The Sky Man

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

"At the foot of Lake Mendota, Madison, Wisconsin, lies a little village called 'Pheasant Branch'. About a hundred years ago this was an Indian village. The Winnebago living here called it 'Puma' [Wicąwąsįcserec] or 'Wild Turkey' [Zizike]. Here was told a delightful tale of Sky Man. It seems that the chief of this village had a very beautiful daughter, Monza. All the braves of her father's village were in love with here, as well as those from neighboring villages. But Monza would have nothing to do with any of them.

One day, however, there came to her father's village, a tall, very handsome young brave. He was beautiful of physique, beautifully dressed in buckskin, trimmed with much bead and quill work. He was very soft spoken of voice. He fell in love with Monza, and she with him. Because her people liked the young brave, they agreed upon an early marriage, after the Indian custom. They built their teepee on the outskirts of her father's village, and for some time they were very happy.

Suddenly, the young man began to absent himself at night. Being feminine, she didn't like it very well. She begged and coaxed him to tell her where he went on these nocturnal visits, but to no avail. Finally, after many tears, he told her, that after all he was not a human being, but a Sky Man. That his place was in the sky, to place the clouds and stars and to burnish the moon. And this is where he went on these nocturnal visits.

Monza knew she would not be happy with him gone so much, so she pleaded with him that they take their wigwam to the sky and live there. This they did, and were again happy for quite some time.

One day the young man came home and threw a large bundle into the wigwam. It was wrapped in buckskin and tied with many formidable knots. Monza, being feminine, was curious. She asked him what was in it. He refused to tell her. She pleaded, coaxed and cried, but he refused. One day, when the young husband was not at home, Monza decided she would have one little peek. She took a bone bobkin and tugged at the knots. At last one came open, and after that the many knots automatically unfolded, and bright things flew up and out of the wigwam door, out through the smoke hole. Monza grabbed a few and tucked them back, and put the bundle back where she had found it.

When the husband returned, he saw the bundle and knew what had happened. He was angry, but like all good husbands, he forgave her. These, he said, had been his reserve supply of stars; and this, say the Indians, is why there are not so many stars in the sky as there once were!"1

Commentary: "Sky Man" — probably for Mąxiga, an otherwise unattested name, no doubt of the Upper Moiety (Bird Clan). There are a good many names in the Bird Clan with "Sky" or "Cloud" (the same word for both, Mąxi): Mąxišucga, "Red Cloud"; Mąxik'ok'iwaharecga, "Overlapping Clouds"; Mąxik'ušenąjįk'a, "Reaches the Sky Standing"; Mąxik'ušinąjįk'a, "He who Stands Beyond the Sky"; Mąxip'asewįga, "Cloud Point"; Mąxipįwįga, "Beautiful Cloud"; Mąxirukanagą, "Master of the Clouds"; Mąxiruzuga, "He who Makes the Clouds have Rays before Them"; Mąxisepga, "Black Cloud"; Mąxisgaxetega, "Big White Cloud"; Mąxicopga, "Four Clouds"; Mąxíwimànįga, "He who Walks in the Clouds"; Mąxiwiwak'ąjąk'a, "Sacred Cloud."

"Monza" — almost certainly short for Mązawįga, "Iron Woman," a Bear Clan (Lower Moiety) name.

"teepee" — this kind of conical structure is typical of the Plains Culture, and not common at all among the traditional Hocągara, whose ci was what we would more usually call a "lodge." "Wigwam" is an Algonquian term.

Comparative Material: This is a kind of inverted version of the myth of Pandora's Box. In the Greek myth, Pandora, the first woman, opens a forbidden jar out of which fly all the evils that have ever since plagued mankind.2 In our story, the opening of the forbidden container leads to the escape of blessings, which impoverishes life from the diminishment of the positive rather than the increase of the negative.

Links: Celestial Spirits, The Meteor Spirit.

Stories: mentioning Sky Men: The Man Who Fell from the Sky; about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; set around the Four Lakes (Te Jopera): The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Masaxe War, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter.

Themes: a woman opens a man's forbidden bundle: The Red Man; inanimate things automatically respond to human commands: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (corn plant), The Old Man and the Giants (boat), Wojijé (metal boat), The Raccoon Coat (metal boat), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (everything), cf. How the Thunders Met the Nights (pontoon boat); stars lose their place in the sky: The Fall of the Stars.


1 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Indian Fireside Tales: Ka Gwe Do Say ... Sunrise Walker, Wisconsin Folklore Society Booklets (Madison: 1947) 2-3. A shorter version is found in Charles E. Brown, Mocassin Tales (Madison, Wisc.: State Historical Museum, 1935) 1.

2 Hesiod, Works and Days, 80-105.