A day in the life of the Hocak Worak
(Written by Tracy Pecore - Editor)
On January 18, the newsletter staff took a detour from everyday Hocak Worak operations and travelled to Madison to tour the Wisconsin Historical Museum and Wisconsin Historical Society. Years upon years of history are stored at the Wisconsin Historical Society; from ancient arrow heads to a fully beaded bandolier bag that was sold for only six dollars in 1915, to baskets made by Ruth Cloud in 1986 that still have their beautiful color today as if it was still new, an old pair of woman’s moccasins decorated with silk that were donated to the museum in 1955, and a pair of moccasins made by Mountain Wolf Woman, also known as Stella Stacy. The Hocak Worak staff also saw the Treaty of 1837.
The opportunity to visit allowed us to see the above stated artifacts, which brought back many memories. Each piece shown had an extra little story and family history to all of us. Although we were only able to see a handful of Ho-Chunk artifacts dated back before the 1900’s, there are still over 300 pieces in storage that have already been photographed and cross-referenced with name, date, and any other information they were able to obtain to describe the piece.
Many of the artifacts have been donated or purchased from non-Ho-Chunk tribal members. For example, an old wood pipe stem was presented to Colonel Zachary Taylor (commanding officer at Prairie Du Chien from 1829-1837), by Winnebago Chief Decorah. Walter E. Jones donated the pipe to the State Historical Society of WI in 1857.
The below stories were also available to view in the archives section, and thought you’d be interested. If you ever get a chance, stop and check it out; you could be there for hours just reading old letters and stories of the Ho-Chunk people in the society’s archives.
The Story of Devils Lake
By Ulysses S. White, Winnebago Indian, of WI Rapids, WI
The Winnebago formerly had their winter quarters on the north shore of Devils Lake, 3 miles south of Baraboo. In those days a young Winnebago went on a fast. Then fasting was the only thing they depended on. In fasting, the Indians put up a wigwam out where no one could bother the person who was fasting. As a general rule no one was allowed to visit it, excepting the old men, warriors and medicine men, or those who had experience in fasting and had been blessed by some spirit. These can advise him. He fasts in order that he may be blessed by certain spirits and become a warrior or medicine man among his people. Fasting months are December, January, February and March. In the summer time the Indians fast just as the corn is ripe.
This particular young man and his people put up a wigwam on the south shore of the Lake, where the C. & N.W. Ry. Tracks now are. He was blessed by a water spirit. This spirit told the young Winnebago to come to the Lake, that the water spirit would there show himself to him on a certain day. He would tell him what medicine to use to heal general sickness, what war paint to use, etc.
When the day came the young Winnebago came to the lake near the place where was fasting, on the southeast shore of the lake. The day was clear, nothing but blue sky above. At noon the water of the lake began to move and become wavy. Then the water spirit appeared and the waters became quiet.
There was a small cloud moving towards them from the west. Just as soon as this cloud came above them a streak of lightning from the sky struck the water spirit and he was raised from the water; all of the water coming up with him like gum or syrup. From this the water spirit could not separate himself. A thunder bird did the striking, the thunderbird and the water spirit being enemies; they struggled for some time, pulling each other four times into and above the lake.
The Thunder bird said to the young man, “My Brother, shoot this water spirit for me. He is getting me exhausted. He may take my life. I will bless you with everything I have control of above and on the earth.” (These Winnebago were a thunder clan.)
The young Indian had a bow and arrows but he was confused because each of them wanted him to kill the other. The water spirit said, “Don’t shoot me. If you shoot me don’t ever come near any water on this earth. This Thunder bird should have blessed you long ago. He knows that you were fasting all winter.” The Thunder bird said, “Don’t mind him. He is not the only one who has water. I have water too.”
But finally the young Winnebago shot the Thunder bird who was drawn down until he could be heard under the water. Then a great thunder storm came from the west and lightning struck all around the lake bluffs. The cliffs were all struck, and the rocks rolled down as we now see them. The young man received many blessings from the water spirit. This is the reason why the Winnebago call this lake by a name meaning holy lake or sacred lake. But the white people call it Devils Lake.
February 17, 1930