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The story behind the American Indian leader 'Red Wing'

Most of you already know that The Red Wing Shoe Company originates from Red Wing, Minnesota. It was founded there in 1905 by Charles Beckman. However, what most of you probably do not know is the fact that Charles Beckman devoted his company’s name and logo to a local American Indian tribe leader, one called chief Red Wing, as did the local government before him when they founded the city Red Wing in the early 19th century.

At the Red Wing Shoe Store Amsterdam, we were well aware of this but we also realised that we actually did not know much about this mysterious historical figure, even though his legacy is such an important part of the identity of The Red Wing Shoe Company. This led us to doing some research. We stumbled upon some very interesting information about chief Red Wing and wanted to share this with you. Why was he called Red Wing? What made him so honourable? And, how did Red Wing, both the city and the shoemaker, come about their name? Sit back, relax and put on some cozy Red Wing socks…we hope you enjoy this article on one of the most exciting stories behind your favourite boots.

Red Wing’s origins

Together with the allied Wahpekhute, the Mdewakanton are commonly referred to as the ‘Upper Council of the American Indian Isanti Dakota tribe’. The Mdewakanton first settled near Mde Wakan (which translates to ‘Lake Mystery’), nowadays known as Mille Lacs Lake. It is an approximately 2,5 hour drive from current city Red Wing! Chief ‘Red Wing’ was one of the leaders of the Mdewakanton, born in the 18th century in what is now known as Minnesota. He was of particular importance to his tribe and to American Indian history as a whole.

Like his ancestors, he also wore a ceremonial swan’s wing dyed in brilliant red to show everyone that it was him who led the Mdewakanton. The honourable leader went by many names: Hupahuduta (‘Scarlett Wing’), Tatankamani (‘Walking Buffalo’) and Sakiya (‘He Who Paints Himself Red’).

While no one actually knew about his parents, he was said to stem from a long Mdewakanton lineage of ‘Red Wing’ leaders: tribe chiefs who wore a swan’s wing dyed in red as a symbol of their chieftaincy. Like his ancestors, he also wore a ceremonial swan’s wing dyed in brilliant red to show everyone that it was him who led the Mdewakanton. The honourable leader went by many names: Hupahuduta (‘Scarlett Wing’), Tatankamani (‘Walking Buffalo’) and Sakiya (‘He Who Paints Himself Red’).

A great leader

Red Wing was a skilled warrior and it was said that he never lost a battle. Next to being chief, he became his tribe’s most important war shaman. In 1787, he even signed a treaty with leaders of other tribes as the ‘first war chief’ of the Mdewakanton. He led his people to assist in the American revolution by fighting for the British. He also had a talent in foreseeing the future events that would to happen to his people. He upheld the image of a skilled leader with a legendary heritage.

His legacy

In 1805, U.S. Army officer Colonel Zebulon M. Pike met with then elderly Red Wing. It was him whom British told that they were proud to have fought along the Mdewakanton during the revolution! About 20 years later U.S. Army officer Major Long lay the foundation of the city of Red Wing. He was the first to hoist the flag on the land traditionally known as both Proymueche (‘Mountain in the water’) and Hemminnischa (‘Wood, water and hill’). Major Long decided to name the settlement after Red Wing and he would use the leader’s signature red swan’s wing as a symbol for the would-be city. In 1857, Red Wing was officially referred to as a city.

Charles Beckman and Red Wing Shoes

Half a century later, Charles Beckman started producing shoes. He needed a name and logo that were in line with the spirit of his products. He decided to name his company after the strong and persevering Red Wing, first war chief of the Mdewakanton. He used the chief’s signature red swan’s wing as a logo. While the logo was modernised, it has been synonymous to quality and durability ever since.

He needed a name and logo that were in line with the spirit of his products. He decided to name his company after the strong and persevering Red Wing, first war chief of the Mdewakanton.

As of now, Red Wing’s story has survived for almost 200 years. In a way he has always continued to serve his people, even almost two centuries after his passing. From Lake Mystery to the Red Wing Shoe Store Amsterdam, chief Red Wing and his people certainly left behind a legacy. Red Wing: American Indian first war chief of the Mdewakanton, the symbol of a bustling American city and an essential part of the backbone of the Red Wing Shoe Company!