The Spirit of Maple Bluff

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


Two men lived in a Hočąk village near the Four Lakes. One day they decided to go hunting together. As they reached the ford of the Yahara (Catfish) River [below], they encountered the tracks of a raccoon, which they followed around the east shore of Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota), also known as Te Jopera, "The Fourth Lake." Finally they caught up to it at Maple Bluff, where the animal retired into a hollow log. One of the hunters approached the log to shoot the raccoon, but from within came a voice which warned, "Beware, human! I am a spirit being. The Creator did not create you to hunt such as me." Nevertheless, the young man foolishly shot the Raccoon Spirit, and cooked it over a fire, making a hearty meal of it. His companion, however, refused to partake of the meat, since it came from the body of a spirit being. The hunter scoffed at his companion's superstitions, and went to sleep with no ill effects.

The next morning the hunter awoke with an overwhelming thirst. He drank what he had in his skin, but it was as if he had not even moistened his lips. His thirst became so severe that he had to run down to the lake and drink directly from it. Yet not even this could satisfy his craving for water, so he waded into the lake to completely immerse himself in it. At last he felt that he had had enough, so he waded back to the shore; but as soon as he got to shallow water, his thirst returned again. So for the fourth time he went to drink, but as he waded out into the deeper part of the lake, he soon disappeared entirely from his companion's view. He had become a were-fish.

Nį Yahara Connecting the Four Lakes

That night from Maple Bluff his companion could hear from the lake his plaintive cry in counterpoint to his war drum. Even to this day, many people have heard him and his drum as they sat on Maple Bluff.1


Commentary. "Yahara" —the Yahara River connects Lakes Mendota and Monona. Maple Bluff is located on the east side of the former lake.



Comparative Material. See the stories collected under "Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name."


Links: Raccoons, Fish Spirits.


Stories: featuring raccoons as characters: The Were-fish, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Bladder and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Raccoon and the Blind Men; 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, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name; 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, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, 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 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, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Tobacco Man and Married Man, Mighty Thunder; involving tree stumps: The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Pointing Man, The Were-fish, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name; mentioning drums: The Descent of the Drum, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Trickster and the Dancers, Redhorn's Father, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Elk's Skull, Ghosts, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Great Walker's Medicine, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1b), Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster and the Geese, Turtle's Warparty, Snowshoe Strings, Ocean Duck, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Hog's Adventures, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; set around the Four Lakes (Te Jopera): The Masaxe War, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The Sky Man.

This is a close transformation of the stories, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish.


Themes: hunters track an animal that turns out to be a spirit being: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name (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: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish, Bladder and His Brothers; someone takes shelter in a hollow log (in order to escape enemies): Brave Man, The Man with Two Heads, The Shaggy Man, Redhorn's Father, The Thunder Charm, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis; hunters corner an animal hidden from view, but when they go to take it, they find another kind of animal in its place: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish, The Boy and the Jack Rabbit; a spirit-being comes from a stump or hollow log: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish, The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, The Dipper; 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), Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name (raccoon > fish); a man who is metamorphosing into a fish (or other water creature) suffers from so extreme a thirst that he must live in water: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The King Bird, The Were-fish.


Notes

1 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison: State Historical Museum, 1927) 3-4; Dorothy Moulding Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 13-14; a slightly shorter version exists in James Davie Butler, "Taychoperah, the Four Lakes Country," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 10 (1885): 64-89 [64-65].