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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Indian Punishments for Murder

Editor's Note:

Winnebago Prophet: also known as White Cloud, he was a Ho-Chunk leader whose village had been just a few miles up the Rock River from Saukenuk. He had not only encouraged Black Hawk during the war in 1832 but had incorrectly led him to believe that the Ho-Chunk would join the Sauk in fighting the Americans. He is described in Wisconsin Historical Collections and a few days after writing this entry Rev. Marsh met with him.

The Indian method of dealing with murder described here was widely shared by Eastern Woodlands peoples, and similar anecdotes can be found among the earliest accounts of white explorers and settlers (such as those in our American Journeys online collection).

Mon [Aug] 25th

Had another conversation with Mr D[avenport], the trader. He mentioned the Indian custom respecting putting a murderer to death. The murderer may make it up by presents if disposed, although sometimes, the friends are a long time in consulting to receive them. But when they do all is made up and goes on as before.

But if it is not the murderer will not flee but waits with stoical indifference for some one to come and execute as they think the claims of justice.

An Indian a few years ago killed the brother of the Winnebago Prophet. The murderer waited in his lodge for them to do with him as they pleased. As no efforts were made to make it, soon some one asked the prophet why he did not go and kill that Indian for he was waiting, etc. He immediately took down his gun and went to the lodge, told the Indn. he had come to get him for killing his brother. The other replied "take it," and then threw open his blanket. At this the prophet leveled and shot him dead on the spot. But his wife when he returned made great lamentation and threatened to kill the Prophet because he killed him in the lodge.

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