From Ashwaubomay to Ashwaubenon: How the village got its name
By Melinda Anne Roberts
Hobby historian and “Little Wisconsin” author
ASHWAUBENON – The historical marker affixed to a red granite boulder on the west bank of the Fox River at the center of Ashwaubomay Memorial River Park tells the story of a young Ottawa brave named Little Crow and how the kidnapping of a young Fox River Menominee maiden by the Shawano Lake Chippewa led to how Ashwaubenon getting its name.
“I ought to tell you the tradition that exists among the French Creoles of Green Bay, as to the naming of Ashwaubenon creek and town,” said 70-year-old Andrew J. Vieau, Sr. (1818-1888) at a June 1887 interview with Wisconsin Historical Society President Reuben Gold Thwaites, who had traveled to Fort Howard to collect Vieau’s narrative of early times in Wisconsin.
“A prominent young Ottawa Indian” named Little Crow came to Green Bay from Mackinaw in 1795.
He was the son of a chief at L’Arbor Croche.
Little Crow “courted the acquaintance of Ahkeeneebeway (Standing Earth)…an old Menomonee chief…in what is now Fort Howard; the latter took the new comer into his family and made much of him, for he had pleasing ways and was indeed a fine fellow.”
One June day a couple of years later “a number of young Menomonee squaws went out blueberrying. They had quite a frolic among themselves, but finally one of them was missing.”
A frantic search lasted several days and “at last a trail was discovered, going westward” to where the Chippewa lived on Lake Shawano.
The Menominee determined the Chippewa had kidnapped the girl.
“Standing Earth…sent runners through his village and soon there was a crowd at the council house, where the pipe of deliberation was smoked and the affair discussed in all its bearings. It was concluded that a party of fifty warriors should be sent to the Chippewa village on Lake Shawano, to demand the captive and bring her back.”
When Standing Earth called for volunteers, Little Crow was the first to respond.
Once everyone was gathered, Standing Earth chose Little Crow to “take charge of this party and whatever you do will be right.”
Although he did not feel worthy, with Standing Earth’s insistence and the support of the other warriors, Little Crow led the party to Lake Shawano.
At daybreak Little Crow said to his warriors, “Keep still. I will myself go into the village. Do not stir till I give the war whoop. But when I do give it, then strike, cut and kill.”
Since “the Chippewa hunters had gone out into the woods to kill game for the morning meal,” Little Crow was able creep and crouch through the silent village, lifting the mats over the wigwam doors and peering in “until at last he was rewarded. She was sitting at the further end of a long lodge. Several old women were squatting around a fire, between him and the [maiden].”
As Little Crow rescued her, the Chippewa women “did not stir from their places, but they gave him vicious sidelong looks, full of hate and silent threats. He paused for a moment, on the outside, much tempted to go back and tomahawk them; but he refrained from doing so,” and he and the girl rejoined the waiting warriors.
“That night, there was great jollification among all the Menomonees hereabouts.”
At a council the following day, Standing Earth gave Little Crow a new name – “Ashawaubomay, meaning Side Looks, in remembrance of the ugly glances which the old Chippewa women had given him. Standing Earth…greatly praised the forbearance displayed by Ashawaubomay in not tomahawking the old women and thus opening a bloody quarrel between the Chippewas and Menomonees.”
Standing Earth then said, “My son, you are a young man; I wish to see you prosper; you are entitled to choose two of the prettiest squaws in the village. Now choose!”
Ashawaubomay replied that he wanted only one wife. When Standing Earth smiled and told him to choose, Ashawaubomay declared, “I take your youngest daughter, Wahbenukqua (Morning Star).”
“There was great rejoicing in the camp” as Standing Earth brought forth his beautiful daughter and presented her to Ashawaubomay. “That the young chief might not be without a home, Standing Earth gave him a grant of land, running from the Ashwaubenon river to the foot of De Pere rapids, a mile long, on the west side of the river, and running back some three miles.”
The next morning Ashawaubomay and his bride traveled by canoe up the river to the mouth of a south-side creek, where they settled, farmed and raised a large family.
“Ashawaubomay…was buried on his little farm, on the shore of the creek.”
“Some fifteen years ago,” concluded Vieau, “I attempted to give the name of this Ottawa Indian to the town in which I live. But the county board got the name all mixed up, and the town goes by the title of Ashwaubenon, which doesn’t mean anything at all. But such has been the fate of too many geographical names, of Indian origin, when falling into the hands of people in authority, who have no care for historical accuracy.”
Today Thwaites’ interview with Vieau is maintained in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society, to whom credit is given for gracious permission to reprint large portions of the narrative.
The monument, erected when the park opened in the early 1970’s near where it is believed Ashawaubomay was buried, was restored and rededicated on June 23, 2014.