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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 5:
 

Decorah

-As transcribed from pages 45 - 47

Red Bird, a famous Winnebago chief, is believed to have had a village on the Black River.19 Red Bird was born in 1788 and died in 1827. Various stories are told of the origin of his name, one being that he wore on each shoulder the plumage of a red bird, in imitation of the epaulettes which he had seen worn by American officers.20 He is described as being perfect in form, face and gesture. In height he was about six feet, straight and without restraint. His proportions from his head to his feet were those of the most exact symmetry, and even his fingers were models of beauty. His face was full of all the ennobling, and, at the same time, winning expressions; it appeared to be a compound of grace and dignity, of firmness and decision, all tempered with mildness and mercy. Until the Red Bird outbreak he had the confidence of the whites to the extent that his presence at Prairie du Chien was looked upon as an assurance of protection from any Indian troubles. But after learning of what he believed to be the basest treachery and cruelty to some of his people by the officers at Fort Snelling, he sought the most terrible revenge. With two companions, We-kau and Chic-hon-sic, he went to the home of Rijeste Gagnier, two miles southeast from Prairie du Chien, killed Gagnier, scalped and wounded an infant, who afterward recovered, and killed a boarder, Solomon Lipcap. The same day Red Bird and his band attacked two boats on the Mississippi, killing a number of whites. Later Red Bird and his two companions gave themselves up to the authorities. Red Bird died in prison at Prairie du Chien, February 16, 1828. His two companions were pardoned by President John Quincy Adams.21

The Winnebago, under One-Eyed Decorah, had a village, at one time about a mile and a half from Decorah's Peak, on the Black River, and when the first white settlers arrived on the prairie the small elevations on the ground where the Indians had cultivated their corn fields were still to be seen.

Both the Prairie and Decorah's Peak were named after this one-eyed chief, and Winnebago tradition is concerned with a battle fought on the Prairie between the Winnebago and Chippewa. Decorah is said to have watched this battle from the peak that bears his name, and when he saw his followers were being defeated, fled from the scene of conflict and found shelter in a near-by cave, where, he remained in hiding until night approached, when he made his way to his brother's camp on the La Crosse River.

There are other versions of this tradition - one giving the Dakota as participating in the battle instead of the Chippewa. But as the Dakota and Winnebago were friendly allied tribes of the Siouan family, and the Chippewa were the Winnebago's most dreaded enemy, it is altogether probable that the Chippewa were the ones that defeated Decorah and his followers.

Traditions are bound to vary, but they point to their origin in a fundamental fact, and although we get them clothed in garments that have been added by the passing generations, we can still find the original framework intact.

Antoine Grignon,22 who has heard the tribesmen repeat the tradition of the battle of Decorah's Peak, says that the battle must have been fought shortly after the war of 1812, and was a bloody encounter, raging furiously all of one day and well into the evening, when the defeated warriors of Decorah, fled from the darkening scent of conflict, leaving their dead strewn upon the field.

After the removal of the Winnebago to Long Prairie, in central Minnesota, Decorah found his way back to Wisconsin again. In 1855 he went with the other Winnebago to Blue Earth County, Minnesota, but when they were removed to North Dakota, he once more started, with his followers, toward Wisconsin. When the Indians, in their canoes, reached the Black River, they paddled up its waters until a suitable camping place was found, when they landed and erected their teepes once more among their native forests.

Decorah and his small band of followers were camped in the little Tamarack in the summer of 1863, and it was there that Grignon visited him for the last time. "He was an old man then," said Grignon, "his long hair was thin and streaked with gray, and he was nearly blind. But his body was well preserved, and his well-developed muscular form showed what a powerful man he had been. In height he was a little taller than the average Indian, but he was stocky and solid in build. He was discouraged with the outlook for his pepple, and said that he had not been dealt with fairly by the government. About a year after my visit to his camp old Decorah died at Tunnel City, Wisconsin, in August, 1864."

In the dingy, smoky wigwam, among a few of his loyal band, the old chief departed for the "happy hunting ground," leaving behind the cringing form of poverty that had cursed his old age, and dimmed the glory of his sunset. He, who once held sway over his flourishing village, and counted a territory as his domain, larger than Trempealeau County, fell asleep, the feeble ruler of a single tepee, its very dirt and rags not his own.

There are still lineal descendants of the old chief living among the Winnebago in this State, and over at Galesville on a point of land near the Arctic Springs his granddaughter, Princess Marie Nounka, is buried.

When the first settler arrived in this county Decorah's Peak had virtually been named, but not the Prairie, which was first called Scotch Prairie during the early fifties on account of its Scotch settlement.

