Bluehorn (Hecoga)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Bluehorn (Hecoga) is an important and complex deity, at once a Waterspirit, Chief of the Buffalo, the blue sky, and "the red star" (the Evening Star). He is the brother-in-law of the Sun, the maternal uncle of the Twins, and one of the eight Great Ones (Xetera) created by Earthmaker. The "horn" (he) in his name, besides denoting animal horns, is a metaphor for hair (hį), as it is with the red hair of Redhorn.1 His is blue. It is said that when "Waterspirit Bluehorn" (Wakjexi Hecoga) came to earth as a man, he fought Thunderbirdlike enemies from whom he rescued his uncle. "Thus a blue sky did when he came to live among the humans, say the old people when they tell stories."2 Once, when Bluehorn fell asleep, one of his sisters undid his queue into four separate strands, so that, like the sky, he could be tied down at the four corners of his living space. After she had acted the role of Delilah, she summoned the Thunderbirds to attack him. Like the sky, Bluehorn was bent over backwards; and just as the firmament is "eaten" by the clouds of the Thunders, so they partially ate him. But as soon as the Twins rescued him and he parted from the Thunders, bringers of clouds, his body was predictably restored.3 It may seem strange that a Waterspirit, known for being subterranean and subaquatic, would have an identity with the blue sky, but this is a reflection of the opposition between this supernatural race and the Thunders. When the Thunderbirds fire their thunder, they are shooting at the Waterspirits; deep rumbling thunder is an underground attack right where the Waterspirits live. As a consequence, Waterspirits are found on the surface only on days when the sky is blue.

Earthmaker tells the Twins in "Bluehorn's Nephews" that they were created to rescue their decapitated uncle, the red star.4 "Red Star" appears to be another name for Evening Star.5 The star is, of course, not red in color, but takes it name most likely from the red of the sunset.6 Both the names "Bluehorn" and "Red Star" are well illustrated by the representation of Evening Star found among the related Osage.

    "[The figure] is a design representing the evening star. The color choice of blue and red is significant. If one looks at the evening star it has a red color when cast against the blue vault of the coming night."7
 The Osage Evening Star   

Judging from the fact that his sister is the moon, it is he who is described as being the star closest to the moon. His brother Morning Star is the one closest to the sun. The Red Star is said to have five other brothers all of whom are wolves, and another brother, Big Eater, who is the Chief of the Horses.8 Red Star is fleet of foot, but not as fast as his brother Morning Star. He apparently has some control over the wind: in one of his earthly incarnations, when he ran at full speed he knocked over trees, but when he came to rest, the wind stopped blowing altogether. Red Star may have some connection to raccoons, an animal associated with the Meteor Spirit on the one hand, and Fish Spirits on the other.9 Given that Morning Star (Great Star) and Red Star are brothers, it clearly follows that Red Star is not to be identified with the Great Star. Both stars are step-children of the Sun. They are the only brothers who turned into stars. So who is the only stellar brother of Morning Star? This would seem to be easy to answer: the only star that is exactly like him (and as we now know, identical to him), is the Evening Star. Red Star is one of the two doppelgängers who contest one another in other stories about the uncle of the Twins. Each of these identical spirits declares to the other, "Of the Great Ones that the Creator created, I myself am one! (Wagųzrá Xete wa’ųra, ne hižą́ wineną.)"10 Red Star's identical twin ought to be his only stellar brother, Morning Star. However, in some versions of the story of their conflict, the Red Star's opponent is said to be Herešgúnina, the Hocąk version of Satan.11 This substitution may reflect the influence of Christian ideas, or even parallel evolution with ancient Hebrew notions about the Morning Star, whom the Greeks called "Lucifer." Herešgúnina is a good counterpart to the Lucifer of the Judaeo-Christian traditions, and knowledge of the evil identity of the Morning Star in those traditions seems to have inspired the substitution that we find in versions of the Hocąk story. This explains why in the list of the eight Great Ones, Red Star is included by inference, but no mention is made of his more powerful brother, Great Star. (For more on the identity of Morning Star and Lucifer, see the discussion at "Morning Star").

Why would Evening Star be called "red"? We get a hint in a story in which the Twins rescue their uncle in another adventure. In a contest, the uncle's doppelgänger beheads him and runs away with the head, leaving his living body behind. The uncle continued to live in both body and head separately. His nephews communicated with his body by signs, but had the strange habit of picking away the scabs about his neck so that he was always covered with blood. This is what makes him red, when he is otherwise blue (as the sky). The usual source of red color superimposing itself on the sky is sunset and sunrise. When the Evening Star is particularly close to the sun, the sunset will engulf it so that it will appear to emerge from the red of the horizon into the darkness of the the night sky. Thus he is constantly being made to "bleed" by the sons of the Sun. This proximity to the sun does not last forever, and the story tells us that the Twins finally seized his head back, and reunited it to his body so that the Twin's uncle was once again able to live as a whole person.12

Bluehorn is also known as "He who has Flint Inlaid on His Arms" because of overlapping rows of flint knives that run from his wrists to his elbows. His nephews, the Twins, also have this family characteristic. His most bitter foe is a man that looks like him in every respect, including even the flint inlaid on his arms. At one point, this enemy was able to take his head and run through the heavens with it as an act of spite against the good spirits. Eventually the Twins decapitated the enemy and restored their uncle's head.13 The peculiar attribute of having overlapping pieces of flint from wrist to elbow may reflect the feather pattern common among many hawks and owls, such as the snowy owl [inset]. It would be appropriate for stellar spirits, who fly across the sky at night, to have some characteristic that recalls the feather patterns of owls. Not surprisingly, there are other figures in myth who are even covered completely in flint. In one waiką we are told that Redman's enemy is covered in flint,14 and in another story with the same characters, Hare turned this man into an owl. The old man's grandsons belong to a race of forked men.15 Elsewhere the Forked Man is explicitly said to be a "forked-tailed bird," and his grandfather a hįja owl.16 So these stories agree that the man covered in flint is also an owl, thus supporting the idea that flint inlaid arms are the mythic expression of the wings of an owl (or hawk).

