Manitou Stones in Wisconsin
by Herman E. Bender
Mid-America Geographic Foundation, Inc.
February, 2000

Manitou or 'spirit' stones were once common.  Three to four basic shapes or styles were prevalent, red rocks and decorative pigment were preferred and
sizes varied.   Hilltops and other significant places considered important were favored locations for Manitous.  On the cultural landscape, the stones
together with their physical setting were considered sacred.  Physically, both the hills and Manitou stones were (are) generally associated with water, i.e.
springs, rapids and water falls, creeks, straits, river bends and drainage divides.  Association with springs seems to have been most common.  There is
also a definite trail (prehistoric footpath) association, and the places venerated by the presence of Manitou(s) may have functioned as part of a broad
'trail-shrine' network, identifying 'place' itself in both a spiritual and geographic context.  Some Manitous can be dated back many millennia.  Historically,
early French explorers, Jesuit priests and the later missionaries frequently mentioned them as did Henry Rowe Schoolcraft during his travels in the upper
Midwest in the early 19th century.  Once the target of destruction by many missionaries, a surprising number have survived, discovered  where originally
erected.   Lithic Bison effigies and other distinctive shapes including rock outcrop resembling human and animal profile styles can be considered as part
of the phenomena.  

Geologically, rocks can be classified in a variety of ways.  A geologist will look at a rock and determine whether it is igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary;
note its color, mineralogy, grain shape and size, texture, fracture, inclusions; if transported by nature and how or a number of other distinguishing
characteristics in order to classify it.  But, while hiking or exploring, maybe you have noticed a rock outcrop or glacial erratic (boulder) that seems to 'jump
out' at you as being 'different ' or 'special'.  A rock, which by its color, unique setting, lighting or some other attribute calls attention to a certain undefined
quality; namely 'presence' (Steinbring 1992:107).  If so, you are not alone.

The Algonquin speaking people (e.g. Chippewa, Menominee, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Sauk and Fox, Miami) of North America's eastern woodlands had a
name or word for 'presence' or supernatural power, saying rocks could possess "Manitou" (Kinietz 1965: 285; Parkman 1983: v.1: 385-86, 393; Waldman
1985:57).  The Iroquois, one tribe being the Oneida or "people of the stone", described it as having "Orenda"; the local individual rocks being "Okies" or
"Otkons" (Parkman 1983: v.1: 386).  There is an ancient, documented tradition amongst the Sioux or Lakota (who originated in the upper Midwest) of  
'sacred boulders' with many places or locations identified solely by their association to a particular rock or boulder (Pond 1986:87, 89; Riggs 1883:149).  
To the Sioux, these rocks were imbued with "wakan".  As the Winnebago, now called by their own name Ho-Chunk, speak a Siouan dialect (Waldman
1985:68), their word and recognition for 'presence' were probably much the same.
Nowadays, inspired by a new awareness of existence even after a century of forgotten purpose, many of the 'sacred' stones or boulders are being
rediscovered.  Some are found sitting where first venerated, some have been moved.  But a certain 'quality' remains as they still retain the 'power' vested
in them centuries, if not millennia ago.  The most common word or term used to describe the 'quality' of these rocks, here (in Wisconsin), because of the
predominance of the Algonquin languages, is "Manitou".  Variations of the word have survived in a number of place names sprinkled on the Wisconsin
map: Manitou Island, Manitowish, Manitowish Waters, Manitowoc and Manitowoc Rapids (Gard & Sorden 1988:164).  The English translation of  'Manitou'
is simple: spirit (Vogel 1991:101).  The actual meaning, however, can be far more complex.

It is the 17th century Jesuit missionaries to whom we owe our knowledge of  'Manitou' in general and the individual stones in particular.  Father Jean de
Brebouf commented in about 1636 that "[the Indians] recognize God in created things ... in particular, the earth, rivers, rocks, and above all, the sky ...
[all] considered to be inhabited by ...
Oki" or Manitou (Kinietz 1965:123).  Father Francois DuCreux  noted, at about the same time as Brebouf, that both the words 'manitou' and 'okki' were
applied to good and/or evil spirits.  He further stated that unusual objects with unusual shapes in unusual settings were perceived to have supernatural
power (Mavor & Dix 1989:141).  The power of an 'unusual setting' was apparent to Fathers Allouez and Dablon who, in the year 1670, cast a Manitou
stone found at the Grand Chute, now Appleton, into the Fox River.  Two years later, Father Allouez found another Manitou stone at Rapide Croche, five
miles 'below' Kaukauna.  This was also rolled into the stream (Lawson 1907:135).  These two Manitou stones had 'stood guard' at both ends of the rapids
on the lower Fox River, an obvious veneration to the water falls and rapids.

