The Dogs of the Chief's Son

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 258 | 259 | 260 | 261 | 262 | 263 | 264 |

(258) There was a Winnebago village. There always had been a chief there. He had one son. This son had two dogs. One was a black dog and the other was spotted black and white. One day he went hunting with his wife and two dogs. The chief told him: "If anything happens to you, don't come home all alone. The people will sneer at you." They reached the place where they were headed for. (259) The chief's son loved his dogs very much. He never abused them but treated them well. It was in the fall of the year. He hunted steadily but had no success. About that time there was a light snow fall. Still he hunted all the time, but did not get anything. Then the food supply was getting very low. One night he woke up in the middle of the night and heard someone talking. he had never heard them before. It was the two dogs talking together. He could understand them. The black dog was older and larger than the other. He said, "Sųgijį, I couldn't help to find anything. You are younger than I. You should try to help find some game and so help our brother out. The spotted dog said, "Yes, I could find something, but our sister-in-law (man's wife) abused me one time and I do not feel able to help. I am sorry." "That may be all right to you, but on account of our older brother, who has treated us very good at all times, I think we should try to help and find some game," said the black dog. Spotted dog said, "Yes, I can do that very easily if he gives us the remainder of the supply of food. Then I can get some game." 

When the man woke at daylight, he roused his wife and told her to cook what was left of the food supply. She did as she was told. When it was cooked, he (260) told her to put it in a certain dish. She did so and brought it to him. Then he cooled it by turning it with a spoon and gave it to the dogs. Then he talked to them. "Brothers, ever since I lived with you I have always treated you right, taken good care of you and raised you to live with me. What supplies we had are all gone. This is the last of it and I am giving it to you. I shall not eat any. I wish that you might go and find something to eat so that we might eat again. He then gave the food to them and they ate all of it. They went out there. The spotted one was gone immediately. Soon they heard him barking a short distance from camp. They had hunted at that place many times. It was a very large bear. This kind of bear has a double nest, part for the body and part for the head. They killed him right in the nest, but couldn't get him out, he was so large. So he called his wife to help. It was early in the morning. So she cooked some of the meat for their breakfast. Then they hunted again. He fed his dogs also. The spotted dog found another one. The chief's son also killed a deer. Then they began to find plenty of game, from that time on and had a good supply of meat. (261) They made a wopį́kĕrĕ.

One time he woke again at midnight. Again he heard the dogs talking to each other. The black dog spoke to his younger brother. "There is a Fire (enemy) coming towards us. You can run faster than I can. I wish you would go and spy on them." "Yes, I can do that, but I would like to have something to eat before I go," said the other. So the an got up, built a fire, and told his wife to prepare something to eat. After eating the spotted dog started out. He went four nights journey. When he met the enemy leader, he heard him say that he was going after a man, his wife and two dogs. This he said to his men who had presented tobacco and asked where he was going. The dog returned and got home first before daylight. He told the man that he met the enemy four days away; they were coming after them. The man said to the spotted dog, "Take the news back to the village." the dog said, "First give me something to eat." This he did. The village was also four days journey away. The dog arrived there one (262) morning. They all knew that he had two dogs, and they were alarmed at the return of one only. They thought all had been killed but one dog. He went into the chief's house. The chief could not understand the dog. The dog came in a licked his hands and whined. There were certain people who understood dogs (šųk-hit’enąxgų). They went after an old lady who was one of these. She talked to the dog. Then she said, "These people want to know why you came home all alone, whether your brothers and sister have been killed by an enemy." The dog said, "I have been trying to tell them but they don't understand me. Hotocą́ (foreign enemy) are coming. They sent me home to tell you to go and help my brother out. He is waiting there to fight them. Give me something to eat and I shall go back and tell them. Follow my tracks and you can find where we are." So the chief sent two men, "callers," to tell all the people. They all got ready and started right away. They took extra moccasins along. The dog, finishing eating, started back. He got there the same day. The people got there in two days. The dog spied on the enemy for his brother, to tell just where they were. The black dog said, "His (enemy's) dream can't come (263) true. He hasn't as much power as I have. Then the reinforcements were given plenty of good from the hunters' supplies, and made ready to fight. There was some snow on the ground. The dog reported the enemy was due to arrive next morning. A great number of the enemy were approaching. They decided to set a trap for the enemy, to lie in wait for them. So they hid on either side of the approach to the camp. The dogs were to cry to signal when to begin, since they wouldn't be noticed. They were to cry from four places. This kind of trap was called waígᵋšą́. As soon as they all came into the wings of the trap, the dogs cried as instructed, then they all started shooting. They knew that they were trapped. The enemy were exterminated. They were tired from their long travel, while the friendly forces had had plenty of food and rest; so they were fresh for the fight. That is why they killed them easily. Then they started for home. They took all the meat and scalps home with them.

