The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
When the Creator fashioned the Shawnee Prophet, he made him that he might accomplish a special mission on this earth. The Creator told him all that he was to do and achieve in life. When he was born, he was one of triplets. In his youth the Devil (Herešgúnina) came to him and told him many things and led him astray, even to the point that he came to forget what the Creator had told him. The Devil claimed that he would ascend to heaven and that no one could kill him. Then the Devil gave him a medicine belt of great mystery: when he cast it upon the ground, it would turn into a rattle snake that would shake its rattle as if to strike. Under the Devil's influence he had become a bad person, and much feared by everyone. Women were always in his company, not because they loved him, but because they feared not to do his bidding. He was immensely strong and drank to excess, and if anyone attacked him when he was drunk, he would find out who they were, and beat them severely. If they resisted, he would kill them. Thus he was feared by everyone. His brother, Haga, who was the third triplet, had a very narrow head, and people constantly teased him about it. One day he announced, "I have had enough of this, and will go home." Then he died.
One night when he was drunk, the Shawnee Prophet was jumped by a group of men and nearly killed. The next morning he asked his wife who they were, and when she told him, he said, "They shall hear of me this day!" Before taking revenge, he decided to bathe. While he was bathing, a man approached him and said, "I am sent to summon you, so let us go." The man took him to Spiritland where he saw the Creator, who asked him, "My son, I had created you for a purpose, so how fares the mission given you?" He then remembered all the Creator had said to him, all that he had since forgotten. The Creator spoke: "Did I create you thus?" Whereupon the Creator showed him his own mouth which had become twisted out of shape. Then he showed him his ears which we so warped that he did not comprehend how he could hear anything through them. "Did I create you thus?" the Creator asked. Then the Creator pulled out his heart, which was furrowed and unsmooth. "Did I create you thus?" the Creator again asked. Then the Creator showed him all his evil ways, and asked, "Is this what you were created to do? But you will do better this time."
When he returned to earth he gave up thoughts of revenge, and began to teach his great mystery. Yet no one believed him. So he called a great assembly and promised to speak the truth to them. Many scoffed and said he was becoming more and more insane. He fashioned a small, flat warclub and brought this with him. Now his remaining brother [Tecumseh] was himself very holy, and could not be killed even with bullets. He told his brother not to speak, but he replied, "If you can pick up this miniature club, then I shall fall silent." His brother went to lift it, but could not budge it at all. Then he invited anyone to lift it, but no one there could make it move at all. When the people saw this, they believed him.
At this time the other tribes were having their night dances, so the Hočągara moved nearby. The word of the Shawnee Prophet reached many, for he said, "Let the people give up the customs they now have, and I shall give them new ones." So many threw away their warbundles and tossed out their good medicine bundles, but he had meant that they should renounce their bad customs. So a warleader named "Smoke Walker" decided to lead some of the young men over to the Prophet's camp to see him. Then an old man named "Dog Head," who was very wákąčąk (holy), announced that he would come along; but the leader said, "Not so — for we shall walk as the Thunders." "If you walk as the Thunderbirds, and I cannot keep up, then I shall turn back," the old man replied. Eleven men went with Smoke Walker. When they arrived, they found people from every nation except the Hočągara. When the Shawnee Prophet saw them, his heart was glad, and he said to them, "My dear younger brothers, I had hoped much to see you, although I do not speak Winnebago, so I may not be able to address you." Now the leader turned to Dog Head, who in his youth could speak the languages of all the neighboring nations, and asked him to translate. Dog Head said, "I can understand him, but I do not know whether I can speak to him." "Do your best," said the leader, "for anything is better than nothing." Then Dog Head spoke to the Prophet and said he thought that he might not be understood, but the Prophet understood him and they had a long conversation: "My dear younger brothers," said the Prophet, "we are not getting along in life as we should because we have not done the right thing." Then he told the Hočągara all that had happened to him and how the Creator had sent him to earth to accomplish a mission. Then he instructed the people to build a long ceremonial lodge. Some were chosen to go after bears, and each one he sent forth did not fail to come back with one. Thus they believed him, and knew him to be holy.
One day the look-outs informed the Prophet that the Big Knives were advancing upon them in force. Then the Prophet told them, "Listen carefully, and when they have fallen asleep, then we will take care of them." One of the Big Knives came into camp and asked them, "Where shall we camp?" and they told him that they could camp where they were. While the Big Knives slept that night, the united tribes fell upon them, firing a hail of musket balls. The Big Knives were so surprised that many fled into the night without their muskets. The commander [General William Henry Harrison] had the bugle sounded, and the Big Knives gathered back together. Then they counterattacked and many Indians fell there [at Tippecanoe]. The Hočąk warleader, Smoke Walker, was one of these. The warriors were scattered as to the winds, and none knew who had lived or who had perished.
