Punished Woman’s Lake


I l-o-v-e historical markers. They often share hyper-local historical tidbits that people who don’t visit the area often would never know if it weren’t for that marker. On a recent trip to South Dakota, I came across this marker not far from Watertown. When I saw the title of the marker I definitely had a WTF moment. Here’s what the marker says about the legend of Punished Woman Lake. 

During the Moon of the Harvest (August) in 1773 a band of Sioux was camped on the shore of this lake. We-Wa-Ke, fairest maiden in the camp had given her heart to a brave young warrior, Big Eagle, whose courage on the hunt and in battle far surpassed that of the other young men of the tribe.

When he approached their lodge with gifts and a desire to have the maiden as his wife, Big Eagle was refused by We-Wa-Ke’s father. The father instead accepted the gifts of a 60-year-old chief, White Tail Wolf.

While the tribe was celebrating this union, We-Wa-Ke and her warrior lover tried to escape on his pony. Pursued by other warriors in the tribe the pair was quickly caught and returned to this hill overlooking the lake. Here the chagrined old chief saw the lovers proudly raise their heads and declare their love for each other and vowed to meet in the Happy Hunting Grounds. The old chief was so angry that he killed the young warrior with his knife.

The young maiden was ordered bound to a tree on the shore of the lake and the old chief shot an arrow into her heart. He then ordered the lovers buried side by side on this hill overlooking the lake. He ordered stones to be placed in the form of a warrior and a maid as a shameful reminder to all Indians.

As the old chief called for the Evil Spirits to take them to the Land of Ever-Lasting Sorrow the Great Spirit heard him and caused a lightning bolt to flash from the clear blue sky and strike the old chief dead. The band piled stones on the chief’s body to remind all that he was a murderer and outcast from the tribe.

From that time on the lake was known as Punished Woman’s Lake.

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