New Collections: Wisconsin Winnebago Collection

by Robert H. Lowie

Robert H. Lowie

Personal Adornment
Female Garments
Male Garments
Beads, Bandoleers
Medicines and Their Utensils
Lacrosse and the Moccasin Game
The Game of Kasū́ (Bowl and Dice)
Cup-and-Ball Game
Articles of Dress and Personal Decoration Compared and Contrasted to Those of the Central Algonquians

1910. ] Lowie, New Collections. 289

Wisconsin Winnebago Collection. During September 1909 the writer paid a three weeks' visit to Black River Falls, the headquarters oft he Wisconsin Winnebago, from whom he obtained a considerable collection of material representing rather adequately the household utensils and native costume of this tribe. There are at present from twelve to fifteen hundred Winnebago in Wisconsin. They eke out a living by berry-picking, fishing, hunting, and raising small crops. They are remarkably primitive, many of them still using the old-style dome-shaped bark and mat houses (Plate IV). These are built of poles bent over and driven into the ground, with other poles arched over the min the opposite direction and lashed to them. The poles, when not long enough to make a proper arch, are spliced together and then bent. The lodges are about thirty feet in diameter, with the fire generally in the center. There is no built-up fireplace. Occasionally a pit is dug for the fire, much after the fashion of the old local New York aborigines. However, in fair weather, cooking is often done outside. The covering of these houses is now generally of canvas or large reed mats, but in former times elm bark was largely used. The door consists of a piece of canvas with a wooden crosspiece at the top and bottom, the later serving to hold it down. Tents are coming into very general use, however. Mats woven of reeds are used to cover the floor as carpets or rugs, and these serve to walk, sit, or recline upon. The bands about Black River Falls have withstood the attempts of missionaries to Christianize them, and they have not fallen very much under the influence of the so-called mescal religion, though a great number of the Nebraska Winnebago have taken up this craze. The Medicine Lodge, or Midewin, is still very strong among the Wisconsin tribes.

The writer procured a set of tools for skin tanning and the making of leather. The mode of procedure is as follows. After the skin has been removed, the hair is scraped from it. During this process the skin is hung over an obliquely inclined log, one end of which has been smoothed of on the upper surface. The beaming tool is then grasped in both hands and

290 Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History. [Vol. IV.

pushed away from the user against the grain of the hair over the skin where it lies on the smoothed surface of the stick or log. This process is the same as that followed by the Northern Ojibway and Eastern Cree. The next step is to stretch the skin on a square, upright frame. A fleshing tool is then brought to bear, although the beamer is often made to answer this purpose. When the skin has been fleshed, it is soaked in a mixture of deer's brains and water. No grease is added. This preparation is kept in liquid form in a pail and lasts sometime. After remaining in the brain fluid for a time, the skin is taken out and thoroughly washed. Then it is taken by the tanner – who is always a woman – and dried. While the skin is drying, it is rubbed with a wooden spatula to make it flexible. It is now ready for the last step – smoking. For this process it is first sewed up into a cylindrical shape, and the upper end is tied together to form a bag. By this closed upper end it is then suspended over a shallow hole from a stick driven obliquely into the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. In the hole a fire is built with dried wood. The open lower edge of the skin bag is pegged or fastened tot he ground about the edge of the hole.

Articles of personal adornment and native garments present numerous points of interest, and are amply represented in the new collection. The women often pierce holes, numbering from but two or three to as many as six, along the outer rim of the ear to support earrings. The most popular earrings nowadays, are made of ten-cent pieces depending from a bit of brass wire or a silver chain. Sometimes as many as six of these may be seen on each ear, and sometimes there are several coins on each pendant. Again, beaded chains of strings are worn in the ears. The writer occasionally noted tattooing on the wrists and cheeks of old women. At the present day, a variety of fashions in coiffure may be observed among the Winnebago women. The simplest method is merely to tie the hair at the nape of the neck and let it fall loosely behind. A single braid is also popular. Some women wear a single braid or twist the hair around a rag in to a it very tightly with a cloth wound round and round. Individuals were noted wearing a long braid doubling the end up to the base, while some preferred a single braid, similarly doubled, at the end. Still others had a single braid or club with a beaded covering or case, sometimes with streaming ribbons or beaded pendants at the lower end. The head is usually bare. Some of the men let their hair grow, or shear it like the whites, but cultivate the traditional scalplock.

