Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Winnebago originally had a mixed economy heavily dependent on women's gardens of maize, beans, and squash. New fields were cleared every few years with men's help and when unproductive were left to revert to forest and brush. Tobacco, a ceremonial plant, was raised by men. Parties of families gathered wild plants in season and dried them for winter use, particularly blueberries, roots and seeds of the American lotus that grew along the Mississippi, and "Indian potatoes" (Apios americana ). There are old traditions of parties setting out in dugouts in the late summer for communal deer hunting and also mentions of crossing the Mississippi to hunt bison. Fishing with spears and bows and arrows was important, particularly for sturgeon. Horses were introduced during the eighteenth century and became a necessity for transport. In the early fall, many families moved with ponies and wagons to campsites along waterways to trap for the fur trade; in later times this was largely confined to the area around La Crosse. The Wisconsin Winnebago moved from a trading to a money economy, selling wild blueberries in the summer and cranberries in the fall to Whites. Income from the sale of blueberries was replaced by wage work harvesting cranberries, cherries, corn, potatoes, peas, and other crops for Whites after 1917. After World War II severe financial deprivation set in as crop work became mechanized and required a much smaller labor force. Few people were prepared for other employment. Aboriginally, the dog was the only domestic animal. By the end of the nineteenth century, a few families used horses for plowing as well as transport and kept cows, hogs, and chickens, but for the most part the Wisconsin Winnebago preferred the independence and immediate returns of an itinerant economy.
Industrial Arts. Women tanned hides and made moccasins, but clothing was largely made of trade textiles with beads and later ribbonwork replacing old embellishments of porcupine quillwork. Aboriginal pottery quickly gave way to metal trade kettles. The arts of splint basketry and silver and nickel-silver jewelry were adopted from the Oneida and Stockbridge.
Trade. The Winnebagos' territory was rich in beaver, muskrat, and other fur-bearing animals. The tribe became dependent on the fur trade for traps, guns, textiles, and a variety of metal utensils, but their continued emphasis on gardening saved them from periodic starvation suffered by tribes that sometimes trapped for the fur trade at the expense of subsistence.
Division of Labor. The basic division was between women's gardening and men's hunting and fishing, but both sexes assisted each other as needed on occasion and engaged in gathering wild foods. Women were specialists in tracking the heavens for astronomical information to guide their gardening and other seasonal activities.
Land Tenure. As far as can be determined, land was held tribally, and as tribal hegemony was extended, local villages were spaced to ensure adequate natural resources and land for gardens.