The Man who Defied Disease Giver

by James Smith1

recorded by Paul Radin

Once a man said, "Why do you always make offerings and feasts to the Disease-giver? What benefit has he ever been to you that you do it? If I were ever to see him, I would kick him off the earth. The only thing he can give you is disease."

In the fall of the year in which the man said this the people, as usual, went out hunting and the man got lost and was forced to camp out in the wilderness overnight. So he built a fire and sat alongside of it. Suddenly he saw a man coming toward him. As soon as the stranger came up to him he took a seat on the opposite side of the fireplace. Then the stranger said, "I am the one whom you threatened to kick off this earth whenever you met him. You, furthermore, boasted that I could not kill you." Then he pointed his finger in a line with the man's heart. But the man remained seated near the fireplace without moving. Then he did this again, yet the man still remained in his former position. Then the third time he did it and said, "In the center of the heart." The man, however, remained seated just as before. Then the stranger exclaimed, "Who are you anyhow?" and pointed his finger at him. But the man did not move. Then the stranger (Disease-giver) pleaded with the man to die so that it might not be said that he had failed in the "mission" for which he had been created. He promised the man that if he would oblige him and die he could come back to earth again within four days. Finally the man consented. He went home and told his folks that he was going to a certain place to die for the space of four days and that they should, under no conditions, go to see him there, for in that case he would surely die. Then he dressed himself in his best clothes and went to the place where he was to meet Disease-giver. (He rested his head against a tree and died.) However, on the third day his wife could not resist the desire to see him, so she went to the place where her husband was leaning against the tree. Then he really died. After his death a red spot was visible upon his forehead.2

Commentary. "without moving" — this story makes clear that unless a man believes in the power of a Spirit, that power will have no effect upon him. Smith's failure to react leads to a crisis for Disease-giver, since Earthmaker had created him for a particular purpose, and his impotence in this case will mean that he had failed in the mission for which he had been created.

"red spot" — the color of Disease-giver is red, which inasmuch as it is the color of blood, is usually associated with life. It may indeed have just this valence, however, since by withholding disease, Disease-giver can be viewed as giving (back) life. The emblem of Disease-giver used in sacrificial offerings is a set of parallel red lines as shown in the inset. The 12 lines may represent the 12 clans of the Hocąk nation. As such, an offering of 12 marks can be construed as a request for life for the whole tribe. Since we are in this case dealing with a single individual, a single dot may be appropriate.

Comparative Material. This Osage myth has only a slight resemblance to our story, as the bad spirit merely chooses not to harm the man. "The Indians once went out scalp hunting. They got about five miles away. One man got tired and his foot was sore. He concluded that he would turn back. He started back, and went over a hill. When night came he stayed by a creek. He had killed a fat deer. He jerked the best part of the deer and was roasting it. About midnight he heard something coming from the same direction he had come from. He listened a few minutes. Whatever it was (this is what we call a bad Spirit), it came up and said, "Hello," and the man was sleeping right by the fire. He got ready to stab the being, but the being just ate the meat he was roasting for himself. The being said: 'Do not be afraid of me. You have walked over my house. Do not try to run from me, for I am not going to hurt you. You are trying to stab me. Do not do that. I will not hurt you'."3

Links: Earthmaker, Disease Giver.

Stories: featuring Disease Giver as a character: Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Bow Meets Disease Giver.

This worak has many points of convergence with the waiką Ghost Dance Origin Myth II.

Themes: a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hocągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Heną́ga and Star Girl, A Man's Revenge, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Man Who Lost His Children to a Wood Spirit, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, White Thunder's Warpath, Black Otter's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Ciwoit’éhiga, Sunset Point, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; a man succeeds in overcoming the power of spirits by remaining motionless and not reacting to their actions against him: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II; a mortal thwarts Disease Giver's purpose: Bow Meets Disease Giver; because the spirits make clear that it is a necessity, a man volunteers to die: Redhorn's Sons, The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman; a woman is forbidden to join her husband when he goes off to a place kept secret from her: The Markings on the Moon, The Chief of the Heroka, Old Man and Wears White Feather, cf. The Sky Man; looking upon one's dead spouse will spoil their return to life and cause their permanent death: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II; a person is told by a spirit that he should not look upon someone during a particular period of time, but curiosity gets the better of the person and he looks anyway, causing the object of his gaze to be injured: Snowshoe Strings, The Dog that became a Panther, Sunset Point; a man forbids his female relative from looking at him when he is engaged in a secret activity, but she cannot resist the temptation and does it anyway to his detriment: The Markings on the Moon, Redhorn's Father, Sunset Point; someone's death would be caused by looking at someone whom spirits have forbidden to be seen: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Creation of Man (v. 4); red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (hair, body paint, arrows), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Trickster and the Mothers (sky), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Deer Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hocągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Red Feather (plumage), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įcorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket).


1 Radin's text has the following note: "This is not supposed lo be a myth but the real experience of a man named James Smith." (p. 309)

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 261-262 (1923 ed., 309-310). The original text (it was told in English) is in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3862 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago I, #3: 3-6.

3 "35. The Boy and the Bad Spirit," in George A. Dorsey, "Traditions of the Osage," Field Columbian Museum, Anthropological Series, 7, #1 (Feb., 1904): 42-43.