Chief Yellow Thunder

Yellow Thunder Walking Home

An old Ho-Chunk legend says the Wisconsin River was formed by a manitou (Great Spirit) in the form of a giant serpent who crawled over the land, creating a groove that allowed water to rush in. Other serpents, terrified of the Great Spirit, fled in every direction, creating tributaries. When the giant serpent encountered a sandstone mass in his path, he pushed his head through a crack, creating the cliffs and bluffs at what is now called the Dells of the Wisconsin River, or Wisconsin Dells.

Chief Yellow Thunder made his home in the Dells. In 1837, he and several other Ho-Chunk chiefs were invited to Washington, D.C., and coerced into signing a treaty giving up their tribal lands in the western part of the state. Soon after, Yellow Thunder and his people were rounded up and loaded into boxcars and steamboats bound for Iowa, and later, reservations in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska. He was never gone long, though, a few times reportedly beating his captors back to his home beside the Wisconsin River. He breathed his last breath there on the river’s banks in 1874, age 100.

He came from near the Winnebago

The tall, beloved Ho-Chunk chief

His people called him Yellow Thunder

He was the man who would not leave

 

He was summoned by the white man’s leader

Who made him sign away their land

Shipped them cross the Mississippi

He would just walk back again      

 

Didn’t really matter how he got there

He could feel it deep inside his bones

Nothing on this earth could stop him

Yellow Thunder walking home

 

I grew up not far from this river

I was lured away by dreamers’ dreams

The promise of an endless summer

And everything that leaving means

 

Now I’ve returned to walk the river

Lone, but not alone at all

Something trails a step behind me

A shadow that’s a bit too tall

 

Didn’t really matter how he got there

He could feel it deep inside his bones

Nothing on this earth could stop him

Yellow Thunder walking home

 

We look out at the wide Wisconsin 

Fleeing serpents carved this stone 

Wanderers, always returning

Yellow Thunder walking home

 

Didn’t really matter how he got there

He could feel it deep inside his bones

Nothing on this earth could stop him

Yellow Thunder walking home

No, nothing on this earth could stop him

Yellow Thunder Walking home

 

 

© 2020 Chris Richards / White Mare Music (BMI)