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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center




Merlin Red Cloud Jr. Transcripts

Why did the Ho Chunk come to La Crosse?

Because the land is so rich. Probably because the bottomlands, thereís a lot of things there. There was the muskrat, the beaver, the otter, a lot of elk. I think the elk were more popular more than the deer were at that time. I think there were more elk around there and it was a great hunting area. [There was also] wild rice and Indian potato. So the food supply was really good right there and that would be the reason they just keep going back and using it over and over. Because the food supply never seemed to end right there. It was a great place.

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So the gardens were, I donít know, I think they called them raised gardens; Iím not sure. But they piled the dirt up, the base probably being maybe a foot and a half or two feet wide and raised up maybe about a foot. In the center they would dig a little trench and this was used to catch water. Whenever it rained the water wouldnít all run off, itíd go inside this little trench that they built on top of the plants that were planted. Some of the gardens, where it was possible, they would take flat rocks and theyíd put it against the edge of the rows because this would capture the heat and make the ground warm up faster, which would give you a better, earlier starting time for planting.

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Who plants, weeds and harvests the fields?

If youíre fortunate and have got kids, they can do it. But, right now [itís] just my wife and I, so my wife and I we take care of the garden. We plant, and we take care of the weeds, and we harvest, we do the canning, we do the drying. So itís all right within the family. Years ago when the villagers were more tightly gathered, the population, they would have like community gardens. So the gardens would really, really be large and everybody would help out.

Mostly the womenfolk would be in the gardens back in the old days. Yeah, the womenfolk and the children. The men would be out doing their hunting or their trapping. They were the ones that covered more ground. The women would actually take care of the gardens. And all this stuff that had to be done, the drying and the stuff like that, was all done by the women.

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What kind of corn is grown today?

The corn is kind of different today because a lot of people donít grow their own. I got my seed from my grandmother, who got it from her dad. So I have a pretty old, pretty good strain of Indian corn that I have and that I use in my family. Iím very protective. I donít grow it by no other corn so itís not pollinated by something else. Itís a real strong corn. Itís very hardy. If you grow Indian corn in the same forty-acre field of sweet corn, or field corn, or another kind of corn, they will get their color into another corn. It wonít be vice-versa. The sweet corn canít affect Indian corn. Indian corn will affect the sweet corn.

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How do you dry squash?

The squash, we dry some of that. We just cut it up in chunks about, oh, take a Hubbard squash, weíll cut it in half and then weíll cut it in strips of about an inch, and weíll just set it out in the sun to dry it. If youíve got some good drying days, it takes about five days for the squash to dry up really nice so we can keep it. And then we just put in a bag and put it up in one of the closets over where itís dry.

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How do you dry corn?

The corn is a long process, itís a hard process. You bring it back home and you husk it. You boil it, give it about a ten minute boil, a hard boil. Then you take it back out of the hot water and let it cool it off a little bit. You take a tablespoon and then you just work yourself down the rows of the corn and take the kernels off the cob. Then weíve got a big screen that we have and we put it on top. The bottom of the screen, we have a white cloth that we lay there. Then we put the corn on top of that and spread it out as thin as possible. And then we put another screen on top to keep the bugs out. That takes about two and half or three days if we have good sun for drying. Itís a long process and itís a lot of work. But it tastes great.

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Here we have strawberries that we use. Thereís elderberries. A lot of people donít use elderberries because in our language they call them ghost berries. So a lot of our older folks used to be afraid of them and I donít know the reason for that, but I know they taste good. Theyíre all dried. We never made jams or jellies or anything like that back in the old days. Everything was dried, kept in a pouch, and kept high so it stayed dry. You could either eat them the way they are when theyíre dry, or mix them in with, like the meat I was talking about or mix them with a soup I was talking earlier about. It would give them more freshness, and whatever the body needs I suppose comes out of what we ate like that.

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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.