Lake Wąkšigomįgᵋra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

A young man and his friend once lived in a Hočąk village near the Four Lakes. They were the best of friends and did everything together. The young man was of an age to fast, so he went out every day and cried to the spirits for a blessing. One day he dreamed and recieved a powerful blessing from a beautiful Waterspirit maiden, which he kept to himself. However, he told his friend that he had received a blessing from the spirits, and that they needed to go to the Four Lakes to receive it. So the two of them set off together. They were walking along the shore of the smallest lake (Nąsakučitera, or Kegonsa Lake), when a light snow began to fall. They soon encountered the tracks of a giant raccoon which they followed right up to a hollow tree stump. When they looked up, they saw the raccoon looking back at them. He suddenly disappeared into the hollow stump, but now they had him cornered. The young man persuaded his friend to climb up to the top of the tall stump and shoot the raccoon, but when he got to the top and looked down, there was no raccoon — unexpectedly, there was a very large catfish swimming in the water that had collected there. The young man standing at the trunk was getting extremely hungry and urged his friend, "Kill it and bring it down, I'll fix the fire." But his friend replied, "I cannot kill it — it's a Spirit Fish that changed from being a raccoon. It would sacrilegious to kill it, let alone eat it." While he made the fire, the young man kept urging his friend to kill it. Finally, with great reluctance, his friend struck the fish with his club and threw it down by the fire.

The young man cooked the fish and ate it without a second thought, but his friend refused every entreaty to partake of this meal. After he had eaten, the young man suddenly became very thirsty. "I am overwhelmed by thirst," he said to his friend, "can you get me some water?" So his friend fetched a skin of water which the young man gulped down. A second and a third time he asked his friend to fetch more water, but no amount of water could quench his thirst. Finally, his friend said, "Why not go down to the lake and drink your fill?" So the young man went off, but quite some time passed without his return, so his friend went down to the shore to look for him. When he arrived at the lake, he saw nothing but a large catfish swimming in the lake. He called out to the fish: "My friend, you should have listened to me: I warned you because I knew this would happen!"

"My friend," the fish replied, "it is you who should have listened. I dreamt of two beautiful maidens who lived in this lake, and I thought we could go together to their beds and marry them, living in this lake forever. But you refused, so I must go alone. Nevertheless, I bless you with much Life."

Then with a great flurry of activity, he leapt from the first lake into the second; then from the second into the third; and finally with a great splash, he leapt into the fourth lake [pictured above]. There he found the beautiful maiden of his dream. There he lives even to this day. For this reason that fourth lake (Lake Mendota) is called Wąkšigomįgᵋra, "The Indian's Bed."1

Commentary. "the Four Lakes" — the Four Lakes are located in the Madison area. The Big Knives numbered them from north to south, but the Hočągara count them in the reverse direction. The setting of the present story is the first lake from the south, Wąkšik-ho-mįk-ra, called "Lake Mendota" by the whites, and "Fourth Lake" (Te Jopera) by the Hočągara.2 The second lake, now known as Lake Monona, is called Či-hipokixake Xetera, "Great Teepee Lake."3 The third lake, Waubesa Lake, is called Sahu Xetera (?), "Lake of the Great? Reed Stems."4 The last lake, now known as Kegonsa Lake, is called Nąsąkučitera, "Hard Maple Grove Lake."5

Internal Isomorphisms. The story repeats itself in recurring themes, as shown on the table.

