Emma Big Bear

September 25, 2006


28 Responses to “Emma Big Bear”

  1. Leslie Says:

    Dude, this is SO my favorite postcard!

  2. John C. May Says:

    I would like to visit with you about where you found this post card of Emma. I grew up in Allamakee County, Iowa, born in 1947, and used to stop in Marquette with Curtis Webster to say Hi to Emma, as she would be setting outside often.
    I have a 16×20 print of the same picture as in the inset.
    I know the Talmadge family at the Wisconsin Dells area who are relatives. Roxanne said she was the one who went to Iowa to clean out the house after Emma died.
    Their are a couple young girls near Waukon now who are suppose to be descendants as well.
    If you would like to visit by phone email me your number and I will call on my dime.

    Best regards,
    John C. May

  3. Sharon (Clinton) Gray Says:

    My father and his siblings were born in McGregor, and raised in Marquette, IA. I still have family in Wisconsin, Guttenberg, IA and the surrounding area. My father moved to Tacoma, WA (Ft. Lewis) prior to WWII. My sister (recently deceased) was born in Prairie du Chein, WI. As a child we would take cross-country trips back to Marquette/McGregor to visit my relatives. My grandmother lived on the hill above town, on the loop/hill road. I would walk down to town in Marquette to go to the gas station/store and would visit with Emma Big Bear. She often sat in front of her home, in what I recall to be a birch-made chair. I remember being in awe the first time I saw her as she wore traditional native attire with intricate bead work. She usually wore a blanket around her shoulders in the evening hours. She was a very kind woman, although I must say at my age, quite intimidating to me as well. She had very kind eyes. There was a definite communication barrier, although that didn’t stop us from becoming “friends”. I treasure those times.

    The stigma related to “Indians” here on the West Coast during that time was quite prevalent. Emma changed the way I thought about “Indians”, enlightened me to the fact that she was no different than I, merely a lot older! I’ll always hold the memory of her in my heart. I remember receiving word when she passed away, and felt a great loss. However, my memories are still vivid and I am thankful that I had the pleasure of meeting her and learning a life lesson from that experience. Somewhere I have photos of her and I together. I am now 51 years of age, and doubt that I’ll be able to return to the “River” again. But I do have my memories.

  4. marie Says:

    i am acousin to emma big bear, just now able to make a connection to their famils, as most of us were in orphan homes or adopted, it has taken some 50 years to get back together. i would have loved to have ment her. did you ever see her daughter.

  5. Robert Teele Says:

    I have a mint condition basket of Emma’s just like the one in the picture that my Mother pruchased many years ago in MacGregor. What can anyone tell me about it and if there is any value to it? thanks


  6. Kathy Says:

    I remembering going to visit “Emma Big Bear” as a child. The recollection is rather vague but what I can recall is that the drive was less than a day away (we lived in SE Minnesota); she enjoyed making beaded figurines and gave me a little doll made of beads – it was about 2″ high. That’s all I remember except I think the story was that we were somehow related abd it would have been mid 1968 +/- a few years.
    I recall my mother and grandmother telling me that I have a great grandmother that was 100% Cherokee Indian but have no records. I’ve been doing genealogy research and am stumped.

    What can you tell me about Emma Big Bear?

    I look forward to hearing from you – feel free to send a note to my email address.

  7. My parents live in Marquette, Iowa and bought Emma Big Bear’s last residence and turned it into our family’s winery. It’s at 127 North Street in Marquette. We have a small museum attributed to Emma with some of her baskets displayed and many photos and stories to read about her. Last year we held our 1st Annual Tribute to Emma Big Bear the third weekend of July. This year will be our 2nd annual event on Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20, 2008 and it’s open to the public. Last year two great-great nieces of Emma’s and a great-great-great niece were featured speakers and they sold their handmade Native American bead and leather works, blankets, jewelry, etc. they’ve traded with other Native Americans around the country. The folks around our NE Iowa, SE Minnesota and SW Wisconsin areas were invited to share their stories about Emma Big Bear and listen to family stories about her and Winnebago way of life. Emma was born in 1869 and we’ll celebrate her 140th birth anniversary in July, 2009. The 40th anniversary of her death will be in August, 2008. Just across the river in Prairie du Chien, WI we’re working on dedicating a life-sized bronze sculpture of Emma Big Bear at a cost of almost $80,000. Our “Mississippi River Sculpture Park” will contain 26 life-sized bronze sculptures of the last 12,000 years of inhabitants of this beautiful Confluence Region located in the Driftless Region. Emma’s clay maquette can also be viewed at her museum in our winery or online at http://www.MississippiRiverSculpturePark.com. If you’d like to contribute to this worthwhile project on behalf of Emma Big Bear and help make her sculpture a reality before her 140th birthday, you can do so by purchasing a brick, plaque or the entire sculpture (to date, we’ve fundraised for only about $10,000), please visit our website or contact our winery. I’m happy to say that we’ve been promoting Emma and more things are appearing about her on the internet and we’ve been able to put some of Emma’s long-lost family members together with her great-great nieces (about 65 years old today) and their families (Marie from Ohio, Allen from Minnesota). We welcome any stories you want to share and will one day write them all down in a book.

