The Indian Tribes of Wisconsin

The obscurity which enshrouds the history of the aborigines of the northwest prior to 1634, continues the gradation of human occupation of the soil, from the impenetrable mystery of the Mound Builders to the era of letters. But little is known of the lives and habits of the savage nations inhabiting what is now Wisconsin, before their discovery by civilized man.

The sparse knowledge which has come down to us, of those years of warfare, during which the untutored brave contested with his brother for the right of existence, or of the milder and infrequent periods of peace, wherein were enjoyed rude arts and tender passions, have but a basis of tradition on which to stand; and as a subject invested with romantic hues, because so far removed from the stern glade of historic fact, form a gracious topic for the pen of fiction rather than the pen of history.

It is the purpose of this work to treat but briefly of those divisions of the Indian nations which fill merely an auxiliary or preliminary station in the record of Wisconsin tribes.

The country bounded on the north by Lake Superior, on the east by Lake Michigan, on the south by wide spreading prairies, and on the west by the Mississippi, was first seen by a European in the year 1634. Jean Nicolet then discovered that upon this wide area met and, with measurable peacefulness, mingled two far-reaching families - the Algonquins and Dakotas. The exception to the rule of hostility was the Winnebago tribe, which, although belonging to the Dakotas or Sioux, were peaceful toward the Algonquins. Parkman says: "A detached branch of the Dakota stock, the Winnebago, was established south of Green Bay, on Lake Michigan, in the midst of the Algonquins."

Tradition points to the former as having, at some distant period of the past, migrated from the east - and this has been confirmed by a study of their language; to the latter as coming from west or southwest, fighting their way as they came. As yet there were no representatives of the Huron-Iroquois seen west of Lake Michigan, that great family then dwelling northward and southward of Erie and Ontario lakes.

Of the Algonquins, the principal branches were the Chippeways, Menominees, Pottawattomies, Mascoutins, Miamis, Kickapoos and Illinois (the latter to the southward) ; of the Dakotas but two divisions were in Wisconsin, the Winnebagoes and a few bands of chance Sioux.

Already had the French secured a foothold in the valley of the St. Lawrence; and, naturally enough, the broad expanse of water to the west-ward offered an irresistible inducement to the explorer. Thus it was that the shores of Green Bay were visited in 1634, by Jean Nicolet, who beheld, upon the right in ascending the bay, a tribe of Indians, lighter in complexion than their neighbors, remarkably well formed and active. These were what are now known as the Menominees. Although of the Algonquin stock, their dialect differed so much from the surrounding tribes that for a long time they were accredited with a distinct language. Their homes and hunting grounds were on the Menominee river, though within the period of a century they shifted somewhat, and without infringing upon the territory of other tribes, spread out to the westward and southward, their principal village at that time being at the head of Green Bay. In 1634 they took part in a treaty with some representatives of the French, who at this time were intent upon the occupation of this wild region. After this, twenty years elapsed before there is any record that they were again visited by white men.

Early in December, 1669, Father Oaudius Allouez visited the mouth of Green Bay, and on the third of that month celebrated Holy Mass for the first time in his new field of labor. In May of the following year, he reached the Menominee's, who were then a feeble tribe, suffering from disasters in war, and nearly exterminated. He did not remain long with them, and was succeeded by Father Louis Andre, who built a cabin upon the Menominee river. This hut the savages burned, and he was afterwards obliged to live in his canoe. He was not wholly unsuccessful in his missionary work, for, in 1673, Father Marquette found good Christians among this tribe. By degrees they extended their intercourse with the white fur traders, and gradually were drawn under the banner of France. They joined that government in its war with the Iroquois, and subsequently in its conflict with the English.

In 1760 the French post at Green Bay was surrendered to the British, though the latter did not take possession until the autumn of the following year. The land upon which the fort stood was claimed by the Menominee's. Their principal village was located there, though a lesser one was at the mouth of the Menominee river. They did not rebel at the occupancy of the British, possibly for the reason that they were in a reduced state, having lost three hundred of their warriors by smallpox, and many of their chiefs in the late war in which the French commander had engaged them against the British. Moreover, they found an advantage in dealing with British fur traders, as they could purchase supplies of them for half the prices they had paid the French.

Their good faith to their new allegiance was soon put to the test, as Pontiac's war broke out in 1763, and the post of Mackinaw was captured. This, instead of inciting them to a revolt against their new rulers, gave them the opportunity to prove their integrity, for they, with other tribes, escorted the garrison at Green Bay across Lake Michigan, to. the village of L'Arbre Croche, on their way to Montreal. Their alliance with the British continued through their first war with the American colonies, and through the later contest of 1812-15. But, as they had yielded peaceably to the British after their conquest over the French, so when the American force arrived at Green Bay to take possession of the country, they greeted the commander as "my brother."