Deprivation of food vs. water the first friend fasts       the first friend gets very hungry   the first friend eats the fish, the second friend refuses to eat he becomes thirsty to the point that no amount of water will quench it      
Blessing vs. sacrilege blessed with beautiful Waterspirit women, one for him and one for his friend           which his friend says is a sacrilege     the first friend tells the second friend of the blessing that he lost given an intermediate blessing of Life
tree, wood   they are at Hard Maple Grove Lake the tracks lead to a tall stump     he clubs the fish          
Water vs. fire it is a Waterspirit woman who blesses him snow falls   the high stump contains water while making a fire next to the fire, where he is cooked   after drinking from several bladders, he must go down to the water      
Transformative beings: raccoon, catfish, man   at First Lake raccoon tracks are seen where they see the raccoon there he finds a catfish (howį́x) or "duck fish"         the first friend turns into a catfish    
Up vs. down     who had climbed the tree     he throws down the fish   the lake is the lowest point there he comes to the surface    
Disappear vs. reappear     he disappears into the tree who appears in the tree-water       he disappears into the water appearing on the surface    
Traveling to realize the blessing they must go to the 4 Lakes to receive the blessing they follow the tracks the second friend climbs the tree stump         He goes into the water      
Death vs. immortality       the howįx is a "circling" fish the first friend tells the second friend to kill it which he does against his better judgement           the first friend lives in the lake forever.

This set of isomorphisms is actually a crude representation of the internal "resonances" that can be found in the Hočąk story, and it should be noted here that these are what make the story particularly Hočąk and differentiate it from the myriad of versions extant among other nations.

The first friend receives a blessing, yet despite the closeness of the Hočąk friendship relation, he does not tell his friend exactly what the blessing is. We are not informed why this is so. It may be that he was so instructed by the spirit who gave him the blessing, but since it is not mentioned, it is likely considered to be of little importance. The second friend does know that they must go to Four Lakes in order to receive the blessing. This is typical of Waterspirit blessings, which often involve the granting of the spirit's own body as the content of the blessing. That they had to travel to a lake in order to receive the blessing should have been enough to lead the second friend to surmise that it was a blessing given by a Waterspirit. In Hočąk thought, the killing of an embodiment of a spirit being is not usually sacrilegious, at least in a context that suggests that it is being given willingly as part of a blessing.

What the second friend is given is just a partial account of the blessing. This partial account has to do with traveling. This is mirrored in the fact that they do not at first see the guiding animal, but only his tracks. This is "part" of the animal which is visible in his absence and which signifies his motion. Thus it is rather like the blessing itself, which is only partly present to the mind, and that part is concerned with a direction of motion (to the lakes). The second friend has only been given the "tracks" of the blessing, rather than an apprehension of the blessing itself. The spirit world itself is of this character: largely hidden from profane view, it can be accessed in part through a particular procedure, rather like tracking. Thus, they hunt the raccoon just as they hunt the blessing.

One can be deceived by false blessings, and those whose friends seemed to have had a blessing from a Waterspirit ought to be sceptical. The Waterspirit, the Wakjexi, is frequently a deceiver. The second element in the name, čexí, means, "difficult, hard." A Waterspirit dreamer is called a Wają́ča. That the friend is a Wają́ča is really only thinly disguised. Yet much in the story turns upon faith, particularly the faith of one friend in another. Therefore the enemy of faith, scepticism, also has a big role in the story. The second friend tells the first that he should have listened to him, inasmuch as he has now turned into a fish; but the first friend counters with the revelation that this is actually a blessing, and because he did not have faith in what he had told him about being blessed, he therefore cannot share in the blessing as was intended. The moral: friends should not be sceptical about what their friends tell them, most especially, in this case, concerning their blessings. The friend who took the bold route and ate the fish, showed faith that the blessing was true. He was thus rewarded by the spirits. However, the sceptic, who was yet acting out of genuine friendship in trying to save his friend from an apparent delusion, was still rewarded with a blessing of his own. The first friend has won for himself immortality, but the second friend gets something between immorality and death: he is given the blessing described as "Life," which means prosperity and longevity, which is the most that one can expect as a mortal.

