Menomonie and Chippewa History

The originality of the following tradition is of a character which can be viewed disjunctively, and commends itself to notice. The Indian is prone to trace important events in his history to small, and apparently improbable causes. We have heard of no Indian wars of any note, of an ancient date, but those against the Foxes, in which the Menomonies figure as one of the chief actors. Their connection with the Algonquin family, and their speaking a peculiar dialect of it, lead to the supposition that they were, at an ancient period, more closely affiliated. Traditions of this kind, however mixed up with improbabilities, may enable us hereafter better to comprehend their history. That they fell out with their neighbors, relatives, and friends, for a small thing, is an event by no means novel or improbable.


Long before the white men had set foot upon the Indian soil, or made any discovery of this continent, a bloody and most cruel war took place, and the existing present warfare between the Sioux and Chippewas, originated at this early period. At the mouth of the Menomonie River, there existed an extensive Menomonie town, governed by a head chief (name unknown) of great power and influence, who had the control of the river at its outlet. There existed also four Chippewa towns upon the river, in the interior portions of the country, governed by a chief whose fame and renown were well known. This Chippewa chief married the Menomonie chief’s sister. The two tribes lived happily together as relatives and allies, until the Chippewa chief’s son had attained the age of manhood, and at this period the Menomonie chief gave directions that the river should be stopped at its mouth, in order to prevent the fish, and particularly the sturgeon, from ascending it. This high-handed measure caused a famine among the Chippewas, who inhabited the interior portions of the country upon the river.

The Chippewa chief was informed that his brother-in-law, the Menomonie chief, had directed that the river should be barred up at its outlet, in order to prevent the fish ascending the river, and thereby causing the existing famine among the Chippewas. Upon the information received, the Chippewa chief held a smoking council with his tribe, and gave directions to his son to visit forthwith his uncle, the Menomonie chief, and request him to throw open the river, in order to allow the fish to ascend, and thereby stop the existing famine. In the mean time, the Menomonie chief heard that his nephew was preparing to visit him, and the chief immediately gave directions to have a small bone taken from the inner part of the moose’s foreleg, which was made pointed and sharpened. The Chippewa youth, in obedience to his father’s commands, proceeded on his voyage to visit his uncle, the Menomonie chief, and, upon his arriving in the Menomonie town, proceeded to call upon him, and besought him, in a respectful manner, to throw open his river to relieve their brethren and starving children. “Very well,” replied the haughty Menomonie chief; “you have come, my nephew, to request me to throw open my river, alleging that your people are in a starving state. All I can do for you, my nephew, is this;” and taking the sharpened bone with his right hand, and with his left hand seizing his nephew’s hair upon the crown of the head, passed the bone through the skin, between it and the skull, and letting go of his hold, the sharpened bone remained crosswise upon the youth’s head. “Now,” said the chief, “this is what I can do, conformably with your request.”

The young Chippewa withdrew himself from his uncle s presence, without making any comments upon the reception he had met with, and immediately proceeded on his way homewards, encamping several nights, and avoiding the different villages, finally reached his father s village, with his head covered, and on entering his father’s lodge, he laid himself down without saying a word, or uncovering his head. The heralds soon proclaimed this fact throughout the village. On the following morning the young man broke silence, and called for his father’s messengers, and ordered them to cut and mix a sufficient quantity of tobacco for the whole tribe. When the tobacco was prepared, he was informed that it was ready, and he forthwith directed that the elders and all the braves and warriors should be sent for, and when all were assembled, the young man got up and uncovered his head, and showed to the assembled multitude the condition he was in, and the bone still sticking upon the crown of his head, and his face and head much inflamed. He related to them the reception he had met with from his uncle; and then addressing himself to his father, said to him, “that he must not on this occasion say a word of dissuasion, for it would be of no avail.” He then addressed the tribe, and told them that he was shamefully treated, and that they must prepare their war-clubs, and be in readiness to start on the following morning. The consent was unanimous, the war party was formed, and on the following morning they took their departure. The young man was on this occasion the leader and war-chief. On reaching the Menomonie town, strict orders were given to take the principal Menomonie chief alive, and to destroy all who resisted. This order was fully obeyed and put in execution, for every living soul in the town met with their fate from an exasperated foe: the Menomonie chief excepted, and who had been overpowered by many, and now bound with leather thongs, and without hopes of escape. The young Chippewa war-leader then ordered young men to catch, on the shoals of the barred-up river, small sturgeon of various sizes. One was selected of the size of a carp, and the bound Menomonie chief was then accosted by his nephew, reminded that he had caused the outlet of the river to be barred up, causing a grievous famine among the Indians who inhabited the interior portions of the country, and for that outrage, and the penurious love he bore for the sturgeon, so he would be permitted to keep and cherish that fish. The young man then gave orders to push in the chief’s fundament a small sturgeon of the size above referred to, and he was then allowed, when unfettered, to reflect upon his folly and to seek his tribe. The barred-up river was thrown open, and soon relief reached the famished Chippewas. This was the commencement of a war to be replete with murders and cruelties unparalleled in Indian history.

The Menomonie tribe then passed their wampum belts and war-pipe to the following tribes, and formed an alliance with them. Sacs and Foxes were engaged in this warfare against the Chippewas, together with the Pottawatamies, Kickapoos, Winnabagoes, Sioux, Opanangoes, Shawnees, Algonquins, Nautowas, and Wabanakees. Fortunately the Chippewas had three mighty and valorous warriors, of great power, at the Sault Ste. Marie. The principal leader was Nabanois, of the crane totem, the principal and great chief at La Pointe, of the tribe of Ah-ah-wai, (whose name is unknown at this period,) and the great chief and war-leader of Nipigon, of the tribe of the kingfisher, or Kish-kemanisee. The latter chief pushed his warfare east, among many tribes, and finally reached the Atlantic coast, in pursuit of his enemies. His hieroglyphics have been discovered on one of the islands in Boston Bay; 1 the same also exist on Lake Superior, near the Yellow-Dog River, and also upon the north coast, near Gargantwois. This chief pursued his enemies with unrelenting fury, during summer and winter, and maintained and kept possession of the Chippewa country. One of their great war paths was Tahquahminong and Manistic Rivers, and from Chocolate River into the Shoshquonabi, and another from the L’ance Kewy-wenon and down the Menomonie River.”Citations:

  1. This may possibly be an allusion to the inscription on the Dighton Rock.[]

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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