In retrospect, the Jesuit fathers were only carrying out what they thought was God's work.  The tradition of the (Catholic) church to purge the countryside
of  'pagan' relics was ancient, even by the Jesuit Order or church standards.  It can be traced all the way back to the Holy Bible where it says in
Deuteronomy 12: 2&3  that "Ye shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations ... served their gods, upon the high mountains ... and hills ...
overthrow their altars and destroy the graven images (i.e. sacred stones) of their gods ..."  During the 8th century A.D., this tradition was again in
evidence as a Papal decree brought to Ireland by the Catholic missionaries who were to "sanctify the pagan hilltops" and also urged to build churches
wherever they found 'standing stones' (Sharp 1989:50,122).  Nine centuries later, this mindset would be zealously transported to the New World by the
Jesuit Order.

From the numerous descriptions of Native American people and customs recorded in the Jesuit Relations, there is little doubt that distinct Manitou stones
were a commonly recognized icon which called attention to certain places; places of spiritual importance to the Native Americans and recognized as such
by the Jesuit priests.   Ongoing research  indicates that Manitou stones were intentionally placed on hills or other high points associated with water; and
not only water falls and rapids, but also springs, river headwaters, river bends, creeks, marshes and drainage divides.  Springs, however, seem to have
been the most important.  There is also a trail or footpath association, an especially important aspect as the prehistoric trails once connected the
numerous springs flowing at the base of the hills (Steinbring 1997:24).  Springs venerated by Manitou stones located along trails were obviously sacred
and utilized as 'trail shrines' (Schaafsma 1980:45,98).  Portages around water falls and rapids were also part of the trail network and, therefore, logical
places to also find Manitou stones venerating the setting.  A Manitou rock can still be found near Grand Father (Bull) Falls along the west side of  the
Wisconsin River in Lincoln County , the site of an old portage route as reported by Hiram Calkins in 1855  (Brown 1908:167).  This particular rock outcrop
has 'projection' in addition to 'sound' emitted from water flowing (underground) through a split or fracture in the rock (Figures 1a&b).  The projection, split
and sound are 'phenomenal attributes' (Steinbring 1992) considered highly 'mysterious' and would be purpose enough for Grand Father (Bull) Falls to
have been venerated as a place of 'Manitou'.  Thus, Manitou stones (which exhibited phenomenal attributes) together with scenic vistas viewed from the
hilltops and prominences, all connected at one time by sight and a network of trail shrines, helped to define the Native American concept of an integrated
'sacred landscape'
(Steinbring et al 1995).        

Years of historical and field research suggest that Manitou stones can generally be classified by three or four basic shapes, preferably one derived from
a natural rock.  If the Manitou rock was intentionally altered to the desired shape, there was only a minimal amount of actual working of the stone, always
just enough to suggest the shape or effigy.  It appears that extensive workmanship would almost have been sacrilegious (Schoolcraft 1834:291-92).   
Most often, a rock was selected which already had, through natural processes, the desired shape.  Jack Steinbring, formerly at the University of Winnipeg
and now living in Ripon, calls this "iconic congruence" (personal communication).  Color, too, was apparently of great importance with red-colored rocks
being favored (Lawson 1907:135; Walker 1991:197-98).   Many times the rocks were painted (primarily with red pigment) to achieve the proper color
which was likely of spiritual importance (Lynd 1889:168-70; Schoolcraft 1834:291).

One shape encountered many times is triangular or conical (Figure 2).  William Pidgeon (1858:180), while traveling through what is now Wisconsin in the
1830's, described a place he called "Paint Creek" on the Mississippi River 9 miles north of Prairie du Chien where there was "a large rock upon which
many singular paintings have been executed".  Thirty (30) miles from Paint Creek was another he called Paint Rock which "presents a pyramidal form,
standing 5 feet above the surface of the earth, gradually tapering from the ground upward ... covered with painted ... figures of various kinds."   
Sometimes, these conical or pyramidal uprights suggest the shape of someone wearing a blanket over their head and shoulders (Figure 3), the outline or
shape for a spirit or apparition to those wearing a bedsheet costume on Halloween night dressed as a ghost!

A second shape often described is the human bust or effigy type.  The two Manitou stones thrown into the Fox River by Fathers Allouez and Dablon were
human-like in appearance (Parkman 1983: v.1:751), the rocks certainly selected because of their resemblance to a human profile. Both had been
painted.  Of interest, a human bust type Manitou like the ones described by Allouez and Dablon once stood near Detroit.  A Jesuit priest said it was "a
large stone, somewhat suggestive of the human figure, which the Indians [have] daubed with paint, and which they worship as a manito" (Parkman 1983:
739).  In about 1670, it was broken into pieces by Jesuit priests and some of LaSalle's men, then carried into the middle of the river in canoes and thrown
in.   The association of the bust-shaped Manitous with rapids and the strait (which Detroit means in French) is an important one, once meant to convey
both spiritual and geographic information to anyone passing on a journey.

