The Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nation
The "Ho-Chungra" (Ho-Chunk, or Winnebago) appear very early in the annals of the known history of Wisconsin's indigenous inhabitants. Unlike other Wisconsin tribes which migrated here from other parts of the continent, the Ho-Chunk never remember being anywhere else. Originally recorded by French explorers to be clustered around Green Bay—or Red Banks—over the centuries between 1600 and 1800, this people group eventually spread across much of central and southern Wisconsin. By the War of 1812's end, the Ho-Chunk inhabited the prairies and hills of Wisconsin in an area from the Rock River to LaCrosse to Lake Winnebago, always clinging to the revered Fox and Wisconsin Rivers as their core of settlement.
The introduction of United States occupation brought hard times to the Ho-Chunk. No longer were their secluded Wisconsin villages a haven against the influence and encroachments of ambitions settlers. Wars, disease, and treaties took their toll. Yet, in the midst of the chaos of a newly-opening frontier, strong leaders who were respected by the tribe and many settlers alike saw their clans and villages through. The times did not get better. The Ho-Chunk were successively removed by the United States government to Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and finally—of their own accord—to Nebraska, away from their traditional homeland. Today, however, much of the Ho-Chunk Nation once again resides in Wisconsin, a testimony to cultural resilience.
While often dismissed by Wisconsin's early settlers as savage, warlike, and ignorant, the Ho-Chunk were viewed much differently by the individuals who came to know them. For those willing to see, the Ho-Chunk at the time of the Kinzies in the 1830s were a people who had a strong family and cultural system, firmly-held convictions, and a complexity of society. Through the story of John and Juliette Kinzie, we are given a rare glimpse into a vibrant, yet struggling, people in Wisconsin's early days.