Chief Oshkosh Day

Chief Oshkosh Statue in Menominee Park

Chief Oshkosh Statue in Menominee Park

I’ve been exploring some really interesting local history lately that’s right down the road from me. I live near Menominee Park in Oshkosh where there is a massive statue of Chief Oshkosh near the shores of Lake Winnebago. The bronze memorial to the chief was placed in the park in 1911one of many statues generously donated by Col. John Hicks. What makes this memorial particularly interesting is that the remains of Chief Oshkosh were reinterred at the base of this statue 68 years after his death–or was he and the city practically shut down to welcome the chief home with a huge celebration.

Marker Above Chief Oshkosh's Grave

Marker Above Chief Oshkosh’s Grave

Just to give you a quick background on our city’s namesake. Oshkosh was a Menominee Indian born in 1795. Wisconsin, not yet a state, was still part of the Northwest Territory and mostly unsettled, and the Menominee had over 10 million acres of land to live off of and conduct trade with the French. It wasn’t long before British, Americans and even Eastern Native American tribes moved in and disrupted the Menominee way of life. Oshkosh was appointed chief of the Menominee in 1827 to negotiate treaties with the United States. During his time as the Menominee leader, he reluctantly signed treaties to cede millions of acres of land in Wisconsin away to the United States–he did this to protect his people.  In 1840 the settlements along the Fox River known as “Athens” and “Brooklyn” merged together and formed the village they named “Oshkosh” in honor of the chieftain. The chief spent the rest of his life on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Northeast Wisconsin until his untimely death in 1858. You can check out the Wisconsin Historical Society for more history of Chief Oshkosh.

Chief Oshkosh Day Parade Route

Chief Oshkosh Day Parade Route

On May 25, 1926, the citizens of Oshkosh celebrated Chief Oshkosh Day. A Luncheon was held at the Hotel Athearn in downtown Oshkosh. Following that was a parade through the city featuring nearly 200 floats–one with the casket of Chief Oshkosh. Among the estimated 200 marchers were bands, city officials, the Wisconsin National Guard and members of the Menominee Indian tribe. Airplanes were reported to have been flying above the city doing aerobatics and dropping some sort of aerial ordinance in celebration.

Truck carring the remains of Chief Oshkosh. (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Truck carrying the remains of Chief Oshkosh. (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

This was a HUGE deal that day.  A big enough deal that the mayor issued a proclamation that asked people to take the day off.

…I therefore request that the afternoon of Tuesday, May 25, 1926, be dedicated thruout [sic] the City of Oshkosh as a Special Day for expressing our Gratitude and honoring the great Chieftain whose name we bear. I urge all the people to observe the day. Let the outpouring of the people of Oshkosh indicate the measure of their gratitude and love,…to that Distinguished American–CHIEF OSHKOSH.

To promote the event outside of Oshkosh, airplanes flew over other towns and cities dropping leaflets by air. One account said that over 20,000 people attended the celebration in Oshkosh. Those who attended the event took home one of these Chief Oshkosh Day Memorial Exercises program booklets.

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The program was planned and funded by local real estate mogul Alfred Craft McComb who spent an estimated $12,000 on the day’s festivities. McComb was born in 1857 near Hortonville, Wisconsin. He graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton in 1878 and spent his early years teaching at schools across the state and later served as superintendent of schools in Bozeman, Montana. in 1892 he moved to Oshkosh and soon after married Ella G. Wilson. McComb made a substantial amount of money buying and selling timberland in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Florida and a few other states. He also owned tracts of timberland in South America. It’s no wonder he was able to afford to pick up the bill!

The citizens of Oshkosh were grateful of Alfred McComb for his generosity. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern wrote that Chief Oshkosh Day helped stir historical preservation and civic pride in Oshkosh. It prompted people to learn about their past and take interest in their city’s roots. This is so interesting in that this attitude has come full circle. Today, a boost in civic pride has led to newly designated historic districts, historical markers and a historic tourism program in Oshkosh. It’s great to see that pride in our local history is in our history here in Oshkosh. That same newspaper snippet from 1926 got it right when it said that historical awareness “…will surely make for the good future of this splendid city.”

 

 

Sources:
Cross, Scott. 2002. Like a deer chased by the dogs: the life of Chief Oshkosh. Oshkosh, Wis: Oshkosh Public Museum.
Dawes, William, and Clara Dawes. 1938. History of Oshkosh, 1938. Oshkosh, Wis.: Service Print Shop.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 22, 1926.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 23, 1926.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 25, 1926.

 

My Visit to the Wisconsin Historical Museum

Molly and I spent the day  down in Madison, Wisconsin. There are a number of places to visit down there, but the Wisconsin Historical Museum has always been on my list of places to visit. The museum has a wonderful building on the corner of West Mifflin Street and North Carroll Street. Admission to the museum is based on suggested donations. Although not required, the donations you give help preserve Wisconsin’s history.

Suggested Donations

Adults-$4

Children (under 18)-$3

Family -$10

History Lover Members (Historical Society Membership)-FREE

The museum spans four floors, with the gift shop and information desk located on the first floor as you walk in. There are books, souvenirs, and other trinkets sold in their gift shop. I was impressed by the vast selection of Wisconsin history books they had. I thought about contacting them about stocking my Markesan history book in their store. The museum also has an online store where these publications and other wonderful gifts can be purchased.

As we made our way up to the second floor we will entered the People of the Woodlands exhibit featuring the history of Native Americans in Wisconsin. I thought it was a very interesting history that was presented. I liked seeing the tools and weapons that were used by natives, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a few arrowheads and stone-carved axes similar to what I have in my own collection.

As we continued to the third floor we entered the Frontier Wisconsin, The Immigrant State, and Making a Living exhibits. Wow! The objects and history on display blew me away. As we walked off the elevator we were greeted by a life-size replica of a dairy cow standing on a pile of nuts & bolts. Molly and I both thought it was strange, but the symbolism made sense to us after reading the description.

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What does it symbolize?

As we made our way up to the fourth and final floor we entered into the Wisconsin Innovations and Sense of Community exhibits. The Sense of Community exhibit has some fascinating displays featuring political movements. I liked the life-size models of famous Wisconsin politicians, and I have always had a niche for the La Follette family history and Progressivism in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Innovations exhibit was quite amazing, and I actually have thought about blogging about ideas and inventions hatched in Wisconsin. All of the items on display were very interesting and had informative stories, but I chuckled and posed for a photo-op at the Vitamin D display. I have heard of Vitamin D being added to foods, but when I saw a Schlitz beer can that said, “Sunshine Vitamin D,” I found it amusing.

Vitamin D Schlitz Beer!

Vitamin D Schlitz Beer!

If you are in Madison, Wisconsin, you must visit this wonderful museum. I am glad I finally had the opportunity to visit and tour it. The museum has a great mix-up of visual and interactive history for children, so do not hesitate to bring your young ones to learn some history about Wisconsin. Be sure to visit other Wisconsin Historical Society museums and historic sites around the state.

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Other Wisconsin Museums
(GettoknowWisconsin.org)

Comment on your experience at Wisconsin Historical Society museums! Visit http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/ for more information on Wisconsin history. Be sure to “Like” them on Facebook for the latest news and fun history facts.