The Forked Man

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Forked Man is a good spirit described as "clever and powerful." He has two bodies,1 one of which is red,2 mounted on one pair of legs, so that he has two heads and four arms. His lodge is found inside a very large hill.3 The Forked Man is the older brother of the chief of the white cranes, and his grandfather was an Owl Spirit. The Forked Man is the enemy of the creatures of the earth like mice and snakes.4 The sister of Heroka picked him among the spirits as the most handsome and became his wife, although the Forked Man had to struggle a bit with Turtle to get her.5 Inasmuch as Turtle is his brother-in-law, it would seem that Turtle's wife must be his sister.6

Bow and Arrow as a Forked-Tail Bird The Forked Man as a Bowman
© Dtopal | © Robnroll |

It is clear that the Forked Man is also a symbol of the bow. The bow joins the man at the waist, especially when shot sideways, as was typically done by the Indians. When the man is added as the necessary component to the mechanism, the new compound being is split at the waist, having four arms and two heads. The Forked Man's status as a bow is made clear when he marries one of the Heroka whose nature is the arrow. In another myth she is even placed in a quiver. The Chief of the Heroka is Redhorn, who often assumes the form of an arrow. Although the race of Forked Men and the Heroka are closely related (through wood), they hook up in marriage with one another. The point on big game arrows is made of turtle claw, thus explaining his connection to Turtle and the competition between himself and Turtle over the Heroka bride. That the arrow flies from the action of the bow's arms/wings, explains the many connections that the Forked Man has to birds. He is said to be "a forked tailed bird."7 When an arrow is mounted and pulled back in the bow, the arrowhead is like a head, the bow itself like wings, and the turkey feathers at the base of the arrow, which are forked, are like its tail (as is the nock, which is also forked). One half of his body is red, the conventional color of hąp, and therefore of life; yet it is also the color of spilled blood, which is the immediate effect of the arrow. It is through the effusion of blood in the death of game animals that the bow and arrow are able to sustain human life.

Kunuga (Mintaka) and His Four Hands (Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Cursa, and Rigel)  

The Forked Man also functions in astronomical codes in more than one myth. The Forked Man is close to both Redhorn (Herokaga) and Wears White Feather. As stars, they are Alnilam of Orion's Belt, and Sirius respectively. We learn that Kunuga, the elder brother of Redhorn, has the tell-tale four arms, although nothing is said of his having two heads. Nevertheless, it seems likely that he is the Forked Man. It would be hard to identify the Forked Man with the Hyades, the most obvious choice, since a strong case can be made for his grandfather Flint being this arrowhead-shaped star cluster. The stars associated with Mintaka, on the other hand, are easily accommodated to the attributes of the Forked Man. His two heads would be Mintaka and Algiebba. The Mintaka half of the body terminates in Betelgeuse and Bellatrix; the Algiebba half in Cursa and Rigel. As a bird, the hand stars make perfect wings, and the forked tail is seen in the split between the Belt Stars and the Sword Stars of Orion. In the myths centered around Wears White Feather (Sirius), the Forked Man is his older brother, and by inference, it is Flint who is his grandfather. Yet in Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Kunuga (Mintaka) is the older brother of Redhorn/Herokaga, and in other stories, it is reasonably clear that it is Flint who beheads Redhorn. In those stories, Flint is made to be Redhorn's eldest brother-in-law, but retains his role as the grandfather of the Forked Man. However, the problem is largely solved when we learn that only Kunuga (Mintaka), Redhorn (Alnilam), and the penultimate brother (Alnitak) are true brothers, and other seven are all adopted brothers. There are serious tensions in this family that are in the end only resolved, if at all, by a kind of mythographic diplomacy. In stories about Redhorn, Wears White Feather is never explicitly mentioned, and in stories about Wears White Feather, Redhorn is never explicitly mentioned. Wears White Feather is an opponent of Morning Star, who is allied with Redhorn and the Heroka. Wears White Feather is a Waterspirit, but Redhorn is famous for leading warparties against the Waterspirits. Mintaka as the Forked Man, on the other hand, is on good terms with both Wears White Feather and Redhorn.

Links: Disease Giver, Heroka, Turtle, Wears Sparrows for a Coat, Crane, Owl, Redman, Bluehorn, Great Black Hawk, Bird Spirits, Hare, Flint, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: in which the Forked Man is a character: The Red Man, Chief of the Heroka, The Spirit of Gambling, Wears White Feather on His Head; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird 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, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), The Dipper (Thunderbirds, kingfishers, hummingbirds, black hawks), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, 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, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (turkey buzzard), The Shaggy Man (blackbirds), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (blackbirds), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika 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 Journey to Spiritland (Medicine Rite Version) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there.

Themes: somatic dualism: The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Disease Giver, The Chief of the Heroka, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Man with Two Heads; a spirit has four arms: Įcorúšika and His Brothers; a spirit is of a red color: Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka.

Genealogy: The Chief of the Heroka (+ Forked Men), The Forked Man (+ Chief of the White Cranes, Hįja Owl Spirit, the Carucge)


1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 83.

2 Paul Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #33, p. 26. Among the Osage, the bow was painted black on its back side and red on its front. Francis La Flesche, The Osage Tribe: Rite of the Chiefs; Sayings of the Ancient Men, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, 36th Annual Report (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1921) 99.

3 LaMère and Shinn, Winnebago Stories, 83-84.

4 Paul Radin, "Wears White Feather on His Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #4: 1-50.

5 Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," 37.

6 Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," 43.

7 Radin, "Wears White Feather on His Head," Notebooks #4, p. 50.