Lumberjacks over the years have come up with some crazy tall tales. I wrote an article about one of those tall tales titled “Colorado’s Slide-Rock Bolter.“
Now another lumberjack story called the “Hodag” comes up for Wisconsin. Wisconsin, like Colorado, is known for heavy, dense forests. Forests lumberjacks love to work in and tell tall tales. This image is provided by Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay.
Wait a minute; this article is about Minnesota, so why am I talking about Wisconsin?
Stay with me, this is a fascinating story, and it will lead back to Minnesota.
In this case, in October 1893, Eugene Shepard reported seeing this foul-smelling, fire-breathing monster. Shepard stated it was a 200-pound, seven-foot-long, lizard-like beast covered with horns and spikes. The Hodag was born and quickly became the terror of northern Wisconsin Pine Forests.
The story goes that the Hadog is the spirit of a dead lumber ox. Shepard being the giant brave lumberjack he is, tried to catch it but wasn’t successful. Shepard next wanted to blow it up with dynamite, which reportedly pissed it off. Shepard’s next attempt was with help from his lumberjack friends. He cornered the pesky Hodag in its den, where he knocked it out with Chloroform.
I’m not sure I buy this fairytale because this is a seven-foot fire-breathing monster. Yet, Shepard just waltzed into its den and wasn’t turned into burnt toast? Then what? Walked up to the Hadog without any resistance and knocked it out with Chloroform?
I think this story is right up there with the Slide-Rock Bolter. A yarn with no truth to it, but it sounds good, right?
The mythical beastie may not be real, but Shepard’s captured one became quite famous. Shepard made his renowned capture in 1896, at the same time as the Oneida County Fair. So, for a dime a peek, he let people catch a glimpse of the infamous Hadog.
The spectators that paid the dime reported seeing the captured critter move and growl. If any skeptics went in, none came out. He made so much money from the famous beast he could quit his job as a lumberjack.
Shepard became a real-estate broker and had a blast promoting Rhinelander. Just as Point Pleasant, West Virginia became home to the Mothman, Rhinelander became home to the Hodag.
The town also enjoyed the popularity of having a famed monster. You drive through the vale, Hodag banners will greet you hanging on the downtown street poles. You can buy “Hodag poop” from the local candy store. I’m not sure what Hodag poop is, so I googled it. It is Mint Malted Milk Balls – and you can buy a bag for $1.99 from the Fun Factory Sweet Shoppe.
They sound delicious.
There are at least six Hodag statues and billboards lined up along the main road. Interesting to note is that one of the figures is wearing cowboy boots.
Please don’t ask me why, as I would never have thought of Wisconsin as a cowboy state.
Fascinating history this is, but if you are waiting for the connection to Minnesota? It is coming right up.
The Ojibway tribe, located in Minnesota, has an ancient legend. It is called the Mishipeshu, which translates as Water Panther. If you look at the pictographs painted on rocks, the Mishipeshu looks precisely like the Hodag. That pictograph has been around for eons. There are hundreds of other images at Agawa Rock, which is a sacred lakeside. The site is 800 kilometers north of Toronto in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
It is known as the Great Lynx, the Underwater Wildcat, and the Fabulous Night Panther. The Mishipeshu is one of the most important water beings among the Great Lakes tribes. You can find its picture on burial mounds and in Ojibway’s oral history. Mishipeshu is described as a Panther with spikes down its back and horns on its head.
In Native American tradition, the Mishipeshu is not only a water guardian but is associated with bringing people to their deaths.
Archaeological and Native American experts debate whether the Hodag and Mishipeshu are related. It is hard not to see the similarities between Hodag and the pictographs of the Mishipeshu.
One of the theories is that a French fur trader saw a pictograph and told another fur trapper. Like any great myth, the story spread like wildfire. Then one day, Eugene Shepard hears the folktale, and the Hodag is born.
Other speculations are that the Lake Champlain Monster is Mishipeshu.
Early explorers were sent to the Superior area by Samuel de Champlain. Champlain, at the time, was a governor of New France. The creature described as looking like a massive aquatic snake, slightly different from the Mishipeshu.
According to Ojibway legend, the Mishipeshu looks more feline than a serpent. They talked about the lake monster with fear and respect. They described it as a dragon – cat mix monster with long horns, palmed paws, and large scales.
Seen around Presque Isle River in Michigan’s U.P. It adopted the name “Pressie.” Pressie matches the description of another cryptid from Scotland. The infamous Loch Ness Monster is better known as “Nessie.”
Is the Mishipeshu the Hodag?
The city of Algoma, Michigan, thinks so. The town reached out to Rhinelander about organizing their Hodag themed festival. The city officials of Rhinelander wasn’t too thrilled with that idea.
City Council members were downright hostile about the idea of Algoma attempting to steal their Hodag. The Hodag has its roots in lumberjack camps from Maine to Minnesota through the 1800s.
Eugene Shepard in Wisconsin first reported the Hodag in 1883, but Ojibway was telling stories centuries before that. The pictographs of the Mishipeshu are thousands of years old. There have been tales passed down about the Underwater Panther living in Lake Superior.
According to Ojibway legends, the Mishipeshu has been around a lot longer than the Hodag. The image is provided by Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay.
So, if you are ever driving past Lake Superior, look out to the waves, and maybe you will see the Mishipeshu.