NLM healing totem journey – about the Ho-Chunk Nation (Black River Falls, WI)

From White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, the NLM Healing Totem continued to Black River Falls, Wisconsin, home of the Ho-Chunk Nation. (

Formerly known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, the members changed their name in 1993 to Ho-Chunk. The latter stems from the tribe’s original name, Hocak, meaning “Big Voice.”  The name Winnebago comes from Ouinepegi, which is what the nearby Algonquian tribes called them, meaning “smelly water”–a reference to the tribes that lived near Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, noted for its strong fish odor in summer.

The Ho-Chunk originally lived in the Great Lakes areas of Wisconsin and Illinois, but they were a far-flung tribe and traveled along the Fox, Mississippi, and Wisconsin Rivers where fishing and edible vegetation was bountiful. The tribes supported themselves with fishing, hunting, gathering, and even tending small farm gardens.

For decades, they traded with the French in the region, until English-speaking settlers began pushing into the area. The tribe, like many others, suffered great losses to smallpox epidemics in 1757 and again in 1836, losing perhaps a quarter of their population.

In 1836, after many years of encroachment by settlers who coveted the fertile farmlands in the region, the federal government forced the Ho-Chunk from their traditional lands in southern Wisconsin. During the next several decades, the tribe endured eleven forced relocations. In 1863, in the last relocation, the Ho-Chunk moved to a desolate reservation in South Dakota, a land starkly different from the lush forests and hunting grounds of Wisconsin. Through each relocation, many tribal members continued to return to their Wisconsin homeland.

Portrait of Two Standing Ho-Chunk Women

From the Charles Van Schaick Collection;  ca. 1885.
            Wisconsin Historical society

   Finally, the Ho-Chunk gained the right to exchange their lands in South Dakota for reservation lands near the friendly Omahas of Nebraska, who willingly agreed to the arrangement. The Ho-Chunk occupied their new reservation in 1865.

The Nation split at that point, with part returning to Wisconsin, and part moving to the reservation in Nebraska.  The Nebraska residents are known as the Winnebago.


Winnebago Wigwam with Indians amidst wigwams
From the Seth Eastman Collection
Wisconsin Historical society

  In 1874, the government extended the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862 to Native Americans and Ho-Chunk members claimed homesteads up to 80 acres within their homeland and were designated a separate tribe.



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