Lake of Fame...Prairie Lake

Written and donated by Timm Severud


Prairie Lake is a special place and not just because I grew up on its shore, but because it has a central place in Ojibwa culture and legend.  W. W. Warren who spent the years of 1840 and 41 working as a clerk here relates the different names for this lake as Mush-ko-da-mun-o-min-e-kin or (Prairie Rice Lake - literally rice so thick it looks like a prairie) and the French name of Lac la Folle or Rice Lake.  Jean Baptiste Perrault (who was in this area as a voyageur trader from 1780 to 1810) made a map for Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1830 and recorded his memoirs in French on the map he gives the name as Lac la Folle au isoi Fame and in the manuscript he writes about the fame of this place.  From these names we get the name of our lake today, Prairie Lake, but we also get another name and that is the name of a city near us, Rice Lake.  It was not named so much for the rice on the Red Cedar River and there was a goodly amount there, but from the fact that among the Ojibwa the entire region was named after Prairie Rice Lake.

Why would J.B. Perrault call this place famous? What are the stories behind this name?

In the Ojibwa view of creation there is an important character with so many different spellings to the name it is mind-boggling, I will use the spelling of Wenabozhoo. I like to say that Wenabozhoo is a mixture of Paul Bunyan and Jesus Christ.  Every place of importance has a Wenabozhoo legend attached to it.  Here is the one for Mushkodamunominekin.

As Wenabozhoo came of age it was time for him to go on his important puberty fast (first major vision quest). He left his grandmother Nokomis's lodge, marked his cheeks with ash from the fire and wandered across the land.  He eventually became tired and decided to sit down at a point of land with a small clear lake to his right and a large marshy area to his left.  He watched as a floating plant on the water stood up and danced in the wind until it gave a golden green sheen to the entire valley.  Wenabozhoo became fascinated with this plant and realized that this was his vision.  He waded in and gathered a bit and took it to Nokomis's lodge.  He did not know it was food, for he was merely captivated by the beauty of the plant.  Nokomis soon discovered the food value.  This rice bed was the only place that the rice was then found.  And because it was Wenabozhoo's vision that brought the plant to their notice, it is said that Wenabozhoo and Nokomis were the ones that first spread rice from Mushkodamunominekin to other ricing beds.

In Ojibwa legend what has been lost under today's Prairie Lake is the birthplace of menomin, Wild Rice.

In my readings one of the most interesting people I have run into is a man known to most up here at Lac Courte Oreilles as Shoniagizik (Sky Luminary) and to the rest as the medicine man John Mink (1850-1945).  In the book Wisconsin Folk Lore they recorded his oral biography as beginning with 'I was born in Rice Lake, during the time of the ripening strawberry (early June)."  The man who recorded the words was name Robert Ritzenthaler and his notebooks are in the Milwaukee Public Museum.  When I read the original notes I realized that Shonia was talking about Mushkodamunominekin. He went on in the approximately 1,000 pages of notes recorded about him, to talk about the lake, which family had which areas of which rice beds.  Many families would come together and camp together on the lake.  Shonia was a part of the Man-fish Clan and they camped on the south shore of Mushkodamunominekin, just to the west of Little Chetek Lake.

By the time Shonia was born the battles with the Dakota were almost over and when he was 5 the last battle in the area (at Prairie Farm on the Hay River) took place.  However before this time Mushkodamunominekin was a very dangerous place to live, as it was the big prize; a large and steady food source.

If we look at the entire valley that is today called Prairie Lake then we have to recognize how difficult it would be to defend ones self from attack.  It is because of this that the name of Rice Lake is also associated with the town 19 miles north.  The current community of Rice Lake was often called an Indian headquarters by many of the first whites that came to the area.  It was a much more defendable area.  Here Chief Nenaangebi had his headquarters and his peoples (the Cat Fish, Sturgeon and Man-Fish Clans) had there rice beds from as far north as Long Lake in Washburn County to Mushkodamunominekin.  It was not Ojibwa that got the place names mixed up, it took others to do that and it is of no real importance as it says that a place can name an entire area.

There are many stories of battles and horror associated with the area and the history goes back long before the Ojibwa and the Dakota for we must remember the mounds that once dominated the entire area around our chain of lakes.  Just one of the mounds and there were about a thousand in the area at one time, contained 1,788 copper implements.  And it is wondered where the Copper Culture was from.

Many times we have all lamented the green of the lakes, but what we do not realize is that Prairie Lake had clear spring waters that flowed at a very constant rate and that the marsh that forms is still under there.  So much was lost both in fact and in memory.  I just wonder if we will ever come to the point of fixing our lakes problems by giving rebirth to Mushkodamunominekin.


Last Update Friday, 01-Apr-2011 00:59:23 EDT

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