Menominee Indians, along with the Winnebago and Ojibwe (Chippewa), were one of the original tribes of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.
Their residence in this area may have been for at least 5,000 years. Their earliest known location was on the Menominee River which forms the current border between northeast Wisconsin and Upper Michigan with their original territory extending north to Escanaba, Michigan and south to Oconto, Wisconsin.
Also spelled Menomini, Menominee is from their own language meaning “good seed” or “wild-rice people.”
Other names were: Addle-Heads, Folles Avoines (French), Folsavoins (French), Kagi (Winnebago), Malhomini, Malouminek, Mendmene, Mineamie, Nation de la Folle Avoine (French), Nepaming, Omanomini (Ojibwe), Wild Oat People, and Wild Rice People (or Men).
Because of their relatively light complexions, the Menominee have also been called the “White Indians.”
Other tribes occupying Wisconsin before 1600 were the Dakota (Sioux) in the northwest, the Illinois in the south, and the Cheyenne in the west-central area of the state.
Contact with French fur traders after 1667 caused the Menominee to extend their range west while hunting for fur. Further expansion occurred after the French and Great Lakes Algonquin victory over the Iroquois in 1701.
Afterwards, the refugee tribes began to leave Wisconsin and return east. The once-numerous Winnebago had almost been destroyed by war and epidemic during the preceding 60 years, and the Menominee spread south and west filling the empty space.
At their greatest extent, the Menominee controlled most of central Wisconsin as far south as Milwaukee – almost 10 million acres.
White settlement and commercial logging rapidly reduced their land base after 1832.
Following several treaties and land cessions, in 1856 the Menominee were confined to a 235,000 acre reservation in northeastern Wisconsin.
Despite attempts to remove them to Minnesota, they have remained on this reservation to the present-day.
Fluctuations in Menoninee Populations
Before European contact, the Menominee were a relatively small tribe on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Conservative estimates of their original population are less than 2,000, while the most optimistic do not exceed 4,000.
In size, they resembled other Algonquin tribes in the area such as the Noquet, Kitchigami, Assegun (Bone), and Mundua which later disappeared or were absorbed by the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and the Menominee themselves.
The Menominee, however, came very close to sharing this fate. When the French reached Green Bay in 1667, wars and epidemics which had swept Wisconsin after refugee tribes arrived in the 1650s had reduced the Menominee to about 400.
From the point of near-extinction, the Menominee population slowly recovered, reaching 850 in 1736, 1,100 in 1764, and 1,350 by 1806.
The American Indian agent in 1829 got a little enthusiastic and estimated there were 4,200 Menominee. This was either outright fraud or included neighboring tribes. A more accurate census during 1854 gave 1,930 in seven villages.
Numbers continued to decline, and despite adding a group of landless Potawatomi and French mixed-bloods during the 1870s, the Menominee had dropped to 1,422 by 1910 – the low point.
The United States Indian Office in 1937 gave 2,221 which increased to 3,720 by 1957. Current enrollment of the federally recognized Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is close to 7,200 – 3,400 of whom live on their reservation just west of Green Bay.
Pre-Contact Band Names:
Mato Suamako Tusininiu
Misinimak Kimiko Wininiwuk
Muhwao Sepeo Wininiwuk
Namao Wikito Tusiniu
Nomakokon Sepeo Tusininiwug
Wiskos Sepeo Wininiwuk
1800s Band Names
The Menominee were an Eastern Woodland Culture which in manner and dress resembled the neighboring Ojibwe long buckskin pants, breechcloth, and long hair usually adorned with a fur roach and feathers.
The most noticeable difference would have been a distinct Algonquin dialect related to that spoken by the Cree or Fox Indians.
They were too far north for reliable corn cultivation – a fact of life the refugee tribes quickly discovered after they had relocated to the area during the 1650s.
Instead, the Menominee provided for themselves through a combination of hunting, fishing, and gathering (particularly wild rice which was a staple of their diet).
In fact, they relied so heavily on wild rice they referred to themselves as Wild Rice People which in its French form became Folles Avoines.
Like most Native Americans, the Menominee adapted to their circumstances, and after they had spread south into areas with better soil and longer growing seasons, they practiced a limited amount of agriculture.
Large villages of rectangular longhouses in fixed locations were favored in the summer, but like other Algonquin, the Menominee separated into hunting groups of extended families and small domed wigwams during winter.
