Great Black Hawk (Kerejųsepxetega)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Great Black Hawk, chief of the Thunderbirds,1 is one of the great spirits that Earthmaker himself created in heaven.2 Great Black Hawk is said to be very handsome, and was nearly chosen as a husband by the older sister of Heroka.3 In some accounts, his lodge stands opposite Earthmaker's. In front of it is a small mound atop which lies a small club, the Thunderbird Warclub. Just barely shaking this club releases the noise of terrifying thunder. When he shook it in front of Hare, it jolted him out of his depression, and made him fit to have an audience with Earthmaker.4

In human affairs, Great Black Hawk is chiefly remembered for giving the Thunderbird Clan of the Hocąk nation a copy of the Thunderbird Warclub and its counterpart found in the Thunderbird Warbundle.5 In the Thunderbird Clan Warbundle Feast, he is recognized as the Guardian of the Warbundle.6 Generally, he is an important war deity said to control "great war powers,"7 most particularly those pertaining to the efficacy of weapons.8 Once he directed by his blessings the spirits under Otter to a victorious warpath.9 Nevertheless, he also has command of life powers which he bestows upon those whom he visits in their fasting dreams. In the Warbundle Feasts the warriors bestow upon him the very great honor of being offered a dog (the ritual substitute for a human sacrifice).10

"Black Hawk" is a common Indian term for a certain kind of raptorial bird, although the term cannot be found in an English dictionary. In 1909, Emil William Lenders, whose informant was Joseph LaMère of the Bear Clan, said that this bird is the Black Swallow-tail Kite (Nauclerus forficatus), now known as the American Swallow-tail Kite (Elanoides forficatus).11 Its usual habitat is river bottoms, swamps, and forst glades, which strongly associates it with water.12 Thunderbirds not only produce rain, but hunt Waterspirits, making the aqueous associations of the black hawk appropriate to its role as the avian body form of the chief of the Thunderbirds.

Links: Black Hawks, Hawks, Heroka, Earthmaker, The Sons of Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, Black Hawk, Bird Spirits, Pigeon Hawk, The Twins, Gottschall, The Thunderbird Warclub, Otters, Ducks, Hare, The Forked Man, Yungiwi, Kaǧi. For dog sacrifice, see Wolf & Dog Spirits, Disease Giver.

Stories: in which Great Black Hawk occurs as a character: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Chief of the Heroka, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Redhorn's Sons; mentioning black hawks: Hawk Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), The Dipper, The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, Waruǧábᵉra, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Morning Star and His Friend, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; 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 (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there.

Genealogy: Thunderbirds.


1 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 297, 301. Informant: Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 417.

3 Paul Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #33, p. 37.

4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 302-311.

5 Radin, "Winnebago Tales," 288-303; Emil William Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 46 (1914): 404-420. Told by Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan, to Radin in the summer of 1908 and to Lenders in Aug. - Sept., 1909.

8 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (1923), 538.

7 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 392, 417.

8 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 487.

9 Paul Radin, "Redhorn's Sons," Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #7, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1908-1913) Story 7a, p. 6.

10 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 417.

11 Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," 409. For the American Swallow-tail Kite, see the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Edition. 2d revised edition. John Bull, John Farrand, jr., Amanda Wilson, and Lori Hogan, edd. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Chanticleer Press), 1994) 420-421, plate 317.

12 Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Edition. 420-421, plate 317.