The Red Feather

by Oliver LaMère

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

In the center of a circular village lived a chief who had two very beautiful daughters. Near his lodge grew a great tree where, unexpectedly, there alighted a bird of bright red plumage, and when he landed there, a red glow seemed to fall upon all the lodges of the village. The chief greatly admired the bird's plumage and coveted its feathers for himself, so much so that he declared that whoever could shoot the bird for him would be given one of his daughters to wed. Among the best shoots was a man called "Ape," who was a notorious cheat. He came very close to hitting the bird, and the crowd gave out a shout of excitement every time an arrow whizzed by it. An orphan boy who lived at the edge of the village with his grandmother heard the commotion, and went to see what it was all about. When he returned that evening, he told his grandmother about the contest and said he should try his skill at it. His grandmother scoffed at him and said, "Don't be foolish. You are just an orphan, how can you possibly compete against real archers and men who have been blessed with great powers by the spirits?" Nevertheless, the next day he snuck out with his own bow and arrows. He noticed that when anyone shot at the bird, Ape would simultaneously shoot his own arrow. Finally, the orphan stepped up to shoot. Both he and Ape shot together, but the orphan's arrow hit the bird and shot him dead. However, when the orphan picked up the bird, Ape angrily shouted, "I was the one who shot him, so hand him over!" In their struggle, Ape pulled the bird away from the orphan and presented it to the chief. The chief gave Ape many thanks, and bestowed upon him his eldest daughter. However, the orphan had not come away empty handed, for when he had struggled for possession of the bird, he had pulled out a single red feather and this he took home, concealed under his blanket. By the time he got home, this single feather had grown into a whole new bird, a bird with feathers of a far more brilliant hue than the first bird's.

The orphan told his grandmother all about what had happened, but she did not believe a word of what he said. So he took a rawhide hoop and told her to roll it across the floor of the lodge. When she did, he shot right through the center of the moving hoop, and the instant that the arrow crossed into the hoop, the rawhide unexpectedly changed into a young buffalo heifer who fell over dead. He told his grandmother to cook up the best meat from the heifer and bring it to the chief. When she had done this and arrived at the chief's lodge, instead of going in, she slipped it through the lodge door and said, "This is from your son-in-law." By the time the chief's attendants peeked out to see who it was, she was gone. Three more times she did this, but on the fourth occasion, they saw who it was. They followed her and soon discovered the orphan boy and his brilliant red bird. When all this was related to the chief, he decided to give him his second daughter, a woman who surpassed even her sister in beauty. However, the orphan was a mess: his hair was matted with his own hair grease, and he was covered with grime and dirt. Nevertheless, she loved him very much. When she took him with her to visit her sister, they would not allow her husband to so much as touch anything they owned. The younger sister scolded them, and told them that they should instead pity him. The next day, the orphan's wife cried all day out of pity for his condition.

The orphan decided to take his wife with him to the nearby lake, where he told her that he would jump in and emerge in far better condition. In fact, he expected to be so much improved by the bath that he showed her a unique scar on his leg by which she would be able to recognize him when he reappeared. Wasting no time, he jumped right in the water. However, much time went by, and he never came back to the surface. Soon it became apparent to his young wife that he had drowned. She knelt down by the lake side and cried all day long until at last sleep overtook her grief. Then, unexpectedly, she was awakened by a handsome young man dressed in magnificent robes. He told her, "Let's go home, wife." She did not know what to make of the stranger's remark, and told him, "My husband dove into the lake this morning, and alas, he has drowned!" The mysterious man declared, "I am he. See the scar on my leg." Only when she saw it did she know who he was. He explained to her that he had transformed himself in the lake and that all of this had been undertaken to test her love for him. When he arrived back in the village, his sister-in-law recognized him immediately, and ever after she did not hesitate to address him as "brother." So good a shot was the young man that he was able to supply the village with meat almost on his own. When the chief died, the orphan became chief himself.1


This story uses as its prototypes the two other stories about Sirius, "Wears White Feather," and "Old Man and Wears White Feather." It is closest to the former story, which is esoterically about the planets that pass within range of Sirius (via the Hyades-Pleiades slot). This story focuses on just one planet, Mars, which plays the role of the red bird. From the second story, it borrows the theme of the imposter (Morning Star), since that figure has a role to play in relation to Sirius and Mars.

"a circular village" — this is the sky.

"chief" — in this story, as in the parallels, the chief is the sun.

"two very beautiful daughters" — these, as they are in the variant myths, are two moons that appear in succession. They always return to the lodge of the sun (the chief) at conjunction.

"a great tree" — the most common and standard representation of the Milky Way in Hočąk symbolism is as a tree.

"bright red plumage" — this is the planet Mars, which is particularly noted for being red.

"he landed there" — the ecliptic (the path of the sun against the background stars) passes between the Hyades and Pleiades and through the Milky Way nearby. One of the best exemplars of this is the year 1678, when Mars passed through the slot between the Hyades and Pleiades to land in the "branches" of the Milky Way.

