The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 64 | 65 |

(64) One man dreamed of the Heróka. In the early days, if hunters got lost and shouted, certain spirits would shout back and fool the men, like will-o-the-wisp. They would lead them astray. Such spirits are called waŋowáŋke. One man had a dream of the Maŋmaŋni.

After that, some other tribes tried to wipe out the Winnebago. They chased the Winnebago into a ravine, but they were afraid to follow them in, so they surrounded them. Above the ravine grew a big oak tree. They planned to cut down the oak so that it would fall on the Winnebago below. The Winnebago began to ask who had a dream that could help them. They found a man who had had a dream of the Heroka. These, when they shot, would say, (65) "A ha’ai, a ha’ai, a ha’ai, a ha’ai." He took tobacco and offered it to these spirits, while the others were cutting the oak tree. When the tree began to fall, he said, "A ha’ai," four times, and shot an arrow. It cut the oak tree in half so that it fell on the enemy and killed them, rather than falling on the Winnebago. That is the reason why the old man told them to go and fast, so that some day they would be of service to their people.1

Commentary. "Heróka" — McKern renders this as helóka. He adds parenthetically, "spirit - owners of bow & arrows, good shooters."

"waŋowáŋke" — this is for Wągową́ke, from wąk, "human being, humanoid," hową́k, "to turn into, to change into something else; to change form, to change mental state" (Miner, Helmbrecht-Lehmann); and -ge, "a kind of thing." So Wągową́ke would mean, "the sort of beings who transform themselves into something else"; in other words, "shape-changers." It is not perfectly clear that the Wągową́ke are the Heroka, but it is puzzling why a group of spirits extraneous to the action and subject would be introduced here if they were not.

"maŋmaŋni" — in McKern's MS, this word is placed parenthetically after the word helóka, the context thus implying that this is an alternative name for the Heroka. In standard orthography, it would be, Mąmąnį, which means, "Bow-walkers" (, "bow"; mąnį́, "to walk"). However, the word also means "earth," so Mąmąnį also means, "Earth-walkers," and if the first syllable were treated as an emphatic reduplication, Mą-mąnį would mean, "Walkers par excellance."

"shot" — they are said to shoot invisible arrows that never miss their mark.

"say" — elsewhere, the "Heroka breathings," as they are called, are given as, "Ahahé, ahahé."

"fast" — fasting was done in order to make a person "pitiable," so that the spirits, moved by their suffering, would grant them a blessing.

Comparative Material. The Heroka are miniature beings that usually live in caves. They have a good counterpart among the Crow. This dwarf belongs to a whole race of dwarves, called the Awakkulé or "Little People." They live inside caves in the mountains, and like to hunt during the day.2

The Awakkulé, or "Little People," which appear in [this] story, are small humanlike beings who are believed to inhabit mountainous, remote areas of the Crow Reservation. They are known to be both shy and mischievous. Generally helpful to the Crow, they still like to play tricks on unsuspecting humans.3

The diminutive spirits are certainly very close in nature to the Heroka. The fact that they like to play tricks brings to mind the Wągową́ke who echo back shouts to confuse hunters.

Links: Heroka, Redhorn, Little Children Spirits, Tree Spirits.

Stories: featuring the Heroka as characters: The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Little Human Head, Morning Star and His Friend, The Claw Shooter, Redhorn's Sons, The Origins of the Milky Way; mentioning oak: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Turtle's Warparty, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waruǧábᵉra, The Creation Council, The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), Sun and the Big Eater, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Roaster, Little Human Head, The Shaggy Man, Wears White Feather on His Head, Peace of Mind Regained, The Dipper (leaves); mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Man Who Lost His Children to a Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Story of the Medicine Rite.

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, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, Black Otter's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, 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.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 64-65.

2 Timothy P. McCleary, The Stars We Know: Crow Indian Astronomy and Lifeways (Prospect Hills, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1997) 46.

3 McCleary, The Stars We Know, 45.