The Redhorn Cycle

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Redhorn Cycle is a set of myths centered upon the figures of Redhorn and his sons which have been assembled into a single epic. The degree of their integration is a great deal less than that of the other cycles (Trickster, Hare, and the Twins).

The whole Redhorn Cycle can be told in a brief overview, with more expanded versions linked to the titles of each section:

§1. The Race for the Chief's Daughter. Kunu, Redhorn's oldest brother, is invited to race against the spirits for the hand of a princess. At that time, Redhorn was known by the derogatory name of "He who is Struck with Deer Lungs," since Kunu once threw deer lungs at him. The race begins when the participants see Turtle in the distance and charge off to get him. Redhorn enters the race and gains the lead by turning himself into the very arrow he shot. Redhorn wins, but Turtle claims the victory, even though he actually turned back. Turtle had the temerity to seize the princess and carry her off. However, Kunu went to Turtle's lodge and took the woman back by force. All the brothers except Kunu declined to marry the princess. Redhorn creates heads on his earlobes and makes his hair long and red. Thus he becomes known as "Redhorn" and as "He who has Human Heads as Earlobes."

§2. Kunu's Warpath. The uncle of Storms as He Walks, a Thunderbird, invited Kunu and Redhorn on a warpath. On the first three nights of the expedition, Turtle helped them kill bears by means of trickery. On the fourth night, Redhorn and Storms as He Walks scouted the enemy by walking in the clouds. The next day they attacked, and Storms as He Walks, Redhorn, Wolf, and Otter all won war honors, but Turtle ducked out of the fight. They went on the warpath several more times, and were successful each time.

§3. Redhorn and His Brothers Marry. An orphan who wore a white beaverskin wrap lived with her grandmother at the edge of the village. Her grandmother pressured her to shamelessly court Redhorn, who, although he attracted many girls, hardly reacted to them. However, when the girl in the white beaverskin wrap teased him, he smiled. In time Redhorn married the girl. Storms as He Walks' uncle returned to the Thunderbird spirit village, but Storms as He Walks stayed behind with the Thunderbird Warbundle. In the treating of wounds, Redhorn was successful where other spirits had failed. Every time he performed a cure, he was rewarded by being given a woman, so that in time he was able to marry off all of his brothers.

§4. Redhorn Contests the Giants. Some people came asking for help against the Giants, and were directed to Turtle. Turtle led a small warparty, but his preparations were totally inadequate, and in the end he made matters worse. Redhorn and his friends met a challenge by the Giants to play ball with lives staked on the outcome. The best Giant player was a woman with long red hair just like Redhorn's. The little heads on Redhorn's ears caused her to laugh so much that it interfered with her game and the Giants lost. The Giants lost all the other contests as well. Then they challenged Redhorn and his friends to a wrestling match in which they threw all but Turtle. Since Redhorn and his fellow spirits lost two out of the three matches, they were all slain.

§5. The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father. The two wives of Redhorn are pregnant at his death. The sons born to each have red hair, with the eldest having heads where his earlobes should be, and the youngest having them in place of his nipples. The older brother finds where the Giants keep the heads of Redhorn and his friends. The two boys use their unusual powers to steal away the heads from the Giants, whom they wipe out almost completely. The boys bring back to life Redhorn, Storms as He Walks, and Turtle. In honor of this feat, Turtle and Storms as He Walks promise the boys special weapons.

§6. The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons. The sons of Redhorn decide to go on the warpath. The oldest brother asks Storms as He Walks for the Thunderbird Warbundle. After some effort, it is produced, but the Thunderbirds demand that it have a case. A friend of the sons of Redhorn offers his own body as its case. The boys take the Thunderbird Warbundle and with their followers go on a raid to the other side of the sky. There they capture two iron chiefs, after resurrecting their friend.

§7. The Seduction of Redhorn's Son. A woman who wanted to marry Redhorn years ago called for him again, but his eldest son, at the urging of his brother, decided to go after her. On the way, he changed his appearance to that of an old man. When she saw an old man approach, she ran back to her lodge and hid in the partitioned room. However, her brothers directed Redhorn's son to her, but she kept kicking him out. Finally, he changed his form and was Redhorn. Redhorn left, but the woman, having discovered his identity, chased after him. When she attempted to enter his room, she too was kicked by both brothers. In the end, she was given to the younger brother. All the spirits who had helped Redhorn returned to their natural condition.1

Links: The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, Hare, Turtle, Trickster, Bladder, Giants.

Stories: mentioning Redhorn: Redhorn's Sons, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn's Father, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Morning Star and His Friend, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Heroka, Redman; cycles of other great soteriological spirits: The Hare Cycle, The Twins Cycle, The Trickster Cycle.

Themes: spirits come to earth in order to rescue humanity from enemies who threaten their existence: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Bladder and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Grandfather's Two Families, The Hare Cycle, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Spirit of Gambling, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant.


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 115-136.