The Fleetfooted Man

narrated by James StCyr
from a story related by a Frenchman

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

HERE a Hočąk village was. To a great warrior was born a baby boy. He grew up well. When he could eat, they would feed him only deer lungs. He wanted him to be able to run fast, that is why he did it. (19) When he got older his father used to make him do it, to fast all the time. They used to make him fast for four days and four nights. That boy would do it. Thus they would make him fast. They fasted. The span of four slumbers, this far he used to run in a single day. And so if an enemy were somewhere two days off, he would know that they were coming three days ahead, and when he came back and told them, (20) they would get ready and watch, and then they would kill them.

That boy had a friend of the same age. The two leading warriors used to say, "Friend," to him, and whenever they feasted, Fleet Man was called upon to eat the head. But even then he used to have the two warriors eat it. Always they called on him to eat the head. As a result, those warriors did not like him. Then one day, one of those warriors said, "Friend, let's kill Fleet Man. (21) If we don't do it, they will account us as nothing," he said. The other one said, "My friend, what you have said is not a good thing, for we depend on Fleet Man. When they call upon him for the head, we are the ones who eat it, and if an enemy comes, they know where they are coming from. We are doing some nice killing." Nevertheless, he kept at him, coaxing him, until finally he agreed. Then they planned how they would kill him. (22) They asked him to go hunting. He went with them. Fleet Man said, "Father, I'm dead whenever darkness overtakes me. This they will do," he would say.

He went hunting. As they went along, those warriors cut a hole in the ice at the center of the lake, then they laid down to dream. And they asked him to do the same. He didn't do it at first. Finally, they got him to lay down to dream. Then they dunked him under the ice, but he only laughed as he came up. (23) One, who had a tomahawk, hit him with it, and that one turned into a very white otter who began to swim away. For the greater part of the day, they chased him over the ice. At the spot where he had made the hole, he thought he would strike him with the tomahawk. Just about sundown, the brilliant white, old man otter with a Gwak! gwak! made for the bank, and there he went and died. He laid there just as he used to be. They knew when he was dead.

The warriors went home and when they had arrived there, the fleet man's father asked about his son. (24) "Then sometime early in the day he left us. He must have gone by another road," they said. That night it snowed around the village which means death for anyone in it, so they had to move fast if they were to hunt for him. Again as they hunted they could not get a track on him. The heart of Fleet Man's only friend became sore, so the friend quickly acquired strength. He tried to dream.

(25) When springtime was approaching, they sent out a message. "It will be time to move," they said. He went in advance, and there near the lake a log lay. There the friend laid down also calling out, "Friend," he called out, "the movers are coming past." That day, as it approached evening, when everyone had gone by, the [two] warrior friends came by talking. When they had come opposite him, they arrived. (26) That one came as a little bird (a water fowl) on the top of a tree. Gwak gwak! he said. Those warriors laughed. One friend said, "During the winter you stomped Fleet Man under the ice at the center of the lake. He became a white otter and you chased him throughout the day," he said. "As evening fell, he said, Gwak gwak! He came towards the bank that way," he said, they say. He laughed. The boy heard them where he laid in hiding. Again there he began to lay down. (27) Then late at night he arose and started back to the camping grounds.

He went to where his (the friend's) mother was. He said, "Mother, put the little kettle on to boil, we're going to eat," and said to his (friend's) father, "He is going elsewhere, but the old man has blackened his face." That boy said, "Father, we are going home, that's why I came. Just for nothing, I want you to eat," he said. After he said that, the old man went home with him. (28) When they arrived they dished up for them and he said, "Father, today as I was lying down near the road under a log, there was a little bird. When those warriors got there, he (the missing friend) said through that little bird, Gwak gwak!" he said, and a warrior said, 'Friend, this winter Fleet Man was killed when you stomped him under the ice. He used a white otter. Near evening he said, Gwak gwak! (29) he said, and went towards the bank. That little bird is like him,' he said, and they laughed loudly. One of the warriors said that and so since I wanted you to hear that, I wanted to eat with you," he said, and the old man was quiet for awhile. He said, "My dear son, it is good," he said. And he said, "Let's go home," he said.

When they arrived home they washed their mourning paint off and repainted their faces anew. That next morning again they were all painted up. (30) The people said, "The old man must have quit his mourning," they said, and he (the boy) said to them, "Today you will go ahead of the old man. I'll go and make ready the camping grounds," he said. In the evening that one threw away ten and two into the fire and he was sitting in it. And very good he made it for them. And when they all arrived, after awhile that old man said, (31) "Well, this night I am going to tell you something about what I used to do," he said. He had on a complete warrior's outfit. He was saying, "My son, when he disappeared, long was I in mourning," he said. And that warrior in front after awhile had an arrow ready in the bow, and standing there holding tobacco he said, "Well, in the early days I went on the warpath, thus I used to do," he said. (32) He pulled back the bow and shot one of the warriors there in the heart, and, "Two times I did war. Thus I did," he said. So he pulled back the arrow he placed in it. The other warrior he shot there in the heart and said, "Well, you're not the only ones who know how to kill. You've killed my son. You made my heart ache, and so I did the same to you," he said. (33) And then he picked up his club and smashed both of their heads. Thus he did this. The people approved. They had gained much from Fleet Man, but those two had done what was told.1

Commentary. "deer lungs" — the same is said about Redhorn, who, because he could turn himself into an arrow, was the fleetest of all beings.

