Manawa Village Origin Myth

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

The following story is a village origin myth for the Wisconsin town of Manawa. The story is told by a Mr. Traumer, who published the account ca. 1890 in the Manawa Advocate newspaper.

"Believing that local people will be interested in the derivation and significance of the name of our little city I have investigated the subject and would offer the following bit of history which although it is tinged with the roseate hue of romance will, I trust, prove no less acceptable or worthy of credence to those who desire only and always truth.

In days not greatly beyond the recollection of the oldest inhabitant, a branch of the tribe of Winnebago Indians dwelt among the pines covering the land which is now the site of our own fair village. In the midst of the village of wigwams stood one more pretentious than the rest, the abode of Wecopah [< Wikopaga?], chief of the tribe and a man of influence and power among all the surrounding nations. Wikopaga, who was haughty and vindictive in disposition had alienated the good will of many of the tribe. These malcontents desired to overthrow the chief and to set up Manawa[ga] or Long Bow in his place. In consequence a deadly feud existed between Manawa, who was the son of a former chief, and Wikopaga, but so great was the regard of the braves for Manawa that the chief dare do him no violence.

So bitter did the hatred become, however, that Manawa [who] was so named on account of his wonderful skill in the use of the bow, being instigated by the discontented faction, offered to fight Wikopaga with the bow and arrow.

On the day appointed for the fatal contest, the tribe assembled at the appointed place in the bank of the river and near the eastern end of what is known now as the "Old Town" bridge. The enemies each armed with his bow and arrow took their positions facing each other. Drawing back the string and raising the weapon to its proper position they waited with tensest nerves the sounding of the signal to shoot. At length it was given, the assembled braves awaiting the outcome of the shots with mingled fear and hope. Contrary to expectations of all, Manawa receiving the arrow of Wikopaga in his breast fell dead on the spot. The bowstring of Manawa snapped in two, the arrow falling harmless at his feet.

The young aspirant for chiefly honors, arrayed by his friends in all the paint and feather of a sachem, was buried on the bank of the river not far from where he fell, while his spirit, freed from the body of clay, pursued the pleasures of the Happy Hunting Grounds, regardless of the cruel Wikopaga who still wore the coveted chiefly honors.

The white men who came to cut down the forests, from their cabins under the pines, heard them singing the dirges of the departed youth and the name which the pines seemed to murmur to breezes of the night is perpetuated in that of our fair city."1

Commentary. A later source adds that "Mr. Vaughn said young Manawa is buried by the busy Little Wolf River. Some say he was buried horse and all by the old town bridge in lower Manawa."2

Manawa (population 1,169) is a town located on the Little Wolf River in the Center of Waupaca County, Wisconsin. "Manawa" was officially adopted as the name of the village in December, 1874.3 The first white settlers appeared as early as the 1850's, however.4 The Indian settlement was in lower Manawa, the white settlement being in upper Manawa near the lake of the same name. It is said by some that the village was named after an Ojibwe man who lived in lower Manawa with his son. His name was said to be Manawa, but it is also given as Manepwa, which means, "Having No Tobacco." In 1885, he used to trade for tobacco with upper Manawa.5 As to the name Manawa in Hocąk, cf. manąwak'arani, "he took his bow and arrows," which at least has some similarity to the meaning, "Long Bow" (which ought to be Mąguserecka). In Hocąk, mána at least means "arrow."6 The meaning of Wekopa(ga) is not clear.

The story given here is full of Algonquianisms: "wigwam," "brave," "sachem," and "Happy Hunting Grounds." Nevertheless, this may be dismissed as the writing style current at the time. The chieftainship over which they fought could not be that of the Thunderbird chief, since he is always a chief of peace, and a man chosen to be of that disposition. The Lower Moiety chief could be that of the Bear Clan, and it is this chieftainship that may have been at issue.

Links: Tree Spirits.

Stories: about the founding of a village: The Chief of the Heroka (Nįžįra ǧaǧará), River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake (Old River Bottom), Winneconnee Origin Myth (Winneconnee), Sand Pillow.

Themes: a tough warleader and a man of his tribe come into conflict: Wazųka; a powerful man becomes tyrannical: Wazųka, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Iron Staff and His Companions.

Maps: Old Manawa, Manawa in Relation to Green Bay (1895).


1 Reprinted in Alice J. Bryant Niven, Chief Manawa and Manawa Brave (Manawa: the author: 1989) 15-17. See also, The Manawa Website.

2 Niven, Chief Manawa and Manawa Brave, 24.

3 Niven, Chief Manawa and Manawa Brave, 15-17.

4 Niven, Chief Manawa and Manawa Brave, 15.

5 Niven, Chief Manawa and Manawa Brave, 13-15.

6 Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #2: p. 4, coll. 3-4, sv "arrow."