"Ape" — we know that in times past the metaphor "ape" could not have been in North American vocabularies, since actual apes are known only in the Old World. Informally, sometimes "ape" is used to denote large monkeys or monkeys generally, in addition to pongids. In this rendition for public school children, the name "Ape" had been introduced either to signify an original name such as Imitator, or as a substitute for some other name which would not be recognized by white children. Ape might also be Trickster, as the nearest parallel story features the Lakota trickster Iktomi (see Comparative Material below), who is also known as "Mocker." In the astronomy codes, as we see in the other variants, Ape is Morning Star. Morning Star is both a competitor and something of a doppelgänger of Sirius, who is played by the orphan in this story, but who elsewhere is known as "Wears White Feather on His Head." In these parallel stories, Morning Star apes Sirius by actually stealing his identity. Here he only goes part way by expropriating what actually belongs to Sirius.

"he noticed that when anyone shot at the bird, Ape would simultaneously shoot his own arrow" — whenever a star rises with the sun, necessarily Morning Star is nearby (if it is there at all). They are shooting up, since Mars (the red bird) is perched above both Sirius and Morning Star. To hit the red bird with a fatal shot is to cause Mars to fall from its perch in the Milky Way "tree." In the year that we are using as a paradigm, 1678, both Morning Star and Sirius are below Mars.

The Alignment of the Sword Stars with Alnilam and Mars,
Sunrise, August 10, 1678

Starry Night Software,

"but the orphan's arrow hit the bird" — in all the parallel stories, including those of foreign nations, Sirius is almost defined by his use of a weapon. To the Sioux, he is Ćáḣpi, "Warclub," a name that he derives from the fact that the next star group (Orion) is shaped like the flat-headed warclub, and in the Hočąk cognate stories, it is the same. In the Hočąk parallels, the Swords Stars of Orion are actually a sword. Here Orion is re-imaged as a bow and arrow. The Belt Stars (Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka) together with Algiebba, form a plausible bow, and the Swords Stars become the arrow whose head is Alnilam. Alnilam is the star of Hérokaga (Redhorn) who is the Chief of the Heroka, the very spirits of the arrow. So the Sword Stars, going through the spirit of the arrow himself, align perfectly with Mars. Thus, Sirius the orphan, using his familiar Orion-as-weapon (his weapon in all other myths) clearly strikes Mars (the red bird) with his arrow. There are, as it happens, three nearly aligned stars just above Morning Star that could serve as the arrow of Ape: from bottom to top they are Tejat Posterior, Propus (Tejat Prior), and 1 Geminorum. As can be seen, they quite nearly hit their target.

Morning Star "Pulling Away" Mars and Mating the Moon, Aug. 15 - Sept. 12, 1678
Starry Night Software,

"Ape pulled the bird away" — after Mars is shot, it begins to fall from the Milky Way "tree," eventually all the way to the ground (conjunction). However, in our paradigm year of 1678, Morning Star, which is closer to Mars than Sirius, begins to pull away, but Mars follows on in the same direction. Therefore, in the allegory, Ape is pulling away the red bird justly shot by Sirius (using Orion as a bow). Being able to do this gets Morning Star its unjust reward, the right to marry the princess-moon, which stays with him in its crescent phase each month as it approaches conjunction.

"he took home" — he lives as an orphan with his grandmother. The context invites us to see his caretaker as Grandmother Earth (). Orphans and their grandmothers always live at the periphery of the village, in this case, the horizon, which belongs to Earth. This is where the star goes to live when it returns home (heliacally sets). This is also a case of periphery = underworld. When he returns to Grandmother's place he is leaving the sky and passing below the horizon to live in the lodge of Earth.

Mars at Sunrise, May 24, 1682
Starry Night Software,

"concealed under his blanket" — it takes four years for Mars to appear with Sirius in a year in which Morning Star is not also present (see below). That occurs in the year 1682, where 1678 is our paradigm year. That year Sirius set with the sun on May 24. Mars had already set with the sun on April 22, about a month earlier. At this time Mars is hardly visible, being close to the horizon when the sun rises. In Hočąk symbolism, the blanket usually refers to the clouds of the horizon. This is why Sirius' competitor, Morning Star, is given the name, "Girded with Blankets," and why the daughter of the Thunderbird chief, Yųgiwį, who is the sunset, is said to have a polychrome blanket. So for much of the time that Sirius is in the lodge of Earth, Mars is under the blanket of clouds.

"a far more brilliant hue" — when we compare the apparent magnitude data for Mars from conjunction to conjunction beginning in our paradigm year of 1678 with the corresponding data beginning in 1682, we get an interesting result. In the 1682-1684 cycle, Mars starts out very dim compared to the previous cycle, reaching its lowest magnitude at 1.68. Thus, it begins as a single feather, so to speak. The first bird, representing the first cycle, never get brighter than -1.24, whereas the second red bird, reaches a magnitude of -1.58.

1677 Mag.   1682 Mag.    
Dec 12 conj. April 25 conj.
1678 May 25 1.41
Jan 15 1.23 June 26 1.55
Feb 15 1.21 July 15 1.61
March 15 1.20 Aug 18 1.68
April 15 1.19 Oct 15 1.59
May 15 1.20 Nov 15 1.40
June 15 1.20 Dec 15 1.09
July 15 1.18 1683
Aug 15 1.12 Jan 15 0.60
Sept 15 0.98 Feb 11 0.00
Oct 15 0.73 March 15 -0.89 Color   Max. Min.
Nov 15 0.31 April 11 -1.58*     0.87 1.68
Dec 15 -0.28 May 15 -1.01     0.05 0.86
1679 June 15 -0.37     -0.77 0.04
Jan 15 -1.02 July 15 0.08     -1.58 -0.76
Jan 29 -1.24* Aug 15 0.39  
Feb 15 -0.97 Sept 15 0.61
March 15 -0.26 Oct 15 0.77
April 15 0.42 Nov 15 0.90
May 15 0.89 Dec 15 1.02
June 15 1.19 1684
July 15 1.36 Jan 15 1.15
Aug 15 1.44 Feb 15 1.27
Sept 15 1.45 March 15 1.37
Oct 15 1.41 April 15 1.46
Nov 15 1.33 May 15 1.52
Dec 15 1.23 June 17 conj.
1680 *Brightest magnitude reached in the cycle.
Jan 15 1.14
Feb. 10 conj.

