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Ioway Cultural Institute : History :
General History

Mountains of Snowy Lodges - A Wisconsin Memory

As told to Eric Zingler by Lance Foster, M.A. M.L.A., Member, Cultural Advisory Committee, Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska in response the orgin of the word “Ocooch Mountains” for the Western Uplands of Wisconsin.

“Ocoche” and “Ocooch” as a Native American tribal name meaning “waters with many fish.”

“In fast speech in both Winnebago and Ioway, the final e in words is often dropped. An example is eat, waruje (wa-roo-je or wa-roo-che) which is said in fast-normal speech as warooch.-But then they say it meant "waters with many fish." In one sentence the site says Ocooch meant a band of Indians and in the very next they say it means waters with many fish.  It does not mean that in either. In Winnebago and Ioway, water is ni (nee). In Kickapoo and Sauk, water is nepi (neh-pee). Neither one is close to Ocooch.

“Ocooch sounds like one of our words. The word Ocooch is Siouan, either Winnebago or Ioway. It is not Algonquian, not Kickapoo. Of course ours was not a written language, so white people sort of spelled things the way it sounded to their ears. So the derived spelling has little to do with any of it, but the vowels and consonants and their order is correct for our language, a Siouan language. 

Ioway History in Wisconsin

“The Ioway/Oneota developed out of the Woodland cultures that lived much more intensively in smaller villages and rockshelters in the mountains, many of these rockshelters later used for ritual art sites, as people remembered their ancestral homes in ceremonies.

The Oneota, ancestors of the Ioway and Winnebago, were all over that area [Western Upland], and our earliest sites are as far north as Lake Pepin and Red Wing, over to Effigy Mounds and the Upper Iowa, and LaCrosse has all kinds of our sites. We (Ioway, Otoe, Winnebago) lived in this area for centuries before the Sauk and Meskwaki or Kickapoo came there (in the late 1600s or the 1700s, as they left the lands scarred by Iroquois warfare during the Beaver Wars).

Before then, they [Ioway] had large village sites during the growing season in the major river valleys, such as a village at the site of what is now Valley View Mall at La Crosse. During the summers, they had their large towns on the big rivers where the rich soil was so they could grow their crops, and gather the rich natural resources of the bottomlands, including fish. In the late fall and winter they would disperse into smaller camps in the mountains and valleys, where they would go for fur trapping and hunting deer and elk. The Ocooch area would have been a place for hunting and fishing, but also rituals like vision questing, which is reflected in the rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs) in some of the rock shelters there that show Oneota art. That's the pattern from about AD 900 to 1670 or so, when the Ioway (wakoch/ocoche) left the area for good, probably due to disease, resource depletion, and increasing war. 

We called ourselves Baxoje, Paxoje, Paxoce, etc. Pronounced Bakoche (the B/P sound is pronounced very softly). We are related to the WInnebago and speak a similar language. Several of our bands were wiped out by disease in the earliest contact periods. Our territory included the area [Western Uplands] in those early times.

It is likely that a small band of Baxoje , (B)axoj(e) is meant here as the origin of the word Ocooch. In fact my grandma pronounced it pah-koo-chee, so you can get (p)ah-koo-ch(ee) out of that easily.

The Winnebago (Hochunk, Hochungara) called us waxoj, WAH-KOH-CH(e).

Paxoje can be spelled Pakoche or Pakuche (remember, it was an oral tradition and did not write or spell). The Winnebago variant of the name is Wakoche, although they tend to drop the final "e" in normal speech, so they can often say it as Wakoch. The P and W sounds are often said very softly and the following "a" sound may predominate. These names would have been heard by nonIndians and written either as Ocoche or Ocooch.

There is a lot of variation in how people spelled and pronounced our name throughout history. However, based upon different translations, I would suggest the meaning "Snowy Lodges" or "Snow-covered Lodges." It is one of the different true meanings that has come down through the ages of the names we have for ourselves, Paxoje, and it is compatible with a vision of an area known for its rugged beauty. One would say The Mountains of the Snowy Lodges directly in Ioway as Snowy-Lodge Mountains, Pahkochee Ahaymahshee (in our current tribal orthography we would also write it as Paxochi Ahema'shi). Pronounced as PAH-ko-chee ah-hay-MAH-shee.”

In addition, Lance contacted Dr. Robert Rankin Ph.D., University of Kansas Linguistic Department, one of the foremost Siouan linguists who in an email to Lance dated February 22, 2013 3:37 PM replied: “Hmmm, I'm assuming that your use of the letter "C" in Ocooch has the value of "K".  Then I'd guess your analysis is probably about the best hypothesis possible.  Winnebago does indeed lose final unaccented -e consistently.  A misinterpretation of waxooch seems very plausible to me, especially given the geography involved."

In response to Tracy Littlejohn, Research/Project Coordinator, Cultural Resource Division of the Ho Chunk Nation sending information that the Ho Chunk had a name for the Treampaleu and Baraboo Rivers in the Western Highlands called Hoguc, pronounced Ho-gooch.

“In both Ioway and Hochunk, "ho" means "fish." In Ioway, "kuje" means "to shoot or pierce." Ioway and Hochunk languages are very similar, as they only really differentiated in the 1500s. It sounds like "guc" is Hochunk equivalent of Ioway "kuje." So as far as their suggestion of "Fish-Shooting (Water)" it is possible. Our word for harpoon is wikuje (wee-koo-jay), "that with which one pierces (fish)." As I said, we are very closely related tribes and see each other as relatives.” “Hocooch: Fish-Spearing Waters.”

Thank you Lance for your time and patience and for giving us “Land of Fish-Spearing Waters” and “Mountains of Snowy Lodges”.


Eric Zingler
Zingler Consulting
Wikipedia Contributor

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