Written by Dr. F.D. Hulburt, Reedsburg, and read at the meeting of the Sauk County Historical Society, February 13, 1922, by M.H. Mould at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Hatch.
Of all the Indians which were present in western Sauk County when the white settlers came, Ah-ho-cho-ka was the most prominent character. He was chief of a band of Winnebago here, and until his death at a very advanced age, he held the confidence and devotion of his tribe. Tall and straight of stature, he was a typical Indian with graceful movements. He frequently associated with the whites and kept himself informed on the events of the day which affected the territory occupied by his tribe, and he doubtless felt keenly the encroachments of the whites as one piece of land after another was taken up by them, but he never made complaint.
Ah-ho-cho-ka’s headquarters was then in the Indian village which was situated in the southwestern part of what is now the township of Reedsburg. To maintain his hold on the place he purchased, in 1851 (June 20th), of the government 40 acres of land (S.E. ¼ of S.W. ¼, Section 29) which included the Indian village site. Here he continued his home until 1861, vacated when he sold the land, and in company with the dusky inhabitants, he vacated the Indian village and took up his quarters on the south bank of the Baraboo River west of Reedsburg. The name Ah-ho-cho-ka translated into English is “Blue Wing”, and this was the appellation he used in signing his name to legal documents.
The most striking qualities of this Indian chief in his intercourse with the whites, was his integrity, good nature and kindness of heart. He was never tricky but was always open, fair, just, and patient in all his dealings. He was well known to the early settlers and they usually received him with a warm welcome whenever he called to see them; they sometimes invited him to remain overnight.
He lived more than a century. In his advanced age he became bent in form and his memory lost it’s former acuteness. In response to inquiries in regard to his age, he would make reply: “Maybe 100 years, maybe little more, maybe little less”. By some of his relatives his age at the time of his death, was stated to be 114 years.
When he became a very old man an abnormal growth appeared on his nose. In conversing with the whites he would place his hand over his nose apparently regarding it as being unsightly. The growth spread and became malignant finally causing his death. He was buried in the Indian burying ground near Tomah, Wisconsin. After considerable Indian ceremony at the grave his remains were interred with the head placed to the east or toward the rising sun, in accordance with the usual custom of his tribe. A number of his relatives, including the Decorahs, had shifted their quarters to Tomah and Ah-ho-cho-ka finally went there to live with them. Here he remained until he died in November 1893.
Ah-ho-cho-ka had several sons and three daughters. The name of one of his sons is Ah-ho-sheeb-ka or “Little Thunder”. The names of his daughters, beginning with the oldest are: Ma-e-ce-nee-pee-wee-ka, Henna-kay-ka, and He-na-kay-Hoo-noo-ka, the last named daughter being yet alive, and the only surviving child. She was also Ah-ho-cho-ka’s favorite daughter, and he would often mention her as his “good daughter”.
In early days the Indians sometimes secretly obtained liquor from the whites. Ah-ho-cho-ka himself, would not refuse a small nip of “fire water” when it was offered to him, but he never imbibed to excess, and advised his people against the use of strong drink, telling them it was liable to get them into trouble. On one occasion an Indian returned to the Indian village in an intoxicated condition. He was very boisterous and noisy, and among other stunts began to “beat up” his squaw. The matter was referred to Ah-ho-cho-ka, who at once ordered that the drunken Indian be overpowered, his hands securely tied together and likewise his feet. He was then strung on a long pole placed between his arms and between his legs, and the pole placed on two crotches at sufficient elevation to suspend the culprit with his back barely touching the ground. In this helpless position he was regarded as being safe and was left hanging until he thoroughly sobered up and promised to be a good Indian again.
Ah-ho-cho-ka’s religious ideas, like those of his tribe, were very crude, consisting of a vague conception of a Great Spirit (Ma-ou-na), and of a future life without punishment of the wicked.
He was born on the western shore of Lake Winnebago in what is now Winnebago County, Wisconsin. The Winnebago are a branch of the Siouan family of Indians, and originally occupied the territory around Green Bay, the western shore of Lake Michigan, and in the valleys of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers and their tributaries. In 1640 they were driven from the latter lake shore westward by the Illinois, which tribe had waged a bitter warfare against them for many years. In addition to their linguistic connection the Winnebago were marked by similarity of character and habits. They lived a nomadic life in the dense woods and often shifted their abodes to escape from warring tribes or removed to other localities where game was more plentiful. They were fond of decorating their persons with paint and other ornaments, generally extracted their scanty beards, and had the typical long, straight, coarse, glossy, black hair. Their eyes are small, black, somewhat deep set, and always horizontal; with eyebrows narrow, very arched and black. The language of the Winnebago is distinctive, and like other dialects of the American Indian is polysynthetic. The women are usually of stout build and are expected to perform all ordinary labor done about the camp.
When white men first visited territory now included in Wisconsin, the principal village of the Winnebago was at the north end of Lake Winnebago. Later they split up into bands, with sub chiefs, which made their headquarters at various points in the domain of the tribe. Among those in Ah-ho-cho-ka’s band were the Decorahs.
These children of the wilderness appear to have believed in monsters, witches and the like, and to have been suspicious in regard to their dreams. The sun, thunder and the wind were their principal divinities, towards which they entertained feelings of reverence and awe. They also believed that the objects about them – both animate and inanimate – were possessed by spirits; and offerings were often made to gain their good will and assistance. The wild animals of the woods and waters were their relatives and guardian spirits.
The marriage custom with the Winnebago was not complicated. Presents to the parents of the maiden desired, by either the parents of the man or by the man himself, if accepted, was all that was required to secure the bride. However much the girl disliked the young man, she considered it her bounden duty to go and at least try to live with him. Divorce was easy among them. There were no laws compelling them to live together. Sometimes there were marriages for a specified time, say for a few months or a year. So long as the union existed it was deemed sacred, and there were few instances of infidelity. In some instances a buck would have two wives, who lived apparently on equal terms. With all the ease of divorce Indian couples usually remained true to each other for life.
Ah-ho-cho-ka had two wives, but did not take the second wife until the first one was old and infirm. The name of the first squaw _______[not recorded]________________, the second squaw __________[not recorded]______________________.
The chieftain on once being asked by a white woman why he took on the second wife replied: “First squaw too old; had to get young squaw to take care of old one, and do the work.” The first wife finally died leaving him with only the young squaw, whom he likewise survived, and at the time of his death, he was a widower.
The demise of Ah-ho-cho-ka marked the passing of the Winnebago as an organized band. The death rate among them exceeded the birth rate. They had already become greatly reduced in numbers. Some of his progeny and other descendants of his old time followers yet remain, but the band is scattered and disorganized. They no longer have a chief to advise, counsel and direct. Some of them are now living near Tomah; others make their homes near Mauston, at Black River Falls, Valley Junction, and other points in the northern part of our state. Usually every year, as if to take one long lingering look at their former dwelling place, a family or two return to Reedsburg and again put up their lodges on or near their old time home-site and camping ground here, but they do not long remain. They are yet our neighbors but their wigwams are now but transient camps. Finding the wild game very scarce in the region, the fishing poor, and the trapping likewise unfavorable, they soon make their departure. Each succeeding year finds this band of Winnebago nearer the end of the trail. Their doom is the same old sad story. Their ultimate fate is but a repetition of the pathetic destiny of other tribes. Bewildered and dejected, they are vanishing before the vast tide of civilization. They will soon be overwhelmed by the last wave which will settle over them forever.