Winnebago Tribe

Winnebago Indians, Winnebago Nation (winǐpig, ‘filthy water’ [Chippewa]; winǐpyägohagi, ‘people of the filthy water’ [Sauk and Fox]. W. J.) A tribe of the Siouan linguistic family.

Winnebago Tribe History

The Winnebago have been known to the whites since 1634, when the Frenchman Nicollet found them in Wisconsin, on Green bay, at which time they probably extended to Lake Winnebago. At this period they were found wedged in by Central Algonquian tribes, particularly by the Sauk and Foxes and the Menominee. To the west they were in intimate contact with a kindred tribe, the Iowa, who in turn were neighbors of the Oto and Missouri. These four tribes, the Winnebago, Iowa, Oto, and Missouri, speak dialects naturally intelligible to one another, and show many cultural similarities. On the other hand, the Winnebago show many cultural similarities with their Central Algonquian neighbors, particularly in all that pertains to material culture and art, and this double influence, that from their Siouan neighbors and that from their Algonquian neighbors, must be borne in mind in any attempt to understand properly the Winnebago culture.

It is stated in the Jesuit Relation for 1671 1 that the Winnebago had always dwelt in the Green Bay region. Allouez spent the winter of 1669-70 at Green Bay, preaching to the Potawatomi, Menominee, Sauk, Foxes, and Winnebago, whom he, found commingled there. The map of 1681 accompanying Marquette’s Journal notes a Winnebago village near the north end of Lake Winnebago. At a very early date, it is stated in the Jesuit Relation for 1671, they were almost entirely destroyed by the Illinois, but all captives were at last allowed to return and form a tribe again. Jefferys (1761) refers to them and the Sauk as living toward the head of Green bay. Carver (1778) speaks of “the great town of the Winnebagoes situated on a small island, just as you enter the east end of Lake Winnebago.” A “queen,” he says, presided then over the tribe. Pike (1806) states that they resided on Wisconsin, Rock, and Fox rivers and Green bay in 7 villages, situated at the entrance and at the end of Green bay, at Lake Poygan, and Lake Puckway, at the portage of the Wisconsin, and at two places on Rock river. They had a war with the Chippewa in 1827, but this was of short duration. By the treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825 and another treaty in 1832 they ceded all their lands south of Wisconsin and Fox rivers in return for a reservation on the west side of the Mississippi above upper Iowa river. One of their villages in 1832 was at La Crosse, Wis. Smallpox visited the tribe twice before 1836, and in that year more than one-fourth of the people died. In 1837 they relinquished the title to their old country east of Mississippi river, and in 1840 removed to the Neutral Ground in the territory of Iowa, though a part of the tribe had to be removed by soldiers. They were in 1843 on the Neutral Ground in different bands, the principal one, called the School band, on Turkey river. In 1846 they surrendered their reservation for one north of Minnesota river in Minnesota, and in 1848 removed to Long Prairie reservation, bounded by Crow Wing, Watab, Mississippi, and Long Prairie rivers, Minn.

Schoolcraft said that the tribe was composed of 21 bands in 1852, having a total population of 2,521 souls. They lost many of their number by disease and were kept on the reservation only by force. In 1853 they were removed to Crow River, and in 1856 to Blue Earth, Minnesota, where they were just getting a start in civilization when the Sioux war of 1862 broke out, and the people of Minnesota demanded their removal. They were taken to Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota, on Missouri river, but could not be kept there by the troops. There was much suffering from sickness and other causes. Out of the 2,000 taken to Crow creek only 1, 200 reached the Omaha Reservation, whither they fled for protection. They were then assigned a new reservation on the Omaha lands in north east Nebraska, where they have since remained and where their lands have been allotted to them in severalty. When the tribe was removed by force from Minnesota to Crow Creek in 1863, many who had taken up farms remained.

How long the tribe had maintained its position at Green Bay previous to the coming of the whites is unknown. As has been seen, it appears they had receded slightly toward the west before 1766, the time of Carver’s visit, who found them on Fox river. The French found them in league with the Menominee, and the 2 tribes gave shelter to the Potawatomi and the Ottawa, who had been driven from their homes by the Iroquois, and also to the Sauk and Fox tribes when these were expelled from south Michigan. Notwithstanding their friendly relations with the last named, who were the only Algonquian tribes with whom the French had strife, the Winnebago managed to maintain friendship and uninterrupted trade with the French. They generally kept on friendly terms also with their neighbors, the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Mascoutens, to do which required great address, as the Sauk and Foxes seem to have been cut loose from their ancient and natural affinities and were perpetually making inroads on Algonquian tribes, particularly, in conjunction with the Sioux, on the Chippewa (Schoolcraft). After the fall of the French power in Canada in 1760 the Winnebago were slow to transfer their allegiance to Great Britain, but when they did they remained firm in their new fealty. When the United States declared their independence in 1776, the Winnebago sided with the Crown, and in all questions of local jurisdiction were arrayed on the side of the British. In the War of 1812 they espoused the cause of England, helped to defeat Col. Crogan at Michilimackinac, Col. Dudley at the rapids of the Miami, and Gen. Winchester at the River Raisin, and were with the tribes that gathered about Detroit. In the years immediately following this war they became insolent. Hoochoop, a chief of the tribe, living at the outlet of Lake Winnebago, assumed to be the keeper of Fox river valley and sometimes levied toll for the privilege of ascent. This people also connected themselves clandestinely with the Sauk and Foxes in the Black Hawk war of 1832. Since that time they have been uniformly peaceable.

Winnebago Tribe Language

The Siouan dialect spoken by the Winnebago is intimately related to Oto, Iowa, and Missouri, more distantly to Dakota, and still more distantly to Ponca. Its relationship to the northern Siouan dialects (Crow, Hidatsa, and Mandan), to the southern (Biloxi), and eastern (Catawba and Tutelo), is not as yet definitely known. The characteristics of the Winnebago dialect are, grammatically, a strong development of the classifiers of position, and, phonetically, the insertion of vowels between consonantal clusters and the change of the Dakota and Omaha t, d, and m, to tc, dj, and w. 2 .

Winnebago Tribe Culture

In their material culture the Winnebago are distinctly timber people, and their houses and dress are practically identical with those of the Sauk and Foxes, Menominee, and others. The same applies to their bead work, although there is considerable evidence to show that they had a characteristic porcupine quill industry not very long ago. In their clothing, moccasins, cooking utensils, arms, and in other respects, they show marked individual characteristics which, however, have not been investigated as yet.

The population was estimated by Pike at 1,750 in 1806; by Morse at 5,800 in 1820; in 1837 and again in 1843 their number was given at 4,500. In 1867 there were 1,750 on the Nebraska reservation and 700 in Wisconsin. In 1876 there were 1,463 on the Nebraska reservation and 860 in Wisconsin; but 204 of the latter removed in 1877 to Nebraska. In 1886 there were 1,222 in Nebraska and 930 in Wisconsin, and in 1910 there were 1,063 in Nebraska and 1,270 in Wisconsin.

The Winnebago had a number of villages, those whose names are known being:

  • Prairie la Crosse
  • Sarrochau
  • Spotted Arm’s village
  • Village du Puant
  • Wuckan
  • Yellow Thunder


  1. Jesuit Relation 1671, 42, 1858[]
  2. See Handbook of Am. Ind. Languages, Bull. 40, B. A. E., part 1[]

Siouan, Winnebago,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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