At this time their territory had become greatly extended. It was bounded on the north by the dividing ridge between the waters flowing into Lake Superior and those flowing south into Green Bay and the Mississippi; on the east by Lake Michigan; on the south by the Milwaukee river, and on the west by the Mississippi and Black rivers. This was their territory, though they were practically restricted to the occupation of the western shore of Lake Michigan, lying between the mouth of Green Bay on the north and the Milwaukee river on the south, and to a somewhat indefinite area west. Their general claim, as late as 1825, was north to the Chippewa country; east to Green Bay and Lake Michigan; south to the Milwaukee river; and west to Black river. This tribe, which in 1761 had been feeble and depleted, had now, in less than three-quarters of a century, become a powerful nation, numbering between three and four thousand.

As late as 1831 the Menominee territory preserved its large proportions; but in that year it was short of a great and valuable part by the tribe ceding to the United States all the eastern division, estimated at two and a half million acres. The following year they aided the general government in the Black Hawk war. In order that the Menominee's might become more established, they were assigned as a permanent home a large tract of land lying north of Fox river and east of Wolf river, with a reservation of their territory west for hunting grounds, until such time as the general government should desire to purchase it.

In 1836, another portion, amounting to four million acres, lying between Green Bay on the east and Wolf river on the west, was disposed of to the United States, besides a strip three miles in width from near the portage north, on each side of the Wisconsin river, and forty-eight miles long, still leaving them in peaceful possession of a country about one hundred and twenty miles long and eighty broad.

Finally, in 1848, the government purchased all the remaining lands of the Menominee's, preparatory to their migration to a reservation beyond the Mississippi of six thousand acres. This latter tract, however, was receded to the United States, for, notwithstanding there were treaty stipulations for the removal of the tribe to that tract, there were such obstacles in the way that they were finally permitted to remain in Wisconsin. Lands to the amount of twelve townships were granted them for permanent homes on the Upper Wolf river, in what is now Shawano and Oconto counties - a very small portion only of their once vast possessions. They removed to this reservation in 1852. Thus are the Menominee's the only one of the original tribes, which, as a whole, has a local habitation within its limits. This tribe refused to join the Sioux in their outbreak in 1861, and several of their warriors served as volunteers in the United States army in the late Civil war.

The Winnebago's, or "Men of the Sea," as the name signifies, were first visited in 1634, at which period their villages were upon the head waters of Green Bay. They were one of the tribes belonging to the family of the Dakotas, and had come hither from the westward, but whether from the Pacific, as their name might indicate, is not known. Their ancient seat was Winnebago Lake, whither they afterward removed up the Fox river. Their country included not only this lake but all the streams flowing into it, especially the Fox river, and was subsequently extended to the Wisconsin and Rock rivers. They were brought under the influence of the Jesuit missionaries, who, in 1670, found them worshiping idols.

At the commencement of the eighteenth century the Winnebago's were firmly allied to the French and in peace with the dreaded Iroquois. In 1718 the nation numbered six hundred. They subsequently joined the French against the Iroquois, and also aided them in their, conflict with the British. But with the British possession of the post at Green Bay they allied themselves with their conquerors and kept up this friendship through the revolution and the War of 1812. At this period they were estimated to number 4,500 and were conflated a bold and warlike people.

When the United States took possession of the post of Green Bay in 1816, they apprehended trouble with the Winnebago's, but after a single remonstrance with the commandant, they submitted to the new order of things and afterward made a treaty of peace. In 1820 they had five villages on Winnebago Lake and fourteen on Rock river. Five years later their claim to territory was an extensive one. Its southeast boundary stretched away from the source of Rock river to within forty miles of its mouth, in the state of Illinois, where they had a village. On the west it extended to the heads of the small stream flowing into the Mississippi. To the northward it reached Black river and the Upper Wisconsin, but did not cross Fox river, although they contended for the whole of Winnebago lake. In 1829 a large part of their territory, in what is now southwestern Wisconsin, was sold to the United States. In 1837 they ceded to the general government all their lands east of the Mississippi. Considerable difficulty was experienced in removing them beyond the Mississippi and they have several times changed their place of abode. Their numbers have greatly diminished.

The Chippewas, by reason of their numerousness and the immensity of the area embraced within the limits of their recognized territory, as well as by the continuance of their distinctive tribal relations, form one of the leading divisions of Wisconsin. Their country included all now known as northern Wisconsin, except the Menominee country on the east, or the present counties of Door, Kewaunee and a portion of Brown. Besides this vast region the tribe was accorded the lands north of Lake Superior.

The name is commonly written and spoken "Chippeway," but the best authorities now agree that the correct spelling is Otchipwe. The name is employed interchangeably with Ojibway. The French also spoke of them as Sauteux, from the fact that the earliest encounter with them was at Sault Ste. Marie. This name is still applied to them by the Canadians. In 1642 Fathers Jogues and Raymbaut began a mission at Sault Ste. Marie, where there were 2,000 Chippeways. In character this tribe is described brave in war, expert in hunting, fond of adventure, and averse to agricultural labor. From remote times their contests with rival tribes are noted.

They warred with the Foxes, the Sioux and the Iroquois, driving the Sioux from the upper regions of the Mississippi - and the Red river of the north. Their style of fighting shows that they were more used to wooded countries than to the plains, as they were oftener victorious when forcing their foes to battle among forests, than when meeting them on prairies. Their numbers were greatly reduced by war, during the half century succeeding the establishment of missions in 1642. They were devoted to the French down to the time of the end of French domination.

