Hononegah (c.1814-1847) was
the wife of Stephen Mack, Jr. an
employee for The American Fur
Company, a pioneer to the Rock
River Valley in northern Illinois and founder
of the community of Rockton, Illinois.
Hononegah had a strong influence on the Roscoe-Rockton area; the
high school of the four towns and the main thoroughfare connecting
the towns are both named after her.
Most of what is known about Hononegah is printed in Edson I. Carr's
history of Rockton, which was published in 1898. Modern
scholarship, however, has discovered more about her background, and
has cast doubt on several of Carr's claims.
(from the Winnebago hinu, the designation that she was the
eldest daughter of her family, and niga, "water") was born
in the Taychopera, or "Four Lakes Country", which is modern day
This is given as her birthplace by N. W.
Jipson. She is first seen as living in a village along the Rock
River in what is now Ogle County, Illinois, and at the time of her
birth, there is no evidence of the Winnebago living in this area
until 1824 when Thomas Forsyth reports the existence twelve to
fourteen Winnebago villages located on the Rock River and its
tributaries south of Lake Koshkonong.
Hononegah was portrayed by Carr as a Pottawatomie
princess and a daughter of a
chief. Her father, known only by his English name "Blacksmith", was
at least half Winnebago and part Pottawatomie
. Her mother was named Inoquer, and
was pure Winnebago. She had one sister, Wehunsegah. After the death of her
father and mother, Hononegah and her sister were raised by her
uncles Conosaipkah, Estche-eshesheek, and Horohonkak, and her
family moved to Illinois to a Winnebago village on the site of
modern day Grand
Grand Detour, 1820-1829
(1798-1850) arrived in
Grand Detour from Detroit, Michigan in 1820 and worked as a clerk
in a trading post there.
How and when Hononegah met Mack has
not survived, only a vague tradition that Mack had become sick from
fever and that Hononegah nursed him back to health.
Mack became somewhat of an advisor to the local chief, but it is
believed he was despised by the inhabitants because he refused to
sell alcohol and firearms to the people and hadn't taken one of
their own as a wife. Several versions of the story survive, but all
versions agree that the inhabitants attempted to murder him. One
story indicates that on one occasion Hononegah hid Mack in a
barrel, and in another story, Hononegah met Mack in the woods to
warn him of a plot to murder him. Mack became so grateful to her
that he decided to be her husband. The formalization of their
relationship took place in or shortly before February 1829
, when Mack bought a French trader's cabin. Mack
would have been about 31, while Hononegah was just 15. They may
have had a child who died at birth during the course of 1829. Their
first surviving child, Rosa, was born November 14, 1830
. On September 14, 1840 Mack and Hononegah were
married in Winnebago County, Illinois by William Hulin, Justice of
the Peace. At the time Mack was concerned that if he were not
legally married to Hononegah that his children would have
difficulties inheriting his estate.
Bird's Grove, 1829-1835
Their problems did not end after their marriage. During the later
part of 1829, they were forced to flee Grand Detour. They found
their way to a Winnebago village at the present site of Hononegah Forest Preserve
the present Illinois villages of Rockton and Roscoe. The
inhabitants pledged to protect them, and there Mack established a
new trading post near where Dry Creek meets the Rock River.
On May 9, 1832
, Mack and Hononegah were run out
of their trading post by Black
warriors who were sent there to confiscate Mack's supply
of gunpowder. At this juncture, there is another romance about how
Mack hid out on Webber's Island
that Hononegah brought Mack food and fresh water until Black Hawk's
warriors had left, but this story is doubtful. Mack served during the
Black Hawk War from Chicago as a
After the hostilities ended, Mack and Hononegah
returned to their trading post.
On July 25, 1835
, William Talcott
and his son Thomas visited
Mack at his trading post. It was then that Mack announced his
intentions to found a community on the south bluff overlooking the
confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers, which he wanted to
. The following autumn when
the Talcotts returned to the area with their families, Mack had
relocated at the site of his proposed community.
