The Winnebago first arrived in northwest Kentucky around 500 BC and by 500 AD they had entered the area that is now Wisconsin. In the 1620's the Winnebago fought an inter-tribal war with the Potawatomis'. After this war, small pox and measles epidemics reduced the population of the Tribe from about 25,000 people to only about 150 people.
The Winnebago signed their first treaty with the United States in 1816 and signed boundary and cession treaties in the 1820's and 1830's. These treaties resulted in the loss of most of the tribal land. The Tribe was moved from what is now northeast Iowa, to Minnesota to South Dakota, and finally to their current location in Nebraska where the Winnebago Indian Reservation was established by treaties of 1865 and 1874. Following this displacement to the treeless plains of South Dakota, a nocturnal gravitation occurred during which many of the dispossessed Winnebago, under cover of darkness, traveled down the Missouri River to rejoin remnants of their tribe in Nebraska. The General Allotment Act of 1887 resulted in the loss of about two thirds of the Reservation by 1913. Both population and economic opportunities were lost through the 1960's.
In 1975, the Tribe was awarded $4.6 million by the Indian Claims Commission for the land it had lost in the 1837 land cession treaty with the federal government. The tribal council decided to use much of the award to develop three programs: land acquisition, credit and a wake and burial program.
The tribe is federally recognized and organized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The 1936 constitution and bylaws were amended in 1968. The Tribal Council is composed of a chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and five other members. All officers are elected to a one-year term, while the remaining council members are appointed (Tiller, 1996). In 1986, the Tribe reestablished is sovereignty in the area of its legal system.