The women wear moccasins with an exaggerated tongue forming a large flap falling over the front (Fig. 11a, b). These are often plain, but in many cases the inner surface of the tongue, which is the upper side when folded over towards the toe, is covered with ribbon work. A pair of child's

1910. ] Lowie, New Collections. 291

Fig. 11 a (50-7564), b (50-76S5), c (50-7557), d (50-7558). Winnebago Moccasins. Length of a, 23 cm.


292 Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History. [Vol. IV.

moccasins was obtained. The soles of infants' moccasins are pierced like those of the Cherokee (Fig. 11 d).1

Fig. 12 (50-7755). Eagle Feather, with woven Horsehair and Rattles. over a rectangular piece of leather and Length, 31 cm.

The legging, once handsomely ornamented with silk appliqué or bead-work, is now almost obsolete, but some specimens were obtained. The skirt is a single piece of broadcloth, the ends of which are handsomely ribbon-worked in appliqué on the outer side. The garment is wrapped around the body, the ends meeting in front, bringing the ribbon-worked horizontal bands together, the opening being in front. The upper part of the garment is folded outward over the woven belt which confines it. A curious shirtwaist, short and beribboned, is worn outside the belt. A shawl or blanket of broad-cloth, handsomely ribboned, completes the costume. This is worn not over the head, but the shoulders. Indian fashions, like those of the whites, change from time to time. It may be observed that in the photographs which date back a number of years, the waists worn be the women are very much longer than those now in vogue, falling almost to the hips. Nowadays, this style of waist is never seen.

The men's garments obtained in Wisconsin consisted of leggings of ribbon-worked cloth, or of plain buckskin (Plate IV). Some of the latter are made skin-tight, with a broad flap fringed at the edge. The decorated flap of the cloth and the fringe of the buckskin are worn outside. Some are made by folding a rectangular piece of leather and holding the sides together by means of thongs passing through from side to side, their ends serving in lieu of a fringe. Some little boys' leggings are skin-tight and fringed only at the top. The clout is of three pieces, a strip of plain, cheap material to cover the genitals, supported at each end by a belt, and two beaded broadcloth flaps falling over the front and rear, and sometimes merely two ornamented flaps tying on like aprons fore and aft and not passing between the legs at all. Shirts of cloth or buckskin are beaded about the collar, over the  

1910. ] Lowie, New Collections. 293

shoulders, and down the front over the chest, where the head opening is. Buckskin shirts are often fringed at the juncture of the sleeves with the trunk at the shoulders, as well as along the seams of the sleeves. Beaded garters are worn outside the leggings below the knees, and beaded, or German silver, armbands may be seen. The typical headdress is a roach or comb-like ornament woven from deer's hair and generally dyed. A carved bone, somewhat like an elongate isosceles triangle in shape, spread out this roach and was attached near the front to another tubular bone in which an eagle feather was inserted. Often the later was ornamented with dyed horse hair and rattlesnake rattles (Fig. 12). The whole was fastened on the crown of the head slightly back of the forehead. It was usually pinned to the hair, the scalp lock serving to hold it on (Plate IV). A simple band of bear or otterskin several inches broad is often worn about the brows.

