Yesterday, a little news snippet caught my ear: President Obama visited Decorah, Iowa where he stayed at the Hotel Winneshiek. While there is nothing about that that is earth shaking or will be of great historic significance, it was of interest to me. It wasn’t what the president was doing that got my attention; it was the names of the places he was that resonated with me.
Decorah (often spelled De Cora or Decora) is not just a geographical name but is also the name of an important Nebraska Winnebago family, many of whom were hereditary chiefs. The granddaughter of one of these chiefs, Little De Cora, was Angel DeCora who, after being educated at Smith College, rose to prominence in the late 19th century as the leading female Indian artist of her day and was well known in the leading eastern art circles. In 1906, she accepted the position as director of the Native Art Department at Carlisle Indian School. In late 1907, she married William Henry Lone Star Dietz who, at 25 was her student, but was still 13 years her junior. The two generated much positive press nationally for Carlisle.
Winneshiek is the name of an important Wisconsin Winnebago, or Ho Chunk, family which has provided the tribe with many chiefs. The son of one of them was William Winneshiek who was noted more for his musical ability than his athletic prowess at Carlisle and went on to a career in music, even having his own all-Indian band. He did, however, find time to play football in the early NFL for the Oorang Indians. His biography can be found in Wisconsin’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals.
His brush with history finished, Obama left Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah for breakfast in Guttenberg.