<<<pic of MWW???>>>

A Study Guide for Mountain Wolf Woman's Autobiography


Mountain Wolf Woman's life story is fascination--and obviously a very complex work. These ideas might help you make sense of it as you read.


Some quick facts:

A classic, this book was first published in 1961…and has been re-published MANY times since then <<<pic: Book Cover>>>

  • Documents a series of interviews between a Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) elder and anthropologist Nancy Oestreich Lurie


Connections to Illinois

  • Several Winnebago communities in northern Illinois during the 19th century
  • Beginning in 1997, the Winnebago nation of Nebraska has purchased several acres of land near Starved Rock to serve as burial ground for repatriated remains, create housing for elders, and provide space for celebrations and ceremonies in an area with which they were historically associated
  • Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin has maintained an office in Chicago since 1983
  • One of the few Native American nations to maintain an official presence in an urban location
  • Serves needs of tribal members who live in the city (temporarily or permanently)
  • For more on this, see Grant Arndt’s “The Nation in the City” in Native Chicago (Albatross Press, 2002)


Lurie’s relationship to Mountain Wolf Woman is intriguing

  • Met in 1945 at Black River Falls
  • Became her “adopted niece”—which is why Lurie refers to her as “Aunt Stella”
  • Only began recording her stories on audiotape in 1958—13 years later
  • Clearly not only an anthropologist interviewing a Native consultant, Lurie was a friend…and a member of the family


Nancy Lurie was among the first anthropologists to make extensive use of the tape recorder

  • New technology was an IMMENSE improvement over earlier forms of note-taking
  • Allows for more nuance and greater detail
  • Less risk of error, mistranslation or other confusion than when one is forced to rely solely on handwritten notes
  • Mountain Wolf Woman told her stories first in Winnebago, then in English
  • Worked with Lurie to be certain that transcriptions were accurate
  • Though Lurie asked questions, the story definitely belongs to Mountain Wolf Woman


Mountain Wolf Woman began working on this book at age 75 <<<pic of MWW>>>

  • Intention is not to produce a classic anthropology text but to instruct her adopted niece (Lurie) in how to be a good Ho-Chunk woman
  • SHE--not some unfamiliar anthropologist new to the community--was in charge of the interview


Mountain Wolf Woman is a sister of Crashing Thunder—a Winnebago man whose autobiography was recorded several years earlier in a classic text edited by Paul Radin

  • As a woman, it appears as though the credibility of her book depended on her brother’s work
  • More a product of the publishing industry and the anthropological discipline at the time than an indication of either work’s inherent value


Many individuals, including Nancy Lurie, believe that Mountain Wolf Woman’s story reflects a greater self-confidence than similar accounts dictated by men

  • In a culture that was undergoing immense change and placing a great deal of stress upon its members, women often held families together and insured the survival of traditions
  • Some believe that this is due, at least in part, to the fact that traditionally male roles (such as hunting and warfare) changed dramatically, while traditionally female roles (such as child-rearing) remained more stable


Unlike most autobiographies, this is NOT a tale of individual aggrandizement

  • Mountain Wolf Woman portrays herself as a link between her people’s past history and future generations
  • Born in 1884, she lived through a very traumatic and complicated period in Winnebago history…yet she gives very little of that history (though there is much to be found in the footnotes. A piece of advice: READ THE FOOTNOTES!!!)
  • By not telling readers much about Winnebago history, it is not always easy to recognize the importance of women like her in it
  • In case you missed it, I feel I should reiterate. The footnotes will help…READ THE FOOTNOTES!!!
  • Though she does not emphasize her own experiences in relation to Winnebago history, Lurie describes Mountain Wolf Woman as “witty, empathetic, intelligent and forthright”—clearly an exceptional individual despite her modesty


Tone of the text is often rather flat

  • Not presented in dramatic or emotional tones—which are often the result of verbal inflection, facial expression, etc. (perhaps some of which exist on the tapes, but are lost in transferring her words to the printed page)
  • Even when dealing with very emotional topics (such as when her son is wounded during the war, when her husband dies, when she loses her daughter in Washington, etc.), her words portray very little emotion
  • Story is very much told by an elderly but strong woman who has lived—and accepted responsibility—for a long, complex and admirable life


Religion was clearly important to Mountain Wolf Woman

  • Followed three different religions…which she did not see as contradictory
  • Traditional Winnebago dancing and mythology
  • Christianity (Which denomination ?)
  • Native American Church (also called “The Peyote Way”)
  • She found the Native American Church the most satisfying of the three
  • Many Winnebago people criticized this work because they believed that it too vigorously promoted the use of peyote
  • Demonstrates the responsibility (and perhaps the risks) that Native people accept when they elect to work with anthropologists


Mountain Wolf Woman and her family became extremely skillful at manipulating government resources to address their needs

  • These included care for the elderly, returning children and grandchildren to Wisconsin, acquiring necessary housing, etc.


Though adept at utilizing American institutions, Mountain Wolf Woman clearly sees herself as remaining apart from the dominant American culture

  • Determinedly maintains her people’s traditions
  • Recognizes that, despite her efforts, cultures change and some traditions are lost
  • She notes that she does not remember all of her father’s stories as well as she would like
  • This book—the story of Mountain Wolf Woman’s life—stands as her most significant contribution to Winnebago culture and traditions…and makes her story accessible to those outside that community as well





   Department of Anthropology
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