Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth

narrated by John Wallace Arndt

(209) Long, long ago, soon after the beginning of things, a monstrous serpent, wise and cunning, lived in the Mississippi River. He became dissatisfied with his home and desired to visit the Great Lakes. So one day in the early spring he started on his journey. He first ascended Wisconsin River, making a great noise and commotion, throwing up sand banks and making (210) shallow places, completely changing the natural flow of the river which before this had been a beautiful running stream without obstructions. When he arrived at the Portage the water from the Wisconsin was flowing over it, in a northerly direction. The ground over which the water flowed from the Wisconsin was low and swampy, being nearly level; the water was shallow and ran very slow and spread over a large tract of country. He made his way over and through this shallow water until he struck a small stream flowing north. He plunged in and soon widened and deepened its narrow channel to accommodate his huge body and gather in the water flowing across the Portage and help him along on his journey. He worked and wormed along in many directions, seeking a better place to pass. At last, after many turns from north to south and from west to east he found the place that he thought would do. He soon cleared a space sufficiently large to suit him, and as the abundant game suited his taste he concluded to remain and enjoy himself as best he might. This place is now called Mud Lake.

He remained here during many moons, gorging himself with his favorite food, until he had consumed or driven away his supply. Hunger forced him to renew his journey. He now struck a different formation of sand, thrown up into ridges and hillocks, the drift of the glacial period. Of this he made short work, soon throwing out a long channel of considerable width and several miles in length which became a long narrow lake, called by the Indians Buffalo Lake, because the last buffalo ever seen in this part of the country was chased into it and drowned. Here the serpent remained for some time. Buffalo and deer were plenty and he enjoyed himself right royally. The water increased and formed a large lake; a high bank, or moraine, formed a dam and held the water back. The noise and confusion he made caused the game to leave this region. Having nothing to eat, he concluded to continue his journey, broke through the opposing bank, and he and the water rushed on to the next resting place, which was but a short distance below, where another bank intervened and barred the way for a time. But exerting his tremendous strength he removed the obstruction and moved on, leaving still another lake, now called Puckaway, from its many reeds or rushes, of which the Indians (211) make their mats. The land to the right, or east, being high and piled up in great ridges, he concluded to change his course to a more westerly one, for in this direction the way seemed more open. He therefore changed his tactics, and instead of going through the hillocks he went around them, steering his great carcass among these obstructions until he had boxed the compass many times.

He now came to a different country, where the obstructions were more formidable, land higher, rock and stone more compact and covered with a thick growth of forest. Nothing daunted, he rushed on, throwing his whole strength into the work. He scooped out a small lake which is now called Big Butte des Morts; by forming this lake he had tapped another supply of water to help him on his way, the Wolf River. Encouraged by this he moved along with more vigor and force to greater and more herculean deeds. Another lake of greater extent was formed; here he sported, rolled, dove, and swam to his heart's content. Being wise he knew by the peculiar glimmer at times in the eastern sky that his work was nearly done, that a large body of water lay off to the east and north, that the Great Lakes were near.

He made another circuit of the lake, now called Winnebago, to find the weakest part of the barrier. He chose the northwest portion, for there the land is lower; there he made the breach and scooped out a small lake below, called now Little Butte des Morts. After remaining there a short time, he concluded to visit Lake Winnebago again and enjoy himself. After a time the desire to reach the Great Lakes returned stronger than ever. When he returned to the outlet, Winnebago Rapids, he decided that he needed more water below to help him through the rocky stratum; so at it he went and soon accomplished the task.

On rushed, with its guide, the increased flood of water, tearing and rending the solid rock and removing the superincumbent earth and thus forming the Grand Chute. On went the work of reformation. The Little Chute was reached; the Grand Kaukauna was twisted and wrenched and the afterflow was left to complete the work, while the great tide swept on, left its mark at De Pere, and passed on wasting its strength in the Great Lakes. Subsequently the great fabulous serpent was (212) swept over Niagara and perished ingloriously in its turbulent waters.1

Commentary. "John Wallace Arndt" — "John Wallace Arndt, son of John P. Arndt, a well-known early Innkeeper of Green Bay, was born at Wllkesbarre, Pa., Sept. 15, 1815. At the age of nine, John Wallace Arndt removed with his father to Green Bay, there attending school and assisting his father in transporting goods on the Fox River of Wisconsin. In 1834 he went to school in the East and was for a time at Yale College. He studied law with his brother Charles, but never was admitted to the bar, and settled in De Pere, where his homestead is still standing. In 1842 he married Mary C., daughter of Randall Wilcox. Arndt died at De Pere Jan. 12, 1897."2

"serpent" — this serpent may have been a Waterspirit whose body was in the form of a snake. That a snake can play the role of a Waterspirit, is seen in the second version of the story "The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells."

