Chief Oshkosh

Wikimedia Commons Image
Have you ever heard of the Trail of Tears? It's about a terrible time in the 1830s when the US government forced Indians to leave their homes. They had to travel hundreds of miles on foot to reach new reservation land in Oklahoma. Many thousands died from disease and starvation along the way.

Fast forward 20 years. The Menominee tribe is being forced out of Wisconsin. Their leader, Chief Oshkosh, said no. There would be no Trail of Tears for the Menominee.

When Chief Oshkosh was born in 1795, the Menominee tribe controlled over 10 million acres of land. Back then, there wasn’t any state called Wisconsin. The future state was part of the Northwest Territory. Many states would be carved out of it.

Wigwam
(Wikimedia Commons)
The Menominee hunted animals such as buffalo and deer, and speared sturgeon in the Wolf River. They also gathered wild rice and had small farming plots of squash, beans, and corn. Their homes were wigwams. They lived in and near the forests that grew all around them.

At the age of 17, Oshkosh and a band of Menominee warriors sided with the British against the United States. The War of 1812 ended with an American victory over the British and their allies. In future battles, the Menominee sided with the United States. In 1832, the Menominee even sent warriors to help track down and capture Black Hawk and his British Band. 
Black Hawk
(WHS Collections)

In 1822, tribes from the eastern United States came to Wisconsin. They needed land and bargained with the Menominee for it. When mistrust developed between the tribes, the US government stepped in. The United States needed one person to speak for each tribe. The Menominee chose Oshkosh.

Chief Oshkosh faced many difficulties. Again and again, federal agents from the government would ask the tribe for land. Chief Oshkosh had little choice but to keep giving up territory. By 1848, the Menominee had ceded over 7 million acres to the US government. But it still wasn’t enough.

Wisconsin was on the verge of becoming a state. The federal government wanted to move the Menominee off their land and into Minnesota. The land they offered was called the Crow Wing country. Chief Oshkosh agreed to go and see the new territory. Meanwhile, his people moved to an area near Keshena Falls on the Wolf River. When Oshkosh returned, he knew in his heart that his people would not survive in the Crow Wing country. The Menominee would be caught in the middle of two warring tribes! Instead, the Chief and his people refused to leave.
Chief Oshkosh
(WHS Collections)

For 6 years, the federal government kept pressing for the Menominee to leave. Chief Oshkosh and his people said no. Finally, the federal government gave in. The Menominee stayed right where they were, just 60 miles south of their origin on the Wolf River.

Chief Oshkosh and the Menominee were left with less than 300,000 acres. It would be enough. With proper care, the land was preserved for generations of Menominee. Today, their reservation can be seen from space!

Chief Oshkosh's own words encouraged preservation of the forest. “Start in the west, make your circle by taking only the sick and mature trees, yet, keep in mind by taking care of the other creatures and leaving it as you first came, as so when you make your circle to the point of the start, you then will again have another stand ready for you on your next circle. For it is truly this circle, if we take care of her, Mother Earth, for it is true that she will always be there to take care of you!”

Chief Oshkosh died in 1854, only six years after Wisconsin became a state. His life is a testament to the will of the Menominee people to stay forever on their ancestral lands. 

The Menominee Reservation

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