Winnebago Tribe


Winnebago Locations

The Winnebago, wĭne’bā‚gō, who call themselves Ho-Chunk speak a Siouan language. It is remotely related to the speech of the Dakota, with whom the Winnebago readily recognize a common linguistic heritage despite the fact that the languages are by no means mutually intelligible. The Wisconsin Winnebago are not considered reservation Indians, but are descendents of “Disaffected Bands” who stubbornly refused to leave Wisconsin for a reservation in the west. The removed Winnebago occupy a reservation in Nebraska and are administratively separate from the Wisconsin branch (Lurie 690, 1978).

Individually held portions of Wisconsin Winnebago land are spread out through more than ten Wisconsin counties. In addition to the dispersed households, there are major Winnebago settlements, most on tracts of land a few hundred acres each, at Wittenberg, Wisconsin Rapids, Black River Falls, Tomah, La Crosse, and Wisconsin Dells that since the 1960’s the tribe has acquired and succeeded in having declared tribal trust land. This unique pattern resulted from the fact that their resistance to removal finally resulted in the government allowing the Winnebago to take up forty to eighty acre homesteads after 1874. The Winnebago happen to be the only Wisconsin tribe that benefited from the homestead alternative to reservations as a federal policy experiment of the nineteenth century (Lurie 13, 2002).

Besides their distinctive language, the Winnebago possessed an aboriginal culture that was quite different from the surrounding Algonkian speakers in complexity of social structure and religious cosmology. However, they became increasingly Algonkianized, particularly in material culture, due to the fact that while building back the population loss incurred in the 17th century due to war, famine, and disease they took spouses from among their former enemies and more easterly tribes which sought temporary refuge in Wisconsin during the mid-seventeenth century to escape Iroquois incursions. These Algonkian influences, as well as the economic requirements of the fur trade, encouraged Winnebago expansion which resulted in dispersed smaller village units. They eventually withdrew from their first recorded locations in the Green Bay area to occupy the lands bounded by the Rock, Fox-Wisconsin and Black River systems as this territory was vacated during the eighteenth century by newcomers such as the Sauk and Fox, and by such old residents as the Kickapoo and Santee Sioux, all of whom moved further west (Lurie 13-14, 2002).

Huron Smith conducted ethnobotanical fieldwork among the Winnebago during most of the summer of 1928. Smith camped at the Ulysses A. White family farm about five miles south of Wisconsin Rapids. It is here that Smith began learning the Winnebago language and participated in community life. As in previous field research, Smith collected species for which no use was identified by the Native people he consulted believing that further work with other consultants was likely to reveal additional uses (Kindscher and Hurlburt 357, 1998).

Kindscher, Kelly and Hurlburt, Dana P. 1998. Huron Smith’s Ethnobotany of The Hocąk (Winnebago). In: Economic Botany. 52(4), pp. 352-372. The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, N.Y.

Lurie, Nancy Oestreich. 2002. Wisconsin Indians. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Madison, WI.

Lurie, Nancy Oestreich. 1978. Winnebago. In: Bruce G. Trigger, ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, pp. 690-706. Smithsonian, Washington D.C.

Winnebago Items