Sometime before first European contact with the Illini (around 1635) the
Winnebago, a Siouan people, were in sad shape. Surrounded by war-like
Algonquin tribes such as the Fox (Meskwaki), Mascoutens (Fire Nation),
Hurons and others, their numbers were greatly reduced. A particularly
severe defeat at the hands of the Fox greatly weakened the Winnebago.
Then came a crippling epidemic (possibly flux) and starvation followed.
Upon learning of the plight of their northern neighbors, the
Illinois sent 500 men loaded with food northward to assist the Winnebagos
through their tribulations. The Winnebagos welcomed the Illinois,
but during dancing in honor of the Illini, the Winnebagos surprised
their guests and killed them. They then made a feast of their rescuers.
Upon learning of this treachery, the Illini dispatched a large war
party to avenge their dead. Knowing that the Illinois did not use bark-skinned
portable canoes, the Winnebago retreated to an island (in Lake Winnebago?).
Buut the season was advanced. The patient Illini waited until the weather
grew colder and the lake froze. They stormed across the ice, fell upon
the Winnebago, and killed all but 150 or so who were made slaves.
In time, the Illini released their prisoners who are the forefathers of the
surviving Winnebagos. It is possible that not all Winnebago bands were involved in the massacre.
By the mid Eighteenth Century, the Winnebagos were once again an independent
tribe of the Old Northwest.
Although the Illini had decimated the Winnebago, they had also suffered casualties. Taken
with the 500 men lost to treachery, the Illini were in a much weakened state at the worst
possible time. The Iroquois had turned their faces toward the
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Blasingham, E. The Depopulation of Illinois Indians. Ethnohistory,
Vol 3, No 3, Summer, 1956.
Scott, James. The Illinois Nation The Streator Historical Society, Streator, Il. 1973.
Schlarman, J. From Quebec to New Orleans, Belleville, IL. 1931.