The Old Man and the Giants

narrated by Charlie Houghton

translated from the interlinear text of Oliver LaMère

Interlinear Hocąk-English Text

(163) There was a town there where a chief lived and all the men there used to fast, and they fasted a great deal. Once the Giants came after them and when they came to gamble, they wanted to wrestle with them. They wanted to try the little people. (164) They downed them, and when they were beaten, they made a great slaughter among them. Again a second time they wanted to race, so they did. Again a second time they beat them, so a big killing they made among the people, it is said. And then when the worst befell them, they made an end of the people. But there remained an old man and his two youngest sons. (165) He said to both of them, "My sons, we must not come to an end," he said. And so there was a thicket corner on a piece of land, and he made them hide there. It is said that he spread out deer hide for them. He also put some food out for them. "So, here you must stay," the old man said. (166) At times you will listen for when nothing is moving, when you imagine this, you will come out," he told them. "And you will go about the house there and you will find useful articles," he told them. And that, they say, is just the sort of thing that they did.

And now, in time, the boys came out. They listened around but it was listless, (167) so now they came out. They went all over the house then. Wërakírakuni! everything was in the house, food also, even meat; everything was there, it is said. Now quietly they started, and they made for themselves a ball, and they began to play with that. (168) Day after day, they would only play that. At times Drive One Another Pass they were doing. The older one he was now kind of beating, moving him on. There was a little hill. The ball went over the other side, and as the older one was running up the hill there, water came out below the hill and (169) the ball went into the water. And just then an old man in a boat landed there. At that moment the boy said, "Grandfather, give me back the ball," he said. Also the old man said, "Come after it yourself," he said. And now the boy went down and jumped in the boat. Then, wërakirakúni, the old man said, "My boat will now swiftly return home," (170) he said then. So this boat went home very fast, so much so that the water flew apart on each side of the prow — water flew, so they took the boy home. They say that they had left the younger one there, it is said. (171) And now at that moment when he landed, there along the shore was a little boy. But this was that old man. Two times he went in, and that was the last of him.

And then, wërakirakúni, a woman came and said, "Boy, aren't you hungry?" she said. "Yes, I am hungry. Since I came I have not eaten anything for two days," he said. (172) "Also I am hungry," he said. "Come on, you shall eat," she said. There were two women who went into a long house there. The older one gave it to him, they say, and so he ate. And again, right away, that boy began to play on the shore. Once again, twice (173) when the younger woman came, she said, "Boy, are you not hungry?" And that boy said, "I am hungry, of course, since I came I ate only once, and so I am hungry," he said. "Come, you shall eat," she said. And so when he got there, (174) he ate. "Little boy, I would also like to marry you, but my father is a bad spirit," she said. The older woman said, "Come in if you can and we will get together," she said. "He never sleeps. He is a bad thing," she said. (175) "Just the same, I will try," he said. Now then, when it became light, he went there. He walked lightly in that direction, and then, wërakirakúni, he awoke the old man. "Hohó! someone is sneaking up on me," he said, so he laid flat and hid himself. After awhile the old man again fell asleep. Again he went, (176) but once more he said, "Yes, someone is sneaking up on me," he said. Again a third time he went, and again that old man woke up. He said, "Someone is sneaking up on me," he said. But now the fourth time he did not wake up, and so now the little boy went in. The older woman went and laid with him. (177) She married him. Wërakirakúni, in the morning the old man said, "He was sitting there crying." The girl said, "Why are you saying that?" she said to him. "Right now the son-in-law is going after apples for me at the corner of the timber. I used to eat apples. I didn't (178) think that I would be drying tears," he said. "Hoją́, I will go," he said.

