Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store

by Robert Lincoln, as related to him by his father, Old Lincoln

This story, handwritten in English, is missing its first page. However, since a translation of this exists in Radin's Winnebago Tribe,1 the contents of this missing page can be restored from that.

Mijistega's Face
Paint, Drawn by
Robert Lincoln

[(1) Recently the Potawatomi were going on the warpath and a number of other tribes were going along with them. As they were making their preparations they spent the evenings exhibiting the various powers they possessed and which they had obtained during their fasts. One day Robert Lincoln's father heard that a Winnebago was going to come and give a grizzly bear dance. Old Lincoln and a few other Potawatomi decided to go over and watch him. When they arrived at the lodge they were told that the name of the Winnebago was Midjistega. They were also told that this Midjistega was going to make some gunpowder (in a magical manner). When they heard this, the Potawatomi said that if he could make his teeth protrude from his mouth he might be able to make gunpowder, but that otherwise he could not. In the middle of the lodge where this performance was to be held there was a wooden dish filled with charcoal near which Midjistega was sitting. He had] (2) beautiful hair, and he had white clay marks at the corners of his mouth and eyes. Thus [small drawing seen in the inset was inserted here]. When his singers started to sing for him, he ran around within the lodge on all fours, on his hands and legs. When he had gone around the lodge four times thus, then he took up the dish of charcoal and shook it. All the while he was making a noise like a grizzly bear, and his teeth began to grow out. And when he had gone around the lodge four times again, the charcoal became gun powder and he took a hand full of it and threw it in the fire and it exploded. There all the different tribes took some of it and put it in their war bundles. Only a short time ago a Winnebago war bundle which was supposed to have had some of this powder in it, was stolen. The bundle belongs to a man named Bucannan. Old man Lincoln had never seen any Winnebagoes before this meeting, but he could understand their language and he interpreted to his people everything that mi tti rte K [Mijistega] (3) was saying. And the Potawatomies asked him if he had learned the language from some of his Winnebago relatives, but he told them that he had not.

After this act of making gun powder, mi tti rte K [Mijistega] again made some plug tobacco. He cut out some walnut tree barks [into] the shape of plug chewing tobacco and this they filled in a white deer skin and on top of this they placed a real piece of plug tobacco. Then mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said, "Inasmuch as I have accomplished the gun powder making act, I will also try and make some tobacco. Then he took it and danced around the lodge with it, and when he had gone around the lodge the third time, the odor of tobacco became very strong. And the fourth time around, he opened it up and it was all tobacco.

Then he talked, saying, "You people of different tribes! This one that is dancing with me will get the first war honor in your contemplated war path. As I give him that honor and power." After this, he said he would make some (4) paint, as they were all short of war paint. Then he filled a wooden dish full of wood ashes and covered it up with a white deer skin and with this he danced around the lodge again. At the third round, Old Lincoln thought he noticed yellow colored paint and at the fourth round the paint turned into red color and when he took the cover off, it was a very fine quality of red paint. And again the [products of the] different tricks [he] distributed it among them.

After this, he made some axes. He molded some clay in the shape of axes and piled them on a deer skin. And on top of this pile of clay axes, he placed a real metal ax. With these he started to dance around the lodge again and when he went around the third time, Old Lincoln thought he noticed something flitter and when he went the fourth round and then took the cover off of them. They had all become real metal axes. And they were all new and bright. The next thing he made was some hoes. (5) And after that, he made some awls. All of these he made out of clay. Then he made some needles out of deer's hair. And then he called some boys over which were playing with basswood bark and he begged them from them and out of them he made four different colors of ribbons, blue, white, red and black.

Then he said, "As I have made most everything, I will try and make some whiskey, but if I fail, there will be no harm done," he said. And Old Lincoln told his people what he was saying. Then they placed a new pail full of water there before him. And he took a flute and began to dance around the lodge. And when he returned from the first round, he held the flute towards the pail of water and nearly stuck the end of it in the water, but the second time he came back to it, he stuck the flute in the water a little ways. And the third time he went around, he stuck the flute in the pail of water and (6) stirred the water around with it. And Old Lincoln could smell the odor of whiskey very strong. And he went around again the fourth time and this time he stirred the water with the flute a long time, and then he took a drink of it and said, "It is so, it has become whiskey," and it was passed around for everyone present to take a drink. This was before Old Lincoln ever took a drink, so he refused it, but his father told him to drink some it it as it was holy, because it was made by a spirit (meaning mi tti rte K [Mijistega].) Old Lincoln drank some of it and sure enough, it was whiskey, but it was not red, as it remained colorless. And Old Lincoln thought that all present did partake of it. Then they went on the war path, but the fellow that mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said would get the first war honor, didn't come true, but he did get the second honor and the prize was a lot of wampum beads and Old Lincoln got the first honor and the prize was a wampum belt. The other follow that got the second prize (7) brought home an enemy's head and Old Lincoln did also.