It may not have escaped the knowledgable reader that these two friends mirror Ghost and Flesh, the Hero Twins. Ghost is associated with the world of water, his preferred environment. This is in keeping with the fact that some souls are said to be fish. The accent upon water derives from the fact that the human body is a wet environment into which the soul enters from outside at conception. The soul is presumably carried like a fish in the wet seed that leads to conception. Ghost's grandmother is a stump, since stumps typically fill with water which they hold like a bowl. We find a stump in this story as well. They are led to it by raccoon tracks, which like the blessing itself, are an incomplete revelation that leads them to the place where it will be fulfilled and realized. The raccoon is a symbol of the blessing itself, and it is realized by the recipient turning into a catfish, just as the raccoon has done. Like Ghost and souls generally, the catfish originates in the Above World, but ends up in the element of water. Like the blessing, he is sent down to the recipient, who applies the opposite of water, fire, to the fish so that he may internalize it. The fire is the medium of offering, and the blessing is a reverse offering that comes from above and descends into the fire. It is through this medium of offering that the catfish nature can be absorbed like a soul, like Ghost, into the body of the first friend. The first friend knows or surmises that all this is foreordained, and so he acts boldly like Ghost, running roughshod through normal conventions in order to realize his mission. Having internalized the spirit fish, he then descends himself to the water and disappears like the soul disappears into the water of the body. Thus he parts from his mortal friend to live like a free soul. When Ghost kept leaving Flesh for his watery element, their father decided that something had to be done to keep the two united. So he inflated two bladders with his own breath, and affixed them to their heads. When Ghost tried to leave, the buoyancy of the inflated bladders kept both of them from disappearing into the soul's watery abode. In our story, the drinking skin, which among the Hočągara was a bladder, is completely drained. Thus, the opposite happens from the Ghost story: all the bladders are drained of their content, and the first friend internalizes the watery element just as he had internalized the catfish. This is because, as a Waterspirit, he is that element of water. It is into this element that he disappears and takes on the bodily form of a catfish. Even the choice of the lake fits into the symbol scheme of this story. The name of Lake Kegonsa in Hočąk is Nąsąkučitera, "Hard Maple Grove" Lake. Maples produce maple sugar. This syrup originated when Trickster urinated on a primordial maple tree. Therefore, the content of the maple tree that gives its name to the lake is the water of Trickster's bladder. Having emptied all his bladders, the first friend now disappears into a lake itself associated with a bladder of holy water. The departure of the first friend alone renders the second friend mortal, that is, the latter becomes another Flesh, just as the former had become another Ghost (soul), a spirit being. We also see that this Ghost counterpart is ultimately descended from a stump. The stump, with its reservoir of water, is a suitable analogy to the "woody" whence the soul enters into the flesh at conception. In this story, the point is hammered home, by the fact that the fish is killed by a wooden club: that is, allegorically, the soul dies in his Above World realm in order to be internalized into the awaiting body. This is done through a short woody instrument with a series of hammering strokes.

The descent of the soul into the flesh is mirrored in several different ways in this story. An allomorph of the catfish is the raccoon. First we discover him as tracks in the snow. Snow is a solid version of the water element, one that falls from the Above World, having first matriculated through all the other world levels, after which it descends through all the realms in reverse, eventually melting away and sinking to its lowest level. So snow traverses all the world levels and is transformative. The raccoon is the same. It washes its food (or so its seems), and has that association with the world of water, yet it lives on the surface and is also arboreal, which means that it ascends often into the Above World and back again. The raccoon, like water into snow, climbs up into the Above World, after which he descends into the stump's pool, where he is transformed into a bottom-feeding fish. The fish then recapitulates this same process, by being thrown down to earth where fire cooks it like the Sun cooks snow, with the ultimate result being that it is reincarnated back into its native element and its original world level. However, like Ghost and the piscine souls, this bottom-feeder is immortal. That the fish is a catfish is not accidental. In Hočąk the catfish is the howįx. Wįx is a homonym, the delight of myth-makers. In one sense, wįx denotes the duck. The duck is also a creature of all the world levels: it flies into the Above World, walks about in This World, and dives into the waters of the Beneath World. The element ho in the name simply means "fish," so that the name for the catfish seems to be "duck-fish." Yet ducks are so called because wįx also means, "circle, circling." Waterbirds sometimes circle before they land. The catfish also will be seen to circle. That the catfish is the "circling fish," is important in this context. The circle is the image of immortality. When Hare wanted to achieve immortality for mankind, he traversed the edge of the world in a circle. Had he completed the circle in space, he would have achieve a circle in time, that is, a figure without beginning or end, an infinity of time. However, he looked back, and in so doing lost sight of all future time. This is what happens to humans: at a certain point they can only see the past, since at death, that is all that exists for them. So the catfish, as the fish of the circle, is therefore the fish of infinite time, the fish of immortality. Therefore, the friend who won immorality must transform himself into this kind of fish.

