First Contact

translated by Richard L. Dieterle

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

Version 1

(1) ... as they say, these men, "Hočąks" as they called them, lived at Red Banks. They did not have anything in the way of tools. They had bows and arrows and a fire-starter with which to light a fire. Thus only did they do. They didn't have any kind of iron tools. One of the stones that was seen to be like iron, even it was holy they said, and (2) tobacco was placed with it. Again they lived to have tobacco. It was something that came to them from the beginning. They dreamt and they were holy. And one of the greatest honors was to be a brave, so they did nothing but fight. Always, at all time, they would be prepared for killing. (3) Every day they prepared for this one thing and nothing else. This alone they tried to accomplish. One went on the warpath, and would kill many, and this way he would become great. And if one dreamt, fasting for many days, and if he did a great deal, and then if he offered tobacco often, if the various spirits blessed him, (4) they knew that they would not find it easy to kill him in battle. This sort of thing they did, and did it a great deal.

Again, they gave feasts often. When one gave a feast and offered tobacco to the various spirits, they asked that one side of their weapons be made sharp. (5) They meant that they would kill them with one side. For this reason they would often give many feasts. They would be victorious in the fighting and they would do it to them. When they gave feasts, they offered tobacco to the various spirits, and would call upon the War Controllers. After they gave those kinds of things there at the feasts, (6) if they blessed them, they would be great.

At this point in the story the narrator inserted the Tobacco Origin Myth, Version 1 (q.v.).

(14) Then in the course of time, something came into view in the middle of the lake. There on the littoral of Green Bay was a lodge. There for the first time the spirits came to them, the Big Knives. Then finally, they came near. (15) The men had tobacco, and they had offerings of deerskins as well, and they went and stood on the littoral of the lake. Then, as they were getting ready to land, they fired their guns upwards. They were doing it to salute the Indians, but the Indians said, (16) "Hohó, they are Thunderbirds!" they said. They had never heard the report of a gun before, that is why they thought that they were Thunderbirds.

"The Landfall of Jean Nicollet," by Edwin Willard Deming (1904)

After they had landed their boats, they extended their hands, but they put tobacco in them as was their custom. They wanted to shake their hands, but in truth, as the whiteman held it, (17) they also did not know what to do with it. Still others put something on them, pouring tobacco on the top of their heads. They asked for war (blessings). The whitemen tried repeatedly to talk to them, but they couldn't do anything at all. After awhile, they knew about those things that they perhaps should have, (18) so they taught them how to use axes. They were afraid of them, and at the time they even thought they were holy. Again they also taught them the use of guns. They said that these things were indeed holy.

There also a whiteman did this: as an old man smoked, he doused him with water. He did not know that he was smoking, and (19) since he thought he was burning, he came with water. This was before they knew about smoking. Then after awhile, finally, they became accustomed to one another. After awhile they learned how to use guns. They began to trade axes as well as other things. (20) They traded such things as furs for axes, guns, and knives; but they still thought that they were holy. Then in time they learned how to use the guns, and they liked them a lot. There they did this. They would build fires there at night, and there they would try out their guns. (21) They could not wait until morning. They thought about it for a long time. When the morning that they waited for was there, they stripped down their guns and went home. Again they would come. They spoke to them, learning how to make themselves understood, and how they did it was still by making signs. (22) And when they went there for the second time, they came with all the things that they possessed. They also taught them sewing there. There they also showed them how to use the ax and the knife.1

The next episode of this story ("Origin of the Decorah Family").

Version 2

by Spoon Decorah

"You ask me to tell you of the traditions of my tribe, and some of the old chiefs I have known. My memory is getting very poor; but I will do the best I can. It has been told me, by my father and my uncles, that the Winnebagoes first lived below the Red Banks, on the east shore of Green Bay. There was a high bluff there, which enclosed a lake. They lived there a very long time. From there they moved to Red Banks, and met at that place the first Frenchmen whom they ever saw. The Winnebagoes were in a very bad condition; they had nothing but bows and arrows with which to kill game. The Frenchmen gave then guns, powder, blankets, kettles, and other goods. After that, my ancestors lived in better condition, and could kill all the game they needed. The Frenchmen were very good to our people, and bought all the furs they could get from them, at a good price. The Winnebagoes lived a long time at the Red Banks, and then moved to Lake Winnebago. They afterwards spread along the Upper Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, and down to the Rock River, in the Illinois country.