Villages usually were not fortified until after warfare became common in northern Wisconsin during the 1650s.
Menominee kinship is patrilineal
They have totemic clans grouped in two divisions for ceremonial and social purposes.
As indicated by the number of older bands listed above, Menominee tribal organization before contact was loosely organized without central authority.
This changed with the arrival of the refugees and the resultant warfare.
At later dates a tribal council decided civil matters with a war chief taking command only during war.
The fur trade also changed the Menominee economy with emphasis shifting from the gathering of wild rice to hunting for profit.
Like other tribes in the region, the Menominee referred to Americans as “Long Knives.”
A most noteworthy characteristic of the Menominee was their amazing ability to survive as an independent tribe in the midst of large and powerful neighbors such as the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Winnebago.
Their initial resistance to encroachment almost resulted in their destruction, but the Menominee adapted to the changed situation and maintained good relations with these tribes.
The French Jesuits who visited them during the 1660s only stayed until 1680. As a result, the Menominee remained traditional in religion until Franciscan missionaries arrived in 1831.
By 1855 more than half of the Menominee were Roman Catholic. This religious affiliation has remained, although many Menominee today prefer either the Presbyterian or Assembly of God churches.
The traditional Big Drum religion also has a sizeable following.
Historically important Menominee chiefs include Tomah, Oshkosh, and Grizzly Bear.
Menominee tradition indicates their original homeland was farther north near Sault Ste. Marie and Michilimackinac.
At some period before European contact (probably around 1400), they were forced southwest to the Menominee River by arrival of the Ojibwe and Potawatomi from the east.
The first Frenchman to meet with the Menominee was Jean Nicollet while he was enroute in 1634 to the Winnebago villages to the south at Green Bay.
Returning to the area in 1639, Nicollet noted that the Menominee were subject to the Winnebago at La Baye (Green Bay).
During the next 30 years, the relatively stable conditions in northern Wisconsin were altered by outside forces.
Driven from their homelands in the eastern Great Lakes by the Iroquois as part of the Beaver Wars (1630-1700), thousands of refugees (Huron, Tionontati, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Mascouten, Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo) fled west and relocated to northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
Similar pressures also forced the Ojibwe (Chippewa) to expand their territory south and west from Sault Ste. Marie.
The invasion overwhelmed and almost destroyed the resident Winnebago and Menominee and provoked warfare in the west with the Dakota.
By the 1660s, the competition for the available resources had turned Wisconsin into a land of war, epidemic, and starvation.
For the Menominee, this meant the “Sturgeon War” with the Ojibwe which occurred sometime around 1658.
The origins of this conflict lay with the Menominee creation of a series of weirs on the Menominee River to catch the sturgeon which entered the river from Lake Michigan to spawn.
Unfortunately, these weirs meant that none of sturgeon could make their way upstream to the Ojibwe villages which also depended on them for food.
After their warnings to remove the weirs were ignored, the Ojibwe attacked and destroyed a Menominee village. Too few to retaliate by themselves, the Menominee called upon the Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, and Noquet living near Green Bay and spread the conflict well-beyond its original participants.
Meanwhile, Iroquois war parties had followed the refugees west to Wisconsin and were attacking just about everybody.
The horrid conditions in Wisconsin during the 1650s began with a series of events which occurred a thousand miles to the east. French trade and weapons had allowed the Algonkin and Montagnais to drive the Iroquois from the St. Lawrence Valley in 1610.
The Iroquois, however, soon were trading with the Dutch along the Hudson River.
After defeating the Mahican in 1628, the Iroquois dominated trade with the Dutch and were ready to reclaim territory along the St. Lawrence they had been forced to surrender in 1610.
By 1645 the Iroquois had brought the French fur trade to a standstill by seizing control of the lower Ottawa Valley and blocking access to the western Great Lakes.
With fewer than 400 Frenchmen in North America at this time, the French had to make peace with the Iroquois, and this forced them to remain neutral while the Iroquois destroyed the Huron in 1649. Within the next three years, the other French allies had suffered a similar fate.
In the years which followed, the French protected their fragile truce with the Iroquois by halting all of their travel to the west. At the same time, they encouraged what remained of their former allies and trading partners to bring furs to Montreal.
Only the Ottawa, Huron, and Ojibwe dared to attempt this by forming large canoe fleets to force their way past Iroquois war parties on the Ottawa River.
