The Historic Indian Agency House in Historical Context
In 1931, a statewide coalition of civic-minded citizens saved an abandoned home in Portage, Wisconsin, restoring it and opening it as a museum in 1932. 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 expelled 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 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 and open up the land to further settlement and development. This resulting treaty promised the tribe a yearly annuity payment in silver along with blacksmithing services and goods in return for their land east and south of the Wisconsin River.
For a more comprehensive understanding of the context of our historic site, please visit the "Explore History" section of our website, as well as "The Big Picture" page of our A Landscape of Families supplemental website.