Our people were always friendly with the French. They assisted them at the Fox River rapids, in getting their canoes over. I never heard that there was any trouble between the French and the Winnebagoes. My father told me the two nations were always at peace. When my tribe was at Lake Winnebago, in early days, they fought a good deal with other nations of Indians, — with the Sioux, the Pawnees, and the Osages; but they were always friendly with the Chippewas, Menomonees, and Pottawattomies.

I have heard my father say that his father often told him about certain white medicine-men in black gowns being among our people; but I never heard the names of any of them. In my day, we have not been much troubled by white medicine-men, but have been allowed to keep to the religion of our fathers. Very few of my friends are Christians. Our spirits are the same spirits our fathers believed in."2

Version 3

by Walking Cloud

"The Winnebagoes came from the sky, the old Indians say. They settled first at the Red Banks. They first met the French, who came in large boats to trade with them, near Green Bay. The French were always our good friends. We never had any trouble with them.

All of the other tribes of Indians have tried to kill off the Winnebagoes. The Sioux were the most ugly towards us, though I am told they are our cousins. In old times we had much fighting with the Chippewas, but not in my recollection. We have been at peace with everybody, since the Great Father at Washington comanded us to be at peace or he would take away all our guns. The Menomonees have always been our grood friends."3

Version 4

"The first white people whom they saw were the French, who visited them at the Banks. They were somewhat surprised at the sight of them, but they do not confess to have any tradition like that among the Munnoaminnees, of the wonderful astonishment created by their colour, dress & merchandize. On the contrary they claim to have surveyed them in perfect tranquility and to have rejected for a long time their offers to exchange their goods &c for the furs & skins with which the indians were clothed. Some of them appear to regret that they ever saw the whites, and seem to dwell with delight upon all the characteristics of their nation as they were before the introduction of rum, which they say was first refused with resolution but is now the companion of the man from his cradle to his grave."4

Commentary. "Red Banks (Moga-šuč)" — located on the Green Bay peninsula in Wisconsin. The bay was called Te Rok, "Within Lake."

"fire-starter" — a fire-starter, or fire drill, resembles a miniature bow and arrow set. So where such a kit is lacking, a bow can be used on an arrow to start a fire in exactly the way a fire drill performs the same task. This is why bows and arrows are mentioned in connection with a fire-starter.

"like iron" — Radin takes this to mean that if stones were found to be naturally sharp they were worshipped instead of used for practical ends. On the other hand, the Hočągara did know of the lodestone, which was magnetic and therefore like iron. They called this stone "live iron" (mąznį'ąp), and it is the object of its own myth (q.v.). Lodestones (FeO₄), therefore, may also be what the raconteur has in mind as the objects of veneration. For more on lodestones, see the Commentary to "How the Thunders Met the Nights."

"they would do it to them" — a common euphemism for killing the enemy in battle.

"Green Bay" — oddly enough, in the original purely syllabic text, the name "Green Bay" appears in cursive Latin script in English. The Hočąk for the bay is Te Rok (te soKo), "Within Lake," since it is a lake within a lake, the encompassing waters being those of Lake Michigan (Te Šišik).

"the spirits (waxopinira)" — the French had been called waxopini, "spirits"; waxopinixjį, "quasi-spirits"; waxopininįk, "little spirits"; and waxopinixjįnįk, "little quasi-spirits." All of these terms stem from this first encounter.

"Big Knives (Mąhixete)" — this was a term for white Americans which had evolved into a general term for white people. It is here used, ironically, for clarification. See "Big Knives" in the Glossary.

"whiteman" — the Hočąk is warenį́ka, which literally means "working man," a slang term for a whiteman. In Hočąk culture, and among Indians generally, it was women who did almost all of the manual labor.

"they also did not know what to do with it" — this observation is highly unlikely, since Nicollet, and the other whitemen with him, had lived with the Indian tribes in Canada for quite some time and would have been well acquainted with tobacco.