United Country
The Wisconsin River at Portage

"the Portage" — now the city of Portage, Wisconsin (43.537257, -89.465674). To the Hocągara it was Wawá’ą, essentially of the same meaning. (Kinzie, Jipson, Miner) With respect to Europeans, the place was first used as a portage by the explorers Marquette and Joliet on June 14, 1673. To the French, it became known simply as le portage. A trading post was set up in 1792, after which a thriving business was conducted porting boats of any size over the mud flats using teams of oxen. In 1824, the American Fur Company hired the Hocąk translator, Pierre Pauquette, who was fluent in Hocąk, French, and English, to run its operations there. On the Fox River side of the portage, the government built Fort Winnebago in 1828.3

Tom Schultz, Wisconsin eBird
Mud Lake

"Mud Lake" — there are seven Mud Lakes in Marquette County, and two in Columbia County. The only significant one of the lot is an 817 acre lake only 11 miles southeast of Portage (43.406265, -89.301406).

Marquette County, WI
The Northeastern Terminus of Buffalo Lake

"Buffalo Lake" — located at coördinates 43.773664, -89.409139.

Trip Advisor
Lake Puckaway

"Puckaway" — located at coördinates 43.754242, -89.193972.

Lake Homes USA
Big Butte des Morts Lake

"Big Butte des Morts" — located at coördinates 44.072515, -88.638067.

Lake Winnebago

"Winnebago" — located at coördinates 44.039823, -88.440461.

Little Butte des Morts Lake

"Little Butte des Morts" — located at coördinates 44.210688, -88.461943.

Juliette Kinzie
Four Legs' Village on Doty Island Below the Rapids, 1830

"Winnebago Rapids" — located at coördinates 44.199570, -88.461724 & 44.189840, -88.463384. See the original plat map of 1835 for Township 20N, Range 17E, Sections 14, 15, 22, 23.

Johannsen and LeBlanc
The Grand Chute Falls on the Fox River by Juliette Kinzie

"Grand Chute" — located at coördinates 44.253552, -88.412567. See the original plat map of 1844 for Township 21N, Range 17E, NW ¼ of Section 35.

Samuel M. Brookes and Thomas H. Stevenson   U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Little Chute Lock and Dam in 1856   One of the Dams at Little Chute Today

"Little Chute" — located at coördinates 44.279200, -88.332511. See the original plat map of 1847 for Township 21N, Range 18E, SE ¼ of fractional Section 21.

The Fox River at Grand Kaukauna

"Grand Kaukauna" — the original plat map of 1847 for Township 21N, Range 18E, at the boundary of Sections 23 and 24, show the rapids, and therefore the falls, to have been located at the present site of the dam at coördinates 44.281166, -88.271004.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Dam at De Pere

"De Pere" — located at coördinates 44.448378, -88.064269.

Links: Waterspirits, Snakes.

Stories: about the origins of bodies of water: Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, Lost Lake, Heną́ga and Star Girl; 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, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf Mounds, 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 snakes: The First Snakes, The Woman who Married a Snake, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Snake Clan Origins, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Serpents of Trempealeau, The Story of the Medicine Rite, Rattlesnake Ledge, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, Wears White Feather on His Head, Creation of the World (vv. 2, 3, 4), The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Waruǧábᵉra, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Turtle and the Merchant, The Lost Blanket, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; set on the Wisconsin River (Nįkúse Xųnųnį́gᵋra): Turtle and the Merchant, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Chief of the Heroka, The Lame Friend, The King Bird, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake (v. 1), The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e; set at Lake Winnebago (Te Xete): Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The First Fox and Sauk War, White Thunder's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 2), The Great Fish, The Wild Rose, The Two Boys, Great Walker's Warpath, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Fox-Hocąk War, Holy Song, First Contact (v. 2), The Two Children (?); set on the Fox River: The Foolish Hunter, The First Fox and Sauk War, Winneconnee Origin Myth, Neenah, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter; set at Doty Island (Winnebago Rapids): The Fox-Hotcâk War, The Glory of the Morning, The Spanish Fight.

Themes: a giant (Serpent-) Waterspirit carved out channel to form great rivers and lakes that are extant today: The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells.


1 John Wallace Arndt, "Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River," Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 60 (1912): 180-220 [209-212]. Arndt's account details a journey he took down the Fox River in 1830.
2 Reuben Gold Thwaites, in Arndt, "Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River," 180 note 1.
3 from the official City of Portage website (> History), viewed 1/2/18.