Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation, located in Bowler, Wisconsin consists of members of the Munsee Nation and the Brothertown Nation of Indians. The Muh-he-con-ne-ok (or Mohican) Indians formerly lived along the Muh-he-con-ne-ok, now known as the Hudson River. The traditional meaning of the term Muh-he-con-ne-ok is “people of flowing water,” and thus, the tribe is known as people of the waters which are never still.
Several different bands formed the Mohican Confederacy and members of the bands inhabited areas south of Lake Champlain, west to Schoarie Creek, east to Vermont and New Hampshire and south to Manhattan Island. The Munsee were a group of native people in the Delaware Confederacy. They lived on the west side of the Hudson River. Both the Mohicans and Munsee lived such similar lifestyles that it is often difficult to distinguish the two tribes. Both are Woodland Tribes whose members built homes close to the rivers and waterways.
A typical village home was called a wigwam which is a circular shaped structure framed with bent willow or elm branches and covered with bark, animal hides and clay. In addition to the wigwams, some of the band members lived in long houses. Usually extended family members of the same clan lived in one long house which could be as large as 100 feet long. Each of the families residing in the long house would have a separate fire pit within the building. Long houses were often made of logs and were far more sturdy and comfortable than wigwams.
To subsist, members netted or speared fish, tended gardens, and hunted large and small game. In early spring, the harvest focused on tapping the maple trees for sugar and syrup. All pottery, clothing, and blankets were made from natural materials. In the mid-seventeenth century, after the arrival of the Europeans, many of the Tribes competed for the trading opportunities with the Dutch.
As the fur trade depleted the game supplies, the conflicts between other Tribal nations, most notably the Mohawks, increased. Eventually, the Mohicans were forced out of their aboriginal territory and settled on land farther south and east (now the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts along the Housitanic River). The increased population in the area, loss of members from foreign diseases such as measles and small pox, and the debilitating effects of alcohol on Tribal members each contributed to the substantial demise of the tribe’s membership base. The land base diminished as colonial settlers cleared large tracts for farming and competed for game. The tribal members were living a marginal existence at best.
By the early 18th century the tribal enrollment barely exceeded 1,000 members, living in small communities along the Housitanic and Hudson Rivers. Two Mohican Sachems, Konkapot and Umpachenee, were approached by English missionaries to establish Indian Missions. Although Umpachenee was less enthusiastic than Konkapot, he agreed not to interfere. Konkapot, disillusioned by his traditional religion’s failure to address the needs of his band members, was convinced that the tribe’s only hope of survival was in education and conversion to Christianity. “Since my remembrance, there were ten Indians where there is now one. But the Christians greatly increase and multiply, and spread over the land; let us, therefore, leave our former courses and become Christians.”
This 1734 summation by Chief Konkapot led to Reverend John Sergeant’s 1736 arrival in “Indian Town” to act as missionary to the eight Mohican families led by Konkapot and sub-chief Umpachene. Thus, the mission town of Stockbridge was established. The decision to establish an Indian settlement was debated by the local sachems for four days, with Konkapot winning the debate. The agreement to establish the Indian township was formalized by the missionaries’ presentation of a wampum belt to Konkapot; however, both Konkapot and Umpachenee made clear that the agreement was still subject to final approval from the Mohicans’ main council fire. This approval was eventually granted, and the money was raised to pay several missionaries to reside among the Mohican Indians at the township became known as the “Stockbridge” Indians because the Berkshire mountains, where the Indian Mission was established, was similar to the geography of Stockbridge, England.
Many tribal members built log homes, established small farms, and served as members on the Town Board. Despite the stability provided by the settlement, the conflict between the colonists and the Indians continued. Differences between colonial and tribal cultures were often impossible to reconcile. The Mohicans’ traditional form of government was slowly disintegrating and reluctantly yielding to the ways of the colonials. The Mohican Nation was traditionally part of a large confederacy of small bands or units of families.
Each band’s head representative was called the sachem. The sachem also had various counselors (elected representatives also known as Chiefs) with whom he would consult in all public decisions involving the welfare of the members. These counselors were called Woh-weet-quau-pe-chee. In addition, the chief would consult with one Mo-quau-pauw “Hero”, one was allowed to keep a bag of wampum or “Mno-ti”. This bag contained wampum belts and strings of wampum presented to the sachem from different nations. In addition to the Mno-ti, each sachem was keeper of the peace pipe. Sachems were responsible for the overall peace between members of the community as well as peace among the communities and other nations. In this respect, the sachems were the Mohicans’ version of the colonial’s justices of peace. Use of the traditional forms of decision-making changed dramatically during this time.
Many of the male members of the Mohican Nation fought in Washington’s army in the American Revolution. After the war and upon returning to Stockbridge, members found themselves out-numbered by greedy missionaries. The Indian women and children had returned to the woods in make-shift wigwams until their leaders returned. It was hoped that the grievances against the missionaries could be resolved through the Territorial Government. Konkapot presented at least two petitions to the Territorial Government seeking relief, but before they were answered, he died. Following his death, many band members removed to friendlier territory among the Oneida Nation in New York.
At that same time, the newly formed United States sought to remove all Native Americans west of the Mississippi. Promising a much larger, permanent tract of land, the United States government persuaded the members to abandon their claims in Massachusetts and remove further south with the Munsee Tribe. By the time the Tribe reached the Munsee Nation, that Nation had been removed and no longer had property to share. In the early 19th century, the Tribe was relocated to the north shores of Lake Winnebago (now known as Stockbridge, Wisconsin).
Treaty negotiations with the Menominee Nation resulted in several treaties between the Mohicans and Menominee and the United States, with the final treaty in 1856 establishing the current reservation near Bowler, Wisconsin. Members of the Brothertown and Munsee Nations were included in the treaties establishing the current reservation and the name of the Tribe was changed to Stockbridge-Munsee. Despite land losses inside the current reservation boundaries, the Tribe continues to reside on the reservation as established by the Treaty of 1856.