Naming Medicine Lake, Part II

Naming Medicine Lake, Part II

In Naming Medicine Lake, Part I, we explored the origin of Medicine Lake’s name. According to legend, the Dakota named the lake Mde Wakan or Lake of the Spirit. In Dr. Franklin Curtis-Wedge’s The Story of Mission Farms, Medicine Lake Camps, Conferences, and Conventions (Minnesota Historical Records Survey, c. 1942), the author notes:

To a Sioux, anything that is spiritual, mysterious, or supernatural is ‘medicine,’ and this was the word they imparted to the Whites as the equivalent for their ancient name. So to this day, the Lake is called Medicine.

Medicine Lake historian Ted Hoshal explains that this represents the “most familiar telling of how Medicine Lake got its name.” However, Hoshal points out, five additional names for the lake have been recorded since 1830.

In 2013, Hoshal published a small booklet titled “A Brief History of How Medicine Lake Got Its Names [PDF].” Here he lists the origins of the five names as follows:

  1. In 1830, US Government Explorer and Surveyor, Joseph N. Nicollet recorded the lake’s name as I CA-PA CA-GA-STA-KA MDE, which he translated as “Where the Beavers Strike Their Mouths in the Manner of an Indian Warcry.” Other interpretations suggest the name indicates the breaking or clearing of lake ice caused by the animals’ turbulence.
  2. In 1852, an expedition of early Minnesotan settlers attempted to rediscover Lake Minnetonka. During their travels, they slogged a trail to Medicine Lake, which they noted as Lake Willis.
  3. In 1861, in a panic from the Dakota uprising, a caravan of parishioners from Holy Name Church fled to St. Paul. On the way, historian Thelma Jones explains, the caravan ran into some trouble: “When the wagons had squealed their way up to Crystal Lake (now Medicine Lake), the lead oxen, wild from the deer flies, wheeled and plunged into the water.”
  4. In 1892, the St. Paul Globe reported on a flood, noting “Barge’s lake rose eight inches overnight.” This was Medicine Lake, where land speculator Jacob Barge had purchased 450 acres and 3.5 miles of shoreline, developing it into three subdivisions called Medicine Lake Park.
  5. In 1915, the League of Catholic Women attempted to change Medicine Lake’s name to Lake Pezuta, pezuta being the Dakota word for medicine. Articles on this topic in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune reference the Native Americans’ appreciation of the lake’s spring fed medicinal qualities.

It is interesting to note how, in 1858, Plymouth township’s first officials proposed renaming Plymouth for its largest body of water, Medicine Lake. This suggests that Medicine Lake’s name has been in use for at least 160 years.


Thank you to Ted Hoshal for this research and Emilie Rieger for digitizing the brochure.

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