Yellow Crow Sacrifices to Disease Giver

by Peter Menaige

Peter Menaige

            (2, Col. 4) "I remember, [said Menaige], another circumstance which when it occurred put me in mind of our midnight raid on the Skins of Sacrifice. ()

            “In 1855 the Winnebago were removed from the Reservation on the upper Mississippi and on Long Prairie River, to the Blue Earth Reservation. Their agent was the faithful Gen. J. E. Fletcher, who had been with them almost continuously for twelve years, and who is yet gratefully referred to by the Winnebago, as being one of the best Agents they had while they lived in Iowa and Minnesota.

            “In the summer of their arrival in their beautiful new country on the Blue Earth River, they became afflicted by an epidemic—a sort of cholera—which was quite fatal amongst them, lasting from about the beginning of July until sometime in October. The season was hot and very dry. To the rains in September followed by the cool weather in October, changing the conditions of water and atmosphere, can be most probably attributed its disappearance when it did cease.

            “But the Indians had another theory on the subject.

            “About the middle of September, a sort of juggler and doctor amongst them named Käḣe´zheaḣäk̬ä, (Yellowish Crow.) declared to the Tribe that he had fasted and had a dream, and if they would make a Sacrifice to the god or Spirit or the “Power” of Sickness, (Özha̬ræu̬n´ä, of sickness the “cause{”},) he would be appeased and the disease would abate.

            “They believed him, and he undoubtedly believed it himself, for immediately throughout the Tribe a “a spirit of sacrifice” was aroused, and they brought to him, in one day, dry goods, including (3, Col. 1) calicoes, cloth, wampum, beads, sliver earbobs, and broaches, and cloth coats, in the value of two or three hundred dollars; and these were piled up under his direction, beneath a tree near the bank of the Le Sueur river, within a few rods of the house, and these Sacrificed or “Thrown-Away,” (Näpru̬ḣätch´) to appease the god of Sickness, by being abandoned to the Elements. They remained where they had been piled up, until the most of them were rotten and destroyed, except that some of the silver ornaments were supposed to have been early abstracted from the pile by skeptical Indians.

            “After some time had elapsed a half breed Menominee woman, intermarried in the Tribe, came and took such of the goods as were not already spoiled, washed them and used them. This fact was told to the juggler doctor; when he said, they ‘were Sacrificed to the Spirit, and neither he nor those who had offered them had anything further to do with them, and she might have taken them before if she had had a mind to.’ The sickness did not cease at the time nor very soon after this Sacrifice, but when it did on the change of weather in two or three weeks, many of the Indians considered the improvement in the general health due to this “Throwing-Away” of goods and valuables.

⎯⎯ Commentary ⎯⎯

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

In 1853, a new treaty was made, by which they were allowed to remove to the Crow river. This treaty was not ratified because of the remonstrance of the people of Minnesota (U. M., 188). On February 27, 1855, they ceded their Long Prairie reservation and were granted a tract of land eighteen miles square on the Blue Earth river, just south of Mankato, in southern Minnesota (19 [?], B. E., 804). They settled here in the spring of that year and immediately began the erection of dwellings and improvement of the land. The teacher of the reservation school reported in 1860 the enrollment of 118 pupils. In the midst of their prosperity, in June, 1862, came the "Sioux massacre," which completely wrecked their future prospects. Although they took no part in that affair, and even though they offered to the government their services in punishing the Sioux, the frightened inhabitants of Minnesota demanded their removal (U. M., 138).1

"Gen. J. E. Fletcher" — the following account is given of the life of Jonathan E. Fletcher: "A native of Thetford, Vermont, born in January, 1806. He came to Muscatine in the summer of 1836, when Iowa was made a separate territory. He attended the first land sale in the territory, in November, 1838, at which he bought lands six miles west of the city, upon which he located in the fall of 1839, and went to farming, having previously returned to Vermont. He was married to Frances L. Kendrick in 1839. He had resided a few years in Ohio before he came to Iowa. In 1846, he was appointed, by President Polk, an agent for the Winnebago Indians. His valuable services in his long career as Indian agent, to the government, and to the country, are incalculable. General Fletcher held many responsible offices in this territory and state. He represented Muscatine County in the Fourth Iowa General Assembly, 1852. He was a member of the convention which framed the old constitution, taking an important part in the formation of our fundamental law."2 On a book of old houses in Minnesota, his was described as, "... occupied by a great man who deserves wider recognition, Jonathan E. Fletcher."3

"Käḣe´zheaḣäk̬ä" — this can be transliterated as Kaǧižįaǧaka. Kaǧi means, "crow, raven"; žį actually means, "brown (tending to red)." The -aǧak is actually haǧak, "to be thick (clusters)," the /h/ being lost to internal sandhi. The terminal -ka, is a definite article suffix used in personal names. Kaǧižįaǧaka would mean, "Crow with Thick Clusters of Brown." This refers to a molting crow: "When crows molt, the old feathers can appear brownish or scaly compared to the glossy new feathers."4 The similar attested name, Kaǧižįkaga, is translated as "Yellow Crow."

"Özha̬ræu̬n´ä" — for Hošereų́na — the /h/ is often dropped, usually from external sandhi. The Spirit's name is most commonly written as Hošere’ų́wahira. The prefix ho- means, "the place where, the time when." The -wahira suffix is from wa-, "it, them"; hi, to cause, to do, he causes, he does; -ra, -na, the definite article: "the one such that he causes it." The word šere means "to act, work at something, handle, collect, treat disease." The word ’ų means, "to do, make." So Hošere’ų́na means, "the one who at a place/time is responsible for treating disease." Adding -wahira gives us, "the one who, at a place/time, is made responsible for treating disease." This is quite a circumlocution, and is designed not to be so accusatory that it alienates the Spirit when he is petitioned not to do his function. The "short hand" translation of the name is usually just "Disease Giver."

"Näpru̬ḣätch´" — for napruxác, a form unique to Foster. It is more commonly rendered as ną́piroxac. This is not to say that napruxác is invalid. Hocąk makes extensive use of contractions, and the phonemes /u/ and /o/ are often alternants in Siouan generally.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Publius V. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907) 78-162 [114].
2 From the website, The Iowa Legislature, viewed: 5/18/2012. For more on Gen. Jonathan E. Fletcher (Jan. 1, 1806 - April 6, 1872), see Clement Augustus Lounsberry, Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History (Washington, D.C.: Liberty Press, 1919) 151-152.
3 Roger G. Kennedy, Minnesota Houses: An Architectural & Historical View (Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1967) 44.
4 All About Birds > American Crow.


Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #2: p. 2, coll. 4 - p. 3, coll. 1.