Waukon Decorah

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Portrait by James Otto Lewis, painted at the 1825 First Treaty of Prairie du Chien conference. Waa-kaun-see-kaa.jpg
Portrait by James Otto Lewis, painted at the 1825 First Treaty of Prairie du Chien conference.

Waukon Decorah (c. 1780–1868), also known as Wau-kon-haw-kaw or "Snake-Skin", [1] was a prominent Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) warrior and orator during the Winnebago War of 1827 and the Black Hawk War of 1832. Although not a hereditary chief, he emerged as a diplomatic leader in Ho-Chunk relations with the United States.

Ho-Chunk Native American tribe

The Ho-Chunk, also known as Hoocąągra or Winnebago, are a Siouan-speaking Native American people whose historic territory includes parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Today, Ho-Chunk people are enrolled in two federally recognized tribes, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Winnebago War

The Winnebago War, also known as the Winnebago Uprising, was a brief conflict that took place in 1827 in the Upper Mississippi River region of the United States, primarily in what is now the state of Wisconsin. Not quite a war, the hostilities were limited to a few attacks on American civilians by a portion of the Winnebago Native American tribe. The Ho-Chunks were reacting to a wave of lead miners trespassing on their lands, and to false rumors that the United States had sent two Ho-Chunk prisoners to a rival tribe for execution.

Black Hawk War 1832 conflict between the United States and Native Americans

The Black Hawk War was a brief conflict between the United States and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. The war erupted soon after Black Hawk and a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos, known as the "British Band", crossed the Mississippi River, into the U.S. state of Illinois, from Iowa Indian Territory in April 1832. Black Hawk's motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on tribal land that had been ceded to the United States in the disputed 1804 Treaty of St. Louis.


Family and early life

Waukon Decorah came from a prominent Ho-Chunk family in what is now the U.S. state of Wisconsin. He was the son of Buzzard Decorah, who was in turn the son of a French trader named Sabrevoir De Carrie and a Ho-Chunk woman named Glory of the Morning. Waukon Decorah's brother was known as Big Canoe or One-Eyed Decorah (c. 1772–1864). [2] Early historical accounts sometimes confused the brothers with each other, or with their uncle Spoon Decorah (c. 1730–c.1816) [2] or with their cousin Old Decorah (c. 1746–1836) [2] and Old Decorah's sons Little Decorah (1797–1887) and Spoon Decorah (c. 1805–1889). [1]

Wisconsin A north-central state of the United States of America

Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States, in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin is the 23rd largest state by total area and the 20th most populous. The state capital is Madison, and its largest city is Milwaukee, which is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The state is divided into 72 counties.

Glory of the Morning politician

Glory of the Morning was the first woman ever described in the written history of Wisconsin, and the only known female chief of the Hocąk (Winnebago) nation. At least one source has rendered her name as Hopokoekau, which is a corruption of Hąboguwįga, from hąp, "day"; ho-, "the time at which"; gu, "to come arriving"; -wį, an affix indicating the feminine gender; and -ga, a definite article used for personal names. The name is conventionally translated as, "Glory of the Morning" or "The Coming Dawn".

Some early histories state that Waukon Decorah was also known by the nickname "Washington Decorah", because he had visited Washington, D.C. in the 1820s. [3] However, in June 1832, Indian agent Joseph M. Street wrote in a letter that he had met with Waukon Decorah and his brothers One-Eyed Decorah and Washington Decorah, implying that Washington and Waukon were two different men. According to historian Ellen M. Whitney, it is not clear which member of the Decorah family was called "Washington". [4] Waukon Decorah and One-Eyed Decorah had an older brother named Mau-wah-re-gah, who became an outcast after killing their father in a drunken brawl. [5]

In United States and Canadian history, an Indian agent was an individual authorized to interact with Native American and First Nations tribes on behalf of the government.

Joseph M. Street Iowa pioneer, trader and U.S. Indian Agent

General Joseph Montfort Street was a 19th-century American pioneer, trader and US Army officer. During the 1820s and 1830s, he was also a U.S. Indian Agent to the Winnebago and later to the Sauk and Fox tribes after the Black Hawk War. His eldest son was Joseph H.D. Street, the first appointed registrar of the Council Bluffs Land Office in western Iowa.

Black Hawk War

In 1829, Waukon Decorah's daughter, who had married a Dakota man, was killed in Iowa by Sauk and Meskwaki raiders, part of ongoing hostilities between the Dakotas and the Sauks and Meskwakis. [6] Decorah wanted to mount a retaliatory raid against the Sauks and Meskwakis, but he was discouraged from doing this by United States officials, who were trying to negotiate an end to the hostilities. [7]

Iowa State of the United States of America

Iowa is a state in the Midwestern United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states; Wisconsin to the northeast, Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, Nebraska to the west, South Dakota to the northwest, and Minnesota to the north.

