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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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The Legend of Rice Lake

FROM: The Milwaukee Sentinel - July 27, 1899
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag) - art by Norval Morrisseau

Almost every lake, stream and cave in Northern Wisconsin is connected with some Indian legend. Most of them are tales of the power of Wenabozhoo.

Many, many moons ago, when all the world was new, Wenabozhoo led a lonely, wondering life. Frequently he visited Gitchee Gumee, which he himself had made, and the Apostle Islands formed by him on a beaver hunt long ago.

Norval Morrisseau art

One day, as he journeyed through the forests, he came to Rice Lake. At that time, the lake was covered with wild rice, and many ducks and geese lived there, feasting on the rice. When Hiawatha saw the large flocks of geese he determined to catch some.

So he dexterously wove a rude willow basket for himself. He went to the top of a steep bank and getting inside of the basket rolled down with a splash into the water. The ducks and geese thought it such fun, that they burst out laughing. Soon the whole flock gathered around to watch the strange performance of Wenabozhoo.

'Oh this is great fun!' said Wenabozhoo, 'and to please you, I will do it again.' So he rolled down and splashed into the water the second time and the feathered spectators went wild with applause.

'Now you must try it.' Said Wenabozhoo, and every one eagerly climbed the hill ready for the sport. Wenabozhoo helped them into the basket, and then shut down the lid and taking a club beat the basket until it rolled into the water. As it splashed into the lake the cover opened and the few live ducks few across the water, disappearing into the woods.

Wenabozhoo shouldered his game and walked along the shore of the lake, to its outlet. There he buried the fowl about the fire, leaving only their feet sticking out. As he was very weary he lay down in the forest and fell asleep. While he slept some Indians came along and found the roasting ducks. They cautiously looked about and soon discovered the mighty hunter asleep. Each one pulled up a beautifully browned fowl and hastened away to eat it. Returning, they carefully replaced the feet as they had found them, then fled away.

Finally Wenabozhoo awoke and refreshing himself with a drink of cool lake water, made preparations to enjoy his feast. But when he pulled the ducks feet out of the hot sand he realized the trick played upon him and he was very angry.

In his rage he jumped into the fire and tried to stamp it out. His clothes caught fire and he was badly burned. With his smarting, bleeding wounds, he plunged into the water and stained it blood red. The willows along the bank sucked up the blood and since that time have been known as red willows. The banks also became red and remained so from that day to this. No grass has grown where Wenabozhoo stepped and no rice has grown in the lake since Wenabozhoo walked into it with bleeding feet. This is why no rice is found in Rice Lake, though it flourished there moons ago.

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