Chief Yellow Thunder, hosted the wedding of his wife’s niece, Blue Wing.

Chief Yellow Thunder, hosted the wedding of his wife’s niece, Blue Wing.

SCHS/Contributed

Mrs. Almira (Brown) Johnson was born in 1847 near Janesville, her family having moved there from Vermont in 1845. They again moved to a farm in New Buffalo, now Delton Township, in 1849. The farm was located about three miles from the 40 acres, east of Highway A, which had been awarded to Chief Yellow Thunder.

When Almira was 10-years-old, her father learned that there was to be an Indian wedding at Yellow Thunder’s, and that he would be attending, along with his two older daughters and a son. The Browns were good friends of the Native American family. Almira was too young, so she remained at home with the promise that they would tell her all about the wedding.

When they arrived, there were about 100 Indians and a dozen white men, all seated outside. Yellow Thunder was seated on the ground with his back to a post, and had ordered two gallons of whisky for the guests. Each person took a drink from the bottle and passed it on to the next. When Yellow Thunder’s wife took a drink, she immediately covered her face with a blanket. Wondering what she was doing, Mr. Brown moved closer to her and observed that after she took her drink, she would spit it into an empty bottle she had hidden in the blanket. He later suggested that Mrs. Yellow Thunder was a true “pioneer temperance woman.”

Blue Wing was the niece of Mrs. Yellow Thunder, and was adorned in traditional Native American wedding attire which Brown went on to describe.

“Her hair was parted in the middle and her smooth black locks shone like the wing of a blackbird. In the back it was caught together and wound with beads, which were so strung that they formed a showy pattern when wound close together about her hair.”

Brown also reported that, “Her waist was close fitting crimson broadcloth; the round neck was finished with two deep berthas [collars], one overlapping the other. Both were finished about the edge with clasped steel hooks and eyes sewed closely together with the hooks down. From the bottom of each hook hung a string of steel beads over an inch long with a silver dime as a pendant. Forty dollars in ten cent pieces hung from her berthas, making a pleasant tinkling as she moved about. Her straight closefitting skirt was of heavy black broadcloth. It was about ten inches from the ground and was trimmed with a four inch band of the same. On this were neatly sewed various designs cut from colored cloth.”

The bride’s dress sported small yellow moons, white stars, red peace pipes, tan bows and arrows. The sides and back were adorned with a blue bird in flight, most likely a representation of her namesake. “The whole design was symmetrical and very pleasing,” concluded Brown.

She wore closefitting leggings which were made of crimson cloth, and moccasins with elaborately beaded trim. Around her waist she wore a beaded belt, bracelets on her arms, and many necklaces which completed the outfit.

The sewing for the costume was done by the bride with help from an aunt. They used “fine strong fibers drawn from the sinew of the hind leg of a deer,” noted Brown.

He reported that the groom wore, “a new buckskin suit, the shirt and trousers were well fringed along the seams. About his waist was a handsome beaded belt in which were a hunting knife and a tomahawk. On his feet were beaded moccasins, and in his hair two eagle feathers.”

After several hours had passed Brown asked one of the men, when the wedding would take place, and was answered with, “White man no see them married, they married before white man come.”

This article was based upon a speech given to the Sauk County Historical Society in 1926, by Mary English, who noted in her introduction that Mrs. Almira Johnson, “has been totally blind for the past eight years. She says no other living white person knows this story.”

Bill Schuette has served on the board of directors at the Sauk County Historical Society since 1993. He lives in rural Loganville.