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Decorah Family Line

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In 1832, One-eyed Decorah married two wives and went to live on the Black river, Wis. He had at least one son, Spoon Decorah. Chas. H. Saunders says. “One-eyed Decorah has one daughter, Mrs. Hester Lowery, still living in Wisconsin. Her Indian name is No-jin-win-ka. She is between eighty-five and ninety years old.” One-eyed Decorah was living in Iowa between I840 and 1848, as Moses Paquette, who went to the Presbyterian school at the Turkey river, says that he saw him while was at school, and Decorah was then an old man. Big Canoe disliked to leave their Iowa reservation.

Geo. W. Kingsley says: “One-eyed Decorah or Big Canoe, after being driver around by the United States Government from the Turkey river reservation, Iowa, to Long Prairie in northern Minnesota then back to Blue Earth, southern Minnesota, his family brought the old chief back to his native home and stamping grounds in Wisconsin. He requested his children not to bury him, but instead, to place him on top of the round in a sitting position, and so it was done.”

He lived for a number of years with his tribe on Decorah’s Prairie, Wis., which is named after him; there is also a bluff called Decorah’s Peak back from the Prairie which was also named after him. George Gale states: “The One-eyed De Carry, who is now [about 1864] about ninety years old, had his cheedah (or wigwam) and family during the summer of 1862 two miles west of Galesville, Wis., and a part of the summer of 1863 he was near New Lisbon.” On both of these occasions kale interviewed him on the traditions of his tribe and family. One-eyed Decorah (also written One-Eyed Decorah) died near Tunnel, in Monroe county, not far from Tomah, Wis., in August, 1864. A. R. Fulton says:1 “While young he [One-eyed Decorah] had the misfortune to lose his right eye.”

Some histories2 contain the statement that, “One-eyed Decorah, a son of Waukon Decorah, was a drunkard and unworthy, of his father;” there is no evidence, however, to show that he was more debauched than other chiefs, for nearly all Indians were more or less addicted to firewater. That he was a son of Waukon Decorah is an error, as One-eyed Decorah himself testifies that Waukon was his brother.

Wakun-ha-ga, or Snake Skin, a son of Chahpost-kaw-kah was commonly known as Waukon Decorah, or Washington Decorah because in 1828 he went to Washington with the chiefs; he also visited Washington later. Waukon Decorah was a great council chief and orator of his tribe.

The following treaties were signed by him:

August 1 19, 1825, Prairie des Chiens, Michigan Territory, as “Wan-ca-ha-g;,. or snake’s skin;”

August 25, 1828, Green Bay, Michigan Territory, as “Wau-kaun-haw-kaw, or snake skin;”

August 1, 1829, Prairie du Chien, Michigan Territory, as “Wau-kaun-hah-kaw, snake skin;”

September 15 1832, among those representing the Prairie du Chien deputation at Fort Armstrong, Rock Island, Ill., as “Wau-kaun-hah-kaw, or snake skin, (Day-kau-ray’):” November 1, 1837, Washington, D. C., as “Wa-kaun-ha-kah. (Snake Skin).”

In 1832, Mr. Burnett found him, with the principal part of his band from the Wisconsin and Kickapoo river, about sixty miles up the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien,’. This was during the Black Hawk war, at which time Waukon Decorah aided the whites. This chief belonged to the Mississippi river bands.

Mr. Saunders says, “Wakun-ha-ga had one son named Ma-he-ska-ga, or White Cloud;’ he is buried here on this reservation [Nebraska]. This man was known around Prairie du Chien and Lansing as John Waukon (there is a Charley Waukon who is now living at Lansing, Ia., but he is no relation to the Waukon Decorah family). John Waukon has one daughter, Mrs. Henry Big Fire, and two sons, Henry Smith (`Hunting Man’) and John Smith (`Che-wy-scha-ka’) still living. John Waukon was my father-in-law; my wife’s name, by birth and ,umber of female children, was Oc-see-ah-ho-no-nien-kaw. She lied February 21, 1913.”

