Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes and ONE favorite swimming hole. You know, the lake that provided THE most memorable summertime memories of your childhood? You may have your own personal reference to that favorite lake, yet, have you ever wondered how it received its formal name?
There are a multitude of lakes, unsurpassed in beauty and diversity in our region. By knowing how these lakes were named, we can honor our ancestors. Some lakes are named for pioneers, others for their contours. Still others are named after Native American predecessors, others still by what surrounds them. Of course, information is not always consistent, names have been changed, family connections prevail, and sometimes spellings have varied. Some lakes have been drained, early maps illustrate them, however, current maps do not. The interesting point is, every single lake has a story, and your favorite swimming hole provides you with your own connection to life, love and community.
Family names seem to be the largest source of lake names. Many lakes were adjacent to land settled by pioneers who then named their own lake. Take for instance Darling or Miltona. Andreas Darling was a Swedish immigrant who settled on the lake. Florence Miltona Roadruck’s husband had a homestead in Leaf Valley. He named the lake for his wife. They had a daughter Irene, who they then named another lake for. Lake Agnes in Alexandria is named for a “lady love” of William Kinkead, one of the first settlers of Alexandria, however Agnes never came to Minnesota.
Lake Christina, and its companion, the large Pelican Lake in the adjoining corner of Grant County, appear on an early map of Minnesota, dated 1860. Their names were given as Lakes Christina and Ellenora. These were probably pioneer women from Sweden. It could also be true that the first was bestowed in honor of Queen Christina, who was regent of Sweden in 1632-44 and queen during the next 10 years. When and how Ellenora was changed to Pelican Lake will take some research, most likely now named for its number of pelicans. Oscar Lake is named for Oscar I, the King of Sweden and Norway in 1844-59.
Ottertail (or, Otter Tail) in the county with the same name most likely was named for its otters, just as lakes named Elk and Turtle received their names for animals. There are Crooked, Moon, Horseshoe, Lobster and Long lakes, named for contours. There is an Echo Lake, Mud Lake, Grassy Lake and a Lover’s Lake, named for obvious reasons, or well, you take a guess. There is a Whiskey Lake that has quite a few tales, and there was at one time a Minister Lake, named near a Norwegian Lutheran Church.
Lake Osakis is obviously of Indian heritage, but there are differences of opinion in how it actually got its name. A tribe of Sauk Indians camped near the outlet, and the name came from them. Another idea is that it comes from the Chippewa Osaugeet, or Ozati. A third opinion suggests that there is a point on the lake where a fierce battle took place between two tribes. It is called Battle Point. The losing tribe sent up a great cry for help from the Great Spirit, shouting “O-sak,” in their language meaning HELP HELP.
Just as the name Minnesota originated from the Ojibwe language meaning “many waters,” Lake Minnewaska, adjoining Glenwood and Starbuck, was named White Bear Lake and Whipple Lake before the settlers settled on its current name by combining two Dakota or Sioux words, mini or minne (for many) and washta or waska (for water).
Lake Latoka takes on another realm of questions. The Lakota Indians have a rich and documented history, yet the word “Latoka” has appeared on many maps since the 1870s as the name of the lake found in Douglas County. The word itself lacks any history and has no apparent linguistic roots so the only conclusion one could reach is that a map making error might lie at the bottom of this mystery.
A few lakes bear Biblical names, such as Moses and Aaron. There once was a Lake Sina in Lund Township of Douglas County, but it is no longer shown on the map. It was named for Mount Sinai (called Sina in the seventh chapter of Acts), where the Decalogue and other laws were received, the name being suggested by Lake Moses and Aaron, a few miles distant.*
So many lakes, so many names and one old swimming hole. The names bring us back to our origins in one way or another. The old swimming hole we call our own is how we say, “this is our home.”
*Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance by Warren Upham, Copyright 1920. Other resources for this column: How the Lakes Were Named by Lorayne Larson, Copyright, 1965. www.rootsweb.ancestry.com Various plat maps and files at the Douglas County Historical Society.