Lost Lake

Charles E. Brown

"When Earthmaker was engaged in creating the world he misplaced one small lake. It was afterwards found here. This is Kennedy Pond or 'Lost' Lake, located in the woods a short distance north of Morris Park. There are several Water Spirit (panther) mounds on its shores and the pond may have been regarded as a retreat of these powerful underground spirits."1

"Kennedy Pond, or Lost lake, is a small lake lost or misplaced by Earthmaker when he created and distributed the lakes of Wisconsin."2

Lost Lake
© Photo by the Staff of the Holy Wisdom Monastery

Commentary. "misplaced" — that Earthmaker could lose track of a lake, shows that he is not a perfect god as in the Christian model, but is fallible, with real limitations on his power and knowledge. It is precisely his limitations that free Earthmaker from moral responsibility for evil, which is seen as an accidental defect in creation.

"Kennedy Pond" — in recent years it came to be known as "O'Connell Pond." It is just southwest of Westport, a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, and east of Fox Bluffs, not too far from Lake Mendota (Te Wąkšikhomįgra).3 Recently, the old name of "Lost Lake" has been restored, as has the lake itself.

"Lost Lake" — there are 40 Lost Lakes in Wisconsin alone.4 This one, in any case, has been found.

Lost Lake lies at the western boundary of Holy Wisdom Monastery. Originally more than nine acres in surface area, the basin had been reduced to less than two acres due to sedimentation from surrounding farming practices and residential development. Eighty-five thousand cubic yards of accumulated silt have been removed from the lake and the shoreline restored with native plants. Restored to near its original depth, the lake again acts as a natural deterrent that detains and filters water that would otherwise wash downstream to neighboring properties and Lake Mendota. Over 200 acres of land drain into Lost Lake. This restoration was designated a demonstration project of the Lake Mendota Priority Watershed in 1996. The project received a Yahara Lakes Association Certificate of Appreciation in 1997 and the Dane County Waters Champion Award in 2005.5

"Morris Park" — apparently, this park which existed in the 1930's is no longer extant. Since 1953, the Lost Lake area has been in possession of a highly progressive Benedictine Monastery.

The Benedictine Women of Madison at Holy Wisdom Monastery have long been known as stewards of the land. Years ago, a project at the monastery off of Hwy. M in Westport restored nearly 100 acres of wetlands and prairie, along with what was called Lost Lake, bringing back an important feature in the Lake Mendota watershed. So it may come as no surprise to some that the new monastery under way is constructed in a green manner, making the most of the earth's renewable resources as possible. ... The landscaping surrounding the monastery will be completed with prairie grasses and native plants, and participants in the volunteer and community program are currently planting. ... The Benedictine Women of Madison's mission statement is "Weaving prayer, hospitality, justice and care of the earth into a shared way of life as an ecumenical Benedictine community."6

Benedictine Women of Madison is returning much of their land to pre-settlement conditions. The sisters believe this land is a gift of natural beauty to be shared with all who come to Holy Wisdom Monastery.7

It is entertaining to contemplate the mind-boggling coincidence of a lake once lost by God having been found and restored by a monastery.

"mounds" — Neal Smith, the Executive Director of the Benedictine Women of Madison, writes, "As to the Waterspirit mounds, several were destroyed in the early 1940's. However, we have cataloged and are protecting four linear mounds and part of a bird that are still on the monastery property."8

Links: Earthmaker, Waterspirits.

Stories: about the origins of bodies of water: Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, Heną́ga and Star Girl; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; 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, 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.

Themes: the fallibility of Earthmaker: Creation of Man (v. 2), Bladder and His Brothers (v. 1).

Acknowledgement: special thanks to research librarian Ching of the Madison Public Library for helping to find Lost Lake, and to the sisters of Holy Wisdom Monastery for use of their photograph.


1 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1927) 6.

2 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Prehistory, History and Legends (Madison: The Wisconsin Archeological Society, 1933) 6.

3 AGENDA, Meeting of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (September 11, 2008), 10-11.

4 Walker Demarquis Wyman, Wisconsin Folklore (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1979) 23.

5 Benedictine Women of Madison website. Home > Care for the Earth > Environmental History. Viewed 10/2/2009.

6 Roberta Baumann, "New Benedictine monastery strives for zero carbon footprint," Waunakee Tribune Enews, July 1, 2009.

7 Benedictine Women of Madison website. Home > Care for the Earth > Environmental History. Viewed 10/2/2009.

8 personal communication from Neal Smith to Richard L. Dieterle, November 2, 2009.