Chief Winneshiek

Winneshiek, who seems to be a somewhat shadowy character, was a notable chief of the Winnebagoes. It appears that there was a family, like the Decorah family, that took that name. The name Winneshiek is evidently not a Winnebago name, but an Algonquian (that is, Fox) name, and is properly Winnishiga and signifies “a dirty person who is lying down.” He was commonly known by his Fox name. In his own language he was called “Wa-kon-ja-goo-gah,” meaning “Coming Thunder;” he was also called “We-lou-shi-ga,” meaning “ties them up,” or “has them tied up.” It is also said that his name in his own language was “Maun-wau-kon-kaw;” 1 regarding the last two names Little Winneshiek says, “I understand that this name [We-lou-shi-ga] is a Sioux word for Wa-kon-ja-goo-gah, or Coming Thunder. The name, Maun-wau-kon-kaw, is unknown to us.” The following treaty signatures show the name to be variously written: August 25, 1828, Green Bay, Michigan Territory, “Wee-no-shee-kaw ;” February 27, 1855, Washington, D. C., “Wau-kon-chaw-koo-haw, the Coming Thunder, or Win-no-shik,” (the first Indian to sign the treaty.)

From A. R. Fulton, in “Red Men of Iowa,” we learn that, “He was promoted to the rank of a chief when quite young, and always maintained popularity among his people. Both physically and intellectually he was a remarkably fine specimen of his race. As a man he was modest, kind, and courteous; as a chief, dignified, firm and just in the exercise of his authority. Winneshiek was made head chief of the tribe in 1845 [at the Turkey river, Iowa], an appointment that did not affect his position as chief of his own particular band.” Alexander states: 2 “He was made chief by order of the United States War Department, on account of his ability and fitness for the position. Under him as head chief, there were several chiefs of respective bands into which the tribe was divided.” When the tribe was removed to Long Prairie, Minn., Winneshiek was the head chief, and in 1857, when they were at Blue Earth, he was called a worthy chief and ruler of his tribe. 3

Old chief Winneshiek was an intelligent and very kind man, and had perfect control over his people. He belonged to the Thunder clan, and was a member of the Upper phratry. Mr. Lamere says: “He is said to have been of medium size, had black mustache and chin whiskers. He was very handsome, and it is said that he always wore goggles, or dark glasses. He always carried a pipe, which was made out of a round stick abouta foot and a half long with the stem hole bored through it, and the bowl bored into the other end; he carried this most all the time; and especially at council meetings would he have it with him: ”

Mr. Kingsley says: “We-no-shee-kah was strictly a pagan; he did not believe in the white man’s way, therefore his band of followers, which consisted of about one-half or two-thirds of the tribe, were known as blanket Indians. He was a very shrewd, wise, and stubborn man, but free-hearted to everybody; no person ever left or entered the chief’s great lodge without receiving something to eat. These were his teachings; he regarded all the Winnebagoes as his children and treated them as such. We-noshee-kah was no orator, therefore in council with the government, or otherwise, he always had a speaker. He was no traveler, although he made a trip or two to see his Great Father at Washington, President Polk, who, as a token of friendship, gave We-no-shee-kah a medal; struck on the reverse side were two hands clasped, an Indian’s in that of a white man’s [regarding this medal see statement by Little Winneshiek]. Chief We-no-shee-kah was a great father as well as a head chief. He had four wives, who, with himself and family, lived in one lodge. His principal home was about seven miles west of the village of Houston, on the Root river, Houston county, Minnesota here he lived, during the winter, in a dirt wigwam.” Fulton states: 4

“He had four wives, one of whom was the reputed daughter of Colonel Morgan, a former officer in the United States army;” there is no further authentic mention which corroborates this statement by Fulton.

That Winneshiek also had a camp on the Upper Iowa river is evident, as Antoine Grignon says, “While he [Winneshiek] was camped on the Iowa river my brother Paul and one James Reed visited his band to find out about some cattle the young Winnebagoes had stolen from the Sioux. They were given in compensation an equal amount of cattle, or a number corresponding to the number that had been stolen, and Winneshiek warned his band not to molest the cattle as they were being driven out, as the young men were making preparations to stampede the herd by waving red blankets in front of them.”

P. V. Lawson, a Wisconsin historian, says: 5 “The Indians in a drunken pow-wow at Prairie du Chien had killed his brother. Word of this tragedy being sent to him, he coolly loaded his pistol, and with it concealed beneath his blanket, went to the place where his brother lay. He had the murderer brought beside his victim and then suddenly shot him dead;” there is no further mention made of this incident. It is stated, 6 however, that Winneshiek was in 1829 head chief of the Winnebago village at La Crosse.