So the second red bird actually did have "a far more brilliant hue" than the first one.

"the arrow crossed into the hoop, the rawhide unexpectedly changed into a young buffalo" — in addition to the obvious sexual imagery, this scene may symbolize an asterism as well. Given that this story is isomorphic to Wears White Feather, which is about Sirius and Morning Star, it should follow that this myth too pertains to celestial matters. As argued elsewhere, Sirius, Orion, and the Pleiades form a great and old (Central Siouan) asterism known as "Three Deer," based on reflexes in Sioux and Osage. This constellation is known to the Lakota as Ta-yamni, where ta refers ruminants generally, although they believe this asterism to be a buffalo. This is actually integrated into another asterism called Ċaŋgleśka Wakaŋ, "The Sacred Hoop" (also known as Ki Iŋyaŋka Oćaŋku, the "Race Track"). The ecliptic (the path of the sun) goes through the center of this hoop, and therefore corresponds to the path of the arrow. As the sun/arrow passes into the hoop, it simultaneous enters into the buffalo asterism (Tayamni). Then the buffalo Tayamni immediately dies (lies prostrate on the horizon, then sets). For the Hočągara, the arrow is , which also means "time," which is appropriate for the sun in its role as the definer not only of the year, but of various other times as marked by the heliacal rising and setting of certain stars. Back in May 10, 1678, this buffalo constellation, which in the past was really a deer asterism (Dakota, ta, "moose"; Omaha and Osage, ta, "deer"; Hočąk, ča, "deer"), lay nearly perfectly on the horizon when it was with the sun. So the ecliptic arrow passes just behind the "head" of the asterism, "killing" it, and causing to lie prostrate on the horizon. Given the double meaning of Hočąk as "time, arrow," it is doubtless time, through its measure the sun, that kills all. Thereafter, for a period of a few months, it is not seen. The tail of this asterism, formed by Sirius, rose with the sun on July 25, 1678. This neatly brackets the deer hunting season, which begins with the month of Mąįtawušira (May) and concludes at the end of Waxojrawira (July). The personification of the arrow is Hérokaga and his spirit tribe who govern the hunt. As the arrow-sun passes out of the hoop in early July (rising with Pollux), so the star of Hérokaga, Alnilam, also rises with the sun. The precession has thrown this off by about a half month as of the present year (2010). However, as long ago as 900 AD and earlier, it was still in good alignment with the deer hunting season. The sexual code makes the arrow-sun both the killer of the buffalo and the impregnator responsible for the generation of a buffalo from the rawhide hoop.

The Setting of 3-Deer inside the Sacred Hoop, May 10, 1678
Starry Night Software,

"the best meat" — the best meat was considered to be the head, which at ritual feasts was always given to the greatest warrior. Here the chief himself is the beneficiary, and as is appropriate to the head of state, he too receives the highest portion, the head. This helps confirm the astronomical interpretation, since the head of the constellation among the Osage is known as Ta-pa, the Ta-head, where ta denotes deer. In the Lakota paradigm, it is thought to refer to the buffalo, and is known as Ta-yamni-pa, "Three-Ta Head." The Hočągara are here adopting the Lakota paradigm of the asterism. The Ta-[...]-pa asterism is the Pleiades for the Lakota, the Osage, and the Omaha. The Hočągara call the same star cluster Čašįč, "Deer Rump," turning it backward. As it happens, the ecliptic passes right between the head (Lakota, Osage, Hočąk, pa), and the backbone of the asterism. So when it begins to set and to go into conjunction with the sun (the chief), it is its head that reaches the sun first.

"the fourth occasion" — four is ordinarily the number of completion, but here it correlates with the four years 1678-1682. In 1678, Morning Star seems to drag Mars after it. This "red bird" of Mars does not reach conjunction until Feb. 17, 1680 (and thus comes into the possession of the chief). In 1681, Morning Star is back in the sky, so in that year Sirius does not have sole possession of a red bird. However, when Mars comes out of conjunction with the sun in May, 1682, Morning Star is not in the sky, and Sirius comes into sole possession of the "red bird."

"his second daughter" — the moon that lands across from Sirius on Sept. 27, 1682 almost occludes Mars.

"the orphan was a mess" — on May 24, 1683, Sirius will set with the sun and live in the earth. Thus he is "dirty." Now Morning Star has returned to the sky after an absence, not only from the sky, but from the narrative to match.

"visit" — on Aug. 20, 1683, Sirius and Morning Star, with a moon right next to him, are opposite each other, and so are "visiting." Not long afterwards, Morning Star leaves the sky.

"cried all day" — crying, in an astronomical code, is frequently used when sound is symbolically substituted for light. The intensity of her crying reflects the fact that she is full. On January 3, 1684 at 2100 hours, Sirius is opposite the full moon in the east and half way on his journey to conjunction.

