Stockbridge-Munsee Culture

Originally, the Native people who made up the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe came from Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. During the 1770s, Stockbridge -- a mixed Native and White Christian community -- was formed in western Massachusetts, largely drawing on members of the Mahikan or Mohican tribe which occupied eastern New York, western Massachusetts, and parts of western Connecticut. In Wisconsin, they were later joined by Munsees who had moved from their homeland in southeastern New York and northeastern Pennsylvania to Canada after the Revolutionary War. The Munsee were part of the group of tribes called Delaware, or Lenni Lenape, whose culture was similar to that of New England Algonkians.

Traditional Mahican and Munsee Culture

Like other Natives peoples of the Woodlands, the ancestors of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe spoke languages of the Algonkian language family. Prior to European contact, they were farming, hunting, and fishing people, and their ways of life were adapted to the area's environments: forests and park-like woods, rivers, streams, and lakes. Algonkian people worked out consensual agreements in village and inter-village councils.

In greater New England and the mid-Atlantic region, Native people relied on agriculture. Women raised corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers, while men hunted deer, moose, and smaller animals with bow and arrow, and fished on land and from dugout and bark canoes using nets, hooks, and fish traps. Men collected freshwater shellfish and women also collected wild foods. In the late summer, green corn ceremonies were held, followed by large fall deer hunts. Winters were spent dispersed in the deep forests for intensive hunting. 

When fish came upstream and spawned in the spring, the people from different villages often came together to harvest and dry these the fish for use later. These spring gatherings also provided opportunities for visiting, games and contests, feasts, and other socializing. Prime hunting areas were periodically burned to clear the undergrowth and create better forage for deer as well as encourage the growth of smaller wild food plants and shrubs, including strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Harvests of wild food resources -- such as nuts, berries, and roots -- were celebrated with first fruits ceremonies, and in late summer, the people held a green corn ceremony to offer thanks for their harvests. Oral traditions, often told around the fire during  winter, included stories of the Creator, various culture heroes, giants, little people, and particular places. These oral traditions helped shape young people's ideas about the order of the world and proper behavior. 

The Mahican built hilltop palisaded villages of three to 16 extended-family longhouses. The longhouses, built of saplings covered with bark or woven mats, were furnished with sleeping mats and furs, pottery cooking vessels, wooden spoons and bowls, baskets and bags, and other tools and equipment. Chiefs' houses were larger and more decorated, and served for meetings and ceremonial gatherings. Leather and fur clothing provided opportunities for painted and other decorations, including designs symbolized plants and animals. Corn was pounded in large wooden mortars and cooked in large ceramic pots over the fire.

The Mahican were originally matrilineal -- that is, they traced their family descent through their mother's family. There were three matrilineal clans (groups of people who considered themselves related through their mother's families and were identified by mythic descent from a totemic animal): Bear, Wolf, and Turtle. Leadership positions were usually held by men but also tended to follow through the female line. Some families and those they descended from were considered more important than others. Each clan had a chief. Tribal leaders, called sachems, were often chosen from these leading families. Sachems were seen as having authority over particular territories and guided the people in decision-making. Important men such as sachems occasionally had more than one wife. Between different villages, trading and other cooperative relationships existed, and furs, shell beads, food stuffs, and other resources could be spread over wider areas. Trading also existed across wider areas to adjacent tribes.

Besides the sachems, each group also a shaman who was known for his more intimate contacts with the spirit world. Shamans oversaw seasonal rituals, including the green corn and other ceremonies, naming ceremonies, and could also provide cures for illnesses caused by supernatural forces. They also maintained significant knowledge of the use of medicinal plants, as did a number of elder women in the group. 

Contact with Europeans and Early History

The Mahican's first contact with Europeans occurred in 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that now bears his name. The Dutch built a trading post nearby in 1614. From that point onward, Native people exchanged furs and agricultural surplus for metal tools, beads, and other trade goods. In particular, part of this trade focused on wampum, small beads made of white or purple shell which both served as ornaments and were later adopted by Whites as a medium of exchange with Indian people. Wampum beads were made by coastal tribes and were traded with both inland tribes and with Whites. The Mahican were prime middlemen in the wampum trade, working between the coastal tribes in New England and New Jersey and the inland Iroquois, especially the Mohawk. Despite this strong trade, relations between the Mahican and the Mohawk were seldom peaceful. Raids and wars continued throughout the 1600s.

Following 17th-century epidemics that decimated Native populations and radically altered their ways of life, colonists flooded these areas, taking over prime fishing and agricultural areas. Involvement in the wampum trade drew men away from their traditional duties and dispersed what had been central villages. Through a series of wars, including the Esopus Wars of 1655-65 (in the New York City vicinity), Native people lost much of their political control over their lands, but remained in the area, adapting themselves to ways of life which depended on relations with Euroamericans, but maintaining a strong sense of communal life and family organization based more on nuclear family life than on the clans. 

As a result of the decimation of Native populations by 17th-century epidemic diseases, alteration of Native lifeways, and participation in barter economies based on the fur and wampum trades, subsistence and land use changed. Women drew away from subsistence agriculture to produce wampum and male hunting for fur-bearers yielded less meat than traditional deer hunting. Agricultural production decreased or became insufficient for Native populations, and Native people began to rely on foods traded from colonists or groups not participating in European barter economies, leading to nutritional stress.

Land Transactions and Resulting Changes

In New England and New York, land transactions between Natives and Europeans continued and combined with increasing encroachment on remaining Native lands. As Native people were confined to smaller parcels of land, they could no longer move their settlements freely when soils and firewood sources became depleted. Different patterns of land use probably arose, including shorter fallow periods or no fallow periods for agricultural lands, resulting in lower production. 

At the same time, decreasing Native lands made subsistence hunting problematic, and Native people needed firearms to hunt more effectively on lands remaining to them. Simultaneously, hunters may have needed to venture farther from settlements to avoid competing with settlers. As the number of European settlers grew, trading posts increasingly catered to their needs, making larger amounts and more diverse types of trade goods available to Native populations. Most categories of Native material culture had been replaced or were in the process of being supplanted by European goods, including lithic technologies, ceramics, and clothing (except moccasins). Conservatism helped maintain use of some traditional forms, including bone and shell hoes. Native woodenware -- including bowls, ladles, and spoons -- and textile production (mats and baskets) continued throughout the 17th century. Native house forms remained constant, but their construction was changed by introduction of iron tools.

Missionaries and Christianity

Internal changes within Native societies created by epidemic depopulation, ethnic reorganizations, changes in status systems, economics, and subsistence were not the only sources of large-scale alterations in Native lives. In 1734, the first missionary arrived among the Mahican. In the years following, the Reverend John Sergeant and the Mahican founded a mission village called Stockbridge which included a school. During the next several years, they were joined by a number of English families in an experimental Native-White community. Lessons and religious services were held in the Mahican language. Town lands were allotted to each family, who adapted to English-style agricultural life but still sent out hunting parties and practiced other aspects of traditional life. Single families lived in log cabins and frame houses yet maintained links to one another through matrilineal clans. The leadership of a few strong families remained much the same, although communal meetings were no longer held in the chief's longhouse. Individuals and families from other smaller tribes in the area joined the Mahican core at Stockbridge. 

In the 1740s, other missionary groups also contacted the Stockbridge, including Moravians from Pennsylvania. Some of these converts moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1734 to join Moravian Munsee converts there but later returned to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Persecution of the Native communities following the Moravian church affected missionization, and the missionaries and many of their Native followers withdrew to create new settlements in Pennsylvania among the Munsees soon afterward. Those who remained with the Moravians suffered through the depredations of the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, and the eventually moved to the Thames River in Ontario, Canada.

Later Life at Stockbridge, Massachusetts

As time went on, Stockbridge lifeways became more like those of their White neighbors, including greater reliance on farming. However, their efforts at agriculture were largely unsuccessful, and those who maintained some land base practiced some subsistence farming augmented by hunting, and craft commercial production -- woodenware and splint basketry -- and sale of herbal medicines and wage labor on local farms. During the 18th century, famine was common, and the people sought to eke out a living as best they could. 

During the Revolutionary War, the Stockbridge mostly sided with the Americans, but at a drastic cost. Many men were killed and the community was fragmented. Many joined other Indian communities in the area or moved to Canada with Moravian Munsee converts. By the end of the war, Whites had largely taken over the town and local government and pressed the remaining Stockbridge to sell their lands. Starting in 1783, surviving Mahicans accepted the Oneida's invitation to live among them and began their move to New York to found New Stockbridge.

Life in New York

Having already made much of the transition to Euro-American lifeways during their time in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Stockbridge were able to forge a new and stronger community in New York. Establishing farms, they raised sheep and wove the fleece into cloth, raised crops, and made baskets and other crafts for sale. Using monies they received after the Revolutionary War, they bought cattle and farm tools and built a sawmill. A stable American-style farm village was well established by 1800. Within the group, political factionalism divided the people into those who favored a more traditional lifestyle and leasing their lands to Whites and those who preferred to work the land themselves, including many men who had abandoned traditional ways and farmed themselves, which had always been women's work. The former group also maintained the Mahican language and some aspects of traditional dress, while the more acculturated Stockbridge spoke English and wore Euro-American style clothing. 

Although many Stockbridge adjusted well to life in New York, their leader Hendrick Aupaumut still felt that the tribe should be farther removed from Whites to escape their influence. He chose to relocate the Stockbridge to Indiana near the Miami tribe which had already accepted a number of Munsee and Delaware immigrants.. This plan was delayed by the War of 1812, during which Aupaumut served as an intermediary between the United States and Midwestern Indian tribes, the majority of which were allied to the British.

Early Life in Wisconsin

The first two Stockbridge families left New York for Indiana in 1817. The next year, another 80 tribal members led by John Metoxen joined them. Much to their chagrin, they found that the land they had intended to settle had been ceded by the Miami tribe and was to be sold to White settlers. Aupaumut's son, Solomon Hendrick, led a delegation to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1821 to try to find a new place for their people to settle. Representatives from the Stockbridge, Brothertown, and Oneida tribes negotiated with the Menominee and Ho-Chunk tribes for a tract of land of about 860,000 acres for all three tribes. Another tract of 6.72 million acres was purchased the following year.

Although the land treaties with the Stockbridge, Brothertown, and Oneida were disputed by the Menominee and Ho-Chunk, the Stockbridge in Indiana and New York began moving to Wisconsin, settling along the Fox River near present-day Kaukauna. A Christian mission was established there in 1825. By 1831, 225 Stockbridge had migrated to Wisconsin along with 100 people from the Munsee Delaware who had earlier moved to Canada. Their joint community became known as the Stockbridge-Munsee. Aupaumut died in 1830, and John Metoxen took his place as the tribal sachem. 

The federal government finally mediated the dispute between the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Stockbridge and other tribes in 1831 and 1832 with a series of three treaties. As part of this compromise, the Stockbridge-Munsee would leave their settlement on the Fox River for new lands on the east shore of Lake Winnebago in present-day Calumet County. As compensation, the federal government reimbursed the Stockbridge-Munsee $25,000 for the improvements they had made to the Fox River settlement.

The Stockbridge-Munsee moved to their new home on Lake Winnebago between 1832 and 1834. Since soils were poor on their new lands, many Stockbridge depended on the sale of timber from their lands. Conflicts arose over internal politics. John W. Quinney, a tribal leader, wrote a tribal constitution in 1837, replacing hereditary sachems with elected tribal officials. Not all tribal members favored this innovation. Dissension increased when the federal government ordered the Stockbridge-Munsee to move west of the Mississippi River to provide land for hordes of incoming White settlers. In 1838, the tribe sold about half of its reservation on Lake Winnebago to the United States, and the following year, those who wanted to remove westward. About 170 tribal members left for Missouri. Those who left feared that staying in Wisconsin would jeopardize their tribal identity. In leaving, they felt they would retain their Indian culture and political autonomy.

Conditions in Missouri were difficult, and many Stockbridge-Munsee returned to Wisconsin. In 1843, Congress passed an act making all Stockbridge-Munsee United States citizens. This divided up reservation lands on Lake Winnebago -- which had been held communally -- among individual tribal members. Many Stockbridge-Munsee consented to this plan and became known as the Citizen Party. The opposition formed the Indian Party, under the leadership of John W. Quinney, with the intent to retain the federal status, culture, and political sovereignty of the tribe.

The Indian Party became distressed when Whites began buying up land granted to individual tribal members. Quinney lobbied to have the 1843 act repealed, and Congress did so in 1846, but members of the Citizen Party refused to give up their American citizenship and stayed on their allotted lands along Lake Winnebago.  The Indian Party wanted to relocate to the Crow Wing River in Minnesota, but negotiations with the government for a tract of land did not succeed. The Indian Party finally gained about 44,000 acres of the Menominee reservation in 1856, all in Shawano County. Additionally, the tribe was reimbursed approximately $78,000 to cover expenses in moving to their new home.

John Quinney played a leading role in gaining this home for his people, but did not live to see it. He was elected grand sachem of the tribe in 1852, but died in 1856. The Indian Party approved a new constitution in 1856 which, like Quinney's earlier constitution, vested tribal authority in an elected sachem. However, members of the Citizen Party continued to oppose the Indian Party, particularly concerning the sale of the old reservation at Lake Winnebago. Citizen Party members argued that they were cheated out of proceeds from this sale. To placate the Citizen Party, Congress authorized the sale of part of the new reservation near Shawano in 1871. Three quarters of the new reservation lands were sold, primarily to lumber companies.

Later Life in Wisconsin

Stockbridge-Munsee lands became further divided by the 1887 Dawes Act, which mandated that communally owned reservation lands be divided and owned individually by tribal members, with excess lands sold to public. Congress passed legislation in 1904, 1906, and 1910 that divided remaining Stockbridge-Munsee lands. The 1910 act also terminated the Stockbridge-Munsee's status as a federally recognized Indian tribe. By 1934, only 100 acres of the reservation remained in Indian ownership. Many could not afford to pay taxes associated with land titles, and this forced them to sell their property to non-Indian buyers such as lumber companies.

The Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 encouraged the re-establishment of tribal governments by tribes across the nation. The tribe could adopt a new constitution provided by the U.S. government or draft their own. Within the boundaries of their old reservation, the Stockbridge-Munsee had maintained a town government, and in 1931 this body created the Stockbridge-Munsee Business Committee. In 1938, the Stockbridge-Munsee drafted and approved a new constitution.

Under the leadership of Carl Miller, the Stockbridge-Munsee reorganized their tribal government and regained federal recognition. Using federal funds secured through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe managed to buy back over 15,000 acres of land within their old reservation boundaries. In 1972, the federal government placed about 13,000 acres of the land into federal trust for the tribe. Currently the Stockbridge-Munsee have about 1,500 enrolled tribal members, 900 of whom live on the reservation.