The Winnebago tribe is the fourth group of the great Siouan, or Dakota, family. The Wninebagoes were styled by the Sioux, Hotanke, or the “big-voiced people;” by the Chippewas, Winipig, or “filthy water;” by the Sauks and Foxes, Winipyagohagi, or “people of the filthy water.” Allouez spells the name Ovenibigouts. The French frequently called them Puans, or Puants, names often roughly translated Stinkards. The Iowas called them Ochungaraw. They called themselves Ochungurah, or Hotcangara. Dr. J. O. Dorsey, the distinguished authority on the Siouan tribes, states that the Siouan root, “changa,” or “hanga,” signifies “first, foremost, original or ancestral.” Thus the Winnebagoes called themselves Hotcangara, “the people speaking the original language,” or “people of the parent speech.” Traditional and linguistic evidence shows that the Iowa Indians sprang from the Winnebago stem, which appears to have been the mother stock of some other of the southwestern Siouan tribes.
The term “Sioux” is a French corruption of Nadowe-is-iw, the name given them by the Chippewa Indians of the Algonquin family. It signifies “snake,” whence is derived the further meaning “enemy.” The name Dakota, or Lakota, by which the principal tribes of the Siouan stock call themselves, means “confederated,” “allied.”
Regarding the remote migrations that must have taken place in such a widespread stock as the Siouan, different theories are held. An eastern origin is now pretty well established for this stock; for in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Mississippi were the homes of tribes now extinct, which ethnologists class as belonging to the Siouan.1 The prehistoric migration of these Indians, which undoubtedly was gradual, proceeded towards the west; while the Dakotas, Winnebagoes, and cognate tribes, it appears, took a more northerly course.
Passing to the authentic history of the Winnebagoes the first known meeting between this tribe and the whites was in 1634, when the French ambassador, jean Nicolet, found them in Wisconsin near Green Bay. At this time they probably extended to Lake Winnebago. How long the tribe had maintained its position in that territory previous to the coming of the whites is unknown. They were then numerous and powerful. Father Pierre Claude Allouez spent the winter of 1669-70 at Green Bay preaching to the Winnebagoes and their Central Algonquian neighbors.
The Winnebagoes constituted one party in a triple alliance, to which also the Sauk and Foxes belonged, and were always present with the Foxes in their battles against the French, and their ancient enemy the Illinois Indians. In an effort to combine all the tribes against the Foxes, the French in some way won over the Winnebagoes. After being on unfriendly terms with the Foxes for several years, the old friendship was revived; yet the Winnebagoes managed to retain the friendship of the French and continue in uninterrupted trade relations with them, for, following the missionary, came the trader.
In 1763 France ceded Canada to England. The Winnebagoes, however, were reluctant to transfer their allegiance to the English; but when they did, they remained firm in their new fealty. The English were known to the Winnebagoes as Monhintonga, meaning “Big Knife;” this term is said to have originated from the kind of swords worn by the English.2 When the thirteen colonies declared their independence in 1776, the Winnebagoes allied themselves with the British and fought with them through the Revolutionary War. They participated in the border outbreaks in Ohio and were among the savages defeated by General Anthony Wayne on August 20, 1794. In the War of 1812-15 they espoused the cause of England, and in the years immediately following this war they became quite insolent.
The so-called Winnebago War of 1827 was of short duration. The energetic movements of Governor Cass, the promptness of the militia under Colonel Henry Dodge, and the dispatch of General Atkinson of the federal army filled the Winnebagoes with such respect for the power of the United States that the disturbance was quelled before it had fairly begun. At this time the tribe numbered nearly 7,000. It might also be mentioned that a few of the tribe secretly joined the Sauk and Foxes in the Black Hawk War of 1832.
Smallpox visited the tribe twice before 1836, and in that year more than one-fourth of the tribe died. Mr. George Catlin, famous painter of the Indians, made the statement, when at Prairie du Chien in 1836, that, “The only war that suggests itself to the eye of the traveler through their country is the war of sympathy and pity.”