"the nearby lake" — the word for lake in Hočąk is te (pronounced like "day"). The "lake" to which he refers is the "Encircling Lake," Te Ją, which we call the "Ocean Sea."

"scar on his leg" — this implies that he had once been wounded in the leg. The legs are the means for standing up and walking. In an allegorical sense, when Sirius is no longer visible in the sky for a period of months, his means of erect locomotion have failed him and he can no longer "walk" through the skies. Although the wound is periodically healed, this disability remains as part of his nature.

"he jumped right in the water" — since the earth is surrounded by the waters of the Ocean Sea, an alternative way of describing conjunction with the sun is not falling into the earth, but diving into the waters. Similarly, when a star rises with the sun, it can be said to have emerged from the waters.

"much time went by" — Sirius is missing from the sky for a little over three months.

"she knelt down by the lake side and cried all day long" — Sirius rises with the sun on July 15 in 1684. Just before that day began, at 2357 hours, the moon was full, which is here expressed again as her having cried (sound for light, as above). An odd feature of the moon at this time of the year not long after the summer solstice, is that it hangs very low in the sky. It is precisely at 2357 that the full moon reached it greatest altitude, which was only 27° 44.128'. So while she was "crying" (full) she was kneeling (low altitude) by the lake side (horizon).

"sleep overtook her" — her eyes were closed, which in the case of the moon means that the whites of her eyes could not be seen. This allegorically describes the luna silens, the moon in conjunction with the sun.

"she was awakened" — the moon which she represents comes out of conjunction with the sun and gradually opens its "eye."

"dressed in magnificent robes" — in this case, white ones. The risen Sirius is resplendent in his "dress," being the most brilliant of the non-planetary stars.

"he had transformed himself in the lake" — just as the bird regenerates under a blanket into a more handsome version of itself from a single feather, so the orphan regenerates himself under a "blanket" of water into a more handsome version of himself. The rawhide hoop is of buffalo hide, and it too regenerates itself back into a whole buffalo, only one whose meat is a delicacy. The rawhide is the mammalian counterpart of the feather. Like the feather under the blanket, the buffalo hide regenerates itself under the roof of a lodge.

"meat" — stars "eat" darkness. Since Sirius is so bright, he is able to cause the consumption of a great deal of meat, and must therefore be a good shot.

"when the chief died, the orphan became chief himself" — the chief is the sun. His "death" is his setting (in the earth or sea). In the resultant night sky of Sept. 8, 1684, with which the myth concludes, Sirius (magnitude -1.47) is the brightest object in the night sky. The Moon and Venus are in conjunction with the sun, and Jupiter (magnitude -1.66) is so close to conjunction itself (Sept. 27) that it is lost in the Wisconsin tree line. Therefore, in the absence of the sun, he is chief of the night sky.

Comparative Material: See "White Feather, Red Feather Isomorphisms."

