Spirit Of The Lake: Wayzata’s Native American History

Wayzata and the Lake Minnetonka area is rich with Native American history. But the wealth of historical documentation available about the Wayzata Depot or the businesses along Lake Street, for instance, is not available to help tell the story of the American Indians who inhabited this area.

Spirit Knob, Breezy Point in the background. The Maurer House, in Wayzata, in the foreground. Courtesy Wayzata Historical Society


Oftentimes, any written record is told from the settlers’ viewpoint. And in so many cases, the history of Native Americans is an oral history. It is not printed in a book, but rather a collection of stories passed down from generation to generation. But the history is there – you just have to dig a little deeper.


Spirit Knob, Breezy Point, 1868. Courtesy Wayzata Historical Society.


The name Wayzata is derived from Native Americans. Native American Mythology A to Z describes Waziya as a giant who guarded the entrance to the place of the Aurora Borealis. LAKOTA Belief and Ritual simply describes Waziya as the North Wind. The Dictionary of Dakota Language published in 1852 defines the word Waziyata as north.

Lake Minnetonka was a special place for those who inhabited the area before our country pushed west. The Mdewakanton Dakota, a division of the Great Sioux Nation, coveted the lake for its abundance of fishing and hunting. The Dakota inhabited the area for thousands of years, according to the Historical and Architectural Resources of Wayzata, Minnesota published in 2003. 

The earliest recorded exploration by European Americans of Lake Minnetonka was in 1822 when two 14-year-old boys canoed up Minnehaha Creek to what is now known as Gray’s Bay.

The 2003 study reports that between the 1850s and 1960s several earthworks were discovered around Lake Minnetonka. The Wayzata Mounds is one of them. If you visited the Wayzata library or city hall, you were standing on one of these earthworks. These were essentially Native American cemeteries. There is a reason one of the cross streets located on the downslope of this hill is called Indian Mound Street.

In the mid-1850s, Oscar E. Garrison, Wayzata’s founding father, noted the Wayzata Mounds and sent word to the state geological and natural history survey at the University of Minnesota. The land was mapped in 1887 and a detailed description of the site was published in 1911 by N.H. Winchell in The Aborigines of Minnesota.

As recently as 2014, bone fragments were pulled from burial mounds during road construction of Bushaway Road just south of Gray’s Bay. The Hennepin County project was halted until the remains could be collected and the mounds could be properly restored. A proposed roundabout was ditched to preserve the land.

Perhaps more striking evidence of Native Americans history can be seen from downtown Wayzata. Just south and a bit west where Wayzata Bay opens to the rest of the lake is Spirit Knob – a slender finger of land reaching out into the lake. Like many things, this piece of land looks different than it would have before white settlers inhabited the lake area. Spirit Knob stood higher above the water then. There are various theories on what Spirit Knob meant to the Dakota who inhabited the land thousands of years ago. We know that it was a sacred place.

There are countless places around Lake Minnetonka where one can reflect on what life was like hundreds of years ago; all you need a little historical context and a bit of imagination.
One of the benches on the edge of a grassy area on the south side of the Wayzata Library is one of them. From this hallowed hill you can see Spirit Knob reaching out into the lake. And this time of year, the winds will switch – blowing in cool from the north – rustling the leaves painted in myriad fall colors. Perhaps whispers of those who walked before us.

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