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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Towns Named for Murderer & Victim

In the 1830s, a giant named Pierre Pauquette traded with the Ho-Chunk at the portage on the Wisconsin River. At six-foot two and 240 pounds, Pauquette was famous for his strength. His thighs were as thick as most men's waists, he could carry an 800-pound barrel of lead, and more than once he lifted a horse clear off the ground.

He was also famous for his honor. Though illiterate, Pauquette spoke French, English, and several Indian languages, carried his accounts accurately in his head, and "all who knew him would take his word as soon as any man's bond." He was especially respected by the Ho-Chunk, who looked to him for advice and guidance in their dealings with white authorities.

On Oct 17, 1836, Pauquette interpreted for the Ho-Chunk at a council with U.S. officials, and advised them to reject the government's latest offer. A warrior named Mah-zah-mah-nee-kah, whose name translates as Iron Walker, wanted to accept the offer, and publicly charged Pauquette with deliberately mis-translating it. This challenge to Pauquette's integrity sparked a quarrel, but friends of the two men separated them and Pauquette went to the home of Henry Merrell, who takes up the story:

"In conversing with us until eleven o'clock," Merrell recalled, "ever and anon he would speak about the reports about him and the lies told, so that I saw it was the one thing uppermost in his mind. He said he would not tell a lie for any man, not even his father, and they should not lie about him. All at once he started out of the door and down across the bridge..."

Pauquette marched through the woods to the lodge of Mah-zah-mah-nee-kah. The quarrel resumed, and when Pauquette confronted him, Mah-zah-mah-nee-kah fetched a gun. Thinking this was a bluff, Pauquette tore open his shirt, put his hand on his chest, and dared the Indian to shoot him, saying, "Strike, and see a brave man die!" Mah-zah-mah-nee-kah promptly shot him through the heart and Pauquette died instantly.

Beloved by the Ho-Chunk as well as by the whites, Pauquette's murder astonished and amazed everyone in southern Wisconsin. Mah-zah-mah-nee-kah was arrested and tried, but was ultimately acquitted when the court concluded he had acted in self-defense. Like any assassin of a great figure, he could never raise his head among his people again. Some years later an officer from Fort Winnebago found him hiding out on an island in Horicon Marsh. Man-za-mon-e-kah "said that he was never happy after killing Pauquette, as he dare not venture himself among his nation and had to secrete himself. He probably lived the rest of his life away from his people."

What has all this go to do with the names of two well-known Wisconsin towns?

A few months after the killing, James Doty filed the plat for a village called Pauquette in Columbia Co., in memory of the popular fur-trader. About 1850 its residents applied for a post office, but officials in Washington misread the handwriting on their application as "Poynette," and the name of the post office was entered that way in official records. This mistaken official version caught on, and by 1853 it was firmly established in the popular mind and in printed references.

A similar twisted fame awaited Pauquette's assassin. Stories of the trader's great feats of strength and of his murder were widely repeated in subsequent years, and Man-za-mon-e-kah's name was kept in circulation. In 1855 the railroad reached western Dane Co., and a group of enterprising settlers established a new village along its route in the town of Black Earth. One of them, Edward Brodhead, attached the warrior's name to it, perhaps because its meaning, "One Who Walks on Iron," heralded the approach of the proverbial Iron Horse. Brodhead altered the spelling to make it easier to pronounce, spell and remember, though for a few years it was usually parsed into two words -- "Mazo Manie."

:: Posted in Curiosities on June 18, 2009

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