Cryptid Profile: Meshekenabek - The Monster of Lake Manitou
Located in Rochester, Indiana, Lake Manitou is a 55ft deep man-made lake which was created in 1827. The reason for the creation was that due to an 1826 treaty between the United States government and the Potawatomi Native American Tribe, the US was required to build a mill in which the tribe could use to grind corn. However, needing water to power the mill, the US government was left with only one option and that was to build a dam prior to the construction of the mill. Upon completion of said dam, 775 acres of land were flooded and five small lakes around the area of the soon to be mill became one giant lake. The resulting body of water was given the name Manitou and almost immediately, a monster by the name of Meshekenabek (which translates to ‘Great Serpent’) took up residence within it.
Nobody really knows where exactly the monster came from, but many believe it may have already been living in one of the smaller lakes prior to the creation of Manitou. The reason for this belief comes from the name of the lake itself, as Manitou means both “good spirit” and “evil spirit” in the Potawatomi language. And seeing as how the Potawatomi not only hunted, fished, and lived alongside the five smaller lakes for many years prior to their expansion and grouping, it is only fitting that they would give this new body of water a name which represented both recognition and warning of the large creature they believed now lived within it.
While legends claim that members of the tribe would never fish, bathe, or even canoe on the lake itself, none of these stories can be truly verified. What can be verified though is the fact that people were seeing something odd swimming in the water itself, and not only members of the tribe, but also workers constructing the mill itself in 1827. This group of men, which had members from both the builder and surveyor side of the project, claimed to have witnessed on more than one occasion, a creature which was thought to be over thirty feet long, was dark in color, possessed a long neck with a horse-like head, and was seen both surfacing and submerging within the waters of the lake.
After seeing this strange creature, the men would tell others and the story would spread around not only Rochester but also Logansport, a city located nearly twenty-five miles away. At first, everyone thought the stories were pure nonsense, but only after the witnesses began to come forward more regularly did people start to think that perhaps a creature truly did reside within Lake Manitou.
After the stories of the mill workers became public knowledge, those in the area started watching the lake more closely, hoping they too could get a look at the beast. But while interest in the creature was growing, not everyone was on board yet with the idea of a monster swimming around in their own backyard. It was only after the first blacksmith in the area of Lake Manitou came forward with his story nearly eleven years after the construction workers, did those on the fence finally decide to jump on the wagon. The reason for this move is because, at the time, the blacksmith was one of the most respected members in the community as they were heavily depended on by almost everyone, so if the blacksmith claimed to have witnessed a monster swimming around in the lake, there was truly little reason to doubt what they were saying was anything but true.
While many claim that the name of the blacksmith who witnessed the creature has been lost to time, others state that his name was Mr. Lindsey, but regardless on what his actual name was, the description he gave was recorded for the ages. In 1838, the blacksmith recounted how he had watched a creature roughly two hundred feet from shore raise its head four feet out of the water and proceed to swim around in front of his eyes. He stated that the body of the creature was quite serpent-like in appearance, but that is possessed a head that was nearly three feet wide and somewhat resembled a cows head. The neck was long and the color of the creature was a very dingy looking grayish-black. The blacksmith also claimed that the creature possessed what appeared to be large yellowish spots on its skin that contrasted strongly against the gray-black body.
The blacksmith watched as the creature swam along the surface of the water, fully exposed and turning its head from side to side in one smooth motion, almost as if studying the landscape around it. And after only a few minutes, the creature sunk back down below the surface and disappeared from view as quickly as it appeared. The blacksmith, standing motionless in his shop and still peering out at the water unfurrowed his brow, committed what he had seen to memory, and went back to work as if nothing had even happened. For the work he was doing was more important than what he had just seen, and the story could wait until later to be retold.
After the blacksmith’s story, pretty much everyone in the area believed that Lake Manitou truly did contain a monster. They would frequently hear stories of the beast being spotted by a frightened eyewitness while on shore. The would listen eagerly to tales told of how someone close to the lake saw a large dark shape just under the surface of the water moving at a rapid speed. They would gasp while listening to a retelling of how of the monster rose up from the below, looked around, and dove back down in a motion that created a disturbance on the surface of the water. They would always listen to the stories with their utmost attention and would leave hungry and wanting more. But one thing that seemed to be commonplace about these stories, is that they always seemed to involve a witness seeing the creature while on land, there were never any close encounters to gasp at. That is, at least, until two men decided to go out fishing one evening.
