by Richard L. Dieterle

The chief of the race of horses is Big Eater, the son of the Sun and Moon. When he was a baby he ate so much that both his father and mother had to flee for fear of starvation. They arrived at a lodge where ten brothers lived, some of whom were Stellar Spirits. In the spring of the year Big Eater arrived there himself, and was well received by the brothers. It was there that Big Eater first tasted grass, having eaten everything else that was left. He found the grass delicious and ate it ever after. He then became a horse.1

When the world was still young, Hare called a council of all the animals and asked them one at a time if they would consent to be food for humans. When he got to the horse, he said that instead of being food he would live with Hare's aunts and uncles (human beings) and carry heavy loads for them. For this Hare gave him his thanks.2 In a culture where only the dog is domesticated, the horse as a servant of man makes him striking similar to the dog in spirit. Thus the horse is called šųkxete, "great dog."3

Once Trickster put canine and horse rather uncomfortably together. He decided to play a preemptive trick on Little Fox. He put a horse to sleep, then told Mouse to fetch Little Fox under the false promise of a dead horse to eat. When Little Fox got there Mouse tied him to the horse so that he could drag it away, but then Trickster caused the horse to awaken, and the dragging was in the other direction. After that the Little Fox was so embarrassed that it ever after has consistently avoided man and has never been domesticated.4

In a way recalling Greek mythology, the horse nature can also be associated with thunder and lightning. The story is told of an orphan who was not taken seriously by anyone. He fasted rigorously, but did not receive a blessing. Finally he gave up and went to a spring to drink. There he found a decrepit horse which he nursed back to health. One day this horse spoke to him and told him how to achieve his goals. With the aid of the horse the boy captured the hide of a white buffalo and thereby won the hand of a princess. The horse made his last appearance in a great storm that suddenly moved in at sunset. The white horse galloped across the sky shooting thunder from his eyes. It was the Thunders who had blessed this boy and who had assumed the form of a white horse.5 This is very similar to the story of the white horse Pegasos who carried the thunderbolts for Zeus.6 The underlying affinity of Thunderbirds and horses can be seen from a story about a boy who was able to fly by wearing the hide of the chick of a giant spirit bird. He traded this remarkable object for a horse.7

Spirit horses are sometimes seen floating in the air. At Eagle Heights near Madison, Wisconsin, when mists formed over the crown of the eminence, a great horse could be seen ascending into the air. For those fasters who could witness this apparition, the Horse Spirit would extend his blessings. Because of this extradinary phenomenon, the heights had long been known as Šųkxetega, "the Horse."8

As to the introduction of the horse among the Hocągara, Schoolcraft has this to say,

This tribe has no tradition respecting the horse, except that they first obtained this animal from the Sioux. They call the horse "shoon-hutta-raw" [šųk-xete-ra], which means big dog or big servant.9

Šųkxete means literally "big dog," not from any resemblance to this animal, but from a functional equivalence, as team of dogs used to do the work to which horses were subsequently employed. Consequently, there is some propriety to the translation "big servant."

The great value of the horse made them prime targets of theft by raiding partiest. Nąwą́huga had his horse stolen even though he had tied its rope inside his own lodge. After a long trek to Kansas, he later stole it back by crawling up to it in broad daylight.10

Links: Sun, Moon, Hare, Trickster, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Bluehorn (Evening Star), Little Fox, Cougars, Mice.

Stories: mentioning horses: The Big Eater, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, James’ Horse, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Boy who Flew, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, They Owe a Bullet, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2); featuring Sun as a character: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Children of the Sun, Grandfather's Two Families, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The Birth of the Twins; pertaining to the Moon: The Markings on the Moon, Black and White Moons, Berdache Origin Myth, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Hare Kills Wildcat, Grandfather's Two Families; mentioning coyotes: Coyote Goes on the Warpath, The Scenting Contest, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Trickster and the Eagle; in which mice are characters: Little Brother Snares the Sun, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Kills Wildcat, Ocean Duck; featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Soils the Princess, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, 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, Waruǧábᵉra; featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Red Man.


1 Paul Radin, XI. Untitled, Winnebago Notes, Winnebago III, #11b, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909, recopied and corrected, 1945) pp. 61-63. Told by Frank Ewing. Paul Radin, "The Sun," Transcripts in English of Winnebago Tales, Winnebago IV, #7L, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 1-9 (= 78-86 = 978-996).

2 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 111-113.

3 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]) 160, sv šųk.

4 "Wakjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 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.

5 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 38-42. Informant: Felix White, Sr.

6 Hesiod, Theogony 285-286.

7 John Michael StCyr, [untitled], in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Notebook #19 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) 33-39.

8 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Historical Excursion. Second Issue (Madison: Wisconsin State Historical Museum, 1926) 11; Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1927) 6; Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Prehistory, History and Legends (Madison: The Wisconsin Archeological Society, 1933) 6; Dorothy Moulding Brown, Indian Legends of Historic and Scenic Wisconsin, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 60.

9 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Company, 1856) 4:238.

10 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 314-315. Cp. the song about this exploit, McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 313, Recording XV-b.