The Iroquois responded by attacking the refugee villages in Wisconsin. Peace ended between the French and Iroquois in 1658, but by then, things had changed.
Officially encouraged immigration had swelled the French population in Canada allowing them to better resist Iroquois attacks. In 1664 a regiment of French soldiers arrived in Quebec and began a series of attacks on villages in the Iroquois homeland. About the same time, the French resumed travel to the western Great Lakes.
In 1665 fur trader Nicolas Perrot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and four other Frenchmen accompanied a large Huron and Ottawa trading party on its return journey.
After fighting their way past the Iroquois in the Ottawa Valley, they finally reached Green Bay just at the approach of winter. This was first visit of the French to the area since Nicolet, and there had been drastic change.
The original Wisconsin tribes (Menominee and Winnebago) had almost been exterminated. Allouez reported there were less than 400 Menominee (10% of their original number), and the once numerous and dominant Winnebago had been reduced to a remnant by epidemic and war.
Chaos reigned, but the French could do little until a peace was concluded with the Iroquois in 1667. Stung by French attacks on their homeland and needing to deal with their eastern enemies, the Iroquois extended the peace to include the tribes of the western Great Lakes.
The peace lasted thirteen years allowing the French, not only to resume their fur trade, but to bring some stability to the region. Perrot established a trading post at La Baye (Green Bay) in 1667, and French missionaries followed two years later.
Although the Jesuits visited the Menominee, most of their efforts were concentrated on the Huron and Ottawa (with whom there had been earlier converts), and for the most part, the Menominee kept their traditional religion for the time being.
Trade was a different matter, and the Menominee underwent a fundamental economic change and became hunters for profit.
Competition for hunting territory might have added to an already tense situation, but the French used their influence to end much of the warfare since it interfered with the fur trade.
As an experience trader, Nicolas Perrot understood native peoples fairly well and began to mediate the intertribal disputes near Green Bay. This role benefited all parties and grew as French trade expanded in the area.
Eventually, it evolved into the formal relationship of Onontio, the French governor of Canada, and his “Indian children.” Combined with the trade goods on which the tribes became dependent, it became the basis of the military alliance between the French and the Great Lakes Algonquin.
Although the French fur trade was at the root of all their troubles, it also saved the Menominee and Winnebago from extinction by restricting warfare and mediating the disputes.
For the most part, French mediation ended bad feelings between the Menominee and Ojibwe, but serious problems remained.
Perrot was able to reconcile a Fox-Ojibwe war, and Daniel Dulhut arranged a peace between the Ojibwe and Dakota, but there was friction in the region caused by crowding which the French could never resolve completely.
They never achieved a satisfactory relationship with the Fox, and the smoldering hostility between the Ojibwe and Dakota periodically erupted into wars for hunting territory along the southern shore of Lake Superior.
Even the French got pulled into this struggle, and Menominee and Ojibwe warriors of chief Achiganaga, angry by French trade with the Dakota, murdered two French traders near Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula in 1682.
In retaliation, Daniel Dulhut seized Achiganaga and several Ojibwe and Menominee and was prepared to execute them, but the realities of intertribal politics, made this ill-advised.
Rather than offend the powerful Ojibwe, Dulhut released Achiganaga and the Ojibwe who were the main culprits and executed a Menominee.
This pragmatic but arbitrary form of justice no doubt angered the Menominee, but they were too few to matter. Meanwhile, the peace in the western Great Lakes had come to a violent end in 1680 with an Iroquois attack against the Illinois.
However, some unity had evolved during the period of peace which had prevailed since 1667 which meant that the Iroquois could no longer work their will in the west without serious opposition.
The Iroquois failure in 1684 to take Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River is generally regarded as the turning point in the Beaver Wars. Afterwards, the French began to organize and arm the Algonquin.
Taking the offensive in 1687, the alliance had the Iroquois on the defensive by 1690 and falling back towards New York.
The war finally concluded with a peace treaty signed in 1701 which left the French and their allies in control of the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, the timing of this victory coincided with a glut of beaver fur on the European market.
The resulting price drop and Jesuit protests about the corruption which the fur trade was creating among Native Americans contributed to the decision of the French crown to suspend the fur trade in the western Great Lakes.
The post at La Baye closed in 1696 taking the Menominee temporarily out of the fur trade.
Although defeated militarily, the Iroquois were quick to take advantage of the opportunity to weaken the French by offering their native allies access to the British traders at Albany. As a rule, British trade goods were of higher quality and lower price.