From the Hočąk point of view, this very story is itself an incomplete revelation. In the end, we see that the first friend becomes a spirit being, specifically a Waterspirit. We might infer, therefore, that he was a spirit being to begin with, and had merely assumed a human guise so that he might experience human existence, as is so common among the spirits. This means that he did not need to fast in order to return to his spirit form after his human body was spent. So why did he fast at all? The context makes it clear that he fasted on behalf of his friend, since his friend ended up switching things around since he became the beneficiary of a blessing without having had to fast. It is as though the second friend was a spirit being, the two friends having undergone a role reversal. Yet because he was cautious like Flesh, he ends up as flesh; whereas his friend, being bold like Ghost, ends up being an immortal spirit being.

Comparative Material. A story told among the neighboring Dakota is almost identical. "The Dahkotahs call the St Croix river, Hogan-wanke-kin. The legend is that in the distant past, two Dahkotah warriors were travelling on the shores of Lake St Croix, one of whom was under a vow to one of his gods not to eat any flesh which had touched water. Gnawed by hunger, the two perceived, as they supposed, a raccoon, and pursued it to a hollow tree. On looking in, the one who could not eat flesh that had touched water, saw that the animal was a fish and not a quadruped. Turning to his companion, he agreed to throw it to the ground if he was not urged to eat. Hunger, however, was imperious, and forced him to break his vow and partake of the broiled fish. After the meal, thirst usurped the place of hunger. He called for water to cool his parched tongue, until the strength of his companion failed, and he was then told to lie down by the lake and drink till his thirst was quenched. Complying with the advice, he drank and drank, till at last he cried to his friend, "come and look at me." The sight caused the knees of his comrade to smite together with fear, for he was fast turning to a fish. At length, he stretched himself across the Lake, and formed what is called Pike Bar. This, tradition says, is the origin of the sand-bar in the Lake, which is so conspicuous at low stage of water. Having full faith in the legend, to this day they call the river, which is part of the boundary between Wisconsin and Minnesota, "THE PLACE WHERE THE FISH LIES" (Hogan-wanke-kin)."6

There is a story of Hidatsa origins told by the Arikara which is similar to this story and the other related Hočąk tales. Two starving hunters went out but found nothing until on their return trip they ran across a snake so large they could not see the end of it. One of them said, "This is a fish, so let us eat it," but the other warned that it was a snake (which is taboo to eat). Nevertheless, the other man began to cut off pieces of the snake and eat it anyway. They set up camp and slept through the night uneventfully. When he woke up, the man who had eaten snake meat found that his hands and legs had become spotted. Just the same, he thought this not a bad thing, as the women would admire his looks with these ornaments upon his flesh. They traveled all day, but the snake eater became tired and they had to bed down for the night. When he woke up the next day, the man was spotted all over. They attempted to reach home, but they got no further than the Missouri River when the man had gradually transformed into a snake save for his head alone. He gave instructions that he be aligned with the river. He told his friend that henceforth he would be a water monster, but that whenever the people wanted to cross the river, all they need do is offer a corn ball, and he would surface so that they could cross his back like a bridge.7

