Main Lodge

Successive Hereditary Chiefs

Main Lodge

Wapasha I   -|-   Wapasha II   -|-   Wapasha III

Hoyakiyapi! - Bonjour! - Greetings!

January 2, 2020: All of the webpages on this site were reviewed this date.   More content will be added as time allows . . . .


It is probable that Groseilliers and Radisson, French fur traders, were the first white men who saw a Dakota Indian. They left Three Rivers and Montreal in the summer of 1654 and went to Green bay on Lake Michigan, and thence probably to the upper Mississippi River and to Prairie Island in Minnesota. In 1656 they went back [to Montreal] to sell their furs and obtain more goods. During their second western expedition, starting in 1659, they came by the way of Lake Superior to the vicinity of Knife lake in Kanabec county of this state, and thence visited the Sioux or Dakotas of the great buffalo prairies, probably adjoining the Minnesota river, in the spring of 1660. In the late summer of that year they returned to Montreal with a large quantity of valuable furs. Their success induced other trading companies to send out expeditions to this northwestern country to trade with the Indians.

Father Hennepin was the first priest to see Minnesota, coming here in the spring of 1680. He was a Recollect. The Jesuits came later, after the fur traders had opened the way, and built a chapel in 1727 at Fort Beauharnois on the Minnesota shore of Lake Pepin near the present village of Frontenac. Hennepin met Duluth and five French soldiers on the Mississippi, who went with him to the Sioux villages near Mille Lacs.

In 1683, Nicolas Perrot and other traders and voyageurs, including Le Sueur, came to this region with goods to trade for furs. The winters were then, as now, practically more than four months long. It was the season in which furs were taken, and the Wisconsin and Minnesota streams and swamps were frozen over, extended travel and transportation by land being rendered practicable.

The early fur traders came up the Great Lakes and usually crossed Wisconsin to the Mississippi river in the winter, either from Green Bay on Lake Michigan or from Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. The trees in the eastern forests to which they were accustomed and those around the Great Lakes were either evergreen or deciduous, shedding their leaves in the fall. They were surprised to see the red leaves remaining on our scrub oaks throughout the winter, and because of it called this region the red leaf country.

These oaks (Quercus tinctoria and Quercus rubra) maintain a stubborn contest with the prairie fires for existence. They live only on barren hillsides or along the borders of streams that stay the prairie fires, or in ravines where winter winds have piled the snows too deep to melt and disappear until the green grass of spring renders fires on the prairie no longer possible. If the fire sometimes reaches and kills the bole above the ground, the roots below send out new shoots around the dead stump, which shoots grow until they in turn fall as did the parent stem. The rugged scrub oak bushes or small trees thus persist and show their red winter foliage over a large portion of the broken land along the river bluffs and up the tributary streams. For the interests of trade, the early French coureurs de bois soon learned a good part of the Dakota words. Wapa or waba was "leaf," and sha was "red." In the structure of the Dakota language the qualifying adjective follows the substantive. Hence "red leaf" in the Dakota tongue became Wabasha [Wapasha].

In Europe at that time (1660-1700), provincial France was held under feudal tenures and titles. The nobleman who held a big estate and ruled over the province was called after the name of his province. Following the French example, the fur traders called the Indian chief of this red leaf country Wabasha. Thus arose the name of the Dakota dynasty of successive hereditary chiefs that ruled the southeastern part of Minnesota for near two hundred years.

The southern boundary of their dominion was determined by a treaty made at Prairie du Chien, August 19, 1825, to prevent disputes and war between them and the confederated Sacs and Foxes on the south. William Clark and Lewis Cass acted on behalf of the United States; the second Wabasha, Little Crow, Sleepy Eyes, and others, for the Dakotas; Keokuk, Waukauche, and others, for the Sacs; and Tiamah, Misowin, and others, for the Foxes. The line agreed upon commenced at the mouth of the Upper Iowa river (near the southeast corner of Minnesota) and ascended that river to its left fork, thence up that fork to its source, thence running in a direct line to the second or upper fork of the Des Moines river, and thence to the lower fork of the Calumet (now the Big Sioux river). This line was near what is now the southern boundary of Minnesota. It was not a new line between these warring tribes, but an official delimitation of the old boundary between them.

