The Indian legend of how Elkhart Lake got its name

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Review

An Indian legend passed down from story teller to storyteller around campfires for centuries told of the naming of “Elk Heart Lake”. In the Pottawatomie tongue the was, Me-shay-wa-odey ni-bis

The legend of Elkhart Lake tells the story of a lovely Indian maiden who lived on the shores of the lake and was deeply in love with a handsome young brave named Wapita.

Wapita on many occasions told the Indian maiden of his great affection for her as they walked along the shores of the beautifullake.

But now as the young woman stood on the shores of the lake watching a storm pass, her heart was heavy.

Wapita had told her of his great love for the daughter of Chief Oconostota who he considered more beautiful.

The young girl was now alone. Her father,a chief, had been killed in a tribal war and her mother had died many years before.

In desperation the spurned young woman sought the council of a wise old squaw who many considered to possess spiritual powers.

The old lady advised the girl to seek out an elk and then to slay the animal and drink the blood ofthe elk’s heart. Once this was done the Indian maiden would then be the most beautiful of all.

But the spiritualist warned the young girlthat her heart would grow cold toward Wapita and she would never love him again.

Leaving the old squaw, the young Indian woman went to the shore of the lake to ponder her plight.

As she sat staring into the cold dark waters a large elk stepped from the forest. As quick as lightening the girl picked up her bow and arrow and let an arrow fly. Her aim was true and the elk fell.

With her hunting knife she removed the heart from the elk and eagerly drank the heart’s blood.

The young woman againwent to the edge of the lake and peered into the glassy waters. In her reflection she saw her eyes darken and her black hair become even darker and soft as silk.

As the old woman had predicted the young girlwas now the most beautiful of all the maidens in the tribe.

Wapita seeing how beautiful his old love had become cast aside the daughter of Chief Oconostota and sought the affections of his former love.

But as the old squaw had predicted the young girl’s heart had grown cold toward Wapita and could seek his love no more.

Unable to accepthis former love’s distain for him Wapita cast himself into the deepest waters of the lake and sank from sight.

The lake ever after was known as the Heart of the Elk Lake, in later years shortened to Elkhart- Lake.

It has been toldthat if you stand at the water’s edge on a dark moonless night the spirit ofWapita can be seen in a birch bark canoe gliding across the lake or walking through the surrounding forest looking for his lost love.


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