.. ul all exist. Origin myths, such as the origin myth of the medicine dance, placed an Earthmaker, or Great Spirit, as the giver of life, and other spirits as his intermediaries. Through both the spirits and shamans, the Earthmaker bestowed blessings upon the Winnebago people. The tribe also believed in a creature dubbed the Trickster (Radin 1956).
The Trickster is an impulsive creative and destructive force who does not consciously make any decisions. He does not understand the concepts of good or evil, but he is nonetheless responsible for both. He is not moral or social because he possesses no values, yet somehow it is through his actions that all values came into being. He is not however the only being in the Winnebago religion that possesses such powers, other various supernatural beings, as well as man and the animals are connected with the same characteristics. In recent times, other religious ideas have permeated into the Winnebago society. Two apparently related revival movements have occurred within the Winnebago society (Radin 1990).
The first is the teachings of the Shawnee Prophet. He proposed that all Native American tribes must return to the older, purer way of life that they lived before contact with the Europeans. The second is the peyote (mescal) religion. Peyote was apparently brought to the tribe by a man named Rave when he returned from a trip to Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. The man claimed that eating peyote cured him of disease. Later, elements of Christianity were mixed with the ingestion of peyote.
The peyote cult spread quickly along family lines and is still practiced today in many Native American tribes, including the Winnebago. The Winnebago tribe first encountered white men in 1634 when Jean Nicollet, an agent for Governor Champlain of France, sent him to the Green Bay area. The tribe’s pre-contact population is estimated to be about 8,000 people. Many believe that it was likely much higher. When Nicollet revisited the Winnebago in 1639, he estimated that the tribe had about 5,000 warriors. Such a number suggests a total population of around 20,000 Winnebagos living in the area.
The higher figure, if true, would be consistent with the Winnebago’s oral tradition which states that, due to over-population, several large groups, such as the Iowa, Oto, and Missouri tribes, left the Winnebago tribe a short time before Nicollet’s initial visit. For many reasons, such as epidemic disease and war in the region, when the French returned to the area 30 years later, the Winnebago consisted of fewer than 500 people. From near-extinction, the Winnebago tribe began a slow repopulation. In 1736, the French estimated the tribe to contain only about 700 members. Their population soon grew rapidly through intermarriage with neighboring Algonquin.
As a result, the purest Winnebago bloodline may actually be the Iowa, Oto, and Missouri tribes. It should be noted, however, that even after intermarriage with Algonquin, the Winnebago made few changes to their traditional social and political structures. Remarkably, at a time in history when other native populations were declining, the Winnebago’s numbers actually increased. In 1825, American Indian agents in Wisconsin estimated the Winnebago tribe’s population to be around 5,800 people. Even after a smallpox epidemic in 1835, the tribe’s numbers only dropped to about 4,500 members.
The first accurate count of Winnebago peoples was done in 1842 after they were removed by the United States Federal Government from Wisconsin to Fort Atkinson, Iowa. At the time, there were 2,200 Winnebago living in Iowa, and an unknown population attempting to remain in Wisconsin. With Iowa statehood in 1846, the Winnebago were removed again. In 1845, the Winnebago exchanged their Iowa lands for an 800,000 acre reservation in Minnesota. The move placed the Winnebago as a buffer between the warring Dakota Sioux and Ojibwe tribes.
Some Winnebago managed to remain in Iowa, but most of the tribe was removed to Minnesota during the late 1840’s. The new location consisted of poor soil and a short growing season, not to mention the constant battles taking place there between the Dakota Sioux and the Ojibwe. The Ojibwe used the Winnebago reservation as a battleground to attack the Dakota Sioux. As a result, in 1856, the Federal Government allowed the Winnebago to exchange the reservation for another located farther south in Minnesota. Unfortunately, as the Winnebago tribe’s population declined, they were forced to surrender a portion of their reservation in 1859 because it was deemed by the Federal Government to be “excess lands.” In 1862, the Winnebago were again forcibly gathered together and deported by the Federal Government. This time, they were sent by steamboat to the Crow Creek reservation of the Yankton Sioux in South Dakota. Conditions were unbearable at the Yankton Sioux reservation.
Many members of the Winnebago tribe attempted to return to Minnesota or Wisconsin. The remaining 1,200 Winnebago living in South Dakota fled down the Missouri River to the Omaha reservation in eastern Nebraska for refuge. In 1865, the Federal Government finally accepted the Winnebago self-relocation and purchased 40,000 acres from the Omaha tribe to provide them with their own reservation. Again in 1868, in the Federal Indian Bureau’s infinite wisdom, a plan was proposed to once again relocate the Winnebago tribe. This time, they wanted to remove the Winnebago to North Dakota so that they could act as a buffer between the Lakota Sioux and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes. The Winnebago promptly declined the offer, and unbelievably, the Federal Government left them in Nebraska.
During this time, Winnebago men and women were regularly being arrested in Wisconsin and returned to their reservation in Nebraska. Within a month, the same individuals were usually already back in Wisconsin. In 1875, after ten years of arresting the same Winnebago over and over again, the Federal Government purchased homestead lands in Wisconsin for the Winnebago, and let them remain there if they wished. As a consequence of this purchase, over half of the Nebraska Winnebago returned to Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and have remained there sprinkled across ten counties ever since. The Winnebago who remained in Nebraska eventually lost a portion of their reservation to whites through the Allotment Policy which took effect in 1887.
Currently, both the Nebraska and Wisconsin Winnebago tribes are federally recognized. For this paper, due to their close geographic proximity to myself, I chose to concentrate on the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. The Winnebago tribe of Nebraska currently operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska). They are governed by a tribal council which consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and nine other elected council members. The Chairman is elected from within the tribal council and acts as the administrative head of the Tribe for a one year term, while other Council members serve three year terms. The Winnebago Tribal Headquarters is located on the 30,647 acre Winnebago reservation which houses 1,204 members in Thurston County, Nebraska.
At this time, 3,736 Winnebago Indians have tribal membership in the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Remarkably, unlike many other Native American tribes, the Winnebago still own over ninety percent of reservation lands, despite the fact that much of it is allotted to individual tribal members. The majority of employment available on the reservation is currently provided by “WinneVegas” (the tribal Casino), the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the tribe itself. Anthropology.