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[graphic] McCord Village

Remains of one of the McCord Village homesteads
Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
McCord Village, located in northern Wisconsin, represents a significant chapter in the history of Wisconsin's native peoples and their attempts to maintain traditional lifeways in the face of increasing Euroamerican numbers and influence. Settled around 1890-1900 by Potawatomi, Ojibwe and related American Indians, the population of McCord was composed of inter-tribal marriages and offspring of Midewiwin and Big Drum societies from the Potawatomi and Ojibwe nations, and also some medicine people from the HoChunk and Menominee Nations. The Midewiwin (or Medicine Lodge or Grand Medicine) was an important curative and religious society, particularly among Algonquian speakers. The Big Drum societies began as a religious movement among the Dakota, spreading to the Ojibwe and Potawatomi in the late 19th century. The Potawatomi at McCord were absentee members of the Prairie Band, a portion of the tribe that relocated to Kansas in the 19th century, as well as Potawatomi who never left Wisconsin. In 1920, McCord was a small village of 10 Potawatomi families. According to the Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory field map, seven buildings were still occupied in March of 1938. In the early 1950s it was reported that only one family remained, an Ojibwe husband and Potawatomi wife. Later that decade the village was abandoned entirely.

[photo] Archeological remains of the McCord Village
Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society

Potawatomi and Ojibwe traditions state that the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi were originally part of a group or alliance, called the "Three Fires," who migrated to the Great Lakes from the east and north. By 1800, the Potawatomi had established settlements throughout southwest Michigan, northern Indiana, northern and central Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The Treaty of Chicago in 1833 between the United States government and the Potawatomi dramatically changed this distribution. In return for a grant of five million acres west of the Mississippi, the Potawatomi gave up their lands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Those in the territory of Wisconsin were allowed to stay there three more years; however, many never left. While their reservation brethren were eventually removed to Kansas, an estimated 1200 Wisconsin and Michigan Potawatomi remained in the Upper Great Lakes. They continued to move north to avoid American settlers and, after 1837, sought refuge in the woods and marshes, subsisting on hunting, gathering wild plants and limited agriculture. In 1919, A.R. Snyder, Superintendent of the Potawatomi Agency in Mayetta, Kansas, reported that although there were about 780 Potawatomi under his agency's jurisdiction, about 200 were actually residing in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Potawatomi lived in scattered small family groups and did not share in the annuity payments from the Treaty of Chicago that were distributed on the western reservations. During the second half of the nineteenth century these units were known as the "strolling Potawatomi." At the turn of the century, Reverend Erik Morstad, a missionary, described Potawatomi homesteads in northern Wisconsin as possessing "log huts in villages." One of these villages became McCord Village.

One of the four McCord Village buildings that remains partially standing
Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
McCord's seclusion allowed the Potawatomo and Ojibwe Indians to continue the practice of their religion, customs, and traditions. Settlements like McCord played a critical role in maintaining tribal traditions during a period of active suppression, especially during the 1920s when the Bureau of Indian Affairs actively discouraged American Indian traditions on reservations. Today, McCord still remains isolated, perhaps the key aspect of its location and character. Archeologists from the Office of the State Archeologist, assisted by state regional archeologists and Potawatomi and Ojibwe representatives and historic preservation officers, surveyed and documented the remains of domestic and communal buildings and structures at 22 localities throughout McCord Village. When vegetation is down, the remains of the homesteads are clearly visible, along with other cultural features such as cemeteries and ceremonial buildings. Four of the buildings, three residences and an octagonal building remain partially standing. McCord village contains at least one dance circle or ring, possibly two. The residences documented at McCord were all relatively small, one-room buildings. A Potawatomi/Ojibwe elder who had lived at McCord from the time of his birth in 1929 until his family's departure in 1943 recounted a number of activities at McCord, including hunting, sugaring, gardening, swimming and hauling water from the spring. He also provided hand drawn maps of the settlement noting family names, the site of Big Drum ceremonies, two medicine lodge locations, one cemetery, as well as three springs and a swimming hole. McCord Village remains are testimony to the lives and culture of non-reservation Indians in Wisconsin's history, of which little is known. The lack of written documentation makes the physical remains of communities like McCord extremely important. McCord also stands as testament to its inhabitants, who worked to preserve their culture in the face of great pressures to assimilate.

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