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Exploring the naming of the scarlet city

The Tundra Swan is Audubon Minnesota's first feature bird of the month. The Republican Eagle has partnered with Audubon Minnesota in a new collaborative feature to help educate and raise awareness of the many bird species found in the Mississippi River valley. The features will appear each month in the Republican Eagle. (photo by Rebecca Fields)

Since Red Wing’s incorporation as a city in 1857, the city moniker has been synonymous with rich history, environmental landscapes and strong manufacturing and agriculture. As the city grew and reacted to changing times, the winged symbol remained ever-present.

The origin of Red Wing’s name harkens back to the area's earliest residents, as editor-in-chief Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge reported in his 1909 work “History of Goodhue County Minnesota”:

“One of the earliest Dakota villages in Goodhue County was at the mouth of the Cannon River, but sometime between 1817 and 1820, they established a settlement on the present site of Red Wing. The village was called Khemnichan, meaning place of hill, water and wood. Red Wing is the name of a dynasty, a succession of at least four chiefs of the Mdewakanton Sioux who resided on the west shore of Lake Pepin, where the city of Red Wing stands today. Each of the four chiefs in succession bore the appellation, each being distinguished by another name. The elder Red Wing is heard of as early as the time of the Pontiac War, when he was in alliance with the English in the Revolution. The first chief was succeeded by his son, Tatankamani (Walking Buffalo), also known as Koo-poo-hoo-sha (Red Wing). The explorer, Zebulon Pike met the latter Red Wing in 1805, when he came to locate a site for Fort Snelling.”

William Colvill arrived in Red Wing by steamboat in 1854. Shortly after, Colvill became the editor of the Sentinel, one of the local newspapers. Before he left for the Civil War battlefields and eventual Battle of Gettysburg fame, he wrote: “Chief Red Wing's titular name was Wacouta — 'The Shooter.' He had the name of Red Wing, from the swan's wing, which he dyed scarlet and carried to show his chieftaincy.”

The scarlet-dyed swan’s wing is reported in various accounts of early missionaries and settlers.

The first permanent missionary, the Rev. Joseph W. Hancock, arrived in 1849. Of his arrival, Hancock wrote: “While we were still somewhere in Lake Pepin, there was pointed out to us the top of Barn Bluff, which we were told was the place where we were to land. Peculiar sensations were felt by us at the sight of that bold bluff standing in the middle of that great valley through which our steamer was plowing its way. The bell rang to announce that the boat would soon make a short stop. As it began to draw near the shore strange faces began to appear. Nearly the whole village came down to the landing place to give us a welcome. Some were fantastically dressed and ornamented with feathers and paint, while others were almost destitute of clothing.”

The swan’s wing carried by the Mdewakanton chiefs began to signify not only their importance, but the growing settlement on the shore of the Mississippi River.

Monthly Bird Feature

Since 1979, Audubon Minnesota has delivered conservation results supported by science, education and advocacy.

From remote protected forests or restored prairies to urban environments, Audubon Minnesota has worked to protect birds, as they play an important part of a healthy functioning ecosystem.

Much of the state, including Red Wing, is located on the Mississippi Flyway – a key migration flyway for millions of birds and hundreds of species. The Republican Eagle has partnered with Audubon Minnesota in a new collaborative feature to help educate and raise awareness of the many bird species found in the Mississippi River valley. The features will appear each month in the Republican Eagle.

Bird of the Month: Tundra Swan Feature www.republican-eagle.com/sports/outdoors/4093452-bird-month-tundra-swan

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