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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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The 1840 Winnebago Removal

By E.W. Keyes - From The Milwaukee Sentinel - October 7, 1895
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

The 1840 March of Federal Troop Across Wisconsin Territory
Recalled by the March of the Fort Sheridan Troopers
United States Soldiers that were sent to drive the Struggling Winnebagoes to Their New Homes West of the Mississippi River - Even the Indian Wives of White Men were compelled to leave their Husbands and Homes

It is an old saying that history repeats itself. The events of this season have called this strongly to mind. The march of Federal soldiers across the state, a detachment of the regular army of the United States, in an important epoch, and should not lightly be passed by. The organization of the regular army commands the respect, obedience and regard of the people, and it naturally attracts great attention. The march of a hundred cavalrymen or more from Fort Sheridan to Camp Douglas was an incident of great interest, and especially for me. This force, proceeding on its line of march, camped over night at Lake Mills, near the lake. Fifty-five years before almost to the day, there camped upon the shore of this same beautiful lake 100 cavalrymen, or dragoons, as they were then called.

But the first band was on a different mission. It was in the interest of peace through the strong arm of power. There were then no cities, no villages, no farms, and scarcely any settlements. These soldiers roamed over the territory under orders from the government to gather in scattering remnants of the tribe of Winnebago Indians, who had violated their treaty obligation by returning to their old hunting grounds, after they had removed to their new home west of the Mississippi River. The early settlers had become alarmed at the presence of so many Indians in the settlement. Governor Dodge took in the situation and had measures taken by the government for their removal.

In early June 1840, 1,500 Federal troops had assembled at Fort Winnebago, near Portage City, for the purpose of accomplishing the work at hand.  It was hoped and expected that the removal would be peaceable, but there was a force strong enough for any emergency. The troops were concentrated at that point, because the Rock River Band had refused to come to the council. On the arrival of the troops, however, the most of them reported, and were sent down the Wisconsin River in pursuance of an arrangement made with General Atkinson. A little later in the month most of the Indians had been removed, but there were a number in the Rock River country who refused to go, and the dragoons were sent there and into other parts of the interior of the territory to pick them up. It was not long after this that General Atkinson with the main body of the men under his command, retired from the territory.

At this time General Henry Dodge was governor of the territory and James D. Doty was the delegate in congress, and a most bitter and relentless war, political and otherwise, existed between these two old pioneers; each seeking to get the advantage of the other in some matter, in ways perhaps questionable, and by methods not exactly honorable. In referring to the Indian troubles here, Mr. Doty, in an address to the people of the United States, issued in September 1840, which was a general arraignment of the policy of the Democratic administration in its management of the territory, in speaking of President Van Buren, he said, 'He has endangered the peace of the frontier by compelling by a military force the Winnebago Indians to remove from the country and before the government had fulfilled its own part of the stipulations of the treaty with that tribe.' Governor Dodge emphatically represented the feelings and interests of the settlers, and after the removal of the Indians had been accomplished in his message to the special session of the Territorial Legislature, which met in August 1840, he said, 'The removal of the Winnebagos will enable our enterprising citizens to extend their settlements to a desirable and interesting country north of the Wisconsin River.' The presence of these Indians had given the pioneer settlers great annoyance and their peaceable removal west of the Mississippi River was a subject of congratulations among the settlers, to which the Governor had given expression in his message.

It must have been about July 1, 1840 that the dragoons, about 100 strong, returning from its hunt for Indians, came out of the oaks into the open, near father's log house and sawmill, the only evidence of settlement at the time at that place. They came over the ferry across the Rock River branch at Aztalan. A short time previously my father had cut out a road, four rods wide, from the mill to the ferry, and hearing that the dragoons were coming through on that line of march, he anticipated their coming by sending a messenger to Captain Low of Portage, who was the guide in charge of the expedition, requesting him to march in the line of the cut out road, which deviated somewhat from the old Indian trial, for the purpose of beating down the grass and making a track through the tramping of the horses, of the road. From the oak openings the troopers swung around by the bridge across the stream, after they inquired for a suitable camping grounds for the nigh. This was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The mill was shutdown, the wheels ceased to turn, while a dozen or more of the men, women and children, all told, of this settlement, gathered along the line of march, in awe, wonder and astonishment at such a war like demonstration. The force soon moved on to its camping ground, at the head of what was then called Keyes' Lake, and pitched their tents on favorable ground on the shore, at the north point of what is now known as Tyranena Park, the picturesque summer home of the Reverend Mr. Updike of Madison. All that could be spared from the house and mill, included the men and boys, followed the troopers in the early evening to their camping ground and entered into friendly relations with them. I remember I disposed of all my extra fishhooks and lines to the troopers in exchange for powder and ball cartridges, fitted for the carbine, which was the arm then in use loading the muzzle. The force went into camp early that afternoon, as it contemplated an early start for Madison the next morning, as they wished to ride on to that point unheralded and unannounced, for the purpose of gathering in the straggling Winnebagos, full bloods and half breeds, of that tribe before there was any suspicion of their coming, to afford an opportunity of escape.

Able Razdall, an old pioneer, had a Winnebago squaw for his wife, and she was his second wife from this tribe of aborigines, but the relationship she sustained to her husband did not permit her to remain, and she with her half-breed papooses were gathered in with the rest of the tribe. The dragoons arrived here early in the day, and their coming was only known when they surrounded Razdall's log cabin, and had posted their men on the plat of ground between the lakes, where it was supposed there might be Indians, taking in the wigwams upon the lake shore, as a matter of course. The whole thing was done so quietly that little excitement was occasioned. The Razdall squaw had to leave her white lord and master, and she protested vigorously in her native tongue against the great wrong, but there was no help for her, she had to go.  The decree was inexorable, and besides it was understood that her companion of the white race was decidedly anxious that she should go, and not to stand upon the order of her going, but to go at once. The poor old squaw, therefore, with her papooses, her pots and kettles, her blankets and her few other possessions were packed on two Indian ponies, and followed on the line of march, in company with numerous others of her tribe to their new home west of the Mississippi River. An eye witness related that as the poor old squaw bade adieu to her half civilized home, her white husband and to the beautiful site of he City of the Lakes, she gave vent to great weeping and wailing and to unutterable sorrow, as expressed in a manner peculiar to her race.

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