Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 3

Past & Present of Allamakee County
, 1913


Of the native tribes that occupied a wide region in which Allamakee county in central, during the past three centuries, the Sioux, or Dakotas (Naudowessies of the early writers), were the most permanently located, and among the most powerful. The very earliest traders found their home to be in Minnesota, to the westward of Lake Superior, and their numbers were estimated at many thousand. There were various branches of this powerful family, covering a widespread territory. The Iowa, or so-called “Prairie Sioux,” at the time of Marquette’s visit occupied the most of what is now the fair state of Iowa, but a century later they had become supplanted throughout its eastern portion by other tribes, and were eventually retired beyond the Missouri. They had, however, given their name to one of our principal rivers, and to at least two smaller upon which their bands had dwelt: our own Upper Iowa (now called Oneota), and the Little Sioux, which is shown on an early map (1817) as the “River of the Iowas.” The name very naturally passed on to designate one of the early organized counties in the Wisconsin territory, and finally to this territory and state.

Of the northern Sioux, the only record we have of a habitation in Allamakee county is of the party known as Wabasha’s band, * who established a village on the Oneota river, near New Albin, about the year 1800, migrating from about St. Paul. Doubtless they had camped and hunted and fought along that stream for generations before the advent of the whites, in common with various other tribes, as the abundance of Indian relics throughout the valley shows. The old Wabasha had taken sides with the British in 1776, and led a thousand Sioux in 1780 destined to augment their forces at Kaskaskia. He died in Houston County, Minnesota, while the village was on the Oneota, having abdicated in 1805 or before in favor of his son, second Wabasha. The latter was considered a wise and prudent chief, and it is said was strictly temperate as to whisky. In 1805 he heartily welcomed Lieutenant Pike, and claimed that he himself had never been at war with the new father (Louisiana then having recently been transferred to the United States): but in 1812 his bad again sided with the English. Pike’s map shows this Sioux village on the south side of the Upper Iowa, at a point now definitely located at Sand Cove, two or three miles from New Albin.

This band removed to Wabasha’s Prairie” (now Winona) before the date of Major Long’s expedition up the Mississippi in 1817, an account of which appears in a previous chapter. At this date there were both Sioux and Foxes on the Upper Iowa, which by the treaty seven years later was to become the boundary line between them, and the center line of the Neutral Ground in 1830. Wabasha was the “Leaf” or the “Red Leaf,” the leading signer of both these treaties on the part of the Sioux. Wabasha’s band were allied with the whites in the Black Hawk war in 1832, and fell upon their old enemies the Sacs and Foxes as they fled across into Iowa near New Albin after their defeat at the Bad Axe river, and it is said slaughtered the helpless fugitives mercilessly, women and children included. Wabasha died in 1836 of smallpox, with many of his people, which reduced the band to twenty-seven when third Wabasha became chief.

The Sacs (Saukies) and Foxes (Outagamies, or Reynards) were originally two separate tribes of the Algonquin family, but of so aggressive habits that their eastern neighbors could not get along with them, and they were forced farther west until, about the year 1760, at Green Bay or Vicinity, being reduced in numbers, they formed an alliance, and from that time became known as practically one nation. They continued to be very annoying neighbors, however, being ever ready for warfare, and their more powerful enemies forced them again to move, first from the Fox to the Wisconsin river, and about 1767 to the Mississippi in the Vicinity of Rock Island, where the famous Sac chief Black Hawk was born soon after. Here they prospered, supplanting the Iowa and Illini, and soon occupied all the eastern part of this state, up to the Upper Iowa river, where they were continually at war with the more powerful Sioux.

The Winnebagoes, early known as Puants, are generally considered as a division of the great Dakota family. They are declared by eminent authority to have been the parent stock of the Omahas, Iowas, Kansas, Quappas or Arkansas, and Osages. Their own traditions (as learned by Captain Carver and others) point to an origin far to the southwest, from whence they were drive by the early Spanish invaders with great cruelty. It is said they reached this northern region much reduced in numbers and very destitute, and were succored and befriended by the Minnesota Sioux, by whom they were place (being a comparatively peaceful people) as a “buffer” between themselves and their adversaries, the Chippewas, on the east. The great difference in the Winnebago language from that of the northern Dakotas would go to support the belief of a different
tribal origin.

