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The Legend of Phantom Lake

April 10, 2011

A long time ago, a tribe of Winnebago Indians were living on the shores of Miniwaukan, or Spirit Lake.  One very hot summer, when the surrounding lands had become dry and unyielding, a tribe of Sac Indians who had been starved out of their territory came across the lake in search of food and water.

The Winnebago tribe would have nothing to do with the new invaders and refused to even acknowledge them.  However, one young Winnebago brave named Zicahota (the squirrel) thought that the daughter of the Sac tribe Chief was beautiful.  Her name was Iwoso (pouting lips).  Iwoso had another admirer named Homaba, a warrior from her own tribe.  When Zicahota heard of this he was discouraged at first but then went to the father of the maiden, Chief Matacincala, and avoided the maiden.  He told the Chief of his wealth and aspiration to follow in his father’s footsteps and become Chief of the Winnebagos.  This won the respect of Iwoso’s father and the elders of the Sac tribe.  Meanwhile, Homaba shunned the father and wooed Iwoso with his tales of adventure in war and hunting.  The pair fell in love but they kept their love a secret.  Iwoso never told anyone of her preference and Homaba was seldom seen at her wigwam.

Athough Iwoso did not agree with her father’s acceptance of Zicahota, she treated him well and he was welcomed by the rest of the tribe.

One day, Homaba disappeared.  Some of the wise elders of the tribe accused young Zicahota of killing their warrior.  They blamed his jealosy and demanded to know the truth.  After a week of anxious waiting and no sign of Homaba’s return, the Chief had no choice but to question Zicahota.  He told the young brave that unless he produced the Sac warrior within four days, he would have to be punished.  Although it seemed hopeless, Zicahota set off in search for Homaba.

Four days after Zicahota’s departure, an old man from the tribe gathered everyone together to tell the story of the water spirit that lived in the lake.  He said that each year the Spirit would claim the fairest maiden from the tribe as his bride.  Just as the old man was ending his story, they were interrupted by word of Zicahota’s return.  Zicahota had not found Homaba, but sent a message to all the tribes people that they would see their warrior before the moon was an hour high and that they must go to the shore of the lake and wait.

And so the two tribes waited on the shores.  They waited and waited but saw nothing.  Just as they were about to leave, a canoe suddently darted out from the dark depths of the Sac shores and started moving quickly across the lake.

By the light of the moon, the watchers on the shore could see two people in the canoe.  Just then, they saw another canoe begin to chase the first.  It was Zicahota, and he was gaining on the two people.  They watched Zicahota leap from his canoe to the other and with his hunting knife in his hand, grapple with the foremost figure.

A shrill death cry pierced the silence and the two figures fell over the side and disappeared.  During this whole terrible scene the third figure had not moved.  Just as the onlookers were realizing what an awful sight they had just witnessed, a dark form rose from the water and dragged a shrieking girl under the surface.  The ripples died away and all that could be seen were the two empty canoes.  The tribes’ people gazed in spellbound wonderment, and made their way back to the camp, shocked, but no longer skkeptical of the Water Spirit.

And so the Legend has it that at half past eleven on the night of September 2nd every year, a faint ghostly light appears over Phantom Lake: and this tragedy is reenacted.  One may see for themselves the fatal duel of the rival lovers, or hear the cries of the Princess Iwoso.  You may even hear the splashing of the water as the Miniwauken spirit cliams his bride.  But one thing for sure is that you will never again why the little lake is so aptly named Phantom Lake.


“Place of the Bear” by D.E. Wright.

Published by Bill and Jane Nuestedter, Mukwonago, WI, 1994


Notes: The color coding is just to help follow the character line.  Our Day Camp uses the name “Zicahota” for the 7-11 year-old age group.  It’s not noted in this version of the legend, but “Nagi” is the word for “Phantom Lake.”  That is the name of the group for our Day Camp’s 12-13 year-olds.  Another version of the story is located here: .  It is basically the same, but some of the wording is different.

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