Menominee Burial Customs

The Menomini (Menominee Tribe), whose home when first encountered by Europeans during the early years of the seventeenth century was west of Lake Michigan, evidently possessed many customs quite similar to those of the Ojibway. Their dead were usually deposited in excavated graves, but they also had some form of scaffold burial.

“The Menomini formerly disposed of their dead by inclosing the bodies in long pieces of birchbark or in slats of wood, and burying them in a shallow hole. When not in the neighborhood of birch or other trees, from which broad pieces of bark could be obtained, some of the men would search for the nearest dugout, from which they would cut a piece long enough to contain the body. In some instances sections of hollow trees were used as coffins. In order to afford protection against wild beasts, there were placed over the grave three logs-two directly on the ground and the third on the others. They were prevented from rolling away by stakes driven into the earth.

” More modern customs now prevail with the greater body of the tribe, and those who have been Christianized adopt the following course: A wooden coffin is made and the body laid out in the ordinary manner. The burial takes place usually the day on which death occurs. The graves are about 4 feet deep. Over the mound is erected a small board structure resembling a house. . . . This structure measures about 5 feet in length and 3 feet high. In the front and near the top is an opening through which the relations and friends of the deceased put cakes of maple sugar, rice, and other food-the first fruits of the season. In some grave-boxes, immediately beneath the opening, there is placed a small drawer, which is used for the same purpose as the opening. Sometimes even on the grave-boxes of Christianized Indians, the totem of the clan to which the deceased belonged is drawn in color or carved from a piece of wood and securely nailed. These totemic characters are generally drawn or attached in an inverted position, which is denotive of death among the Menoinini as among other tribes. Around the grave-boxes clapboard fences are usually erected to keep stray animals from coming near, and to prevent wayfarers and sacrilegious persons from desecrating the graves. An ordinary `worm’ fence is also sometimes built for the same purpose.

“Among the non-Christianized Menomini the grave covering is of slightly different character. These grave-boxes are more like an inverted trough, as shown in plate 5, c, which illustrates the graves of the late chief Osh’kosh and his wife. The openings in the head end of the box are used for the introduction of ordinary food, as well as maple sugar and other tributes of the first fruits of the year, on which the shade of the departed may feast before it finally sets out for the land of the dead. Formerly, also, bodies were scaffolded, or placed in trees, according to the wish of the deceased. In some instances it was customary to dress and paint the body as during life, seat it on the ground facing the west-in the direction of the path of the dead toward the land of Naq’pote when a log inclosure, resembling a small pen, was built around it. In this manner the corpse was left. . . .Mourners blacken their faces with charcoal or ashes. Formerly it was sometimes customary to add pine resin to the ashes, that the materials might remain longer on the skin, and a widow was not presumed to marry again until this substance had entirely worn

off. In some instances of great grief, the hair above the forehead was cropped short.”

Quite similar to the preceding were graves discovered in the vicinity of Prairie du Chien, near the banks of the Mississippi, when visited by Maj. Long’s party in June, 1823. The graves resembled those of the whites, but they were “covered with boards or bark, secured to stakes driven into the ground, so as to form a sort of roof over the grave; at the head, poles were erected for the purpose of supporting flags; a few tatters of one of these still waved over the grave. An upright post was also fixed near the head, and upon this the deeds of the deceased, whether in the way of hunting or fighting, were inscribed with red or black paint. The graves were placed upon mounds in the prairie, this situation having doubtless been selected as being the highest and least likely to be overflowed.”

The use of ancient mounds as places of burial by later Indians, as witnessed near Prairie du Chien, was followed extensively throughout the upper Mississippi Valley and elsewhere. In the spring of 1900 the Ojibway living on the south shore of Mille Lac, Minnesota, were utilizing the summits of ancient mounds for this purpose, and on one mound standing near the village of Sagawamick were thirteen very recent graves, cove-red with the box-like covers of hewn logs, on one end of which was cut or painted the totem of the deceased. Some were surrounded by stakes, designed to protect the burial. This site was once occupied by the Mdewakanton, by whom the mounds were evidently reared. Later they were driven southward by the Ojibway, and this became the principal village of the Misisagaikaniwininiwak. This will explain the origin of the many shallow burials, a foot or more below the surface, encountered in mounds east of the Mississippi.

A small sketch of several scaffolds, resembling that described by McKenney, appeared in Lahontan’s narrative in 1703. This is reproduced in figure 2. This form of scaffold may have been found throughout the Algonquian country bordering Lake Superior and Lake Huron, and was probably that mentioned by Charlevoix, only a few years after Lahontan

Bushnell, David I. Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Volume 71. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1920.

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