Chief Winneshiek was on the British side in 1812-15, and in 1832 refused to assist the Americans against the Sauks. When invited by the whites to join them, the matter was discussed with the chiefs and braves. “Win-o-she-kaw was opposed to the measure, and declined having anything to do with it. He said the Sauks had twice that season presented the red wampum to the Winnebagoes at Portage, and that they had as often washed it white and handed it back to them; further, that he did not like that red thing; that he was afraid of it. Waudgh-ha-ta-kau [evidently the One-eyed Decorah] took the wampum, and said that he with all the young men of the village would go; that they were anxious to engage in the expedition and would be ready to accompany us on our return.” 7 A short while after this it was found that Winneshiek and Wau-mar-nar-sar had gone up the river with part of the band to hunt and dry meat.

His mother was a sister of Wabokieshiek (White Cloud), the half-Sauk, half-Winnebago Prophet, who assisted Black Hawk. Little Winneshiek says, “For this relationship he fought in a number of battles under Black Hawk in the war of 1832.” Thomas Clay, an aged Winnebago, heard Winneshiek tell this from time to time at death-wakes, where the brave men, or warriors, were supposed to tell the truth. Clay’s statement 8 is as follows:

“Winneshiek was a nephew of a Sauk and Fox Indian called White Cloud [Wabokieshiek], that is why Winneshiek was an aid to the Sauk and Fox Indians during Black Hawk’s war. Winneshiek was taking, or guiding, the Fox Indians into the Winnebago country, or to the village, and as they were crossing the Mississippi river somewhere near where Prairie du Chien now stands, a steamboat came up the river and anchored in the middle of the stream. Then some one called out from the boat arid asked if Black Hawk was there among them. ‘Yes,’ was the answer from the Indians. `Will he surrender or not?’ was the next question from the boat. Then Winneshiek spoke up, and said: ‘Uncles (meaning the Fox Indians, as that was what he always called them), tie a white cloth to a pole and I will go and surrender.’ So they made a white flag for him, but as he was about to get into the stream to swim to the boat, the Fox people said: ‘Perhaps after all you had better not go,’ and saying thus, they held him; and the soldiers in the boat could see that he was being held. Then Winneshiek said: ‘Uncles, I meant to do this that you might live, but the result shall be your fault.’ Just then the question came again from the boat, ‘Will you surrender?’ The answer from the Indians was ‘No! we will not surrender,’ and no sooner was it said than the soldiers fired upon them, and even at the first volley many of the Indians were killed. Then Winneshiek said: ‘Uncles, thus far only, am I able to be with you, as I shall leave you here;’ and saving thus, he and his real uncles went up the bank of the river and there watched the fight. When night came upon them, he took his Fox uncles back to the Winnebago village with him. When they arrived at the village, Winneshiek’s mother met him, crying: “Oh! my son, because you have aided Black Hawk in the war, they have taken your father to the fort as a prisoner.’ When the soldiers learned that Winneshiek was back at his own village they came after him and released his father. Winneshiek was questioned very severely, but he was angered instead of frightened, and he would not even speak, and for four days he would not eat the food that was given him. Then one of the officers said to his fellow officers: `You must be very severe in questioning Winneshiek. I will question him myself, to-day.’ So the officer went to him and as he entered he called Winneshiek by name, greeting him and shaking hands with him, he said: ‘Winneshiek, I understand that some officers have questioned you; but that you were angered and would not even speak to them, and I told them that they must have acted very ungentlemanly towards you to cause you to act as you did.’ Winneshiek said: ‘Yes, that is the way they have acted.’ `That is what I thought,’ said the officer, and continued. ‘Winneshiek, I am going to talk with you with good words,’ and Winneshiek assented; so the officer said: ‘Winneshiek, as you have been spoken to roughly, which caused you to not eat for four days, and as I am going to speak to you with good words, therefore I desire that you should eat before we talk and I will have cooked for you a very nice dog that I own myself, and at noon, after you have had your noon meal, then we shall talk.’ Then the officer got some Indians that were about the fort to cook the dog for him in the way they usually cook them for themselves. So when it was thus served to Winneshiek and he had partaken of it; then he and the officer talked. The officer was very much pleased that Winneshiek talked with him in a good spirit. Then he said: ‘Winneshiek, I am going to ask you a question and I would like to have you tell me the truth ;’ Winneshiek assented. The officer asked: `Were you with the Foxes in the war?’ Winneshiek said: `Yes,’ and the officer asked again: `Did you take part?’ Winneshiek said: ‘As you have asked me for the truth, I will tell it to you,-yes, I took part.’ Then the officer said ‘Winneshiek, I thank you because I asked you for the truth and you gave it to me.’ Then the officer did not question him any more, but left. Winneshiek was kept in prison one year for being an aid to Black Hawk.”


  1. Wisconsin Historical Collections.[]
  2. In his History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties. There is no further authentic mention regarding this statement.[]
  3. Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 166.[]
  4. “Red Men of Iowa,” pg. 158.[]
  5. Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 156; taken from Wisconsin Historical Collections 3, 287.[]
  6. Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 166: taken from Wisconsin Historical Collection 8, 287.[]
  7. Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2,-257, 266.[]
  8. As given by Mr. Oliver Lamere.[]

History, Winnebago,

Hexom, Charles Philip. Indian History of Winneshiek County. Decorah: A. K. Bailey & Don, Inc. 1913.

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