The Omaha version of this story is almost identical to that of the Hočąk, prompting the thought that one tribe adopted the story from the other. Once upon a time there was a village of Indians. And an old woman and her grandson, called the Orphan, dwelt in a lodge at a short distance from the village. The two were very poor, dwelling in a low tent made of grass. The grandson used to play games. One day he said, "Grandmother, make a small bow for me!" The grandmother made the bow and some arrows. The boy went to shoot birds. And after that he used to bring back many birds, putting them all around his belt. The boy became an excellent marksman, usually killing whatever game came in sight of him. About ten o'clock each morning all the people in the village used to make a great noise. At last the Orphan said, "Grandmother ,why do they make such a noise?" The grandmother said, "There is a very red bird that goes there regularly, and when he alights on a very tall cottonwood tree he makes a very red glare over the whole village. So the chief has ordered the people to shoot at the bird, and whoever kills the bird can marry the chief's daughter." "Grandmother," said the Orphan, "I will go thither." "Of all places in the world that is the worst place for you to visit. They like to abuse strangers. They will abuse you. There is no reason why you should go." The boy paid no attention to her, but took his bow and went out of the lodge. "Beware lest you go," said his grandmother. "I am going away to play games," said the Orphan. But he went straight to the village. When he drew near the village, he noticed the red light all around. He also saw a great crowd of people, who were moving to and fro, shooting at the bird. The Orphan reached them. One man said, "Come, Orphan, you may shoot at it." But the Orphan continued to hesitate, as he feared the people. But the people continued to approach him, saying to the rest, "Stand off! Stand off! Let the Orphan shoot!" So the Orphan shot at the bird. And he barely missed it. Just then Ictinike shot, and sent a reed arrow beside that of the Orphan. The people said, "Oh ! the Orphan came very near killing it!" But Ictinike said, "I am the one who came near killing it." When the bird flew away the people scattered, returning to their lodges. And the Orphan went home. Said he to his grandmother, "I came very near killing the bird." "Do not go again! They will abuse you. Did I not say, do not go?" said the old woman. On the morning of another day he went thither. And the people were making a great noise. And it happened as on the previous day; he was told to shoot at the bird, and he barely missed it. On the third day he met with similar bad luck. But on the fourth day he hit the bird, wounding it through and through. "Oho! the Orphan has killed it," said the people. "Nonsense!" said Ictinike, "I killed it! I killed it! You must not grumble! You must not grumble!" And as Ictinike would not let the people do as they wished, he snatched the honor of the occasion from the Orphan. (605) And the people came in crowds to view the spectacle, the body of the famous bird. And when the Orphan approached the spot, he pulled out a feather, so the people thought, but he really took the entire bird, and carried it home. And the chief said, "Bring my son-in-law hither!" So the people took the bird, as they imagined, that had been killed by Ictinike, and brought it and Ictinike to the chief. And Ictinike married the elder daughter of the chief, making his abode in the chief's lodge. In the meantime the Orphan had reached home. "Grandmother," said he, "I have killed the bird." "Oh! my grandchild! Oh! my grandchild!" said she. "Grandmother, make me a we¢itaⁿ-teg¢e between the fireplace and the seat at the back of the lodge," said the Orphan. And after she made it (the Orphan hung the red bird upon it ?). And the Orphan and his grandmother had their lodge filled with a very red light. By and by the young man said, "Grandmother, make me a hide hoop." And his grandmother made the hoop for him, placing it aside to dry. But the Orphan could hardly wait for it to dry. At last it was dry. "Ho, grandmother, sit in the middle (between the fireplace and the seat at the back of the lodge ?)," said he. Then the Orphan went out of the lodge and stood on the right side of the entrance. Said he, "Grandmother, you must say, 'O grandchild, one of the Buffalo people goes to you'." And the old woman obeyed. She rolled the hoop from the lodge to the Orphan. When the hoop rolled out of the lodge, it changed suddenly into a buffalo, and the Orphan wounded it through and through, killing it near the entrance. He and his grandmother cut up the body, and his grandmother cut the entire carcass into slices for drying. At this time the people in the village had nothing to eat. The grandmother prepared a quantity of dried buffalo meat mixed with fat, and the Orphan told her to take it to the lodge of the chief, and to say, to the chief's (unmarried ?) daughter, "O, daughter-in-law! your father may eat that." The old woman threw the bundle into the lodge, turned around suddenly, and went home. When the bundle was thrown into the lodge, the chief said, "Look! Look! Look!" And when one of the daughters went to look she could not see any one. (The Orphan, by his magic power, had rendered his grandmother invisible; therefore on the fourth day he said, "Grandmother, you shall be visible when you return.") And Ictinike said, "Only one old woman dwells apart from us, and she is the one." And it was so four times. When the fourth time came, the old woman carried a sack of buffalo meat on her back, and on top of the sack she carried the bird. Then said the Orphan, "Grandmother, now you shall be visible when you return." So the old woman departed. When she was very near the chief's tent, that tent began to shine with a red light. As she passed along by the lodges the people said, "Oho! we did think that the Orphan had killed the bird, but you said that Ictinike killed it. Now the Orphan's grandmother has brought it hither. To whom will she take it?" And the people stood looking. "Oho! she has carried it to the chief's lodge!" When she reached the entrance, she threw down the sack, letting it fall with a sudden thud. "Oh! daughter-in-law, your father and brothers may eat that," said she. "Look! Look! Look!" said the chief, "she has done that often!" And Ictinike said, "Only one old woman is left there, and she is the one. Who else could it be?" And they went to see. And behold it was the grandmother of the Orphan. "It is the Orphan's grandmother," said (one of the daughters). "Ho! bring my son-in-law to me," said the chief. And they took the pack which the old woman had brought and they hung it up with the bird. They (606) placed it beside that which Ictinike had (seemingly) killed, and which had been hung up. And as they sat in the lodge it was filled with a very red glare. When they had returned with the Orphan, he married the younger daughter of the chief, making his abode in the chief's lodge. The Orphan's hair had not been combed for a long time, so it was tangled and matted. So Ictinike's wife said to her sister, "Sister, if he sits on the rug, he will make lice drop on it! Make him sit away from it! Is it possible that you do not loathe the sight of him?" The Orphan and his wife were displeased at this. When the wife wished to comb his hair, the Orphan was unwilling. At length, one day, when the sun was approaching noon (i.e., about 10 a.m.), he and his wife left the village and went to the shore of a lake. As they sat there the Orphan said, "I am going beneath this water, but do not return to your father's lodge! Be sure to remain here, even though 1 am absent for some time. I will return. Examine my forehead." Now, in the middle of his forehead was a depression. He had been a poor Orphan, and was brought up accordingly, so he had been hurt in some manner, causing a scar on his forehead. Then he started to wade into the lake. He waded until only his head was above the surface, then he turned and called to his wife, "Remember what I told you. That is all!" Having said this, he plunged under the surface. His wife sat weeping, and after awhile she walked along the lake shore, weeping because he did not return. At last her eyelids became weary, and she went to sleep at the very place where they had first reached the lake. When she was sleeping very soundly her husband returned. He took hold of her and roused her. "I have returned. Arise!" On arising suddenly and looking, behold, he was a very handsome man, and his hair was combed very nicely, so the woman hesitated, thinking him a stranger, and she turned away from him. "Oh fie! you like to make sport of people! I married a very poor man, who plunged beneath this water, and I have been sitting weeping while awaiting his return," said she. "Why! I am he," said her husband. Still the woman paid no attention to his words. "Why! see that place about which I said, 'Examine it!'" When the woman turned around and saw it she no longer hesitated, but embraced him suddenly and kissed him. Then the husband went to the shore, drew together a quantity of the green scum that collects on the surface of water, and made of it a robe and skirt for his wife. The Orphan had birds resembling short eared owls over his moccasins and robe, and he had some tied to his club. Whenever he laid down the club the birds used to cry out. Late in the afternoon he and his wife departed for the village. When they arrived the people exclaimed, "Why! The wife of the Orphan has returned with a very different man. I think that the Orphan has been killed. He went off in the morning. Why! this is a very handsome man." When the Orphan reached the chief's lodge all the birds made a great noise. Then said the wife of Ictinike, "Sister, let my sister's husband sit on part of the rug." "Why, elder sister! your sister's husband might drop lice on your rug," said the younger sister as she turned up one end of the rug and threw it towards the elder sister. Whereupon Ictinike's wife began to cry, and she cried incessantly. At last her father said to Ictinike, "This world is very large, but you are known everywhere as one who possesses various kinds of knowledge. Use one of these and make my daughter stop crying."2