Captain Carver says: “On the 20th of September (1766) I left Green Bay and proceeded up the Fox river. On the 25th I arrived at the great town of the Winnebagoes, situated on a small island, just as you enter the east end of Lake Winnebago. Here the queen, who presided over this tribe instead of a sachem, received me with great civility, and entertained me in a very distinguished manner during the four days I continued with her.

“The time I tarried here I employed in making the best observations possible on the country and in collecting the most certain intelligence I could of the origin, language and customs of this people. From these inquiries I have reason to conclude that the Winnebagoes originally resided in some of the provinces belonging to New Mexico; and being drive from their native country, either

By internal divisions or by the extensions of the Spanish conquests, they took refuge in these more northern parts about a century ago.

“My reasons for adopting this supposition are, first, from their unalienable attachment to the Naudowessie Indians (who, they say, gave them the earliest succor during their emigration) notwithstanding their present residence is more than six hundred miles distant from that people.

“Secondly, that their dialect totally differs from every other Indian nation yet discovered; it being a very uncouth, guttural jargon, which none of their neighbors will attempt to learn. They converse with other nations in the Chippeway tongue, which is the prevailing language throughout all the tribes, from the Mohawks of Canada to those who inhabit the borders of the Mississippi, and from the Hurons and Illinois to such as dwell near Hudson’s Bay.

“Thirdly, from their inveterate hatred to the Spaniards. Some of them informed me that they had many excursions to the southwest, which took up several moons. And elder chief more particularly acquainted me, that about forty-six winters ago, he marched at the head of fifty warriors, towards the southwest, for three moons. That during this expedition, whilst they were crossing a plain, they discovered a body of men on horseback who belonged to the black people: for so they call the Spaniards. As soon as they perceived them they proceeded with caution, and concealed themselves till night came on; when they drew so near as to be able to discern the number and situation of their enemies. Finding they were not able to cope with so great a superiority by daylight, they waited till they had retired to rest; when they rushed upon them, and, after having killed the greatest part of the men, took eighty horses loaded with what they termed white stone. This I suppose to have been silver, as he told me the horses were shod with it, and that their bridles were ornamented with the same. When they had satiated their revenge, they carried off their spoil, and having got so far as as to be out of the reach of the Spaniards that had escaped their fury, they left the useless and ponderous burthen, and with which the horses were loaded, in the woods, and mounting themselves in this manner returned to their friends. The party they had thus defeated I conclude to be the caravan that annually conveys to Mexico the silver which the Spaniards find in great quantities on the mountains lying near the heads of the Colorado river; and the plains where the attack was made, probably some they were obliged
to pass over in their way to the head of the river St. Fee, or Rio del Nord, which falls into the Gulf of Mexico, to the west of the Mississippi.

“The Winnebagoes can raise about two hundred warriors. Their town contains about fifty houses, which are strongly built with palisades. The Winnebagoes raise a great quantity of Indian corn, beans, pumpkins, squashes and watermelons, with some tobacco.”

Captain Carver’s belief that the Winnebagoes came into this region about a century before his visit to them was far from correct, as Nicolet had found them at Green Bay upon his first reaching that point in 1634, and in considerable numbers. Other authorities have considered them as among the earliest of aboriginal tribes.

Upon the removal of the Sacs and Foxes to the Mississippi, the Winnebagoes spread over the region from Lake Winnebago and Green Bay to that river, north of the Wisconsin, and thus became the prospective occupants of our own county

When, some sixty years later, a portion of them were assigned to the Neutral Ground between the Sioux on the north and the Sacs and Foxes to the south, after the Black Hawk war. As was said, the Winnebagoes were not warlike; and the army officers posted at Prairie du Chien generally considered them less honorable than the Sioux, their patrons, more vindictive and generally mean. Some of them were implicated in brutal murders near that post, as narrated in another place. On the other hand, they were more amenable to the influences of civilization; and Gen. Joseph M. Street, the government Indian agent at that point, declared the bad element among them was the demoralizing result of their long contact with unprincipled whites, and the whisky-sellers especially. It is deplorable that nearly all of the early explorers, as admitted in their narratives, made a practice of giving whisky with their presents to the Indians.

