The Hocągara Migrate South

retold from memory by Pliny Warriner (1828)

The following story was told in Ojibwe to Pliny Warriner in the spring of 1828 by an unnamed chief of the Hocągara (b. ca. 1750), who was fleeing west with a small group of people to escape a revenge raid by white miners who had lost one of their number to an Indian raid. Mr. Warriner later set this account down from memory. For the full story of which this is an excerpt, see The First Fox and Sauk War. The parentheses are editorial insertions, presumably from Mr. Warriner.

"My friend — the Winnebagoes are not like other men. They came not from the east; they are the only children of the Great Spirit. He put them on one side of the great waters (Lakes) and the two great lights on the other. He gave us the buffalo, the moose, the elk, and the deer, for food, and their skins he taught us to use for clothing. He filled the waters with fish, and covered the land with choice fruits. All these he gave to us; and he marked with his finger between us and the great lights, that we might not approach them. Upon the other side of us he placed a land of winters, where no Indian could live. After this the Big Knives (English) came, not as enemies, but as friends — They took our bows and gave us guns, for our skins they gave blankets and calicoes, and they gave strong drink to our hunters. They enticed away the young squaws, and when the Winnebago went after them they would not come back. Soon the hunter get lazy, love strong drink, and die. Many, very many die so. Then it was that the Great Spirit told his oldest child, the great chief of the Winnebagoes, in his sleep, to leave the country to the Big Knives, and cross the great water to the land nearer the great lights, where no white man had gone. We went forward, found a good land where this river (Fox, which enters into Green Bay) goes into the great water."1 Story Continued.

Commentary. The word "lights" probably represents a translation of the term more usually translated as "fires." The Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa are known as the "Three Fires," so the "two fires" could refer to the Ojibwe and Potawatomi. However, it seems as likely that it refers to the Sauk and Fox with whom the Hocągara collide.

Mr. Warriner's version of the story is based on the understanding that "great waters" refers to the Great Lakes (Lake Superior in particular), but it should be observed that in Hocąk the Mississippi is called Nioxete, "Great Waters."2 However, there is no inconsistency that would warrant us to reject Mr. Warriner's understanding of what was meant, but we cannot be certain that he did not word his account on a misunderstanding. This having been said, we are led by the logic of Mr. Warriner's account to conclude that since the "land of winters" is north, and opposite this direction lie the "two great lights" towards which they are traveling, that they did in fact move south. Thus the "great waters" that they crossed must be Lake Superior and not the Mississippi. The notion that the Hocągara lived north of Lake Superior probably derives from the confusion of (Lake) "Winnipeg" with the name "Winnebago," virtually identical in Algonquian languages. Some of this confusion may be aggravated by Mr. Warriner supplying his own gloss, specifically, "Land of Winters." The simplest and most likely theory is that "Great Waters" refers to neither the Mississippi nor the Great Lakes, but to Lake Winnebago, which in Hocąk is called Te Xetera, "Great Lake." On the other side of this lake, by then at some distance (owing to Hocąk success in warfare), are to be found the Sauk and Fox nations, the "two lights" with whom the Hocągara collided. This ought to be an account, therefore, of how the Hocągara crossed Lake Winnebago and occupied the lands to its west at the expense of the Sauk and Fox.

The term "Big Knives" (Maįxete) ordinarily refers to the white Americans, but Mr. Warriner infers that it is the English that are meant. More likely, the term is here being used for white people generally, and in particular must refer to the French. Even this, however, is anachronistic: these events surely took place long before the coming of any white man, since the Hocągara were already at Lake Winnebago when they were first reached by Nicolet in 1634.

Links: Earthmaker (Great Spirit), The Wazija, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: about the migration of the Hocągara: The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The First Sauk and Fox War, The Spanish Fight, Quapah Origins, cf. Hocąk Clans Origin Myth; mentioning the Wazija: The Hocąk Migration Myth, Trickster and the Geese, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Deer Spirits, Waruǧábᵉra, The Creation of Man; about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hocągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hocąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Black Otter's Warpath, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Brawl in Omro, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Turtle and the Merchant, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder, The Beginning of the Winnebago.

This is excerpted from the longer story, The First Fox and Sauk War.

Themes: the Hocągara arrive in the Wazija by crossing a great body of water: The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth; the Hocągara are the first human beings: The Creation of Man (vv. 2, 11).


1 Pliny Warriner, "Legend of the Winnebagoes," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Year 1854 (Madison: State Historical Society, 1855) 1:86-93 (88-89) [Appendix 6]. Originally published in the Buffalo [New York] Journal, September 15, 1829. The informant was an unnamed Hocąk chief.

2 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 435, sv xete.