Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

GRANT ARNDT


3.
Ho-Chunk “Indian Powwows” of
the Early Twentieth Century

In 1908 the Badger State Banner, a weekly newspaper published in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, carried a front-page story on the “Great Pow-wow” being staged by the Ho-Chunk Wazijacis (then referred to as the Wisconsin Winnebagos) at their settlement six miles east of the city. The paper explained that the powwow “consisted of a series of dances, pony races, ball games, foot races, etc.” and that the “main thing, of course, was the dancing.” The Ho-Chunks had erected a large dance arbor (presumably of wooden poles with a pine-bough roof, as in later years), which contained a large drum with a half-dozen or so drummers “beating the drum with sticks in perfect time.” Around the drum and singers circled the dancers; first a group of twenty or more women danced, “in perfect time and some of them wearing very elegant customs [sic] which would rival those of some of the society white people in richness and beauty.” After the women came the men “decked in war paint of gaudy colors, and wearing fancy custumes [sic] that even excelled those of the [women] in dazzling beauty.”1

The dances had attracted nearly three hundred Indian participants, many of them visitors from other Ho-Chunk settlements in the state but also including a delegation from the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska. The paper reported that the dancing, as well as a set of athletic contests and “suttlers tents and ice-cream parlors,” had attracted “the interest of many of our citizens, who drove out at intervals to witness the festivities.” This white attraction to Indian ceremonial activities had been evident in the area for at least a decade, but the Ho-Chunks responded to it in an innovative way in the following years. At the next powwow, in 1909, they introduced a “new method of charging a fee for admittance to the grounds.” The local newspaper noted with interest that this fee “acted rather as a stimulus than as a discouragement to the attendance of whites to witness the ceremonies, sports, games, and dances.” On Sunday, a reported 150 to 200 people made the journey to the Ho-Chunk settlement, and “there would have been more had there been convenient conveyance at a moderate fee.”2 By 1939 Ho-Chunk people were spending most weekends

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