  8. One more thing, if you do make a contribution toward Emma Big Bear’s life-sized bronze sculpture in the Mississippi River Sculpture Park, please, please make sure that you make it clear you want your donation to go toward Emma’s sculpture or else it may be applied toward another sculpture. To date, we have in the sculpture park: Blackhawk, Sauk Warrior (One-Eyed Decorah delivered Blackhawk and The Profit to Ft. Crawford in Prairie du Chien and Emma Big Bear is a descent of Chief Decorah of the Winnebagoes); Dr. Beaumont and Son Israel (Ft. Crawford surgeon and pioneer of internal medicine in the 1830s); and the Victorian Lady. We look forward to receiving any donation you can make for Emma. BTW – the porch you’re talking about Emma sitting on lies at the base of the entrance to our old Iowa to Wisconsin bridge and it remains the same today as it did when Emma sat there and you visited with her in downtown Marquette! Please stop in to see us and taste our Marquette Maid wines, named in honor of Emma Big Bear, Northeast Iowa’s last known Native American to live by their traditional means – she was an herb gatherer, bead worker, basket maker.

  9. This postcards are available for purchase at the winery and many establishments in Marquette and McGregor, Iowa. Marjorie Goergen, a photographer from McGregor, took this now-famous photo of Emma and we have on display some others she has taken. Also see the McGregor Historical Museum on Main Street and the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, Iowa.

  10. my grampa way back sold some land to emma big bear family for a 8 passenger car.

    • Rogeta Halvorson Says:

      Sandy, near what town was your grampa’s land traded to Emma’s family and when did that take place? I assume the land was in Wisconsin somewhere near Tomah. This and any other details you can share, maybe specific names, will be greatly appreciated. I know Emma didn’t drive a car, but someone in her family obviously did. Emma was born in 1869 and would be 142 July 5 of this year. She passed away in 1968 in Marquette, Iowa just across the river from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and she’d spent a great deal of her life in this area. I’m interested to know as many details as you or your family can remember and please share with me. I’m gathering stories about Emma Big Bear from and for every-day folks, our locals here in NE Iowa / SW Wisconsin, and anyone who has a great story to tell.

      • Sandy (Sellers) Prusinski Says:

        I grew up in Prairie du Chien, WI. I had a little 90 Honda that I would very often take a ride across the two bridges into McGregor and Marquette. At the foot of the second bridge, I would round the corner and look to the house on the right to catch a glimpse of Emma Big Bear sitting on her front porch, probably weaving baskets. I was only a teenager, but she intrigued me even at that age.
        My dad, Terry Sellers, performed her funeral, but then I believe she had another “Indian” funeral after that in the Dells or southern Iowa? When my dad visited her, she pretended she didn’t know English, but then if a relative or friend of Emma’s was there, they would tell my dad, “she understood and heard every word you said”.
        I look back now and wish I had stopped to visit with her!

    • Maureen Wild Says:

      Back when Emma was about 69, it was written up in the paper that she had a law suit to get back 80 acres of land that she basically swapped for a car. I wonder if it is the same land, across from Lansing, IA?

  11. Marlys Sorlie Says:

    I just got off the phone with my 92 year old mother. She was born in McGregor, IA and played with Emma Big Bear’s granddaughter, Dorothy. My mother said Emma was quite a gal. One time when my mother and her brother were at Emma’s playing with the granddaughter, some tourists were there by Emma’s house and they took a picture of Emma like she wasn’t even a real person. My mom said Emma walked very slowly up to them with a mean look on her face and said, “Money or your camera!” The people got scared and gave Emma money. I have several of her baskets and I also have one like the one on the postcard of her. I grew up hearing all about Emma Big Bear and I treasure the stories.

    • Jon Standridge Says:

      I am writing for June (Goergen) Kuefler who is Margery Goergen’s daughter. She left Mc Gregor as a young adult and is now 86 years old. Do you know her?

