The Mulberry Picker

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

There was a naked little boy at a fork in the rivers who was wandering around in a state of confusion. There were many mulberry bushes and most of all the boy enjoyed eating their berries [inset]. He began to collect them, and had so many that he had to store them in a hollow log. One day a girl, not much older than he was, came by and when she saw him she said, "My little brother is here." The boy replied, "My little brother is here." No matter what she said, he would mimic her. She built a fire, but the flames frightened the little boy, who had never seen fire before. She put beans on to cook and dished them out when they were done, but the boy did not seem to know what to do with them. "My little brother, you must eat," she said; and he echoed back, "My little brother you must eat." She had to show him by example how to eat the beans. At first he did not understand: he ran to the river shore and picked up some pebbles that looked like beans, and put them in the pot. She took them out and rattled them in her mouth, then spit them out. She next took a bean and put it in her mouth and ate it. Then he understood. He ate the beans and liked them very much. The boy gave her some of the mulberries that he had hoarded and she found them to be delicious. There the two of them lived eating the products of the earth until they reached an age at which they began to fast.

One day the sister made the boy a bow and arrows. Once he knew how to use them, he got better and better with practice. The first animal that he killed was a bird, but later he began to kill larger game. Now that he had grown to manhood, his sister said that she would like to have a sister-in-law, and that he should therefore marry. This puzzled him: "Are there any other people at all among whom I could find a wife?" She replied, "Yes. There is a village nearby where the chief's daughter lives. She would make a good sister-in-law for me." She dressed him to go courting, making a quiver of white marten fur and a cap of otter fur. He wore red leggings with black fur moccasins, and painted his face blue, with just a touch of mud on top. "At the edge of the village is an old woman. She is our aunt. There the yųgiwi (princess) will come with her friends bringing wood for her," she said. So he set out on his journey and finally came to the lodge that his sister had described. He peeped inside. The woman within said, "Don't just peep in, nephew, come on inside." She knew he was coming so she already had some food boiling for him when he arrived. While he was eating, four girls came up to the lodge bearing wood. Each girl in turn peeked into the lodge and giggled. None would tell the other what they had seen. Finally, the princess walked right in and sat down next to the stranger. She became very embarrassed and ran back outside with her friends. When she and her friends got back home, they talked excitedly of the young man they had seen dressed in his finery. The men were gambling and Turtle overhead what the girls were saying. He announced, "I am quitting because my friend should be here soon." With that, Turtle pushed all his winnings back into the center and left. When Turtle got home, he told his wife to boil up some food, as his friend was expected shortly. "So my brother-in-law is here?" she said. Turtle went to the lodge where the stranger was living. Turtle said, "My friend, you have arrived. I was expecting you yesterday." Just then a poor boy peeped into the lodge. He was not only a homeless orphan, but had no relatives at all. When the mulberry picker saw him, he said, "Come in, my friend!" "My wife should have something cooked by now," said Turtle, "so let's go over to my place and eat." The mulberry picker said, "Go ahead. We will follow after my friend takes a bath." So Turtle left and the two friends went down to a spring. The mulberry picker said, "My friend, you must dive in four times and stay down as long as you can." The poor boy did just as he was told, and when he came out he was not only clean, but unusually handsome. The two friends looked very much alike. Once they returned, he said, "Auntie, give my friend some clothes to wear." Then the two friends strolled off to Turtle's place, where they were directed to sit at the back of the lodge. They were served beaver tail and deer loins. Since Turtle knew that he had come for the princess, he talked of nothing but her. Many men were courting her, but she paid little attention to them. "Let's go over to the chief's lodge before it gets any later, as the princess goes to bed early," suggested Turtle. The princess slept on a platform in a large bark lodge. Turtle went in first, and climbed right up on the platform and lay at its edge. Turtle whispered to her, "My friend the Traveler ..." and again he spoke but said nothing more than, "My friend the Traveler ..." This only made the princess angry: "Just what are you getting at? I thought you were about to give me a message from him, but you never finished your sentence!" With that remark, she gave Turtle a good shove, and he rolled right off the platform and landed on the ground with a thud. The whole time Turtle just laughed and he left the lodge laughing all the way. His two friends came in discretely carrying small lighted twigs so that they could see. The princess blew the lights out. The Traveler slept with the princess, and the poor boy with one of her friends. In the morning they set out for his aunt's lodge, and when they got there, unexpectedly she had already fixed beds for them. When they got into their beds, his aunt covered each couple with a bearskin. Thus they were married.

The next morning the two friends went hunting and killed an entire herd of buffalo at the place where they gather wood. They arrived back home packing only the tongues. The village criers announced that anyone who wanted meat could pack whatever they could carry. The two friends stayed at the chief's lodge and while they were there killed many herds of other kinds of animals where they gathered the wood. In time, both women gave birth, and when the children had grown up a little, they set out for home. When they got near their sister's lodge, they told the women and children to wait while they went on ahead. The sister was overjoyed to see her brother and his friend. She got dressed in her best clothes and went out to meet the families. When the women saw her they declared that there was no woman on earth more beautiful. She shown with the light of the many metal wampum necklaces she wore. When they reached her lodge, she presented them with all kinds of gifts. After spending some time there, all of them went back to the chief's village. The villagers agreed that the sister was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen. The mulberry picker gave his sister to the chief's son, and he and his friend were made chiefs in their own right.

