Skip to main content



WINNEBAGO/HO-CHUNK. The American Indian tribe Winnebago called themselves Ho-chunk-gra (Ho-Chunk), "People with the Big Voice." In prehistoric times, they were the only Siouan-speaking tribe in the Great Lakes area, and their name Winnebago, "People of the Filthy Water," is Algonquian, given to them by nearby tribes, the Sac and Fox.

Previous to contact with Europeans, the Winnebago lived in present-day Wisconsin in villages of bark lodges. They farmed, growing corn, beans, squash, and tobacco; they also hunted small game in forests and along streams, living in lean-tos and tents on hunting trips.

Their social and governmental organization was rigid, with two groups, Sky and Earth, divided into clans. Each clan had specific responsibilities. The Sky group was divided into four clans: Thunder Clan—civic leaders; Hawk Clan—soldiers and life-or-death judges of captives; Eagle and Pigeon Clans—hunters and soldiers. The Earth group was divided into eight clans: Bear Clan—police; Wolf Clan—in charge of health and safety; Water-Spirit Clan—water supply; Deer Clan—counsel on environment and weather; Elk Clan—distribute fire; Buffalo Clan—messengers; Fish Clan—soldiers and village protection; and Snake Clan—listen for intruders and monitor sanitation.

The tribe's population was near 25,000 when French explorer Jean Nicoletmet Winnebago warriors in the Green Bay area in 1634; three smallpox epidemics and war with the nearby Algonquin tribes decimated the Winnebago within six years; only a few hundred survived. Their social and government organization suffered.

The Winnebago were fierce, never shirking combat. With renewed numbers, they fought alongside the French in a war against the Iroquois League (1690–1697). In 1702, they changed sides and joined the Fox Alliance in fur trade disputes with the French. This shift in allegiance caused a split in the tribe. During the French and Indian War (1755–1763) both factions sided against the British, but shifted sides to fight with the British against the colonials in the American Revolution (1776–1783). This alliance

held through the War of 1812, but the U.S. victory over the British forced the Winnebago to sign their first peace treaty with Washington. One faction signed the treaty, and the other did not, creating more internal strife.

Violent squabbles with whites about the mining of lead caused the Winnebago to lose land in treaty settlements. When the Winnebago lost the Black Hawk War of 1832, they lost additional land. By 1840, the Winnebago tribe had been removed from Wisconsin to "Neutral Ground" in Iowa; in 1846 the tribe was moved to Minnesota, first to the Long Prairie Reservation and then, in 1855, to the Blue Earth Reservation. In 1863 they were moved to Crow Creek, South Dakota Reservation. The following year they ceded Crow Creek and bought part of the Omaha tribe's reservation in present-day Nebraska. Following each move, some Winnebagos returned to Wisconsin, only to be forcefully removed again.

During the allotment era (1887–1934) the Winnebago lost 75 percent of their Nebraska reservation and experienced dissention within the tribe; a final split resulted in half the tribe returning to Wisconsin. The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska incorporated in 1936; the Wisconsin branch, officially called the Ho-Chuck Nation, was not recognized until 1963. The reservation in Wisconsin covers parts of ten counties with tribal headquarters in Wisconsin Dells.

Both branches suffered under the reservation system until the 1990s. Under the American Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, tribes were allowed to erect gambling halls offering bingo and incorporating casinos. Profits from gaming in both states have been invested in income-producing entities: hotels, shopping centers, technology businesses, and gas stations. As a result, the tribes' standard of living has been raised significantly.


Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Radin, Paul. The Winnebago Tribe. 1923. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Smith, David Lee. Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Wyman, Mark. The Wisconsin Frontier. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Veda BoydJones

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Winnebago/Ho-Chunk." Dictionary of American History. . 18 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Winnebago/Ho-Chunk." Dictionary of American History. . (April 18, 2019).

"Winnebago/Ho-Chunk." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved April 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.