The Captive Boys

by Philip Longtail (Sįcserecka), Buffalo Clan
retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Philip Longtail

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

Once a warparty attacked an old village and brutally massacred all its inhabitants. They spared but one of the villagers, a small boy. When the warparty returned to their own country, they gave the boy away, but that master gave him away in turn, and it was not until he was received by his fourth master that he found a home. It came to pass that another warparty returned with a boy, the sole survivor of his village. They gave him to the same man who raised the first boy. The two boys became great friends and learned from their adoptive father all his skills in hunting. When they reached maturity, their father told them that they might now hunt on their own. Every time they went out, they brought back a large animal. Their reputation had become great, and it was decided that they should be invited to a feast in their honor. The host rose and said, "Let the two boys have the choicest pieces of meat." At this, a chief suddenly stood up and walked out of the proceedings. This made the boys angry. At another feast in their honor, a second chief did the same. This happened a third and a fourth time, and by now the boys were furious. One day the two boys were out hunting, and they spotted the first chief who had insulted them, so they came upon him and killed him, taking his head. Even though his wife was nearby, no one ever found out who had killed him. After a time the two boys dealt in like manner with the remaining three chiefs who had insulted them, and still no one knew that they had done the deed. One day a chief came up to the boys in camp and told them, "You two boys are nothing but slaves."

At this the boys resolved to leave the tribe, and they journeyed across the Missouri. Then they came upon a village. The first boy told his friend that he would go into the village first and come back later to get his friend. So the first boy was gone the whole night and returned the next morning. At dawn, the two of them then set out for the village. When they got there, they entered a lodge, and pulled a man out. The man gave an alarm, and soon the whole village surrounded the two boys. The boys struck their chests with their hands over and over, trying to indicate that they were of this people. The villagers fetched an old man, who asked the boys, "Of what people are you?" They replied, "We are of this people," and they told the story of how each had been taken captive by marauders when they were small children. The people believed them, but at first did not know what to do with them. At last it was decided that the two young men should be admitted back into the tribe, so they were given wives and two very fine lodges were built for them to live in.1

Commentary. This story is a worak meant to be a history of events that took place in the recent past. However, it has interesting mythological elements, and bears some resemblance to stories about two friends who are killed on the warpath and who are reborn after a sojourn in the spirit world. Their journey is to the west, the direction in which departed souls travel until they establish themselves in the Otherworld.

The Hocągara admitted aliens into the Thunderbird Clan.

Comparative Material: There are probably numerous such stories among the Indian nations. An Osage story relates how a boy out hunting was taken west by a warparty and tied to a tree during a two day thunderstorm. He freed himself and fled to the chief's tent, where he was granted asylum and adopted into the subordinate chief's family. In time he was allowed to go see his parents in his old village, where he was at first mistaken for a ghost. Eventually, he got together a warparty and raided his adopted village where took a special scalp waxobe (a scalp made of many other scalps and held as a prize possession by a warrior). He left horses for his adopted father, and returned with his trophy. This he did in revenge for his ill treatment. Such tales are cautionary: if someone taken in war is adopted into the tribe, he should not have been mistreated prior to his induction. An adoptee should be treated as a genuine member of the tribe, otherwise he could turn on the people who wronged him.2

