Foxes (Wašereke)

by Richard L. Dieterle


In Hočąk thought, foxes are above all else creatures in want. Fox, the primordial eponymous representative of this animal tribe, was one of the figures that met in a great council of animals. They had a vat of lard into which each animal would be dipped in order to determine what measure of body fat each kind would carry. Fox, however, jumped in uninvited and came out rotund. The other animals angrily squeezed out all this fat except a little in his upper arms. Ever since, foxes have suffered perpetually lean times.1

Trickster once took advantage of the natural greed and appetite of the fox. He induced Mouse to tell Little Fox about a dead animal that lay just beyond the outskirts of the village. It didn't take any effort to get Little Fox out there for a look. Mouse suggested, following Trickster's instructions, that Little Fox tow the animal off and having hidden it, they could indulge their greed and selfishness. Little Fox thought this a splendid idea, and Mouse tied his tail to the dead "deer," as Little Fox called it. However, this was no deer, but a strong horse that just happened to be sleeping. When Little Fox jerked its tail, it leapt up and dragged Little Fox along like a piece of brush wood. Trickster yelled for everyone to come out and see what a disgrace had befallen Little Fox. After this public humiliation, foxes were never again seen anywhere around human habitations.2

 

Little Fox was particularly known for his greed and appetite. In searching for food during the lean moons of winter, he discovered a talking human corpse who in exchange for flattery gave him whatever food he requested. Finally, when spring came, Little Fox told the corpse that it stank. After a chase, the corpse bit the tip of Little Fox's tail off, which was replaced later by the white tail of a cervid.3

Once the stellar Įčorúšika and His Brothers took pity upon seven foxes because of this proverbial deprivation and adopted them as siblings. However, Įčorúšika was rewarded by jealous betrayal, as the vulpine brothers tricked him into falling captive to the Bad Waterspirits. After he freed himself, Įčorúšika violently returned the foxes to their natural vulpine form and cursed them to be ever in want.4

Red Fox married into the tribe of Giants. He did his son-in-law service by being a great hunter for his wife's father. In a game of lacrosse that pitted the Giants against the good spirits, Red Fox faced off against the Buffalo Spirit Curly Hair. Curly Hair killed Red Fox, but revived him, cursing his kind to be reduced to hunting mice. Thus diminished in prowess, Red Fox ran off never to be seen by the Giants again.5

The tricky nature of the fox made Little Fox a fit companion for Trickster. Once Trickster wanted to find the location of a human village so he could settle down to the good life. So he challenged Little Fox to a contest in scenting. Trickster pretended to pick up the scent of human habitations, thus stimulating the fox to give it his all and actually sense the village. By this trick, the master of trickery could claim scenting powers greater than that of a fox, and use the fox's real powers to find the life of ease.6

During a winter in which Little Fox and his friends (Blue Jay and Nit) were living in starvation with Trickster, they hit upon a scheme to satisfy their want of food. Trickster made himself into a woman by using an elk liver as a vagina. He was so beautiful, Little Fox and his friends could not control their appetites, and made Trickster pregnant. Trickster went to the village and married the chief son. There Little Fox and the other lived a life of comfort and satiety. However, one day when Trickster was playing, his elk liver fell off, and everyone realized who he was. Their trickery and dishonesty uncovered, Little Fox and the others ran away into the wilderness.7

Foxes are also known for a stealthy and thievish nature. Trickster had a feast of ducks cooking over a fire while he slept, but a group of foxes picked up the scent and soon arrived at its source. Trickster's anus was suppose to watch over the ducks, but all it could do was flatulate loudly, which in the end failed to scare away the foxes. They ate all of Trickster's ducks in short order, and escaped completely undetected.8 The Menominee have this same story in which their trickster, Mä́näbush, is victimized not by foxes, but by a Hočąk raiding party (see The Origin of the Name "Winnebago,").9


Links: Little Fox, Giants, Celestial Spirits, Waterspirits, Buffalo Spirits, Trickster, Mice, Horses, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Ghosts, Blue Jay, Lice, Fishers.


Stories: mentioning foxes: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Little Fox and the Ghost, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Redhorn's Father, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Scenting Contest, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans (v. 3), Little Fox Goes on the Warpath, Holy One and His Brother; in which Little Fox is a character: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Little Fox and the Ghost, Little Fox Goes on the Warpath, The Scenting Contest, Trickster Gets Pregnant; in which Trickster is a character: The Trickster Cycle, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Trickster Soils the Princess, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Markings on the Moon, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Spirit of Gambling, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Green Man, The Red Man, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Waruǧápara; about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars.


Themes: a spirit punishes a fox and its kind by condemning them to lead a life of privation: Redhorn's Father, Įčorúšika and His Brothers; Trickster fools Little Fox: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, The Scenting Contest.


Notes

1 Charles Edward Brown, Wigwam Tales (Madison, Wisc.: Charles E. Brown, 1930) 28.

2 "Wakjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago V, #7, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1912) 548-566. A translation has been published in Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 50-52.

3 Charlie Houghton, Coyote is Invited to a Feast, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #9, Freeman #3894 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) 147- 159.

4 Paul Radin, "Inčohorúšika," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #14: 1-67.

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

6 Radin, The Trickster, 40-41. The original text is in "Wakjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #7: 404-413.

7 Radin, The Trickster, 21-24. The original text is in "Wakjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago V, #7, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) 186-224.

8 Radin, The Trickster, 14-18.

9 Walter James Hoffman, The Menominee Indians, in the Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1892-1893 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896) 14:203-205.