Medicine Bag "Shooting"

by Peter Menaige

Peter Menaige

            (Col. 1) "Agent Fletcher on the occasion of a Grand Medicine Feast, having a talk with a number of Indians upon the performance thereat, they told him that the Medicine Men were Wäka̬ntcha̬nk´, that is, sacred, preternaturally powerful.  Fletcher laughed at them and insinuated that it was all delusion and imposture, and said they could not 'shoot' him with their Medicine Bags and have any effect on him.  Little Thunder, a chief of the Kæ´rämä´në was a good deal nettled at this, and replied, that they, 'would not shoot at a man who was not initiated.'

            Fletcher then said, that he would be initiated, and that then if they would knock him down, he would give them ten of the best horses in the country, and if they did not, then they were to give up their superstition, and not fool any others with their Medicine Bags. There were ten or a dozen prominent Indians present.  After chatting around with each other in their own language, they told the Interpreter to tell the Agent that they agreed to his proposition, and that he should prepare the Medicine Lodge and his Sacrifice, and pick the Medicine Man who should be the Master to initiate him, and they would abide by the conditions he imposed in case they did not knock him senseless with a medicine bag, even to the extent of his never reviving again!

            The matter then passed, and it so happened that nothing was ever done about it, though the Indians evidently believed fully in the power of their Medicine Bags.

            I have seen this Medicine 'Shooting' frequently.  On one occasion at Long Prairie when the Grand Medicine Lodge was in full blast, and had been initiating some two or three, a Chippeway (a guest) gave those present to understand that he was a 'very great Medicine Man,' and could 'shoot' more effectually with his magic bag than any one else could.  He was particularly bent on shooting and knocking over one of the just initiated, the theory being that those who are young in the 'Medicine' are more susceptible to the influence than the old fellows; the former falling when shot just as stiff as if felled with a slung shot.

            The chief Ku̬na̬ḣät´ækä noticing this, said privately, that he intended to try if this Chippeway could not be stopped in his antics; and to see if his 'medicine' was powerful enough to resist his own. 

            So watching his opportunity, I saw Ku̬na̬ḣät´ækä shoot at him, when he immediately fell like a dead ox, and laid there and shivered and quivered for ten or fifteen minutes, when he got up, and the proceedings interested him no more during that Medicine Dance."

Commentary. "Agent Fletcher" — the following account is given of the life of Gen. Jonathan E. Fletcher: "A native of Thetford, Vermont, born in January, 1806. He came to Muscatine in the summer of 1836, when Iowa was made a separate territory. He attended the first land sale in the territory, in November, 1838, at which he bought lands six miles west of the city, upon which he located in the fall of 1839, and went to farming, having previously returned to Vermont. He was married to Frances L. Kendrick in 1839. He had resided a few years in Ohio before he came to Iowa. In 1846, he was appointed, by President Polk, an agent for the Winnebago Indians. His valuable services in his long career as Indian agent, to the government, and to the country, are incalculable. General Fletcher held many responsible offices in this territory and state. He represented Muscatine County in the Fourth Iowa General Assembly, 1852. He was a member of the convention which framed the old constitution, taking an important part in the formation of our fundamental law."1 On a book of old houses in Minnesota, his was described as, "... occupied by a great man who deserves wider recognition, Jonathan E. Fletcher."2

"Grand Medicine Feast" — this is the Medicine Rite or Medicine Dance, as it is sometimes called. The basic idea behind the rite is nicely summed up by Paul Radin:

To judge from the general tenor of the speeches, the purpose of the ritual in every one of these societies is the "strengthening" of powers obtained in a vision. Now, the tenor of the speeches in the basic ritual of the Medicine Dance is precisely of the same nature; and as we have there, in addition, the characteristic passing of the "blessing,"—that is, the passing of the drum, the gourds, and the associate actions, speeches, songs, and dances; in other words, the means of assuring the continuance and the strengthening of the specific powers,—there can be little doubt that the basic ritual is essentially the same for all these societies.3

"Medicine Men" — this term is often used for doctors, but in this context it means a man of the Medicine Rite. It is, of course, possible to be both types at once.

