The Legend of the Lady Slipper

Many years ago, the Ojibwe tribe thrived in the forests of Northern Minnesota, close to the shore of the Great Lake. One harsh winter, a terrible fever struck the tribe. Many fell ill and the tribe leaders grew worried, wondering how they would find a cure. One day, word reached the tribe that there was a great and knowledgeable medicine woman in the tribe across the lake, who had found an herb that would break the fever. Unfortunately, the weather was frigid and the snow was many feet deep. The journey across the deemed impossible. However, one young woman, who’s mother and younger brother had taken ill came to the elders and volunteered to make the trek. They warned her against it, stating it was far too treacherous. But she insisted. 

Wrapped in furs and wearing moccasins on her feet, she set out into the daunting conditions. She walked for hours, freezing cold, until she at last arrived at the other tribe, just as the sun went down. The tribe took her in and warmed her by their fires. When she explained why she had come – to save her tribe, the medicine woman happily handed her herbs. They tribe asked her to stay the night and rest before returning home, but she insisted that she return that night, desperate to start healing those in her tribe. She set out once again, this time in the dead of night, into a raging storm that had started while she rested. As she walked, her moccasins fell off in the snow, but she did not want to take the time to stop and retrieve them. She continued on, the icy snow crystals cutting her feet. As she walked, she left a trail of bloody footprints in her wake. This journey back was much harder than her first and she grew weary, barely able to take another step. Just as the sun peaked over the horizon, she saw the wigwams of her tribe in the distance. She called out to her people, collapsing in the snow. They rushed to save her, carrying her inside, warming her and bandaging her torn feet. The tribe’s healer took the herbs from the girl and began to make a cure for those suffering from the fever.

Within a short time, the young girl died, but, because of her bravery, the rest of the tribe was saved. The next spring, when the snow had melted, her brother retraced her footsteps, searching for her lost moccasins, desperate for something to remember her by. Although he never found the shoes, in each place where the girl had left a bloody footprint sprouted a beautiful flower. Due to its unique shape, it was named the Ladyslipper.

My friend K told me this local legend. As a native Minnesotan, she has been heard Native American folklore since childhood. She recounts that she first heard this particular tale, “The Legend of the Ladyslipper,” when she was in third grade as a part of a school unit focusing on the history on Minnesota. The Ladyslipper is the official state flower, and this was a tale of how it came to be. K said she remembered this story in particular because she was impressed by the young woman’s bravery and dedication to her tribe and family.

For the definitive version of this legend, see The Legend of the Lady Slipper by Lise Lunge-Larsen