Winneconnee Origin Myth

Retold by Reuben G. Thwaites
Collected by W. N. Webster of Oshkosh (1885)

Version 1. "W. N. Webster says that when he asked the Winnebagoes the meaning of this word [Winneconnee], they told him this story, as explanation of its origin.

In early days, long before white settlement, a battle between rival bands of Indians took place on the Fox river, on the site of what is now the village of Winneconnee. The victorious party, on the south side, cut off the head of one of their prisoners and stuck it on a pole, and that the name Winneconnee refers to this incident — a sort of Winnebago Golgotha (or "Place of the Skull"), — the actual meaning Mr. Webster was unable to gather.

July 1, 1885

R. G. Thwaites"1

Version 2. "Said to have been the scene of a sanguinary battle long before the white settlement. The victorious party cut off the head of one of the prisoners and stuck it on a pole, and in some way the name is believed to refer to that event."2

Commentary. "Winneconnee" is doubtless an Algonquian word. Winne means "waters," and according to R. G. Thwaites, the "Hon. J. H. Osborn of Oshkosh says ... that connee is a diminutive affix." Thus it would seem to mean "Little Waters." The Hocąk foundation story seems to turn upon the etymology based upon assonances with words in their own language. There, wináha means "oesophogus, inside of the throat,"3 and konąk, kanąk, means "to put, place, erect."4 Thus it would seem to mean, "to erect through the esophogus." This folk etymology is neither evidence for nor against the reality of the battle.

Links: ...

Stories: about the founding of a village: The Chief of the Heroka (Nįžįra ǧaǧará), River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake (Old River Bottom), Manawa Village Origin Myth (Manawa), Sand Pillow; set on the Fox River: Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Foolish Hunter, The First Fox and Sauk War, Neenah, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter.

Themes: head hunting: White Fisher, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, A Man's Revenge, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), The Dipper, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Turtle's Warparty, Ocean Duck, The Markings on the Moon, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man with Two Heads, Brave Man, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Redhorn's Sons, Fighting Retreat, The Children of the Sun, The Were-Grizzly.

Map: Winneconnee in Relation to Lake Winnebago.


1 Words collected by W. N. Webster of Oshkosh under the direction of Reuben G. Thwaites, July 1, 1885. Contained in Thomas J. George, Winnebago Vocabulary, 4989 Winnebago (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1885) last (unnumbered) page.

2 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagos (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 398.

3 Albert Samuel Gatschet, "Hocank hit’e," in Linguistic and Ethnological Material on the Winnebago, Manuscript 1989-a (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, 1889, 1890-1891). Informants: Michael and Reuben David St. Cyr.

4 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]).