"to eat the head" — at some point during a feast, the host will call on the foremost warrior to receive the best serving of meat, which is considered to be the head. Thus, when the hosts would constantly call upon Fleet Man to take the head, those warriors who accounted themselves superior would naturally feel jealous. Fleet Man attempts to mitigate this by insisting that the two foremost warriors eat the head instead, but not even this self-effacing gesture is enough to stem their resentment.

A Tomahawk Pipe

"tomahawk" — the Hočąk is mąs-tánihu, literally "iron pipe," which denotes a particular kind of pipe that is convertible into a weapon. Kinzie translates as "pipe tomahawk."2 The tomahawk pipe is well known and widespread among the tribes, as Fairholt observes:

With a brief notice of the War Pipe and the Peace Pipe we will conclude this section of our labour. The first, a true tomahawk, is smoked through the reed handle, the tobacco being placed in the small receptacle above the hatchet; the smoke is drawn through the handle, which is perforated in its entire length, making it the pipe-stem.3

The word tomahawk is of Algonquian origins. The Hočągara more typically used a nąmą́če or wooden warclub.

"time to move" — from about December through February, and during June and August, the Hočągara were more or less sedentary, living in their villages. From about September through November, they led a more nomadic existence.4

"a little bird" — we are invited by the story to think of the bird that appears on the tree as another epiphany of Fleet Man, despite the fact that he had been killed when he was in the form of a white otter. Radin translates wanįgenįge as "waterfowl," although it means "little bird." Perhaps the identity of this bird as a waterfowl is a direct communication from StCyr, although the kind of bird is never identified in the story itself. The identification may be based upon the fact that its alloform is an otter; or even the similarity of its gwak gwak call to that of a duck. Clearly Fleet Man was a spirit being born among mortals, as he was in the habit of changing into a white otter. In this form he was stomped to death while under the ice near the bank of the lake. However, to remove a spirit (waxopini) from the mortal world completely, it is necessary to burn the dead body and powder the bones. Since this was not done, Fleet Man was able to assume the form of a bird. In this form he is able to induce the guilty warriors to talk about their deed in front of his friend, and initiate the course of vengeance. It should also be mentioned that it was a very widespread belief that great warriors were blessed with the ability to launch their souls forth in the form of birds, as we see in the Four Slumbers Origin Myth.

"mother" — this story offers an interesting insight into the friendship relation (hičakóro). This is a relationship willingly entered into by two people who are not related. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the strongest social bond in existence, rivaled only by that between a man and his mother's brother. In this story we see that the young man addresses his friend's parents as though they were his own, which shows that the relationship was recognized as a de facto brotherhood.

Comparative Material: The practice of giving the foremost warrior the "Champion's Portion" is well known in Celtic literature. There, too, fighting can break out over the competition for this honor.

Links: Otters, Bird Spirits.

Stories: mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Dipper, The Two Children, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, The Origins of the Milky Way, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Kunu's Warpath, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Woman who Loved Her Half Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Story of the Medicine Rite; mentioning deer lungs: The Race for the Chief's Daughter, A Man and His Three Dogs; about two male friends: Wazųka, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Lame Friend, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Morning Star and His Friend, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Worúxega, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Tobacco Man and Married Man, Mighty Thunder; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Story of the Medicine Rite (loons, cranes, turkeys), The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; mentioning snow: Waruǧábᵉra, The Glory of the Morning, Holy One and His Brother, Wolves and Humans, Grandfather's Two Families, The Four Steps of the Cougar, Brave Man, Redhorn's Father, Bladder and His Brothers, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Old Man and the Giants, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Great Walker's Warpath, White Wolf, North Shakes His Gourd, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Witches, Shakes the Earth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Raccoon Coat, Silver Mound Cave, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married; mentioning tomahawk pipes: Old Man and Wears White Feather.

Themes: a man is blessed with the ability to foresee the approach of enemies: Wazųka, White Fisher, The Moiety Origin Myth, The Dog that became a Panther, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath; jealousy: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Diving Contest, Hog's Adventures, Wazųka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Bluehorn's Nephews, Redhorn's Sons, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Lost Blanket; a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Omahas who turned into Snakes (four-legged snakes), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); something is of a (symbolic) pure white color: White Bear, Deer Spirits, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), White Flower, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Worúxega, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket (white spirits), Skunk Origin Myth, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Messengers of Hare, The Brown Squirrel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Bladder and His Brothers, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Dipper, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Creation of the World (v. 12), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Descent of the Drum, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Grandmother's Gifts, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Completion Song Origin, North Shakes His Gourd, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Peace of Mind Regained; pursuits across the ice: The Warbundle Maker, A Mink Tricks Trickster; people turn into birds: Waruǧábᵉra (owl, Thunderbird), Worúxega (eagle), The Thunderbird (black hawk, hummingbird), The Dipper (black hawk, hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), The Hočąk Arrival Myth (ravens), The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (turkey), The Quail Hunter (partridge), The Markings on the Moon (auk, curlew), The Fox-Hočąk War (goose), The Boy Who Became a Robin (robin).


1 James StCyr, "Fleetfoot," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook 19, Story II: 18-33.

2 Col. John Harris Kinzie (1803-1865), Notebook compiled at Prairie du Chien in 1826 (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society) sv "Marztarneehoorar."

3 Frederick William Fairholt, Tobacco: Its History and Associations: Including an Account of the Plant and Its Manufacture; with its Modes of Use in All Ages and Countries (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859) 40.

4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923])77.