Belts and cross-belts of beads are manufactured in very beautiful forms and enjoy great popularity, as do necklaces, shell gorgets, and tight collars of beads. Beaded side pouches erroneously called medicine bags, as this term applies only to the otter or weasel-skin bag of the shamans which alone contain medicine, are much worn. They might be more properly called "friendship bags, " because used as gifts between the Winnebago and their neighbors. Though seen on photographs of women, their use by them is improper. These bandoleers are worn by the men in one of the following ways: a single bag is put over the right or left shoulder, or around the neck, hanging in front; of two bags, one is worn over each shoulder; if three are worn, one passes over each shoulder and one is suspended around the neck and hangs down in front.

A fine set of medicines and utensils pertaining to their use was secured. Among these appurtenances of shamanism are three large, finely decorated medicine bags of otterskin (Fig. 13). With them were obtained a medicine doll,2 (Fig. 14); a tiny bow and arrows constituting war medicine (Fig. 15) in a bag made from a wolf's tail; bone tubes for sucking wounds; mī́ges shells; about a hundred herb, bark, and root medicines; as well as paints and sundry small medicine bags of weasel and squirrel skin, the contents of which cannot be identified.

Of games, the ballgame, a form of lacrosse, is one of the most popular. The rackets are shown in Fig. 16. The rules are not definitely known to the writer. There must not be less than four players, two on a side, while as many as twenty may play together. The moccasin game is also popular. The players are provided with sticks. They sit about, while the holder of the moccasins transfers a bullet from one to another of the shoes. The

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  Fig. 14 (50-7579). Winnebago Medicine Doll. Height. 24cm.
Fig. 13 (50-7575). Otterskin Medicine Bag from the Winnebago. Length, 119 cm.    

Fig. 15 (50-7376, 7577). Winnebago War Medicine. Length, 31cm.

1910. ] Lowie, New Collections. 295

guesser points out the moccasin in which he suspects that the bullet is hidden. A continuous drumming is kept up in the meantime. When hiding the bullet, the manipulator sings and tries to delude the others into guessing wrongly.

The game of kasū́, or bowl and dice, is played by the women. The bone or wooden dice, eight in number, are shaken up and allowed to fall to

Fig. 16 a (50-7769), b (50-7538). Winnebago Lacrosse Rackets. Length of a, 92cm.

the bowl. They are white on one side, and blue on the other. One has a mark on each side. The count of the various throws is as follows:

1 blue, 7 white, counts 2             
2 " 6   " 1  
All " 0 " " 4  
3 " 5 " " 0  
4 " 4 " " 0  
Marked die " 7 " " 10  
Marked die white,   7 blue, " 10  
      "       " " 1 other white, the rest blue, counts 2
All dice white counts 4      
2 white, 6 blue, counts 1      
1      "      7 "        " 2      

Paw-paw seeds or peach pits are used for counters. The side gaining all the counters wins the game.

A cup-and-ball game is composed of eight worked phalangeal bones of the Virginia deer (Odocoileus virginiana). It differs from those seen by the writer among the Cree and Ojibway in that the topmost phalangeal unit of the game as played among these people does not have the joint removed, whereas in the Winnebago specimens all the bones are cut into conical form. The top is generally surmounted by a bunch of leather thongs with many perforations. The striking pin is of bone. The count is one for each unit,

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five for catching the tails or thongs at the top, and the game if all the units are caught together, which occasionally happens. The bottom unit nearest the striking pin has four small perforations set at equal distances about the lower edge. Above these holes are two, three, four and six dots, respectively, cut in the bone. The count gained by catching this bone through anyone of the holes varies according to the number of these dots. The striking pin maybe of bone or wood. Sometimes these games are stained with dye or paint. The string and pins are short, so that the game is much more difficult and clumsy than in the Cree and Ojibway forms. Cat's cradle is common among the Winnebago, and an ice-game resembling snow-snake was collected.

