The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons (§6 of the Redhorn Cycle)

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


Suppliants, who came to Redhorn's village bearing the bloody shirts of the slain, asked Redhorn to avenge them. Redhorn consented and was very successful on the warpath. Some people suggested that the suppliant's pipe also be offered to the sons of Redhorn. The eldest took it and smoked. Then he turned to Storms as He Walks and said, "Now I shall need the weapon that you promised to give me, since I am going on the warpath." Storms as He Walks replied, "Ho! I promised it to you, so I shall go to the Thunderbird spirit village and bring it back."

Three times he went there, and three times he came back empty handed. The fourth time his uncle, who owned the weapon, said, "Very well, I shall bring it to earth, but you must have something to wrap it in." Storms as He Walks came back with the good news, but before they could secure a wrap for it, it began to drizzle and soon the Thunderbirds were descending with the weapon in hand. "Where is the weapon's case?" they demanded, "this holy weapon cannot be allowed to touch the ground!" The boy cried when he heard these words. However, standing nearby in the lodge was a boy who had been a friend to Redhorn's sons for many years. He stepped forward and said, "Let my body be the weapon case." They all thanked him with heart felt gratitude. The boy laid down on his stomach in the middle of the lodge, and as he lay there blood started to ooze from his mouth, and he died. The Thunderbirds fell upon him and devoured his flesh until nothing was left but bones. Then the uncle of Storms as He Walks declared, "Put these bones in a deerskin. This Warbundle has great power. On your first warpath you can take a whole family, and on your second, you can wipe out two families. On your third warpath it will give you three families, and on your fourth warpath, if you will it, an entire village can perish at your hands." Having given the humans the Thunderbird Warbundle, Storms as He Walks and the other Thunderbirds went back to their celestial abode.

After this the sons of Redhorn went on a raid with boys of their own age. On the way they killed a number of elk from which they took two elk bladders, inflated them, and attached them to their belts. They went on until they reached the place where the sky crashes loudly against the earth. There the brothers filled their elk bladders with their own followers. Then the sons of Redhorn removed the bones of their friend and brought him back to life. They waited for the sky to bounce back from the earth, then dashed through the gap. When they were on the other side, they released their comrades from inside the elk bladders. On the other side of the sky there was a village whose upper and lower moiety chiefs were made of iron and were thought to be invulnerable. They knew that Redhorn was holy, but they had warred upon his people nonetheless. It was against their people that Redhorn had launched vengeance raids, although he did not know of these chiefs. They were planning to go after Redhorn, which is why the boys had gone on the warpath in the first place. The Iron Spirits had foreknowledge that Redhorn's sons were coming after them, but in the fighting they were captured just the same. The boys bound them in irons and took them away. When they reached the sky's edge, they inflated the two bladders and put the prisoners in one and their followers in the other, then at the precise moment they crossed under the edge of the sky. On the other side, they let everyone out of the bladders and the resurrected boy led the way home carrying the Thunderbird Warbundle. After celebrating their victory, they made the prisoners "play with fire." It had been said that the iron spirits could not be killed, yet when they threw them into great bonfires they turned red hot and died.1


Commentary. "the suppliant's pipe" — when people came to ask a great favor, they would prepare a pipe for smoking, then turn the stem towards the person from whom they wished the favor.

"eldest" — this is the one who looks just like his father, and who in fact, seems to be his father reincarnated.

"weapon" — this is not to be a weapon, strictly speaking, but a Warbundle, a packet containing sacred objects which have powers to favorably affect the outcome of battle, and so act in a way rather like a weapon. Nevertheless, a copy of the Thunderbird Warclub is always placed in the Thunderbird Warbundle, so it is probably to this weapon that reference is made, although the objective is to leave behind not a weapon, but a Warbundle.

"uncle" — the owner of the Thunderbird Warclub is Great Blackhawk, chief of the Thunders. This would make Storms as He Walks the nephew of the chief.

"laid down on his stomach" — this probably symbolizes his membership in the Earth Moiety, as he is facing where he had come from.

