Four Legs, Lithographic Print
9.25" by 13.5"
James Otto Lewis; Lehman and Duvall
John and Juliette Kinzie; Chief Four-Legs; Winnebago Funeral Customs
Mrs. Hobart Johnson
In her memoirs, Juliette Kinzie vividly described her arrival with her husband John at Fort Winnebago after their trip down the Fox River. Immediately upon their landing, a saga involving Indian flutes and processions unfolded before their eyes. It was the late stages of a Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) funeral. While Juliette struggled to find her way through the entirely new social traditions of this remote people, John felt the immediate need during this period of mourning to demonstrate his new relationship to the tribe, throwing himself into his new harness as Indian Agent at Fort Winnebago.
Unfortunately, John was already too late. Had he arrived earlier, his oversight as Indian Agent might have averted the situation that culminated in this death. During the time when annuity payments were made, traders would descend upon the Portage in hopes of capitalizing on the influx of money into the tribe. In 1830, the annuity was to be paid upon John’s arrival at Fort Winnebago. Because of this, the Ho-Chunk had gathered early and had indulged in the traders’ offer of credit to be paid off from the government’s yearly payment. One of the duties of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to work with the military to prevent the sale of alcohol to the tribe. Since the traders had arrived before John could thwart these transactions, the merchants had been able to covertly supply the Natives with alcohol. The mourning the Kinzies witnessed upon their arrival was over the death of Chief Four-Legs (O-Check-Ka), whose likeness is depicted upon our present Artifact Ambassador. Four-Legs had died as a result of alcohol consumption days before. John’s late arrival left him nothing to do but to partake in the tribe’s tradition of “drying” the grieving family’s tears with gifts in the form of government credit for purchasing supplies for the funeral.
Four-Legs had long been a respected leader of the tribe on Lake Winnebago. Interestingly, when John Kinzie had earlier lived in Prairie Du Chien, Four-Legs had offered his daughter to John as a wife. At that time, John’s refusal of the union and his naivety of Ho-Chunk culture had put him in an awkward position in which he was called upon to satisfy the resulting sorrow of the Four-Legs family. That experience may have been the impetus for his decision to act quickly in the present circumstances
This portrait of Four-Legs was completed at the council of Butte De Morts in 1827—coinciding with the time of the Red Bird uprising—at which Four-Legs was the only prominent Ho-Chunk leader represented. Our Artifact Ambassador is a first-edition lithographic print from the original painted by James Otto Lewis and commissioned by the U.S. government. Four-Legs was given the distinction of being named the “Head Chief” of the Ho-Chunk by the artist.
Lewis’ portrait thus represents for us the Kinzies’ abrupt plunge into work at the Fort Winnebago agency. While it represents the passing of one of the Ho-Chunk tribe’s venerable elders, it also introduces us to Juliette’s first taste of culture at an Indian Agency and John’s baptism into the chaotic activity inherent to the payment of annuities. Thus began this couple’s inaugural days at the Fort Winnebago Indian Agency.