Crane (Peją́ga) and Crane Spirits

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Hocąk word peją́, which is conventionally translated by "crane," has a wider meaning. It does denote cranes, since one such is described as a "tall blue bird."1 Such a bird, a Snowhill Crane, is seen below. The word also denotes herons, including egrets. Some peją́ra are white, with white feathers on their head, which suggests egrets, and although Whooping Cranes are also predominantly white, their cranial feathers are not prominent.

Crane, who is the spirit chief of the cranes, is noted for having helped defeat the Spirit of Gambling.2Cranes have war powers, and sometimes oppose good Spirits. Two white cranes were assigned as guards to protect One Legged One, but Bladder easily overcame them.3 Once White Crane Spirits blessed a Bear clansman with war powers and a warbundle. They also taught him songs to sing when going out and returning from the warpath. These songs made him invulnerable to gunfire.4 In primordial times, the cranes used to go on the warpath against the Nightspirits. These they attacked with their sharp bills, thrusting them like spears at the heads of the Night Soldiers. Eventually, the Nights defeated them decisively with the aid of their allies, the Thunderbirds, who overcame them with the Thunderbird Warclub. The Thunders cursed the cranes to lose most of their warlike virtues, so that ever after they have had a profound fear of humans.5 

The spirit chief of the white cranes (egrets ?) is Wears White Feather on His Head, who is identified with the star Sirius. His grandfather is an owl, and his older brother is the Forked Man.6 The Forked Man represents the bow, which shoots the sharp-tipped arrow. The bills of peją́ra are spears with which they attack the faces of the Nightspirits with stellar light. Their identity with stars puts them in intimate association with owls. In primordial times, owls and cranes even ate the same food. Crane had to destroy some of his owl brothers, who were constantly stealing his food.7 That is why today the nocturnal owls never intrude upon the ecology of the birds of light, the cranes.

Audubon       Audubon
Snowhill Crane   Whooping Crane   Snowy Egret

Links: Bird Spirits, Owls, Thunderbirds, Nightspirits, Bladder, Wears Sparrows for a Coat, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Thunderbird Warclub, The Forked Man. Cp. Glossary (s.v. Crane).

Stories: featuring Crane as a character: Crane and His Brothers, The Spirit of Gambling; featuring cranes as characters: The Crane and His Brothers, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers (v. 1), Wears White Feather on His Head, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Story of the Medicine Rite; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (turkey buzzard), The Shaggy Man (blackbirds), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (blackbirds), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited theree.

Genealogy: Chief of the White Cranes (+ The Forked Man, Hįja Owl Spirit, the Carucge)


1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 75-86. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

2 LaMère and Shinn, Winnebago Stories, 75-86.

3 Paul Radin, "The Bladder," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #27: 1-61.

4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 248.

5 Paul Radin, "Mazeniabera," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #21: 1-134.

6 Paul Radin, "Wears White Feather on His Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #4: 49-50.

7 Paul Radin, "The Crane," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #48.