"blood started to ooze from his mouth" — normally a Warbundle cover is made by a virgin having her first menses. This condition is mimicked by the boy's mouth being pointed downward with blood oozing out of it. The menstrual blood is a blood of death, since it appears to act as a spermaticide, a notion arising from the fact that no one ever becomes pregnant while menstruating. Therefore, the blood that oozes from his mouth is coterminus with the boy's death in order that it be seen as menstrual-like, a blood of death in its own right.

"devoured his flesh" — whenever the Thunders devour something, they burn it with their lightning. This is why only his bones survive, as they are the only part of his anatomy that is fire resistant.

"deerskin" — now the wrap is to be made of the standard deerskin rather than the boy's body. The remains of the boy's body are to constitute the efficacious contents of the Warbundle.

"the brothers filled their elk bladders with their own followers" — the two sons of Redhorn are chiefs over the Little Children Spirits who are just like the Heroka, lilliputian hunting spirits whose arrows never miss their mark. This explains why they will fit inside an elk bladder.

"iron" — by the XIXth century it had become known that meteor(ite)s were made in part of iron. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Iron Spirits who make war upon Redhorn are meteors, since they occasionally shoot through Orion, with one of whose stars (Alnilam) Redhorn is identical. Meteors are of both the Upper and Lower moieties, since they originate in the heavens, but some make it to the ground as meteorites, where they live ever after. So the Upper Moiety chief would rule over the meteors of the firmament, and the Lower Moiety chief would rule over the meteorites of the earth.

"the prisoners in one" — this may reflect the fact that most meteorites found are small (being in fact fragments). Shooting stars are no bigger than stars, which are elsewhere said to fit nicely into a bundle.

"play with fire" — a species of tough humor describing the process of torturing someone with fire, then burning them alive.


Isomorphism. The repeating elements of this story can be tabulated.

1 2 3
The sons of Redhorn accept the pipe and organize a warparty   The Iron Spirits were planning a raid against Redhorn's people
Three times Storms as He Walks fails to persuade the Thunders to give up the weapon,   The warparty engages in fighting,
but the fourth time he brings it back.   but eventually captures the two Iron Spirits.
A boy volunteers to die that his body might become the weapon case   Iron Spirits know of the coming warparty but are captured anyway
The boy lies on his stomach, blood issues from his mouth, and he dies The sons of Redhorn bring their friend back to life The Iron Spirits were said to be invulnerable
The volunteer is devoured by the Thunderbirds   The Iron Spirits are captured, then burned
His bones are put inside a deerskin The followers are placed inside elk bladders The Iron Spirits are placed inside an elk bladder
The Warbundle gives the sons of Redhorn immense power   The Iron Spirits die even though they were said to be invulnerable
The Thunders return to their celestial abode The boys cross over to the other side of the sky The boys cross back over from the other side of the sky

Apparently the idea behind saying that the Iron Spirits had foreknowledge of the warparty coming against them but were captured anyway, is to show that they deliberately and voluntarily surrendered, just as the boy did for the sake of the two sons of Redhorn. Eating is homologous to capture, since when an enemy is killed or captured, he is said to have been "swallowed." So the devouring of the young volunteer is analogous to the capture of the Iron Spirits, who are thus "swallowed" by the sons of Redhorn. It may be noted that meteor often seem to be swallowed or captured by asterisms since they pass into them, then suddenly disappear (burn out). Both the swallowing by the Thunders and the captivity of the Iron Spirits involve the victims' incinertation.


Comparative Material. In a Cherokee story about the two sons of Kanáti, who correspond to the Hočąk Twins, the following is said about the edge of the world: "He (Kanáti) soon got out of sight of the boys, but they kept on until they came to the end of the world, where the sun comes out. The sky was just coming down when they got there, but they waited until it went up again, and then they went through and climbed up on the other side."2 In another story, men seek the place of the sun to see what it is like. "The young men traveled on until they came at last to the sunrise place where the sky reaches down to the ground. They found that the sky was an arch or vault of solid rock hung above the earth and was always swinging up and down, so that when it went up there was an open place like a door between the sky and ground, and when it swung back the door was shut. Sun came out of this door from the east and climbed along on the inside of the arch."3