A variant of the bust shape is what Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1834:291-92) called  "Shin-ga-ba-wos-sins" or "image stones" .  On his frequent trips into the
Michigan and Wisconsin Territories during the 1820's and 1830's, Schoolcraft recorded copious amounts of geographical and ethnic information.  Married
to a Chippewa woman, he was privy to information usually not shared with others.  Schoolcraft  wrote that the "image stones" or "Manitoes" were of
"shapes resembling the trunks of human bodies, or other organic forms" , the image aided "by dots or dabs of paint, to denote eyes and other features ...
or rings of red ochre around their circumference ..."   Increase Lapham, who extensively traveled and wrote about antiquities in the Wisconsin Territory,
then became the first official state geologist and later founded the U.S. Weather Bureau,  described a boulder (of red gneiss or granite) located near
Hustiford in Dodge County which, bearing a resemblance to a bird, the Winnebago held "in great veneration" (Lawson 1907:135).
A similar rock was given to the State History Society about 150 years ago.  It was "a stone manitou or spirit rock"  of an uncertain "animal shape", also the
"object of Indian worship and regard".  Described as "a foot and half long", it was "formerly located on the old Indian war trail on the west shore of Lake
Winnebago" (Ibid).  It should be mentioned that numerous bison or buffalo effigy rocks have recently been discovered in southeastern Wisconsin, all
associated with prominence or vistas and exhibiting "iconic congruence" (Bender 1997).

The image stones described by Schoolcraft differed in size.  He commented that "If the image be small, it is generally taken with him and secreted in the
neighborhood of his lodge.  If large and too heavy for this purpose, it is set up on the shore ..."  (Schoolcraft 1834:292).  These small stones, "secreted"
away, can be looked upon and classified as portable manitous (Figure 4).  In a 1796 report on Christian missions, Jeremy Belknap and Jedidiah Morse
(1955:9-10) remarked that the "ONEIDA STONE" was the source of the Oneida name signifying "the upright stone" and that "it follows the nation in their
removals."   The stone was "of rude unwrought shape rather inclining to cylindrical, and more than an hundred pounds weight."  Furthermore, Morse said
it was not local rock and the Oneida did not know where it came from or when.  Three copper Manitous have been discovered in southern Wisconsin and
can probably be considered 'portable'.  All three are worked, triangular in shape and were apparently associated with high hills or prominence as
venerations.  About 1660, Father Allouez stated that pieces of copper were kept as "so many divinities" (Kinietz 1965:285).  The Chippewa regarded
copper as "something highly mysterious" which was "raised to the dignity of idols" (Kohl 1985:61), indicating it contained 'Manitou'.

Not so much a shape but of spiritual importance and recognized as Manitous are the individual boulders which exhibit unique attributes regarded as
sacred through ritual, tradition or landscape associations (Figures 5a&b).   A number of these were described in early Wisconsin Archeological  Society
publications almost a century ago (Brown 1908: 165-68).  By no means exhaustive, the list of descriptions included:  the Pipe of the Manitou which stood
on a ridge 200 feet high at the head of Lake Chetac; the War Stone or Wheel of War on an island in Lake Chetac; the Rain Stone on the "southern edge
of the Court Oreilles reservation"; Medicine Rock in Lac du Flambeau between the old cemetery and Strawberry Island (Figure 6); the Crawling Stone in
Crawling Stone Lake on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation: the Menominee Manitou Rock, better known as Spirit Rock, located on the Menominee
Reservation; and the "spirit stone on the west side of the Wisconsin River near Grand Father (Bull) Falls in Lincoln County."  Interestingly, the early report
went on to say that the Manitou stones were once located along trails and canoe routes, in the vicinity of villages, were frequently painted in bright colors,
and were venerated with offerings.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise when, a few years after these remarks were recorded  (Brown 1914:41), a
report on the St. Croix Road Spirit Rock said it was a "Large granite rock ... in use by the Chippewa Indians as a spirit stone."  The rock was "about five
feet high and five feet thick [where] it stood alone on the east side of the St. Croix River ..."   And, according to the 1914 Wisconsin Archeologist report,
"The Indian trail passed this rock.  In passing it the Chippewa often left ... offerings of tobacco ... or other articles ..."  There can be little doubt it was an
important trail shrine.

