The Foolish Hunter
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
A young man, heeding the advice of his elders, had fasted in order to be blessed by the spirits with great hunting powers. Indeed, afterwards he become very successful, and when he went out he would always pack a deer or two back. During the winter he began thinking about how nice it would be to have roast duck, although by then all the ducks had flown south for the winter. Nevertheless, the taste of a delicious duck viande was a constant fantasy in his mind. He announced that when the ducks returned, he would kill scores of them and take a bath in their melted fat. After that, he boasted, he would kill enough to host a feast. When spring finally came and the ducks were once again filling the skies, he took his bow and arrows and set out for his favorite hunting spot along the Fox River. Yet as he sat there thinking about bathing in duck fat, the ducks themselves were flying away from him, as if they knew of his intent. Four days he went to the same spot where in the past he had enjoyed such great success, but not once did he get so much as a shot at a duck. Before sunset on the fourth day, he sang his fasting song, by which he could summon forth the blessings he had received when he had first fasted. Thus he sang,
It is I, it is I;
It is I, it is I.
Even before he had completed his song, he saw a formation of ducks coming towards him, its leader singing,
It is I, it is I;
My body is the blue sky of heaven;
It is I.
The lead duck passed so close that he could have reached out and touched him, but when he shot his arrow it seemed to pass right through its target. This strange turn of events was heavy upon his mind once he was at home and in bed. As he lay sleeping a spirit approached the lodge and whispered, "I summon you — come forth." And while his body lay in repose, the man's soul took flight to the Upper World. There he was led into the lodge of the Bird Spirits. He stood before the chief of the Bird Spirits who warned him, "Young man you have spoken evil of what is sacred. The Creator did not create us to be mere play things, for our bodies were made of the stuff of the blue sky, and we give ourselves as food to humans only because we wish to bless you. Therefore, be mindful of what you say and of what you have been caused to dream this night." And with that his soul was sent back to his body on earth. The next morning the young man went out again to hunt ducks. Yet he shot only enough for himself to eat, and a few more for his neighbors, before he returned to the village. He had put from his mind the boast that he would bathe in duck fat, and he renounced his ambition to host a great feast from the slaughter of ducks. From then on he contented himself with the blessings that the spirits had given him, and restrained forevermore his greed.1
Links: Ducks, Bird Spirits, Ghosts.
Stories: featuring ducks as characters: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Origin of the Name "Winnebago" (Menominee), Ocean Duck, The Foolish Hunter; about journeys to and from Spiritland: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Journey to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Lame Friend, Two Roads to Spiritland, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Waruǧábᵉra, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Petition to Earthmaker, Wears White Feather on His Head, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man Whose Wife was Captured; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan 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, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, 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, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika 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 Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; set on the Fox River: Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The First Fox and Sauk War, Winneconnee Origin Myth, Neenah, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter.
Themes: a person is not satisfied with the abundance she has, but wants more (for the sake of variety): The Greedy Woman, White Wolf; arrogance: The Skunk Origin Myth, The Blue Jay, The Fatal House, The Creation of Evil, Holy One and His Brother, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; greed spoils the blessing given by a spirit: The Greedy Woman, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp; a messenger summons an evil doer to Spiritland where he is reprimanded: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; a messenger leads a man to Spiritland: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; spirits take action against a man for killing game animals for reasons other than food: The Twin Sisters; a mortal is returned to earth from the spirit village that he is visiting: Waruǧábᵉra, The Thunderbird, Two Roads to Spiritland, The Shaggy Man, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, White Wolf, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Petition to Earthmaker.
Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hočąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mąčosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).
1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 38-45. Informant: Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan). This story was also told in March, 1921 by Oliver LaMère, "The Young Hunter's Blessing," The Wisconsin Archaeologist, 20, #3 (July, 1921): 94-95.