My current work in progress takes place in the area around Minneapolis, which was Wisconsin Territory at the time. In my research, I came across people I had to include in my story because of their subsequent fame or their contributions to the period. I also discovered fascinating people I couldn’t include. Ho-poe-kaw, or Glory of the Morning, is one of these. She lived a century too early to be in my book.
Ho-poe-kaw was born about 1709. She became chief of the Ho-Chunk people when she was 18, and ruled her people until at least 1766, when explorer Jonathan Carver wrote about her. Archaeological evidence shows that as many as ten thousand women lived in the area by that time, and they were active in lead mining, trading, and tilling the land. Ho-poe-kaw, however, is the first woman of written record in Wisconsin. She is also the last-known female chief of the Ho-Chunk, called the Winnebago by the Europeans.
Ho-poe-kaw may have been the sister or the daughter of a chief in the largest village of her people, located east of Lake Winnebago. During her time as chief, European explorers, traders, and settlers devastated her people with disease. Their presence forced other tribes westward, into conflict with the Ho-Chunk.
In 1729, she married Sabrevoir Descaris, a French officer who resigned his commission to become a fur trader. After seven years of marriage and three children, Descaris abandoned Ho-poe-kaw and their sons. He left Wisconsin and took their only daughter with him. In 1760 he died of wounds suffered in battle at Quebec. Ho-poe-kaw was never reunited with her daughter, who lived among whites in Quebec and eventually married a trader in Montreal. Ho-poe-kaw’s two sons succeeded her as chiefs of a Ho-Chunk village near Portage. One son signed the first peace treaty with the U.S. in 1816, shortly before he died. The family name was recorded as Decorah and became important to the history of Wisconsin.
The painting that accompanies this post was painted in 1853 by Seth Eastman. Eastman was the commander of Fort Snelling. He had a European wife who lived with him at the fort, but he also married the daughter of a Dakota chief “in the Indian way” and had a daughter with her. Eastman’s Dakota family features prominently in my novel.