Chief Oshkosh | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Chief Oshkosh

Chief Oshkosh | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeTrail of Tears Sign

Trail of Tears Sign


EnlargePainting of Black Hawk by Robert M. Sully.

Black Hawk

Painting of Black Hawk by Robert M. Sully. Black Hawk, a Native American Sauk warrior and leader, sought to drive out the settlers in the Blue Mounds of Wisconsin in 1832. After his capture and release, he became a symbol of a diminishing and no longer threatening culture. View the original source document: WHI 11706

EnlargeHead and shoulders portrait of Chief Oshkosh.

Chief Oshkosh, circa 1854

Menominee Indian Chief. Portrait painted by the artist Samuel Marsden Brookes. View the original source document: WHI 1888

Note: This is a grade-level appropriate biographical essay about a significant figure from Wisconsin's past.

“Start in the west, make your circle by taking only the sick and mature trees, yet, keep in mind by taking care of the other creatures and leaving it as you first came, as so when you make your circle to the point of the start, you then will again have another stand ready for you on your next circle. For it is truly this circle, if we take care of her, Mother Earth, for it is true that she will always be there to take care of you!” Chief Oshkosh of the Menominee

Have you ever heard of the Trail of Tears? It's about a terrible time in the 1830s when the United States government forced many Native Americans to leave their homes. They had to travel hundreds of miles on foot to reach new reservation land in Oklahoma. Many thousands died from disease and starvation along the way. Fast forward 20 years and now the Menominee nation was being forced out of Wisconsin. Their leader, Chief Oshkosh, said no. There would be no Trail of Tears for the Menominee.

When Chief Oshkosh was born in 1795, the Menominee controlled over 10 million acres of land. Back then, there wasn’t any state called Wisconsin. The future state was part of the Northwest Territory. Many states would be carved out of it.

The Menominee hunted animals such as buffalo and deer, and speared sturgeon in the Wolf River. They also gathered wild rice and had small farming plots of squash, beans, and corn. Their homes were wigwams, birchbark houses, and lodges. They lived in and near the forests that grew all around them.

At the age of 17, Oshkosh and a band of Menominee warriors sided with the British against the United States. The War of 1812 ended with an American victory over the British and their allies. In future battles, the Menominee sided with the United States. In 1832, the Menominee sent warriors to help track down and capture Black Hawk and his British Band.

In 1822, tribes from the eastern United States came to Wisconsin. They needed land and bargained with the Menominee for it. When mistrust developed between the tribes, the US government stepped in. The US needed one person to speak for each tribe. The Menominee chose Oshkosh.

Chief Oshkosh faced many difficulties. Again and again, federal agents from the government demanded land from the tribe. Chief Oshkosh had little choice but to keep giving up territory. By 1848, the Menominee had handed over 7 million acres to the US government. But it still wasn't enough.

Wisconsin was on the verge of becoming a state. The federal government wanted to move the Menominee off their land and into Minnesota. The land offered was called Crow Wing country. Chief Oshkosh agreed to go and see the new territory. Meanwhile, his people moved to an area near Keshena Falls on the Wolf River. When Oshkosh returned, he knew in his heart that his people would not survive in the Crow Wing country. The Menominee would be caught in the middle of two warring native nations! Instead, the Chief and his people refused to leave.

For 6 years, the federal government kept pushing for the Menominee to leave. Chief Oshkosh and his people said no. Finally, the federal government gave in. The Menominee stayed right where they were, just 60 miles south of there on the Wolf River. Chief Oshkosh and the Menominee were left with less than 300,000 acres. With proper care, the land was preserved for generations of Menominee. Today, their reservation can be seen from space!

Chief Oshkosh died in 1858, ten years after Wisconsin became a state. His life is a testament to the will of the Menominee people to stay forever on their ancestral lands.

 Reading Level Correlations

  • Level Z (7th Grade)

Learn more about Chief Oshkosh, the Menominee, and other Native nations in these books from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press: