The proper form of the name is Wakąjaziga, "Yellow Thunderbird," although the shortened name stuck in English. It is a Thunderbird Clan name, from Wakąjá, "Thunderbird"; zi, "yellow"; and -ga, a definite article suffix used in personal names.
He was a famous War Chief of the Hočąk (Winnebago) Nation. Moses Pauquette adds, "He was a fine looking Indian, tall, straight, and stately, but had an over weening love for fire-water, — his only vice.." The oft repeated claim that he lived to be a 120 years old is mythological (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120). Jipson gives a sketch of him:
"This chieftain ... lived on the Fox River about five miles below Berlin
at the Yellow Banks. He was said to have been a man of great
responsibility among his people and an able counselor to all their
public affairs. In company with his wife, who was a daughter of White
Crow, and later called the 'Washington Woman,' he made a visit with
several numbers of his tribe to New York and Washington in 1828.
He signed the treaty of 1829. In 1837, in company with several young
men, he was persuaded to visit Washington and induced to sign the
treaty made in that year. But he found that the terms of the treaty
compelled him to go west of the Mississippi, he declared he would
not go. But in 1840, in company with Black Wolf, he was invited into
Fort Winnebago ostensibly to hold a council. When the gates were
shut on them they were seized and conveyed beyond the Mississippi.
But Yellow Thunder soon returned, and visiting the land office at
Mineral Point, he asked if Indians would be permitted to enter land.
In receiving an affirmative answer, he entered forty acres on the west
bank of the Wisconsin River. He is said to have built two log huts, and
to have cultivated five acres of this land, raising corn, beans and potatoes.
During his feasts about 1500 Indians usually gathered in his vicinity. In
1840, he was said to have had a summer village sixteen miles up the
river from Portage.
He sold his land before his death which occurred in 1874. It is said that
when he paid his taxes he placed in his pouch a kernel of corn for every
dollar paid, and when he sold his land he demanded a dollar for every
kernel. As he had been a devout Catholic his funeral services were
conducted according to the rites of that church. He was buried near his
homestead and near the grave of the Washington Woman and several
other members of his family."
"Captain William Powell had a trading post near the present site of Omro; and in the summer of 1844, the Winnebagoes were encamped, two hundred strong under old Yellow Thunder, at the outlet of Rush Lake."
"A large encampment of the Ho-chunga-rah [Hočągara] or Winnebago tribe, ... the camp of Yellow Thunder, [was] to the east of the present village of Onalaska." "The Winnebago Indians camped along Black river just above the village [of Onalaska] in 1850-60."
Yellow Thunder's forty acres has been precisely located in the SW ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 36 of Delton Township (T 13N, R 06E) in Sauk County. The center of this property is located at 43.555933, -89.725647. After his death, it was purchased by John Bennett, whose land is shown in Section 36 of the 1909 plat map of Delton Township.
Pomeroy's Democrat announced, "Yellow Thunder, chief of the Winnebago tribe of Indians, recently died at Portage, Wisconsin, aged one hundred and ten years. It is a consolation to know that so far no Indian agent has lived to this age." His age was greatly exaggerated, as was typical of old people of that time.
Yellow Thunder and his wife were reburied 1.2 miles down the road from their homestead, where a monument marks their graves. This monument is located at 43.538273, -89.718491 (NW ¼ of NW ¼ of Section 7, Westford Township, Richland County).
Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923 [unpublished]), 252.
John H. Kinzie, Winnebago Village List, with translations of Winnebago names by John Blackhawk & Richard Dieterle [in brackets]. Indian Office Files, Michigan Territory, 1829-1832. Butte des Morts Village.
Juliette Augusta McGill Kinzie, Wau-Bun, The "Early Day" in the North-west (Chicago & New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1873.
Moses Pauquette, "The Wisconsin Winnebago," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, XII (1892): 399-433 . Thwaites, Notes to Wau-Bun, Caxton Club Edition (1901), 404 nt. 50.
A. B. Stout, "The Archeology of Eastern Sauk County, Wisconsin Archeologist," 5, #2 (Jan.-April, 1906): 227-288 .
Publius V. Lawson, History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin (Chicago: C. F. Cooper & Co., 1908) 1:68-69.
Richard J. Harney, History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and Early History of the Northwest (Oshkosh: Allen and Hicks, 1880) 97. A redacted version of this story was published in, An Early Settler, "Early History of Omro," The Omro Herald, November 30, 1939: 11-12. Reprinted in Mariam J. Smith, The History of Omro [Wisconsin] (Omro: Omro Public Library, 1976) 40.
Charles E. Brown, La Cross and Monroe County Notes, The Wisconsin Archeologist, 11, #3 (Jan., 1913) 97-103 .
Dr. Lafayette Houghton Bunnell, Winona and its Environs on the Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Days (Winona, Minnesota: Jones & Kroeger, 1897) 113, 115-117.
Canfield, Wm. H., 1819-1913, Map of Sauk County, Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Wis. : Louis Lipman Practical Lithographer, 1859).
Pomeroy's Democrat (La Crosse, Wisconsin), 21 Mar. 1874.