Sauk people

The Sac or Sauk are a group of Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands culture group, who lived primarily in the region of what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin, when first encountered by the French in 1667. Their autonym is oθaakiiwaki, and their exonym is Ozaagii(-wag) in Ojibwe. The latter name was transliterated into French and English by colonists of those cultures.

Meskwaki people

The Meskwaki are a Native American people often known by Western society as the Fox tribe. They have been closely linked to the Sauk people of the same language family. In the Meskwaki language, the Meskwaki call themselves Meshkwahkihaki, which means "the Red-Earths", related to their creation story. Historically their homelands were in the Great Lakes region. The tribe coalesced in the St. Lawrence River Valley in present-day Ontario, Canada. Under French colonial pressures, it migrated to the southern side of the Great Lakes to territory that much later was organized by European Americans as the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.

When the Black Hawk War erupted in 1832, Decorah eagerly joined the American war against Black Hawk's band of Sauks and Meskwakis, hoping to finally avenge his daughter's death. [8] Although some Ho-Chunks were sympathetic to Black Hawk's efforts to resist American expansion, Decorah was able to recruit warriors from his followers on the Wisconsin River, and was joined by One-Eyed Decorah and his followers from Prairie la Crosse. [9] After the war, on November 5, 1834, Meskwaki raiders killed ten women and children from Decorah's family, including his wife. Decorah believed that the attack was meant as retaliation for his role in the Black Hawk War. [10]

Black Hawk (Sauk leader) Sauk leader

Black Hawk, born Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, was a band leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe in what is now the Midwest of the United States. Although he had inherited an important historic sacred bundle from his father, he was not a hereditary civil chief. Black Hawk earned his status as a war chief or captain by his actions: leading raiding and war parties as a young man, and a band of Sauk warriors during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Wisconsin River river in Wisconsin, United States

The Wisconsin River is a tributary of the Mississippi River in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. At approximately 430 miles (692 km) long, it is the state's longest river. The river's name, first recorded in 1673 by Jacques Marquette as "Meskousing", is rooted in the Algonquian languages used by the area's American Indian tribes, but its original meaning is obscure. French explorers who followed in the wake of Marquette later modified the name to "Ouisconsin", and so it appears on Guillaume de L'Isle's map. This was simplified to "Wisconsin" in the early 19th century before being applied to Wisconsin Territory and finally the state of Wisconsin.

Later life and legacy

In 1837, Decorah was part of a Ho-Chunk delegation that went to Washington, D.C. to seek redress for American encroachment on their land. Even though the delegates had been U.S. allies during the Black Hawk War, they were pressured to sign a removal treaty ceding all Ho-Chunk land west of the Mississippi River to the United States. [11] Decorah signed this treaty as "Wa-kaun-ha-kah (Snake Skin)". The delegates thought that the treaty gave the Ho-Chunks eight years to leave Wisconsin, which would leave them time to negotiate a new treaty, but the wording on the document gave the tribe eight months to vacate Wisconsin and resettle on reservations in Iowa and Minnesota. Ho-Chunks who refused to leave were rounded up by General Henry Atkinson and escorted west, though many later returned. [12]

Minnesota State of the United States of America

Minnesota is a state in the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and northern regions of the United States. Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858, created from the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory. The state has a large number of lakes, and is known by the slogan the "Land of 10,000 Lakes". Its official motto is L'Étoile du Nord.

Henry Atkinson (soldier) US Army officer

Henry Atkinson was a United States army officer. He was a native of Person County, North Carolina.

Decorah's family moved across the Mississippi River into the "Neutral Ground" of northeast Iowa. Later he moved to Long Prairie, Minnesota, and by 1855 he was living in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. [2] Some older histories state that Decorah died in Minnesota at the Blue Earth Indian Agency, [3] but he evidently returned to Wisconsin in the last years of his life. In 1868, the Mauston Star of Mauston, Wisconsin, reported that he died on July 18 while living next to the Lemonweir River near Mauston. [13]

Two Iowa cities, Decorah and Waukon, are often said to be named for him, [1] although Waukon is also said to be named for his son Chief John Waukon. [14] There are other place names, such as Dekorra, Wisconsin, and Decoria Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, that are named for his relatives. [1] In 1859, citizens of Decorah, Iowa, exhumed the remains said to be of "Chief Decorah", believed to be the man for whom the city was named, to make way for the city's expansion. The body was re-interred on the grounds of the county courthouse. [15] However, as was rumored at the time, Waukon Decorah was still living in 1859; it is unclear who was actually buried there. [3] The remains of the unknown Native American were exhumed again in 1876 during court house renovations; some of the relics buried with the body were stolen before the remains were re-interred. [16]

