Mijistéga and the Sauks

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 150 | 151 | 152 | 153 |

(150) The Winnebago Warleader went to the Missouri River district and asked the Sauks to join his warparty. There was a young man with the Warleader named Mijistéga who had a fawn skin tobacco bag. The Sauks gave a Bear Dance after four days' preparation. There were two Sauk men, leaders of the dance, who were friends. They performed miracles. They took wild turnips and cérap from the ground, and made bear claws disappear in their hands. The bear claw was shot into the head of the Warleader. He did not know this, but Mijistéga knew it. The Warleader began to sweat, so Mijistéga spoke to him about it. The Sauk Indians, by request, sang for him. They placed mud on his head and so removed the bear claw. He was ashamed. So he [Mijistéga] said that he would give the claw back to him. He was going to do it pretty strong. The man fell over like he was dead when he hit him with the bear claw. Then blood began to drool from his mouth. His friends tried to cure him, but couldn't. The Sauk then brought presents of goods and gave them to the Winnebago Warleader. "This is that you [Mijistéga] may cure him [the Sauk]," they said. Then he laughed, "But that's his own medicine!" he said. "We danced like this at home. I never joined with them. Everything was too green." Then he got blankets, ponies and other goods that were given him. This they gave him, for they saw that he knew more than they did. He said, "It's easy to take that out. That's your own shot, but you don't know how to use it." So he made the man sit up, took hold of him, and (151) made him do it. Then, when he did that, he hit him on the back with the flat of his hand. The claw then shot out of his mouth. Then he recovered. So he cured him. Then they took all of the goods and took them to the Warleader. Then they said, "Let us use you to do other things." He asked his leader and gained consent. "Do it if you want to." He was willing.

They said they would sing for him. Then the Bear Dance was started. Then he took the spotted form of tobacco bag. Miracles he did. Then he imitated the bear. "Ą-ha’ ha’ ha’ ha’," he said four times. Then he picked up his tobacco bag and threw it in front of him right on the ground. Then it began to come to life. It proceeded him around the lodge. Then he picked it up, and it was just like it was before. Again he "laughed," and picked wild turnips out of the ground, also ceráp. Then he took a dry plum branch. This they told him to place upright in the altar mound. Then he danced towards the mound. Then again he "laughed." Then he caught a stick in his hand and shook it. Then it became green, the ripe plums fell from its branches. Then he finished circling the lodge and came to his own place. Then he asked for two pans of (152) flour. Then he said, "Put these on the Bear Mound. This they did. "Cover it with black cloth." This they did. "These," he said, "are going to be turned, one to maple sugar and one to red paint." Then they started singing. So they watched him. he danced towards the mound. When he got there, he "laughed" again. Four times he shook each of the covered bowls. "This," he said, "will be sugar, and this paint. So whoever gives me a present, divide it amongst yourselves. When you use this paint for medicine and take also a little of this sugar, it will cure your sickness." Then he sat down. Then a waiter came, and he instructed him to remove the covers. Everyone watched and many gave presents to the young man. The Sauk had never before seen this thing that was done. An old Sauk Indian then rose and made a speech of thanks. So he told them that there were two Sauks who did this dance, but they had never given anything to help the others. He, however, coming from another tribe, "has helped us a great deal. Our children, women, and old people shall be glad to have the medicine. What we gave you as a present is nothing, but what you gave us is a great help. For this (153) we are glad (thankful)." Then the young man said to the leader, "Leader, don't be ashamed because of what has been done here. These goods I give to you, so that you shall not be ashamed, and because you are the leader here." The leader then said, "That is so, what you said, and these things which you give to me, we shall divide amongst us equally." After stopping four days, they went towards the war, Winnebago and Sauk together.1

Commentary. "Mijistéga" — McKern's version of this name is Mitcistéka. For variants of this name and its meaning, see the commentary to "Migistéga's Death, Version 2."

"cérap" — this is untranslated in McKern. However, we known that ceráp is the yellow lotus or water chinquapin (Nelumbo lutea). Both the nuts and tubers are added to meat for flavoring. For more on ceráp, see the commentary to "Brass and Red Bear Boy."

"miracles" — farther down in the text, McKern says, "miracles = ƙópkiñ [xópkį]."

"Warleader" — McKern says, "Dotcṹwuk [tocą́wąk] = title of the war leader. It seems that the war leader was not the fellow who had this experience. First impression." The only way we can understand why the Sauks gave presents to the Warleader is that it was he who had been embarrassed. Clearly, it was Mijistéga who gave the claw back to them, since only he possesses such magical powers.

"green" — the word is not clear in the MS. Further on, Mijistéga performs a miracle using a dead plum branch. Perhaps this means that in the past it was too easy to perform this miracle, and so it would not, in his opinion, have been impressive enough.

"it" — as was mentioned earlier, the tobacco bag was made from fawn skin, so the creature that appears when he throws his bag to the ground we should assume is a fawn.

"laughed" — that is, he made the laugh-like sound of the bear, Ą-ha’ ha’ ha’ ha’.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Witches.

Stories: mentioning Migistéga (Mijistéga): Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Migistéga's Death; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (v. 2), Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; mentioning plums: Trickster and the Plums, Migistéga’s Magic; mentioning ceráp (lotus, Nelumbo lutea): Brass and Red Bear Boy; mentioning sacred (artificial) mounds: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 1), The First Fox and Sauk War, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 12), Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Little Priest’s Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Resurrection of the Chief’s Daughter, Bird Clan Origin Myth; mentioning the Sauk (Sac, Sagi): The First Fox and Sauk War, Black Otter's Warpath, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Little Priest's Game, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e (St. Peet ...), A Peyote Story, Introduction; in which dancing plays a role: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Migistéga’s Magic, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Trickster and the Dancers, Wolves and Humans, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Black Otter's Warpath; set on the Missouri River (Nį̄šóc): Bluehorn's Nephews, Black Otter's Warpath, Buffalo Dance Origins, The Captive Boys, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Little Priest’s Game, The Message the Fireballs Brought.

This story shares the episode where Mijistéga creates plums and paint with the story "Migistéga’s Magic."

Themes: shooting claws: The Claw Shooter, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, Redhorn Contests the Giants; an empty hide comes to life: White Wolf, Migistéga’s Magic, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother; food is magically created from something inedible: Migistéga’s Magic, Potato Magic.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 150-153.