Little Elk, 1829 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Little Elk, 1829

Little Elk, 1829 | Wisconsin Historical Society
Enlarge Lithograph portrait of Little Elk.

Portrait of Little Elk, 1849

Hand-colored lithograph of Little Elk, chief of the Ho-Chunk. View the orginal source document: WHI 91336

Grade Level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

Ho-Chunk orator Little Elk made the following remarks in 1829 at the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. Caleb Atwater, an Ohio lawyer who had been appointed a federal commissioner to negotiate the American acquisition of the lead-mining region, recorded Little Elk's speech. Little Elk eloquently recounts his tribe's relationships with the French, British, and United States settlers. The remarks illustrate how the Ho-Chunk viewed each of the three Euro-American cultures.


Students will:

  • Read an analyze a primary source speech.
  • Understand the point of view of the Ho-Chunk on their relationship with the French, British, and United States settlers


Early French accounts indicate that the Ho-Chunk, also known as the Winnebago, lived in large villages in the Green Bay region and along Lake Michigan. They relied heavily on horticulture, cultivating corn, pumpkins, and squash. They also harvested wild rice. The Ho-Chunk population was greatly reduced prior to 1670, the result of inter-tribal warfare and European-introduced disease. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Ho-Chunk villages gradually relocated toward the south and west. By the early nineteenth century, they inhabited lands bordered by the Mississippi River on the west, the Upper Rock River on the east, and the Black River on the north.

During the French and British periods in Wisconsin history (1634-1763 and 1764-1815) traditional Ho-Chunk lifestyles were significantly altered, but not completely recast. For example, the Ho-Chunk incorporated elements from Christianity into existing religious practices. Perhaps more important, the Ho-Chunk participated in the fur trade, hunting and selling pelts in exchange for practical and decorative European-made goods.

This relationship changed rapidly when the U. S. military and white settlers advanced into Wisconsin in the early 1800s. The fur-trade economy, which had depended on Indian hunters, collapsed and was replaced by a permanent white population engaged in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, commerce, and real estate. By the 1820s, the Ho-Chunk were encountering increased pressure as more lead miners moved into their territory and traffic increased on the Mississippi River.

Resource Materials

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Little Elk gave this speech?
  2. Identify Little Elk's main argument.
    • What points does he emphasize in making the argument?
    • Do you consider this an effective technique? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think Little Elk visited large cities in the eastern United States?
  4. Of the three Euro-American groups mentioned, which did the speaker seem to respect and admire the most? Explain.
  5. According to Little Elk, what was the most important problem confronting his people?
  6. Drawing both from the letter and from your knowledge of American history, why was the problem cited in question five not a problem prior to the arrival of the white Americans? What did the French and British want from the Indians?


  1. Direct students to read the section in their textbooks about the federal government's policies concerning American Indians in the late 1820s and 1830s. Have students prepare a two-page response to Little Elk's speech from the perspective of President Andrew Jackson.
  2. The term squaw is derogatory and offensive, yet for accuracy editors must never delete or alter original text. Review this important issue with your students. Direct students to identify related examples that they may have encountered (for example, the vocabulary in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn). Have other students research related issues on the world wide web, such as the debate over American Indian names and mascots used by schools and athletic teams.


  • "Red Coats"
  • Epaulets
  • "Blue Coats"
  • Great Father
  • Great Spirit


A version of this lesson plan was developed by the Office of School Services as part of the Wisconsin Stories online activity guide for the secondary-level classroom. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.