Leather, Beads, Tinkling Cones
Fort Crawford; Fox-Wisconsin Portage; Winnebago War
Mrs. Joseph R. Dyer, 1939
*While the design is clearly Plains, these are said to have a Ho-Chunk provenance. While this is unlikely, the pair could have been acquired by a Ho-Chunk tribal member upon their relocation West of the Mississippi.
The year in our storyline is now 1827. The 1820s saw the United States War Department carrying out an ambitious policy regarding Westward movement. Pursuant to this objective, the government had determined to strategically abandon certain forts in the Northwest in favor of expanding its military posts farther into the uncharted West. In 1826, Prairie du Chien’s garrison at Fort Crawford was thus slated to be transferred to Fort Snelling, which was farther up the Mississippi and deeper within the Native lands of Minnesota.
The 1820s also brought a new player to the Northwest in a field previously dominated by Natives and transient traders. Lead prospectors had struck gray gold in the driftless area of southwest Wisconsin. Relations with the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) gradually became strained as miners encroached upon tribal land.
As the spring of 1827 approached, rumors began to spread among the Winnebago that two members of their tribe had been executed while in the custody of the Fort Crawford garrison which had moved to Fort Snelling that fall. To one band of the tribe—located near modern-day LaCrosse—this was an opportunity not only to avenge tribal blood, but to attempt, by an example of force, to arouse the rest of the tribe to rise up and deal with the approaching menace of ambitious settlers. In mid-summer, Red Bird, a leader within this band, launched an attack at Prairie du Chien, killing a few settlers and creating a panic within the frontier town. Others of his band attacked two keelboats descending the Mississippi, both incurring and inflicting multiple casualties. By this action, Red Bird hoped to demonstrate to the tribe as a whole that resistance was a legitimate option.
The response from the government was rapid and resolute. By the end of August, two converging bodies of troops entered the Fox-Wisconsin waterway as a display of force through the heart of Winnebago land. The Winnebago in this region, having never consented to join Red Bird, agreed to effect his surrender to the military. The capitulation occurred on September 2, 1827, at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers. John H. Kinzie, who was present, described the scene:
Yesterday about noon…the Red Bird and associate (the Sun) accompanied with about 114 men of their nation [delivered] themselves up to Maj. Whistler. I should have given much to have had many of you in Detroit to have seen this spectacle…He was dressed in Sioux dress of white leathers, had a piece of square scarlet cloth over his breast and an ornamented pipe stem with feathers and painted green…across his breast. In his left hand was a pipe, and in his right hand he held a white flag.
It is this connection with the Sioux (Dakota) which brings us to our Artifact Ambassador: a pair of Sioux-style moccasins. During the entire time of unrest, the Sioux were noted as being highly supportive of Red Bird’s actions. Delegations of Red Bird’s band traveled among the Winnebago, capitalizing on this support, declaring: “We are determined on War with the Americans. We wish you to accept of the pipe and assist us: if the Americans are too strong for us, we can fly to the Sioux country for protection.” Red Bird knew the value of inter-tribal alliances. This pair of traditional Sioux-style moccasins, therefore, represents the Dakota Sioux in their unique relation with the Winnebago tribe in the year 1827. John Kinzie’s description of Red Bird’s attire demonstrates that the Winnebago warrior himself must have decided that Sioux clothing represented this alliance, as well.