Emma Big Bear 144th birthday celebration July 5
Emma Big Bear was born of Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) descent on July 5, 1869, in Tomah, Wis., and lived in the area between southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa most of her life. She was the last full-blooded Native American to live by the traditional tribal means in Clayton County, Iowa, and likely all of northeast Iowa.
Emma lived near her people’s ancient burial grounds around Paint Rock north of Waukon Junction, on the Mississippi River shore at McGregor, and in her home now connected to Eagles Landing Winery on North Street in Marquette. Emma Big Bear was an instantly-recognizable figure and a familiar character, hawking her hand-made baskets, beaded trinkets, and ginseng root. Emma Big Bear died on Aug. 21, 1968, just shy of her 100th birthday.
The board of the newly-organized non-profit Emma Big Bear Foundation (EBBF) is providing presentations and demonstrations on what would have been Emma Big Bear’s 144th birthday, July 5, 2013. The event will take place in the group tasting room at Eagles Landing Winery in Marquette. EBBF’s mission is to preserve and protect the history, stories, traditions, and artifacts associated with Emma Big Bear and to promote and educate about American Indians, their history and culture—especially Emma’s tribe, the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk Nation.
Emma’s July 5 birthday celebration will run from noon to 4 p.m. At the event, there will be plenty of birthday cake for all. Plus the public will experience basket making and repairing demonstrations; take in local stories and personal memories of Emma; share conversations with a costumed Emma re-enactor sitting on the front porch of her last home in Marquette; and take in Emma Big Bear and other Native American artifacts, paintings, and historical photos—some of which may be new to the public.
Winnebago author Spencer Lonetree of the Winnebago Nation will present Winnebago history and culture, as well as family stories of Emma Big Bear. Lonetree will autograph copies of the first and second books in his five-book series on the 19th century Winnebago Nation’s Trail of Tears.
Also available are framed prints of Emma Big Bear, some signed and numbered by artist Florence Bird.
Everyone attending is encouraged to share their personal memories of Emma Big Bear, and the foundation will have a videographer on hand to capture this and post it later on its new website.
The EBBF developed the “Emma Big Bear Trail,” a free self-guided tour of some people and places touched by Emma in the Marquette-McGregor-Prairie du Chien area. Complimentary copies of this tour guide brochure may be picked up at Eagles Landing Winery on July 5, and thereafter at the winery, McGregor–Marquette Chamber of Commerce, and other locations shown on EBBF’s website.
Emma’s 144th birthday party is free and open to everyone. The afternoon’s events will soon be posted at www.EmmaBigBearFoundation.org. For more information, contact the foundation at information@EmmaBigBearFoundation.org or call Roger Halvorson at Eagles Landing Winery at (563) 873-2509.