In the morning the old man went with the boy to the apple trees, and it was bent to the ground where the boy began to pick some. The old man said, "Son-in-law, get some up higher," he said. "He tried to get some up high, (179) but this apple tree of mine became really tall," the old man said. This apple tree reached the sky. The boy could not get down. There he was crying. Wërakirakúni, Raven came and the boy said, "Grandfather, when I die, then you can eat me; (180) but do not eat me now," he said to him. Raven said, "Grandson, to help you out is why I came," he said. "Hohó, grandfather, when I kill something, you can eat it," he said. "If I hit something in the middle, you can eat it," he said to him. "Ho," he said. He brought him down to the ground.

At evening when he came home, he told him to go after bird eggs when daylight came, so they went. And he tied on the side of his face flat stones, and when he had done this, (181) four big bluebirds jumped him, striking him with their wings. The four of them broke their own wings. He killed all four of them. The eggs, four of them, he took home.

The third time he asked him to go hunting. He went with him. (182) Wërakirakúni, snow there was much, and also cold there was very much of it. At night the old man burned up the boy's blankets. He did this when he slept. In the morning, there the old man had burned up his own blanket. Now then, when they went back, the old man was unlike anything. So he made some grass shoes for himself, but [the rest of the story is missing in this MS, but the text continues in a second MS] (673) they were not very good. There the young man left him. The old man died of cold.

The two women and a boy, that many there were. The boy who was married said, "About now it would be good for us to go home. I am lonesome for my younger brother," he said. And so they started home in a boat. When they got home, his younger brother was not there. He hunted around for him. (674) He did not find him anywhere. Wérakírakúni! finally, there he was among wolves. He saw him. After trying to get him, he asked the four wolves for help. "Okay," they said to him. And so he shot a deer right in the middle. After they ate it, they grabbed him for him. When he got him home, he got him into a steam bath. He used up four bladders. He used bear oil. After he brought him to life, he let him marry the younger woman, and these women said, "You ought to resurrect the town that the Giants ate up," they said. "You speak the truth, but how can we do such a thing?" these young men said. (675)They said, "Well, your brother-in-law can make them live," those young women said. And so there they went to their brother-in-law. He it was that made them alive for him they used to say. That's all.1

Commentary. Unfortunately, the end of this story is missing in the first and better of Radin's MSS, and as a result this story was for some time presented as incomplete. However, subsequent research has turned up another MS using a somewhat outdated orthography, but in every other respect more than satisfactory, and most importantly, complete. This has enabled us to give the story in full and complete form.

"was unlike anything" (hąké wažą́ žesgánįgi) — this is a Hocąk idiom which means "he didn't amount to anything," that is, his powers were nothing compared to the boy's.

"the two women and a boy, that many there were" — this means that the two sisters also had a brother, as the next sentence says, "the boy who was married," the need being to distinguish him from the other boy who was not married. Therefore, the protagonist now has a brother-in-law, reference to whom, is made below.

"grabbed" — the Hocąk is hagirukosiregi, which is translated as "they caught him for him." The stem rukos in Marino's dictionary is defined as "to grip firmly" (hagi means "there"), so it should mean something more like, "they grabbed him there (for him)." The implication of "caught" is that he had to be run down — but we learn subsequently that he had to be brought back to life, so we should conclude that he was dead when the wolves gave him up. Consequently, when the story says that he was "among the wolves," what is meant is that they were about to eat him as carrion. They are diverted from this purpose by being given a substitute offering of a deer, which is more agreeable to them.

"your brother-in-law" — as we saw above, the two sisters have a brother whom they left at home. Inasmuch as this boy's father had been a sorcerer, it is not surprising that his son might also possess certain powers, in this case the powers, however, of a good spirit. So he went on to resurrect the entire village that had been destroyed by the Giants, who probably were in league with the old man with whom the boy had victoriously struggled.