This story is from the Arapaho. Two hunters ran across a clutch of eggs. One thought them to be those of a goose, the other said that they were snake's eggs. The one who thought they were goose eggs went ahead and ate them. He gradually grew very fat, then suddenly turned into a giant snake. His comrade placed him in a river. The snake promised him that if they offered him intestines, then he would see to it that they could cross the river without mishap.8

There is also a short Mandan account. "The story of the great serpent forms an important tale for comparative purposes. The great serpent was supposed to have been one of two Mandan braves who crawled through a hole in the bluff and came out in a land of giants. On returning, the two killed a monstrous snake of which one of them ate. He himself soon turned into a great snake and became a sort of minor deity for the people."9

A similar story is known to the Pawnee. Two young brothers were out on a warparty and got lost. They collected some buffalo bones so that they could eat the marrow. Later when they set up camp, they shot a squirrel and roasted it over the fire. The elder brother decided to eat the marrow and the squirrel meat together, even though the younger brother said it was not a good idea. During the night the elder brother found that he was turning into a rattlesnake. He told his brother to put him in a hole near an embankment. In time the younger brother returned and embraced his brother who had remained in snake form. The brother visited him in a dream that night and told him what to do. He was successful on his warpath, and all others who came to the snake hole with offerings were also successful.10

Very similar to this Pawnee story is a Cherokee tale. Two hunters went out searching for game. They shot some squirrels, but they were under a taboo not to eat squirrel meat. One decided that he would anyway, despite the warnings of his friend. The one who ate the meat woke up in the middle of the night in agony, and his friend saw that he had turned half into a snake. The friend watched helplessly as the man completely metamorphosed into a serpent, and finally slithered away into the water.11

The Siouan Omaha have a similar tale. A group of 20 men returning from a warpath were searching for game, when one of their number put his ear to the ground and heard the thunderous sound of buffalo coming. Instead of the buffalo, a giant snake appeared and the leader shot it dead. All but the youngest of them ate the meat, which tasted as good as buffalo. During the night everyone save the youngest turned partly or wholly into serpents. They instructed him to put them on top of a high hill and to have their relatives visit them in the future. When their relatives came, the snakes crawled all over them, but did them no harm. One day, all the belongings of the 19 men disappeared from their village and the snakes were never seen again.12

There's an Arapaho story that's closer to the Hočąk version. A group of hunters followed the tracks of some buffalo. The buffalo entered a cave where a stream ran through. The hunters followed them right out to the other side of the mountain, where they saw buffalo in abundance. They returned the way they had come, but found the entrance of the cave blocked completely by a Hinčäbit (Waterspirit). They tried to burn their way through it. As the fat melted and the meat cooked, one of the party, despite warnings from the others, ate of the delicious white meat. Eventually, they burned their way through. The first night, the man who had eaten Hinčäbit meat found that his arms had turned white. Every night thereafter, he became more and more white. Finally, he turned into a Hinčäbit. He promised his colleagues that if they tied pieces of cloth above the spring, he would ensure their victory on the warpath. They did this, and always returned victorious.13

The Hitchiti version shows some interesting similarities with the Hočąk. One day two hunters were out and one of them came across a hollow log in the water. Inside he found two fish which he captured. His friend said, "They may not be fish," but the man went ahead and ate them. During the night he groaned and woke up his friend. "Shine a light on me and see what ails me," he requested. When the light fell on him it was seen that his legs were growing together to form the body of a snake. The victim told his friend to follow him the next morning and when he stopped, the friend should go home. By morning the man had turned completely into a snake and slithered off. Eventually he reached a pond and slid into it waters. His friend turned back and when he reached their village he told the man's mother that he had turned into a snake. She went to the pond to visit her son, and he emerged as a large serpent. He placed his head in her lap, and she wept. That was their last meeting.14

