The Fatal House

narrated by Philip Longtail (Sįcserecka), Buffalo Clan
translation from the interlinear text of Rev. James Owen Dorsey

reproduced with the kind permission of the
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Philip Longtail

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

HERE a log cabin always stood, it is said. A single old man always dwelt there. Every day he did his work standing up. The man possessed two working oxen, and in the past he had said, "I will make a log house for myself." And the old man began to work. Every day he always did it standing up. And at length he made the wood ready, and then he put a yoke on the oxen. This he did so that the oxen would pull the wood as he went. Every day he did things in just this way, always standing. And he made the wood rough, it is said. And at length he began to make a house for himself. By that time he had become a very old man. He did not have a wife, and always had to fix his own food. Finally he finished making the house.

One day he came home and laid down, and as he lay there he thought about the future, and soon the log house became weak and ready to fall. The old man began to sing. Then he stopped singing and prayed to Earthmaker. And soon the log house began to collapse, every single log of it, and the old man was buried under it, it is said.1

This is the end.

Commentary. Earthmaker normally is an otiose god who does not interfere in the daily affairs of men, although there are occasional exceptions. The man, despite the fact that he lived alone, decided to dwell in what, by Hocąk standards of the day, could only be called a "mansion." The context clearly suggests that the house started to collapse because the spirits were unhappy with the sin of arrogance upon which it was built. The man praying to Earthmaker to sustain his house was the final affront, and the whole ediface topples on top of him with fatal consequences. We can interpret the story so that Earthmaker merely does nothing to save the man, but the moral of the story invites a more interventionist interpretation.

It should be noted that only white people hitch up teams of oxen and build houses out of logs. The little fable of a man who does the same thing, suggests that Earthmaker will visit the same fate upon the Big Knives generally in the course of time.

Links: Earthmaker.

Stories: mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow.

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

Themes: arrogance: The Skunk Origin Myth, The Blue Jay, The Creation of Evil, Holy One and His Brother, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, The Foolish Hunter, someone in danger prays to Earthmaker for rescue: The Wild Rose; Earthmaker acts against those who are not doing right: The Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Turtle and the Giant, Šųgepaga, The Seven Maidens, The Origins of the Milky Way; a house is made of logs: Iron Staff and His Companions, Hog's Adventures.


1 Philip Longtail, "The Fatal House," text with interlinear translation by James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2 (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, October and November, 1893) IV.1-3.