A similar tale is found among the closely related Oto. "One day while all the men of the tribe were away on a buffalo-hunt, a hostile war-party, homeward bound, came along and captured the camp. Because they did not want to be burdened with spoils, they took nothing but food, except one warrior, who, spying a beautiful woman, took her as captive. It happened that she was married and pregnant at the time. The warriors hurried by forced rides more than a day and a night for fear of pursuit, but they escaped and ultimately reached home. The warrior married the captive woman, for she was beautiful, but shortly afterward she gave birth to a child who was treated by his foster father as his own boy and given the name of Son. It happened that when Son was nearly grown, some of the boys of the tribe heard his story and refused to play with him, saying that he belonged to another tribe, not theirs. He went to his mother and asked: 'Mother, none of the boys will play with me. They say that father is not my father. They say that I belong to another tribe far away from here. Do they speak the truth, mother?' 'Yes, my son, they speak truth. Your own father's tribe is far to the northwest. I have kept this from you, but now I shall tell you the whole story,' she answered, and related the tale of her capture. Son told her: ' I am big enough to look out for myself now. I can not stay here to be made fun of by the other boys. I shall go to my own people, your people.' The mother, though grieved at her son's leaving, made up several pairs of moccasins, shirts, and a bundle of food. Before he left she taught him the names of his father, uncle, and aunt, that he might make himself known, for he had never learned to speak the language of his mother's people. Son followed his mother's directions, travelling northwestward several days without trouble. One day he met a large bear, which gave chase to him. He ran all day until, exhausted, he reached a creek and a waterfall. Plunging in the water, he found a cave behind the falls, where he hid until daybreak in the hope of misleading the bear. When he peered out and saw no sign of his pursuer, he again took the trail, but looking back, there was the bear close on his tracks. Toward the end of the day, just as he was about to fall and die of fatigue, he spied a herd of Buffalo. He called to them: 'Grandfather! Save me!' The Buffalo closed around him, and when the bear came close, the leader picked out a young bull to fight him. They fought for a long time, but the young Buffalo was killed. Four more fought the bear, only to meet a like fate. At last the leader himself fought the bear, threw him up in the air on his horns, and trampled him when he came down. When the young man was rested, he thanked the Buffalo and resumed his journey after they had shown him the way and informed him that he had three more days to go. Finally he approached his own father's people, but he could not understand their language, nor was he intelligible to them. To the first man he met he gave his uncle's name. It chanced that this very man was his uncle, who was greatly astonished to hear his name uttered by a stranger who knew no other words of that tongue. His uncle took him to the village, where the people soon gathered around. One old man could speak several languages, and after many attempts spoke the one Son knew. When questioned, he replied: 'I have come to find my father. Years ago my mother was captured and taken far away by a war-party. She belonged to your tribe. There I grew up, but the people would not accept me because I am not of their tribe, because my mother was with child when captured. So I have come to find my father. I know his name, and my uncle's and aunt's.' He gave the names, and some old people remembered that a woman had once been stolen away and that no trace of her was ever found. The father was sent for, and he embraced the youth, saying, 'This is my son'."3

Links: ...

Stories: about two brothers: The Two Children, The Twin Sisters, The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Old Man and the Giants, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; set on the Missouri River (Nį̄šóc): Bluehorn's Nephews, Black Otter's Warpath, Buffalo Dance Origins, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Little Priest’s Game, The Message the Fireballs Brought, Mijistéga and the Sauks.

Other stories in the Longtail/Dorsey set: I. Watequka and His Brothers; III. The Man who Visited the Upper and Lower Worlds; IV. The Fatal House; V. The Two Brothers; VI. Iron Staff and His Companions; VII. Rich Man, Boy, and Horse; VIII. The Man with Two Heads.

Themes: someone is abducted and led off into captivity: A Man's Revenge, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Lost Child, Wears White Feather on His Head, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Bladder and His Brothers, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Black Otter's Warpath, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Green Man, Brave Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Šųgepaga, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, Wolves and Humans, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Thunderbird and White Horse, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Boy who Flew, Testing the Slave; a prisoner escapes by killing (some of) his captor(s): Wears White Feather on His Head, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé; a man is adopted into a family who live in a distant village: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, Moiety Origin Myth, Origin of the Decorah Family.


1 Philip Longtail, "The Captive Boys," translated by J. O. Dorsey (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, 1893) 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2, Story II.

2 Francis LaFlesche, A Dictionary of the Osage Language, Smithsoninan Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, bulletin 109 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932) 404-406.

3 Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian (Norwood: The Plimpton Press, 1930) 19: 173.