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Location: Strawberry Island, Wisconsin
Source: The book Northern Frights
by Dennis Boyer (published 1998) pages 41-44.
The Sioux Warriors of Strawberry Island
Dennis Boyer's Introduction
Wisconsin is blessed with a number of places that have overlapping
layers of legend and lore. Prairie du Chien, Green Bay, and Madeline
Island spring immediately to mind. The layers are usually connected to
successive waves of settlement or to shifting political control
(...Indian, French, British, American). Thus, the long-settled fort and
trading post sites have the most evidence of these layers.
Rural and isolated sites are less likely to exhibit this story-stacking
phenomena. In these less-traveled places story continuity is often
broken. Neglect is also compounded where the stories are American
Indian and the setting is a reservation.
The Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation offers a site that is rich in
its antiquity and its legends. There, on Strawberry Island, we find a
location with a thousand years of ghosts to account for. Sorting them
out is the problem.
Wendell, a Lac du Flambeau construction worker, offered to help sift
through the stories on his lunch break at a Bolton Lake construction
site. He excavated these comments in a straightforward backhoe style.
The Story From Wendell
We were always told that Strawberry Island was home to a lot of ghosts.
Sometimes we called it "ghost island." Some called it "bone island." It
was even called "poison ivy island," although the poison ivy was blamed
on spirits too.
Now I can tell you stories from out there on the island. But if you
want to know the meaning of things out there you must ask a medicine
man. I approach these things respectfully even though I don't
understand them all. All my generation can do is try to remember what
the grandfathers, grandmothers, and old Canadian relatives said.
The main story is about the battle with the Sioux and the tremendous
slaughter there. But there are much older stories that are hazy on
details. In our old stories there are the four famous sons of Winona,
fathered by the Great Spirit. Three of the sons are remembered for the
gifts they brought to the Ojibwe. But the second son, Pukawiss, is
Pukawiss was viewed by some as a no-account and vagabond. He traveled
and entertained and danced. So you might say he was the original powwow
bum. Pukawiss never had a permanent home. And when he died his spirit
could not be confined to one place. But in life he had used Strawberry
Island as a resting place and that is where his ghost now goes in
between haunting today's pow-wows.
Some stories connect Strawberry Island to the great epic story of the
Ojibwe. How the Anishinabe people were told by a prophet to leave their
home on the Atlantic Ocean and travel west to look for food that grows
on water. In other words, wild rice. Lac du Flambeau was in this area
where food grew on water. But the area was already occupied by the
Sioux. And Strawberry Island was important to them.
The island was an important place for visions. They and the Winnebago
had used the place for thousands of years for burials.
Misunderstandings about use of the island and the rice in surrounding
waters set off conflict. Soon it was a full-scale war for control of
the wild rice country.
This war raged from the Upper Peninsula to the St. Croix area. But it
all came to a head with the battle on Strawberry Island about three
hundred years ago. It was a battle in which thousands fought and
hundreds died. In the end the Sioux were defeated and driven from wild
rice country. Their dead warriors and the bones of their ancestors were
Some say this abandonment led to the severe haunting of Strawberry
Island. That there are hundreds of lonely and angry ghosts out there.
I've only ever met one person who saw ghosts out there - it's not a
place we go a lot. He saw a group with painted faces and bloody war
But I and many others have often heard the ghosts. During late summer
the shouts, whoops, and screams can be heard toward evening. The Sioux
warriors. Some say it is the noise and pain of the Sioux casualties.
But others say that it is the dead of both sides reenacting the battle.
All in all, it is a place to be avoided or at least approached
carefully because of the unsettled spirits of the Sioux warriors. Yet
there is even more reason to be cautious. When the French came, the
missionaries took note of the island as a sacred place. They tried to
plant a cross out there. A bear killed a missionary. So there's a
priest ghost out there too.
Then the U.S. Indian agents got the idea that there were graves and
treasures to rob out there. They sent some flunkies out to dig the
stuff up. They never came back. That meant some more ghosts on the
Later, during Prohibition, we often had the gangsters come up here.
They hid Canadian whiskey on the reservation. They took a squealer out
to the island to kill him. A fight broke out and three or four killed
each other. More ghosts.
Finally, we have the development stuff. You know that we lost ownership
of the island through that corrupt Dawes Allotment Act? That law should
have been called the
But we now have the battle over whether white developers will put a
resort on top oftwo-thousand-year-old burial sites. Then there's the
question about what the tribal government will do. What will the
medicine men do? What will the Sioux do? What will the State Historical
In a normal place the answers would be easy. But with Vilas County in
the picture and the boatlanding riots and look-the-other-way law
enforcement in mind, it should prove very interesting.
This may become the first haunted site ever that gets written up by
political reporters. Before it's done we could have the American Indian
Movement, the skinheads, the environmentalists, and those corporate
land rapers up here. Who knows, maybe a new battle and some new ghosts?
All I know is that I would not want to operate a piece of heavy
equipment on Strawberry Island. I wouldn't want to use a chainsaw out
there. I have a hunch that it will be an accident-prone place. If
something were ever to be built out there, well, nothing good would
come from it. Let's just say you wouldn't want your family staying
I wouldn't want to be responsible for the falls, drownings, stabbings,
and shootings that will occur out there once those Sioux warriors can
take over a live body. But that's nothing to some Chicago suit out to
make a buck.
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