In most respects, the specimens obtained from the Winnebago are like the articles made and used by their Central Algonkin [Algonquian] neighbors. The resemblance between the material culture of the Winnebago and that of the Sauk and Fox is very great, the clothing and house hold utensils being for the most part almost indistinguishable. However, there is a considerable difference in other directions. Thus, a large series of woven fabric bags from the Winnebago shows far less realistic decoration than those in the Jones collections from the Sauk and Fox. Of nearly three dozen woven bags only six show realistic designs, the rest being decorated with geometric and conventional patterns. The realistic designs which occur represent merely the thunder-bird and the deer, whereas in the Sauk and Fox specimens we have not only these, but also human figures, some long-tailed animals, possibly the panther, and other animal forms. The clothing of the Winnebago men closely resembles that of the Sauk and Fox, except that of a fairly large series of skin leggings obtained among the former only one shows beaded ornamentation, and that quite different from the Sauk and Fox type. A pair of boys' leggings, skin-tight and fringed at the upper border, is different from anything in the Jones collection. The moccasins used by the Winnebago women are unique, differing from those in use by any other North American tribe. As already stated, a large flap falls down over the toe, and is decorated on the inner surface, which gives to these moccasins a very striking appearance. There seems to be some difference in the appliqué designs on the women's clothing and in the bead work. The beautifully beaded shoulder pouches, or bandoleers, so common among the Winnebago are, according to Mr. M. R. Harrington, never made by the Sauk and Fox. A necklace of beads and horse teeth likewise seems to be peculiar to the Winnebago. With the exception of these points of difference, the articles of dress and personal decoration used by the Winnebago are remarkably similar to those of the Sauk and Fox. According to Mr. Harrington, this resemblance extends to the Kickapoo and their neighbors, now situated in

1910. ] Lowie, New Collections. 297

Oklahoma and Mexico, but formerly members of the Central Algonkin culture group.  



Winnebago Lodge and Costumes.
(Page 292)


Notes to the Text

1 Cf. p. 286.
2 According to Mr. M. R. Harrington, the Kickapoo and other Central Algonkin tribes use such dolls in conjuring.

Paw-paw Fruit and Seeds   A Deer Phalanx  

Commentary. "paw-paw seeds" — the paw-paw tree (Asimina triloba) is found east of the Mississippi, and has large fruit resembling papaya to whose name its own is akin. The fruit of the pawpaw "looks a bit like mango, but with pale yellow, custardy, spoonable flesh and black, easy-to-remove seeds."1 Its seeds are brown to black, ½ to 1 inch in diameter.

"phalangeal bones of the Virginia deer" — a phalanx bone of a deer is pictured at the left.

"cat's cradle" — "boys almoſt fit for ſchool have an ingenious play they call cat's cradle; one ties the two - ends of a packthread together and then winds it about his fingers, another with both hands takes it off perhaps in the ſhape of a gridiron, the firſt takes it from him again in another form, and ſo on alternately changing the packthread into a multitude of figures whoſe names I forget it being ſo many years fince I played at it myſelf."2

"snow-snake" — a game known as sakóro’ṹ in Hocąk. The sticks used in this competition are three to four feet long and made of sumach and made as straight as possible. It is usually played on a dirt field where the stick, called a sakóro, is slid down an incline. The person sliding his stick the farthest wins. The version of this game played on snow or ice is called sakóroparóx.3

"Mr. M. R. Harrington" — Mark Raymond Harrington (1882 – 1971), mainly noted for archaeological discoveries in the southwest of several Pueblo sites. He was the long time curator of archaeology at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Barbara Damrosch, "Return of the Native? Pawpaws' Proponents," The Washington Post, 8 Sept. 2011, p. 9.
2 Edward Search (Abraham Tucker), The Light of Nature Pursued, 3 vols. (London : T. Jones, 1768) v. 2, pt. 2:22-23.
3 The McKern Papers on Hocąk Ethnography, 73-74.


Robert H. Lowie, "New Collections: Wisconsin Winnebago Collection," Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, v. 4, pt. 2 (1910): 289-297.