The offer proved irresistible, and the French alliance soon was falling apart. In desperation the French in Canada managed to get Paris to permit the establishment of a new post at Detroit to trade with the Great Lakes tribes.
Built during 1701, virtually every tribe in the Great Lakes region moved to the vicinity of Fort Pontchartrain.
The Menominee and Winnebago were the exception, and remained in Wisconsin. Perhaps still angry by Dulhut’s executions in 1683, but more likely because of their small population, the Menominee had played no part in the French and Algonquin victory over the Iroquois in 1701.
Too far west for Iroquois offers of British trade goods, they had no intention of leaving their homeland to settle near Detroit.
The victory of the French-Algonquin alliance over the Iroquois and the new post at Detroit provided immediate benefits for the Menominee, because the refugee tribes began to leave northern Wisconsin.
Slowly the Menominee population began to recover, relations with the Dakota and Ojibwe remained friendly, and they could once again hunt, fish, and gather wild rice with a certain amount of peace and security.
The Menominee must have viewed the French departure from Green Bay with relief, but the respite was only temporary.
By 1712 the tensions created by too many tribes crowding into a small area had resulted in a Fox, Mascouten, and Kickapoo attack on Fort Pontchartrain. Other French allies rushed in to save the French.
A great slaughter followed, and the Fox and their allies were forced back to Wisconsin from where they continued attacks on the French and their allies.
The Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-1737) were civil wars between members of the Great Lakes alliance, and as such, they must have been a source of great satisfaction to the Iroquois and British.
The Menominee remained neutral during the First Fox War. The fighting ended in 1716, but the Fox continued to antagonize the French with their constant wars against the Illinois and Osage.
As the Fox gathered other native allies to fight these enemies, the French began to suspect a plot forming against themselves and decided to destroy the Fox. They first took the precaution of using diplomacy to isolate the Fox from potential allies.
After convincing the Winnebago and Dakota to switch sides, the French attacked the Fox in 1728. This time, the Menominee were involved. They refused Fox overtures of alliance and warned they intended to join the French in the event of war. This promise was kept.
During the winter of 1729, a combined Winnebago, Menominee, Ojibwe war party attacked a Fox hunting village killing at least 80 warriors and capturing some 70 women and children.
Meanwhile, the French under Joseph Marin had reoccupied their old fort at La Baye to prosecute the war against the Fox.
Concerned about possible retaliation by the Fox, the Winnebago moved closer to the French at Green Bay and built a fortified village on an island in the Fox River. The Fox soon found them but the fortification was too strong for direct attack, so they laid siege.
Trying to appease the Fox, the Winnebago seized two Menominee who had married into their tribe and killed them. The headless bodies were thrown out of the fort with the explanation that the Winnebago had killed then since they had attacked the Fox hunting party.
The Fox were not satisfied, and the siege continued. At Green Bay, Marin heard of the battle and set off for the Winnebago fort with a relief party of five French and 34 Menominee warriors.
After they arrived, the Menominee learned the fate of their tribesmen, and only Marin’s threat to never sell them guns or ammunition kept the Menominee from taking revenge.
The Fox finally abandoned the siege.It was probably best for the Menominee that they restrained themselves.
Marin was still commandant at Green Bay in 1753 when one of his last official acts was to arrange a peace between the Dakota and Menominee.
The Second Fox War turned even uglier after this when the French decided on genocide. In 1730 most of the Fox decided to flee east to the Iroquois, but the French and their allies caught them in northern Illinois. In the ensuing battle, the Fox were almost annihilated – the few survivors finding refuge with the Sauk near Green Bay.
Still not satisfied, the French in 1734 sent an expedition (of which Menominee warriors were a major part) to the Sauk village to demand they surrender the Fox. The Sauk refused, and in the battle which followed, Villiers, the French commander, was killed.
The French retreated to regroup, and the Sauk and Fox took this opportunity to abandon their village and flee west. They crossed the Mississippi and settled in Iowa, but the following year, Menominee warriors accompanied another French expedition to destroy the Fox and Sauk in this new refuge. This also failed.
The French remained determined, but their allies meanwhile were becoming alarmed at the idea of genocide.
At a conference in Montreal during the spring of 1737, the Menominee and Winnebago asked the French to show mercy to the Fox while the Potawatomi and Ottawa made the same request on behalf of the Sauk.
