The Animal who would Eat Men

Version 1

by Oliver LaMère

One day Elk boldly declared to Hare that he had tired of his constant diet of vegetables, and that it was time that he had some meat; and not just any meat would do, but only the flesh of humans. So Hare went out and gathered the most sour berries he could find and squeezed the juice out of them to make a blood-red drink. "Here, try this," Hare said. "It's the blood of humans. See how you like it!" Elk grabbed the cup and greedily poured the drink through his lips. Its sourness was so powerful that it knocked out Elk's front teeth, which is why the elk has no front teeth even to this day. After that, Elk decided that he wanted nothing to do with human flesh, as even the blood was too offensive to drink.1

Version 2

translated by Richard L. Dieterle

From a Hocąk syllabic text of unknown provenance.

(137) At first Eel asked him, "What would I suck?" said Eel. "Could I eat humans?" he said. And so Hare said, "After you eat a piece with your teeth," he said. He showed him his teeth. The teeth were very long. He was also afraid. (138) And he asked this one to go and eat one of the people. "As you advised, I took some portion from him as he lay there, but quickly gave it back." By means of the great force of its sourness after he took it, his teeth fell out. At some places he had teeth remaining. Very tiny ones, small ones, remained. Eel cried there. Hare did not like it. He (Eel) said, "How could it not be? Your little uncles have this to work with. I will be meant for eating," he said. (139) And Little Hare began to thank himself, "It is good," he said.2

Hocąk Syllabic Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation

Commentary: "the elk has no front teeth" — the dental formula of an elk is, I 0-0/3-3, C 1-1/1-1, P 3-3/3-3, M 3-3/3-3 = 34.3 So the elk has no upper front teeth.

Comparative Material. The Cherokee have a similar story about deer. Rabbit was jealous of Deer because Deer had won horns for his superior speed. So he gnawed on the middle of a vine and stretched it across a path. Then he rushed at it, biting it as he struck. Deer came along and saw this, and when he asked what was going on, Rabbit told him that his teeth were so sharp that he could bite through a vine. He then successfully demonstrated this. Then he challenged Deer to do the same, only this time the vine was not gnawed in the middle. Deer completely failed. So Rabbit offered to sharpen Deer's teeth. He went to work with a file, but instead of sharpening them, he filed them down nearly to the gum. Ever after deer have not been able to eat anything but leaves and grass because their teeth are so blunt.4

The neighboring Menominee have a story similar in some respects. Hare (Manabush) asked each animal what sort of food that it wanted to eat hereafter. Bear reserved acorns; Fish Hawk asked for fish; Wolf declared that he would eat deer. Then Hare asked Deer what he should eat, and Deer replied, "I shall eat men." As each of the other animals had demonstrated that they could eat what they had asked for, Deer set about hunting humans, which was quite easy, since they were so numerous. One day a man noticed that his tracks were being shadowed by those of a deer, so he stood in wait. The deer, to look more fearsome, took out two of his ribs and stuck them in his lower jaw so that they looked like tusks. When he encountered the man he was about to pounce on him when the man calmly shot him to death with a single arrow. When the spirit of Deer returned to the meeting with Hare, the latter said, "You see how it is, you can hardly have men for food."5

Here is the Ojibwe version: there was once a cannibal who lived with his two children. One day a boy had the good fortune to be able to kill him. He transformed the two children into buffalo, and told them they ever after they would eat only grass.6

The Sauk version is rather more like the Hocąk. Originally, Stag had great teeth and went about biting people. Wisaka puts a back pack on and makes it look like it's part of his own back, but it is full of sour crabapples. Stag arrives and attacks Wisaka from behind, hoping for some tasty meat, but when he bit into the crabapples, the terrible sour taste he endures makes him swear to never eat humans again. Then Wisaka removes his dangerous front teeth, and decrees that from now on people will eat deer, not the other way around.7

The Hidatsa have a version of this story. Originally the elk was a man-eating animal. When Coyote learned of this, he beat Elk until he submitted to being herbivorous. There is an area of fat on the elks neck which people today do not eat. It's the fat of the people that Elk once ate.8

Among the Mandan it is said that the elk once had sharp teeth, but the son of the Moon took them out and replaced them with beans.9

This is the Penobscot version. Gluskabe called a powwow of all the animals to establish how they would behave towards human beings. In attendance was the squirrel. It posed a great danger to humans, as it was the size of a moose and had a mouthful of very sharp teeth. Gluskabe seized hold of Squirrel and squeezed him down to his present size, and now squirrels are entirely innocuous.10

The Tanaina have a similar story. The original caribou had vicious fangs, but Raven, seeing the problem, took these fangs away from him. Instead, he makes the caribou nostrils of birchbark which cause him to run away from people whenever he scents them.11

The Kutenai tell this version of the story: in the beginning Deer had sharp teeth and went about biting people. After he had killed many people, Coyote decided that he had had enough. He gets hold of Deer and pulls out his sharp teeth, then turns it into a plant eater.12

A Central Yupic tale also features the sour berries. Back in the earliest times humans became so populous that Raven and First Man decided that they had to find a way to cull the population. So they send reindeer with sharp teeth to hunting human beings. The reindeer eat people, then return to the sky. While they are gone, the humans cover their lodges with fat and sour berries. When the reindeer descend again, they find this food in easy reach. However, when they eat it, the sourness of the berries causes them to shake their heads. They shake their heads so hard that their sharp teeth fell out of their skulls. After that, their teeth grew back normally, and they could no longer eat humans.13

