In 1848 the U.S. government removed the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) from their reservation in the northeastern part of Iowa to Long Prairie in Minnesota Territory. The Ho-Chunk found the land at Long Prairie a poor choice to meet their needs as farmers. In 1855 they were moved again, this time to a reservation in southern Minnesota.
The homeland of the Ho-Chunk lies in present-day Wisconsin. Treaties signed in 1832 and 1837 called for their removal to a reservation in what is now northeastern Iowa. Many Ho-Chunk rejected the 1832 treaty and stayed in Wisconsin. After 1837 more made the journey to Iowa.
In Iowa, the Ho-Chunk were placed on so-called "neutral ground" to act as a buffer between other American Indian groups: the Sauk and Meskwaki (Sac and Fox) to the south and the Dakota to the north. Within a short time, however, Euro-American immigrants began to push onto the reservation. The Ho-Chunk became unhappy with their new situation and asked to be moved.
The 1846 Treaty with the Ho-Chunk was drafted to accommodate their request. Ratified on October 13, 1846, it called for the Ho-Chunk to cede their land in Iowa Territory in exchange for no less than eight hundred thousand acres of their choosing in Minnesota Territory. This new land was to be located near Long Prairie, north of the St. Peters (now Minnesota) River and west of the Mississippi River. It was guaranteed to suit their needs as both hunters and subsistence farmers.
The Ho-Chunk removal from Iowa began in the summer of 1848. After their arrival at Long Prairie, many Ho-Chunk missed their previous homes. They traveled south and east to find provisions and weapons at trading posts on the eastern banks of the Mississippi. Some never made the journey north from Iowa.
The federal government hired fur trader Henry Rice, who already had an established relationship with the Ho-Chunk, to bring those still unaccounted for to the Long Prairie reservation. He was paid seventy dollars per returned Ho-Chunk plus an additional four dollars per month per member in his care. Territorial Representative Henry Sibley objected to the exorbitant amount, claiming it was three times more than it should cost. In total, Rice reported the return of nearly eight hundred Ho-Chunk and profited handsomely from his services.
The Long Prairie reservation, a dense forest near the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, was better suited to loggers than to the Ho-Chunk. They were a farming people and the land that Rice placed them on was not arable. They felt that it did not honor the terms of the 1846 treaty and longed for change. Many Ho-Chunk were also wary of hunting due to their close proximity to the Dakota and Ojibwe. Parties from the two groups were known to travel through Ho-Chunk villages to attack each other.
The Ho-Chunk insisted that the Long Prairie land was not chosen by them, but forced on them. It was unacceptable: too far north, too cold, too overgrown with trees, and too sandy to support crops. Ho-Chunk leaders began asking Indian agents about moving to more suitable land as early as 1849. In 1853 the Watab Treaty was drafted to exchange the Ho-Chunk Long Prairie land for new land in Minnesota Territory.
On August 6, 1853, thirty-two Ho-Chunk leaders signed the treaty. They agreed to cede their Long Prairie land for five hundred thousand acres further south on the Crow River, near the Mississippi. Governor Willis Gorman considered the new land to be a satisfactory home for the Ho-Chunk.
Opponents of the treaty felt the new site, only twenty-five miles from St. Anthony and forty from St. Paul, was a poor choice and that the treaty should be withdrawn. The land was well-placed to support the expansion of the business and farming interests of the area's Euro-American immigrants. A Ho-Chunk reservation near St. Anthony, some argued, would impede that expansion.
The Watab Treaty was ratified but so heavily amended that it was rejected by the Ho-Chunk. A new treaty, ratified on March 3, 1855, dissolved the Long Prairie reservation. The Ho-Chunk moved to Blue Earth County in southern Minnesota Territory. In 1863 they were removed again to Crow Creek, South Dakota, and later moved to Nebraska, where many Ho-Chunk remain today.
Folwell, William Watts. A History of Minnesota. Vol. 1. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1921.
"Indian Affairs: The Winnebago Contract and the St. Louis Press." St. Paul Minnesota Chronicle and Register, June 10, 1850.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001.
Office of Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior. Collection of Annual Reports of the Office of Indian Affairs. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1856.
Pluth, Edward J. "The Failed Watab Treaty of 1853." Minnesota History 57, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 2–22.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. "The Wisconsin Winnebagoes." Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 12 (1892): 399–433.
Whittaker, William E., ed. Frontier Forts of Iowa: Indians, Traders, and Soldiers, 1682–1862. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2009.
"The Winnebago Contract." St. Paul Minnesota Chronicle and Register, July 8, 1850.
"The Winnebagoes." St. Paul Minnesota Chronicle and Register, April 13, 1850.
In the summer of 1848 the Ho-Chunk are moved from their reservation in northeastern Iowa to Long Prairie in Minnesota Territory.
The Ho-Chunk sign a treaty calling for them to cede their homeland in southern Wisconsin and move to so-called "neutral ground" in northeastern Iowa. The removal is not successful.
On November 1, a Ho-Chunk treaty delegation in Washington D.C. cedes all their people's land east of the Mississippi River. Once again, a provision for removal to the "neutral ground" is included.
The 1846 Treaty with the Ho-Chunk is ratified on October 13.
In the spring, Ho-Chunk leaders meet with Ojibwe leader Bagone-giizhig (Hole-in-the-Day) the Younger. In August, the Ojibwe sign a treaty ceding land that is contested with the Dakota. Part of the ceded land becomes the Ho-Chunk Long Prairie Reservation.
In the summer, the Ho-Chunk leave their territory in Iowa and begin the move to a reservation in Long Prairie.
Unhappy with the land in Long Prairie, Ho-Chunk leaders there begin discussions with Indian agents about moving to new, more suitable land.
On April 13, Henry Rice is hired by the federal government to return unaccounted-for Ho Chunk people to their land in Long Prairie.
Thirty-two Ho-Chunk leaders sign the Watab Treaty on August 6. It is ratified, but has so many changes the Ho-Chunk reject it.
On May 24, the Ho Chunk begin to move from Long Prairie to their new reservation near the Blue Earth River.