The Boy who would be Immortal

Original Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

Revised Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

A man had only one child. His father said, "Fast, as you are living alone and have none to hope from; only if one of the spirits that are bless you will you have any hope." Thus he said. After he said it to him, thus he did. He fasted. "My son, you have fasted for a long time, by now it is that you must know something, so about now it would be best if you stopped." "Father, you speak everything right, but still I like it" "And what have you dreamt of?" "What you have told me to fast for, and so I have dreamt of killing animals at will and thus I am taught. And again with life, as long as it is, that long, from one end to the other, they have blessed me with, I am told. And again they came after me to tell me something. To the clouds above in a doctor's lodge, and above there they took me. A person near death I could make alive, with this they blessed me. I was told to end anymore fasting, but still I kept on. Again from below they came after me. From below a Creation Lodge, there they came after me. Thus I am told. They blessed me with all of life. As many as there are that the Creator put in charge of life (created things), all of them blessed me. 'And so you should make an end to fasting,' they told me. That I would not die, this is the kind of thing that I longed for, and so I am doing this, father, so let me continue on. If I am blessed with this, then will I stop."

He did not stop fasting. "Human, in order to end that much fasting, life, as long as anyone should live, he gave to you. Life to its fullest extent you can live as you please, this kind of good is given to you." "But not to die, this is the sort of thing that I desire," he said. They could not persuade him. Only if he would never die would he be satisfied. They were unable to persuade him. He dreaded very much to die. They talked, they counseled the matter over. "That's all, he must die," they said. And so he was fasting. There when they looked, he was dead. To his father they said, "What we said to him, that will be for you; don't think anything of it and place him away," they said. And so he dug a grave. There he buried him.

"My son, how is he? How is my son doing there?" he thought. And they had told him that they were unable to persuade him. The various spirits therefore for this reason had done it to him. "You will know, so don't think anything of it," they told him. There at the head of where he buried him, there at the head there, there a tree had come up. This was he. Only the tree could last that long. And so thus they did to him. His father knew it. Thus he knew. He was happy. The father lived very well. In this way they informed the father that they had taken him away never to return him. In this way they informed him. This is why fasting usually stops soon. This is what they say.

That's all.1

Comparative Material. The Micmacs have a similar story. Four men set out looking for the spirit home of Glooscap. Eventually they found him, and each asked him for a boon. The first three asked for blessings that would improve their characters, but the fourth asked to be able to live a very long time. He granted the wishes of the first three, but said to the fourth, "This may be very difficult." He placed his hands upon the man, and soon he turned into a gnarled cedar tree. "Now," said Glooscap, "I don't know how long you will live, but I am confident that it will be a very, very long time."2

The theme of asking for immortality and receiving it through metamorphosis is found also among the Siouan Assiniboine:

Four Cree set out to visit Sitcóⁿski. They hear his drum nearby, but fail to reach him for several days. When they arrive at their destination, one of them asks for eternal life, another for Sitcóⁿski's daughter, the remaining two for medicines. The first man is transformed into stone.3

They believe that only rocks are forever.

This is also the form that the story takes among the neighboring Menominee. Hare (Manabush) came to a man in a fasting dream. He called together his six friends and they set out for the east where the Spiritland of Hare was to be found. They crossed the Great Waters until they reached the land of Manabush. Soon they came upon his lodge. When they went in, Hare asked them what they wished from him. The six friends asked for hunting medicine so that they could feed themselves well. However, the dreamer told Hare that he wished for immortality. Hare took him up and placed him down at his sleeping spot and told him, "You shall be a stone, for only rocks are everlasting." Thus the others returned without him; but it is from them that we know about the Spiritland of Manabush.4

The Potawatomi, who neighbored the Hočągara, also substituted a stone for a tree in their version of this tale. "Indian Spirit Stone — this is located on the historical library grounds [of the University of Wisconsin, Madison], at the corner of State and North Park Streets. The Potawatomi, who have long used it as a shrine, say that it is an Indian who asked Mä́napus for the gift of everlasting life and was by him turned into a stone in punishment of his greed."5

Links: Tree Spirits, Earthmaker.

Stories: about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Seer, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Black Otter's Warpath, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; mentioning Creation Lodges (Wogųzočíra): The Creation Council, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, The Descent of the Drum, The Four Steps of the Cougar, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, East Shakes the Messenger, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 1), Peace of Mind Regained, South Enters the Medicine Lodge; mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Story of the Medicine Rite.

Themes: a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Heną́ga and Star Girl, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, Black Otter's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Sunset Point, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; someone fasts to achieve human immortality: The Necessity for Death; a person petitions spirits for a greedy end: The Greedy Woman, Little Fox and the Ghost, The Star Husband; a human being physically travels to Spiritland without having died: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Sunset Point, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Star Husband, White Wolf, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Shaggy Man, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Petition to Earthmaker, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Rainbow and the Stone Arch (v. 2), Trickster Concludes His Mission; excessive fasting leads to adverse consequences: The Boy Who Became a Robin; spirits meet in a council: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Black and White Moons, Holy One and His Brother, The Creation Council, The Children of the Sun, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Gift of Shooting, East Shakes the Messenger, The Descent of the Drum, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Petition to Earthmaker; a person's body turns into a plant: Fourth Universe (white flower), White Flower (white flower), The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, Aračgéga's Blessings (inverse: log > human), cf. The Wild Rose, Deer Clan Origin Myth (v. 2); a person obsessively craves for himself what a tree possesses, and as a consequence is transformed into a tree: The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree; a tree (branch) at the head of a grave: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth.


1 Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York: D. Appleton Co., 1927) 203-205. The original, unrevised text is found in "The Boy who Wished to Become Immortal," in Paul Radin, Notebook 38 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 210-215. On page 211 is inscribed, "March 11, 1951," but this is certainly a later addition. A revised text is found in, "The Boy who Wished to be Immortal," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #13, Freeman #3869 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1951 ?) 1-4 (phonetic text),1-2 (English translation). The last page of the phonetic text (lines 36-41) is missing in this version.

2 Ella Elizabeth Clark, Indian Legends of Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960) 34-36.

3 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 101, #35. These tales are collected in R. H. Lowie, The Assiniboine, in The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1909) 4:239-244.

4 Katharine B. Judson, Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes (Chicago: A. C. McClung, 1914), reprinted as Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000) 85-86. Dorothy Moulding Brown, Manabush: Menomini Tales, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1948) 6.

5 Charles E. Brown, Wisconsin History: Campus Landmarks (Madison: Wisconsin State Historical Museum, 1924) 3-4.