It did not stay the strife, however, and on July 15, 1830, at Prairie du Chien, Wabasha and his principal councilors made a further treaty with the United States and the Sacs and Foxes, by which each Indian party ceded to the United States their lands within twenty miles on either side of this line. But it was stipulated therein that this strip of land forty miles wide was to be assigned and allotted, under the direction of the President, to such other tribes of Indians as he might see fit to locate thereon for hunting and other purposes. By the ninth article of the same treaty the Dakota half-breeds were given a reservation fifteen miles wide on the west bank of Lake Pepin, commencing at Barn bluff, Red Wing, and running thence southerly about thirty-two miles to a point opposite Beef slough.

The Wabasha dynasty claimed and exercised jurisdiction over the eastern bank of the Mississippi opposite Winona, for at least twenty-five miles either way, up and down the stream, and over the islands therein. But on September 29, 1837, by a treaty executed at Washington, D. C., the Dakotas relinquished all their rights and claims to the east bank and to the islands. On the north and west the Dakotas held the country under other chiefs, but whenever a Wabasha was present at a council he took precedence. The exclusive domain of the Wabashas did not extend beyond the Cannon river on the north or the Straight river on the west. Their sway was unquestioned over the district that comprises now the counties of Houston, Fillmore, Mower, Winona, Olmsted, Dodge, Wabasha, and a large part of Goodhue, Rice, and Steele counties, an area of more than five thousand square miles. Within that territory the reigning Wabasha was in older times the lord of all. On the lands drained by the Root River or the Zumbro, no Indian could camp or hunt without his consent. On the rising land south of Root River the confederated Sacs and Foxes sometimes appeared with hostile intent, but on the Zumbro never. The broad expanding branches and short trunk of the Zumbro River resemble in form an ancient English oak, growing in the open field. The Dakotas called this river the Wazi Oju, that is, place of the pine tree. A few lordly white pines are found now and then on islands or sheltered places on its higher tributaries. Their green tops are in winter seen long distances away. No other pines are found west of these on this side of the Missouri.

By the French this river was called Des Embarras (Difficulties), because of its numerous shallow rapids and rocky falls. After they left the country the Englishman came in due time and asked the Indians the name of the river. They gave him the white man's name for it, as near as they could speak it. The Englishman understood it to be "Zumbro," and so wrote it in his journal. The name thus created has adhered, and it is not found elsewhere in any part of the world. The Indian name Wazi Oju was anglicised into Wasioja, and is now held by a township in Dodge county, on the south fork of the middle branch of our Zumbro.

The Territory of Minnesota was established by the Federal Act of March 3, 1849. Hon. Alexander Ramsey of Pennsylvania was appointed governor. A Legislative Council and House of Assembly were elected. They convened September 3, 1849, and subdivided the territory into nine counties. All south of a line running due west from a point on the Mississippi river opposite the mouth of the St. Croix river, was erected into a county and appropriately named Wabasha. In 1852 it was attached for judicial purposes to the county of Washington, and terms of courts were appointed to be held at Stillwater. By subsequent acts this vast area was subdivided into numerous counties as now shown on the map, and this vicinity of the present cities of Winona and Rochester lost the name of Wabasha, to which it seems to me it was justly entitled. The prairie here at Winona between the river and the western bluff was the principal abiding place of the Wabashas. It was called "Wing Prairie," and the Indian village was called Keoxa or Kiuksa and here was their council ground.

Source: "THE SUCCESSIVE CHIEFS NAMED WABASHA," an address given by Hon. Charles C. Willson, Rochester, Minnesota, Life Member of the Winona Historical Society, at a February 12, 1906 meeting of the Old Settlers of Southeastern Minnesota, in Winona.

Willson in his address also gives short biographies of the three Chiefs called Wabasha which have been omitted here in Background. The web pages titled Wapasha I, Wapasha II, and Wapasha III rely heavily on Willson's address.

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