Once numerous before white settlement, what became of the Manitou stones?  Most, no doubt, were either destroyed by early missionaries,
abandonment through conversion to Christianity and later, agricultural land clearing, eventually being removed from where they had stood for
generations and dumped on to stone fence rows.  There is even evidence that some may have been intentionally 'tipped' in a deliberate attempt to
disguise their use.  Yet, as late as 1880, gifts or offerings were still being left on the St. Croix Road Manitou stone (Brown 1914: 41).  So, the next time
you encounter a rock which seems to 'speak to you', consider that it may be telling an ancient story of guardian spirits, a shrine visited on a long journey
or some other event now forgotten, an event perceived to have empowered the rock and the surrounding landscape with 'Manitou'.  Then think back on
what Florimond J. Bonduel, Missionary to the Wisconsin Territory said when he described how "[the Indians] religiously deposited [offerings] on large,
strange looking stones which, by their shape, are looked upon as divinities and upon which they perform their functions" (Rosholt & Gehl 1976:217).   
And, be sure to bring "an offering of  tobacco, or something else of less value, [which] may be made to it, or rather through it, to the [Manitou] spirit"
(Schoolcraft 1834:292).

Exploring the Mysteries
Manitour Stones - Sacred Stones -
Sacred Sites of Wisconsin
Mary Sutherland
Probably meant as Staff and
Serpent used as symbols in Egypt
New Kingdom
Calendar symbols on stone at Har
Karkom Negew. Scorpio, Lizard
and Serpent were in use from 4th
millennium to late 2nd. They have
listed around 40000 rock-carvings
Altar or oathstone
Many of the rock-carvings or part
of rock-carvings could be seen as
an altarstone. They are connected
with a holy place and can be found
on high places and noble graves.
In the Indian ritual they started the
seasons with fire rituals which may
explain why many of the mounds of
stones I have been finding seemed to
have been charred (Mary Sutherland)
Many sites marked by stone-
works are known as “dancing
places.  Dance would be one part
of large intertribal events recorded
in the earliest writings. Many a â
€œmajor stoneâ€� also bears
the image of one or more of the
animals most important to
Natives  ie. deer, black bear,
serpent .
Bear - closeup
Snake Head
"Manitou or spirit stones were once
common," wrote Herman E. Bender of the
Mid-America Geographic Foundation, Inc.
in 'Manitou Stones in Wisconsin'  "The
stones together with their physical setting
were considered sacred."

The Alqonquin speaking people (e.g.
Chippewa, Menominee, Potawatomi,
Ottawa, Sauk and Fox and Miami) of North
America's eastern woodlands had a name
or word for 'presence' or supernatural
power...(the stones) possess 'Manitou' "
Bender wrote. "A certain quality remains as
they still retain the power vested in them."
Excerpt from 'The Week' Walworth County
In the area where we were finding
the Manitou Stones, I just recently
discovered a sacred circle from
some aerial photos of the area.  
The lines you see on the outside
are roads going to and from the

Dr. Bruce Cornet
Open cult places were bibilically built on "high places"  - ("...On every high hill and under every spreading tree" -I Kings 14:23). On the ridge's summit a CIRCLE OF LARGE STONES was laid, some 20m in diameter; the
empty center of the circle was perhaps reserved for a sacred tree. Usually on  the circle's eastern side, a large stone (standing stone) was placed. Statuettes of bulls are sometimes found in these sacred places, The
bull is the symbol of Baal and are found throughout the Canaanite culture.
Mary Sutherland is the author of the following books
  • Living in the Light: Believe in the Magic
  • Mysteries: Exploring the Mysteries of Burlington and Southeastern Wisconsin
  • Revelations: Truths Revealed
  • In Search of Ancient Man: Lost in Time
  • The Red Haired Giants
  • Haunted Burlington Wisconsin

Check Out Books Written by Mary Sutherland  She is also the creator of
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Mary Sutherland is an author and researcher focusing her work
on consciousness studies, ancient history and unusual
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world, underground tunnels and cave systems, dimensional
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commissioned her as a ‘Kentucky Colonel” for her work on the
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exploring, mapping and documenting the ancient underwater
structures of Rock Lake – near Aztalan. For the last fourteen
years she has been documenting the ancient sites around
Burlington, WI. Truth is her passion. She believes it is through
truth that we will break ourselves free of our present
entanglements in life. When we become free, we will create our
own ‘personal story’ of the ‘hero’s journey’ suggested by Joseph

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“There are rare persons in this world who see things others
don’t; persons who connect the dots of existence and
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Ancient American Magazine from 1993 to 2007 and has
traveled the world collecting research materials for his
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"Mary Sutherland is not simply a reporter of all these phenomena;
she lives them! As readers expect, her studies extend beyond her
own experiences. The author and investigator often takes visitors
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anomalous phenomena."
What differentiates her book. Haunted Burlington Wisconsin , is that
Sutherland includes her explanations of the unknown realms and
phenomena with tips for heightening the reader's own psychic
awareness. Readers who complete this dizzying journey may find
they can no longer look at Burlington in exactly the same way.
Perhaps, then, this book itself may be considered a vortex. and
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certainly draw you in."
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and places. She has been featured guest on dozens of nation TV
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