      • Marlys Sorlie Says:

        I just talked to my mom. She said that Margery was a photographer and was the only one that had ever taken a good photo of my mom. Mom went to Margery for this photograph so she had a photo of herself to send to my dad while he was in WWII while they were dating. Mom also remembered June and that June had a brother Bill. My mother’s maiden name was Helen Mills. My grandparents were Victor and Margaret Mills. My mom’s brother and sister were Bud and Kathleen Mills. My Aunt Kathleen would be just a year or so younger than June. small world!

      • Marlys Sorlie Says:

        One other thing I forgot to mention. When I asked my mom if she remembered June, she said, sure she remembered her. I asked her if she ever played with her when they were kids and she said June was soooo much younger than her. My mom is 93. What a hoot! I don’t think there are many around anymore that know each other, so it was nice for mom to hear about someone from McGregor.

    • Maureen Wild Says:

      I am just reading your post and wondering about Emma’s granddaughter, Dorothy. I work at the McGregor Historical Museum and as far as we know, Emma had one granddaughter from her daughter, Emmaline, named Eirgiline. Is this the same girl?

      • Marlys Sorlie Says:

        I talked to my mom tonight and she said she wasn’t positive on the name, but she thought it was Dorothy. The little girl came several times and they all played together. She is 95 years old and she thought Emma’s granddaughter was about the same age as her. She also said this granddaughter lives the next town over. She thought the name of the town was Clayton. Does that sound about right?
        Being 95 she might not be remembering everything perfectly, but mom is still pretty sharp.

      • Marlys Sorlie Says:

        I just talked to my mom and she wasn’t positive about the name of Emma’s granddaughter, but she thought is was Dorothy. She said the granddaughter would come every so often and they would all play together. She thought the granddaughter lived in Clayton. She could be wrong on the granddaughter’s name as she is 95, but Mom still is pretty sharp. She also said this granddaughter was about the same age as she was. Is Emma’s granddaughter still alive or if not, if she was still alive would she be about 94 or 95?

  12. We have formed an EMMA BIG BEAR FOUNDATION, seeking to capture stories, pictures and baskets made by Emma Big Bear. We will have our 1st annual reunion on July 5th here in Marquette.Please attend Emma’s Birthday. Other activities also at Effigy Mounds Nat’l Monument, 3 miles North of Marquette. We bought her last home, 127 North Street, Marquette, land have some of her baskets and things there. We need to video everyone who has a message about Emma, and will appreciate any items for the museum. I can be reached at 563-880-0155. Thank you for your interest, from the friends of Emma./s/ Roger

  13. Hello, all Emma Big Bear followers. The Emma Big Bear Foundation recently established its website. We encourage you to look it over and check back in with us. We are still in the beginning stages of Emma’s website, and will be updating it frequently. The foundation board has worked hard to bring the public the 7th annual Emma Big Bear birthday celebration, and t his year it’s on her actual birthdate July 5, from noon to 4 p.m. at Eagles Landing Winery in Marquette, IA. Emma’s home is now part of the winery complex and was her last home before moving to the nursing home in Waukon, IA, where she passed away at 99 years old. There’ll be basket making and repairing demonstrations, displays of local artists’ works of Emma Big Bear and Native Americans, a costumed ‘living’ Emma Big Bear persona, Emma’s baskets and artifacts on display, a presentation by Spencer Lonetree telling his family memories of Emma and his five-book series about the Winnebago Trail of Tears, and much more. The foundation has also put together a free self-guided tour of places where Emma lived, roamed, and sold her baskets and trinkets around the McGregor & Marquette, IA and Prairie du Chien, WI areas. This tour packet may be picked up on July 5 at the winery, and after that at the winery, McGregor – Marquette chamber office in McGregor, and other locations we’ll announce on Emma’s website. Thank you for your shared love of Emma Big Bear, and your contribution to Emma’s foundation will help preserve her memory and that of her people, the Winnebago Nation. For more information on how to donate, please see Emma’s website. In addition, for your Emma Big Bear Foundation donation of $100 or more, you will receive a framed color print signed & numbered by the artist Florence Bird (only 50 of each are available; once they’re gone, that’s it). In addition to the federal tax credit as allowed by law, Iowa residents are eligible for an additional 25% Endow Iowa state tax credit. We hope to see you at Emma’s 144th birthday celebration July 5, 2013! Rogeta A. Halvorson, Foundation Secretary / Treasurer

  14. Julie Gremmel Says:

    My sister Ronda Wagner lived right behind Emma Big Bear in Marquette. She shopped wood for Emma in the winter of 1964 and1965. She spent many hours with Emma helping her until the flood forced her out.

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