Lake Winnebago Origin Myth

Waukon G. Smith

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

One day while Trickster was walking through the woods, he chanced upon Bear. "I am very anxious to go see Earthmaker," he told Bear, "do you have any idea how I can get to where he lives?" "Well, there's only one way that I know of," said Bear, "and that is to die." "All right," said Trickster, "then die I must!" So he walked into a village and went to where a large number of warriors were taking archery practice, and sang,

Shoot me! Shoot me!
You are not good enough to hit me;
Shoot me! Shoot me!


They shot him with so many arrows that he resembled a porcupine. However, Earthmaker had fashioned Trickster so that he could not be killed. Trickster wandered up a hill and knelt looking over the edge of a cliff. He pitied himself, and wept so many tears that it seemed like a rainstorm. Soon a whole reservoir filled with his tears. This became Te Xetera, "Big Lake" (Lake Winnebago).1

Commentary. Trickster's creation of Lake Winnebago is modeled on Earthmaker's creation of the ocean from his own tears. However much of the story plays off of the concluding myth of the Hare Cycle, The Necessity for Death. In that story Hare feels grief because human beings must die, but here Trickster feels grief because he himself cannot cease living. One of Hare's chief opponents is Bear, but Trickster seeks him out for advice. Hare laments that humans are not made like him (with immortality), but Trickster laments that he is not made like humans (with mortality). It is by his bow and arrows that Hare succeeds in securing life for the humans, but for Trickster, it is the human's bows and arrows by which he hopes to part with his own inalienable life. Hare seems to succeed because he has made himself so human, whereas Trickster fails in this case precisely because he is so unlike humans. Hare thinks always of his mission, but Trickster thinks only of returning to Earthmaker regardless of the outcome of his mission.

Comparative Material. The failed attempt of the immortal Cheiron to die in Greek mythology is very similar to this Trickster story.2

Links: Trickster, Bear (III), Earthmaker, Lake Winnebago.

Stories: in which Trickster is a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster's Warpath, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Elk's Skull, Trickster and the Plums, Trickster and the Mothers, The Markings on the Moon, The Spirit of Gambling, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Green Man, The Red Man, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster's Tail, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster's Penis, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Scenting Contest, The Bungling Host, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster and the Children, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; featuring Bear as a character: Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear; mentioning (spirit) bears (other than were-bears): White Bear, Blue Bear, Black Bear, Red Bear, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Shaggy Man, Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The Messengers of Hare, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Red Man, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Two Boys, Creation of the World (v. 5), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Brown Squirrel, Snowshoe Strings, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Spider's Eyes, Little Priest's Game, Little Priest, How He went out as a Soldier, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Warbundle Maker, cf. Fourth Universe; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; about the origins of bodies of water: Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, Lost Lake, Heną́ga and Star Girl; set at Lake Winnebago (Te Xete): The First Fox and Sauk War, White Thunder's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 2), The Great Fish, The Wild Rose, The Two Boys, Great Walker's Warpath, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Fox-Hočąk War, Holy Song, First Contact (v. 2), Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Two Children (?).

In many ways the opposite of this story is The Necessity for Death.

Themes: a body of water is created by tears falling from above: The Creation of the World, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Holy One and His Brother, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 1); a song taunting a predator to kill or eat the singer: Hare Gets Swallowed, Wolves and Humans; (attempted) suicide: The Osage Massacre.


1 Waukon G. Smith (Thunderbird Clan), "Origin Story of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 25.

2 Apollodorus 2.5.4.