The Boulders of Devil's Lake

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Version 1. Devil's Lake lies not very far from the Wisconsin Dells. The shattered rocky walls of this lake, as well as the many loose boulders lying about, are said to have been the remains of a battle between the Waterspirits resident in the lake and their mortal enemies, the Thunderbirds.1 The Thunders shot these rocks and boulders from their eyes in the form of lightning.2 

One such boulder, now called "Balanced Rock," is seen in the inset at left.3

Version 2. "A quarrel once arose between the water spirits, or underwater panthers, who had a den in the depths of Devil's Lake, and the Thunderbirds. These animals were call Wakhakeera [Wakjexira], and the Thunderers were called Wakunja [Wakąja]. The great birds, flying high above the lake's surface, hurled their eggs (arrows or thunderbolts) into the waters and on the bluffs. The water monsters threw up great rocks and water-spouts from the bottom of the lake. This terrible fight continued for days. The falling eggs tore down the trees and split off great pieces of rock; and the tumbled-down and cracked, rocky surface of the surrounding bluffs stands as evidence of this great struggle.

The Thunderers were finally victorious and flew away to their homes and nests in the North. No Indian dared to approach the lake for a long time. The water spirits were not all killed and some are in Devil's Lake to this day.

It was a custom of the early Indians to make tobacco offerings to the spirits of this lake, by depositing tobacco on boulders on the shore or by strewing it on the surface of the water. The Winnebago (Hochungara) name for this lake was Tawacunchukdah [Te Wákącąkra], 'Sacred Lake'."4

Boulders on the East Bluff of Devil's Lake    Map of Devil’s Lake   Contour Map of Devil's Lake

Links: Devil's Lake, Thunderbirds, Waterspirits.

Stories: in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Seer, The Nannyberry Picker, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf Mounds, Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Descent of the Drum, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Two Children, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Heną́ga and Star Girl, Peace of Mind Regained, The Story of the Medicine Rite, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Black Otter's Warpath, Aracgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Ciwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; set at Devil's Lake (Te Wákącąk): Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Sacred Lake, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (vv. 1, 5), The Lost Blanket.

Themes: the war between Thunderbirds and Waterspirits: Traveler and the Thunderbird War, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Brave Man, The Lost Blanket, Ocean Duck, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Thunderbird, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Waruǧábᵉra, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf Mounds.

Map: Devil's Lake.

Pictures: of Devil's Lake: Scene 1, Scene 2,. Picture of the Boulders of Devil's Lake (external link).


1 Henry Ellsworth Cole, Baraboo, Dells, and Devil's Lake Region (Baraboo: Baraboo Publishing Co., 1920) 29.

2 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, summer session, 1927): 5; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 239.

3 Cole, Baraboo, Dells, and Devil's Lake Region.

4 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 14.