Menominee Indians, a considerable tribe of Algonquian linguistic stock, formerly ranging over northeastern Wisconsin to the west of Menominee River and Green Bay, and now occupying a reservation in Shawano and Oconto counties within the same territory. The name by which they are commonly known (translated Folles Avoines by the French) is taken from their term for the wild rice, menomin, Lat. Zizania aquatica, which grows abundantly in the small lakes, and forms a staple food of the tribes of that region. Before their first contact with the whites the Menominee may have numbered about 3000 souls; in 1909 they were officially reported at 1487. The earliest known explorer among the Menominee was Champlain's interpreter, Jean Nicolet, who visited the tribes about Green Bay in 1634, being probably the first white man within the present State of Wisconsin. In 1640 they are mentioned under the name of Maroumine by the Jesuit Le Jenne, as one of the tribes still without missionaries. In the "Relation" for 1657-8 they are spoken of as Malouminek, allied with the Noukek and Winnebago and "reaping without sowing" a wild rye considered superior to corn, the first notice of the now well-known wild rice.
In May, 1670, the Jesuit explorer Claude Allouez visited them near the mouth of the Menominee River. They were then greatly reduced by wars, probably with their hereditary enemies, the Sioux. They listened to his teaching and asked him to remain. A
small mission, St. Michel, was established, and placed under the jurisdiction of the central Potawatomi mission of St. Francis Xavier on Green Bay. In 1673 the Jesuit Louis 'Andre arrived and ministered for several years both to the Menominee and to other tribes, travelling in summer by bark canoe and in winter over the ice. Soon after his arrival he found set up an image of the sun, with a number of net floaters attached, as a sacrifice to the sun for a prosperous fishing season, their exertions having been thus far disappointing. After explaining that the sun was not a god, he persuaded them to allow him to substitute a crucifix. The next morning the fish entered the river in such abundance that the Indians, firmly convinced of the efficacy of his teaching, crowded to be instructed every evening on their return from their fishing. Following up this victory, he induced them to abandon their superstitious dream ceremonies on setting out against the Sioux, although apparently he was unable to prevent the expedition. Among his converts was a principal medicine-man, who claimed the thunder spirit as his special medicine, and was accustomed to invoke it with songs and naked antics during storms. Father Andre was slow to baptize adults, however, and records how one man thus baptized on fervid assurance of change of heart had called in the medicine-man on his deathbed.
In 1673 Father Marquette visited the Menominee on his way to the Mississippi, and describes in detail their manner of gathering and preparing the wild rice. Three years later Father Andre's cabin, with all that it contained, was burned by an Indian whose two small children, after one had been baptized, had been killed by an enemy, the grief-stricken father, in Indian fashion, attributing his misfortune to the ceremony.
The Menominee mission grew and flourished until the outbreak of the long war inaugurated by the Foxes against the French (1712), which continued some thirty years, and resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Fox tribe and the ruin of the Wisconsin missions. Close upon this came the seven years' French and Indian War (1754-60); the Pontiac war (1763-4); the Revolution and its Indian aftermath (1775-95); and finally Tippecanoe and the War of 1812 (1811-15). In all of these the Menominee, like the other tribes of the central region, had their part, fighting on the French side until the fall of Quebec and afterwards supporting the English against the United States. In 1817 they made their peace with the United States, and by various subsequent treaties, have disposed of all of their ancient territory excepting their present reservation of about 360 square miles.