The story goes that nearly two weeks after the blacksmith sighting, two unlucky fishermen by the last name of Robinson would be the first on record to have an up close and personal encounter with the beast known as Meshekenabek. It is claimed that while out fishing on the lake one evening, the two men took notice of a large disturbance in the water a good distance away. Thinking that it may be a somewhat sizable school of fish close to the surface, the men began to row their boat in its general direction. But as they did, the disturbance started to move towards theirs.
A bit taken back by what they were witnessing, the men stopped rowing the boat towards the unknown thing and just watched with focused eyes. They stared in awe at what appeared to be a creature of nearly sixty feet in length moving rapidly under the surface of the water, and they changed from awe to fear just as quickly when they realized this thing of great size was swimming directly towards them. As soon as the men saw the creature approaching their boat, they immediately grabbed the oars and began to row back to the safety of shore, but the rowing speed of two grown men was no match for a gigantic creature fully adapted to life in the water.
The creature was quickly approaching and the two men were no closer to shore than when they first spotted the commotion on the surface. Waves shot out from alongside the creature as it made its way steadily through the water, the men continued rowing as their arms started to burn. Suddenly, a large gray head broke the surface of the water and lunged up quickly before shooting back down into the water and out of view. The water grew calm and the boat rocked back and forth on the remaining waves created by the creature. The men waited in terror believing that the creature was below them and that it would return if they tried to move, so they sat motionless in the rocking boat. Only after a fair amount of time had passed did they truly believe the monster had spared them and that they were free to row back to the safety of shore.
After the encounter by the two men named Robinson, those around the area of Lake Manitou felt that something must be done concerning the now aggressive monster in the lake. So much was the desire to rid the water of the beast that a posse of concerned citizens formed in the town of Rochester and plans were made to capture the serpent by any means possible. The group even went so far as to gather a mass of both boats and rafts to take out onto the water and capture the beast, either alive or dead, in order to turn it over to science for study. But after some time on the water with no results, the monster hunt was called off and the serpent was left alone to do as it pleased.
Starting in the 1840’s, reports of Meshekenabek became few and far between. Stories like the ones from years prior of almost constant sightings became the stuff of legend and eventually even those faded from memory. While some still occasionally claimed to see something odd swimming in the water, the truth was typically not monstrous and could often be chalked up to a known creature. Although in 1849, a creature that some could describe as a beast was pulled from the lake. A report from the Logansport Journal at the time states that an enormous Ictiobus, or Buffalo Fish, that weighed several hundred pounds was pulled from the lake and that its 30lb head was removed from its body and displayed in Logansport as a sort of exhibit.
Then, nearly thirty-nine years later, another massive fish was removed from Lake Manitou. Again, the Logansport Journal at the time reported that a massive 116lb Spoonbill Catfish (AKA: American Paddlefish) had to be pulled from the lake by four grown men while out fishing. The sight of the fish drew such a crowd upon its removal that it was eventually placed into a cart and displayed next to the Rochester courthouse where the men charged curious onlookers 10 cents a peek. Not long after, the catfish was butchered and the meat was sold to those same onlookers for 10 cents a pound.
As the years passed, those in the area became more and more preoccupied with trying to catch the next monster fish in the lake and less occupied with watching for the monster that they once believed swam within it. The stories of the beast were rarely talked about anymore without snickering and laughter, and the waters the Potawatomi had once respected had become nothing more than a major point of recreation. The monster it seemed had gone the way of other lake dwelling serpents before it, into hushed legend.
So what was the monster of Lake Manitou? Was it a Native American water spirit, or an actual fearsome creature? If it didn’t really exist, then what did the Blacksmith and the Robinson’s see and encounter? Was it nothing more than overexcited imaginations mixed with strong desires to see a monster that so many people were talking about, or could it have simply been giant fish just waiting to be caught and turned into exhibits for curious onlookers? Honestly, we don’t know, and that’s the fact of the matter truth. But one thing we do know for certain is that something strange swam around in Lake Manitou over 190yrs ago, and that thing, whatever it was, seemed to possess some sort of significance. Because if it wasn’t important or memorable in even the slightest way, we wouldn’t be talking about it to this day.
One last fun fact for you before we end this, while we know that the creature was given the name Meshekenabek by the Potawatomi tribe around the lake, few know that Meshekenabek isn’t just one creature, but rather the name was given to all “Great Serpents” that called a variety of lakes in the Midwest home. And while these serpents were quite deadly to the humans that ventured to close to their domain, there was one creature that was said to kill these beasts with great ease. That creature was the Thunderbird, and it was the Meshekenabek’s greatest enemy.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: http://lakemanitou.mylaketown.com/home