by Richard L. Dieterle
The cougar or mountain lion, also called "puma" and even "panther," was the largest cat known to the Hočągara of old. The Hočąk word for cougar is wičąwąsįčsereč, "the long-tailed wild cat," to differentiate it from wildcats (wičąwa) proper, the lynx and bobcat, which have bobbed tails.1 The latter are therefore occasionally called, wičąwąsįčkųnųk, the "cut-tailed wild cats."2
Given the size and power of cougars, it is not surprising that they appear in stories as guardians retained by evils spirits. One Legged One posted two of them to bar the way to his abode, but Bladder seized them by the throats and tucked them into his belt, thereby demonstrating the supernatural character of his powers.3
Once a hunter was nearly ambushed by an enemy warparty, but his dog warned him of their approach. When the enemy fell upon them, the dog transformed himself into a cougar, and between the two of them, they annihilated the enemy. It was only through his accession to the power of one of these cats that the dog was able to fight with such power and ferocity.4 In another story, the Chief of the Mountain Lion Spirits is a veritable god of war. He calls to his chosen one to go into the wilderness to fast, and after the severest rigors, blesses him with enormous war powers. On his first warpath, the young man excels using these powers. However, later he is tricked by the man who kidnapped his wife and he is trampled to death by horses. The mountain lion finds his mangled body, and resuscitates him. He and the cougar then attack the village of those who had tricked him, and slaughter everyone in it. After the young man returns home, the cougar leaves him, because he knew that if he had stayed, the man would have wrought genocide upon his enemies, to the strong disapproval of Earthmaker.5
A pure white cougar played an important role in the conclusion of the ritual held in the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, a rite devoted to the resurrection of its members into a future life. The Island Weight of the South instaurated this cougar out of the east, where solar time begins. The cougar's limbs each contained the power to establish one of the seasons of the year, the right limbs inaugurating the seasons of snow that belong to Hare, and the left limbs the seasons absent snow that belong to Grandmother Earth. Just as the snow is from above and the earth is inherently below, so an aura of Light and Life was placed above the head of the cougar and below its feet.6 Such is the nature of the cougar that its arboreal capacities give it a dual nature as a creature of the above as well as of the earth below.
Links: Earthmaker, Bladder, One Legged One, Horses, Island Weights, Hare, Earth.
Stories: mentioning mountain lions (Cougars, Pumas, Panthers): The Dog that became a Panther, The Boy who was Blessed by , The Four Steps of the Cougar, Bladder and His Brothers (v. 1).
1 Kenneth L. Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon (Kansas City: University of Kansas, June 1984) s.v.
2 Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon, s.v.
3 Paul Radin, "The Bladder," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #27, 23-25.
4 W. C. McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 10 (1930): 321-322.
5 Paul Radin, Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3861  (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #8, Story 8z: 1-9.
6 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 333-334; Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3876 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #7: 265-268.