Burial Practices in 1846

by James G. Pickett

reported by Publius V. Lawson

Find a Grave
James G. Pickett Grave Stone

(78) 57. Outlet Village Site.—Up to as late as the year 1846 there was according to Hon. James G. Pickett, a Winnebago village numbering from one to two hundred Indians, located about the present outlet of Rush lake near the center of section 13, of this town. 

The cemetery belonging thereto was located on the farm of Mr. David Lewellyn on the south side of the present highway and about 40 rods east of the outlet bridge.

In a communication directed to the author and dated November 30, 1902, Mr. Pickett gives the following interesting description of the burial customs practiced here, as observed by himself:

"With the Winnebago Indians there were two styles of burial, temporary and permanent. A person dying in the winter time when the earth was frozen solid was wrapped in his blanket (79) and usually enclosed in a roll of bark, or the body was deposited in the smallest canoe at hand and elevated into the branches of a tree. Sometimes a staging was built between two trees and firmly secured, and the remains placed upon it. They were left in this position until the frost had left the ground in the spring, when the permanent grave burial occurred. Not having proper digging implements a shallow grave seldom more than two feet in depth and slightly rounded over with earth was prepared and the body placed therein.

A small forked post about three feet in height was set in the ground at each end of the grave. These posts supported a ridge pole against which, one end resting on the ground, were placed split shakes or puncheons, thus forming an "A"-shaped enclosure over the grave and protecting it from disturbance by wild animals.

To mark the grave of an adult male a peeled post about 8 feet high and painted in two colors was set in the ground at its head.

If the deceased was a man of note his white dog (if he owned one, if not, one was found) was killed and hung by the neck to the post.

Such graves were very common at the different villages of the Winnebagoes at the time of the settlement of the county by the whites.

When I first visited the village site above described in the early summer of 1846, I think that there were to be seen at that place as many as fifty graves with their roof coverings in various stages of dilapidation and decay, as well as several recently made and with the dogs suspended from the painted posts at their head. I believe that it was during the winter of 1847 that I saw the last elevated temporary burial at this place.

In exhuming these graves the only articles which have been brought to light were a few glass beads, a childish trinket, a rusty knife or some similar object.

I have, however, been informed by the Indians that when a great man dies, a noted chief, or one who has in Indian ways distinguished himself, his most valuable belongings were buried with him.

If he owned horses, the most valuable one was killed on the day of his master's death, but not buried with him. His gun was usually interred with the body, so that with his horse, dog and gun he was fully equipped for business in the new field to which he was going."

1878 Map Showing Section 13, Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wisconsin

Commentary. "section 13" — this section, as shown in the map above, is on the east side of the lake. The Lewellyn house was located just east where the bridge crosses over Wakau Creek.

"located" — David Lewellyn's farm is clearly indicated on the 1889 plat map for this township. On the 1909 map, this property, labeled "A. L." extends some distance east of the bridge over Waukau Creek. The cemetary would be at 43.946735, -88.770980. However, this is not south of the highway, so the direction from the highway must be west. However, this does not place anything to the south of the highway. Due to this defect, we cannot locate anything with confidence.

"the outlet bridge" — this would seem to be the bridge over Wakau Creek, even though it is some ways from the actual outlet of this creek from Rush Lake. The bridge is located at 43.946748, -88.773508.

"white dog" — dogs were treated as members of the family and considered to be nearly human. They were typically dispatched by hanging so that neither noise nor broken bones would result. Dogs were, by nature of their status, de facto substitutes for human sacrifice. The color white was the symbol of sacred power.


Publius V. Lawson, Summary of the Archeology of Winnebago County, Wisconsin," The Wisconsin Archaeologist, 2, #2-3 (Jan.-April, 1903): 40-85 [78-79].