The Ponca version is less similar. In this story, the Trickster Ictinike is traveling about and chances upon Rabbit. He persuades Rabbit not only to shoot a bird for him, but to scale the tree where the bird's body was hung up in the branches. Rabbit then strips off his clothes and climbs the tree. Ictinike says, "Let him stick," and Rabbit finds himself suddenly glued to the tree. Ictinike puts on Rabbits clothes and proceeds to the nearest village, leaving Rabbit stuck to the tree. Ictinike, having been mistaken for Rabbit himself, succeeded in marrying the chief's eldest daughter, much to the chagrin of the younger daughter, who wanted him for herself. This daughter left the village to wander in the back country, when by chance she encountered Rabbit as he stood fastened to the tree. She eventually freed him by melting the glue that held him fast. She returned to the village with him and there she married him. One day an eagle was seen flying over the village. The people called for the Son of Rabbit, as Ictinike was now styled, to come forward and shoot it. He made his best effort, but could not hit it. Then the despised husband of the younger sister came forth, and he shot the eagle where the other had failed. He took for himself nothing but a single feather, which he instructed his wife to put away. The next day,  when the feather was examined, it proved to be a whole eagle. His wife then gave it to her father the chief. The next day another eagle appear over the village. Ictinike was called to shoot it down, but again he missed. Once more, Rabbit succeeded in shooting it down, and kept for himself a single feather which regenerated into a whole eagle. Having repeated several more times, it became apparent to the people that the younger sister's husband, dressed as he was in shabby clothes, was in fact the Rabbit. Upon being thus acclaimed, he stripped Ictinike of his clothes, which he put back on himself, then kicked Ictinike so high in the air, than his fall back to earth killed him.3

There is a Lakota story that has some interesting parallels with our Hočąk tale. This story is about the Avenger, a young man sprung fully formed from a clot of buffalo blood. (For the beginning of this story, see Hare Visits Grandfather Bear.) A giant red eagle terrorized the people of a village, so their chief ordered that it be killed; but the warriors of the village could never seem to hit it. As an incentive, he offered his daughter in marriage to anyone who could down the bird. One day some hunters spied a man who killed many buffalo with a single shot of just one magic arrow. This was the Avenger. They reported the feat to their chief, who ordered them to bring him this man, whom the chief knew to be the Avenger, as surely he alone could kill the bird. However, the trickster Iktomi knew the way by which the Avenger was coming. Soon they met. Iktomi persuaded the Avenger to shoot a bird with his magic arrow, but the bird fell into the branches of a tree. He begged the Avenger to climb the tree to get the bird for him, which the man graciously consented to do. When he threw down the bird with the arrow in it, Iktomi had his chance to steal it. When he descended to the ground, while he still touched the tree, Iktomi cast a spell which caused the Avenger to be bound within the tree bark which held him fast. Iktomi fled with the magic arrow and headed for the village where he hoped to gain the young princess for himself. This very princess, however, was out gathering wood when she discovered the Avenger in his strange prison. She cut him loose, but Iktomi now had a big lead. When the men of the village spotted Iktomi they escorted him to the chief's teepee, where he was greeted as if he were the Avenger himself. Some remarked that he was surprisingly ugly for a man of such reputation. When the eagle finally appeared, the impostor fired all his arrows but not a one struck the red bird. While is was making his excuses, the princess arrived to announce that the Avenger was on his way. Now the chief knew that the man before them was an impostor who was aping the real Avenger. He had Iktomi thrown on top of a scaffold used for burial and bound there for quite some time while all the people laughed at his predicament. The true Avenger, handsome to behold, was now among them. When the eagle appeared he shot it so quickly none saw the arrow leave the bow, but the eagle was struck square in the breast and fell from the sky. The Avenger plucked out one red feather and placed it in his hair. Soon afterwards he took the beautiful princess to wife.4