The Winnebagoes, though taking no very active part, naturally allied themselves with their first white friends, the French, in their warfare against the English; and later with the English against the Americans in the Revolution, and in the War of 1812. They were neutral in the Black Hawk war.

By the treaty of August 19, 1825, at Prairie du Chien, it was agreed that the United States government should run a boundary line between the Sioux, on the north, and the Sacs and Foxes, on the south, along the Upper Iowa, as follows; Commencing at the mouth of the Upper Iowa river on the west bank of the Mississippi and ascending said Iowa river to its west fork; thence up the fork to its source; thence crossing the fork of the Red Cedar river in a direct line to the second or upper fork of the Des Moines river.

The cause which led to the establishment of this boundary line continuing to exist, namely, the frequent hostilities between these hereditary enemies, another treaty was entered into on July 15, 1830, at Prairie du Chien, by the terms of which the Sacs and Foxes ceded to the United States a strip of country lying south of the above boundary line, twenty miles in width, and extending along the line aforesaid from the Mississippi to the Des Moines river. The Sioux also ceded to the government, in the same treaty, a like strip of twenty miles on the north side of said boundary; thus making a territory forty miles wide, and in length from the Mississippi to the Des Moines, which was known as the “Neutral Ground.” Within these limits both tribes were permitted to hunt and fish unmolested by each other except at the peril of the aggressor, from the government.

In the maps of that day upon which their neutral ground was shown, there appears a little jog of perhaps six or eight miles in each of the three lines, north, south, and central, at a distance of about thirty miles west of the Mississippi, which has puzzled not a few. The key to this appears in the language of the treaty of 1825 establishing the central, or original boundary line: “ascending said Iowa river to its west fork (some texts read left fork), thence up the fork to its source,” etc. This fork, judging from the maps which show it as a little short, unnamed stream, can be no other than Trout Run, near Decorah. The corresponding job in the northern line, twenty miles north, appears along the course of the “Red Cedar creek,” apparently the Canoe; and a similar deflection in the southern line is along the Turkey river. No explanation is given of this break in the course of the original boundary, that we have been able to ascertain.

The original boundary line striking the upper fork of the des Moines river, at Dakota City in Humboldt county, the southwest corner of the Neutral Ground would be a short distance below Fort Dodge, in Webster county; and the north line being carried to the west fork would terminate in the southeast corner of Palo Alto.

By a treaty made September 15, 1832, at Fort Armstrong, now Rock Island, the eastern forty miles of this neutral ground was allotted to the Winnebagoes for a new home, in part consideration for their surrendering all their possessions on the east side of the Mississippi, south and east of the Wisconsin, which it became necessary for the government to open for settlement; and a portion of the tribe reluctantly entered upon this territory during the following year, the other part remaining in the vicinity of Fort Winnebago. Under the terms of this treaty a school and farm were established for their benefit, on the Yellow river, which will be found more fully described in another chapter, as the “Old Mission.” It is related that in the spring of 1833 Father Lowrey, who was appointed to take charge of this school, explained the plans and purpose of its
establishment to a council of Winnebago chiefs, and called for an expression of their views on the subject; whereupon Chief Waukon arose and expressed his sentiments as follows: “The Winnebagoes are asleep, and it will be wrong to awake them; they are red men, and all the white man’s soap and water cannot make them white.”

In a treaty at Washington, November 1, 1837, the Winnebagoes ceded all their lands east of the Mississippi river. They agreed, further, to relinquish the right to occupy, except for the purpose of hunting, that portion of the Neutral Ground included between that river and a line twenty miles distant therefrom to the west; and to remove to the west of such line within eight months after the ratification of this treaty. In accordance therewith, in 1840-41 the government erected a fort in the southwest corner of the present Winnisheik county, on Turkey river, calling it Fort Atkinson from the general who conducted the war against Black Hawk; and in 1842 a mission house and school were built near by and a farm opened, to which Rev. Lowrey and Farmer Thomas were transferred. The Yellow River mission was abandoned, and the Indians received their annuities thenceforth at this post until they were removed to Minnesota, in 1848.

