The Waterspirit of Rock River
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
A great Waterspirit which inhabited the Rock River (Werošanagra) patrolled it from its source to the river's terminus in Lake Koshkonong. It seized and swallowed whole deer that got too near the lake. It also ate humans. It especially liked to ambush people at fords along the river, but people in canoes were no safer: it would capsize boats with a slap of its tail, then devour the unfortunate victims as they struggled in the water. On rare occasions people saw the Waterspirit but most of the time the only indication of its presence was the boiling and churning of the river's waters. Its dens were in the deepest waters where it would carry off its victims and eat them in solitude. In the spring it would often break up the ice and cast it towards the shore.
It could often be placated by tobacco and red feathers or other such offerings.1
Commentary. In this connection, see the remarks of Capt. Jonathan Carver on an animal killed by the Hočągara at Lake Winnebago prior to 1768. The Hočąk name of the river is said to be Werošanagra, and to mean "Rock River."2 This is not likely, although the ending seems to be [nį]šąnągra, "the river." However, D. M. Brown gives the name as Eneenneshunnuck [Ini-nįšąnąk], which translates literally as "Rock River."3
Stories: 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 Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, 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, Įčorúšika 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, Waruǧápara, 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, 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 red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver; occurring in Illinois: Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon’s Crossing, Xųnųnį́ka, First Contact (v. 2), How Jarrot Got His Name, Witches; set at Rock River: Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Xųnųnį́ka, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon’s Crossing, Witches.
Themes: an aquatic creature eats cervids whole: The Great Fish; being swallowed whole: The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Great Fish, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Bungling Host, The Dipper; a Waterspirit sucks under men in canoes: The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake; a Waterspirit kills a human: The Shaggy Man, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Waruǧapara, The Two Children, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Seer, The Twin Sisters, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Blanket.
1 Charles E. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place Legends (Madison: Works Progress Administration, 1936) 15-16. Dorothy Moulding Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 11-12.
2 James Davie Butler, "Taychoperah, the Four Lakes Country," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 10 (1885): 64-89 .
3 D. M. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, 12.