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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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From The Oshkosh City Times - December 22, 1869
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Os-KoshStanding today on Main Street and viewing the surroundings of civilization and improvements that everywhere meet the eye, it seems hard to realize the fact, that but very few years have elapsed since the white man's right to the soil was acquired from its original possessors, and that there are those yet among us who remember it in all its wildness and who were familiar with the character, and features of the original proprietors.

Previous to the year 1836, the large tract of land lying between the Fox and Mississippi Rivers, as well as a large tract on the east shore of Lake Winnebago, was the undisturbed possession of the Omannominail, or as they are better known Menomonees Indians,* a large, brave, and powerful tribe, peaceful, industrious and friendly to the Whites. Old French records speak of them as living on the Bay des Puants (Green Bay) as long ago as 1669, in friendly intercourse with the Jesuits, a friendship that, from that day to this, has never been broken.

But that indomitable race, whose energy has, in so short a time, overrun nearly the whole of this vast continent, in the course of time, made its influence felt in the then far west; and today, of the whole of this once powerful and brave tribe, a few degenerate outcasts are slowly dying out on twelve meager townships of land, the sole remains of their once vast possessions. So powerfully have the white race and civilization crowded out, and nearly annihilated the red man.

The Menomonees appear to have always been characterized, by gentleness and humanity, and, while their reputation for courage was always high, they, at the same time, do not appear to have been so constantly engaged in war, as some of their more pugnacious neighbors, nor were they engaged in hostility with the whites.

As to their origin or previous history but little is known, nor is it within the scope of this article to inquire, for our subject is not the nation, but the late chief, after whom our city is named.

Oskosh, or as the name is now erroneously written 'Oshkosh' was the son of Chay-kauch-o-ka-ma or 'The Old Chief' and was born some where on the banks of the lower Fox River, about the close of the last century. His name in the Menomonee language means 'Brave.'

Of the history of his early life, no particulars have reached us, and its course was, probably, unmarked by any events of interest.

In the year 1827, a 'talk' was had at Little Butte des Mortes, and a treaty was formed under Governor Cass of Michigan, by virtue of which, certain lands belonging to the tribe were ceded to the Oneida and Stockbridge Indians; at the same time, Chay-kauch-o-ka-ma, having lately died, Oskosh, in spite of rival claims on the part of Corron, and other leading chiefs of the tribe was declared to be the regular and legitimate Chief by right of descent, he being then about fifty years of age.

In 1836, in a treaty made at Cedar Point, some four million acres of land lying between the Fox and Wolf Rivers, and comprising a large portion of the present counties of Winnebago and Outagamie, together with a strip of land, 3 miles wide, lying along either side of the Wisconsin River, from the Plover River, southward to near the Grignon place, were ceded to the whites, Oskosh appearing as chief of the tribe, and conducting the negotiation, on their behalf.

As a consequence of this action of the tribe, they were now moved on to a new reservation, being what is still known as 'The Indian Land,' and is that section of country lying between Lakes Poygun and Winneconne, the principle village and pay ground being at Poygun City, directly south of the mouth of the Wolf River, where it empties into Poygun Lake.

Here they were suffered to remain till about the year 1848, when an effort was made to induce them to move on to a new reservation, in Minnesota, above Fort Ripley, and near the mouth of the Crow Wing River, an important tributary of the Mississippi River.

This proposed new reservation, Oskosh, in company with Capt. Powell, Col. Bruce and others, went out to explore. He found it situated near the boundary line between the Chippewa and Sioux, two powerful tribes, who for as far back as their traditions reach, have been continually at war, one with the other. The country was also destitute of game and no rice was to be found, in the neighborhood, so that, in the event of their moving to this place, the tribe would have been without their principle means of subsistence and compelled to follow out a new way of getting a living, for which they were wholly untrained and unprepared.

These things Oskosh saw very clearly, were not good for his people and an intimation from the Sioux, 'that the presence of the Menomonee was not wanted in those parts,' no doubt assisted him in forming a determination not to have his people moved there, if possible.

Accordingly, on his return to the tribe he represented these facts, so strongly, that they determined, unanimously, not to make the treaty, but remain where they were.

Further negotiations were then commenced, till at last, in 1849 a treaty was signed which gave control of the whole country, of which the Menomonees had held undisturbed possession for centuries, except twelve townships of land, lying on the Wolf River, at its falls, and embracing Ranges 13, 14, 15, 16, East of Towns 28, 29, and 30, and of this tract, two or three towns were afterwards ceded to the Stockbridge Indians.

Shortly after the conclusion of this treaty, Oskosh in company with R. Thompson, of Terre Haute, Indiana and G.W. Ewing of St. Louis, went to Washington D.C., to make arrangements for the removal of the tribe, and while there discovered that a large amount of the annuity, due on the previous treaties made with his tribe was yet unpaid, and on his return home laid the matter before his people.

An effort at a compromise was made by Huebschmann, the superintendent, in which effort he was assisted by Corron, the same who in the treaty at Little Butte des Mortes, in 1827, had opposed the accession of Oskosh in the chieftaincy.