Long exposed to the greed and the vices of the white man, from their contact with him since the appearance of the first traders and their whisky, the Winnebagoes unfortunately yielded readily to these influences, and their annuities from the government were an additional cause of increasing profligacy and idleness, notwithstanding the endeavors of Father Lowrey for their welfare. An officer of the United States army was appointed to treat with them as to a removal farther away from these influences, and held a council with their chiefs November 1, 1844, at which their principal chief and orator, Waukon,** said in reply:

“Brother, you say our Great Father sent you to us to buy our country.

“We do not know what to think of our Great Father’s sending so often to buy our country. He seems to think so much of land that he must be always looking down to the earth.

“Brother, you say you have seen many Indians, but you have never seen one yet who owns the land. The land all belongs to the Great Spirit. He made it, He owns it all. It is not the red man’s to sell.

“Brother, the Great Spirit hears us now. He always hears us. He heard us when our Great Father told us if we would sell him our country on the Wisconsin, he would never ask us to sell him another country. We brought our council fires to the Mississippi. We came across the great river, and built our lodges on the turkey and the Cedar. We have been here but a few days, and you ask us to move again. We supposed our Father pities his children; but he cannot, or he would not wish so often to take our land from us.

“ You ask me, Brother, where the Indians are gone who crossed the Mississippi a few years ago. You know and we know where they have gone. They are gone to the country where the white man can no more interfere with them. Wait, Brother, but a few years longer, and this little remnant will be gone too; - gone to the Indian’s home beyond the clouds, and then you can have our country without buying it.

“Brother, I have spoken to you for our nation. We do not wish to sell our country. We have but one opinion. We never change it.”

The chiefs refused to hear anything further from the commissioner, and abruptly broke up the council. They said, “We are in a hurry to get off on our winter hunt. The sun is going down. Farewell.” But the territory of Iowa was now soon to become a state. The Indian population must give place to the hand of industry, and the forces that make for civilization must control and occupy this fair spot of the earth’s surface, with the abundant yield from its prolific soil, the wealth of its mines, the power of its rivers.

Hence it was that by another treaty, October 13, 1846, at Washington, the Winnebagoes were persuaded to cede all claims to the “Neutral Ground,” the United States agreeing to give them a tract of not less than 800,000 acres north of St. Peter’s river in Minnesota, and the sum of $190.000, of which $85,000 was retained by the government in trust, and 5 per cent interest payable annually to said tribe. But there was no clause in this treaty for the exclusion of intoxicating liquor. By a later treaty, in 1855, the Winnebagoes ceded this tract, for a smaller one on Blue Earth river, from which ardent spirits were excluded. In 1859 and 1863 this was sold by the United States in trust for the Winnebagoes, and the president authorized to set apart a reservation for them of 18 square miles, in Dakota.

Under the treaty of 1846, which was proclaimed February 4, 1847, the removal of the Winnebagoes from the Neutral Ground to the Long Prairie (or St. Peter) purchase, was carried out in the summer of 1848, under difficulties. The whisky sellers hung about and incited dissatisfaction and desertion; and Wabasha III, the Sioux chief at Winona, tried to sell them a share of his territory. He was arrested by solders from Fort Snelling, and a conflict between the solders and the Winnebagoes was narrowly averted. Two principal parties abandoned the tribe, one going back to their old haunts on Black river in Wisconsin, and one moving southwest through Iowa, finally uniting with the Otoe in Nebraska, but later returning in part to Wisconsin.

While on the Blue Earth reservation, 1855 to 1860, the Winnebagoes who remained there prospered, and the annual reports of the agent showed encouraging progress in agriculture and mechanics. A treaty was made by which they were to be allotted land in severalty, but this was never consummated, owing to the Civil war, and the Sioux outbreak of 1863. While the Winnebagoes mostly remained quietly on their reservation, a few were implicated with the Sioux, and all were later removed to the north side of the Missouri river, “dumped in the desert” about eighty miles above Fort Randall. They were greatly dissatisfied, and in 1865 were permitted to occupy a tract ceded to them by the Omahas, in Nebraska, though many returned to their old haunts in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

As to the number of Winnebagoes, they were estimated in 1842 at about 2,500, of whom but 756 were counted at the Turkey River mission. In 1890 there were 1,215 on the Nebraska reservation, and it was thought nearly as many had returned to their favorite hunting grounds along the Mississippi. In 1909 they numbered 1,069 in Nebraska and 1,094 in Wisconsin.

