The Winnebago War of 1827

Published on February 13, 2013 by Carol

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The Winnebago War of 1827, also known as the Fevre Indian War or Fever River War, was a precursor to a much bigger war known as the Black Hawk War. The Winnebago War was primarily between the Winnebago (also known as Ho-Chunk) tribes, the militia and the US Army.

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On 19 Aug 1825 a treaty of peace was signed at Prairie du Chien and the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk), Sauk, Fox, Potawatomie, Sioux and other tribes and the United States. This treaty defined boundaries for all to keep peace among the tribes as well as between the incoming settlers and the tribes. The situation was relatively tense but peaceful. The lead boom in the southwestern corner of present day Wisconsin was causing some friction. There were hostilities among the tribes and it continued toward those who were encroaching upon tribal lands for their mines.

In 1826, the Method family was out gathering maple syrup and were murdered. This family lived in present day Iowa not far from Prairie du Chien. Six Winnebagos were accused. Four were later released, but two continued to be held in Prairie du Chien’s Fort Crawford.

Col Josiah Snelling, Commander of Fort Snelling, had gotten tired of all the factional fighting between the tribes and decided to remove Federal troops from the area to let them hash it out themselves. So when Fort Crawford’s Federal troops left for Fort Snelling, they took the two Winnebago prisoners with them. However, the other members of the tribes reported that the two had been murdered or turned over to a Chippewa tribe and tortured. This increased tensions between the Winnebagos and the settlers.

On 27 Jun 1827, a war party led by a warchief named Red Bird entered Prairie du Chien looking for revenge. They first went to the home of James Lockwood, a local merchant, but no one was home. They next went to the home of Registe Gagnier, whose home was southwest of Prairie du Chien. Gagnier welcomed Red Bird and his party, as he knew Red Bird. The meeting turned violent and Registe was shot and his hired man Solomon Lipcap was murdered as well. Mrs Gagnier grabbed her three year old son and fled to a neighbor’s leaving behind her one year old daughter. Registe and Solomon were scalped and the daughter was partially scalped but lived. This spread fear among the settlers and a militia was formed to protect the settlers around Prairie du Chien.

Meanwhile, Red Bird and his party went north to the area now known as LaCrosse, Wisconsin. In July, they attacked two keelboats taking supplies to Fort Snelling, wounding two sailors and wounding four others. Seven of their party died. A series of further attacks continued on the settlers. Red Bird and his followers killed some settlers on the Lower Wisconsin River. Members of Powatomie and Sauk tribes joined him.

On 5 Jul, Lewis Cass, Governor of Michigan Territory (present day Wisconsin included), while in Galena, learned of the hostilities and order Lt Thomas Martin and Abner Field to form a militia and head to Fort Crawford. On 10 Jul, Cass wrote to the Secretary of War informing him of the difficulties. On 15 Jul, Federal Troops from Jefferson Barracks in present day Missouri headed toward Fort Crawford under Brig Gen Henry Atkinson. On 27 Jul, Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards ordered one-fourth of Gen James Harrison’s brigade to prepare to meet any attacks. He also ordered Col Thomas M Neale to recruit 600 militia volunteers from the Sangamon River area. These auxilliaries were placed under the command of Gen Henry Dodge and supplemented Gen Atkinson’s troops. Gen Atkinson arrived in Prairie du Chien 29 Jul. A month later, the combined force worked its way up the Wisconsin River towards Portage, hoping a show of force would work to their advantage.

On 27 Sep, rather than face open warfare, Red Bird and the other chiefs surrendered at Portage. Red Bird died in confinement. Others who had taken part in the War were executed. White Cloud, Black Hawk and others were pardoned by the president and released.

Although a treaty was attempted in 1828, it was not successful. In Aug 1829, a treaty was signed at Prairie du Chien in which the Winnebagos ceded northern Illinois to the United States for $540,000 over thirty years and $30,000 worth of goods immediately. This, unfortunately, was not the end. Although there were no outright conflicts for the next couple of years, tensions were high.

Source: Legendsofamerica Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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