The Teton Lakota have another version of the story. Blood Clot Boy (Weyóta) lived alone with Old Woman. In the mornings a red eagle circled over the village and at noon every day a red fox ran through the camp. The chief ordered that whoever could kill the red eagle and red fox, would have his eldest daughter Cokapatipi ("Middle of the Tipi") for his wife. The chief did this because he believed that only Weyóta could accomplish the feat and become his son-in-law. The grandmother was surprised that the boy was going to compete, but made him a set of clothes anyway. On his way to the village, Weyota met Iktomi. When a prairie chicken alighted on a nearby tree, Iktomi asked Weyota to shoot the bird for him. So Weyota put an arrow into it, but the bird hung up in the branches. When Weyota climbed the tree to retrieve the bird, Iktomi said, "Stick, stick, stick," and Weyota became glued to the tree. Iktomi took all the clothing and other belongings of Weyota, and went to the village. He was mistaken for Weyota and married Cokapatipi. Iktomi tried to shoot the eagle and the red fox, but could not hit either one. Weyota changed himself into an ugly little boy. An old woman happened by and freed Weyota from the tree, taking him home with her to be a playmate for her little grandson. (The story of Waziya is inserted here.) The ugly little boy sent the old woman to Iktomi and instructed her to demand that he surrender Weyota's property to her. He sent her packing, but the second time he surrendered everything to her. The chief suspected that the ugly boy is the real Weyota, and let him marry his second daughter, Hakaktaki ("Youngest"). Her elder sister objected to him because he was so dirty. Weyota shot the red fox and eventually the red eagle as well. Weyota took his wife to a river. He threw her in, and she disappeared below the waters. Later she reemerged beautiful and wearing beautiful clothing. The young man also jumped in the river and disappeared into the waters. He later emerged as a handsome young man in magnificent clothing. When they returned the people in the village did not recognize them. When Cokapatipi saw him, she wanted to become his second wife, but Hakaktaki would not give her consent.5

The Oglala (Teton) Lakota also have a very close version of the hoop episode. "The boy [Iron Hawk] told the old man to get a grape-vine stock and the old woman to soak apiece of rawhide without the hair. Out of the hide the old man cut around, cut around, and cut a long strand with which he tied the vine into a hoop and netted it, leaving a hole in the center. The youth tied some buffalo hairs through the hole with sinews and told his grandmother to hold up the hoop and say 'pte ro cinca,' that is 'Four-year-old buffalo,' and make a motion to throw the hoop but not to throw it (until the fourth time). She repeated these words and made three motions and the fourth time she threw it and he shot through the hole and there lay a four-year-old buffalo."6

"Mocker" — the Oglala call Iktomi Waunca [Waúŋća], the "Mocker." The word waunca is also used to denote the monkey or ape, thus making Iktomi a close parallel to Ape in the Hočąk story.7 See the Lakota story above, where Iktomi plays the role of Ape. Dorsey observes, "At the present day, the Omaha and Ponka apply this name, Ictinike [their Trickster], to the monkey. ... Some of the Omaha and Ponka myths consider Ictinike in the light of an imitator; hence appears the reason for the modern application of his name to the monkey."8

The Ioway also have a story similar to this one. One day Blood Clot Boy left his own village dressed in a fine courting outfit. Just before reaching his destination, he took off his fine cloths and dressed in a breech cloth. When he came to the village he entered a lodge at the outskirts where an old lady lived alone. Now it happened that there was a mysterious bird that hovered motionless above the village. The chief promised his daughter to anyone who could shoot down the bird, so a great crowd showed up to try to win the prize. People said, "That's the old lady's grandson." They laughed at the idea that he wanted to take a shot too. The young man drew back his arrow and on his very first shot he killed the bird where everyone else had failed. The chief proclaimed the boy to be his son-in-law. The chief's first daughter, when she saw that he was poorly dressed, dirty, and even infested with lice, refused to take him, or even sleep anywhere near him, so the second daughter of the chief agreed to take him to husband just for the sake of their father's honor. Blood Clot Boy told his wife to come with him to a creek where nearby he had stowed his finer clothing. When they got there, he jumped into the creek, and when he emerged, he was very handsome and in perfect condition. His wife could not believe that this man was really her husband. However, he showed her the birth mark that he revealed before his left, so she realized that it was indeed her husband. He donned his finery, and when they returned to the village the older sister wanted to take the man back as her husband, but the younger sister refused to give him up.9

Another Ioway tale is strongly similar to the buffalo hoop episode. "When Coyote came back, he saw a lone buffalo standing at the edge of the timber near his friend's lodge. He asked his friend what it was doing there, and the old man replied, 'That is my buffalo; that is the one who gets me the meat.' The old man had a loop of buffalo hair that he put over his shoulder. As soon as he had put it on, he received supernatural power from the buffalo, and he would go out to his bison which would immediately vanish and become a buffalo horn headdress, while buffalo meat lay in piles before him. When Coyote saw the powerful loop of buffalo hair, he begged his friend to give him one like it, so that he could supply his family. 'You would abuse it and make it useless,' said the old man. 'Oh no, I'll take the greatest are of it,' said Coyote, so at last the old man reluctantly consented and made one for Coyote. 'When you are through hunting,' said the old magician, 'take this magic loop, and throw it down in a patch of rich grass, and it will again turn into a buffalo and feed there.' Coyote went home rejoicing. He threw his loop down by the tent and went in and told his wife that he had something wonderful that would always bring them meat. He showed the buffalo to his family, and his wife said, "Why, you are afraid of it?' but Coyote walked boldly up and although the buffalo bellowed and threatened him, he seized it, whereupon it vanished and became a buffalo-hair rope loop again. Thus Coyote was able to supply his family for months."10

