Marquette’s Resident Medicine Woman

“I have been asked by Mr. Spragg, if during my boyhood, there was known to me an Indian woman named Mary McKee, who lived upon the lake front. There were two Indian women living upon the lake front. One the elder, He-no-ka, the other We-hun-ka. They were very nice squaws and were held in high esteem by the villagers. They did wonderful beadwork, made moccasins and head dresses; and every winter, with He-no-ka’s son, left in canoes going toward the upper end of the lake. With the going out of the ice in the spring, they would return loaded with furs such as beavers, otter, mink and muskrat. I have known my father to pay them two or three hundred dollars at a time for their winter’s catch.

We-hun-ka was a priestess or medicine woman of the Menominee Tribe and must have held quite an exalted position among the Indians, for all during the summer, she would frequently receive delegations or visitors from distant tribes. I used to visit them a great deal and frequently hunted and fished with He-no-ka’s son whose name was “Wa-kon-ne, meaning “black mink.” We-hun-ka seemed to have a great liking for me and used to regale me frequently with her Indian cooking; usually stew, or squirrel, duck and maybe muskrat. I only was aware that they tasted good and that she was always glad to see my increasing appetite allayed, and for a long time I made almost daily visits to her wigwam, and my parents seemed to find no objections to my doing so..

We-hun-ka had great quantities of beads that were brought to her as a sort of a tribute from the other tribes, and with these, she embroidered all sorts of garments. There was an Indian outbreak occurring in Minnesota about the year 1860 or 61, near as I can remember. A great many people living on farms were killed and many captured. The outbreak was made by the Sioux and it was feared that the Winnebago and Menomonie tribes might also get excited and join in the murder orgy. We-hun-ka, being a great friend of the whites, became very much exercised and she spent a great part of her time traveling around among the different encampments of the Menomonee and Winnebago tribes that were located around the lake and in the forest north and west. She attempted to persuade those Indians to remain peaceful. Her work succeeded and the Indians of those tribes never did join in the outbreak. Among those captured by the Sioux was a woman, the wife of a man living in Marquette, his name was August Long.

I cannot remember how it happened, except that she was in Minnesota at the time of the outbreak, probably visiting some friends. Anyway, she was captured and held by the Indians for, I think, several months. Troops were sent after the Indians and they were badly punished and a great many of them captured. These Indians were tried at Mankato, Minnesota, and a number of them convicted and, I think, something like 12 were executed, hanged on a gallows erected in Mankato on the hill immediately back of the Mankato House. I know that the Villagers were very thankful to We-hun-ka and her sister for their friendly influence with the tribes, and we all felt that our safety, in a large degree, was the result of her work among the Indians.

He-no-ka became ill with tuberculosis and died. She was buried in a little open glade on Squaw Island, not far from the landing place at the West end of the Island. Her burial was attended to by my father, Jesse Green, Ainor Spencer, and others. I think Anior Spencer was a carpenter and used to make coffins for all the Villagers who died. He made a coffin for He-no-ka. We-hun-ka continued to live alone on the shore of the lake in a little hut, the lumber for which was donated by Jesse Green, the hardware by my father, and I think the little house was erected by Ainor and Ashley Spencer.

After He-no-ka’s death, her son, Wa-kon-ne, left Marquette and went among his Indian relatives in the far west. We-hun-ka made no more trips into the forest for furs, but continued for a year or two to live on the lake front; in the winter in her hut, in the summers in her wigwams nearby. There was one wigwam built of tanned deer skin and lined with buffalo hides with the fur on. This was her medicine lodge where she performed her religious ceremonies and as is usually said, “made medicine.” She continued to receive her visitors as the reigning princess of her spiritual diocese or jurisdiction. Two years after He-no-ka’s death, We-hun-ka, after presenting me with her beautiful birch bark canoe, entered her dugout and bade us adieu

She and Wa-kon-ne pointed the prow of their pirogue toward the head of the lake and she was never seen at her old haunts in Marquette. Probably six or seven years later, her skeleton was discovered among the rocks to the West of Marquette, and her skull had been cleft by a tomahawk or hatchet. She had been murdered. The Indians became very excited and finally traced the murderer to a French Indian half-breed. He was captured by them and tried before an Indian Council in the Oak Grove on the Ripon side of Green Lake. He was condemned and made to run the gauntlet. He was allowed to believe he had escaped and when he had gained a little distance from the Council, they pursued him. He ran toward the lake opposite Sherwood Forest and from a high rock, which, I think, was afterwards known as “Cotebrillance” (sp?), he leaped onto the jagged boulders below and was killed. Some said that he was overtaken just as he made the leap and stabbed between the shoulder blades. I never knew her to be called Mary McKee. All the Villagers knew her as We-hun-ka.

(Source — “Notes Regarding the Early Settlement of the Town of Marquette, Wisconsin” by W. L. Pierce)

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