"my father and my uncles" — Spoon Decorah has this to say earlier on, "My father's name, among the French, was Zhuminaka [Fire Water], which I am told is from a French word having something to do with wine. His Winnebago name was Warrahwikoogah, or Bird Spirit. The Americans called him Grey-headed Decorah.5 He was a brother of One-eyed Decorah, or Big Canoe."6 The name Zhuminaka hardly looks French, and as a Hočąk name, it could hardly mean "Fire Water," which is Peč-ni-ga. Zhuminaka appears to be Hočąk (Žu-mįnąk-ka), with žu meaning "wampum, precious metal," and mįnąk, "to sit, he sits." So Žuminąka would mean, "He Sits with (Wearing) Medallions," a reference to his awards of honor as a chief. As to the name Warrahwikoogah, it is hard to make anything of it, as it seems to have suffered considerable distortion. "Bird Spirit" ought to be Wanįkopka (< wanįk-xop-ka), but the first part of Warrahwi-koo-gah could come from wanąǧi, "ghost, spirit"; but the remainder of the name does not mean "bird"; and Wanąǧikoka would mean "Coffin."

"which enclosed a lake" — this seems to be a confusion arising from the name of Green Bay in Hočąk, Te Rok, which means "Within Lake." This name arose from the fact that the very long Green Bay gives the impression of being a lake within a lake (Lake Michigan).

"black gowns" — this is the term, waisép’į, used by the Hočągara for Christians generally. It is derived from the fact that the earliest Christians missionaries were Jesuits, who in those days dressed in black robes.

"came from the sky" — what he really means is that his moiety and clan originated in the sky. The progenitors of the four Bird Clans (Thunder, Eagle, Hawk, and Pigeon) were taken down from the heavens where they had been created by Earthmaker, and set on the earth near Red Banks, as related in the Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth.

"Great Father" — presumably the treaty of 1832, enacted during the tenure of President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837). This interview was conducted in 1887 when Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) was the Great Father.

"friends" — the word hįčikoro, "friend," is used not only of individuals, but of clans and even tribes. The relationship of hįčikoro is intensely dedicated, and friendship is not spoken lightly of or entered into capriciously. Theoretically, friendship ought to protect the Menominee from any attack from the Hočągara, and there has, in any case, been no war between these tribes in collective memory.

Comparative Material. "he doused him" — this humorous episode is probably based the famous incident involving the well-known English explorer and scholar Sir Walter Raleigh.


Aubrey has noted ... "Sir W. R. standing in a stand at Sir Ro. Poyntz parke at Acton tooke a pipe of tobacco, which made the ladies quitte it till he had donne;"7 this was after the accident recorded as happening to him when "he took a private pipe," and occasioned his servant to cast the ale over him as the smoke induced him to fear his master was on fire. ... It is curious to note this well-known anecdote of Raleigh, is reported of other persons (a fact not hitherto noted by historians of the herb). The famous jester Dick Tarlton who died in 1588, is one of them, and in his Jests (1611)8 the tale is thus told; "How Tarlton took tobacco at the first coming up of it : — Tarlton as other gentlemen used, at the first coming up of tobacco, did take it more for fashions sake than otherwise, and being in a roome, sat betweene two men overcome with wine, and they never seeing the like, wondered at it, and seeing the vapour come out of Tarlton's nose, cryed out fire, fire! and threw a cup of wine in Tarlton's face.9

It is clear that this tale is easily transferable.

Links: Introduction, Thunderbirds, Rock Spirits, The Wazija.

