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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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Place of the Bears

From Chicago Tribune August 26, 1899
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

How Mukwonago was given its Peculiar Name
Pleasing Summer Resort is Called a Queer Name by Indians Long Before Chicago Was Dreamed of - Phantom Lake Story told to the Resorter there - News from the Spots Among the Lakes, Rivers and Trees Where Weary Chicagoans are Resting During the Heated Term

Phantom Lake, Wisconsin - August 25, 1899 - The post office of this township is known as Mukwonago, one of the prettiest and most prosperous of the many little towns along the line of the Wisconsin Central, yet the hundreds of resorters that have been at Phantom Lake this summer never heard of the town before. Its name is such a peculiar one that the visitors have been wondering for many days how it originated. One night last week 'Dan' Camp, editor of the Chief, came up to the town and told the story, which is full of interest. He version is as follows.

"How this village came to be called 'Mukwonago,' which means in Potowatomi 'The Place of the Bears,' I have heard my father relate many times as we sat before the great fireplace in our old log cabin not twenty rods from where now stand's the Chief office. My father, H.H. Camp, came to Mukwonago in 1836 riding and Indian pony all the way from Hamburg, New York. He with two others were the only 'pale faces' here in the spring of 1836, but the Indian village of Mukwonago, contained about 1,200 souls, and was perhaps the largest Potowatomi village in the Territory. The village was a straggling row of wigwams along what is now the main street of the village, some along the river banks, and the Chief, who indulged in the luxury of four squaws, had his teepee just north of Phantom Inn, near the outlet of Phantom Lake. This lake was called Niskotash or Clear Waters. The level plateau where the Pickering cottage stands was a favorite camping site for the tribe. The Indians remained here more or less until the early 40's and during the winter of 38 there was an old an Old Indian across the Fox River in the heavy timber, an Indian whom the tribe held in high reverence - a sort of medicine man. He was bent with age, the only Indian, father says, he ever saw sho hair was white with age. He claimed to be 150 years old. Father is certain he must have been nearly as old as he claimed. In the course of one conversation, and after father had made him a present of some tobacco, and, I apprehend, a little firewater, he told the story of 'The Place of the Bears.' Long ago, when he was a young brave, there came a year when there was no rain and the came fled the country, making it hard for the tribe to get any big game such ass bear, elk or deer, and the tribe, or this branch of it, which at that time was camped near what is now Rochester, divided up their hunters, sending some up the valley of the Rock River, others up above the portage of the Wisconsin and Fox River, and some went as far to the westward to the Mississippi for large game for winter supplies. All came back empty handed. As the party, which had been sent to the north, came down the trail leading from the direction of Waukesha the struck the high lands where this village now stands, which were thickly studded with great white oaks. Now these great trees on the high land extend their roots straight down into the earth, where they were supplied with moisture. They were green and fresh and bore large quantities of acorns, a food that bears greatly like. Here they found countless numbers of bear, fat and sleek, and they killed a great many with spears and arrows - in fact, they slaughtered so many that it was imposable to carry them to their village. So they piled them up - over eighty - around a big white oak near here and conclude to move their entire village to this place, which they did, calling it Mukwonago or The Place of the Bears. This was the version given to my father fifty-six years ago by the old white haired Indian, so that I may safely say the village has born the name it bears for a century and a half, or before Milwaukee was thought of or the name of Chicago was even spoken. This is why Mukwonago is known as the oldest Indian village in Wisconsin.

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