The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons (§6 of the Redhorn Cycle)

The Text of Paul Radin

(132) One day, some people came into the village crying and carrying the clothes of dead people.1 It was the clothes of those who had been killed that they were carrying. They also carried a pipe and they directed it toward Red Horn's mouth. "All right," said he. So they all went to hunt for those who had killed them. They soon came back victors. Three times this happened. The fourth time the strangers came, some asked them why they didn't try to offer the pipe to the boys. So they did. They took the pipe to the older of the two brothers pointing it toward his mouth. He accepted it and said, "Ho!"

Then one of the boys said to Storms-as-he-walks, "Father, I wish to take my weapon along. You know they always take weapons along on the war path." — "Ho!" said he, "I promised it to you and I will go after it." Saying this, he rose and went to the home of the thunderbirds. When he got there, they refused to let him have it so he returned without it. Then the boy said, "I thought it was yours," so Storm-as-he-walks tried once more but again he failed. When he failed the third time the boy cried so, again, he tried, for the fourth time. This time his uncle2 said, "All right, I will take it down to the earth for you but you must have something ready in which to wrap it." Then Storms-as-he-walks returned and told the boy that it would be brought down and the boy was very thankful.

Soon it began to drizzle and rain and the thunderbirds came down with the weapon, took it to the center of the lodge and said, "Where is the weapon-case? Do you expect us to put this weapon on the ground?"3 The boy cried again.

Now it happened that, in former years, the two brothers used to play with a certain boy with whom they had established friendship.4 This boy happened to be present when the thunderbirds came down with their weapon. He was sitting in the lodge with his father at the time. He arose, threw his little blanket (133) aside, and said to the boy who was to receive the weapon, "Stop crying, my friend, you can use me as a case." "All right, it is good, my friend," he replied. So the boy went in the center of the lodge and laid down upon his stomach. Soon blood began to flow out of his mouth and he died. The thunderbirds then ate him up,5 and said, "Put his bones in a white deerskin." This they did. The thunderbirds thanked them and said, "Young men, you have done well, and with this weapon you will never fail in anything. The first time that you take it on a warpath, you can say, 'I am going after a whole family!' and you will not fail. The second time you can say that you are going after two families and you will not fail. The third time you can say that you are going after three families and it will be so. The fourth time you can say that you are going after a whole village and it will be so."6

Thus the thunderbirds spoke and the boys started for their home. They put the bones of the boy in their bundle. Then the latter said to their fathers, "When you went on the warpath you did not take us so we are not going to take anyone but boys of our own size along with us." Therefore only boys went along with them. On the way, they came across a drove of elk, of which they killed a great many. They roasted them and packed them away and, inflating two of the elk bladders, attached them to their belts. Then they went on again until they came to the end of the earth. They came to the place where the heaven was always striking against the earth. Every time the heaven hit the earth it would make a tremendous noise. At that place they filled their elk bladders with their followers and, taking out the bones of their friend, brought him to life again. With their elk bladders filled they waited until the sky rose again and went along. Then they emptied their elk bladders again.

They soon came to a village where the two chiefs7 were holy men,8 men whose bodies were made of iron.9 No one was able to kill them. They knew that Red Horn and his friends were also holy, yet these two, nevertheless, were practicing their powers killing people preparatory to meeting Red Horn. The boys, too, knew of their powers and that is why they had come here. Now Red Horn had been killing people in revenge for what these two had done, thinking that ordinary people were killing his own tribesmen. They did not know that these two holy ones were doing it.10

These holy people always knew when anyone was around. For that reason they knew that the boys were going to fight them and they said to each other, "They have come for us." The next morning the boys and their companions gave the war-whoop from all the four directions and rushed upon them.11 Very soon they caught one of the iron-body men and had him bound with irons.12 Very soon after they captured the other one and had him also bound with irons. They captured lots of other people and brought them home with them.