Beset by new wars against the Dakota in the west and the Chickasaw in the south, the French reluctantly agreed to a peace with the Fox and Sauk. It was a reversal of the usual roles – French allies mediating an intertribal dispute between the French and Fox.
Despite their efforts to stop the French from completely destroying them, the Fox and Sauk never forgave the Menominee for their participation in the Second Fox War, and a lasting hostility was created.
However, the Menominee were at peace with almost every other tribe in the region. After the Fox Wars, the Menominee played a more important role in the French alliance.
One reason was that their numbers had slowly increased while the population of other tribes in the region had fallen. A relatively larger tribe in comparison to their neighbors, the Menominee expanded southwest into the territory in central Wisconsin recently vacated by the Fox and Sauk.
Although locked in bitter war with each other during the next hundred years, neither the neighboring Ojibwe and Dakota cared to oppose this.
The Menominee maintained a friendship with both tribes, and Menominee hunters could hunt freely in territory where Dakota and Ojibwe warriors would kill each other when they met. Only the Fox and Sauk remained a threat.
With the outbreak of the King George’s War (1744-48) between Britain and France, Menominee warriors joined Winnebago, Saulteur and Mississauga Ojibwe, Illinois, Potawatomi, and Wyandot to go east to protect Quebec from a British invasion.
Other than this, there was little fighting in the Great Lakes during this conflict, and the Menominee contribution to the French war effort was minimal.
The British blockade of Canada cut the supply of French trade goods, and without these, France had difficulty controlling its allies and preventing intertribal warfare. The Menominee joined the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Mascouten against the Peoria in 1746.
During the same year, the Menominee also allied with the Winnebago in a separate war west of the Mississippi against the Missouri. The pattern of limited participation by the Menominee was repeated in the last major conflict between Britain and France for control of North America – the
French and Indian war (1755-63).
Menominee warriors fought at Fort Duquesne, Fort Oswego, Fort William Henry, and in the defense of Quebec. The price for their participation was to eliminate most of the Menominee population gains after 1667.
Warriors from the Great Lakes contracted smallpox in 1757 during the siege of Fort William Henry in New York and brought it back their villages that winter. The resulting epidemic left the Menominee with only 800 people.
The combination of epidemic and few trade goods strained the Menominee loyalty to the French.
As the war turned against them, the French in frustration grew arrogant and abusive. The result during the winter of 1759 was a Menominee uprising at Green Bay which killed 22 French soldiers.
The Menominee soon regretted their actions and seven of the participants were sent to Montreal for punishment.
Three Menominee were executed or publicly whipped (the records are unclear). The other four were pardoned and sent to war. As such, they defended Quebec until its capture in September, 1759.
France was finished in North America afterwards, although Montreal did not surrender until the following year. British soldiers occupied Green Bay in 1761, and Fort La Baye became Fort Edward Augustus which forced the Menominee to come to terms with their former enemies.
The breakdown of French authority at the time had the Menominee, Potawatomi, and Winnebago on the verge of war with the Ojibwe at Michilimackinac, and the British easily slipped into the old French role of mediator and provider of trade goods.
The matter continued to simmer until finally resolved in 1778, but in preventing the outbreak of serious warfare, the British immediately won the trust and loyalty of the Menominee.
The Menominee were one of the few tribes which refused to join Pontiac’s uprising in 1763, and at the onset of the rebellion, they immediately sent wampum belts to British proclaiming their loyalty.
The Menominee also helped the Ottawa ransom British prisoners captured by the Ojibwe at Fort Michilimackinac.
They remained loyal British allies during the next fifty years, fighting both the Spanish and Americans during the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and the War of 1812 (1812-14).
Very few Menominee fought the Americans in the Ohio Valley during the Revolutionary War. In an effort to organize the Great Lakes tribes against the Americans, the British in 1778 finally resolved the lingering dispute between the Menominee and Michilimackinac Ojibwe.
This permitted the Menominee (also Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Dakota, and Winnebago) to join the unsuccessful British attempt in 1780 to capture St. Louis from the Spanish (Spain had joined the war against Britain) and retake Illinois from the Americans.
Despite this participation, the British agent at Detroit, Simon De Peyster, was never able to induce the Menominee to join the western alliance formed to keep the Americans out of Ohio.
Apparently, there were some Menominee warriors at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, but they seem to have participated out of a sense of adventure. Afterwards Britain signed the Jay treaty abandoning its forts on American territory which it had continued to occupy since the end of the Revolution.
