Angel Decora

Angel Decora (1871 - 1919)

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Angel Decora aka De Cora
Born in Winnebago Agency in Dakota County (now Thurston), Nebraskamap
Ancestors ancestors
Wife of — married about 1904 (to about 1919) [location unknown]
Died in Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United Statesmap
Profile last modified 21 Feb 2020 | Created 10 Sep 2019
This page has been accessed 158 times.
Angel Decora was a Native American and member of the Ho-Chunk tribe.
Angel Decora is Notable.




It is customary for a clansman to give a person her name, so a relative opened the Bible at a random place, and there the word "angel" was found. In this way, destiny was made to chose her name.

Her Winnebago name was Hinook-Mahiwi-Kilinaka, translated as, "Fleecy Cloud Floating in Place," but also as the radically different, ""Woman Coming on the Clouds in Glory." The first part of this compound, Hinook, looks as if it were a phonetic rendering of Hīnū́gā, a birth order name meaning, "First Born Daughter." However, this is not the case, as hinų́k here merely means "woman." The remainder of the name, Mahiwi-Kilinaka, appears to be a regular clan name. The first component is undeniably mąxíwi, "cloud(s)," where /x/ stands for the palatal /k/, often approximated in English by an /h/. The final part of her name, Kilinaka, can be subdivided into Kalinak-ka. The letter /l/ was once used to represent what is now universally represented by the letter /r/. So this part of her name is Kirinak-ka, where the -ka is a definite article used in personal names. Kirinak is for kiriną́k, which has a double meaning, "to fall down on a spot, to land somewhere," and "to return, to head back home." However, there is yet another meaning from the less common kírinąk, "to appear." The compound kiriną́k-ka reduces to kirinąka. the double /kk/ resolving into /k/ by rule. So the proper form of the name is Hinų́k-Mąxiwikirinąka, which can mean, "Woman Landing from the Clouds," "Woman Returning from the Clouds," or "Woman Appearing in the Clouds." At this point it becomes clear, as suggested by Sarah McAnulty (143), that her Hocąk name is a translation of "Angel." In strictly proper traditional names, those of females always end in -wįga, where the infix -wį- marks the name as that of a female. So the proper traditional form of the name should have been, Mąxiwikirįnągᵋwįga (< Mąxiwi-kirinąk-wį-ga). Apparently, the reference that served to establish her clan name was to a male angel, yielding the male name Mąxiwikirinąka. This may have made it necessary in her mind to prefix Hinų́k to this name ("Woman-Angel"), thus making up for the missing -wį-. The reference to clouds keeps it consistent with the format of an Upper Moiety name, as we would expect for anyone of the Decora lineage.


"One of the well-known DeCorahs was Chief Little DeCorah. He had a boy named David Too Tall DeCorah, who had a daughter called Angel DeCorah, who was the first Winnebago educator and artist." (Smith, 206)

Angel DeCora left a concise autobiography, which follows (complete).

[279] I was born in a wigwam, of Indian parents. My father was the fourth son of the hereditary chief of the Winnebagoes. My mother, in her childhood, had had a little training in a convent, but when she married my father she gave up all her foreign training and made a good, industrious Indian wife.

During the summers we lived on the Reservation, my mother cultivating her garden and my father playing the chief's son. During the winter we used to follow the chase away off the Reservation, along rivers and forests. My father provided not only for his family then, but his father's also. We were always moving camp. As a child, my life was ideal. In all my childhood I never received a cross word from any one, but nevertheless, my training was incessant. About as early as I can remember, I was lulled to sleep night after night by my father's or grandparent's recital of laws and customs that had regulated the daily life of my grandsires for generations and generations, and in the morning I was awakened by the same counseling. Under the influence of such precepts and customs, I acquired the general bearing of a well-counseled Indian child, rather reserved, respectful, and mild in manner.

A very promising career must have been laid out for me by my grandparents, but a strange white man interrupted it.

I had been entered in the Reservation school but a few days [280] when a strange white man appeared there. He asked me through an interpreter if I would like to ride in a steam car. I had never seen one, and six of the other children seemed enthusiastic about it and they were going to try, so I decided to join them, too. The next morning at sunrise we were piled into a wagon and driven to the nearest railroad station, thirty miles away. We did get the promised ride. We rode three days and three nights until we reached Hampton, Va. My parents found it out, but too late.

Three years later when I returned to my mother, she told me that for months she wept and mourned for me. My father and the old chief and his wife had died, and with them the old Indian life was gone.

I returned to Hampton, and after graduation, some of my teachers prevailed upon me not to return home as I was still too young and immature to do much good among my people.

I went to Northampton, Mass., and through the efforts of some friends there, I entered the Burnham Classical School for Girls, and later when I decided to take up the study of art, I entered the Smith College Art Department, taking the four years' course under Dwight W. Tryon. During my study in Northampton, I worked for my board and lodging and also earned my four years' tuition at Smith College by holding one of the custodianships of the Art Gallery. The instruction I received and the influence I gained from Mr. Tryon has left a lasting impression upon me. After the four years at Smith College, I went to Drexel Institute, Philadelphia, to study illustration with Howard Pyle, and remained his pupil for over two years. While at this Institute I used to hear a great deal of discussion among the students, and instructors as well, on the sentiments of "Commercial" art and "Art for art's sake." 1 was swayed back and forth by the conflicting views, and finally I left Philadelphia and went to Boston.

I had heard of Joseph DeCamp as a great teacher, so I entered the Cowles Art School, where he was the instructor in life drawing. Within a year, however, he gave up his teaching there but he recommended me to the Museum of Fine Arts in the same city, where Frank Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell are instructors, and for two years I studied with them.

[285] I opened a studio in Boston and did some illustrative work for Small & Maynard Company, and for Ginn & Company. I also did some designing, although while in art schools I had never taken any special interest in that branch of art. Perhaps it was well that I had not over studied the prescribed methods of European decoration, for then my aboriginal qualities could never have asserted themselves.

I left Boston and went to New York City, and while I did some illustrating, portrait and landscape work, I found designing a more lucrative branch of art. Although at times I yearn to express myself in landscape art, I feel that designing is the best channel in which to convey the native qualities of the Indian's decorative talent.

In 1906, Hon. Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, appointed me to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to foster the native talents of the Indian students there. There is no doubt that the young Indian has a talent for the pictorial art, and the Indian's artistic conception is well worth recognition, and the school-trained Indians of Carlisle are developing it into possible use that it may become his contribution to American Art.


  • Sarah McAnulty, "Angel DeCora: American Indian Artist and Educator," Nebraska History, 57 (1976): 142-199.
  • "Angel DeCora— An Autobiography," The Red Man, 3, #7 (March 1911): 279-285. URL —
  • Linda M. Waggoner, Firelight: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8061-3954-8.
  • David Lee Smith in Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Indians, ed. Rita T. Kohn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
  • Bernd Peyer, American Indian Nonfiction: An Anthology of Writings, 1760s-1930s . Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8061-3798-8.
  • Elizabeth Hutchinson, "Modern Native American Art: Angel DeCora's Transcultural Aesthetics." Art Bulletin. Vol. 83, 4. Dec. 2001: 740-756.
  • Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M595, 692 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75; National Archives, Washington, D.C. 1886, Roll: M595_311; Page: 31; Line: 3; Person 619; Agency: Winnebago.

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