These two Aztec stories are isomorphic to the basic structure of the Hočąk myth (for which see above). "Then those spirits, the Xiuhteteuctin [Fire Lords] hear him, and they go to get the woman, Itzpapalotl. Mimich leads the way. And when they get her, they burn her. And then they all shined forth: first, the blue flint shined. Second, the white flint shined. They took the white one and wrapped it up. Third, the yellow flint shined. They didn't take it, they just looked at it. Fourth, the red flint shined. And again they didn't take it. Fifth, the black flint shined. Again they didn't take it. But Mixcoatl made the white flint his spirit power, and when they had wrapped it up, he backpacked it."4 The second story is a variant of the first. "And then they fell into the hands of Itzpapalotl, who ate the four hundred Mixcoa, finished them off. White Mixcoatl, called Mixcoatl the younger, was the only one who escaped, who ran away. He jumped inside a barrel cactus. And when Itzpapalotl seized the cactus, Mixcoatl rushed out and shot her, calling to the four hundred Mixcoa, who had died. They appeared. They shot her. And when she was dead, they burned her. Then they rubbed themselves with her ashes, blackening their eye sockets."5 These ashes were also put into a Warbundle.

"the sky to bounce back from the earth" — this idea is widespread. Eliade says, "The sky is also conceived as a lid; sometimes it is not perfectly fitted to the edges of the earth, and then the great winds blow in through the crack. It is likewise through this narrow crack that heroes and other privileged beings can squirm to enter the sky."6 He elaborates in a footnote: "P. Ehrenreich (Die allgemeine Mythologie und ihre ethnologischen Grundlagen, p. 205) remarks that this mythico-religious idea dominates the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. It is yet another expression of the widespread symbolism of ascent to the sky through a 'strait gate'; the aperture between the two cosmic planes widens for only a moment and the hero (or the initiate, the shaman, etc.) must take advantage of this paradoxical instant to enter the beyond."7


Links: Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Sons of Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, Turtle, Storms as He Walks, Bird Spirits, Giants, Iron Spirits.

Links within the Redhorn Cycle: §5 The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, §7 The Seduction of Redhorn's Son.


Stories: featuring the sons of Redhorn as characters: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, Redhorn's Father; mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn's Father, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; about Flint: Hare Kills Flint, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, Chief of the Heroka, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; featuring Iron Spirits as characters: How the Thunders Met the Nights, Šųgepaga, The Raccoon Coat, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; mentioning Warbundles: Waruǧápara (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?), 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, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store (Potawatomi), A Man's Revenge (enemy); mentioning bladders: Bladder, Bladder and His Brothers, The Birth of the Twins (turkey), The Two Boys (elk).

This waiką has a strong counterpart in the worak Šųgepaga.


Themes: certain beings are thought to be invulnerable (but may not be): The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Great Walker's Warpath, Partridge's Older Brother; hypnotic commands issued at a distance: The Birth of the Twins, The Two Boys, Brave Man; otherworld journeys inside an animal skin sack: How the Thunders Met the Nights, cf. Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; because the spirits make clear that it is a necessity, a man volunteers to die: Redhorn's Sons, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, The Phantom Woman; a great spirit's human friend sacrifices his life for him only to be revived later: Redhorn's Sons, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow; the Thunders seek to eat a human being: Bluehorn's Nephews, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds; a person is killed so that his skin can be used to make a sacred bundle: The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle; a man injured by the Thunderbirds regenerates (in four days): Waruǧapara, Redhorn's Sons, Bluehorn's Nephews; someone volunteers to offer himself to a spirit: Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbirds), The Seer (Waterspirit); a warleader is given two very holy men by the spirits, and in spite of their powers, these men have no idea that they are being approached by a warparty: White Thunder's Warpath; a warparty attacks evil spirits whose bodies are made of iron: Šųgepaga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; making the enemy "play with fire": The Fox-Hočąk War, Redhorn's Sons, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Bird Clan Origin Myth.


Notes

1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 132-134.
2 "Kanáti and Selu: The Origin of Game and Corn," in James Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (Asheville, North Carolina: Bright Mountain Books, 1992 [1891/1900]) Story 3, p. 247.
3 "The Journey to the Sunrise," in Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, Story 7, p. 256.
4 Leyenda de los Soles, 80:7-80:16 (Bierhorst).
5 Annals of Cuauhtitlan, 1:17-1:20 (Bierhorst).
6 Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Bollingen Series LXXVI (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964 [1951]) 260.
7 Eliade, Shamanism, 260 nt. 5.