The facts of the case are that Mr. Medile, the Commissioner, misrepresented the amount of both land and money he was authorized to offer by the United States as payment for the lands ceded by the Menomonees, amounting, in the whole, to some forty thousand dollars. On his return to Keshena, Oskosh found that Huebschmann had called the tribe together without giving any general notice and was trying to smuggle through a treaty, by which the Menomonees should only claim twenty thousand dollars, and Corron was urging the completion of the treaty having induced all the other chiefs, except Oskosh, to sign it.

Corron, indeed, who bears the reputation of being a turbulent, factious character, seems, on every occasion, as much as was possible, to have thwarted and opposed Oskosh, in all his measures, for the good of the tribe. For a long time, the Chief refused to affix his signature to the treaty, and this alone was wanting to render it complete and valid. But yielding at length to persuasion he; with great reluctance signed his name, and the compromise was effected by which the Menomonee Nation was a heavy loser.

Meanwhile, in the year 1852, the removal of the nation to Keshena was accomplished. Mr. G.W. Ewing being the contractor, therefore, and the late Capt. E.F. Drummond, of New London and Capt. J.F. Williams, at present a resident of our city, being the immediate superintendents of the matter.

This was Oskosh's last public act; till his death in 1858, he lived a quiet and, in his way, useful life at Keshena, hunting diligently and in this way, setting a good example to his tribe. The later years, however, were marked by drunkenness and dissipation, which was eventually, the cause of his death.

The latter part of the summer of 1858, Oshkosh, and his sons became involved in a dispute, touching upon the ownership of a chest of tools, which had been given them by the government. On one occasion, when the old man was under the influence of liquor, he was arguing with his sons on this matter, and, at the time, was standing near the head of a ladder that served as a stairway to the second story of his house. Whether he was pushed or whether he overbalanced himself, appears by no means certain, but he sustained injuries by falling down the ladder from the effects of which he died, being then in his sixtieth year of his age.

He left behind him three sons, A-conn-a-mie, Cach-i-cau-no-niew and Ne-wau-pet, and it was his wish that Ne-wau-pet, the youngest, should succeed him as Chief. This, however, was not the case and A-conn-a-mie, the eldest, is at present, head chief of the Menomonee tribe.

There appears to have been a dispute among the sons, as to the right of succession, which was, however, finally settled in favor of A-conn-a-mie by general consent of the tribe.

Thus ended the life of one whose career, in many respects, was somewhat remarkable and is intimately connected with the early history of this city and its vicinity: whose early days saw his tribe in free and undisturbed possession of a large and beautiful tract of fertile country, who in manhood, saw the gradual curtailment of these possessions, by successive treaties, until his declining years saw his people, crowded by civilization, into the contracted Keshena Reservation, there patient to await the inevitable doom of their race, -- extermination.

To a man, thoughtful and intelligent as Oskosh was, this gradual extinction of the power and prosperity of his tribe must have been humiliating and embittering to the last degree and it is but charitable to think that the intemperance that disgraced the last few years of his life was an effort to drown reflections and forget his sorrows.

As to his character and disposition all who were ever acquainted with him, unite in describing him as an honest and upright man, very quiet and gentlemanly in his manner, sociable, free and unrestrained in conversation and generous and open handed in disposition. His reputation as a hunter and trapper was most excellent, and he is spoken of as being the last one of his tribe that followed up the arduous and difficult labor of trapping beaver, which he did, diligently and successfully, on the headwaters of the Black River. In personal appearance his features were intelligent and regular, and in this, the woodcut at the head of this article hardly does him justice. In the early settlement of this city, he was a constant and welcomed guest among nearly all of the principle men, and his manner and behavior were such as would disgrace no society.

His home was mostly in the area of Big Butte des Mortes, or near the trading post of Amabel Grignon, on the Wisconsin River, during the summer, and in the winter he flowed up his trapping on the headwaters the Black River.

In this brief history of his life we have endeavored to procure as accurate information as possible, and are under obligation to many of our citizens and neighbors, among who are Louis Porlier, Joseph Jackson and others, who were personal acquaintances of Oshkosh, and from whom we have derived most of the facts in relation to him.

Menomonee is a corruption of the Chippeway word Mah-nom-o-nee signifying 'Wild Rice,' and was the name given to the tribe by the Chippeways, probably from the chief article of consumption among them and from the country where they lived abounding in this production.  By the Treaty of 1825, the boundaries of the Menomonee Nation were marked as follows" On the east shore of Green Bay and Lake Michigan to the Mah-na-wau-kee (Milwaukee River);on the north, commencing at a point on Black River, one-half a day's journey from its mouth, thence to the Plover Portage, thence to a point on the Wolf River, one-half way between Ashaunau and Post Lakes, thence to the Falls of Peshtigo, thence to the junction of the Burnt-wood and Menomonee Rivers, and thence to the mouth of the Escanaba River and across the bay to beginning of this line.

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