However they resolved that they would go back to their spiritual home only with their wives and sister. They departed to the Waterspirit village, but the sister's husband and the two children were left behind. It was from that spirit village that they had originally come, and now they would return. The mulberry picker and his sister were the offspring of the chief of that village, and had come to earth to fast, it is said. After they had left, the brother-in-law (the chief's son) became extremely lonesome and missed his wife. They had told him that he might go to this spirit village only when he died and then he could be reunited with his wife. Nevertheless, life without her was barren. He would go out into the wilderness and weep. He stopped eating and became dangerously thin. The tragedy was not lost on the boys, who said, "Let's take our uncle to our aunt's place." When they told their uncle their intentions, he was overjoyed. Without further adieu they set out for the Waterspirit village where they found and entered the chief's lodge. The Waterspirits were surprised to see them, and admonished them, "My boys, you were not created for this purpose." The boys replied, "We only came to reunite our uncle and aunt and to show him the way here, as he was so lonesome." "But we already told him that he could come here, only not in the flesh," the Waterspirits retorted. The boys, however, made a point: "How can our mothers stay here and not our uncle? Are they not also human?" The chief had to concede, "The boys are right."

Every day the boys would go out and play with the Waterspirit boys, but one day they came back packing one of the Waterspirit children. When they arrived with their pack, they said that they had killed a bear. The old man was horrified, and brought the victim back to life. The chief then sent the boys back to their home with tobacco. A second and third time this happened with the same result, but on the fourth time they were sent back to the humans to stay. When they returned, they left without their uncle. The two boys had great power, and did much to promote the welfare of their village. They say nothing was too difficult for their village to accomplish, and that it lacked nothing it needed.1

Commentary. When spirits become human, they sometimes skip infancy and assume the human condition at some point in later ontogeny. The boy seemed disoriented because he came into existence without human parents. Spirits, however, learn very quickly. The peculiar "birth" of some spirits makes them most like orphans without living relatives or property, hence the friendship of the mulberry picker with the poor orphan boy. The mulberry picker is the famous Waterspirit Traveler, who transformed himself into human form apparently in order to augment his power by receiving blessings obtainable only through fasting. That the boy kills a bird first with his bow and arrow reflects the state of war that obtains between the Thunderbirds and the Waterspirits. Blue (čo) is the special color of Waterspirits, and members of the Waterspirit Clan paint blue marks on the faces of their dead. This is at least partly why Traveler paints his face blue when he goes courting.

The story makes it clear that Turtle's wife is Traveler's sister-in-law. It is not likely that Turtle is Traveler's brother, as that would make Turtle a Waterspirit and born of Waterspirit parentage, when in fact he was directly created by Earthmaker. So it must be that the princess is the sister of Turtle's wife.

The wuwu which occurs in the Winnebago title (Wuwukige) is said by Don Saunders to denote the black haw and the nannyberry.2

Links: Waterspirits, Bluehorn, Traveler.

Stories: in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Seer, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Descent of the Drum, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Two Children, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Peace of Mind Regained, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; featuring Turtle as a character: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle's Warparty, Turtle and the Giant, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Redhorn's Father, Redhorn's Sons, Turtle and the Witches, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Morning Star and His Friend, Grandfather's Two Families, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Kunu's Warpath, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, The Skunk Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Creation of Man, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee, The Chief of the Heroka, The Spirit of Gambling, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Markings on the Moon (v. 2), The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; featuring Turtle's Wife as a character: Turtle and the Merchant, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Trickster Soils the Princess, Redhorn's Father; featuring Traveler as a character: Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Lost Blanket; 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 Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧápara, Wazųka, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Turtle and the Witches.

The episode of Turtle's courtship is essentially identical with that of Trickster Soils the Princess and The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee.

Themes: a brother and sister live alone together: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Green Man; hunters kill so much game that they can only pack the tongues: Redhorn's Father, The Roaster, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, Grandfather's Two Families; hunters kill an entire four cornered herd of buffalo: The Roaster, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village; hunters kill an entire herd of animals: Redhorn's Father, The Roaster, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Snowshoe Strings, Morning Star and His Friend, The Two Boys; boys playing with spirit children, killing them, and having the spirit chief revive them: The Shaggy Man; a spirit comes into existence as a fully mature human being but in a state of total amnesia: Morning Star and His Friend, Wears White Feather on His Head, Little Human Head; description of a courtship outfit: The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, Redhorn's Father, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster Soils the Princess, The Dipper; 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 Hočągara 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 Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įčorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); (three or) four young women, one of whom is a princess, encounter a suitor while they are bringing wood to an old woman's lodge: Redhorn's Father, Morning Star and His Friend, Trickster Soils the Princess, The Two Boys, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee; Turtle interrupts his gambling game to go meet friends he says that he was expecting yesterday: Redhorn's Father, Trickster Soils the Princess, Morning Star and His Friend; in human form, Waterspirit women are extraordinarily beautiful: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Phantom Woman, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2); Turtle courts a chief's daughter with his friend, but is rebuffed by being pushed off her platform bed: Trickster Soils the Princess, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee; marriage to a yųgiwi (princess): Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Big Stone, Partridge's Older Brother, Redhorn's Sons, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Roaster, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, The Two Boys, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Shaggy Man, The Thunderbird, The Red Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Birth of the Twins (v. 3), Trickster Visits His Family, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, Redhorn's Father, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Morning Star and His Friend, Thunderbird and White Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Shakes the Earth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga; an orphan rises from obscurity to become chief: The Red Man, Partridge's Older Brother, The Red Feather, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, The Chief of the Heroka; a human lives with Waterspirits: The Mulberry Picker, The King Bird, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Phantom WomanThe King Bird, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Phantom Woman.

Genealogy: Traveler Genealogy.


1 Paul Radin, "Wuwukihge," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #45.

2 Capt. Don Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe. Legends of the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: Don Saunders, 1947) 74.