Native American Roots
In the days before settlement, our area was named Manitowoc by the Native Americans who called this area their home. Manitowoc, meaning home of the good spirit, was regarded as a magical place for the mixed bands of Ottowa, Potawatomi, Menominee and Ojibwa people.
There were 3 fairly large sized Indian villages located in our area: one in Manitowoc Rapids, one near Two Rivers, and another at the fork of the Manitowoc River. Many smaller Villages or encampments could also be found throughout the area.
The band in Manitowoc Rapids was situated about 2 miles from the mouth of the river, where the historic Indian trail along Lake Michigan was located. The Indian trail went from Chicago to Fort Howard. The trail later came to be known as the Green Bay Military Road. A band of Chippewas also settled near Cato Falls on the upper Manitowoc River.
The head chief of most of the mixed bands in our area was Waumegesako, or the “Wampum”. He was most commonly known as Chief Mexico. According to records, he was born in 1789 and was “a man of fine physique, erect, over 6 feet in height, very dignified and courteous in his demeanor, possessing considerable strength of character, and more than ordinary intelligence. In his dress he was plain and unassuming, indulging in none of the fineries and tinsel so common among Indians of both sexes.”
“He was upright in all his dealings with his white neighbors as well as with his own people… .” He spoke only broken English. The Chief had 11 children, many of which relocated to the Menominee Indian Reservation in Keshena after his death. He also had 4 wives (two were Menominee sisters).
Chief Mexico died in 1844 in Manitowoc Rapids. According to the Dr. Louis Falge in his book “The History of Manitowoc County Wisconsn”:
“Rumor has it that his death occurred in a log hut, upon the river’s bank on Wm. Hein’s farm, then known as Champlin’s Mill in the Cato, Rapids town line. The crumbling mouldy ruin was dismantled in 1903. … Some five hundred of the dusky mourners, and a number of his white neighbors congregated during a fierce snow storm for the funeral… .”
After Chief Mexico’s death, his son Makoos was chosen as the chief. The band continued to live at the forks at Rapids until about 1869 when they moved to the Menominee Reservation.
In 1909 the Manitowoc County Historical Society dedicated a marker to Chief Mexico in Manitowoc Rapids. It is estimated that about 5,000 people attended the dedication.
Other areas of Manitowoc County also have a connection to our Native American heritage. Daniel Smith named Mishicot after his friend, Chief Mishicott as a sign of his respect for the leader of the area Potawatomi community. Local legend has always said that Mishicott's name translated to "hairy legs." The original spelling was Mishicott, with two T’s at the end. It is believed the second T was officially dropped around the time the village was incorporated.
The community of Meeme, located in southern Manitowoc County, was named after the Chippewa word for "wild pigeon."