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Emma Big Bear Foundation

Part of Marquette & McGregor, Iowa’s history lives on in the story of Emma Big Bear, born on July 5, 1869 to Chief Big Bear and Mary Blue Wing in a small frame home on the Winnebago Indian Reservation at Tomah, Monroe Co., Wisconsin.  Emma spent her childhood and young adult life in Wisconsin, but lived mostly in and around small northeast Iowa Mississippi River towns.  Emma claimed to be a direct descendent of early 19th Century Winnebago Chief Waukon Decorah (photo right), refusing to live on a reservation by not wandering far from the graves of her ancestors, preferring to live in the prehistoric area near Effigy Mounds’ sacred space along the Mississippi River.

Local fishermen gave Emma their carp for her soup and she would skin muskrats and raccoons for hunters and trappers in exchange for the meat.  To earn a living, Emma is best known as a basket maker, bead worker and herb gatherer.  Many of the older generation recall Emma sitting on the riverbank making her beadwork and baskets from black ash trees and natural dyes, selling her wares by the Marquette bridge and downtown McGregor.  Being dirt-poor did not stop Emma from helping out a needy neighbor, even if all she could only afford to do was to give an empathetic look or a caring smile.

You can see Emma Big Bear’s work at the Cobblestone Inn & Suites in Marquette Iowa. To learn about Emma Big Bear & the Foundation click here.

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