Fishers

by Richard L. Dieterle


The fisher is a predatory arboreal animal closely related to the marten. The fisher (which does not eat fish) is larger, and has a special taste for rabbits and porcupines. The two, who both belong to the genus Martes, are sufficiently similar that they are hard to disentangle in the lexicography. George (1885) says that čapohugera denotes the marten, but the Hočąk Wazijači says that čapoghuįk, the word that George was approximating, denotes the fisher;1 the word wazak´, waząk´, wazųk, seems to be a general term that may denote either the marten or the fisher, or both. The Hočąk Wazijači says that this term denotes the marten, but both George and J. O. Dorsey say that it means "fisher."2

The presumed general term wazuk´ may come from wazų, "to wear," since the pelts of fishers and martens were used to make various types clothing. It is said, for instance, that Bladder had a living fisher (wazųk´) for a shirt and also another living fisher for a tobacco pouch.3 As part of his courting outfit, Young Man (Redhorn) had a fisherskin tobacco pouch.4

In a waiką story, a young man's grandfather had a nightmare in which it was made known to him that he must obtain and sacrifice a white fisher in order to escape ill fortune. The young man had to go to the corner of the earth to obtain this singular fisher, and having killed him, he had the greatest difficulty making good his escape. This fisher turned out to be only one of four white animals that had to be sacrificed to set the grandfather's mind at ease.5

Redhorn and his spirit allies once engaged in a famous lacrosse game with the Giants and their allies. Arrayed on the side of the Giants was Fisher and a number of others, Red Fox, Red Tailed Hawk, and Rough Legged Hawk, all of whom had wives among the Giants. During the action, Red Fox was clubbed and thrown out of the game. He was condemned ever after to be a hunter of mice. The same fate befell Rough Legged Hawk as well. As the contest progressed, Red Tailed Hawk was struck with a stick and thrown to the side. He was condemned ever after to eat snakes. Now Trickster had been matched against Fisher. Despite being warned not to do anything foolish, after Trickster clubbed Fisher, he "condemned" him, saying, "For all time you shall have to eat honey whenever you find it!" Having made this foolish mistake, it has been true ever after that fishers have always had the good fortune of eating honey.6


Links: Martens, Foxes, Redhorn, Trickster.


Stories: mentioning fishers: Redhorn's Father, Bladder and His Brothers, The Dipper.


Notes:

1 Thomas J. George, Winnebago Vocabulary, 4989 Winnebago (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1885). Informants: Big Bear of Friendship, Wisconsin, and Big Thunder. Word lists supplied by the Hocąk Wazijaci Language and Culture Program.

2 George, Winnebago Vocabulary, s.v., wazųkera; James Owen Dorsey, Winnebago-English Vocabulary and Winnebago Verbal Notes, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago (3.3.2) 321 [old no. 1226] (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1888) s.v. wazañgara; Hocąk Wazijaci Language and Culture Program.

3 Charlie N. Houghton, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1908) Winnebago III, #11a, Story XXXV: 333-360.

4 W. C. McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 9 (1929): 215-230.

5 Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Notebook Winnebago IV, #8 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Story 8r: 1-29 = Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #49-50: 1-267.

6 McKern, "A Winnebago Myth."