From the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington, a faint outline of a small, craggy rock formation is visible, nestled between Juniper Island and Shelburne Point. Its name is Rock Dunder and despite being a tiny blip on the Lake Champlain skyline, it has a deep significance in Abenaki mythology.
State archeologist Jess Robinson is very familiar with the rich history behind this small but important rock. “Rock Dunder has sort of an unfortunate name with really wonderful and sacred history to the Native Americans,” says Robinson. He explains that the rock is recognized as a historic place by the state register.
Although many know it as Rock Dunder, Robinson says that archeologists, anthropologists and the Abenaki refer to it as Oodzee-hozo.
“Oodzee-hozo was not ‘the’ creator, but an ancient being that was known to have had very short legs and long arms. He made the hills and the mountains around here by forming them with his hands,” Robinson says. Legend has it, Oodzee-hozo’s legs were so short, he dragged himself around by his arms and these drag marks created the rivers and the valleys.
“After this was done, he was both tired and proud of his accomplishments, so the last thing he did was create Lake Champlain and transform himself into Rock Dunder, also known as Oodzee-hozo, so that he could admire his creation,” Robinson explains.
For hundreds of years, the Abenaki would go and offer pipes and tobacco to Oodzee-hozo. “It was thought that you if you allowed Oodzee-hozo to smoke, he would be calm and the winds would be calm for safe voyages across and up and down the lake,” says Robinson.
As for where the name “Rock Dunder” originated, Robinson says this story is more dubious. He checked in with Eric Tichonuk from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum on its history. “Tichonuk suggested that its name came from the battle of Valcour during the Revolutionary War,” Robinson says. “The Americans were blockaded, but after a long day of fighting, the British packed it in for the night, believing that the Americans would be trapped behind the blockade and they could finish them up in the morning.”
But during the night, the Americans snuck out of the blockade and managed to flee south. “That much is true and recorded,” Robinson explains. “The legend goes that when the British realized that the Americans had escaped and fled south, they fled after them and … in the morning fog, they fired on Rock Dunder, believing it to be a vessel. And only later, when the fog cleared, did they realize their mistake.”
Although this story can’t be confirmed or denied, the name has persisted. And Robinson says that many common histories of Lake Champlain continue to print the account without verification.
Regardless of its history, Robinson sees Rock Dunder, or Oodzee-hozo, as “a picture of western Vermont and Burlington’s everyday landscape.”