The Blackfoot version is part of their Twin myths. One of the Twins, Beaver, was transformed into a small, dirty boy. He was taken in by an old grandmother who pitied him. Now the people had gathered at the base of a tree in whose branches a prairie chicken sat. It was decreed by the chief that whosoever shot the bird would have the hand of his eldest daughter. So the dirty little boy went out with his poorly constructed bow and arrows to try his luck. Despite the fact that everyone derided him, with his first shot he very nearly hit the bird. With his second try he did hit the bird, but another man, Crow Arrow, had shot at the same time, and he rushed over to the bird where it lay and put his own arrow in it. However, none of the spectators accepted that, but the chief, when he saw the dirty boy, said that such a person could hardly be allowed to be his son-in-law, so he made another contest to determine the winner of his daughter's hand. Beaver won this contest as well, so the chief had to give him his eldest daughter. However, the dirty boy so disgusted her that she refused to marry him, forcing the chief to send his second daughter to him. This daughter liked the boy very much, and never hesitated to clean him up. One day the young boy told his wife and grandmother that they must leave the lodge until he called for them. Once they had gone, he applied yellow paint to himself, and lengthened his hair, and when he was finished, he had become a handsome young man again. Then he called for his women to return. He gave his grandmother a dress, and as soon as she put it on, she became young again. He ran his hand over his wife's hair, and it became very long. After that, he was able to succeed in a buffalo hunt despite the magic of Crow Arrow, who had made the animals disappear from the land.11

A Pawnee tale is summarized by George Dorsey. "Coyote, a tricky man, lays claim to the achievement of a poor boy who has shot the wonderful red bird, and in the boy's place marries the chief's eldest daughter; after the boy has obtained from the animals magic garments, and married a second daughter of the chief, Coyote steals these robes and impersonates him, but is detected and banished."12

Links: Bird Spirits, Buffalo Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: 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), 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 Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; about buffaloes and Buffalo Spirits: Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, White Fisher, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Bluehorn's Nephews, Redhorn's Father, The Woman who became an Ant, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Buffalo's Walk, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Creation of the World (v. 3), The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Wazųka, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Story of the Medicine Rite, Black Otter's Warpath; mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth.

Themes: red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (hair, body paint, arrows), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Trickster and the Mothers (sky), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Deer Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hočągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įčorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); an orphan rises from obscurity to become chief: The Red Man, Partridge's Older Brother, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, The Chief of the Heroka, The Nannyberry Picker; an old woman scolds her orphan grandson for being presumptuous even though he later turns out to be the most capable person in the village: White Wolf, The Roaster, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Brass and Red Bear Boy; a young man comes to own a very remarkable bird: The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds; someone dives into a body of water and disappears into its depths: The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Woman who Married a Snake, The Shaggy Man; a man dies in the water, but when he is later revived, his qualities have improved: The Shaggy Man; persons brought back from the dead are more attractive in appearance than before their death: The Shaggy Man, Partridge's Older Brother; a repulsive looking, but holy person, is transformed into an attractive person after gaining the support (or rejection) of his or her lover: The Skunk Origin Myth, The Chief of the Heroka, Old Man and Wears White Feather; a chief gives away his daughter as a prize for achievement: The Chief of the Heroka, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse; a chief offers his daughter in marriage in exchange for the hide of a very rare and beautiful animal: Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse; marriage to a yųgiwi (princess): The Nannyberry Picker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Big Stone, Partridge's Older Brother, Redhorn's Sons, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Roaster, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, The Two Boys, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Shaggy Man, The Thunderbird, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Birth of the Twins (v. 3), Trickster Visits His Family, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, Redhorn's Father, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Morning Star and His Friend, Thunderbird and White Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Shakes the Earth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga; gifts are thrust through the flap of the lodge by someone that is not seen: The Shaggy Man, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head; a bird(-man) is regenerated from a single feather: Bird Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, many people shoot at an animal in the trees, but only an outsider succeeds in hitting it: Wears White Feather on His Head; after a young man kills an animal, someone comes along and wrongfully claims it as his own: Porcupine and His Brothers.


1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 49-56. Informant: Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan).

2 George Miller, "Adventures of the Orphan," in James Owen Dorsey, "The ¢egiha Language," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 604-606.

3 Nudáⁿ-axa, "The Young Rabbit and Ictinike" in Rev. James O. Dorsey, "¢egiha Texts," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 55-57.

4 Zitkala-Ṣa, "The Tree-bound" and "Shooting of the Red Eagle," Old Indian Legends (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1901) 76-98.

5 Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian: Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States, and Alaska, ed. by Frederick Webb Hodge. 20 vv. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1907-1930) 3.111-118.

6 Martha Beckwith, "Mythology of the Oglala Dakota," Journal of American Folklore 43, #170 (1930): 339-442 [384].

7 James Owen Dorsey, A Study of Siouan Cults, in the Annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Volume 11, 1889-1890 (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1894) 361-544 [472]. William K. Powers, Oglala Religion (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975) 84. Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1892) 540b s.v. wa-uŋ´-ća.

8 James Owen Dorsey, "Nanibozhu in Siouan Mythology," The Journal of American Folklore, 5, #19 (October-December, 1892): 293-304 [300].

9 "5. Wabágre Waskike, the Blood Clot Boy," in Alanson Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," The Journal of American Folklore, 38, #150 (October-December, 1925): 427-506 [452-453].

10 "4. Manikáthi Čágre, or Coyote and His Family," in Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," 448-449.

11 Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 [1908]) 47-53.

12 George A. Dorsey, Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee. The American Folk-Lore Society (Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1904) 239-245.