Origin of the Hočąk Chief
by Felix White, Sr. (Wolf Clan)
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
The founding spirits of the Hočąk clans met in the Creation Council to choose a head chief from among their number. The assembled council — Eagle, Thunderbird, Hawk, Pigeon, Elk, Bear, Wolf, Deer, Buffalo, Fish, and Snake — decided to settle the matter by a race around the edge of the world. When they met for the race, Thunderbird, Hawk, and Eagle were certain that they would win, yet unexpectedly it was Pigeon who triumphed. Nevertheless, Pigeon was very modest and declined the chieftainship. So they had to race again, and this time it was Elk who won. But Elk too was modest, and gave the chieftainship to his uncle Eagle. When he heard what Elk had done, Thunderbird protested: "How can Eagle be the chief when my clan stands the highest?" Many of the clan chiefs thought that this was surely right, and the Thunderbird leader was made chief of the nation. This is how the Thunderbird Clan become the chief's clan, and how the Eagle Clan was made the second most powerful.1
Commentary: The chieftainship of the Hočągara was probably not always in the hands of the Thunderbird Clan as comparative studies of the other Chiwere tribes suggest. This myth suggests an historical sequence of Pigeon, Elk, Eagle, and Thunderbird. Other myths suggest that the Wonáǧire Wąkšik were the second clan in rank in the upper moiety, but here they are omitted altogether. The Elk Clan claims a partial chieftainship from its partial control over fire, the symbol of chieftainship.
Radin alludes to another version of this story:
[In] the myth explaining how the Thunderbird clan obtained the chieftainship of the tribe ... a member of the Thundebrid clan, representing the upper phratry, races with a member of the Bear clan, representing the lower phratry, for the chieftainship.2
Here the Bear Clan, which is the chief clan among the closely related Oto, is the chief competitor to the Thunderbird Clan.
Links: Thunderbirds, Pigeon, Elk, Eagle, The Creation Council, Bird Spirits.
Stories: containing lists of the Hočąk clans: The Hočąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth; about featuring Pigeon as a character: Pigeon Clan Origins, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Bird Spirits, The Creation Council, The Creation of Man (v. 2); mentioning pigeons: Pigeon Clan Origins, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Waruǧápara, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Lost Blanket, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Bird Origin Myth, The Creation Council, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The Creation of Man (v. 2), The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Gottschall: A New Interpretation; about entitlement to chieftainship: Deer Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, Pigeon Clan Origins, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; about the Creation Council: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Tobacco Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; mentioning the Thunderbird Clan: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, The Creation Council, Waruǧápara, The Greedy Woman, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 5), The Thunderbird; mentioning elks: Elk Clan Origin Myth, The Animal who would Eat Men (v. 1), The Elk's Skull, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Creation Council, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Little Fox and the Ghost (v. 2), The Great Fish; See The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way.
Themes: racing around (the edge of) the world: Grandfather's Two Families, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, The Race for the Chief's Daughter.
1 Felix White, Sr. (Wolf Clan), "Origin of the Winnebago Chief," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 17.
2 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 58-59 nt 87.