Waukon Decorah's son John Waukon is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Waukon. A new headstone was placed at the grave in November 2007. [17]

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Black Hawk Purchase

The Black Hawk Purchase, which can sometimes be called the Forty-Mile Strip or Scott's Purchase, extended along the West side of the Mississippi River from the north boundary of Missouri North to the Upper Iowa River in the northeast corner of Iowa. It was fifty miles wide at the ends, and forty in the middle, and is sometimes called the "Forty-Mile Strip". The land, originally owned by the Sauk, Meskwaki (Fox), and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Native American people, was acquired by treaty following their defeat by the United States in the Black Hawk War. After being defeated the Sauk and Mesquakie were forced to relinquish another 2.5 million hectares or and give up their rights to plant, hunt, or fish on the land. The purchase was made for $640,000 on September 21, 1832 and was named for the chief Black Hawk, who was held prisoner at the time the purchase was completed. The Black Hawk Purchase contained an area of 6 million acres (24,000 km²), and the price was equivalent to 11 cents/acre. The region is bounded on the East by the Mississippi River and includes Dubuque, Fort Madison, and present-day Davenport.

Battle of Bad Axe

The Battle of Bad Axe, also known as the Bad Axe Massacre, was a battle between Sauk (Sac) and Fox Indians and United States Army regulars and militia that occurred on 1–2 August 1832. This final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day Victory, Wisconsin in the United States. It marked the end of the war between white settlers and militia in Illinois and Michigan Territory, and the Sauk and Fox tribes under warrior Black Hawk.

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Battle of Wisconsin Heights

The Battle of Wisconsin Heights was the penultimate engagement of the 1832 Black Hawk War, fought between the United States state militia and allies, and the Sauk and Fox tribes, led by Black Hawk. The battle took place in what is now Dane County, near present-day Sauk City, Wisconsin. Despite being vastly outnumbered and sustaining heavy casualties, Black Hawk's warriors managed to delay the combined government forces long enough to allow the majority of the Sauk and Fox civilians in the group to escape across the Wisconsin River. This reprieve was temporary; when the militia finally caught up with the fleeing band it resulted in the Bad Axe massacre at the mouth of the Bad Axe River.

Attacks at Fort Blue Mounds

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British Band

The British Band was a mixed-nation group of Native Americans commanded by the Sauk leader Black Hawk, which fought against Illinois and Michigan Territory militias during the 1832 Black Hawk War. The band was composed of about 1,500 men, women, and children from the Sauk, Meskwaki, Fox, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Ottawa nations; about 500 of that number were warriors. Black Hawk had an alliance with the British that dated from the War of 1812, giving them their colloquial name. The band crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa into Illinois in an attempt to reclaim their homeland and in violation of several treaties. Subsequently, both the Illinois and Michigan Territory militia were called up and the Black Hawk War ensued.

Snakeskin may refer to:


  1. 1 2 3 4 Virgil J. Vogel, Indian names on Wisconsin's map (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 60–61.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Decorah family, Dictionary of Wisconsin History, Wisconsin Historical Society. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  3. 1 2 3 Charles Philip Hexom, Indian History of Winneshiek County, Decorah, Iowa, 1913. Unpaginated.
  4. Whitney, editor's note, 239.
  5. P.B. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe", 141. The Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 6, 1907.
  6. Hall, 109.
  7. Hall, 109, 117.
  8. Hall, 148.
  9. Hall, 123, 162.
  10. Hall, 235.
  11. Hall, 259–60.
  12. Robert E. Bieder, Native American communities in Wisconsin, 1600–1960: a study of tradition and change (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 132.
  13. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a 1932 reprint of an 1868 obituary from the Mauston Star online. The 1932 reprint misdates the year of death as 1869.
  14. Val Swinton (August 16, 1994). "Winnebago tribe leaves Iowa legacy: Chief's descendant researches history". The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City). Retrieved December 24, 2010.
  15. W. E. Alexander, History of Winneshiek and Alamakee Counties (Sioux City, Iowa: Western Publishing, 1882), 142–43.
  16. Alexander, History of Winneshiek County, 244.
  17. Brianne Eilers (November 28, 2007). "New headstone erected at burial site of Chief Waukon". The Standard (Waukon). Retrieved December 27, 2010.