In 1762 the Jesuit missions had been suppressed by the French Government, and "for thirty years there was no priest west of Detroit" (Shea quoting McCabe). Deprived of their teachers and for sixty years compelled to make almost constant war against the advancing whites, a large part of the former mission Indians in all the tribes relapsed into paganism, while still cherishing an affection for their former friends. In 1823 the Ottawa tribe of lower Michigan addressed to Congress two remarkable petitions asking to have Jesuit missionaries again sent among them. No response came, but in 1825 Father J. V. Badin made a tour of the lake tribes, in 1827 Father Dejean visited the Ojibwa at Mackinaw and in 1829 founded the new Ottawa mission at Arbre Croche (Harbor Springs, Michigan), and in 1830 Father Samuel Mazzuchelli established a school and church among the Menominee at Green Bay, for which the Government, in accordance with the policy at that period, made an appropriation. Soon afterwards Father Mazzuchelli extended his labors to the Winnebago. A church for the few white residents had already been begun by Father Gabriel Richard in 1823. Father Mazzuchelli was assisted in the school by two sisters and by Mrs. Rosalie Dousman (1831), who continued in the work for a number of years. Later missionaries of the same period were Fathers Simon Sanderl, Redemptorist, and T. J. Van den Broeck. In 1827 an Episcopal mission was started, but was discontinued in 1838 owing to non-attendance of the Indians. In 1844 Fr. Van den Broeck established a second mission, St. Francis, at Lake Powahegan on the Wolf River, which within a short time had 400 Indians. In 1847 he was succeeded by Father F. J. Bonduel, who added another school, and who in turn was succeeded in 1852 by Fr. Otho Skolla, the first of the Franciscans, to which order the Menominee work has now been confided for nearly two generations. The present mission of St. Michael's, at Keshena, Wisconsin, in charge of Reverend Blase Krake, assisted by two other Franciscan fathers, counts upon its rolls about two-thirds of the tribe, being the whole Christian body. The attached St. Joseph's industrial school, conducted by eleven Sisters of St. Joseph and three Franciscan brothers, is in a prosperous condition. The official reports of Agent Ellis (1847) and Superintendent Murray (1852) exhibit the high appreciation of the civil authorities.
Physically the Menominee are among the finest of the native tribes of America, being well formed, straight, and of a rather light complexion, with manly, intelligent, and mild expression. In their primitive condition they derived their subsistence chiefly from the wild rice, fishing and hunting, wild berries, and the syrup and sugar prepared according to the Indian method from the maple. Wild rice still constitutes an important part of their diet, being boiled with meat and seasoned with syrup. They do but little farming, and devote their chief energies to lumbering. Their houses were formerly circular frame-works covered with bark or mats of rushes, but log houses are now the rule. The art of making pottery has become extinct among the Menominee, but their women still produce basketware, mats of rushes and cedar bark, and beautifully woven bead and porcupine quill work. The primitive weapons were the bow, knife, and hatchet. They had both bark and dugout canoes. Snowshoes were used for winter travel. Their amusements included the ball game (lacrosse), dice, hunt the button, foot races, and several minor dances. Their dead were usually buried in bark coffins, over which was built a roof, with an opening through which food was inserted for the spirit. The corpse, dressed in its best attire, was sometimes placed in a sitting position facing the west, over it being erected a bark shelter on which was carved or painted an inverted figure indicating the totem, or gens, to which the deceased had belonged.
Their mythology and religious belief and ritual closely resembled that of their neighbors, the Ojibwa, centering about Manabush, the "Great Rabbit", or dawn god, and the songs and ceremonies of the secret society of the Midewiwin or "Grand Medicine", which still flourishes among the pagan members of the tribe. They had the clan, or gentile, system, with (as now existing) twenty-four gentes grouped into three phratries, the Bear, Big Thunder, and Wolf. In ancient times, it is said, they had twenty-two gentes in five phratries. The members of the same gens were considered near relatives, and were not allowed to intermarry. Descent and inheritance were in the female line. The tribe council included a principal chief, a war chief, and a number of subordinate band or gentile chiefs, and chieftainship was usually hereditary. Among distinguished chiefs have been Thomas Carron, a French Canadian half-breed (d. 1780), his son Tomah (i.e. Thomas, d. 1818); Keshena (Swift Flyer); Oshkosh (Claws; d. 1858); and Niopet (Four-in-a-den), his son and successor elected in 1875.
The literature of the Menominee language, which is distinct from all others of its kindred Algonquian stock, consists chiefly of a series of prayer books and hymn collections by Father Zephyrin (Charles Anthony) Engelhardt, former Franciscan missionary in the tribe; these were issued between 1881 and 1884, the hymn book being printed by the author upon a small hand press. Father Engelhardt is also the author of a collection of Menominee translations of the Gospel, a volume of sermons and instructions, an extended vocabulary and several linguistic treatises on the language, all still in manuscript. His present successor at the mission, Father Blase Krake of the same order, is also a master of the language, of which he has written a manuscript grammar and dictionary. A vocabulary of some thirty pages accompanies Hoffman's monograph.