When they got to the place where the sky strikes the earth, they again inflated a bladder for their prisoners and one for their nephews or attendants.13 As soon as the sky rose again they went straight under it. When they reached the other side, they again emptied their elk bladders and went on. When they got to the place where they had stored the elks' meat, they made the prisoners pack this (134) with their bowstrings. When they finally got near their home they sent two of the boys ahead to prepare a stake around which to celebrate their victory.14

As they approached their home these two shouted this message. The people cried, "The messenger is coming!" "The sons of Red Horn had brought their friend back to life again. However he was the first one killed," so shouted the messenger. "And all the rest were also killed," they shouted. "Oh my! Oh my!" cried the people, "No wonder they were all killed, for they were nothing but mere boys."15 The father of the boy around whom they had wrapped the war-weapon when the thunderbirds had come down did not know what to do with himself for grief, filling his pipe nervously every now and then. However, in secret, of course, the messengers had told some one to prepare the victory pole. Soon the victory war-whoop was given. "Listen!" exclaimed the people. Then the warrior came marching around the village, with the boy that was supposed to be dead in the lead, for he was now a warrior. He was carrying the bundle as he led them.

For four days they danced and then the prisoners were forced to play with fire.16 When they came to the ones that had iron bodies they built a much larger fire around them and put them in it. It had been said that nothing could kill them yet when they were in this fire awhile they became red-hot and, finally, hung their heads down and died.a

Radin's Notes to the Text

1 This must be an old custom. It is quite unknown to present-day Winnebago.
2 Cf . similar episode in Hare cycle.
3 Warbundles are generally hung up in a special and protected place.
4 The most intimate and sacred of relationships between two men.
5 Cf. in this connection, Introduction pp. 42f.
6 These were the ideal blessings every warrior tries to get from the deities presiding over war, of whom the thunderbirds were certainly the most prominent.
7 Every Winnebago village had two chiefs, a chief of the upper and a chief of the lower phratry.
8 That is, they possessed the same powers holy men did. Theirs, however, were completely evil.
9 Not iron but copper is really meant here. Copper was at one time known to the Winnebago.
10 That is, they thought because they were known to have the powers of holy men that they were using these powers properly.

11 That is, in spite of these powers they could not foretell the precise moment that they were going to be attacked.
12 This is definitely not a Winnebago custom. Prisoners were however bound.
13 The sons of a man's sister had to act as his attendant on the warpath.
14 Cf. for this custom, Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, op. cit. 159f.
15 Cf. note 14. They know, of course, that they have not been killed.
16 Euphemistic term for torture.

Commentary. "a pipe" — when people came to ask a great favor, they would prepare a pipe for smoking, then turn the stem towards the person from whom they wished the favor.

"Red Horn's" — this is the one who looks just like his father, and who in fact, seems to be his father reincarnated.

"weapon" — this is not to be a weapon, strictly speaking, but a Warbundle, a packet containing sacred objects which have powers to favorably affect the outcome of battle, and so act in a way rather like a weapon. Nevertheless, a copy of the Thunderbird Warclub is always placed in the Thunderbird Warbundle, so it is probably to this weapon that reference is made, although the objective is to leave behind not a weapon, but a Warbundle.

"uncle" — the owner of the Thunderbird Warclub is Great Blackhawk, chief of the Thunders. This would make Storms as He Walks the nephew of the chief.

"laid down upon his stomach" — this probably symbolizes his membership in the Earth Moiety, as he is facing where he had come from.

"blood began to flow out of his mouth" — normally a Warbundle cover is made by a virgin having her first menses. This condition is mimicked by the boy's mouth being pointed downward with blood oozing out of it. The menstrual blood is a blood of death, since it appears to act as a spermicide, a notion arising from the fact that no one ever becomes pregnant while menstruating. Therefore, the blood that oozes from his mouth is coterminous with the boy's death in order that it be seen as menstrual-like, a blood of death in its own right.

"ate him up" — whenever the Thunders devour something, they burn it with their lightning. This is why only his bones survive, as they are the only part of his anatomy that is fire resistant.

"deerskin" — now the wrap is to be made of the standard deerskin rather than the boy's body. The remains of the boy's body are to constitute the efficacious contents of the Warbundle.

"they filled their elk bladders with their followers" — the two sons of Redhorn are chiefs over the Little Children Spirits who are just like the Heroka, lilliputian hunting spirits whose arrows never miss their mark. This explains why they will fit inside an elk bladder.