Although the British accepted the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United States, the upper course of this river lay in uncharted territory.
For this reason, the British did not abandon northern Wisconsin and the upper Great Lakes.
American soldiers occupied Michilimackinac, but their activities were confined to the immediate vicinity of the fort, and it was the British and Canadians who dominated the trade and tribes (including the Menominee) of the region until the 1830s.
Intertribal warfare during the 1770s and 80s was hindering the fur trade, and at the behest of the Northwest Company of Montreal, John Dease, representing Sir John Johnson, the British Indian commissioner of Canada, held a meeting with the tribes of the region at Michilimackinac in October, 1786.
The British were generous with their presents to achieve a truce.
The resulting treaty produced 20 years of peace with one exception: the two main combatants, Dakota and Ojibwe.
Nothing could halt that warfare until after it had finally run its course in the 1860s and the Dakota had left Minnesota for the Great Plains.
Despite occasional squabbles already mentioned, the Winnebago and Menominee were generally able to remain neutral in this fighting and friendly with both sides – a remarkable achievement.
The animal populations near Green Bay had never recovered from the refugee influx during the 1660s, and continuous hunting by the Menominee for fur had contributed to this.
As a result, Menominee hunters were forced to travel greater and greater distances to the west to find fur.
By 1800 the Menominee had abandoned most of their winter fishing villages along Lake Michigan and moved inland, eventually claiming most of central Wisconsin south to the Milwaukee River.
Perhaps because it was so far away from the Ohio Valley, the Menominee (unlike the Winnebago) gave only limited support to Tecumseh’s alliance to resist American expansion.
They were, however, British allies during the War of 1812, and helped take the American fort at Prairie du Chien.
In August, 1814 the Menominee joined with 60 British regulars, 60 Canadians. and 500 Winnebago, Sauk, Dakota, Ottawa, and Ojibwe warriors to defeat an American attempt to retake Fort Michilimackinac.
After the end of the war, the Americans made their first appearance at Green Bay in 1815, and as they had done previously when the British replaced the French in 1761, the Menominee did their best to adapt to the new situation.
In March, 1817 at St. Louis, they signed their first treaty with the United States, a “kiss and make-up” agreement ending hostilities and forgiving any injuries which may have occurred during course of the war.
Other than this, the initial effects of the American occupation were indirect.
In the journal from his exploration of the upper Mississippi River in 1804, Zebulon Pike mentioned that the Menominee lived in peace with all of their neighbors.
Unfortunately, this was not entirely true. Wounds from the Fox Wars had never healed, and as American settlement pushed up the Mississippi from St. Louis after the war, the Fox and Sauk were forced north into confrontation with the Menominee and Dakota. After 1815 the Menominee frequently joined with the Dakota to fight against these old enemies.
Unlike the French and British, the Americans wanted the land, and the Menominee were about to discover this.
Tecumseh had warned the Menominee, but their first surrender of territory began in New York.
By 1821 land speculators and settlement had taken most of the Iroquois homeland, and political pressure was building to take what was left and remove the Iroquois from the state.
To facilitate this, the United States gave permission in 1822 for the Menominee to sell some of their land to the Iroquois (New York Indians) so they could be resettled in northern Wisconsin.
It was in this roundabout manner that, after 200 years, the Iroquois finally got a piece of Wisconsin.
Stockbridge (Mahican), Brotherton (Delaware and New England Algonquin), Munsee, and Oneida began arriving 1824, but not nearly all of the Iroquois left New York, and as a result, the Menominee never received full payment.
Despite a second treaty signed in 1831 in which the Menominee received $285,000 for 3 million acres (about 8 cents an acre) from the United States, the argument over exactly what and how much land was sold to whom persisted for many years.
Meanwhile, the upper Mississippi Valley had become a war zone – an undesirable situation for settlement which was certain to begin within a few years.
At the suggestion of the American government, a grand council was held at Prairie du Chien in August, 1825 to end the warfare by setting specific boundaries for tribal land claims.
Besides the Menominee, the conference was attended by the Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Iowa, Sioux, Winnebago, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. The resulting agreement gave the United States the right to adjust final claims.
The results on limiting warfare were mixed, but during the next 25 years, most of the tribal lands passed into the hands of whites. As American settlement moved into northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, tensions rose.