During the American war for independence they were under British influence, but made peace by the treaties of Fort Mcintosh, in 1785, and Fort Harmar in 1789. So far as their policies affect the history of northern Wisconsin, the reader is referred to the article entitled The Public Domain, given later on in this work. Therein will be found mention of such treaties with the Chippeways and other tribes as are required to complete the chain of title in the government to the lands of the state.

The Sacs and Foxes are one of the tribes of the Algonquin family. Father Allouez found a village of them in 1665, upon the shores of Green Bay, and early in 1670 he visited a village of them located upon the Fox river about four leagues from its mouth. Upon his first visit he described them as of wandering habit, great in numbers and fierce and savage beyond all other tribes. Polygamy was common amongst them, and the women and children were very numerous. The Foxes were of two stocks - the Outagamies or Foxes, and the Musquakink, or men of red clay. They were supposed to have come from as far east as the St. Lawrence, and to have been driven from time to time, first to near Detroit, then to Saginaw (a name derived from the Sacs), and then by the Iroquois to Green Bay and thence up the Fox river.

Allouez established among these his mission of St. Mark and in two years rejoiced in the baptism of sixty children and some adults. In 1684 the Sacs sent out warriors against the Five Nations but they soon became hostile to the French. They afterward became reconciled but this reconciliation was of short duration and their ill will toward the French continued.

The consequence of this spirit of enmity was that in 1716 their territory was invaded and they were forced to sue for peace. This compulsory friendship was of short duration. The Foxes numbered five hundred men, with an abundance of women and children. They were industrious, and raised large crops of Indian com. In 1728 the French sent a second expedition against them and the Menominee's and Winnebago's, destroying wigwams and fields. They were attacked for a third time in 1730 and defeated, and again in 1734 by the same foe, against whom in this last attack they were more successful than formerly.

In 1736 the Sacs were connected with the government of Canada, though at heart far from brotherly in feeling to the French. In 1754 came the struggle between France and Great Britain, and the Sacs and Foxes allied themselves with their former foe and conqueror against the English but were forced into subjection to the new victor. In 1761 the two nations, about equally divided, ntmibered about seven hundred warriors.

The Sacs migrated to the westward but the Foxes, or a portion of them, still remained upon the waters of the Fox river. During the Revolutionary war the Sacs and Foxes adhered to the English. At the commencement of this century what territory remained to them in Wisconsin was in the extreme southwestern part of the state. This they ceded to the United States in 1804. From that date these allied tribes cannot be considered as belonging to the state of Wisconsin. An episode in their subsequent history comes in, however, incidentally in the annals of the state, and that is the Black Hawk war.

The Pottawattomies were neighbors to the Winnebago es upon Green Bay in 1639. Thirty years later they were still upon its southern shore in two villages, and ten years subsequent to that they occupied at least one village in the same region. Upon the expiration of the first quarter of the eighteenth century a part only of this nation was in that vicinity, upon the islands at the mouth of the bay. These islands were then known as the Pottawattomie Islands, and considered as the ancient abode of these Indians.

This tribe had scattered to the southward, one band on the St Joseph of Lake Michigan, and the other near Detroit. The Pottawattomies did not keep themselves distinct as a tribe but fraternized with various other tribes. These "united tribes" as they were called, claimed all the lands of their respective tribes and of other nations, and gave the United States no little trouble when possession was taken by the general government. Finally, by a treaty in 1833, their claims, such as they were, to the lands along the western shore of Lake Michigan, within the present state of Wisconsin, extending westward to Rock river, were purchased by the United States, with permission to retain possession of their ceded lands for three years longer, after which time this united nation of Chippewas, Ottawas and Pottawattomies began to disappear and soon were no longer seen in the state.

Besides the five tribes - Menominees, Winnebagoes, Chippewas, Sacs and Foxes and Pottawattomies - many others, whole or in part, have, since the territory now constituting the state was first visited by white men, been occupants of its territory. Of these some are only known as having once lived in what is now Wisconsin; others, such as the Hurons, Illinois, Kickapoos, Mascoutins, Miamis, Noquets, Ottawas and Sioux are recognized as Indians once dwelling in this region. Yet, so transitory was their occupation, or so little is known of them, that they can scarcely be claimed as belonging in the state.

Commencing in 1822, and continuing at intervals through some of the following years, was the migration to Wisconsin from the state of New York of the remains of portions of four tribes: the Oneidas, Stockbridges, Munsees and Brothertowns. The Oneidas finally located west of Green Bay, where they still reside. Their reservation contains over sixty thousand acres, and lies wholly within the present counties of Brown and Outagamie. The Stockbridges and Munsees, who first located above Green Bay, on the east side of Fox river, afterward moved to the east side of Winnebago lake. They now occupy a reservation joining the southwest township of the Menominee reservation, in Shawano county. The Brothertowns first located on the east side of Fox river, but subsequently moved to the east side of Winnebago lake, where, in 1839, they broke up their tribal relations and became citizens of Wisconsin Territory.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL

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