After the return from the war path, all the Winnebagoes went home, but mi tti rte K. [Mijistega] remained among the Potawatomies. And he and Old Lincoln began to be chums so they would always be together. And also because Old Lincoln could understand Winnebago. One day they ran out of corn meal, so they decided to go and trade for some with furs as they were hunting all the time and had much furs on hand. When they got to the trader's store, mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said to the trader, "Say! trader, the boys have been out of paint for sometime and therefore they have not painted for sometime, so you ought to give them some paint." But the trader answered, "No! mi tti rte L [Mijistera], I could not do that." Again mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said, "The s before are small, and don't amount to much, and you ought to make them a present of some." But the trader said, "I am here to trade you my wares for your furs, (8) so therefore, I will not give you any ." Then mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said, "If I had some flour, I could make some myself, but I am out of flour." And the trader said, "mi tti rte L [Mijistera] you cannot do it as even the white people don't all know how to make , and how could you an Indian make any ?" Thus they talked on until finally the trader said, mi tti rte L [Mijistera], I will bet my store of goods against your furs and I will give you some flour and if you fail to make any , I will get all of your furs, and if you succeed, you will win my store of goods." There the bet was made, so they prepared a tepee and got mi tti rte K [Mijistega's] drum and flute ready, which he always carried with him. Then the trader brought over some flour, and they poured it into a dish and the trader thinking there might be some trick about it, took a stick and stirred up the bottom of the flour, but he could not find any paint in it. mi tti rte K [Mijistega] in the meantime painted the corners of his (9) mouth and eyes with ashes and then they sang for him. And he handed the flute over to Old Lincoln and told him to blow it for him. So he would blow it for him every once in a while. The trader sat near the entrance of the tepee with his hired helpers. Then mi tti rte K [Mijistega] jumped up and ran around the tepee on all fours. Then he took hold of the dish of flour and shaking it he began to dance around the tepee with it. The third time he went around with it, it suddenly changed to a yellow color and Old Lincoln noticed the change in the trader's expression of the face. As he was going the fourth round it suddenly changed to a red color. And when he got back to his starting place it was perfectly red and it was a good quality of paint. Then he said, "Trader! I win your store." And the trader answered, "mi tti rte L [Mijistera]! You win my store, I did not think that an Indian could do this."

Then mi tti rte K [Mijistega] said, "I could make some sugar if you doubt it, and get me some more flour," but the trader said, "No! mi tti rte L [Mijistera], I believe what you say." But he sent one of his hired helpers after more flour and [out of] these mi tti rte K [Mijistega] made some maple sugar. He would sprinkle water on flour and say, "I will make this the size of pheasants' dung," and it formed in little round lumps. Then the trader said, "mi tti rte L [Mijistera], my store was worth several times the price of your furs, and you have made me a poor man, but I wish to ask you for one thing and that is, for this sugar that I may eat some of it once in awhile." So mi tti rte K [Mijistega] gave it to him. Then they packed the store home and they had to make several trips before they could pack it all home. And all those at home and these men also got [from the] blankets a price out of it. Then the trader said, "mi tti rte L [Mijistera]! There is no white that would believe you could do this. Therefore, if I ever call (10) on you to do this again, I want you to come with your boys, as this is the only way I could ever win some of my money back." But the trader was never heard from since, or rather after the next fall, as they took him over some furs the next fall.

This mi tti rte K [Mijistega] also made all varieties of corn at the Potawatomi meeting. Old Lincoln had always heard that the Winnebagoes had powers of this kind, but had never seen it until he saw mi tti rte K [Mijistega] perform his magic tricks.

The end.2

For another version of the trader episode, see "Migistéga’s Magic."

Commentary."plug tobacco" — tobacco in large cakes designed to be cut for chewing. Nevertheless, Indians were generally not known to chew tobacco, but only to smoke it.