Stories: about first contacts: The Hočąk Arrival Myth (Hočąk/Menominee), The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara (French/Hočąk); about the origins of the Hočąk nation: The Hočąk Arrival Myth, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Creation Council, Great Walker's Warpath, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I; about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hočągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning the French: Introduction, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, How Jarrot Got His Name, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon; mentioning the Sioux (Šąhą): The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," Little Priest's Game, Berdache Origin Myth, Great Walker's Warpath, Potato Magic, The Masaxe War, White Flower, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Love Blessing, Run for Your Life, Introduction; mentioning the Anishinaabeg (Chippewa, Ojibway): White Fisher, White Thunder's Warpath, Great Walker and the Anishinaabe Witches, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, The Annihilation of the Hočągara II, The First Fox and Sauk War, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Introduction; mentioning the Menominee: Origin of the Name "Winnebago" (Menominee), The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 2b) (Origins of the Menominee), The Fox-Hočąk War, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hočągara II, Two Roads to Spiritland, The Two Children, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e (Extracts ...), Introduction; mentioning the Potawatomi: Fourth Universe, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), The Annihilation of the Hočągara II, Little Priest's Game, Xųnųnį́ka, Introduction; mentioning the Pawnee: They Owe a Bullet, Little Priest's Game, A Peyote Story, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e; mentioning tobacco: Tobacco Origin Myth, Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth (v 2), How the Thunders Met the Nights, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Grandmother's Gifts, The Thunderbird, Peace of Mind Regained, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Dipper, The Masaxe War, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store; set at Red Banks (Mógašúč): The Creation Council, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, The Great Lodge, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2, 3, 5), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3, 8, 11, 12), The Winnebago Fort, Blue Bear, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, The Creation of Man (v. 10), Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins (fr. 1), Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Deer Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Šųgepaga, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e ("St. Peet," "Hočąk Origins"), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), The Seven Maidens, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath; set at Green Bay, "Within Lake" (Te Rok): Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2, 3), Story of the Thunder Names, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), The Seven Maidens, Ioway & Missouria Origins, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Great Walker's Warpath, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), The Fox-Hočąk War (v. 2), The Creation Council, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e; set at Lake Winnebago (Te Xete): Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The First Fox and Sauk War, White Thunder's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 2), The Great Fish, The Wild Rose, The Two Boys, Great Walker's Warpath, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Fox-Hočąk War, Holy Song, The Two Children (?); occurring in Illinois: The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon’s Crossing, Xųnųnį́ka, How Jarrot Got His Name, Witches.

Themes: a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Song to Earthmaker, The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights.


1 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Contact with the French," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #17, 1-34. A loose translation is found in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 17-19.

2 Spoon Decorah, "Narrative of Spoon Decorah. In an Interview with the Editor," Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Vol. 13 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1887) 457-458. Reprinted (typescript) in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3863 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago I, #6: 154-172.

3 Walking Cloud, "Narrative of Walking Cloud. In an Interview with the Editor," Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Vol. 13 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1887) 463-467. Reprinted (typescript) in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3863 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago I, #6: 173-178.

4 Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, pp. 86-87.

5 Decorah, "Narrative of Spoon Decorah," 448-449. The editor, Reuben Gold Thwaites, gave further information in a footnote (449 nt 1):

Called also Schachipkaka (White War Eagle), and Old Decorah. He was the son of The Ladle ... He died at Peterwell, on the Wisconsin River, April 20, 1836, said to be 90 years of age. He had fought in the battle of he Thames, and against Sandusky; and had been held as a hostage at Prairie du Chien for the delivery of Red Bird, in 1827.

The name Schachipkaka should be corrected to Čaxšépsgaga, which means "White Eagle." He gives the following references for Old Decorah and the Decorah family generally: Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Vol. 2 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1856) 178; 3 (1857) 286-289; 5 (1868) 153, 156; 6 (1872) 224; 7 (1873-1876) 346-347; Juliette Augusta McGill Kinzie, Wau-Bun, The "Early Day" in the North-west (New York: Derby & Jackson; Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1856) 89, 486; and George Gale, Upper Mississippi: Or, Historical Sketches of the Mound-Builders, the Indian Tribes, and the Progress of Civilization in the North-West, from A.D. 1600 to the Present Time (New York: Oakley and Mason, 1867) 81-82, 180.

6 Thwaites points out that he is actually his cousin, and remarks, "The Winnebagoes make no distinction, in common speech, between brother and cousin." Decorah, "Narrative of Spoon Decorah," 449 nt 2.

7 John Aubrey. Brief Lives Chiefly of Contemporaries set down by John Aubrey between the Years 1669 and 1696, edited by Rev. Andrew Clark (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898) 263. The attribution of this story to the biography of Sir Walter Raleigh apparently derives from an essay in the newspaper, The British Apollo, or, Curious Amusements for the Ingenious (London: printed for the authors by J. Mayo) Vol. 1 (1708).

8 Tarleton's Jests (1611), reprinted in James Orchard Halliwell, Tarlton's Jests, and News Out of Purgatory (London: The Shakespeare Society, 1844) 26 ("How Tarlton tooke tobacco at the first comming up of it").

9 Frederick William Fairholt, Tobacco: Its History and Associations: Including an Account of the Plant and Its Manufacture; with its Modes of Use in All Ages and Countries (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859) 51-52.