The Indians told the tradition of Decorah's Peak to the early traders, and the story repeated from time to time fastened the name of the Winnebago chief to this prominent landmark.

The Decorah family, which embraces in its numbers not only several notable Indian chiefs, but also some of the most distinguished white families in Wisconsin, was founded by Sabrevior De Carrie, a French officer of gentle bloood, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Quebec, April 28, 1760. This gallant adventurer married in 1729 a famous Winnebago queen, called Hopokoekaw, the Glory of the Morning, sister of the head chief.23 Their descendants are variously called Decorah, De Carrie, DeKauray, Dakorah, Day Korah, and De Corrah. One of the sons was called Cha-post-kaw-kaw, or The Buzzard. The Buzzard, established a village on La Crosse Prairie about 1787. He was killed in a drunken brawl by one of his sons, Mau-wah-re-gah. One-Eyed Decorah (Le Borgne) was another son of The Buzzard, and was born near the Portage on the Wisconsin River about 1772, receiving the name of Watch-hut-ta-kah (Wadge-hutta-kaw) or Big Canoe.24 He lived in the vicinity of La Crosse for many years and was noted for the part he took in the capture of Black Hawk at the close of the Black Hawk War. He aided in the capture of Mackenaw in 1812, was out in 1813 when the British attacked Fort Stephenson, and took part in Colonel William McKay's expedition against Prairie du Chien in 1814. He was a signer of the Prairie du Chien treaty in 1825.

He possibly had his village at Gale's Landing (Ferry) on the Black River from before 1826 until 1842.25 It is certain that in 1832 the Winnebago under Old Decorah (Schachip-ka-ka) was chief of a village on the La Crosse River and ranged the Mississippi in this vicinity.26 One-Eyed Decorah that summer was encamped at the entrance to the lower mouth of the Black River, while Winneshiek and Wau-mar-nar-sar hunted up the La Crosse and Black Rivers.27 In 1843, One-Eyed Decorah had a camp on Broken Gun Slough, a branch of the Black River.28


Resources for the above information:

19 - Edward D. Neill, HistOry of Minnesota (Minneapolis, 4th ed., 1882), 394-395. Also: Wm. J. Snelling (supposed author), Winnebago Outbreak of 1827, Wis. Hist. Colls., V, 143.

20 - Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, II, 358.

21 - For story of Red Bird troubles, see: Snelling (supposed author), Winnebago Outbreak of 1827, Wis. Hist. Colls., V, 143-154. Also: Moses M. Strong, Indian Wars of Wisconsin, Id., VIII, 254-265. Also: Col. Thos. L. McKenny, Winnebago War, Id., V, 178-204. Also: James H. Lockwood, Early Times and Events in Wisconsin, Id., II, 156-168.  Also: Ebenezer Childs, Recollections, Id., IV, 172-174.

22 - In an interview with Eben D. Pierce, M. D.

23 - Jonathan Carver, Travels (Philadelphia, 1796), 20. Also: Geo. Gale, Upper Mississippi (Chicago and New York, 1867), 81, 82, 189. Also: Mrs. John H. Kinzie, Wau Bun, 1856), 89, 486. Also: Lockwood, Early Times and Events in Wisconsin, Wis. Hist. Colls., II, 178. Also: Lyman C. Draper's note to: Daniel Steele Durrie, Jonathan Carver and Carver's Grant, Id., VI, 224. Also: John T. De La Ronde, Narrative, Id., VII, 347, Also: Augusten Grignon, Recollections, Id., III, 286-289. Also: Andrew Jackson Turner, History of Fort Winnebago, Id., 86, note.

24 - Lyman C. Draper's note to: Black Hawk War, Id., V, 297.
   
25 - Gale, Letter in Galesville Transcript (Galesville, Feb. 1, 1861), I, No. 46, 2. But Walking Cloud, Thwaites, ed., Wis. Hist. Colls., XIII, 465, says that One Eyed Decorah was not a chief until after the Black Hawk War-that it was not until after that war that Decorah settled on the Black River. And Burnett, in a letter to General William Clark, June 29, 1831, speaks of a rumor that a few days previous One Eyed Decorah had left his village at Prairie La Crosse, and gone down to the Sacs and Foxes (Alfred Brunson, Memoire of Thomas P. Burnett, Id., II, 253).

26 - Brunson, Memoire of Burnett, Id., II, 257, 259-260.

27 - Ibid. 261. Also: Thwaites, The Wisconsin Winnebagoes, Id., XII, 430-431.

28 - Bunnell, Winona and Its' Environs, 227.

 


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