County by County: Princess Wenonah

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Fox First News at Nine’s Zach Prelutsky tells us about the legend of Princess Wenonah and how the namesake for the county is remembered today.

Princess Wenonah is said to be the first-born daughter of Chief Wapasha II, who was the primary chief of the Dakotas in the region in the early 1800s.

In Dakota language Wenonah translates to first born daughter and the namesake for Winona County thanks to princess Wenonah

“The legend says that she was forced to marry somebody that she didn’t love, so therefore she went up towards maiden rock in Wisconsin and facing into the sun she jumped and killed herself rather than marry a person she didn’t love…so the legend goes,” said Walt Bennick, an archivist for the Winona County Historical Society.

The legend of Princess Wenonah is said to take place in the early 19th century.

Now fast forward to the end of that century when Princess Wenonah was immortalized in the region.

It started with a man by the name of William Landon who wanted to honor his wife Ida, who had just passed away.

“Brought up by William Landon, whose wife Ida Cohen Landon died in the late 1800s around the 1890s, and he wanted to dedicate something to her memory,” said Bennick.

In 1902, a family member of Landon’s was commissioned to create what would become the princess Wenonah statue to honor Ida.

The statue depicts a Native American woman shielding her eyes from the sun based on the legend in a fountain surrounded by pelicans and turtles.

The statue would sit in Central Park in downtown Winona for the next 60 years.

“The story was there was urban renewal, there was federal funds available for a renewal.  And some of the leaders in the city glommed on to the idea and let’s get rid of the old and let’s build this fabulous new downtown,”

In the spot of the Princess Wenonah statue at Central Park would then sit the post office.

The statue and pedestal were removed from Central Park and separated from the pelicans and turtles.

“In the middle 60s the statue and its pedestal were moved at the end of main street at lake park, on a triangle on lake park, and the statues of the pelicans and turtles were given to Winona State,” said Bennick.

At the end of the 1970s, the entire statue was reunited and placed at 3rd and Center Streets, formerly known as Levee Plaza.

“In the early 90s, dismay with the plaza got it to be turned back into a street.  The statue and the fountain were pulled down and then between Harland knight and Phillip Feiten pushed and got a fundraiser going to replace the fountain and put it in Windom Park,”

Knight and Feiten raised $100,000 to construct the current fountain and place the statue in Windom Park, where it stands to this day.

“I think today it’s a symbol of Winona, as is Sugarloaf.  It’s a symbol of Winona, you see it, it’s the namesake for Winona.  You’ll see many letterheads, many individuals that use Winona and they’ll be a statue of Princess Wenonah,” Bennick said. 

Bennick hopes that the statue can remain in Windom park indefinitely.

He says the statue gives Winona a sense of community and serves as a reminder of the past and the legend of Princess Wenonah.

In Winona Zach Prelutsky, Fox First News at Nine. 

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