"Wäka̬ntcha̬nk´" — for wakącą́k.

BAE 37: Pl. 51
Otter Skin Medicine Bags of the Medicine Rite

"Medicine bag" — the kind of Medicine bag used in the Medicine Rite, often described as a "pouch," was used to eject a seashell. The pouch was designed in such a way that it could be used as an air pump to shoot a shell out of its mouth, during the course of which the otter pouch would make a squeaking sound reminiscent of a live otter. The impression received was that the otter had momentarily come alive to shoot from its stomach a jewel of the ocean. When the initiate was struck with such a seashell, he was expected to fall to the ground, momentarily dead, only to revive under the power of the revitalizing Medicine Rite.

"Little Thunder" — this is Wakąjanįka in Hocąk, a name first recorded by John Kinzie.

"Kæ´rämä´në" — for Kéramą́nį. There was a well known chief of the name Nąga (Keramąnįga), for whom see the Commentary to Kinzie's Wau Bun. However, two people named Nąga Keramąnįga signed the Treaty of 1829, the younger of whom is said to have been the nephew of the other. Nancy Oestreich Lurie, "A Check List of Treaty Signers by Clan Affiliation," Journal of the Wisconsin Indians Research Institute, 2, #1 (June, 1966): 50-73 (##2-3, p. 53). Lurie's informants told her that the Keramąnįs were originally of Fox or Sauk extraction. Foreign captives who are spared are always put into the Thunderbird Clan, or may enter it through marriage. Mrs. Kinzie said that this name meant, "Walking Rain." This is due to the fact that the name has a double meaning in Hocąk: Ke-ra-mąnį means literally, "The Turtle Walking," where -ra is the definite article. On the face of it, this name is rather peculiar, since the -ga attached to the end of it to indicate that it's a personal name is also a definite article. This leads to the rather stilted translation, "The Walking One Who is the Turtle." However, the same name differently parsed, Kera-mąnį, means "Walking Cloud," where kera, like the more common mąxí, means both "cloud" and "sky." It could be that Kera-mąnį-ga was originally a Thunderbird Clan name for the ancestor of the lineage, but members of that family liked the mystical association that the double meaning gave them to the God of War.

"Long Prairie"— this is the territory assigned to them briefly in Minnesota. Publius Lawson give an account of this short episode in the wanderings of the nation:

In 1853, a new treaty was made, by which they were allowed to remove to the Crow river. This treaty was not ratified because of the remonstrance of the people of Minnesota (U. M., 188). On February 27, 1855, they ceded their Long Prairie reservation and were granted a tract of land eighteen miles square on the Blue Earth river, just south of Mankato, in southern Minnesota (19 [?], B. E., 804). They settled here in the spring of that year and immediately began the erection of dwellings and improvement of the land. The teacher of the reservation school reported in 1860 the enrollment of 118 pupils. In the midst of their prosperity, in June, 1862, came the "Sioux massacre," which completely wrecked their future prospects. Although they took no part in that affair, and even though they offered to the government their services in punishing the Sioux, the frightened inhabitants of Minnesota demanded their removal (U. M., 138).4

"Ku̬na̬ḣät´ækä" — transliterated, it reads, Kųnąxáteka. This is very likely for Kųnųxétega, "Big Kųnų," where Kųnų is a birth order name for the first born son.

Notes to the Commentary

1 From the website, The Iowa Legislature, viewed: 5/18/2012. For more on Gen. Jonathan E. Fletcher (Jan. 1, 1806 - April 6, 1872), see Clement Augustus Lounsberry, Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History (Washington, D.C.: Liberty Press, 1919) 151-152.
2 Roger G. Kennedy, Minnesota Houses: An Architectural & Historical View (Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1967) 44.
3 Paul Radin, "The Ritual and Significance of the Winnebago Medicine Dance," The Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. XXIV, #92 (April-June, 1911) 149-207 [184-185].
4 Publius V. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907) 78-162 [114].


Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #2: p. 3, coll. 1.