The Mesquaki Magician

by Peter White Eagle

This story was sent to me by Kathy Miner of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison.

"Long ago, when my father and mother were camping in the Big Woods at this place, they one day received a visit from an old man. He was an Indian, a Meskwaki (Fox Indian). These Indians formerly lived in Wisconsin. He was a nice old man. He was welcome to my father’s wigwam, so he stayed and ate and smoked and told stories to my father and mother.

He was a witch man (magician). He had with him his 'medicines', sacred things all tied up in a little bundle wrapped in buckskin. One day my mother wanted some turtle meat for a broth. The old Meskwaki said that he would get some turtle meat for her. So he and my father went down to the lake shore on the edge of the marsh near where the little river (brook) flows into it. There the old Meskwaki opened his little bundle and took out a little package. Some of the dried root he threw on the water and spoke some magic words. The two men, the Meskwaki and my father, sat down on the shore and waited. And pretty soon the turtles began to come. Turtle heads appeared here and there above the water, at first one or two, then more of them. And soon the water was full of turtles. After a while several of the big turtles came out on the bank.

The Meskwaki said it was all right to take them for food. My father turned two of them over on their backs, tied a cord around their necks and carried them back to his wigwam. He killed them with his hatchet, my mother cooked them and all had a good feast on the turtle broth. When the old Meskwaki went away my father went to the end of the lake with him. There they said 'good-bye' to each other. My father said he was a fine old man. He wished that he would come again."1

Commentary. "Big Woods" — almost certainly what was a more extensive forest which now exists in remnants at the southwest of Lake Wingra. The remnants are now known as "Wingra" and "Gallistel Woods," located on the map where it says "Woods."

"at this place," the main summer encampment in the area was Dogira ("Summer"), whence Trail Spring takes its name. Its exact whereabout are not known to me. It is also quite possible that they were not camping at that spot. The time frame is probably ca. 1900 and perhaps far earlier.

"wigwam" — "wigwam" is an Algonquian term, the Hocąk term is ci, usually translated as "lodge."

"witch man" — for the expression "witch man," see The Wild Rose.

"the little river" — this would be a reference to one of the 30 springs that used to flow in this area, perhaps Big Spring.

I am informed that C. E. Brown said in a commentary on this story that Lake Wingra was once known as "Ki-chunk-och-hep-er-a," that is, Te Kecąkoxepera, "Lake where the Turtles Rise."2 Since each of the other Four Lakes has a Fox name, Te Wįǧra ("Duck Lake") must also have bourne a Fox name. Since the present story is about a Fox magician and the name appears in that context, the Hocąk name may well be a mere translation of what the Fox magician had called the lake after the nomenclature of his own tribe. This is the only one of the four that has a Hocąk name, so that gives this some likelihood of being the correct explanation.

Links: Witches.

Stories: mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (v. 2), Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; mentioning turtles (other than Turtle): Turtle's Warparty, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Porcupine and His Brothers, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Healing Blessing, The Spider's Eyes, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; mentioning the Fox (Mesquaki): The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hocąk War, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Little Priest's Game, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e (Extracts ...), Introduction; mentioning medicine bundles: Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Tap the Head Medicine, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle; set at Lake Wingra: The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, Trail Spring.

Themes: ...


1 "This story was evidently told to Charles E. Brown by Mr. White Eagle in the 1920s or early 1930s. The precise credits are no longer clear. The White Eagles lived in what is now the Nakoma subdivision of Madison." — Kathy Miner

2 Kathy Miner, personal communication, 12.1.2004.