Small Snake, the son of Smoke Walker, headed back home with a boat load of women under his care. The women suddenly expressed alarm when they saw a boat full of white people coming right towards them. Small Snake had only two musket balls left, but he stood to fire. At the last moment he held back, for he recognized them: unexpectedly, they were not Big Knives, but Good Spirit People (French). They greeted one another and the French gave him plenty of ammunition. Thus they got safely home.
Since the time of the Shawnee Prophet many prophets have risen up and passed away, yet they never spoke the truth as he had. They spoke that they might be praised, or only that they might be heard. He foresaw that a woman would prophecy, but that she should immediately be slain, for she foreshadowed the end of the world. He also said that a boy would rise as a prophet and that all should give him ear. The Peyote people believe that they have realized this prophesy. The Shawnee Prophet said many other things that have come to pass. He spoke the truth when he said that the Hočągara would be able to write their own tongue. He said that the time would come when trees would uproot and travel about the country — thus it is when trees have been logged and put upon trains to the mill. All this he prophesied many generations ago, and he spoke the truth like no other that has come afterwards.1
The Shawnee Prophet and Tecumseh
by Alonso Mitchell and James Bird
told by Oliver LaMère
The Winnebago tradition relating to the Shawnee Prophet was related to Oliver Lamere by Alonso Mitchell and James Bird, two old men of the Winnebago tribe. Many of the present generation have faith in the Prophet's predictions. — Norton William Jipson (1923)
(416) The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh and a third brother (triplets) were sent from above by the Great Spirit to correct the ways of the Indians and to drive out their great enemies, the white people, who were coming in great numbers and would soon overcrowd this continent.
The Prophet was directed to tell the people to reform their bad ways, such as drinking the firewater, lying and stealing, and to destroy their bad medicine and quit practicing witchcraft which, in those days was believed in. And the result of the prophecy was that a great many of the tribes believed and did reform from many bad practices.
The Prophet said that he came more especially for the Winnebagoes; that if the Winnebago tribe was extinguished the creation would be unsettled and all things would not go right, because the Winnebagoes were created first, and they were the elder tribe: therefore had they been extinguished, there would have been hail and wind storms and the hail stones would have been as large as human heads; and they would have destroyed all people, including Indians and all the game animals.
The Prophet predicted that the fight with the whites would be successful, and he told them that, on a certain day, a spell would come over the white man which would cause him to be helpless, and that their guns would be so hot that they would be unable to hold them in their hands; but a Shawnee Indians spy went to the white soldiers and told them the prophesy, so the white men took advantage of it and advanced on the Indians before the spell came over them.
(417) Even then, as the report came that the white soldiers were coming, the Prophet went around their camp, which caused them to stop and he told the Indians that they could kill the white soldiers with ease. So the Indians rushed upon the soldiers in the early hours of the morning, while it was still dark, and would have been successful, for they fled in confusion as in a nightmare, but the Indians had gone on ahead and fired on them which drove them back, thus giving them a chance to rally and recover their guns.
The battle [of Tippecanoe] lasted until long in the day, but they say that during the battle it remained dark.
The Prophet was a holy man and knew when anyone deceived him. Any of the witches who had their witch outfits were found by the Prophet and their outfits destroyed. In one instance he was unable to locate a witch's outfit, so he had two brave men kill the witch and they found the paraphernalia in her skull.
When the triplets were born, the middle one was crushed in the womb so that he was disfigured or flat, so he said he was humiliated: therefore, while he was yet young, he went home. The third brother was Tecumseh who was the war leader, and who never used anything but an axe in all his battles.
Tecumseh told the Indians that he would come back to earth on a later date when he would lead the Indians to victory, and he said that on the second coming he would bring his warclub, and he admonished the Indians not to go on the warpath again until he came.
It is said that just before the last battle, he counselled his son in many things and told him that he was going home; that he came from above, and with these words, he left his son, went into battle and was instantly killed by a private soldier. The son did not worry, nor was he sad, as he knew that his father had gone to a better world.
(418) Tecumseh also said that when the stars begin to fall in the east, then the end of the world is at hand. Another sign will be when women publicly solicit in a group of men. He also told the Indians that something would make a web over the earth. This my informant believed to be the present system of railroads.2
The Precepts of the Prophet
The following are some of the precepts of the Shawnee Prophet (Tenskwatawa):
(1) Never drink alcohol.
(2) No man should have more than one wife.
(3) No man should chase after women. Let all single men marry instead.
(4) If a married woman neglected her work, her husband might punish her with a rod, but after the punishment was over, both were to look one another in the eyes and laugh, holding no animosity thereafter.
(5) All Indian women living with white men should be brought back home without their children, to ensure that all the peoples remained genuinely Indian.