Some Menominee fought the Americans during the Winnebago War of 1827, but this was brief and limited. Tribal wars continued, and in response, the government attempted to organize a second council to keep peace.
The effort produced war instead.
In 1830 a Menominee and Dakota war party murdered 15 Fox chiefs enroute to a treaty conference with the Americans at Prairie du Chien. In retaliation, the Fox killed 26 Menominee setting in motion the events leading to the Blackhawk War (1832) in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
Menominee warriors first served as scouts and helped the American army track down Blackhawk and his followers. Afterwards, the Menominee exacted a further revenge by massacring some of the Sauk prisoners being held by the Americans at Prairie du Chien.
Afterwards, the rush to take the Menominee lands went forward at a dizzying pace. Their service to the Americans during the Blackhawk barely completed, the Menominee met with the Americans at Green Bay to hear the amendments made by the United States Senate to the 1831 treaty.
The unilateral changes imposed came as an unpleasant surprise, but Grizzly Bear and the other Menominee chiefs finally agreed.
In the atmosphere created by the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, this was only the beginning.
At Cedar Point in September, 1836, the Menominee surrendered another 4.2 million acres – including all of their lands in Upper Michigan for $620,000.
White settlement poured into Wisconsin, and as statehood approached in 1848, Oshkosh and the Menominee were pressured into ceding their remaining Wisconsin land in exchange for a 600,000 acre reservation on the Crow Wing River in Minnesota.
The Crow Wing River is a beautiful place, but at the time it was a war zone separating the Dakota from the Ojibwe.
No one – French, British, or American – had ever succeeded in stopping the fighting between these two powerful peoples, and although the Menominee were friendly with both, Oshkosh looked at the situation in Minnesota and refused to leave Wisconsin.
Wisconsin in the meantime had become a state, and in the constitutional interpretations which prevailed prior to the American Civil War, the United States needed a state’s permission to keep Native Americans who were not subject to state law within its borders.
A settlement was finally reached, and the Wolf River treaty signed in May, 1854 established a reservation for the Menominee in northern Wisconsin.
Through Oshkosh’s wise decision and stubborn resistance, the Menominee became the only Wisconsin tribe to entirely avoid removal.
A final treaty signed with the United States in 1856 ceded two townships for the purpose of creating a separate reservation for the Stockbridge Indians …finally settling the land disputes with the New York Indians which had begun in 1821.
The Menominee Reservation contained 235,000 acres of their homeland (less than 3% of the original 10 million acres they controlled).
Joined later by a small group of Potawatomi, the Menominee have remained in this location ever since. This was not always as easy as it sounds.
Timber interests descended on the area to exploit its forests after the Civil War. Despite the legend of Paul Bunyan taught in our schools, these men were determined to become wealthy and bring civilization to northern Wisconsin by converting it into a bunch of tree stumps. What they immediately noticed was the United States had obviously made a serious error in creating the reservation.
The Menominee had actually been left with a valuable resource – 350 square miles of prime White Pine timber.
Just about every dishonest means known to man was employed to relieve the Menominee of this encumbrance from poverty and fraud, to bribery and outright theft.
All of these efforts ultimately failed, and under government supervision, the Menominee in 1872 began operation of their own tribally-owned saw mill which competed directly with private American timber companies in the area.
Wisconsin’s timber was soon gone and the lumber barons moved on, but the Menominee remained. In the first large-scale application of this concept in the United States, the Menominee began a program of sustained yield harvest in 1908 to assure an income for future generations.
The enterprise was a success, and became the primary source of income for the Menominee. By 1955 the United States Treasury had accumulated over $10 million in a Menominee trust account from their timber operations.
However, the government apparently did not always fulfill its obligation to supervise the mill in their best interest, and after a lawsuit initiated against the federal government, the Menominee won a $9.5 million judgment for mismanagement between 1954 and 1959.
Not too coincidentally in 1961, the federal government unilaterally terminated the Menominee’s tribal status, and their reservation became a Wisconsin county.
The saw mill could not provide enough tax base to pay for all of the services a county government was required to provide, and the Menominee instantly went from being one of the most self-sufficient tribes in the United States to the lowest standard of living in Wisconsin – a pretty clear indication of the current economic status of most Native Americans in the United States relative to their white counterparts.
To meet their obligations, the Menominee were forced to sell part of their reservation as lakefront lots for vacation homes.
Federal recognition was restored in 1973.