In another story, Bluehorn acquires another sister when she flees from a domineering man who would force her to marry him. She is taken in to live with Bluehorn and his other sister. The latter sister schemes with the Buffalo Spirits to seduce her to join them. Bluehorn warns her not to give in to her temptations, but in the end she cannot help herself, and is carried off by the Buffaloes. Bluehorn later rescues her and nearly rubs out the race of buffaloes.17 This myth probably describes the descent of the moon to the earth during luna silens, when it disappears from the sky. The earth is said to be a buffalo, so it is appropriate to describe the end result as the moon being abducted by the buffaloes.

A strong case can be made for Bluehorn being the personification of the blue sky as well as being the Evening Star. As we saw above in connection with Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn's hair (or "horn") is blue and was staked out to the four corners of his lodge. When he was captured by the Thunderbirds, his back was arched over backwards, like the vault of the sky. He was partly eaten by the Thunderbirds, just as the clouds occlude or "eat away" the sky. In another story the protagonist is called simply "Brave." He is a young man whose young kinsmen number 30, the days in a lunar cycle. Brave rescues his uncle who had been captured by enemies who appear to represent Thunderbirds. Of him it is said, "Thus a blue sky (keraco) did when he came to live with the humans, the old people say when they tell stories."18 Brave must be another form of Bluehorn, rescuing his uncle the way his own nephews, the Twins, came to rescue him.

Another story which is almost certainly about Bluehorn features as its protagonist a person known as Wąkcoga, "Green (or Blue) Man." It begins as a variant of The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, as the Green Man and his sister, living together alone, expect the brother's doppelgänger to arrive to challenge him. The outcome of the duel is altogether different. The doppelgänger is killed and buried underneath the fire. The brother takes his place and visits the slain man's family. There he eventually passes for the man. While he is there, he marries, but shortly thereafter his wife is abducted. He discovers that she and others are held in captivity by the very man he had killed, and they are guarded by broken backed people (buffalo theme). With the help of Hare, Trickster, Redhorn, and others, he defeats his mirror image. The man is haughty nevertheless, and taunts him that it doesn't matter, since he cannot be killed. The Green Man then produces the man's external heart, which he had acquired on his journey there, and it is raked apart by Turtle, causing the man to disintegrate into a swarm of crickets. It is revealed that the Green Man is the chief of the Black Stone Spirits, and presides over the pit used to cook corn. His sister was the corn silk.19 If Wąkcoga is the same as Hecoga, this would give Bluehorn an added dimension.

Links: Waterspirits, Earthmaker, Herešgúnina, The Twins, Thunderbirds, Maize, Sun, Moon, Celestial Spirits, Morning Star, Redman, Owls, Horses, Wolf & Dog Spirits, The Forked Man, Gottschall, Bladder, Fish Spirits, Raccoons, Swans, The Meteor Spirit, Rock Spirits, Fire.

Stories: with Bluehorn (Evening Star) as a character: Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Children of the Sun, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Grandfather's Two Families, The Man with Two Heads, Sun and the Big Eater, The Green Man, Brave Man (?); about Morning Star: Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families; about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; featuring Thunderbirds as characters: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Ocean Duck, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, Brave Man, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Big Stone, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 1 and v. 2), The Spirit of Gambling, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Twins Disobey Their Father, Kunu's Warpath, Turtle's Warparty, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Thunder Charm, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Ciwoit’éhiga.

Themes: men whose bodies are (partly) covered with pieces of flint: Bluehorn's Nephews, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Children of the Sun, The Red Man.


1 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 248, sv he; 257, sv hį.

2 Paul Radin, "Wak'cexi Hecoga (Waterspirit Bluehorn)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story 2, p. 13.

3 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 80-84.

4 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I:41 (§75), I:80-84.

5 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, Part II (Basil, Switzerland: Ethnographical Museum, 1956) 119, 125.

6 Very likely related to this name is the Fox designation for this star, Maskuigwawa, "Red-eyed" (William Jones, Ethnography of the Fox Indians, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 125 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1939) 21.)

7 Louis F. Burns, Osage Indian Customs and Myths (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1984) 165 Fig. 27, 167.

8 Paul Radin, XI. Untitled, Winnebago Notes, Winnebago III, #11b, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909, recopied and corrected, 1945) pp. 61-63. Told by Frank Ewing. Paul Radin, "The Sun," Transcripts in English of Winnebago Tales, Winnebago IV, #7L, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 1-9 (= 78-86 = 978-996).

9 Paul Radin, "Morning Star (Wiragošge Xetera)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #8: 1-93.

10 Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #8, 24.

11 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I:24-41.

12 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I:80-84.

13 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I:75-80. The story was obtained by Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan from an anonymous older member of the tribe ca. 1912 (Ibid., 21).

14 Paul Radin, "The Red Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #6, p. 54.

15 Paul Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #33, p. 64.

16 Paul Radin, "Wears White Feather on His Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #4: 1-50.

17 Jim Pine, [untitled,] in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 26, 262-284.

18 Paul Radin, "Wak'cexi Hecoga (Waterspirit Bluehorn)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story 2: 1-13.

19 Paul Radin, "The Blue Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook 55; Paul Radin, (untitled), Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3858 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #5: 4-16.