(6) All medicine dances and songs are abolished. Medicine bundles are to be confiscated and their contents destroyed in front of the whole assembled people. Those possessing such bundles were to make a loud confession of all the bad deeds that they had performed in the certain knowledge that the Great Spirit was too good not to forgive them.
(7) No one is permitted to sell anything to white people. Gifts of equal value might be exchanged, however.
(8) No one is permitted to eat white food or food prepared by white people.
(9) No one may sell anything, only barter is permitted.
(10) The French, Spanish, and English were to be considered brothers and fathers, but the Americans were always to be kept at a distance.
(11) Anyone owning white apparel was to give it to the first white person whom he met. Domestic cats were to be given back to the whites, as are all non-native breeds of dogs.
(12) Everyone is enjoined to avoid acquiring anything from the whites so that game will become more plentiful and can be hunted with the bow and arrow as in former times. This will achieve independence from the white man.
(13) Anyone refusing to abide by these precepts should be put to death.
(14) Prayers were to be offered to the spirits to ensure plenty. These are to be done at set times as deviation from these rituals are an affront to the Great Spirit.
There were probably other regulations, but they were not recalled.3
Commentary. "could not be killed even with bullets" — back in 1887, Spoon Decorah said the same thing, but adds important details. See Tecumseh's Bulletproof Skin.
"where shall we camp?" — when the whites show up at Tippecanoe, the story has them behave like the Wangerúčge, the giant Man Eaters who challenge the good spirits to a life and death conflict. They always send a messenger to ask where they should camp, and are always told that they can camp where they are. This act aligns the white Americans with the evil spirits, a fact brought into fuller relief when Small Snake encounters in place of the expected white Americans, the French, who are known as Waxopinipįga, "Good Spirit People."
"he came more especially for the Winnebagoes" — this is almost certainly a case of the Hočągara putting words into the Prophet's mouth in order to affirm their own ideology concerning the status of their tribe.
"brave men" — this is the literal translation of wąkwašošewe, which means "warrior, brave."
"he went home" — the account adds the gloss, "(meaning he died)."
"who never used anything but an axe" — this is also said by Spoon Decorah in his account of Tecumseh. See Tecumseh's Bulletproof Skin.
"he would come back to earth on a later date" — an interesting recapitulation the familiar Christian theme of the Messiah, the British King Arthur, and other great men of destiny, who at the end of their lives promised a return to earth to effect the sweeping victory that they were not able to achieve in their first sojourn here.
Links: Earthmaker, Herešgúnina, Witches.
External Link: The History of Tecumseh and the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Stories: about the Shawnee Prophet: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension; mentioning Tecumseh: Tecumseh's Bulletproof Skin; about seers: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Witches, The Seer; 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 Anishinaabe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, 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 Hills of La Crosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; about journeys to and from Spiritland: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Journey to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Lame Friend, Two Roads to Spiritland, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Foolish Hunter, Waruǧápara, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Petition to Earthmaker, Wears White Feather on His Head, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man Whose Wife was Captured; mentioning the Battle of Tippecanoe: Great Walker's Medicine, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Little Priest's Game, 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 Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder; about Šųgépaga (Dog Head): Šųgepaga, The Warbundle Maker, Great Walker's Medicine; about Small Snake: Great Walker's Medicine; about famous Hočąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath (Big Thunder, Čap’ósgaga), The Osage Massacre (Big Thunder, Čap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hočąk War (Čap’ósgaga), The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mąčosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse (Yellow Thunder), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), How Jarrot Got His Name, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter); about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hočągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, First Contact, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning the Shawnee: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Tecumseh's Bulletproof Skin; mentioning the French: Introduction, The Fox-Hočąk War, First Contact, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, How Jarrot Got His Name, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow.
Themes: a witch is attacked while he is drunk: Migistéga's Death (v. 1); a small item set on or driven into the ground by a great man cannot be lifted by anyone else: The Twins Visit Their Father's Village (packs), The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension (warclub), Wojijé (a dog), The Raccoon Coat (a dog), The Roaster (a pack); a man proves his power by moving a weapon that no one else can budge: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension (a club), Hare Kills Sharp Elbow (an arrow); multiple births: The Birth of the Twins, The Twin Sisters, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Two Brothers; attempting to procure a bride through intimidation: The Spotted Grizzly Man, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Thunder Cloud Marries Again; a messenger summons an evil doer to Spiritland where he is reprimanded: The Foolish Hunter; a messenger leads a man to Spiritland: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Foolish Hunter, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; walking like the Thunders: Kunu's Warpath; hunters are sent out for bears and each comes back with one: Turtle's Warparty, Great Walker's Warpath; a seer makes true predictions down to unusual details: Witches, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Fox-Hočąk War, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store.
1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ) 21-25.
2 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagos (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 416-418.
3 Emma Helen Blair, The Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Region of the Great Lakes, 2 vols (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996 ) 2:273-279.