Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name

by Big Bear and Big Thunder

retold by Thomas J. George (1885)


"Ta-wah-cun-chunk-dah (Te Wakącąkra) — Devil's Lake, "Sacred Lake," no bad meaning. Tradition — Long ago — a good Winnebago went on the bank of the lake, offering his devotions aloud and crying to the Supreme Being for twenty days, fasting — when he saw an animal resembling a cat rise up to the surface, hearing the Indian's sorrow — told him he would help him to live a long and happy life. He did long live. The prayer or worship was called "haah-tock-ke-nutch" (hątáginac). The animal was called Wock-cheth-thwe-dah (Wakjexira) — with long tail and horns. Many others also saw this animal."1

Commentary. "an animal" — the animal, the Wakjexi, is now commonly known as a "Waterspirit." The faster would not have been praying to the Supreme Being (Earthmaker), but rather to the Waterspirit or other spirits who might respond at that locale.

"haah-tock-ke-nutch" — this is the vision quest or "dream" (hątáginac).

What Jipson says about this is probably based upon what George has said above: "Devil's Lake, Sacred Lake. Many years ago a Winnebago was engaged in a fasting prayer for blessings on the bank of this lake, crying aloud to the Supreme Being for twenty days. He saw an animal resembling a cat rise up to the surface. The animal told him he would live a long, happy life and his prediction came true. The fasting prayer was called Hā-tock-ki-nutch."2

Links: Waterspirits, Devil's Lake, Earthmaker.

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, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, 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; set at Devil's Lake (Te Wákącąk): The Boulders of Devil's Lake, 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: a green (co) Waterspirit inhabits Devil's Lake: River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells.

Pictures: of Devil's Lake: Scene 1, Scene 2, Balanced Rock.


1 Thomas J. George, Winnebago Vocabulary, 4989 Winnebago (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1885). Informants: Big Bear of Friendship, Wisconsin, and Big Thunder.

2 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 397.