The Lost Child

by Peter Menaige

"Once in the fall of the year, a Winnebago with his family camped there, near a spring which issues from the foot of the bluff, to have his winter hunt. While the man was out hunting, his wife would go and dig some of the Indian potatoes (wąkšiktora) from the margin of the spring. She took along her little daughter, who was about four years of age, and having dug some of the roots, left the child to watch them, and went further to dig more. While away she heard the girl give one scream; but when she had hurried back no child was to be seen; nor would she find her with all the search and callings she made. When the man returned he endeavored to find her, but with no better success. The next fall, the man and family camped at the same place again. The woman had dreamt during the summer that the child would be returned to her. One day, a clear fine day, she took her axe, and went to the same place where she had lost the child.

She saw her there, and went up to her, but there was such an odor or scent from the child that it overcame the mother and she fainted. The child restored the mother, and then the mother picked the child up, and carried her to the lodge, where her husband was. The child observed that if the odor which she had, which arose from her association with the Wak'cexi (Waterspirit) was disagreeable, she would go back.

She related that she had heard her mother and father crying for her the whole winter; that she could not come to them because she did not know the way; and besides, her new mother, the Wak'cexiwįka, would not let her go; but as they had cried so much and made so much sacrifice to the Wak'cexi, they had consented to send her back to live with her folks until they wanted her again. While with her new mother, she was well dressed and wore plenty of wampum (a child's and young Indian's supreme ambition).

When her new mother sent her back, she sent her with the same clothes she had on when she was taken; but had tied around her neck a small sea shell as a charm. The new mother told he that as long as she preserved that shell, she would want for nothing — all her wishes should be gratified. So she stayed with her earthly parents, the strong Wak'cexi's odor passing away."1

Comparative Material: A Lakota story has significant resemblances, substituting a toad for the Waterspirit. Once a woman was out chopping wood. She had left her baby behind while she worked, and when she returned, the child was gone. They searched far and wide for the baby, but he could not be found anywhere. The woman was inconsolate, and wept continuously. Years later, the child heard his mother crying out for him. His toad mother, who had abducted him in infancy, tried to imitate the cries, but she was too ugly to be a proper singer of grief. The child was intrigued, but whenever he went out, the toad mother sent one of his toad brothers with him to watch him. One day a hunter spied the young boy playing in the reeds, and brought him home to a happy reunion with his parents.2

This Osage myth is a good parallel. A woman went to a creek to wash and brought to baby with her. When she was done, she couldn't find her child anywhere. She was grief sticken, and thought someone must have stolen the baby. A year went by, and one day two boys told it around the camp that they had seen this child. The mother invited them over for a good meal, and enquired of this child. They told her that in exchange for a horse, they would get the child back for her. However, they said, the child acts like a water monster whenever it is in the water. After four days they returned with the child.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, 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, 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 springs: Trail Spring, Vita Spring, Merrill Springs, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 6, 8, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Bluehorn's Nephews, Blue Mounds, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Wild Rose, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Two Brothers, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Nannyberry Picker, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧábᵉra, Wazųka, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Turtle and the Witches; mentioning shells: The Gift of Shooting, The Markings on the Moon, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Wild Rose, Young Man Gambles Often (wampum), Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2) (wampum), Wolves and Humans (oyster), Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 2), Turtle's Warparty, The Lost Blanket (mussel), The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads (crab).

Themes: a woman digs for Indian potatoes: The Children of the Sun, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head; someone is abducted and led off into captivity: The Captive Boys, A Man's Revenge, Bluehorn's Nephews, Wears White Feather on His Head, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Bladder and His Brothers, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Black Otter's Warpath, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Green Man, Brave Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Šųgepaga, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, Wolves and Humans, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Thunderbird and White Horse, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Boy who Flew, Testing the Slave; someone is disconsolate over the death of a relative: White Flower, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, The Shaggy Man, Holy One and His Brother, Sunset Point, The Message the Fireballs Brought; powerful beings give a human a charm which they say will bring him benefits: Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, The Thunder Charm, Witches.


1 Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1. Told by Peter Menaige, interpreter at the old Minnesota (Blue Earth) Winnebago Reservation. Minor changes were made in punctuation and transliteration.

2 Zitkala-Ṣa, "The Toad and the Boy," Old Indian Legends (Lincoln: Univesity of Nebraska Press, 1901) 118-126.

3 "37. The Water Baby," in George A. Dorsey, "Traditions of the Osage," Field Columbian Musem, Anthropological Series, 7, #1 (Feb., 1904): 44.