In reply to an inquiry as to the present numbers, and material condition of the Winnebagoes, a letter from the commissioner of Indian affairs, dated at Washington, January 18, 1913, brings the following information.

“The Winnebago Indians have $883,249.58 in the treasury of the United States to their credit under the act of March 3, 1909. This amount draws five per cent interest, and yearly payments of the interest are made to the Indians. Provision has been made by Congress for a division of the fund between the two branches of the tribe, and this question is now under consideration by the Department of the Interior. After this shall have been done, the Secretary of the Interior has authority to divide the money per capita among the Nebraska Indians, and to pay the Wisconsin Winnebagoes per capita or use it for their benefit.

“The land reserved for the Winnebagoes in Nebraska has been allotted to them in severalty. The Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin have no reservation, but some of them took up allotments on the public domain.

“Indians near La Crosse are probably part of the Wisconsin Winnebagoes, and will share in the division of the fund when made. The amount to be paid to the Wisconsin branch of the tribe has not as yet been determined by the Secretary of the Interior, who is authorized to adjust the differences between the two branches of the tribe by the Act of July 1, 1912.”

From the foregoing it will be seen that the Winnebago tribe is keeping up well numerically, and as a whole is not poverty stricken, having about $380 per capita in the keeping of their Great Father at Washington, in addition to the lands which have been allotted to them.

Indeed it is a mistaken notion that the native race is dying out. According to the latest census there are 265,683 Indians in the United States, and we are told by the Conference of American Indians, held in October, 1912, at Columbus, Ohio, that they are “the most wealthy people in America per capital: each one is worth $3,500 on an average.” Dr. Charles A. Eastman, the famous full-Blooded Sioux lecturer, says that “the policy and ultimate purpose of Americans towards my race had been admirable, Christian in tone and theory. You will find men of Indian blood in the congress of the United States, and in several of the state legislatures. Many of these were born in the tepee. Is this not much to achieve in half a century?”


An account of the Black Hawk war belongs more properly to the history of Illinois and Wisconsin; but the scene of its closing tragedy being upon our very border, requires a brief outline of its conduct here, especially as some of the Winnebagoes were implicated therein. In April, 1832, Black Hawk with his braves, including their families, crossed the Mississippi at Rock Island with the avowed purpose of raising a crop of corn on the Rock river in Illinois, their old home. General Atkinson, then at Fort Armstrong (or Rock Island), sent orders for them to return to their new reservation, but Black Hawk was angered, and feeling that his people had been greatly wronged he had come prepared for war or peace as circumstances might dictate. He declared afterwards that the Winnebagoes and Pottawattomies had encouraged him to believe they would assist him to recover his lands in Illinois. This they denied; but upon the commencement of actual hostilities, which resulted in a victory for the Indians on May 14, it is said that a considerable number from both these tribes joined his forces, only to desert him when success shortly after came to the whites. Finding himself vastly outnumbered, and short of provisions, Black Hawk moved northward to the Wisconsin river, with occasional fights, and closely followed by the military under General Atkinson and Colonel Dodge, who pursued them toward Fort Winnebago.

On the 21st of July the Indians were overtaken, on the banks of the Wisconsin, where they were defeated with considerable loss. A party of Black Hawk’s band, including many women and children, now attempted to escape down the Wisconsin in canoes, but they were attacked by troops, some were killed, some drowned, a few taken prisoners, and others escaped to the woods and perished of starvation. Black Hawk now abandoned all idea of resistance, and with his main band attempted to reach the Mississippi and effect their escape farther to the north. They struck it at the mouth of the Bad Axe river, directly opposite the outlet of the Upper Iowa, and attempted to get their women and children across, in such canoes as they could procure. A steamboat, the Warrior, had been dispatched from Prairie du Chien, however, with an armed force to intercept them, and on the 1st of August this party fired upon the Indians on the east show, while under a flag of truce attempting to surrender, killing a number of them, claiming the white flag was a decoy.

