Wapsi Willie- a Children’s rhyme – circa 1984
Listen to this tale young child, listen well
It may save you from death’s bell.
The woods cannot hide you dear, you cannot run
The beast of the water is never done.
Stay away from this ancient river, even in the day
Evil walks the shores, just to take you away.
If you don’t heed this warning, there is little chance
To survive the Pale Face’s dance
Beware the blackest night, and when your spine goes chilly
Cos’ you’re in the lair of Wapsi Willie.
The Wapsipinicon river (The initial vowel rhymes with "pop") runs through northeastern Iowa. Most people from this area have heard variations of the Wapsi Willie legend.
In the fall of 1983, thirteen young children and teens were reported missing from river towns stretching the 300 mile length of the “Wapsi”. Eight were taken from the shores of the river during a camping trip near the small town of Wheatland. Determined to locate their missing children, local police led a massive search of the nearby woods lining the river.
It took only two days of searching before the remains of the missing children were found. Burned on pyre’s with various religious symbols carved into surrounding trees, it was determined the children were taken to be sacrificed. During a search for more clues, a branding was found on another tree. It was the face of a man with black eyes, a slight smile, and unkempt hair. Experts were unable to find connections to any major or fringe religious artwork or beliefs. This final discovery was kept from the public.
In the months that followed, over 30 people, now including adults, were reported missing in eastern Iowa. All of them were last seen near the Wapsi. Reports slowly trickled in of people seeing a man with a pale face and black eyes standing on the shore staring up at cars crossing bridges along the river. Despite the public being unaware of the face burned into the tree, the descriptions they reported were surprisingly accurate.
Finally, a Deputy Sheriff of Cedar County witnessed the figure dragging a limp body into the river while he was investigating an unrelated incident. He engaged the figure, firing off several shots from his firearm. The figure was absorbed into the waters, never to be found. The disappearances of children stopped, and the campfire stories began. Was it a madman? Was it a demon summoned from the sacrifice of the missing children? The legend of Wapsi Willie was born. The unassuming name was given to the figure in hopes to give the stories and rhymes a silliness quality. I find the opposite is true. Wapsi Willie is a truly frightening name. Occasionally a sighting of the figure is reported. Mostly from local boyscout troops or drunk fishermen. Many local Iowans, including myself are in fear, in awful fear that the story isn’t over. And next time there may be no escape.