Comparative Material. The following appears to be an Ojibwe story. A man and a woman lived alone with their two young boys. The man discovered that his wife was carrying on an affair with another man, and therefore decided to abandon his family. When his wife realized that he had deserted her, she fled to her lover, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The older brother made a bow and arrows and took his younger brother with him on hunting expeditions. One day he shot an arrow into the water of Lake Superior. As he went out to get it, an old man named "Mishosha," came rapidly up in a canoe and hauled the boy in. He begged that his younger brother be taken with them, but to no avail. The man slapped the side of the canoe and it took off under its own power at great speed. They arrived at his abode on an island in the middle of the lake where he lived with his two daughters. The old man offered his eldest daughter the young man as a husband. Later the daughters made it clear to him that the old man was an evil magician. The young man acquired a charm and snuck off in the canoe which he used to carry supplies to his brother. Later that night he returned to the island. [The following is a parallel to the bluebird episode —] Mishosha and the brother went out the next day to gather gull eggs, but when the boy disembarked, the old man ordered the canoe to deeper water and called out to the gulls that they now had a sacrificial offering. The boy killed the first gull that attacked him, and persuaded the rest that they were better off aiding him. The gulls flew him back to the island, and although the girls were surprised to see him, the old man acted as if nothing had happened. The next day they went to collect colorful pebbles from a beach, but again the old man left the boy in the lurch and called upon a great sturgeon to take him as a sacrifice. The boy talked the sturgeon out of devouring him, and rode the fish back to the island. [The next episode parallels the apple/raven episode of the Hocąk story —] The next day they went out to get eagles. They came to a pine tree with eaglets in a nest near the top. The boy was told to climb up and bring down the nest. When he got there, Mishosha ordered the tree to grow in height, then called upon the eagles to take the boy as a sacrifice. The boy killed one eagle, then persuaded the rest that they were better off cooperating with him. So they flew him back to the island on their backs. The next day they went to an island to hunt. That night they built a wickiup for shelter. Then a blizzard came in suddenly. The boy took of his moccasins and leggings and dried them over the fire. Secretly during the night, the old man threw one of the leggings and one moccasin into the fire. The next day he told the boy that the fire must have drawn them in. So the boy, trusting in his Manito, put on the one moccasin and legging, then painting his other bare leg black with charcoal. Although Mishosha led him everywhere, over all kinds of cold obstacles, the boy emerged from the ordeal unhurt. Then they went back to the island. The next day the boy took the initiative and suggested that he and Mishosha go fetch his little brother. So they left and found the boy where he had been left. The old brother then told the old man to get some red willow in order to make kinnikinnick. While the old man was busy at this task, the brothers absconded to the island, leaving him behind. However, to keep the canoe from returning automatically to the old man, the boy had to keep his hand on it all night long. When he dozed off, the canoe returned and Mishosha once more made it back to the island. [The following is a parallel to the blanket episode —] The boy then took the old man hunting on the same island as before. That night he threw into the fire one of Mishosha's leggings and one of his moccasins. He told the old man that the fire must have drawn them in. Then the boy's Manito raised a storm of snow and ice while the two of them walked about the island. Just before they reached the beach, the old man's leg stiffened from the cold. As he stood there he turned into a sycamore. When the elder brother returned, he recounted what had happened to Mishosha. The brothers married the girls and left the island.2