The Creek tribe has several versions of this tale. Two friends went out hunting together. One of them said, "I wish I could have some fish." No sooner had he said this, than water dripped down on him from a nearby tree, and the sound of splashing could be heard above. He climbed the tree and at its top were a number of fish swimming about. These he threw down. The other man advised him not to eat them, but he went ahead anyway. Later on the man who had eaten the fish turned into a snake, one with horns. He could still talk, however. "Tell my kinsmen to meet me at this spring." He then jumped into the water, which began to bubble as if it were boiling. In time his kinsmen who were members of the Deer Clan came to see the spot where he disappeared. When they had all assembled there, the snake came, but as he approached he brought with him a great tidal wave of water, and all his kinsmen were swept away. Some think that they all became water snakes.15

There are other Creek variants. Two hunters went out one day, and the first said, "Look, there are some good eggs along the bank, let's get them," but the other hunter said, "No, they might be something bad." A little later, the first hunter said, "There is a nice fish in a stump, let's eat it." The other hunter replied, "No, it may be something bad." The next day the first hunter brought one of the eggs back and ate it. During the night, the one who ate the eggs began to make squeaking sounds, and the other hunter woke him up, only to find that he had become a snake from the waist down. By morning the man had turned completely into a snake save for his head. He told his friend, "Since this has happened to me, you must leave me behind. Before you go, clear a spot and form me into a circle. I have come home, as it was once told."16

Another Creek variant relates how two hunters were out on an expedition and when they stopped for the night, the one said to his companion, "If you mix together the brains of a black snake, a black squirrel, and a wild turkey and eat them, you will turn into a snake." The other man was apt to try anything, so he went ahead and ate such a concoction. During the night he said, "Friend, you were right, I am turning into a snake." Very quickly he began to metamorphose. He instructed his friend to set him in a nearby pond. In time the friend brought the victim's parents and the snake came out and entwined itself around them, weeping from its eyes, but mute of voice. They all wept, but there was nothing that could be done, so they parted ways. This kind of snake is called a 'tie snake'.17

In another Creek variant, two men go on the warpath, but decide to turn back when one of them becomes sick. The sick man began to crave fish, so his friend went off hunting. Some time later, the sick man noticed that in a nearby blow over tree, there was a puddle, and in it there was a nice sized fish swimming about. So he caught it and ate some of it. When his friend returned, he was offered some fish, but declined and told the sick man that he might as well finish it off. Later that night, the sick man awoke his friend and complained of a strange feeling, so his friend looked him over under a torch and found that he had turned into a snake from the waist down. The snake man instructed his friend on what to do. That morning he had turned completely into a serpent. His friend, acting on his instructions, led him down to a spring, and when the snake man jumped in, the spring turned into a large water hole. Some time later the man returned with the snake man's relatives. The snake emerged from the middle of the pond and slithered on shore, laying his head on his mother's lap. Then he swam around in the water, but suddenly turned and seized his youngest sister and dragged her down into the depths. Ever after people avoided this pond, which was also noted for being infested with hoards of snakes.18

The Cheyenne version is very similar to the Creek. Two friends went out on an extended hunting expedition where they stumbled upon two giant eggs. One was intent upon eating them, but the other refused all attempts by his friend to take his share. "These eggs are too large to be natural," he would say. The next morning, when they woke up, the one who ate the eggs was sick and they noticed that the skin of his legs had become like that of a snake. The morning after that, his legs had fused. Now, however, he knew what he needed, as he was suffering from acute thirst. So the two of them traveled to a lake, where he spent the day in great delight, jumping out of the water like a fish. That morning he had turned into a snake except for his arms and head, which remained human. He now had a clear idea of his mission, so the friends traveled to the Mississippi River. The next morning, he had turned completely into a serpent, with two horns on his head, and red dots under his eyes. "This is where I shall reside," he said. "And I shall completely fill the river bed. Anyone who wishes to cross over should make offerings to me and he will receive a blessing. However, tell my relatives that they must not come here." He disappeared into that great river, and his friend traveled back home. Even though they had been warned, his relatives attempted to see him, but when they got near the river, a great plume of fire shot up from where he had last been seen, so they reluctantly turned back.19

