The Indian Agency House in Historical Context
In 1931, a statewide coalition of civic-minded citizens saved an abandoned home in Portage, Wisconsin, restoring it as a museum. The home’s worth lay not in architectural grandeur nor association with famous personages. Rather, its significance lay in the history forged within its walls during its early years as a frontier Indian Agency—or embassy—between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the United States government at a critical period of Westward expansion and the development of Jacksonian Indian policy.
Located at the ancient trail between the legendary Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, this building survives as a poignant reminder of the juncture at which the Ho-Chunk Nation was forcibly removed from their homeland. It was a time of intense political debate, social change, conflict, opportunity-seeking, moral testing, trauma, and new beginnings. A swift and stark transformation of the historical, cultural, and physical landscape ensued.
The Indian Agency House was built in 1832 to house Indian Sub-Agent John H. Kinzie and his wife, Juliette. This Indian sub-agency was established as a means of fulfilling the treaty of 1829 between the United States government and the indigenous Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribe. A lead mining boom had caused such an influx of settlers on Ho-Chunk lands that the government resolved to forcibly purchase the area from the tribe in order to squelch conflict. This resulting treaty promised the tribe a yearly annuity payment in silver along with blacksmithing services and other goods in return for their land east and south of the Wisconsin River.
Since the Historic Indian Agency House officially opened as a museum in 1932, tourists from across the nation and around the world have visited this nationally significant historic site. Our mission is to preserve, interpret, and educate about the history that happened here; to expound the site’s importance within the larger story of America; and to foster a multi-dimensional understanding of the period. Our shared history and diverse cultural heritage are vital to remember, preserve, and pass along generation after generation. Understanding how our past has affected the present helps us better shape the future.
Please visit the "Explore History" section of our website for a more comprehensive understanding of the time and place. Each year, we develop a new history series that contributes depth and breadth to the vital story of this important historic site.
An extensive narrative about the role our historic site played within the big picture of American history may be found in the archives of the National Register of Historic Places.