The following Saginaw variant is in some respects much closer to the Hocąk. [parallel to the Giant episode —] The Thunder the rules in the north had two sons, Owasso and Wayoond [who are the counterparts of the Hocąk Twins]. After having been victimized by Giants, their father had ascended into the sky. [ball game parallel —] Thereafter, the boys amused themselves playing ball by the shores of a beautiful lake. One day an evil Manito saw them and used his magic to cause the ball to fall into his canoe. Owasso, the elder, waded out to get the ball, but the old man dragged him into the canoe, and uttering magical words, cause the canoe to automatically ply through the water at a great velocity. Soon they reached the old man's lodge, where he presented the boy to his eldest daughter as her new husband. In time Owasso and his wife had a son. She told him of the old man's many evils and of how he was an accomplished magician. One day the old man and his son-in-law went fishing. The young man speared a great sturgeon, but the magician contrived to have him fall out of the boat, then deserted him. Nevertheless, the young man persuaded the sturgeon to take him back home on his back and to consent to be eaten. He arrived ahead of the old man, and had his son present to him some gristly meat. The old man pretended as if nothing had happened. A few days later, the old man invited him to go out again. This time they arrived at an island where the young man was told to gather the gull's eggs. Once he set foot on the island, the old man declared that he was an offering to the gulls. Then he abandoned him to his fate. The gulls were going to devour him, but he proved to them that they were not created for this purpose, and that they should instead carry him back to the old man's abode. This they did, and the young man arrived there ahead of his father-in-law. He made a headdress of gull feathers for his son, who met his grandfather when he finally arrived back. When he told the old man where he had gotten the headdress, he became perplexed. The next time, they went out to get some eagles which the old man said that he wanted to keep as pets. They arrived at a distant desert island. There was a tree atop which rested an eagle's nest. The young man climbed to the top of the tree, but when he got there, the magician said, "Grow up," and the tree suddenly shot up high in the sky. Then the old man called the eagles to take his son-in-law as an offering. However, the Owasso's power overcame the eagles, and in the end, they flew him back to where he lived. One day the Owasso and his wife heard a voice in the distance singing, and the man recognized it as his brother's. They made a plan to escape to where his brother lived, but when they entered the canoe and got with in range of the shore, the old man used his power to cause the canoe to return to him. The next expedition was to hunt deer on an island. This they did all day without success. That night the two of them took off their moccasins and leggings and hung them up to dry. The old man went out for awhile, at which time Owasso switched the clothing items. Then the old man threw into the fire what he thought were the leggings and moccasins of his son-in-law, then woke the young man up and told him that his gear had fallen into the fire. "No," said Owasso calmly, "those were yours." Then Owasso abandoned him to his fate. Later, he and the two sisters got in the canoe and headed for where his brother lived. As the approached the shore they could hear Wayoond singing that he had turned halfway into a wolf. They landed on the shore and built a lodge. Owasso always left food for his brother some distance away. The unmarried sister created a pit trap baited with meat, and Wayoond fell in. His brother had charms and medicines which he employed, and the werewolf soon returned to normal. Eventually, he married the second sister. After a great deal of time passed, the two brother announced that they would go alone to a hill. When they reached it, there was a terrible storm and thunder could be heard coming from the north. The brothers never returned, and it was believed that they had been taken up by their father.3

The Ioway have a parallel to the freezing episode. White Plume and a Giant who had been pretending to be White Plume went out hunting together. That night they camped. The Giant said, "This is the moon that burns people's clothes." Eventually, they took off their clothes and went to bed. When the Giant was asleep, the boy swapped clothes with him. During the night the Giant took the bundle that White Plume had and tossed it into the fire. When they woke up the next morning it was bitterly cold, and White Plume said, "Grandfather, my clothes seem to be missing." "Well," he said in reply, "I told you that this was the moon that burned people's clothing. You should have been more careful." However, when the Giant attempted to put on White Plume's clothes, they would not go on, so White Plume reclaimed them. As they trekked back to their village, the Giant froze to death, bringing an end to that race.4 [preceding part of the story].

This is a parallel to the blanket episode from the very distant subarctic tribe, the Slavey. In the olden times Wolverine was always up to no good. One day he came and sat down across from the fire of a man who was drying a pair of moccasins nearby. After a time, the man pretended to go to sleep. Wolverine, thinking it safe, knocked the man's moccasins into the fire and burned them up completely. Then he went to sleep himself. During the night the man quietly got up and pitched Wolverine's moccasins into the fire, burning them to ashes. Then the man went back to bed, secure in the knowledge that he had another pair of moccasins. That morning the man nonchalantly put on his second pair of moccasins and left. Wolverine was surprised, and looked for his own moccasins, but nothing was to be found, so he had to walk away in his bare feet. First his feet froze, then finally he himself succumbed to the same fate.5

Links: Giants, Kaǧi, Bird Spirits, Wolf & Dog Spirits.

