Aftermath of Winnebago War

Published on September 18, 2012 by Casey

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Aftermath of Winnebago War
Land ceded to the U.S. at Prairie du Chien in 1829 by the Three Fires Confederacy (in yellow) and the Ho-Chunk tribe (in orange)

Aftermath of Winnebago War

In diplomatic talks with the Ho-Chunks at the close of the war, General Atkinson promised that the U.S. government would look into their grievances in the lead mining region. Thomas McKenney requested military aid to evict American miners who were trespassing on Ho-Chunk land, but after the war, settlers poured into the region in unprecedented numbers, and U.S. officials proved to be unable or unwilling to stem the tide. By January 1828, there were as many as 10,000 illegal settlers on Ho-Chunk land, including militia general Henry Dodge, who established a mining camp after the war and boasted that the U.S. Army could not make him leave. Having no other options, on August 25, 1828, the Ho-Chunks signed a provisional treaty with the United States, agreeing to sell the land occupied by the miners in a more formal treaty to be held later.

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Eight Ho-Chunks were detained by the U.S. government at Fort Crawford for trial after the war. American officials most wanted to convict Red Bird, believing that he had been the leader of the uprising. This belief, according to historian Martin Zanger, was based on an American failure to understand the decentralized nature of Ho-Chunk society. “Because Red Bird was well known to the white frontiersmen,” writes Zanger, “they focused their resentment on him, mistakenly attributing to him a leadership role he did not deserve.” Red Bird was never tried; he contracted dysentery and died in prison on February 16, 1828, before his trial got underway.

The trials were delayed due to the difficulties in bringing together witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and interpreters. The proceedings finally began in August 1828, with Judge James Duane Doty presiding. Wau-koo-kau and Man-ne-tah-peh-keh, the two warriors imprisoned for the 1826 murders of the Methode family, were released due to a lack of witnesses, as were three Ho-Chunks held for the attack on the keelboats. Only two men, Wekau and Chickhonsic, were prosecuted. According to historian Patrick Jung, it became clear during the trial that Red Bird had committed the murders at the Gagnier cabin, and that there was not enough evidence to convict Wekau and Chickhonsic. Despite this, the white and métis jury found them guilty. Judge Doty sentenced them to hang, as he was required to do by law. Their lawyer filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the jury had ignored the evidence, and so Doty suspended the death sentences.

On November 3, 1828, President John Quincy Adams, having been told that the executions would likely spark another uprising, pardoned the prisoners in exchange for a land cession. In July and August 1829, in treaties signed at Prairie du Chien, the Ho-Chunks and the Three Fires Confederacy formally ceded the lead mining region to the United States for annual payments of $16,000 and $18,000 respectively.

Hoping to prevent further uprisings, the United States decided to strengthen its military presence in the region after the Winnebago War. Fort Crawford was reoccupied, as was Fort Dearborn in Chicago, which had been abandoned in 1823. A new outpost, Fort Winnebago, was built in October 1828 at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

The conflict also helped to promote a change in U.S. policy regarding Native Americans. Previously, many Americans had argued that Indians should be “civilized” and assimilated into white American society. But for some, the Winnebago War discredited the idea that Indians and Americans could live peaceably together. In his State of the Union Address of December 2, 1828, outgoing President Adams announced that the “civilization” policy had been a failure, and that Indian removal—moving the tribes to the West—was the policy of the future. That policy would be taken up by Adams’s successor, Andrew Jackson.

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