Waukon Decorah’s portrait (recently identified), painted by I. O. Lewis3 at the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825, is shown in Lewis’ Aboriginal Portfolio. He is there called “Waa-kaunsee-kaa, or the Rattle Snake.” Its chief distinction is a turban composed of a stuffed rattlesnake, wound around the head, on which are some feathers: a blanket is draped around the lower part of his form, while a bunch of hair (evidently horsehair) is thrown over his arm.

Waukon Decorah evidently had adopted for his badge a stuffed snake skin, so that by some he was called “snake skin,” by others, “rattlesnake,” the former term, according to historical data, being more commonly used. Thomas McKenney, later United States Indian Commissioner, gives a portrait of this chief a McKenney and Hall’s “Indian Tribes,” with a biography. Here he is called “Wa-kaun-ha-ka, a Winnebago Chief.” In his biographic note McKenney speaks of “Wa-kaun-ha-ka” as a Derorah, moreover, he says that the subject was part French. The Wa-kaun-ha-ka of McKenney and the Waa-kaun-see-kaa of Lewis are portraits of the same person, and both coincide in the rattlesnake turban.

The variation in Indian names is not a formidable matter in identification. Mr. Lamere states that, “The literal translation of `Wa-kaun-see-kaa’ is `the Yellow Snake.”‘ Mr. Saunders says: “At times of feasts or medicine dances Wa-kun-ha-ga wore on his head a cap [turban] made of yellow rattlesnake skins; the feathers denote bravery in battle.” L. H. Bunnell mentions that the yellow rattlesnakes of the Mississippi bluffs were held as sacred by the Winnebagoes and Dakotas, who killed them only when a skin was required for a religious ceremony or dance.4

Miss Kellogg, research assistant to Reuben G. Thwaites5 , reports as follows: “We can unhesitatingly affirm, that there is every probability that this is the well known Winnebago known as Waukon Decorah. I think there can be no doubt that Lewis’s portrait is a genuine one, and correctly identified.”

Several historians6 of Iowa, it seems, have taken their accounts of Waukon Decorah from a statement originally made in the “Annals of Iowa,” 1866, by Eliphalet Price of Elkader, Clayton county. This contains numerous errors. The Waukon Decorah described as a very small Indian is not the person of that name known to Wisconsin history. Price says,7 “He was usually called `the Blind Decorah,’ having lost his right eye;” he further states that the meaning of Waukon Decorah is “White Snake.” In this he is also mistaken, as the previously given treaty signatures testify. Decorah is a corruption of the French surname De Carrie.

Footnotes

  1. Red Men of Iowa,” A. R. Fulton; 

  2. “The Making of Iowa,” Sal'; Red Men of Iowa,” A. R. Fulton. 

  3. Mr. J. O. Lewis was employed by the Indian Department from 1823 to 1834 to make portraits of the Indians, which was in furtherance of the clan of Hon. J. A. Barbour, Secretary of War. He accompanied Governor Lewis Cass and Colonel H. L. McKenney in their western tours, 1819 and 1829 and was present at the several treaties made by these gentlemen with the Chippewas, Winnebagoes, Sioux, Pottawattamies, and others. One of the folios contained a letter from General Cass in September, 1835, to Mr. Lewis, confirming the correctness of his pictures and commending to the public. The sketches made by Mr. Lewis were deposited in the Indian Office, War Department, at Washington and many of them were afterwards copied, at two different times, for the work of MeKenney and Hall.–Part 2, Smithsonian Report, 1885. 

  4. Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 134 

  5. Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. 

  6. A.R. Fulton, “The Red Men of Iowa;” B. F. Gue, History of Iowa,” Vol. 1; Sabin in “The Making of Iowa” also gives the same account. 

  7. In his article entitled ” Wakon Decorah,” Annals of Iowa, 1866. 


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