Sauk Indian Social Organization

Social organization. Society was rather complex. In the days when the tribe was much larger there were numerous gentes. There may be as many as 14 gentes yet in existence. These are:

  1. Bass
  2. Bear
  3. Bear-potato
  4. Eagle
  5. Elk
  6. Fox
  7. Great Lynx or Fire Dragon
  8. Grouse
  9. Sea
  10. Sturgeon
  11. Swan
  12. Thunder
  13. Trout
  14. Wolf

It seems that at one time there was a more rigid order of rank both socially and politically than at present. For example, chiefs came from the Trout and Sturgeon gentes, and war chiefs from the Fox gens; and there were certain relationships of courtesy between one gens and another, as when one acted the role of servants to another, seen especially on the occasion of a gens ceremony. Marriage was restricted to men and women of different gentes, and was generally attended with an exchange of presents between the families of the pair. Woman as a rule was paid formal courtship before marriage. In the case of death, a man might marry the sister of his deceased wife, or a widow might become the wife of the brother of her dead husband. Polygamy was practiced, but was not usual; it was a privilege that went with wealth and social prestige. A child followed the gens of the father, but it frequently happened that the mother was given the right to name; in that case the child took a name peculiar to the gens of the mother but was yet in the gens of the father. But for this practice the gens of an individual could generally be known from the nature of the name. The name is intimately connected with the gens; for example, a name meaning ‘he that moves on ahead flashing light’ refers to lightning, and is a name peculiar to the Thunder gens.

Besides the grouping into gentes, the tribe was further divided into two great social groups or phratries:

  1. Kishkoa
  2. Oshkash

The painting color of the first was white clay, and that of the second was charcoal. A child entered into a group at birth, sometimes the father, sometimes the mother determining which group. The several groups engaged one another in all manner of contests, especially in athletics. The Sauk never developed a soldier society with the same degree of success as did the Foxes, but they did have a buffalo society; it is said that the first was due to contact with the Sioux, and it is reasonable to suppose that the second was due to influence also from the Plains. There were a chief and a council. As stated, the chiefs came from the Trout and Sturgeon gentes, and the council consisted of these, the war-chiefs or heads of families, and all the warriors. Politically the chief was little more than a figurehead, but socially he occupied first place in the tribe. Not infrequently, however, by force of character and by natural astuteness in the management of tribal affairs the chief might exercise virtually autocratic power. Furthermore, his person was held sacred, and for that reason he was given loyal homage.


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

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