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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Toddler Survived Scalping in 1827

By the summer of 1827, Ho-Chunk leaders had become alarmed at the number of white squatters on their lands. An 1825 treaty had drawn boundaries to keep settlers and native peoples apart, but for two years lead miners had ignored it and streamed into territory reserved for the tribe. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs estimated that by 1827 2,000 whites were living illegally on Indian lands in southwestern Wisconsin.

Tensions had built to a peak when Ho-Chunk warriors were told that two of their tribe had been put to death in St. Paul, accused of a murder they did not commit. Acting under the traditional Indian principle of "an eye for an eye," a Ho-Chunk warrior named Red Bird (1788-1828) determined to take the lives of two settlers to restore balance.

On June 28, 1827, Red Bird and two companions invaded a farmstead three miles outside Prairie du Chien where they shot and scalped settlers Registre Gagnier and Solomon Lipcap. One warrior was so eager to bring back a scalp that he took one from Gagnier's two-year-old daughter, who was thought to be dead. The Indians fled after Gagnier's wife and son managed to get help from Prairie du Chien. Two days later, warriors attacked a keelboat passing LaCrosse because they believed its crew had recently abducted and raped several Ho-Chunk women.

In response, 600 U,S, Army soldiers assembled at Prairie du Chien and another 100 militia gathered with Indian allies at Green Bay. In late August, these two forces converged on the Ho-Chunk near Portage. On Sept. 2, 1827, Red Bird surrendered, hoping to avoid further bloodshed.

The odd thing about these tragic events was that the little girl scalped in the Gagnier cabin did not die, but lived to have babies (and even grandchildren) of her own.

Louisa Gagnier, scalped and left for dead (caution -- not for weak stomachs), was wrapped in a blanket by one of the men who appeared on the scene. He assumed that she had died from her wounds, but when the baby was brought to her mother in Prairie du Chien and her body bathed for burial, she was discovered to be breathing.

Louisa miraculously survived her injuries and lived to tell about the incident for decades afterwards. She gave this account (as told to her by her mother) to the author of an 1884 history of Green County, Wisconsin. Louisa not only grew to adulthood but went on to survive two husbands and bring thirteen children into the world. Throughout her life, she always wore a cap covering the scars on the back of her head inflicted in the summer of 1827.
:: Posted in Children on December 14, 2009

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