Winnebago Indian Chiefs and Leaders

Red Bird (Wanig-suchka). A Winnebago war chief, so named, according to one authority, because he habitually wore a red coat and called himself English, and by another because he wore on each shoulder, “to supply the place of an epaulette, a preserved red-bird.” He was born about 1788 and was the leading spirit in the Winnebago outbreak of 1827. He was friendly with the settlers of Prairie du Chien, Wis., who regarded him as a protector until two Winnebago, who had been arrested for the murder of a family of maple-sugar makers, were erroneously reported to have been turned over to the Chippewa by the military authorities at Ft Snelling and clubbed to death while running the gauntlet. The Winnebago chiefs, on the receipt of this news, met in council and determined upon retaliation, selecting Red Bird to carry out their decree. With this purpose in view he, with two companions, after visiting the house of Lockwood, a trader at Prairie du Chien, proceeded to the house of Registre Gagnier, who with his hired man they shot down after being hospitably entertained by them. An infant was torn from the mother (who made her escape), and was stabbed and left for dead, though subsequently restored. Red Bird and his companions proceeded the same day, June 26, 1827, to the rendezvous of his band, consisting of 37 warriors with their wives and children, at the mouth of Bad Axe River, Minn. A day or two later they attacked a boat on the Mississippi, killing 4 and wounding 2 of the crew, and losing a third of their own number. When the troops arrived and prepared to attack the Winnebago, Red Bird and his accomplices gave themselves up and were tried and convicted, but sentence was deferred until the last day of the general court, and then, for some unknown cause, was not pronounced. With his companions Red Bird was remanded to prison to await sentence, where he died, Feb. 16, 1828. The others were condemned to death, but were pardoned by President John Quincy Adams, in Nov. 1828, at the instance of Nawkaw, who, with a deputation of his tribesmen, visited Washington in their behalf.


Neokautah (Four Legs). The Menominee name of a Winnebago chief whose village, commonly known as Four Legs Village, was situated at the point where Fox river leaves Lake Winnebago, on the site of the present Neenah, Winnebago County, Wis. According to Draper (Wis. Hist. Soc. Coll., x, 114, 18881), while living here Neokautah for a time claimed tribute from Americans who passed his village. With Dekaury and other Winnebago chiefs he joined in the war against the United States in 1812-13, reaching the seat of hostilities in time to join Tecumseh in the lighting at Ft Meigs, Ohio, and later engaged in the attack on Ft Sandusky, so ably defended by Croghan (Grignon’s Recollections in Wis. Hist. Soc. Coll., iii, 269, 1857). Neokautah was one of the representatives of his people at the peace conference at Mackinaw, Mich., June 3. 1815, and was a signer of the treaty of Prairie du Chien, Wis., Aug. 19, 1825. under the French name “Les quatres jambes,” as leading representative of his tribe. His Winnebago name is given as Hootshoapkau, but it seems to have been seldom used.



Wabokieshiek (‘The Light.’ or White Cloud’) A medicine-man also known as The Prophet, the friend and adviser of Black hawk. He was born about 1794, and presided over a village known as “prophet’s Village,” on Rock river, about 35 miles above its mouth, on the site of the present Prophetstown, Ill. Half Winnebago and half Sauk, he bad great influence with both  tribes, and was noted for cruelty and his hostility toward Americans. When Black Hawk’s

lieutenant, Neapope, went to Malden, Canada, to consult with the British authorities in regard to the right of the Indians to retain their lands on Rock river, he stopped on his return at the Prophet’s village, where he remained during the winter, and told Wabokieshiek of his mission. The Prophet, always ready for mischief and delighted at this opportunity to make trouble for the whites, is said to have performed some incantations, had several visions, and prophesied that if Black Hawk would move against the whites he would be joined by the “Great Spirit” and a large army which would enable him to overcome the whites and regain possession of his old village. These predictions, added to Neapope’s false reports from the British, induced Black Hawk to continue the war which bears his name. Keokuk is said to have blamed the Prophet for all the trouble. After the defeat of the Indians at Bad Axe in 1832, Black hawk and the Prophet made their escape, but were captured by Chaetar and One-Eyed Dekaury, two Winnebago Indians, in an attempt to reach Prairie La Crosse, where they expected
to cross the Mississippi and be safe. They were delivered to Gen. Street on Aug.27,1832. Arriving at Jefferson Barracks, 10 miles below St Louis, they were put in irons, to their extreme mortification and of which they complained bitterly. In April of the following year they were taken to Washington, where they were permitted to see president Jackson, to whom Wabokieshiek appealed for their freedom; instead, they, were sent to Fortress Monroe, Va., where they remained until June 4, when they were released. Having lost his prestige as a prophet, Wabokieshiek lived in obscurity among the Sauk in Iowa until their removal to Kansas, and died among the Winnebago about 1841. He is described as being six ft tall, stout and athletic of figure, with a countenance in keeping with his militant disposition.
     At variance with accounts of his depravity is a statement by Maj. Thomas Forsythe, for years the agent of the Sauk and Foxes, in which he says of Wabokieshiek: “Many a good meal has the Prophet given to the people traveling past his village, and very many stray horses has he recovered from the Indians and restored them to their rightful owners, without asking any recompense whatever.” It is also said that during the progress of the Black Hawk war, Col. Gratiot, agent for the Winnebago, who on account of his humane and honorable treatment of the Indians was considered most likely to influence them, was selected to visit the hostile camp and induce the Prophet to turn the British band back to its Iowa reservation. On reaching the Prophet’s village, Gratiot and his party were surrounded by the hostiles and made prisoners, despite their flag of truce, and he would have lost his life had not the Prophet come to his rescue. He was taken to Wabokieshiek’s house and allowed to explain the object of his mission, but could not dissuade the Indians from their purpose. Although the warriors clamored for Gratiot’s life, Wabokieshiek was determined to save him, and after keeping him for several days found an opportunity to allow him to escape.
     While in Jefferson Barracks Wabokieshiek’s portrait was painted by Catlin, and is now in the National Museum; another portrait, by R. M. Sully, made while the Prophet was a prisoner at Fortress Monroe.
     Consult Fulton, Red Men of Iowa, 1882; Stevens, Black Hawk War, 1903; Wis. Hist. Soc. Coll., X, 1888.

The books presented are for their historical value only and are not the opinions of the Webmasters of the site.   Handbook of American Indians, 1906

Index of Tribes or Nations


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

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5 thoughts on “Winnebago Indian Chiefs and Leaders”

  1. I am trying to find who my relatives were within the Winnebago Tribe..
    I was born in Wisconsin and lived in the Dakota’s I understand that I have both Winnebago and Assiniboine Indian heritage please help me confirm which tribe I am actually from…

  2. I would like to know more about alvina june decoras grandfather ot greatgrand father chief decora. A, vina was my biological mom, until given up for adoption.

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