James’ Horse

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 314 | 315 | 316 |

(314) When the Winnebago were living in Minnesota they received some horses from the government. Some didn't care for horses, but others were very anxious to get them. Old man James (Nąwą́hoka) had to take one, not a very good one. They used to have horse races. They found that this horse was a good racing horse. In a race he would beat them all. They used to have a U. S. Army fort there. There were some good running horses there. A lot was placed on a race, James' horse against the fastest fort horses, but James' horse won. So James did not want to dispose of his horse.

Finally, the Winnebago were moved up into Crow Creek, Dakota Territory. James took his horse along. From there again they were moved to Winnebago, Nebraska. The horse went along with James. About that time, there were no settlers around there. It was all wild country. Someone finally stole the horse, some man from another tribe. They used to do this in those days. It was necessary to keep a good horse right in the teepee with you, unless you wanted it stolen. It was not permitted to out of the rope. To effect a truly brave deed, one could try to go inside the teepee and pull (315) the stake out, steal the animal from under one's very nose. James tracked them part way, and then came back after his mą́wožu (arrow quiver). He followed the thief up. He didn't permit anyone to go with him. He tracked them over 300 miles into Kansas. Nįmáhahacira, they were the people who lived there. He went there before sunset. When he reached the top of a knoll, he saw at the foot of the hill a creek, a patch of woods, and some teepees there. Where he was it was all prairie. He found some hazel bushes there; here he hid all day. During the day two women came towards the creek. They stretched a deer hide in the process of tanning it. He watched them at work. Then one man came to them. He had on a blanket. Across the creek was a horse staked out all alone. He intended to get this horse in broad daylight. So he crawled on his knees through the tall grass towards the horse. He noticed that it was a good running horse. When he got to the stake, he pulled it out and coiled the rope as he crawled towards the horse. Then he jumped on the horse and away he went.

He had had a dream of a ghost and so he could not be seen during broad daylight. So he composed this song.1

(316) hi kí tci ra rĕ
  Higí, tirarĕ,
I come, I who crawl;
  hi kí tci ra rĕ
  Higí, tirarĕ,
  I come, I who crawl;
  wa na ƙĕ́ tci ra rĕ
  Wanąǧí, tirarĕ,
  Ghost, it is I who crawl;
cųgĕ́ wanacĕ
  Šųgĕ́ wanašĕ,
  Horse I steal away,
  o hai e o hai e-ee-oi
O haie, o haie-e-e-oi!2

The top line is McKern's transcription, the second line is the corrected text in the orthography used on this site. The translation has been revised where indicated.

Commentary. "Minnesota" — Publius Lawson recounts this period of their history:

In 1853, a new treaty was made, by which they were allowed to remove to the Crow river. This treaty was not ratified because of the remonstrance of the people of Minnesota (U. M., 188). On February 27, 1855, they ceded their Long Prairie reservation and were granted a tract of land eighteen miles square on the Blue Earth river, just south of Mankato, in southern Minnesota (19, B. E., 804). They settled here in the spring of that year and immediately began the erection of dwellings and improvement of the land. The teacher of the reservation school reported in 1860 the enrollment of 118 pupils. In the midst of their prosperity, in June, 1862, came the "Sioux massacre," which completely wrecked their future prospects. Although they took no part in that affair, and even though they offered to the government their services in punishing the Sioux, the frightened inhabitants of Minnesota demanded their removal (U. M., 138).3

"Nąwą́hoka" — probably for Nąwą́huga, "He Comes Singing," a name in the Bird Clans.

"fort" — this was Fort Ripley.

Fort Ripley, 1849 - 1877, located on the upper Mississippi below the mouth of the Crow Wing River. It was built in 1848-49 by dragoons and infantrymen from Fort Snelling. When it opened, it replaced Fort Snelling as the northernmost military installation and was originally intended to control the Winnebago Indians who had been removed from Iowa to a nearby reservation.4

This is a view of Ft. Ripley in 1862, around the time of the events related in the story.

"Crow Creek" — they were removed from Blue Earth County, Minnesota, shortly after the Dakota uprising of 1862. Lawson gives an overview of what happened.

By a special act of Congress (Feb. 21, 1863), they were hastily removed in a scandalous manner and suffering great hardships, in May and June of that year, to Ushers Landing, on the Missouri river, in South Dakota. (12, W. H. C., 410). At the time of this removal, the old chiefs, Decorah, Winneshiek, Dandy and their families, and other members of the tribe, fled to Wisconsin. By order of the President (July 1, 1863), there was set aside for them a reserve just below Pierre, and adjoining the Crow Creek reserve of the Sioux, on the east side of the Missouri river, in South Dakota. Here they became greatly dissatisfied with the nature of the soil and water and the lack of timber, and were reported to be engaged in making canoes with the intention of leaving to join the Omaha and other tribes down the Missouri river.5

At Crow Creek, they lived with the Yankton. They had arrived in Blue Earth just a few years before in 1855.

"Nįmáhahacira" — "Muddy Water Dwellers" (McKern). This would be for Nįmą́hąhocira (< , "water"; mą́hą, "mud"; hoci, "to dwell"; and -ra, the definite article). The Missouri River is called Nįšoc, "Roily River," or Nišųc, "Red River," both in reference to its muddiness. There are some of the Missouria tribe located in northeastern Kansas, so it is possible that this is meant to refer to them.

"so he could not be seen during broad daylight" — day and night are switched for ghosts. In tales about visiting Spiritland, the ghosts only come out at night, and fade away at daylight.

"I who crawl" — McKern has "I run." As the story shows, however, he crawled to the horse. The word ci meaning, "to run," is not to be found.

"cųgĕ́" — McKern notes, "cųgĕ́ [šųgĕ́] (Oto word for horse) used instead of cųkátĕ [šųkxéte] (Winnebago) to fit time." The Oto are very closely related to the Hocągara.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Horses.

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, 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); occurring in Minnesota: Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Lost Blanket, Great Walker's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War; set at Crow Creek, South Dakota: The Message the Fireballs Brought.

Themes: a warrior captures an enemy's horse: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits.

Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hocąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mącosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 314-316.

2 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 313, Recording XV-b.

3 Publius V. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907): 78-162.

4 Minnesota Military Museum (Camp Ripley) > "Forts on the Minnesota Frontier," s.v. "Fort Ripley."

5 Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 114-115.