The Waterspirit of Rock River

by Charles E. Brown

"(15) The Winnebago Indians say that when their people and the Prairie Indians (Potawatomi) camped on the banks of the Rock River, there lived in that stream a huge and terrible water monster. This winter demon the old people describe as a long-tailed animal with horns on its head, great jaws and claws, and a body like a big snake. It ranged over the whole length of the stream from its mouth to the foot of Lake Koshkonong. It preyed upon both animals and men, seeming to prefer one no more than the other. Hapless deer that went to the banks of the river to drink or walked out into the water were seized and swallowed by the monster, horns and all. At the fording places of the river this demon especially hunted for victims. Indians crossing at these places were dragged down out of sight beneath the water and were never seen again. Canoes in the river were sometimes overturned by its limbs or a slap of its tail and their occupants submerged and lost. Only a few poople over saw this water monster, but its presence in the river was known by the churning and boiling of the water.

In the spring time its movement in the river broke up the ice and heaped it against the river banks. (16) Its dens were in the deep places. There it slept and devoured its victims. Some Indians bolieved that there were several of these water monsters in the Rock River. Offerings of tobacco and various articles were cast into the river to appease their wrath when they were angry. These preserved the lives of many people.

When the Indians ceased to camp in numbers along the Eneenneshunnuck (river of big stones) after the white men came, these water demons also left the river. Some Indians thought that they established dens in the Mississippi River where they are today."1

Commentary. In this connection, see the remarks of Capt. Jonathan Carver on an animal killed by the Hocągara at Lake Winnebago prior to 1768. The Hocąk name of the river is Eneenneshunnuck [Ini-nįšąnąk], and means simply, "Rock River."2 His wife D. M. Brown also gives the name as Eneenneshunnuck which she translates literally as "Rock River."3

Links: Waterspirits.

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, 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, Lost Lake; mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’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, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; 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, Waruǧabᵉra, 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 [66].

3 D. M. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, 12.