The Major Tribes of Early Milwaukee

What you need to know about the First Milwaukeeans.


Mound Builders

The earliest known civilizations in what is now Milwaukee were the Mound Builders, who arrived in the area about 2,800 years ago, although roaming bands of hunting peoples had been visiting Milwaukee for at least 10,000 years prior. The ceremonial earthen structures of the Mound Builders once dotted the local landscape, but only a few survive today. It is thought that these people were absorbed into other Indigenous groups between the 11th and 15th centuries.  


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Menominee & Ho-Chunk

Although they did not share a language, the Menominee (Algonquin language family) and Ho-Chunk (Siouan language family) were friendly neighbors in Milwaukee, allies in trade and war. These peoples came to the area after the decline of the Mound Builders, living off the land by hunting, fishing, and agriculture and decamping for warmer climates in the wintertime.  


The Potawatomi arrived in the area in the 17th century, along with other Anishinaabe groups displaced by war. Their arrival led to the departure of the Menominee and Ho-Chunk for lands to the north and west. The Potawatomi, with the Ojibwe and Odawa, formed the “Three Fires” alliance spanning the Great Lakes and held the Milwaukee area as a predominantly Anishinaabe space until the 1800s.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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