The Winnebago first arrived in northwest Kentucky around 500 BC and by 500 AD they had entered the area that is now Wisconsin. In the 1620's the Winnebago fought an inter-tribal war with the Potawatomis'. After this war, small pox and measles epidemics reduced the population of the Tribe from about 25,000 people to only about 150 people.

The Winnebago signed their first treaty with the United States in 1816 and signed boundary and cession treaties in the 1820's and 1830's. These treaties resulted in the loss of most of the tribal land. The tribe was moved from what is now northeast Iowa, to Minnesota to South Dakota, and finally to their current location in Nebraska where the Winnebago Indian Reservation was established by treaties of 1865 and 1874. Following this displacement to the treeless plains of South Dakota, a nocturnal gravitation occurred during which many of the dispossessed Winnebago, under cover of darkness, traveled down the Missouri River to rejoin remnants of their tribe in Nebraska. The General Allotment Act of 1887 resulted in the loss of about two thirds of the Reservation by 1913. Both population and economic opportunities were lost through the 1960's.

In 1975, the Tribe was awarded $4.6 million by the Indian Claims Commission for the land it had lost in the 1837 land cession treaty with the federal government. The Tribal Council decided to use much of the award to develop three programs: land acquisition, credit and a wake and burial program.

The tribe is federally recognized and organized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The 1936 constitution and bylaws were amended in 1968. The Tribal Council is composed of a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and five other members. All officers are elected to a one-year term, while the remaining council members are appointed (Tiller, 1996). In 1986, the Tribe reestablished its sovereignty in the area of its legal system.

The first recorded contact with European immigrants was in 1634, on the traditional homelands of the Winnebago Tribe. This area is very near the present day community of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Winnebago Tribe was classified at this period of time as an agricultural/hunting society. However, this traditional lifestyle was disrupted by the institution of the European fur trade business. At this point drastic changes occurred in the traditional life-style of the Winnebago Tribe.

At this time close ties were developed with the French speaking society. Relationships were such that the Winnebago Tribe, in the mid 1700(s), found itself allied to the French in the French and English war. Following the English victory over the French the English began to establish ties with the Winnebago Tribe. Slowly the English won the allegiance of the Winnebago Tribe, so that by the time of the American Revolutionary War they had become the solid allies of the English. Although the American Colonist won the war the Winnebago Tribe maintained their allegiance to the English. So at the beginning of the 19th century, the Winnebago Tribe joined the Tecumseh Confederacy. Tecumseh took the warriors of this fourteen tribe confederacy into the war of 1812 on the side of the English. The defeat of the English during this time was the last organized armed resistance by the Winnebago Tribe against the American colonies and was the end of the relations with the English.

In 1832, the Winnebago Tribe was coerced into signing a treaty calling for their removal from their traditional homelands.

The initial movement took place in 1837.

The Winnebago Tribe was moved to its first reservation at Decorah, Iowa in 1837. During this time a sizable number of Winnebago families moved on their own back to the area which is now Wisconsin.

Preceding the opening of the Iowa territory for settlement the Winnebago Tribe was moved once again. This time to Long Prairie, Minnesota, this being their second reservation. At this time several more Winnebago families returned to the area of Wisconsin on their own.

In 1846, the Winnebago Tribe was forced to move again. This time it was to Southern Minnesota in the area of Blue Earth. This was to be their third reservation.

The Winnebago Tribe was moved to their fourth reservation following the great Sioux uprising in 1863.

In 1865 facing problems of disease, malnutrition and possible extinction the Winnebago Tribe took it upon itself to move to which is now the Northeast corner of Nebraska. Once this move was accomplished the Winnebago Tribe entered into its last treaty with the United States Government. The treaty involved the purchasing of some 127,000 acres of land from the Minnesota Historical Collections. Winneshiek was the head chief of the Winnebago. The deliberations and the accompanying feast lasted for several days and were “closed with a wedding the Winnebago giving one of their beautiful maidens to some noted brave of the Sioux. The presents given to the bride were quite valuable.” About thirteen hundred were removed to Minnesota at this time, leaving, it was estimated about four hundred still remaining in Iowa and Wisconsin. Others were removed in 1850.

In 1853, a new treaty was made by which they were allowed to remove to the Crow river. This treaty was not ratified because of the remonstrance of the people of Minnesota. On February 27, 1855, they ceded their Long Prairie reservation and were granted a tract of land eighteen miles square on the Blue Earth river, just south of Mankato, in Southern Minnesota. They settled here in the spring of that year and immediately began the erection of dwellings and improvement of the land. The teacher of the reservation school reported in 1860 the enrollment of 118 pupils. In the midst of their prosperity, in June, 1862, came the “Sioux Massacre,” which completely wrecked their future prospects. Although they took no part in that affair and even though they offered to the government their services in punishing the Sioux, the frightened inhabitants of Minnesota demanded their removal.

By a special act of Congress, they were hastily removed in a scandalous manner and suffering great hardships, in May and June of that year, to Ushers Landing, on the Missouri River, in South Dakota. At the time of this removal, the old chiefs, Decorah, Winneshiek, Dandy and their families, and other members of the tribe, fled to Wisconsin. By order of the President (July 1, 1863), there was set aside for them a reserve just below Pierre, and adjoining the Crow Creek reserve of the Sioux, on the east side of the Missouri River, in South Dakota. Here they became greatly dissatisfied with the nature of the soil and water and the lack of timber, and were reported to be engaged in making canoes with the intention of leaving to join the Omaha and other tribes down the Missouri River. The Indian agent of the Omaha reservation, in northeastern Nebraska, reported in October 1863, the continued arrival of small parties of Winnebago, in a very destitute condition. For these he was instructed to care. On March 8, 1864, the Dakota reservation was ceded back to the government and by September of that year, 1200 Winnebago had arrived at the Omaha reservation. These were provided with a tract of land for temporary residence and cultivation. On March 6, 1865, they purchased a large section of the Omaha lands. On June 22, 1874, a second tract was purchased from the tribe. In August 1865, the superintendent of the reservation reported the Winnebago as being “characterized” by frugality, thrift and industry to an extent unequalled by any other tribe of Indians in the Northwest.

In 1873, a last attempt was made by the government to remove the one thousand or more Winnebago, estimated to be still remaining in Wisconsin. Captain Hunt, who was in charge of the removal sent runners to all of the bands with notice to report at Sparta for shipment to Nebraska. But it was necessary to employ the military, who found Big Hawk with thirty others holding a feast at the Baraboo river. On their refusal to leave they put handcuffs on Big Hawk, who made no resistance. They were all marched into Portage, and there put aboard the cars. Some were found on the Fox and Wisconsin rivers. In some camps the troops found only women and children whom they marched off, the men following them when they returned. Great hardship was suffered by all of the Indiana, many dying on the way and others from exposure after reaching Nebraska. Several hundred Winnebago were removed, but many more Omaha Tribe to establish their fifth and final reservation which has come to be known as the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.