The Man Who Fell from the Sky

by Mrs. Peter White Eagle


A Lake Wingra Winnebago (Hočąk) legend, as told to C. E. and D. M. Brown by Mrs. Peter White Eagle.

This story was sent to me by Kathy Miner of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison.


Two Indian girls once went down to the spring in the Big Woods with their bark pails to obtain water for cooking. As they drew near the spring they saw someone sitting on the grass. He was a stranger and the girls knew that they had never seen him before. When they drew near him he arose. He smiled and tried to talk to them but the young women could not understand his language. It was very musical but they could not make out a word of what he was saying. He then made signs to them pointing first to the sky, then to the ground and waving his arms like the wings of a bird. The girls thought that he was demented. They became frightened and ran away, leaving their buckets behind them.

At the Indian camp they told their brothers of their experience. These young men went to the spring to meet the stranger. He was very friendly. He was clean and his face was white and shining. So also were his hands. He explained to them by signs that he had fallen down from above. He was a Sky Man. He would go back into the sky world again. Something would come and carry him up.

The brothers invited the stranger to their father's wigwam. There he remained for several days. He was very quiet and he would eat nothing. One day there came a heavy rain and thunderstorm. The Sky Man went out of the family's wigwam. They saw him standing in the rain at the base of a very large tree. A bright flash of lightning reached that spot. They saw that the Sky Man was gone. He had been carried away to the sky world by the lightning.

After that the girls sometimes thought they could see his face in the waters of the spring. Perhaps he was watching them from his place in the sky. The Sky Man never came again.1


Commentary. "Big Woods" — as the springs are concentrated on the southwest corner of Lake Wingra, the location of these woods are certainly to be found in that region. The woods, indicated by "Woods" on the map above, are now know as "Wingra" and "Gallistel Woods."

"the spring" — "The spring referred to in the story may well be the one we call 'Big Spring' today." — Kathy Miner

Big Spring maintains a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so that it is cool during the summer and relatively warm during the winter. It flows directly out of the hills into Lake Wingra.2

"white and shining" — this is not a reference to someone of the white race (Big Knife), but some kind of presumably stellar being. White is particularly the color of holiness. That he shines recalls the term used in the Medicine Rite to describe particularly holy beings and objects that have descended from the heavens to bless the Rite at its foundation. There the term hą́berikokíri is used, which can be translated after Radin as, "resplendent with Light and Life." Also much used in the same context is rukírikíri, "shining, sparkling, shimmering." So his luminescent attributes mark him off not only as stellar, but as holy.

The shining face is well known from other religious traditions, as we see from depictions of saints and other holy figures with a halo or nimbus used to capture the radiance eminating from their heads.

"his hands" — the reason why the hands should also share the luminence of the head is not obvious. If the Sky Man is a kind of Stellar Spirit, this attribute may have something to do with the nature of the radiation of light itself. The light of a powerful object such as the sun can seem to touch the face with its heat, and even the light rays of stars at least touch the eyes. It is this idea of the touching rays of luminous objects that we see depicted in the famous representations of the ancient Egyptian Aten of Akhenaten, which is seen in the inset. It too is charged with Light and Life (Ankh), the same power that the Hočągara call Hąp. The Hočąk Sky Man also has the tactile power inherent in luminous celestial bodies and must therefore have hands that express this fact. See also the Commentary to The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head.

"wigwam" — "wigwam" is an Algonquian term, the Hočąk term is či, usually translated as "lodge."

"carried away to the sky world by the lightning" — the same seems to have happened to the mysterious spirit who granted Hare the magical powers of commanding physical objects to perform automatically. When he had completed his mission, he went up with a clap of thunder (cp. Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp). Lightning is said to "eat" what it strikes, so that ascension by lightning may be a kind of swallowing by the Thunders in the clouds above.


Links: Celestial Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.


Stories: mentioning Sky Men: Sky Man; about two sisters: The Twin Sisters, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Old Man and the Giants, The Dipper, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; mentioning springs: Trail Spring, Vita Spring, Merrill Springs, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 6, 8, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Bluehorn's Nephews, Blue Mounds, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Lost Child, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Wild Rose, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Two Brothers, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Nannyberry Picker, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧápara, Wazųka, Turtle and the Witches; set at Lake Wingra: Trail Spring, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Mesquaki Magician.


Themes: something is of a (symbolic) pure white color: White Bear, Deer Spirits, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), White Flower, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Fleetfooted Man, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Worúxega, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket (white spirits), Skunk Origin Myth, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Messengers of Hare, The Brown Squirrel, Bladder and His Brothers, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Dipper, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Creation of the World (v. 12), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Descent of the Drum, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Grandmother's Gifts, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Completion Song Origin, North Shakes His Gourd, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Peace of Mind Regained; ascending to heaven in a storm: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Fourth Universe, cf. Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Glory of the Morning, Red Cloud's Death; ascending to heaven with a clap of thunder: Fourth Universe, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, cf. The Glory of the Morning.


Notes

1 Printed in the March 1998 newsletter of the Ancient Earthworks Society of Madison. Credit there is given to Pioneer and Indian History and Legends, University of Wisconsin Arboretum, 1934. Presumably the story was recorded by the Browns.

2 from the University of Wisconsin News, "Arboretum walks can connect people with natural world," at http://www.news.wisc.edu/9312.html.