The Salish version inverts the sexes and has no metamorphosis. Somewhere near the mouth of the Fraser River lived a girl who had refused all suitors. After a while a man came to visit her, and lay with her at night. The girl said to him, "You must stay until daylight, and show yourself to my parents." He answered, "No, I am too poor. Your people would not like me." As he continued to come every night, the girl told her parents, and they were very angry. Then Fish-Man caused the sea to recede for many miles from the village. He let all the freshwater streams dry up, and no rain fall. The animals became thirsty, and left the country. The people could get no fish, no game, and no water to drink. The girl told the people, "My lover has done this, because you were wroth with him and refused him." Then the people made a long walk of planks over the mud to the edge of the sea. At the end of this they built a large platform of planks, which they covered with mats. They heaped many woolen blankets on it. Then they dressed the girl in a fine robe, combed and oiled her hair, painted her face, and put down on her head. Then they placed her on the top of the blankets and left her there. At once the sky became overcast, rain fell, the springs burst out, the streams ran, and the sea came in. The people watched until the sea rose, and floated the platform with the blankets. They saw a man climb up beside the girl They stood up; and the girl called, "Now all is well. I shall visit you soon." Night came on, and they saw them no more. In two days she came back, and told the people, "I live below the sea, in the fish country. The houses there are just the same as here, and the people live in the same way." She returned again with her husband bringing presents of fish. She said, "Henceforth people here shall always be able to catch plenty of fish." Once more she came to show them her newly born child. After that she returned to the sea, and was never seen again.20

Links: Raccoons, Waterspirits.

Stories: about giant raccoons: Bladder and His Brothers; featuring raccoons as characters: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Were-fish, Bladder and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Raccoon and the Blind Men; featuring (spirit) fish as characters: The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Were-Fish, The Greedy Woman, Wolves and Humans, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Great Fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The King Bird, Fish Clan Origins, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; about man-fish: The Were-fish, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The King Bird, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Greedy Woman, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; about two male friends: Wazųka, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Lame Friend, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Morning Star and His Friend, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Worúxega, The Fleetfooted Man, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Tobacco Man and Married Man; involving tree stumps: The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Pointing Man, The Were-fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; mentioning snow: Waruǧápara, The Glory of the Morning, Holy One and His Brother, Wolves and Humans, Grandfather's Two Families, The Four Steps of the Cougar, Brave Man, Redhorn's Father, Bladder and His Brothers, The Old Man and the Giants, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Great Walker's Warpath, White Wolf, North Shakes His Gourd, The Fleetfooted Man, Witches, Shakes the Earth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Raccoon Coat, Silver Mound Cave, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married; set around the Four Lakes (Te Jopera): The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Masaxe War, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The Sky Man.

This is a close transformation of the stories, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, and The Were-fish.

Themes: a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; hunters track an animal that turns out to be a spirit being: The Spirit of Maple Bluff (raccoon), The Were-fish (raccoon), Bird Clan Origin Myth (bear), The Wild Rose (wolf), The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter (deer); a group of men hunt a raccoon and in the process are led to a spirit being: The Were-fish, Bladder and His Brothers; hunters corner an animal hidden from view, but when they go to take it, they find another kind of animal in its place: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Were-fish, The Boy and the Jack Rabbit; an animal spirit transforms himself from one kind of animal into another: The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse (Thunderbird > horse), Bear Clan Origin Myth (bear > blackbird > bear), White Wolf (wolf > dog), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf > dog), The Dog that became a Panther, The Were-fish (raccoon > fish), The Spirit of Maple Bluff (raccoon > fish); creatures turn into fish: The Were-fish, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, The Greedy Woman, The King Bird, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds; a spirit-being comes from a stump or hollow log: The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Were-fish, The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, The Dipper; a man becomes the sort of thing that he has eaten: The Were-fish, The Omahas who turned into Snakes; a man who is metamorphosing into a fish (or other water creature) suffers from so extreme a thirst that he must live in water: The Were-fish, The King Bird, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; a Waterspirit tells a young man that another man close to him will have immortal life in the Waterspirit's company, but this comes to be denied because the other man fails to abide by the conditions of the blessing: The Seer.


