St. Donatus

The Bellevue Herald-Leader has rooted out of its old files the following interesting legend of early Indian settlements in Jackson County and the origin of the name of Tete des Morts.

Tete des Morts is a very peculiar name and perhaps few who live in the township know that its true meaning is “Heads of Death.”

It is French and the name when understood is not pleasant to think about and brings sad recollections of the past and leads to the earnest inquiry: “Why was it so called?” We will turn to the early history of the state or even the territorial days in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when all the wild west was a vast area of unimproved prairie, inhabited only by Indians.

The bluffs that skirt the river also extend along the banks of Tete des Morts creek, which courses through the north part of the township. Between the two ranges of bluffs is a little valley where a tribe of Winnebago Indians built their lodes. They were surrounded with everything that would be desirable for an Indian home. The river and creek afforded plenty of fish, while deer and game abounded in the timbered bluffs and it was a sheltered place. Countless days, which to them were many moons, were spent in a continuous round of hunting and fishing.

During the wanderings of the young chief of the Winnebagoes, he had met with Nita, the daughter of the chief of the Fox tribe, then living at Prairie du Chien. Watumni, young Winnebago chief, had never forgotten her, she was his ideal of all that is true and beautiful,  for she was like a figure sent in a dream, her large dark eyes and darkened eye lashes, the luxurious raven locks , the pearly whiteness of her teeth, and a graceful form, were enough to charm. He decided to go and see her and preparations were soon made, he and a few braves bridled the ponies, and the bows slung over their shoulders, they were off on their journey, a happy careless party.

It was evening when they reached their destination. The full moon had risen in all its glory and lighted the whole camp, and as the travelers halted, the numerous dogs were loud in announcing the new arrivals, and a general rush to see the newcomers followed. There are coquettes of every tribe and nation, and terrible was Watumni’s rage when he saw Nita in company with a young brave whom he hated above all others. It was a great trial to Watumni, and in a fit of anger and jealousy he gave both insult and challenge by spitting in the maiden’s face, then with a bound was on his horse speeding homeward.

The angry chieftain father of the Indian father, according to their custom, erected a striking post to call for recruits. The warriors then met in council and decided that the deed must be presented and to do themselves justice, a heartless and most outrageous murder was planned.

They began their march to the home of the Winnebagoes. They planned to reach the spot at night and stealthily approached the slumbering victims, suddenly the attack was made. Fire brands set the wigwams afire and the merciless slaughter began.

The seven hundred Winnebagoes were at a great disadvantage but fought desperately and driven to the top of the bluff the few left at last gave up and jumped over the cliff to the creek below, preferring death to torture in the hands of such captors.

When the battle was over the death whoop was heard; in it murder, hatred and bloody triumph united in one voice, it was the sound of victory, but Hotiti, Nita’s lover had been fatally wounded.

The band of Winnebagoes had been exterminated.

Long years have passed away since that dreadful conflict and what Winnebagoes that were not killed are scattered to the four winds, but will the descendants of the few who escaped, came at long intervals to visit the old burying place on top of the bluff by the Tete des Mortes creek and leave tokens of fond remembrance. Shall these poor benighted sons of men be mocked and ridiculed when they come in our midst, or shall we give them our sympathy and extend them the hand of true friendship.