Bow Meets Disease Giver

by John H. Bear (?)
from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 154 | 155 | 156 |

(154) These events took place when the Winnebago were in Minnesota. Then they had smallpox among them. Everyone was dying. The people decided to move away from the old village site. Then Bow (Mącgúga) got smallpox. He had a very bad case of it. At the time when everyone was getting ready to move, he became worse. His mother built a small teepee and gathered wood inside the tent for the fire, and put in two big logs to keep the fire burning. Then they cleaned out around the fire so that nothing would take fire from it. Food was left with him. It was winter time when this happened. Later on, it was night. The fire kept burning. He had a stick with which to poke the fire.

Sometime in the night he heard foot falls, and heard the snow crunching underfoot. It came into the tent. It sat down opposite Bow on the other side of the fire. He was dressed in a buckskin suit. A sash was across his breast with many buckskin bags hanging from it. Bow looked at him, and did not (155) know him. He was a total stranger. This man said to him, "Grandson, I came down to see you, because you have been left here alone by your people. I am going to show you what I am doing." Then he took off one of the buckskin bags and opened it by the fire. He then scraped some red hot cols from the edge of the fire. Then he took medicine from a bundle. "Listen," he said, throwing the medicine in the fire. The medicine made a popping noise, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. That is the way it went, and at the same time he heard sick people moaning. "That's what I did," he said to Bow. "Grandson, I am going down to see a man and his wife of your people. I must go now. I will be back again after awhile." Then he went out. He went to the man and his wife. Bow looked at the bundle where it still rested by the fire. With the fire stick he drew it to him. Then he drew some coals to the edge of the fire. Then he threw the bundle on the coals. When it was burning he heard someone coming. The same man came in again. "Where is that bundle I had here?" he said. "M-m-m, that beats me. You have beaten me, and so I am going to give you some medicine. What medicine I have is not all bad. Some of it is good medicine. I am now going (156) to give you some of the good medicine. It is good for any kind of sickness, also good for gambling, race running, war, and love medicine. It is very good for disease too, for those diseases that I give. When anytime one has this disease that you have, if you put a little bit of this medicine on the coals and smoke the tent that way, your family will not have this disease. That is what it is good for. This I do because you put one over on me. So you will get well." This man was Disease Giver (Hošĕtĕ’ų́wahi).

Postscript. This medicine is still in the informant's family in a medicine bundle. [It is] with his grandchildren in Oklahoma. This happened 70-80 years ago, before the informant was born.1

Commentary. "Minnesota" — see the comment at "James’ Horse."

"Bow" — the father of the informant. The name Mącgúga is a Bear Clan name (68, #15).

"what I did" — this "medicine" actually has the power to create sickness at a distance.

"Hošĕtĕ’ų́wahi" — this is correctly rendered as, Hošere’ų́wahira, the /r/ is frequently misheard as /d/, /l/, or /n/. It means something like, "He who is on the way when treating with medicine."

"good medicine" — Disease Giver is said to have two sides to his body, one from which he deals life, the other from which he deals death. This is on the widespread principle that whoever commands something can withhold it.

"70-80 years ago" — this would be between 1847 and 1857. The best known smallpox epidemic of this period first arose among the Hocągara's friendship tribe, the Menominee.

The first well-documented epidemic occurred among the Menominee in 1861. The disease was so widespread and so severe that the Kiowa on the southern plains recorded it as the "smallpox winter." ... Of the 150 cases (among the Menominee) that resulted from the epidemic, 79 deaths occurred, nearly all Catholics. Non-Christian Menominee employed their traditional method for prevention against the spread of communicable disease by scattering into the forest.2

This occurred just two year before their removal from Minnesota, and 66 years before this story was told.

"Oklahoma" — John H. Bear is said to have grandchildren living in Oklahoma. Since he was the primary informant for McKern, it is probable that he was the author of this story.

Comparative Material.  ...

Links: Disease Giver.

Stories: featuring Disease Giver as a character: Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Man who Defied Disease Giver; occurring in Minnesota: James’ Horse, The Lost Blanket, Great Walker's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War; mentioning Oklahoma: The Arapaho Girl.

Themes: a mortal thwarts Disease Giver's purpose: The Man who Defied Disease Giver; the future victims of a magical agent can be heard moaning: Waruǧábᵉra; someone is blessed with a medicine: The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Seer, The Healing Blessing, A Weed's Blessing, A Snake Song Origin Myth, Young Man Gambles Often, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Elk's Skull, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Sweetened Drink Song; a spirit is quoted as he gives someone a blessing: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Friendship Drum Origin Myth, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Completion Song Origin, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Difficult Blessing, The Blessing of Šokeboka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Sunset Point, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Healing Blessing.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 154-156.

2 Joan M. Jensen, Calling This Place Home: Women on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1850-1925 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2006) §2.4.