It contained various charms and fetishes, such as little bows and arrows, war clubs, red paint, feathers, powders and medicines, as well as practical weapons, war clubs, bows and arrows, etc., these being saturated with the medicines in the bundle. The bundle also contained the skins of sacred birds of war, snake and weasel skins, reed whistles and deer-hoof rattles and buffalo tails. The contents of the war bundle vary according to instructions the owner received in dreams. The inner wrapper should be a white tanned deer skin, the external wrapper a reed mat or woven bag. The thunder birds commanded the Indian to respect the war bundle, keep it tied with a string and away from the women. To open it is a serious offense. It is only to be opened in time of peril and when sacrifices to it are made in the spring and fall, "when the thunderers are first heard." On the death of the owner the bundle goes to one of the owner's sons who displayed the most interest in it.

At the Winnebago ceremonies witnessed by the writer the British flag played an important part. The flag was a part of the bundle, or at least belonged to the original owner of the bundle, as well as the buffalo-horn head-dress worn at the accompanying dance. One of the flags that the writer saw at the ceremony floating above the dance lodge was an old British flag that Chief Winnishiek had received from the British at Prairie du Chien. The owners of this war bundle and flag are Frank Mike, and three other descendants of Chief Winnishiek. Frank Mike, being the most familiar with the ritual of the bundle has conducted the biannual ceremony for the last 30 years.

During the ceremony, the sacred fire having been kindled with bow and drill at day break and the flag raised, the bundle owner sits near the bundle, which is opened. The bows, arrows, and war clubs are stuck in the ground. The owner occasionally blows a reed whistle which he takes from the bundle, and amid the beating of the water drum and the shaking of the gourd rattles, speaks for hours praising the contents of the bundle. The guests or visitors sit about the lodge smoking their pipes and listening to the speech. The calumet is passed around by the attendant, holding the pipe in such a manner That the mouthpiece describes an arc so that the spirits might partake. Incense made of herbs is burned in honor of the thunder gods. Tobacco and occasionally flesh is given to the bundle and prayers are often offered for the cure of a sick person. Songs are chanted successively by members of various clans. The next part of the ceremony is the feast. A whole deer, bear, or other game, or else a dog, has been prepared and is eaten by the guests before the open bundle. After the feast was over the Buffalo Dance was given. Some one known to have special buffalo powers is designated by the host to lead off the dance. The latter puts on the buffalo-horn head-dress, which he takes from the buffalo bundle, which has also been exposed beside the war bundle, and commences dancing up and down the lodge. Soon all the men join in and follow the leader, imitating the running, pawing and bellowing of a buffalo. The squaws remain stationary at the east end of the tent, keeping time to the drum. After dancing around the tent for a time the leader gets down on all fours before a dish of maple water and drinks buffalo fashion without touching the bowl. The other dancers imitate him, and after all have partaken, the leader overturns the bowl with his horns.

BAE 37: Pl. 56a   BAE 37: Pl. 56b   BAE 37: Pl. 57
A Warbundle Cover   The Thunderbird Warbundle   The Contents of the Thunderbird Clan Warbundle

Commentary. "contained" — in 1913, Paul Radin had the contents of the Thunderbird Warbundle photographed, as shown above.1 For a larger view, see this photo.

"Chief Winneshiek" — this would be the eldest of that name, who is sometimes confused with his son, Coming Thunder, who was often referred to as the "elder Winneshiek." The first Chief Winneshiek was born at Doty Island in 1777, and died in 1835 near Hokah, Minnesota.2 The name Winneshiek is Sauk, and means something like "Reclining Mud," a reference to the chief's beard, an anatomical feature that most Indians take pains to remove. Mąwáruga, a translation of Winneshiek, is the name by which he was known among the Hocągara.

"Mike" — for another reference to a member of the Mike family, see the photo in the Gallery.

Charles Bird King
A Buffalo Horn Headdress

"buffalo-horn head-dress" — above is a buffalo horn headdress from the related Oto tribe.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, vol. 37 (1923) 428, Plates 56 and 57.
2 Dr. Norton William Jipson, "Winnebago Villages and Chieftain of the Lower Rock River Region," The Wisconsin Archeologist, 2, #3 (July, 1923): 125-139 [133].


Dr. Alphonse J. Gerend, "The Indians," in George O. Jones and Norman S. McVean, History of Wood County, Wisconsin (Minneapolis and Winona: H.C. Cooper, Jr & Co., 1923) Ch. II: 6-31 [24-25].