Many years ago, a young Chippewa warrior was wanted for murder. He was exiled from his tribe and took up residency in the surrounding forest. One day, a young Chippewa mother was walking in the forest, carrying her baby, when the man appeared. The woman began to run and he followed suit. As the woman ran, she realized that carrying her child was slowing her down. She stopped by bend in the river and placed her baby nearby so that she could escape, vowing to return for her child. Once she had successfully escaped the warrior, she returned for her child, but found that the baby was gone, swept away by the river.
She cursed the river, calling it “Thief’s River,” for it had stolen her child from her. She states that some even claim to hear the mother’s cries in the sound of the river and that there have been reports of hikers seeing a young Indian woman in the woods, walking along the river, in desperate search of her baby.
This story was related to me by my friend K, who has lived her entire life in Minnesota, where the Thief’s River is located. She and her family often go camping up near the river and have visited it many times. She remembers first learning the story when she stopped by the Visitor’s Center. One of the employees was giving a presentation on the Chippewa tribe and included this story as part of it. K likes the story, although she admits it is quite sad. I saw it as the ongoing hardship of motherhood, and how in nature survival of the fittest was a harsh reality for Native Americans back then. That’s why her ghost was reported near the river, because it would be a constant reminder for those alive not to do the same mistake she did.