Indian Villages and Guides

Indian Villages and the Old Dells Park

The Old Dells Park and Pipe Dyer’s Trading Post served as another space for interactions between tourists and Ho-Chunk peoples. The trading post and the Old Dells Park were situated next to the Wisconsin River and acted as an “Indian Village” for tourists to visit. Ho-Chunk men and women would arrive for the summer months to set-up wigwams (chee-po-doe-kays) and sell their arts and crafts. The Old Dells Park also employed Native Americans from other tribes to come and work for the summer. The Park even featured a Seminole man from Florida who wrestled alligators on site.

The Old Dells Park was not the first “Indian Village” to receive Ho-Chunk participation. In 1908 the Ho-Chunk helped stage a Wild West Show and an Indian village for the Black River Falls homecoming celebrations. Shortly afterwards, a group of Winnebago Nebraskans visited their relatives in Wisconsin. Following the visit, the Ho-Chunk had their own homecoming celebration near one of their villages and made sure there was entertainment for non-Indian visitors; they even sold refreshments throughout the day.

Native American River Guides

The Wisconsin River and its towering sandstone cliffs have always been one of Wisconsin Dells’ main attractions. Throughout the years, many boat companies have operated on the river to give tourists the chance to see the formations that made the Dells famous and to entertain passengers with local history and lore. The Dells Boat Company continued its long-standing interest in Native American cultural tourism (Captain Glen Parsons began the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial in the early 1900s) and hired several Ho-Chunks as tour guides for boat tours.

The height of the Native American tour guide trend occurred during the 1970s on the lower Dells boat tours. Set apart from non-Indian guides, Ho-Chunk tour guides were required to inform passengers of their Native heritage and would often dress in traditional garb. In addition, postcards were made for each guide wearing traditional regalia or ribbon shirts. These postcards were sold to tourists for profit. The demand for Ho-Chunk tour guides has since faded and these days it would be unlikely for a tourist to tell the difference between an Indian and a non-Indian guide.

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