Stories: featuring Giants as characters: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Stone Heart, Young Man Gambles Often, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Shakes the Earth, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Little Human Head, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Origins of the Milky Way, Ocean Duck, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man; about two brothers: The Two Children, The Twin Sisters, The Captive Boys, The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; about two sisters: The Twin Sisters, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Dipper, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; mentioning kaǧi (crows & ravens): Kaǧiga and Lone Man, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2, 3), The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Spider's Eyes, Turtle's Warparty, The Shaggy Man, Trickster's Tail, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Ocean Duck, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, A Snake Song Origin Myth; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Story of the Medicine Rite (loons, cranes, turkeys), The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; relating to dogs or wolves: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, White Wolf, Wolves and Humans, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Worúxega, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Dog that became a Panther, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Wild Rose, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Big Eater, Why Dogs Sniff One Another, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Loses His Meal, Sun and the Big Eater, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Hog's Adventures, Holy One and His Brother, The Messengers of Hare, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Grandmother's Gifts, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, Black Otter's Warpath, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; Peace of Mind Regained (?); mentioning snow: Waruǧábᵉra, The Glory of the Morning, Holy One and His Brother, Wolves and Humans, Grandfather's Two Families, The Four Steps of the Cougar, Redhorn's Father, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Great Walker's Warpath, White Wolf, North Shakes His Gourd, The Fleetfooted Man, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Witches, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Raccoon Coat, Silver Mound Cave, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married; mentioning kinnikinnick: The Lost Blanket, Woruxega, Peace of Mind Regained, Redhorn's Father, Grandmother's Gifts.

Themes: contests with the Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf, The Roaster, Young Man Gambles Often, Little Human Head, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn's Sons, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Shakes the Earth, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Shaggy Man, Grandfather's Two Familiess; the Giants massacre an entire village, but spare at least one child to eat later in life: Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights; inanimate things automatically respond to human commands: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (corn plant), Wojijé (metal boat), The Raccoon Coat (metal boat), Big Eagle Cave Mystery (canoe), The Sky Man (knots), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (everything), cf. How the Thunders Met the Nights (pontoon boat); a hungry young man accidentally finds his way to the lodge of the daughter of a spirit and soon marries her: Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; powerful beings attack someone, but break their arms on the stones that he has placed on his body to protect himself: Hare Kills Sharp Elbow; being carried (off) by a bird: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Heną́ga and Star Girl; an evil spirit, who is an in-law of a young man, tries to kill him in the wilderness by causing him to die of exposure to the cold: Waruǧábᵉra; the reviving sweat bath: The Shaggy Man, The King Bird, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, The Dipper, Snowshoe Strings; bear oil is used to create steam in a reviving sweat bath: The Red Man, The Dipper, Snowshoe Strings; someone returns from the dead: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Sunset Point, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, White Fisher, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Shaggy Man, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Miraculously Cured Man Finds the Prophet, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Waruǧábᵉra, The Lost Blanket.


1 Charlie Houghton, A Story about an Old Man and the Giants, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #9, Freeman #3894 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) Story XXXI: 163-182.

2 "Mishosha or the Magician of the Lakes," in Henry R. Schoolcraft, Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, ed. Mentor L. Williams (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1956 [1991]) 163-168.

3 "Owasso and Wayoond, or the Manito Foiled," in Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, 215-221.

4 "7. White Plume," in Alanson Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," The Journal of American Folklore, 38, #150 (October-December, 1925): 427-506 [460].

5 "Wolverine is Outsmarted," in Patrick Moore and Angela Wheelock (edd), Wolverine Myths and Visions: Dene Traditions from Northern Alberta (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990) Story 7, p. 36.