From that time on, these dogs were very useful to this village. The older dog used to know when any enemy was coming, and the younger dog acted as a spy. (264) He was also smart in hunting. The older dogs when real old, said to the younger dog, "Brother, I intend to leave you and go to that place whence I am from. I urge you to stay with our brother the chief's son, to help him as long as you live. Whenever you are ready to go, you must come to my place." That older dog was the Wolf Spirit (Šųkcąk Wirúkana).1

Commentary: "don't come home all alone" — p. 258 begins with an explanation of this remark: "In the early days, any married man did not take his family, his wife, far from home on a trip because of the enemy. When they did, they often came home without their wives, moving away and saving their lives. It used to be preached to young men, if you should go out with your wife, die with her. That is the rule. Do not run off and leave her."

"sųgijį" — younger brother.

"this kind of bear" — McKern adds parenthetically, "this bear = watók." In one source (q.v.), a watók is said to be "a large, old bear," or a "monstrous bear" (q.v.); in another source (q.v.) it is a she-bear. The fact that the bear has to sleep in a double nest reflects its great size. They were prized as meat, as is suggested by the word watoké, "fresh meat," from watók and -ge, "type, kind, sort"  (watok-ge > watoké).

"wopį́kĕrĕ" — McKern adds parenthetically, "a rack to put dry meat on, for safe keeping."

"four nights journey" — McKern adds, "honʌ̃´ [honą́] = 1 days walking; 4 days = honãíŋtcop [honąį́cop]." These come from honą́, "sleeping place."

"presented tobacco" — according to McKern, this is called tanihokízu, "to fill the pipe." The proper form of the word is tanį́-hokižu, from tanį́, "tobacco," and hokižu, "to offer."

"hotocą́" — the standard meaning of this word is "warparty" (Rave, Miner).

"waígᵋšą́" — John Blackhawk said (1923) that waikšą means, "to surround (in a military context)." This latter form seems to be the correct form of the word, given its stem seems to be related to kša, "to abuse, molest."

"Šųkcąk Wirúkana" — from šųkcąk, "wolf"; and wirúkana, itself from, wa-, "them," and hirúkana, "to be in charge of" (wa-hirúkana > wirúkana). This spirit being is Wolf, or, "He Who is in Charge of Wolves."

Internal Isomorphism: The story repeats itself in the following pattern:

Hunting vs. "Hunting" Bad hunting Hunting now good Spotted dog spies out enemy Warparty wiped out
Good Treatment vs. Bad Treatment Wife at fault: treats Spotted Dog badly Spotted Dog given a share of the food for his cooperation
Understanding Canine Language Son understands dog language Spotted Dog's warning only understood by šųk-hit’e-nąxgų
Those who have Helped Black Dog suggests that Spotted Dog help Black Dog foresees enemy warparty Black Dog had sent him to get help by those summoned for help

Comparative Material. Two dogs, one black and one spotted,2 are found in Hindu mythology, where they are said to be the messengers of Yama, the god of the dead.3 They are also said to have four eyes.4

Links: Wolf & Dog Spirits.

Stories: having Wolf as a character: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, Redhorn's Sons, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, The Healing Blessing, The Origins of the Milky Way; relating to dogs or wolves: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, White Wolf, Wolves and Humans, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Worúxega, The Dog that became a Panther, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Wild Rose, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Big Eater, Why Dogs Sniff One Another, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Loses His Meal, Sun and the Big Eater, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Hog's Adventures, Holy One and His Brother, The Messengers of Hare, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Grandmother's Gifts, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Old Man and the Giants, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, Black Otter's Warpath, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; Peace of Mind Regained (?); about black dogs: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2), Wolves and Humans.

This is very similar to the story, A Man and His Three Dogs.

Themes: hunting is bad because of the misconduct of a man's wife (or mother-in-law) towards that which aids the hunt: Sun and the Big Eater, White Wolf, The Red Man, A Man and His Three Dogs; a man understands the language of certain animals: The Raccoon Coat, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master; a canine makes hunting good for a human in exchange for a small left over portion of the kill: White Wolf (deer livers), A Man and His Three Dogs (deer lungs); seeing the approach of an enemy warparty in a dream: The Moiety Origin Myth, The Dog that became a Panther, Wazųka, Porcupine and His Brothers; a warparty gives its leader tobacco so that he might reveal to them what victories the spirits have placed in his hands: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, White Thunder's Warpath, Šųgepaga, Great Walker's Warpath; dogs rescue humans from their enemies: Wolves and Humans, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Dog that became a Panther, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 258-264. Published in W. C. McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 10 (1930): 318-321.

2 Ṛg Veda 10.14.11, Atharva Veda 8.1.9, A. A. MacDonell, Vedic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Barnassidas: 1974 [1898]) 173.

3 Ṛg Veda 10.14.10-12, Atharva Veda 5.30.6, 8.2.11, 8.6.1; MacDonell, Vedic Mythology, 173.

4 Ṛg Veda 10.14.11.