Legend of Miniwashitu: Missouri River Monster

The pseudo-scientific field of cryptozoology deals with theories of creatures unknown to science, many of which have their origins in Native American lore. Stories of Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, and the Wendigo in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region, originated with native people. Even North Dakota has a mysterious but little-known monster.

A legend of the Dakota nation tells the story of Miniwashitu; a Missouri River monster of terrifying appearance and effect.  Author Melvin Randolph Gilmore, one-time curator for the North Dakota State Historical Society, wrote about Miniwashitu in 1921.

It is said that in the long ago there was a mysterious being within the stream of the Missouri River. It was seldom seen by human beings, and was most dreadful to see. It is said that sometimes it was seen within the water in the middle of the stream, causing a redness shining like the redness of fire as it passed up the stream against the current with a terrific roaring sound.


And they say that if this dreadful being was seen by anyone in the daytime anyone who thus saw it soon after became crazy and continued restless and writhing as though in pain until he was relieved by death. And it is said that one time not a very great many years ago this frightful being was seen by a man, and he told how it appeared. He said that it was of strange form and covered all over with hair like a buffalo, but red in color; that it had only one eye in the middle of its forehead, and above that a single horn. Its backbone stood out notched and jagged like an enormous saw. As soon as the man beheld the awful sight everything became dark to him, he said. He was just able to reach home, but he lost his reason and soon after that he died.

It is said this mysterious “Miniwashitu” (water monster) still lives in the Missouri River, and that in springtime, as it moves up-stream against the current it breaks up the ice of the river. This water monster was held in awe and dread by the people.

It’s not hard to imagine the dread people felt considering the horror of the legend–a red, hairy serpent of the Missouri River, with one eye, a horn, and sharp spines along its back. Its appearance was accompanied by a terrifying roar, and it imparted blindness and insanity on anyone who saw it. Death followed soon after.

Come spring, perhaps it’s best to avert your eyes from the Missouri River, and avoid the terrible visage of the Miniwashitu.

Original content copyright © 2015 Sonic Tremor Media

6 thoughts on “Legend of Miniwashitu: Missouri River Monster

      1. From what I understand, one night many moons ago, two groups of Native Americans – one Sioux and one Chippewa (both mortal enemies back then) set out onto the lake to pull off a sneak attack on each other’s camps. They crossed paths in the middle of the lake and a battle got underway, only for SOMETHING to come out of the water and attack both groups, and supposedly it was a long time before either band would dare to go out on the lake afterwards.

        It should also be noted that the lake actually almost dried out by 1940 – the level reportedly bottomed out at 1400.9′ amsl that year before it started coming back up. So if there ever WAS such a critter in the lake, I’d question whether it could have survived that drop in the elevation.


  1. My grandfather told be about Miniwashitu. He said it lives in Lake Sakakawea now because it was trapped there when they built the Garrison Dam. He also said the part of the legend that most people don’t pay attention to is, if you see it in daylight, it can drive you crazy and kill you, but not if you see it at night. Supposedly, you can see it in the early evening, just after sundown, up until midnight, and it gives off a faint red glow under the water.


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