1 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison: State Historical Museum, 1927) 2-3. However, this is based on an earlier article, "Indians Tell How 4 Lakes Got Names," The Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, July 16, 1922. There it is said, "The complete original legend that gave rise to the Indian names of the Madison four lakes has been discovered, through efforts of a Chicago historian [Norton Jipson ?], working in cooperation with the Wisconsin Historical society, according to Miss Louise Phelps Kellogg, research associate. For years historians and people interested in folklore have tried to get from the Winnebago Indians the stories of the four lakes region. But for some reason, only disjointed, conflicting and incomplete stories could be obtained. It was finally discovered that the branch of the Winnebagoes which lived in this section had migrated to Nebraska. It was from the Nebraska Winnebago, through a half-breed to whom the men of the tribe talked freely, that the story was secured."

2 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) ssvv wąk, p. 415; mįk, p. 323. This was corrected from Brown's Wonk-sheek-ho-mik-la. For Te Čopera, see James Davie Butler, "Taychoperah, the Four Lakes Country," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 10 (1885): 64-89 [64-65].

3 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, sv kixa, p. 300. This was corrected from Brown's Tchee-ho-bo-kee-xa kay-te-la.

4 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, ssvv sa, p. 382; hu, p. 263. This was corrected from Brown's Sa-hoo cha-te-la.

5 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, sv ną, p. 327. This was corrected from Brown's Na-sa-koo-cha-te-la.

6 Edward Duffield Neill, The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1858) 94-95.

7 Alfred Morsette, sr., "The Young Man Who Became a Snake," in Douglas R. Parks, Myths and Traditions of the Arikara Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996) Story 15a: 207-209.

8 Black Horse, "The Man who became a Snake," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 78: 150-151.

9 George Francis Will and Herbert Joseph Spinden, The Mandans: A Study of Their Culture, Archaeology and Language, Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Vol. 3 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1906) 141.

10 George Bird Grinnell, Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk-Tales (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961 [1889]) 171-181.

11 "The Snake Man," in James Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (Asheville, North Carolina: Bright Mountain Books, 1992 [1891/1900]) Story 57: 304-305.

12 Lewis Spence, Myths of the North American Indians (London: George G. Harrap & Company, 1916) 273-275.

13 Cleaver Warden, "The Man who became a Water Monster," in Dorsey and Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho, Story 76: 145-146.

14 "17. The Man Who Became a Snake," in John Reed Swanton, Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians, Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 88 (1929): 97-98.

15 "25. The Man Who Became a Snake," in Swanton, Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians, 32-33.

16 Earnest Gouge, "The Young Man who Turned into a Snake," from Totkv Mocvse: New Fire, The Creek Folktales of Earnest Gouge, translated by Margaret McKane Mauldin and Juanita McGirt, edited by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin (August, 2002), Story 10: 45-48. Original texts taken from Earnest Gouge, Creek texts, with English titles and occasional English translations by John R. Swanton (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1906-1930) Manuscript 4930.

17 "23-24. The Man Who Became a Snake," in Swanton, Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians, 30-32. In the second version (24), the snake has antlers. The fifth version in this collection (27), has the man eating an egg which turns him into a snake. It ends as the others.

18 "26. The Man Who Became a Snake," in Swanton, Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians, 33-34.

19 Mary Little Bear Inkanish, "The Waters Beneath: the Great River Monster," in Alice Marriott and Carol K. Rachlin, American Indian Mythology (New York: New American Library, 1968) 71-75.

20 Franz Boas, Folk-Tales of Salishan and Sahaptin Tribes, Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society, vol. 11 (Lancaster and New York: American Folk-Lore Society, 1917) 131.