Rattlesnake Ledge

by Charles E. Brown

"Many rattlesnakes were formerly found on Governors Island [of Lake Mendota]. Their dens were in the cracks and crevices in the limestone wall along its waterfront. They were regarded as sacred by the Indians who would not kill them. They were created by Earthmaker first and placed in the earth to keep evil away from the homes of men.

The Winnebago snake clan had a feast in which snakes were specially honored with songs and offerings. This was held in the fall when they crawl into their dens for their winter sleep, and "close their doors." Some Indians will not tell a story in the summer time when these reptiles are active."1

Commentary. Similar ideas are found in "The Serpents of Trempealeau."

"who would not kill them" — snakes could, however, be killed for ceremonial purposes.

"created by Earthmaker first" — several versions (2, 3, 4, 9, 13) of the story of the creation of the world say that serpents were created first to sew the earth down to prevent its ceaseless primordial motion (spinning or rocking).

"a story" — more precisely, waikąs (sacred stories) could not be told when snakes were active, but ordinary stories (woraks) were permitted.

Comparative Material: To the belief that the waiką takes the form of a snake to bite people who tell it during the summer, we have something of a parallel among the Pawnee. "In the cosmic mythology it was said that the jealous Fools-the-Wolves Star (Sirius) who had felt himself excluded from the original Council of the Gods, was angered when people told irreverent stories about Wolf or Coyote. Although in winter he couldn't control the situation, in summer he could enlist the aid of the Snake Star (Scorpio), who would send the snakes on earth to bite the teller."2

Links: Snakes, Earthmaker.

Stories: mentioning snakes: The First Snakes, The Woman who Married a Snake, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Snake Clan Origins, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Serpents of Trempealeau, The Story of the Medicine Rite, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, Wears White Feather on His Head, Creation of the World (vv. 2, 3, 4), The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Waruǧábᵉra, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Turtle and the Merchant, The Lost Blanket, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; mentioning feasts: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (Chief Feast), The Creation Council (Eagle Feast), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (Eagle Feast), Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth (Waterspirit Feast), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (Mąką́wohą, Waną́cĕrehí), Bear Clan Origin Myth (Bear Feast), The Woman Who Fought the Bear (Bear Feast), Grandfather's Two Families (Bear Feast), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (Wolf Feast), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Feast), Buffalo Dance Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Feast), The Blessing of Šokeboka (Feast to the Buffalo Tail), Snake Clan Origins (Snake Feast), Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief (Snake Feast), The Thunderbird (for the granting of a war weapon), Turtle's Warparty (War Weapons Feast, Warpath Feast), Porcupine and His Brothers (War Weapons Feast), Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega) (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), White Thunder's Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Fox-Hocąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Black Otter's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Kunu's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Trickster's Warpath (Warpath Feast), The Masaxe War (Warpath Feast), Redhorn's Sons (Warpath Feast, Fast-Breaking Feast), The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits (Fast-Breaking Feast), The Chief of the Heroka (Sick Offering Feast), The Dipper (Sick Offering Feast, Warclub Feast), The Four Slumbers Origin Myth (Four Slumbers Feast), The Journey to Spiritland (Four Slumbers Feast), The First Snakes (Snake Feast), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (unspecified), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (unnamed).

Themes: ...


1 Charles E. Brown, Lake Mendota Indian Legends (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1927) 4-5.

2 Gene Weltfish, The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1965) 277-278, 329.