On the 2d of August the army overtook the Indians at this point, and brought Black Hawk to bay; and after a two or three hours’ fight his people were driven into the river, men, women and children, but only a few escaped, those who succeeded in swimming to the islands opposite falling into the hands of the merciless Wabasha. It has been claimed that Black Haw was captured here by the Winnebagoes; but he himself says (in his narrative dictated to a U. S. interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes, in 1833): “I started with my little party to the Winnebago

Village at Prairie la Crosse. On my arrival there I entered the lodge of one of the chiefs and told him that I wished him to go with me to his father – that I intended to to give myself up to the American war chief, and die, if the Great Spirit saw proper. During my stay at the village the squaws made me a dress of white deer-skin. I then started with several Winnebagoes, and went to their agent at Prairie du Chien and gave myself up.”

On the contrary, the fact is well established that he did not come in of his own volition. William Salter in his “Life of Col. Henry Dodge” says: “Early in the battle of Bad Axe, Black Hawk and the Prophet fled. After the battle Colonel Dodge called Waukon-Decorra to him and told him that their Great Father at Washington wanted the big warriors taken. Parties were sent in search of them, and they were captured and delivered up to the Indian agent at Prairie du Chien.” And Drake’s “Life of Black Hawk” states that “it is to two Winnebagoes, Decorie and Chaetar, that the fallen chief is indebted for being taken captive. On the 27th of August they delivered Black Hawk and the prophet (Wabokieshiek) to the Indian agent, General Street, at Prairie des Chiens. Upon their delivery, Decorie, the One-eyed, arose and said:

“’My father, I now stand before you. When we parted, I told you I would return soon; but we have to go a great distance. You see we have done what you sent us to do. These are the two you told us to get. We have done what you told us to do. We always do what you tell us, because we know it is for our good. You told us to bring them to you alive; we have done so. If you had told us to bring their heads alone we would have done so, and it would have been less difficult than what we have done. We want you to keep them safe; if they are to be hurt we do not want to see it. Wait until we are gone before it is done. Many little birds have been flying about our ears of late and we thought they whispered to us that there was evil intended for us; but now we hope these evil birds will let our ears alone. We know you are our friends, because you take our part, and that is the reason we do what you tell us to do. You say you love your red children, we think we love you as much if not more than you love us. We have confidence in you and you may rely on us. We have been promised a great deal if we would take these men; that it would do much good to our people. We now hope to see that will be done for us. We not put these men into your hands. We have done all that you told us to do.’”

General Street, the agent, replied to this speech, reminding them that some of the Winnebagoes had proved unfaithful, but the capture of Black Hawk would be to their credit; and Col. Zachary Taylor, then the military commandant, upon taking charge of the prisoners also made a few remarks to their captors; after which Chaetar, the associate of Decorie, arose and said: “My father, I am young, and do not know how to make speeches. I am no chief; I am no orator; if I should not speak as well as the others, still you must listen to me. When you made the speech to the chiefs, Waugh Kon Decorie Caramani, the one-eyed Decorie, and others I was there. I heard you. I thought what you said to them you also said to me. I left here that same night, and I have been a great way; I had much trouble. Near the Dalle on the Wisconsin I took Black Hawk. No one did it but me, what I have done is for the benefit of my nation, and I hope to see the good that has been promised us. That one, Wabokieshiek, the Prophet, is my relation; if he is to be hurt I do not wish to
see it.”

Black Hawk, and some other prisoners who were to be held as hostages during the pleasure of the President, were sent down the river to St. Louis, under charge of Lieut. Jefferson David, later President of the Southern Confederacy. Albert Sidney Johnston, who became a famous southern general in the Civil war, commanding the southern army at Shiloh, where he was killed in the first day’s fight, was General Wilkinson’s A. D. C. and adjutant at the battle of Bad Axe; and President-to-be Col. Zachary Taylor personally commanded the United States regulars there engaged. He remained at Fort Crawford until 1836. General Atkinson reported the total force of whites in the Bad Axe battle at twelve hundred; and twenty-four killed and wounded. Abraham Lincoln was among the young volunteers in this war too late to get into action. And General Winfield Scott reached the seat of war about the time it was ended.

[Notes: * N. H. Winchell, “Aborigines of Minnesota.” ** Salter, “The First Fee State in the Louisiana Purchase.”]

~transcribed by Lisa Henry

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