"iron" — by the XIXth century it had become known that meteor(ite)s were made in part of iron. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Iron Spirits who make war upon Redhorn are meteors, since they occasionally shoot through Orion, with one of whose stars (Alnilam) Redhorn is identical. Meteors are of both the Upper and Lower moieties, since they originate in the heavens, but some make it to the ground as meteorites, where they live ever after. So the Upper Moiety chief would rule over the meteors of the firmament, and the Lower Moiety chief would rule over the meteorites of the earth.

"for their prisoners" — this may reflect the fact that most meteorites found are small (being in fact fragments). Shooting stars are no bigger than stars, which are elsewhere said to fit nicely into a bundle.

"play with fire" — a species of tough humor describing the process of torturing someone with fire, then burning them alive.

Isomorphism. The repeating elements of this story can be tabulated.

1 2 3
The sons of Redhorn accept the pipe and organize a warparty   The Iron Spirits were planning a raid against Redhorn's people
Three times Storms as He Walks fails to persuade the Thunders to give up the weapon,   The warparty engages in fighting,
but the fourth time he brings it back.   but eventually captures the two Iron Spirits.
A boy volunteers to die that his body might become the weapon case   Iron Spirits know of the coming warparty but are captured anyway
The boy lies on his stomach, blood issues from his mouth, and he dies The sons of Redhorn bring their friend back to life The Iron Spirits were said to be invulnerable
The volunteer is devoured by the Thunderbirds   The Iron Spirits are captured, then burned
His bones are put inside a deerskin The followers are placed inside elk bladders The Iron Spirits are placed inside an elk bladder
The Warbundle gives the sons of Redhorn immense power   The Iron Spirits die even though they were said to be invulnerable
The Thunders return to their celestial abode The boys cross over to the other side of the sky The boys cross back over from the other side of the sky

Apparently the idea behind saying that the Iron Spirits had foreknowledge of the warparty coming against them but were captured anyway, is to show that they deliberately and voluntarily surrendered, just as the boy did for the sake of the two sons of Redhorn. Eating is homologous to capture, since when an enemy is killed or captured, he is said to have been "swallowed." So the devouring of the young volunteer is analogous to the capture of the Iron Spirits, who are thus "swallowed" by the sons of Redhorn. It may be noted that meteor often seem to be swallowed or captured by asterisms since they pass into them, then suddenly disappear (burn out). Both the swallowing by the Thunders and the captivity of the Iron Spirits involve the victims' incineration.

Comparative Material. In a Cherokee story about the two sons of Kanáti, who correspond to the Hočąk Twins, the following is said about the edge of the world: "He (Kanáti) soon got out of sight of the boys, but they kept on until they came to the end of the world, where the sun comes out. The sky was just coming down when they got there, but they waited until it went up again, and then they went through and climbed up on the other side."b In another story, men seek the place of the sun to see what it is like. "The young men traveled on until they came at last to the sunrise place where the sky reaches down to the ground. They found that the sky was an arch or vault of solid rock hung above the earth and was always swinging up and down, so that when it went up there was an open place like a door between the sky and ground, and when it swung back the door was shut. Sun came out of this door from the east and climbed along on the inside of the arch."c

These two Aztec stories are isomorphic to the basic structure of the Hočąk myth (for which see above). "Then those spirits, the Xiuhteteuctin [Fire Lords] hear him, and they go to get the woman, Itzpapalotl. Mimich leads the way. And when they get her, they burn her. And then they all shined forth: first, the blue flint shined. Second, the white flint shined. They took the white one and wrapped it up. Third, the yellow flint shined. They didn't take it, they just looked at it. Fourth, the red flint shined. And again they didn't take it. Fifth, the black flint shined. Again they didn't take it. But Mixcoatl made the white flint his spirit power, and when they had wrapped it up, he backpacked it."d The second story is a variant of the first. "And then they fell into the hands of Itzpapalotl, who ate the four hundred Mixcoa, finished them off. White Mixcoatl, called Mixcoatl the younger, was the only one who escaped, who ran away. He jumped inside a barrel cactus. And when Itzpapalotl seized the cactus, Mixcoatl rushed out and shot her, calling to the four hundred Mixcoa, who had died. They appeared. They shot her. And when she was dead, they burned her. Then they rubbed themselves with her ashes, blackening their eye sockets."e These ashes were also put into a Warbundle.

