Little Fox and the Ghost
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
Little Fox was wandering about alone looking for food to satisfy his desperate hunger when he picked up the scent of human flesh and followed it to an abandoned village. All he could find there were a pair of abandoned moccasins. So he wandered over to the graveyard in hope of finding something to eat, but there were no graves to be found. Then he spied a platform in the distance with a corpse laid out on it. When he came to it he found that the body was out of reach. He stayed there even after the sun set. Then during the night, unexpectedly, the corpse spoke to him, saying, "Little Fox, what do I smell like?" Little Fox was alarmed, but decided he had better say something: "You smell like small kernels of dried corn boiled with bear ribs." The next thing he knew, there right before him was corn and bear ribs. Little Fox greedily gobbled up every morsel of the meal. That morning the corpse again asked Little Fox, "What do I smell like?" Little Fox replied, "Just like jerky wrapped in bear fat." Hardly had he finished speaking than he found before him this very dish. Little Fox wolfed this down as well. Every evening and every morning the same thing happened and in time Little Fox had eaten every kind of delicacy imaginable. All winter he fed himself this way. One evening Little Fox decided to make a very special request. When the corpse asked him what he smelled like, Little Fox said, "Just like a pint of Red Eye bourbon." Just then a flask of whiskey appeared before him. He drank every drop and became so drunk that he could hardly stand up. So that morning, having become sick from the whisky, he got the corpse to give him some deer loin soup, which sobered him up a bit. Four times he got himself drunk this way, and four times he sobered up the same way.
Spring was getting near, so Little Fox decided to try something very unusual. When the corpse said, "What do I smell like?" Little Fox answered, "Like the warpath." "All right, Little Fox," said the ghost, "you may go on the warpath after one man, and this man I will grant you." So Little Fox made his preparations and just before he left, he sang his death song:
Oh, you grass widows,
Oh, you grass widows!
When you look at your work, you will think of me!
Then he crept into a village graveyard where he dug up a body and took its scalp. When he returned, he gave the ghost a solo rendition of the Victory Dance.
Now the flowers had come into bloom and the leaves had reappeared on the trees, and Little Fox was fat and secure. So when the ghost asked him what he smelled like, Little Fox boldly replied, "You smell just like a rotting corpse with gaping holes for eyes!" The corpse suddenly rose up and declared, "For this you will surely die!" Little Fox took off running and every time the corpse drew near, Little Fox dodged his grasp. Finally he escaped down a hole in the ground. The corpse was angry, but there was little it could do. However, the tip of Little Fox's tail stuck out of the hole and the corpse savagely bit into it, tearing it completely off. When the coast was clear, Little Fox came out. As he walked along with part of his tail missing, he sang a plaintive song:
Uncles, my uncles;
Uncles, my uncles!
A corpse has bitten off my tail.
A bear passed by him, but could do nothing for him. Then a čiakšigega deer came up to him and gave him the white tip of its tail. Ever after the čiakšigega deer has had a short tail and the fox has had a tail with a white tip.1
by Charlie Houghton
Hočąk-English Interlinear Text
(147) There Little Fox and his grandmother were living together. And so here he would hunt only at night. Wérakirakùni, once a man said, "Little Fox," he said, Hoooo! you're invited." What are they going to feast on?" "Warúsgu corn they say. Hoooo!" (148) He did not do it that way, and so he did not do it. Again after a short time, "Little Fox, you're invited." "What will they feast on?" "Here venison they feasted on."Hoho, he did not do it. "When I eat that way, I get a bad stomach." Again, shortly thereafter, "Little Fox, they invited you." "What will they feast on?" (149) "Here bad moccasins, dung, and hair, just that they feasted on." "Ho, I like it. Now then, I will take the dish." And his grandmother said, "Yes indeed, they are wild, bad guys. Don't go. They will kill you." But he went anyhow.
He arrived. "Ho, Little Fox has come." (150) It is said that they made room for him. And so there he sat down. There he sat. Wérakirakùni, "Yes indeed, yes, kill him." And so Little Fox skipped out and ran away. And so they ran after him, but he ran into his grandmother's. And the old woman said, "The bad, wild boys might have killed you," she said. So for four years he sat.
(151) Now once he went out. There he went, and wérakirakúni, there they were at these old lodges. And so there he sniffed around. Just a little way, there they were, the graves there. (152) And so he went about sniffing and coming back, he got back to the old abode, and werakirakúni, here Little Fox came on. And so he went there. "You, fox, are you hungry?" "Yes." And, "What will you eat?" And, "A morcel of venison and also a slice of bear." "All right." He gave him that kind. And then he ate and when he was through, again he said, "I would drink some fire-water (whiskey)." "All right." (153) And he drank some. "Little Fox, let us live here this winter." "All right." And so the fox lived there at the empty lodge. "Anyhow, even now as daylight comes, Little Fox, what will you eat?" And, "I will eat bear ribs." "All right, come and get it." And so he went to it. Again, "I would drink some fire-water." (154) "Yes." He got through eating and then he came back. "Little Foooox, what do I smell like?" And, "It smells like my wife, a little woman at first menses." "Hooo! come and get it." And so — ho! — there she was. And then leading her by the hand, he came back. And all night long he had conjugal relations with the woman.