"blue, white, red and black" — these happen to be the four colors of the Bear Subclans, who were founded by Blue Bear, White Bear, Red Bear, and Black Bear. Each is assigned to one of the four quarters of space. These colors correspond in counterclockwise direction to East (blue), North (white), West (red), and South (black), tracing a circular path around the central fire beginning where the sun rises (q.v.). That the first color is blue is not only appropriate as the starting place of the sun, but Blue Bear is a Grizzly Spirit, the kind of spirit who no doubt blessed Mijistéga, giving him the Grizzly Bear powers that we see demonstrated in this story.

"before Old Lincoln ever took a drink" — this would mean that Old Lincoln was at that time a teenager. If we assume that he was around 70 year old in 1910 (roughly the time this story was told), and that he was 15 at the time of these events, then they would have occurred in 1855. So we can say that this affair probably occurred a little before the Civil War. However, most of the Potawatomi were removed from Wisconsin to Kansas by the late 1830's, as by the stipulations of the Treaty of Chicago, 1833. The last Potawatomies to leave Wisconsin did so in 1851.3 It is possible that the events related in this story either took place out west not long after 1851, or in Wisconsin some time prior to that date.

"Mijistera" — in direct address, the terminal -ga is replaced by -ra. Both -ga and -ra are definite articles, the former generally confined to personal names. In the use of definite articles in conjunction with names, Hocąk is similar to Greek, as in ὁ Σωκράτης, "the" Socrates.

Links: Witches, Tobacco, Bear Spirits.

Stories: paint; mentioning Migistéga (Mijistéga): Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (v. 2), Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; mentioning grizzly bears: Blue Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Wazųka, Little Priest's Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Migistega's Magic, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, The Two Boys (giant black grizzly), Partridge's Older Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Dipper (white grizzly), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Creation of Man (v. 9), The Creation of Evil, cp. The Woman Who Fought the Bear; in which dancing plays a role: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Migistéga’s Magic, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Trickster and the Dancers, Wolves and Humans, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Black Otter's Warpath; mentioning traders: Migistéga’s Magic, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Brawl in Omro, How Jarrot Got His Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The Tavern Visit, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning Warbundles: Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons (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, A Man's Revenge (enemy); mentioning whiskey (fire water): Little Fox and the Ghost, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Turtle and the Merchant, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Brawl in Omro, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk, Sodom and Gomorrah; mentioning tobacco: Tobacco Origin Myth, Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth (v 2), How the Thunders Met the Nights, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Grandmother's Gifts, The Thunderbird, First Contact, Peace of Mind Regained, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Dipper, The Masaxe War, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; mentioning wampum: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), Little Human Head, Turtle and the Giant, Snowshoe Strings, The Chief of the Heroka, The Markings on the Moon, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 2), Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Black Otter's Warpath (bone-bead belt); mentioning flutes: The Love Blessing, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Partridge's Older Brother, The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Redhorn's Sons; mentioning the Potawatomi: Fourth Universe, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), The Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact (v. 2), Little Priest's Game, Xųnųnį́ka, Introduction; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Brawl in Omro, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hocągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder; mentioning basswood: The Children of the Sun, Redhorn's Father, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 3), The Big Stone, The Fox-Hocąk War, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The King Bird, Hare Kills Wildcat, Turtle's Warparty, The Birth of the Twins, The Messengers of Hare, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; mentioning walnut trees: The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake.

Themes: a seer makes true predictions down to unusual details: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Witches, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Fox-Hocąk War, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Shawnee Prophet Predicts a Solar Eclipse, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Claw Shooter, Waruką́ną; a class sorts into the four colors: blue, white, red, and black: Hare Kills Flint, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bear Spirits, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 7), Eagle Clan Origin Myth; head hunting: White Fisher, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, A Man's Revenge, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), The Dipper, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Turtle's Warparty, Ocean Duck, The Markings on the Moon, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man with Two Heads, Brave Man, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Redhorn's Sons, Fighting Retreat, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Were-Grizzly, Winneconnee Origin Myth.


1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1923) 255.

2 Robert Lincoln, a story about Mijistega, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3862 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago I, #3: 2-16. Printed in Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1923) 255-258.

3 Robert A. Trennert, "The Business of Indian Removal: Deporting the Potawatomi from Wisconsin, 1851," The Wisconsin Magazine of History, 63, #1 (Autumn, 1979): 36-50 [38].