The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf

by Charles E. Brown and Edmund L. Runals

(42) Some years ago Mr. Charles Simmons (Edmund L. Runals) published in the Ripon Free Press a story said to be based on a (43) local Indian legend, of an “enchanted” island said to have existed in the lake between the Sugar Loaf and the Three Pines. It was the abode of terrible creatures (manitos) who lived in its caverns and crawled out upon the barren rocks. Some were good and some evil spirits. One of these was the “Great Lizard” of the Sugar Loaf, to which he gives the name “Wau-ke-pon.” He was stationed upon the promontory to give warning of the approach of enemies. He was slain here, the burial mound representing his severed head.1

Commentary. "Edmund L. Runals" — born the son of a New York farmer in 1826, he moved west to Wisconsin in 1846, shortly after being married. They left their farm to move to Ripon, in 1851. Four years later, he was admitted to the bar in Fond du Lac. Described as a "self-made man," and after serving in many elected offices, in 1864 he became a judge. The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-made Men: Wisconsin Volume, Volume 1 (Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Co., 1877) 126. W. T. Runals, the son of Edmund, is shown owning lakeside property in Section 6 on a 1901 map.

"Ripon Free Press" — extant from 1870-1895.

"the lake" — this is Green Lake near Ripon, Wisconsin.

"Sugar Loaf" — a promontory jutting out into Green Lake (see map). In Hocąk it is called, Įnį́bosarajᵋra, "The Stone that Stands Erect."

"manitos" — an Algonquian word meaning, "spirit." C. E. Brown generally used this word in place of the harder to pronounce Hocąk equivalent, waxopį́nį. The spirit in question is what is conventionally termed a "Waterspirit." As spirits, they constituted the essence of water itself, but manifested themselves individually in the form of great animals whose bodies could resembled bears, panthers, or even snakes. They were particularly characterized by exceedingly long tails, representing the lengthy channels of water, and their humanoid heads sported horns, usually branching like a cervid. These represented the branches of rivers and streams. The mounds usually described as "panther," in this context short for "water panther," represent what the Hocągara referred as Wakcexi, which we conventionally term "Waterspirits."

"caverns" — like springs, Waterspirits were inhabitants of underground channels which were believed to be extensive networks branching out all over the nether regions of the earth. Normally, Waterspirits lived in these underworld channels which opened into waterways, allowing a Waterspirit to appear at will in its own lake or river.

"Wau-ke-pon" — although, like manito, this word looks Algonquian, it can be seen as slightly corrupted Hocąk. Waką most commonly means "snake," although more fundamentally waką means "sacred," the snake being so-called because it was deemed a particularly sacred creature, most especially because it could slough off its skin, an image of rebirth. The word has been displaced by its expanded version, wakącą́k, "greatly sacred." The word pa, here represented by "pon," means "head." However, the resultant name is not "Great Lizard." Since the story relates to the burial of a Waterspirit's head, the name "Sacred Head," Wakąpa, seems wholly appropriate. However, it should be noted that Waterspirits come in many varieties, including Serpent Waterspirits. Therefore, waką could be deliberately ambiguous, meaning "Serpent Head" as well. The confusion in the meaning of the word waką may have led to the Waterspirit being called (in English) the "Great Lizard," where, clearly, the word "lizard" is serving in place of "reptile." Indeed, the expression Wakącą́k-pa could be understood as the "Great Serpent's head." Since the creature had legs, as portrayed in the Waterspirit (or "panther") mound nearby, naturally it would be reinterpreted as being a lizard, the quadrupedal counterpart (and as it happens, the evolutionary original) of the snake.

"enemies" — the enemies of Waterspirits were the Thunderbirds. Normally, Waterspirits came out only on sunny days when they could be certain that the dark clouds whence their enemies would strike, were absent from the sky.

Wisconsin Archeologist
The Sugar Loaf Waterspirit Mound

"the burial mound" — C. E. Brown says this about the mounds:

On the north shore of and jutting into Green Lake is a high rocky promontory known as the Sugar Loaf. On the crest of this peninsula, whose shore is washed on one side by the lake and on the other by Norwegian Bay, are two ancient Indian earthworks which are known to most of the people who own summer homes on the Green Lake shores. One of these is a large panther effigy and the other a conical mound. Both are within a few feet of the edge of the steep lake bank. The body of the huge effigy is 44 feet and its tail 188 feet in length. The distance across its body between its limbs is 15 feet. Its body is about three feet high. The head of this effigy is not very prominent, but it is in all other respects a remarkably fine example of its particular class of animal shaped mounds. Forty-four feet beyond this mound is the burial mound mentioned. This mound is 30 feet in diameter at its base and is said to have been originally about 4 feet high. Its margin is within about 10 feet of the edge of the bank. The mounds are in a grove of oak and cedar trees.2

It's conceivable that the Waterspirit was represented with its head detached as in the story, rather than the story arising in part to explain the detached burial mound.

Wisconsin Archeologist   Wisconsin Archeologist
The Sugar Loaf
and Lone Tree Region of Green Lake
  The Sugar Loaf Waterspirit Mound

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 Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, 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; set at Green Lake (Te Co): The Sioux Warparty & the Waterspirit of Green Lake (v. 1); mentioning caves: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Blue Mounds Cave, Silver Mound Cave, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Woman Who Married a Snake, Little Human Head, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, A Giant Visits His Daughter, Kunu's Warpath, Soft Shelled Turtle Weds, The Story of the Medicine Rite.

Themes: a powerful spirit lives in a cave: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Blue Mounds Cave, Silver Mound Cave, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Woman Who Married a Snake, Little Human Head; the war between Thunderbirds and Waterspirits: Traveler and the Thunderbird War, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Brave Man, The Lost Blanket, Ocean Duck, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Thunderbird, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Waruǧábᵉra, Bluehorn's Nephews.


1 Charles E. Brown, “Antiquities of Green Lake,” Wisconsin Archeologist, 16, #1 (March, 1917): 1-55 [42-43].
Brown, “Antiquities of Green Lake,” 42.