By June 1838
, Jean Baptiste Beaubien
, a veteran
trader in Chicago, and John P.
had become partners
with Mack and began selling lots in Pecatonic. Mack made out very
well in the 1837
treaty between the government
and the Winnebago, and in 1839
he used some of
the money he received to build a two-story frame house with a
cellar. This house survives in what is now the Macktown Forest Preserve
Talcotts lived north of the river where they dug a millrace and
built a gristmill. They preferred to call the settlement Rockton,
which eventually became the name of the village.
What little that is known about Hononegah comes from reminiscences
of early settlers of Pecatonic and later collected and published by
Edson Carr. She was highly knowledgeable in herbal medicine and was
often called upon by everyone when they became sick. She liked
designing her own clothes and decorating them with beadwork.
Occasionally she outdid the white women with her fashion creations,
and there was one dress that was so memorable that a description of
it has survived. The settlers saw her wearing a white woman's garb
on only one occasion, and she was so uncomfortable that she was
never seen wearing white women's clothes again. There are also
traditions among some Rockton families that when their ancestors
were small boys, they paddled the canoe while Hononegah speared
fish. Modern scholarship has succeeded to uncover the truth about
her background but has done little to reveal any more about her
life and character.
Death of Hononegah
Hononegah died on September 8, 1847
. In a
letter to his sister Lovicy Cooper, dated October 6, 1847, Mack
describes her final illness and expresses a deep and heartfelt
tribute to her: "I have the melancholy duty to inform you that the
death published in the paper I sent you was that of my wife. Her
health had been failing for several months but was not so as to
prevent her from taking the ordinary care of her family until she
was attacked by what the doctor called a bilious fever but what I
called a lung fever - of this she was sick eight or nine days and
died. She was sensible to the last moment and took leave of her
children and friends a few hours before she died.
"You say that by the notice in the paper you perceive she died a
Christian."If I know what a Christian is, she was one, not by
profession but by her every act, her every deed proclaimed her a
follower of Christ. In her the hungry and the naked have lost a
benefactor, the sick a nurse and I have lost a friend who taught me
to reverence God by doing good to his creatures.
"Her funeral proved that I am not the only sufferer by her loss. My
house is large, but it was filled to overflowing by mourning
friends who assembled to pay the last sad duties to her who had set
them the example how to live and how to die." Years later William C. Blinn
related that after Hononegah's
funeral, "a little knot of neighbors were speaking of the loss.
, the postmaster, one
of the parties, said most impressively, 'The best woman in
Winnebago County died last night', the neighbors all nodding in
Today, the spirits of Hononegah and Stephen Mack live on in Rockton
and the surrounding communities. There is Hononegah High School,
Stephen Mack Middle School, Hononegah and Macktown forest
preserves, and various other parks, buildings, and businesses that
use the names Macktown or Hononegah. The high school's head
cheerleader is designated "Princess Hononegah" and performs a dance
at most major school events.
- Bishop, David, History of the Forest Preserves of Winnebago
- Carr, Edson I, The History of Rockton, 1820-1898,
(1898, reprinted 1980).
- Clikeman-Miller, Diane J. The Old Settlers Remembered, A
History of Phillips Cemetery, Macktown, Friends and Neighbors of
Stephen Mack and Hononegah, (2000).
- Jipson, N.W., M.D. "Winnebago Villages and Chieftains of the
Lower Rock River Region" Italic text'The Wisconsin
Archaeologist' NS 2:125-139
- McAffee, Jim (ed.) Stephen Mack Letters, available at
the Talcott Free Library.
- McMakin, Dean, Hononegah, A New Biography, (2003),
available at the Talcott Free Library.
- Rowland, Katherine E. The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone
Counties, Illinois Who Came Before 1841, (1990).
- Schmaeng, Janice E. Stephen Mack and the Early Settlement
of Macktown and Rockton, (1974), available at the Talcott Free
- Waggoner, Linda M. "Neither White Man Nor Indian",
Affidavits from the Winnebago Mixed Blood Claim Commissions Prairie
du Chien, Wisconsin, (2003).