|Winnebago Indians, pronounced
wihn uh BAY goh, were an eastern woodland tribe. The language of the Winnebago resembled
that of the Sioux (see SIOUX INDIANS). Tribal traditions say that at one time the
Winnebago lived near the Missouri River, but that they were forced east and settled near
Green Bay in Wisconsin. The tribe hunted buffalo, caught fish, and raised corn and squash.
They built long lodges with arched roofs and arbors over the entrances. Chiefs, who were
sometimes women, inherited their rank. Important tribal ceremonies included the Medicine
Dance, organized around a secret society, and the Winter Feast, a war ceremony.
The Winnebago were nearly destroyed by the Illinois sometime before 1670. But small groups
continued to live along Lake Winnebago and elsewhere in southern Wisconsin and northern
Illinois. They were friendly to most nearby tribes, and to the French. During the
Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the Winnebago sided with Britain. Some Winnebago
lived in a village, now called Prophetstown, on the Rock River in Illinois. The town was
named after their leader, Wabokieshiek (White Cloud), who was called the Prophet. The
Winnebago ceded their lands in Wisconsin and Illinois to the federal government in the
1830's. They were moved to Minnesota, then to South Dakota, and finally to Nebraska. Some
of the Winnebago refused to leave Wisconsin and Minnesota, and they still live there.
According to the 1990 United States census, there are about 7,000 Winnebago.
Contributor: Robert E. Powless, Ph.D., Prof. of American Indian
Studies, Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth.