Manataka American Indian Council









By H. H. Smith, circa 1924


PART I - Forward and Introduction


Medicines, Foods, Fibers and Dyes





The writer has often been called upon, while in the Field Museum, Chicago, as well as in the Public Museum, Milwaukee, to identify plants or parts of plants used by various Indian tribes. Indian uses of plants thus became interesting. The use of many plants is rapidly being abandoned by most tribes, and knowledge of their ethnobotany will soon be no longer even a memory. 


Thus, at the suggestion of Dr. S. A. Barrett and Mr. Alanson Skinner, of the Public Museum, investigations into the uses of plants by the Menomini Indians were undertaken. This tribe was chosen, because a good guide and interpreter was still available, Captain John V. Satterlee, of the Indian police, and also because so much work has already been done among these people by Dr. Barrett and Mr. Skinner, thus making the preliminary work easier.


Four field trips, each of three weeks' duration, were made to the Menomini reservation in Shawano county, Wisconsin. These periods were in June, October, May and September in 1921 and 1922. Different periods were necessary because the Indian usually does not recognize the species he uses, at all seasons of the year, any more than most white men recognize plants when they are not in bloom.


Several groups of Menomini talked over the plants obtained, thus affording a check on the Indian name as well as its different uses.  Although it is customary for a botanist to list plants according to the Gray or the Engler und Prantl system, it is the writer's intention to list them (1) under their various uses and (2) under each of these captions, alphabetically by families. Where possible, the literal translation of the Indian name is given. Thanks are due to Mr. Alanson Skinner for correcting the phonetic spelling of Menomini names. Much credit is also due to Captain Satterlee, the guide and interpreter, for his untiring efforts to bring to light all of the aboriginal uses and customs pertaining to each plant. 


With this bulletin as a basis, the writer expects to investigate in like manner, the ethnobotany of the Chippewa, Winnebago, Oneida, Sauk and Potawatomi Indians, all of whom are now or were formerly in Wisconsin. Since the largest number of plants are used as medicines, we will first treat of these, then of foods, fibers, dyes and miscellaneous plant uses.


The writer lays no claim to being a linguist, but was able to pronounce the words so that Mr. Skinner could give him the correct phonetic spelling. We have used his phonetic key, taking the continental value for letters not included. Our f and r sounds do not occur in Menomini.

ä, as in flat ê, as in bet

â, as in raw û, as in luck

au, as ow in how u, a whispered terminal u

ai, as in aisle x, a whispered aspirant

î, as in bit ', glottal stop

For convenience in reference a "finding list" has been appended, in which the scientific and English names are listed alphabetically.


The subjects of this bulletin, the Menomini Indians, since our first knowledge of them, have been largely dependent on plant life for food and many other uses. Their tribal name, Menomini, was early translated by the French who found them in the heart of the wild rice district, into "folles avoines." The Menomini word for wild rice is "Mä’nomän" and they took to themselves the name of the "wild rice men," "Mä’nomäneo inä’niwug."


The Menomini are of Algonkian stock and number at present about 1745. They live on their reservation, which comprises twelve townships in Shawano county, northeastern Wisconsin. They are typical forest Indians, versed in woodcraft, hunting and agriculture. They have been a peaceable and industrious people for many decades.  Doubtless many Milwaukeeans have passed through the Menomini reservation without realizing its exact location or extent. Travel by auto takes Wisconsin highway 15 to Appleton, where highway 47 starts.  Highway 47 proceeds due north 31 miles to Bonduel and joins highway 16 to Shawano for nine miles. Thence it runs north and west through the reservation, leaving the reservation at Phlox, some 12 miles from Antigo, the terminus of highway 47. From Shawano, the reservation line is 5.4 miles distant, the chief town, Keshena, being two miles farther. From Keshena to Neopit, the only other large town on the reservation, it is 12.7 miles in a northwesterly direction. From Neopit to Phlox, just off the reservation, is 12.5 miles. Thus highway 47 may be followed for nearly 28 miles through the reservation. 


The reservation proper contained originally 12 townships, two of which were ceded to the Stockbridge and Munsee Indians, leaving ten townships, comprising 360 square miles or about 230,400 acres. It is well wooded with a large variety of conifers and hardwoods, and is well supplied with streams, rivers and lakes, which abound in fish. 


The Wolf river, flows from north to south through the eastern half of the reservation. It is a turbulent stream with many rapids and waterfalls. In earlier Wisconsin history it was much used, together with its tributaries, for log drives to New London and  Oshkosh. In those days, the Indians caught many large sturgeons, as well as quantities of other fish. Nowadays, a special reservation permit must be purchased before anyone but a Menomini may fish there. Most of the lakes are small and are connected in a chain in the southeastern part of the reservation. A typical one of these is Lake Lamotte.  Good fishing is still enjoyed in all parts of the reservation.


The soil varies greatly. Perhaps the largest part is a sandy loam, which is quite fertile. The sandy land is of two kinds. The low-lying sandy soil is swampy, with lakes and their accompanying humus. Here white spruce, larch, Norway and white pine, arbor-vitae, hemlock, balsam, juniper, birches, alders, willows, poplars, red maple, red ash, chokecherry and slippery elm are found, The high sandy soil is nearly pure sand with a clay subsoil and is very low in fertility, the haunt of the blueberry. Here jack pine, Norway and white pine, juniper, paper birches, willows, white ash, white elm, and white and red oak are found, most of them of scrubby growth. 


