The Old Man and His Four Dogs

by David Lee Smith (Thunder Clan)
retold by Richard L. Dieterle

There an old man was. He lived alone and with him there lived four dogs. These were his sole companions. This old man was very holy (wákącąk). And the old man went out to pick berries, but he fell and broke his ankle. He was too old to hunt, and now he could not even forage. In time he began to starve. Soon he had even eaten his bear rugs. After night had fallen, the dogs began to talk among themselves. The first dog said, "We should scare up some game for our master, for he is starving." The fourth dog said, "You are right. Our master took care of us when we were too young to hunt, and now he has need of us." So the four dogs agreed that they would see what they could do for their master.

When it became light the four dogs went off to hunt. When they returned, only the first dog was able to get anything. And when the old man saw this, he was very pleased and blessed the dog. "I bless you," he said, "and from this day forth you shall be known as Kéracóga, 'Blue Sky.' I bless you with the power to hunt during the day. And whenever you remember me, you shall not fail in the hunt when the sun is in the sky." Thus he spoke. That night the second dog went out, and when it was morning, he had returned with food. And the old man blessed this dog with the power to hunt at night and gave him the name Šųkcąksépga, "Black Wolf." The third dog did very well for his master. He took a special herb and the wood of the (red?) cedar tree, and applied these to his master's ankle. Very soon the old man was completely cured. "It is good. Indeed, it is very good!" he said. And the old man blessed the third dog, giving him control over all holy things. He gave this dog the name Šųkcąkskaga, "White Wolf." The last dog was known only as Šųkjopga, "Fourth Dog," as he had done nothing to win a blessing or a name for himself.

One day Fourth Dog was out hunting. There he saw a large warparty. He knew that he could not get the help of the other dogs, as Kéracóga was out hunting, Šųkcąksepga was asleep, and Šųkcąksgaga was praying. Thus, Fourth Dog alone attacked the enemy. He fought all day long, and when the sun set, the enemy withdrew. Then the dog returned to the lodge. It seemed to the old man that something was wrong with the dog. "Are you all right, Fourth Dog?" he asked, but the dog said that nothing was wrong and that he just wanted to lie down. The next morning Fourth Dog ventured forth again against the warparty. They fought hard all day long, and the enemy again had to retreat at the end of the day. When Fourth Dog returned to the lodge, the old man asked him if anything was wrong, but he replied that he was merely tired. The third morning Fourth Dog again met the enemy and fought them hard. That day it was an even greater struggle, and many times the dog was almost killed, but in the end he drove the enemy back. When he returned, the old man was now almost certain that something was wrong, but Fourth Dog said only that he wanted to lay down and rest. The next morning for a fourth time the dog battled the enemy. As hard as the fight had been the day before, this one was worse still. Many times Fourth Dog was almost killed, but before the day was done, he had completely rubbed out the enemy warparty. However, the fighting had made him wild and vicious. This time when Fourth Dog returned to the lodge, the old man knew of what he had done. "Fourth Dog, I bless you," said the old man. "You shall never again have fear of anything. You shall be able to hunt both night and day. From now on you shall be known to the spirits and to men as Šųcąkxocga, 'Gray Wolf.' You shall be the guardian of the humans ever after, and shall have power over all that lies within the wilderness." Then the old man placed Gray Wolf's three companions into the underworld where they acted as guardians of the subterranean abodes. After he had done this, he said, "The Creator did not make me to live like this forever. Now that my task is done, I shall go back to where I came from." Then he left.

And the wolves gave blessings to the humans. White Wolf gave people many blessings of life and of war. Blue Sky blessed men with success in the hunt whenever they ventured forth in daytime. Black Wolf blessed men by protecting their camps at night. Gray Wolf alone lives upon this earth. It is he who guards mankind.1

Links: Wolf & Dog Spirits.

Stories: 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, 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, The Old Man and the Giants, 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 Gray Wolf: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 1), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1-2); about black dogs: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2), Wolves and Humans; mentioning white wolves or dogs: White Wolf, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Worúxega, The Messengers of Hare, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2), Wolves and Humans, A Man and His Three Dogs, Grandmother's Gifts, Peace of Mind Regained (?).

Themes: starvation: The Brown Squirrel, White Wolf, The Red Man, A Man and His Three Dogs, Sun and the Big Eater, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Kaǧiga and Lone Man, The Shaggy Man, The Bungling Host, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation; a group of brothers return from the hunt in the order of their birth: Sun and the Big Eater, The Quail Hunter, Grandfather's Two Families; a group of spirit animals sort into four different colors: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth; dogs rescue humans from their enemies: Wolves and Humans, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Dog that became a Panther, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master.


1 David Lee Smith (Thunder Clan), "How Gray-Wolf Became Guardian of the World," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 158-160.