10th annual Emma Big Bear Day to be held July 5 in Marquette

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The 10th annual Emma Big Bear/Winnebago History Day will be held Tuesday, July 5, from noon to 4 p.m., at the Marquette Community Center. (Copyrighted photo used by EBBF permission of Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret)

Established in 2012 by Roger and Connie Halvorson of Marquette, the Emma Big Bear Foundation (EBBF) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the history, stories, traditions and artifacts associated with Emma Big Bear and to promote and educate the public about American Indians and their history and culture, especially Big Bear’s tribe, the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk Nation. Each year on July 5, EBBF presents a historical program covering a variety of topics, discussions and displays celebrating the life and times of Emma Big Bear and her people. Marking its tenth anniversary, this year’s program also coincides with what would have been Big Bear’s 147th birthday (born July 5, 1869; died Aug. 21, 1968).

Free to the public, everyone is welcome to attend the 10th annual Emma Big Bear/Winnebago History Day program on Tuesday, July 5, from noon to 4 p.m., at its new location, the Marquette Community Center. 

After building up this historical program for ten years, it has outgrown its current location, as its followers and collections keep growing.  Moving it to the handicapped-assessable community center allows ample space for program seating, speaker displays and presentations; EBBF’s large collection of artifacts and handiwork created by Big Bear and other Winnebago artisans, such as baskets and beaded jewelry; resource/research materials from the Pat and Shorty Matt estate; portrait art collections; personal stories and accounts by local-area Big Bear friends and her Decorah/Blue Wing families.

The day’s format makes it easy for people to attend one segment or come for the entire afternoon. Starting about noon, Wayne Kling, of the Tomah Area Historical Society and Museum, will present on three topics: “Ho-Chunk in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” “Ho-Chunk  in the American Civil War” and “Dr. Franklin Powell, alias ‘White Beaver’, Medicine Man of the Ho-Chunk.”

Big Bear family member Spencer Lone Tree, of Postville, will speak about the “1848 Winnebago Removal from the Neutral Zone,” share Decorah family stories and give a status update on his third book in the “Night Sun” series telling 19th century first-hand accounts and stories told to him by his grandparents. 

A question and answer period will follow each presentation.

For the first time ever, EBBF’s entire Emma Big Bear artifacts collection will be on display to show how Big Bear lived her everyday life. Bring along your Emma Big Bear/Winnebago baskets to be authenticated by experts. EBBF will share its “Emma Big Bear Trail” that traces the steps Big Bear may have taken to reach sites around northeast Iowa and across the river. Get advice on where to hunt for and buy collectible Emma Big Bear/Winnebago baskets and where to hire local experts to clean and authentically repair your priceless baskets. 

Coming from a long line of famous Decorah family chiefs of the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Nation, Big Bear is a local historical figure who, in the last quarter of her life, was a widow, losing her child in 1944 and her husband Henry Holt in 1945, making her ancestral home her home. Big Bear refused to live on a reservation, did not wander far from the graves of her ancestors and preferred to live in the prehistoric area near Effigy Mounds’ sacred space along the Mississippi River in McGregor, Marquette and the sacred Paint Rock area between Waukon Junction and Harpers Ferry. 

Emma Big Bear is long gone, but will be remembered as the last full-blooded American Indian to live by traditional Winnebago / Ho-Chunk tribal means in everyday life in Clayton County, and possibly all of northeast Iowa. Many locals helped her sustain life from day-to-day and you can learn more about their stories and Emma Big Bear at www.emmabigbearfoundation.org/emmas-story.html. For EBBF information, contact Connie Halvorson at (563) 880-0266 or Rogeta Halvorson at (563) 880-9190.

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