The swamps of loam and decaying vegetable humus are veritable jungles of arbor-vitae, hemlock, white spruce, balsam, white and norway pine, with  occasional hardwoods scattered therein. The upland loam may support two kinds of forests.


Where rock is close to the surface, large, nearly pure stands of pine are encountered. In other situations, the forests may be almost pure hardwoods, with predominating species of hard maple, basswood, red and white oak and beech.


By act of Congress in 1908, the Menomini were enabled to build a large sawmill. This mill is of fifty million feet annual capacity and is located at Neopit. Here one may see a modern mill, with its large mill pond on the west branch of the Wolf river, modern houses and stores, the Green Bay and Western Ry., a logging railroad running out 15 miles into the timber, electric lights and a thriving up-to-date industry. This lumbering is conducted as a school of industry for the Menomini. About 38 per cent of the men of the tribe find continuous employment here, while in the winter, when farm work is impossible, a much higher proportion is employed. There is a government school at Neopit as well as a Catholic mission.


The four western and the two northern townships of the reservation are heavily timbered with hardwood, pine and hemlock, estimated at two billion feet of standing timber, valued at ten million dollars. The Neopit plant is valued at one million dollars, and it has accumulated a tribal fund known as the four per cent fund. In its first two years of operation, it earned half a million dollars. The five eastern townships contain good farming land with scattered timber stands. Here some progress has been made in agriculture and farms of from 3 to 20 acres are encountered. The government, through its experts and the Neopit operation or demonstration farm, is encouraging the Menomini to become selfsupporting. 


Only a hundred members of the tribe receive aid as rationers from the government, on account of old age, disease, disability or no means of support. The government, too, has taken up the problem of reforesting the reservation. This past year three million white and Austrian pine seedlings were started on the Neopit operation farm. 


In agricultural pursuits, the Menomini are far ahead of the average tribe. Their annual Indian fair is the best of Indian fairs in the state. The writer attended the 1922 fair from September 12th to 15th, and was surprised at the agricultural and horticultural exhibits. He saw a larger head of cabbage than any exhibited at the Wisconsin State Fair.  Pumpkins, squashes, watermelons, muskmelons and other cucurbitaceous crops were quite in line with similar exhibits at the State Fair. Root crops were on a similar plane. Forage crops were good, though not so carefully trimmed and dressed as the State Fair exhibits. Several mokoks of maple sugar were exhibited and numberless evidences of skill in baking, preserving and canning were displayed. Indian art, both aboriginal and that of the school children, occupied a prominent place at the fair. Farm animals were shown, demonstrating that the Menomini is not far behind his white brother in this plane of activity.


While the Menomini are known as a progressive tribe in agriculture, there are yet a goodly number of pagans among them, who cling to the old rites and customs of the tribe, and who are therefore well versed in the aboriginal uses of plants for foods, textiles, medicines and various other uses. It was largely through them that the writer was able to conduct his investigations. The pagan, to the Menomini, means any non-Catholic Indian.  He might be a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian or  an Atheist, but would still be considered and known by the Menomini as a pagan. The white man uses the term as meaning that the pagan Indian clings to the aboriginal practices of medicine, which is really the great feature of their religion. The pagan Menomini is a much more interesting man than his Catholic brother, and in his own way, more deeply religious and careful of sacred things. The outstanding advisors or councilors of the tribe are fine old pagan Menomini. There is a dignity  and sense of worth radiated by these fine old Menomini that surpasses anything shown by their Christian brothers. A pagan Menomini observes his ritual and gives his attention to sacred things in a far larger measure than many of our denominational ministers, yes, and prays more, too. The Christian members of the tribe might be characterized as the "drifters," those not firmly grounded in their own religion, hence apt to attach themselves to other faiths. 


Because of the sanctity of most of their medicinal knowledge, it is difficult to obtain full information on the uses of plants as medicines. The first trip one makes to the reservation will result in the gathering of a host of medicinal plants, and a feeling that now he has something of value to give to the scientific world. The second trip will discover that there is much more than he supposed on the first trip, while remaining trips will finally convince him that no white man will ever get all of the data, names and uses of plants from the Menomini. In fact, such data could not be had from any one Menomini. To complete the list, one would need the co-operation of every old pagan man and woman on the reservation, for they all have different things handed down to them by word of mouth from their parents. Since many of their uses of the various plants are revealed to the medicine men in their dreams, which form the diagnostic part of the treatment, it is quite evident that there are remedies known only to particular medicine men and not to any of the rest of the tribe.


Just because certain plants collected have been given no Indian names or uses, does not necessarily mean that they are not used by the Menomini and have no Indian  names. In fact, the writer discovered on subsequent trips, that many unassigned plants were later identified by certain other Menomini as powerful medicines. 


In compiling this bulletin, the writer has decided that plants not known to be used by the Menomini should be included in the various lists, so that future investigators  may discover and record names and uses of such plants. In listing the different plants, the English common name will be followed by the Latin binomial according to Gray's manual of botany, then the Menomini name and its literal translation, if this be known. Following these will be the uses, supposed properties, its value as an official or eclectic drug by the white man, and any known myths connected with it.


The same procedure will be followed in the other subheads under investigation, viz.: foods, fibers, dyes, and miscellaneous uses. 


 Medicines, Foods, Fibers and Dyes



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