Devils Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin

Photo by Michael Kleen

I have fond memories of Devil’s Lake near Baraboo in Sauk County, Wisconsin. My family vacationed there when I was a kid in the late ’80s, early ’90s. You could say it’s a family tradition. I’ve seen photos of my grandparents and great grandparents climbing the boulders. It’s a great spot for family vacationers looking for something more low key than nearby Wisconsin Dells.

Formed millennia ago by a glacier that cut off part of the Wisconsin River, it was originally called Ta-wah-cun-chunk-dah by the Ho-Chunk, meaning “Sacred Lake”. According to legend, a Winnebago Indian fasted and prayed at the shore for twenty days, after which a water spirit called the Wock-cheth-thwe-dah (or Wakjexi) arose and told him he would live a long and happy life.

Another Indian legend tells of a green water spirit with seven heads that demanded an annual sacrifice of a maiden. River Child spoke with a sturgeon, who told him the water spirit had a vulnerability. A well-aimed thrust behind its center head’s left eye would pierce its brain.

On the day the maiden was to be sacrificed, River Child spread walnut husks in the water, causing the spirit distress and forcing it into his net. After a long struggle, he stabbed it in the left eye with his knife, killing it. River Child married the maiden and they started a village along the shore, but the ghostly screams of the water spirit arose with every storm, so they were forced to move away.

Today, Devil’s Lake State Park is a popular destination for camping, swimming, boating, rock-climbing, and hiking.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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