In another Yupic tale, a man creates the first caribou by carving it out of word. Originally, he gave it large teeth, but then it killed a man. After that, the creator took a stone and knocked out its front teeth. From that time on, caribou have been very timid creatures.14

The Inuit of Igloolik also know this story. A woman create the first caribou with tusks. They went about killing people, so she recalled them, removed their canine tusks and put them on their head as antlers. For good measure, she also knocked out their front teeth. She is the Mother of the Caribou and resides among them. She made her charges both timid and slower than they had been before specifically so that humans could hunt them.15

Another Inuit story from Baffin Island is very different from the foregoing. A woman turns her sealskin jacket into a walrus and her trousers into a caribou. She puts antlers on the walrus and gives long tusks to the caribou. The caribou went out and killed a man, so she recalled him, removed his tusks and gave them to the walrus; she then removed the antlers from the walrus and gave them to the caribou. While she is at it, she removes the caribou's front teeth, makes his head flat, and puts into him a timid nature.16

The Tucuna tell a story about the primaeval deer. Deer had once been in the form of a jaguar and was a man-eater. He is confronted by a young man who strikes him so hard in the jaw that his big teeth are driven through his skull and become antlers. The anteater had also been a man eater, but the young man pulled out its snouth until its mouth was too small for the task.17

A Creek story relates how a cow wished to have more power than her teeth could supply. A cow once asked God that he give her a knife. So God said, if you can stay all night in this cabbage patch, then I will give it to you. She spent all night there, but having nothing to do, she ate all the cabbage. The next morning she asked God that he might also grant that she could bear more than one calf at a time. But God replied, "Since you ate all that cabbage, you don't need a bigger belly, and your mouth is quite sufficient without a knife." Therefore, she got neither of her wishes.18

Links: Hare, Elk (I).

Stories: mentioning elks: Elk Clan Origin Myth, The Elk's Skull, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Creation Council, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Little Fox and the Ghost (v. 2), The Great Fish; See The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits; featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; mentioning teeth: The Animal who would Eat Men, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Two Boys, The Birth of the Twins, The Twins Disobey Their Father, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Dipper, Wolves and Humans, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Children of the Sun, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, Partridge's Older Brother, The Brown Squirrel, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, East Shakes the Messenger, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, White Wolf, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth.

Themes: animals that are not now carnivorous, in primordial times sought to eat human flesh: Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The War among the Animals, The Two Boys, Hare knocks out the teeth of an animal that threatened humans so that its kind ceases to pose a threat ever again: Hare and the Dangerous Frog.


1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 87-89; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 254-256. Oliver LaMère, Bear Clan, was Paul Radin's translator.
2 The Hare Cycle, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #23: 137-139.
3 Hartley Harrad Thompson Jackson, Mammals of Wisconsin (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961) 407.
4 "Why the Deer's Teeth are Blunt," in James Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (Asheville, North Carolina: Bright Mountain Books, 1992 [1891/1900]) Story 27: 276-277.
5 Katharine B. Judson, Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes (Chicago: A. C. McClung, 1914), reprinted as Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000) 123-124.
6 Victor Barnouw, Wisconsin Chippewa Myths and Tales and Their Relation to Chippewa Life (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977) #24: 125.
7 Alanson Skinner, "Sauk Tales." Journal of American Folklore, 41, #159 (1928): 147-171 [#8: 150].
8 Bear's Arm, "46d. Elk No Long Eat Men," in Martha Warren Beckwith, Mandan and Hidatsa Tales: Third Series (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1934) 302; cf. Robert H. Lowie "Studies in Plains Indian Folklore." University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 40, #1 (1942): 1-26 [5].
9 Alfred W. Bowers, Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950) 202.
10 Frank Gouldsmith Speck, "Penobscot Tales and Religious Beliefs," Journal of American Folklore, 48, #187 (1935): 1-107 [#17: 49].
11 Joan M. Tenenbaum, Dena'ina Sukdu'a. Traditional Stories of the Tanaina Athapaskans. (Fairbanks: University of Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, 1984) 103.
12 Franz Boas, Kutenai Tales. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bull. 59 (Washington, D.C.: 1918) #63: 187; Frank B. Linderman, Kootenai Why Stories. The Authorized Edition (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1926]) #7: 64-69.
13 Edward W. Nelson, The Eskimo about Bering Strait. 18th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1896-1897). Part 1 (Washington D.C., 1899) 460.
14 Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Copper Eskimos. Copenhagen. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24, vol.9 (1932): 80.
15 Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Copenhagen. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24, vol.7, #1 (1930): 67-68.
16 Franz Boas, The Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay: From Notes Collected by Capt. George Comer, Capt. James S. Mutch, and Rev. E. J. Peck. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 15 (1901), pt. I: 4-370 [#3: 167-168].
17 Curt Nimuendaju, The Tukuna. Ed. by Robert H.Lowie. Trs. by William D. Hohenthal. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol.45 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952) 133.
18 Earnest Gouge, "Cow Wants a Knife," from Totkv Mocvse: New Fire, The Creek Folktales of Earnest Gouge, translated by Margaret McKane Mauldin and Juanita McGirt, edited by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin (August, 2002), Story 22. Original texts taken from Earnest Gouge, Creek texts, with English titles and occasional English translations by John R. Swanton (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1906-1930) Manuscript 4930.