Setting the record straight on “Waupaca”

“Menominee Morning Song” by James F. Frechette, Jr. Photos by author; permissions courtesy of Mike Hoffman and UWSP Museum of Natural History

Seeing clearly often means going directly to the source, and when it comes to native Wisconsin terminology, there’s none better than one of our few remaining speakers of the Menominee language.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about a hike on the Waupaca River segment of the Ice Age Trail and devoted two short paragraphs to the puzzle of why the Waupaca River is named “Tomorrow” on its upper half. In doing so, as I noted in a later column, I passed on some incorrect information regarding the meaning of the Menominee word “waupaca.”

The mistake did give me, however, a chance to visit with Mike Hoffman, a Menominee elder who is one of perhaps a dozen remaining fluent speakers of Menominee. We conversed over coffee in June to talk about the Waupaca, among other things.

Trying to get to that place  

The dual-named river is the result of a great deal of storytelling and misinformation. Incorrect or inaccurate interpretations of the name are published in multiple places, including the main web page of the Waupaca Historical Society (which notes that it is a Menominee word meaning “tomorrow” or “pale water”).

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