(155) Now that in time it had become spring, Little Fox was very fat. Once, "Little Fox — owí — what do I smell like?" "What should you smell like but a corpse? You smell like a hollow face," he said. And then he ran. "Wée, wée, you evil homely guy; evil, head-refuse eater, you who say these things are a dead man!" He chased him. (156) Soon he had nothing. He was done for. There he ran into a hole in the ground. He broke his tail off. "All right, now mind you, anytime that you come out, you will die." There he waited for him. Now he never did come out. In time — it was four years — then he came out. (157) Not a thing did he see then. And so now he went home. Werakirakúni, here a piece of his tail was nowhere to be found. He cried. There an elk was standing: "My nephew, why?" "Uncle, they broke off my tail, and so I am crying." "My nephew, I am giving you my tail," he said. "Ho! it is good." And so he took it. (158) That one used the tail. He came back home. "Hohó, grandmother, I got into something pretty wild." "What have you been doing?" And, "I married a woman. I did it for myself. With great effort I got away." "Hagagasgéžą, that is why I objected." "Yes grandmother, that's the last woman that I am going to marry. I will always keep you alone," he said, they say. (159) And so from then on he lived only with his grandmother, they say.
Yes, that's all.2
Commentary. Čiakšigega may be from či + hakši, "to dwell + high."
Comparative Material. The Gros Ventres have a good parallel to this myth. "The Kit-fox started. He went along a path in the woods. As he went, he smelt something that stunk. He stopped and sniffed. The odor came from a dead person buried in a tree. The Kit-fox said, 'It stinks.' Then the dead person came down from the tree and asked, 'What were you saying?' 'I said it smelled good,' sad the Kit-fox. 'No, you said something bad of me.' 'No, I said, It smells like sweet-grass about here.' Then the ghost pursued him. He came near, and almost caught him. The Kit-fox ran into a hole just as the ghost caught the end of his tail and pulled it off. After a time the Kit-fox came out again and cried."3
The Arikara tell a story somewhat like this one. When Coyote was roaming about he encountered a dead Sioux warparty. Their clothing was so attractive he stripped them of various items that looked good on him. Then he displayed himself among the other coyotes during a dance and was greatly admired, especially when he told them that he made the clothes himself. During the night, the ghosts of the dead Sioux visited him and stripped him of his clothing. Coyote took off running with the ghosts in hot pursuit. He tried to escape by jumping in a river, but he drowned.4
Links: Little Fox, Foxes, Ghosts, Deer Spirits.
Stories: in which Little Fox is a character: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Little Fox Goes on the Warpath, The Scenting Contest, Trickster Gets Pregnant; mentioning foxes: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, 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; mentioning ghosts: The Journey to Spiritland, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Holy One and His Brother, Worúxega, Little Human Head, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lame Friend, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Hare Steals the Fish, The Difficult Blessing, A Man's Revenge, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Two Roads to Spiritland, Sunset Point; featuring deer as characters: Deer Clan Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Wolves and Humans, The Green Man, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Fireman's Brother, cf. The Race for the Chief's Daughter; mentioning elks: Elk Clan Origin Myth, The Animal who would Eat Men (v. 1), The Elk's Skull, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Creation Council, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, The Great Fish; See The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits; mentioning whiskey (fire water): Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Turtle and the Merchant, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Brawl in Omro, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk.
Themes: spirits bless someone with the right to kill a man ("give him a man"): White Thunder's Warpath, Šųgepaga, A Man's Revenge, Great Walker's Warpath, The Masaxe War, Thunderbird and White Horse; finding refuge in a hole in the ground: Hare Kills Wildcat, White Fisher, The Boy and the Jack Rabbit, Redhorn's Sons; platform burials: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Snowshoe Strings; the remains of a dead man speak to, bite, and chase after someone: Little Human Head, ghosts chase after someone: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Little Human Head, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; a person petitions spirits for a greedy end: The Greedy Woman, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Star Husband; a death song makes reference to "grass widows": Turtle's Warparty; Little Fox goes on the warpath: Little Fox Goes on the Warpath; persons seeking blessings are not satisfied with what the spirits have given them: The Greedy Woman, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega, The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna.
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, Hočąk 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 Mąčosepka, 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 Sam Blowsnake (ed. Paul Radin), Crashing Thunder. The Autobiography of an American Indian (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983 ) 44-49.
2 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.
3 Bill Jones, "18. Kit-fox and the Ghost," in Alfred Louis Kroeber, Gros Ventre Myths and Tales, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, 1907) Volume 1, Part 3, p. 77.
4 Dan Howling Wolf, "Coyote and the Ghosts of the Dead Sioux," in Douglas R. Parks, Myths and Traditions of the Arikara Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996) Story 54: 207-209.