"they waited until the sky rose again" — this idea is widespread. Eliade says, "The sky is also conceived as a lid; sometimes it is not perfectly fitted to the edges of the earth, and then the great winds blow in through the crack. It is likewise through this narrow crack that heroes and other privileged beings can squirm to enter the sky."f He elaborates in a footnote: "P. Ehrenreich (Die allgemeine Mythologie und ihre ethnologischen Grundlagen, p. 205) remarks that this mythic-religious idea dominates the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. It is yet another expression of the widespread symbolism of ascent to the sky through a 'strait gate'; the aperture between the two cosmic planes widens for only a moment and the hero (or the initiate, the shaman, etc.) must take advantage of this paradoxical instant to enter the beyond."g

Links: Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Sons of Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, Turtle, Storms as He Walks, Bird Spirits, Giants, Iron Spirits.

Links within the Redhorn Cycle: §5 The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, §7 The Seduction of Redhorn's Son.

Stories: featuring the sons of Redhorn as characters: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, Redhorn's Father; mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn's Father, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Black Otter's Warpath, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; about Flint: Hare Kills Flint, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, Chief of the Heroka, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; featuring Iron Spirits as characters: How the Thunders Met the Nights, Šųgepaga, The Raccoon Coat, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; mentioning Warbundles: Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbird), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Thunderbird), The Warbundle of the Eight Generations (Thunderbird), Wanihéga Becomes a Sak’į (Thunderbird), Šųgepaga (Eagle), The Warbundle Maker (Eagle), The Masaxe War (Eagle?), Black Otter's Warpath (Bear?), The Blessing of a Bear Clansman (Bear), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo), Paint Medicine Origin Myth (Hit’énųk’e Paint), The Blessing of Kerexųsaka (Sauk), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store (Potawatomi), A Man's Revenge (enemy); mentioning bladders: Bladder, Bladder and His Brothers, The Birth of the Twins (turkey), The Two Boys (elk).

This waiką has a strong counterpart in the worak Šųgepaga.

Themes: certain beings are thought to be invulnerable (but may not be): The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Great Walker's Warpath, Partridge's Older Brother; hypnotic commands issued at a distance: The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, Brave Man; otherworld journeys inside an animal skin sack: How the Thunders Met the Nights, cf. Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; because the spirits make clear that it is a necessity, a man volunteers to die: Redhorn's Sons, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, The Phantom Woman; a great spirit's human friend sacrifices his life for him only to be revived later: Redhorn's Sons, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow; the Thunders seek to eat a human being: Bluehorn's Nephews, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds; a person is killed so that his skin can be used to make a sacred bundle: The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle; a man injured by the Thunderbirds regenerates (in four days): Waruǧabᵉra, Redhorn's Sons, Bluehorn's Nephews; someone volunteers to offer himself to a spirit: Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbirds), The Seer (Waterspirit); a warleader is given two very holy men by the spirits, and in spite of their powers, these men have no idea that they are being approached by a warparty: White Thunder's Warpath; a warparty attacks evil spirits whose bodies are made of iron: Šųgepaga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; making the enemy "play with fire": The Fox-Hočąk War, Redhorn's Sons, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Bird Clan Origin Myth.


a Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 132-134.
b "Kanáti and Selu: The Origin of Game and Corn," in James Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (Asheville, North Carolina: Bright Mountain Books, 1992 [1891/1900]) Story 3, p. 247.
c "The Journey to the Sunrise," in Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, Story 7, p. 256.
d Leyenda de los Soles, 80:7-80:16 (Bierhorst).
e Annals of Cuauhtitlan, 1:17-1:20 (Bierhorst).
f Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Bollingen Series LXXVI (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964 [1951]) 260.
g Eliade, Shamanism, 260 nt. 5.