The Spirit of Gambling

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


The first man that Earthmaker created suffered from defects, so the Creator tossed him into the far north. Not long afterwards, evils began appearing among the new people that Earthmaker had just recently created. One of these evils took the form of a man, and since he was the first of them to be created, he was called Kunu (First Born Male). He traveled from village to village gambling with everyone he could find. Kunu had remarkable skill and good fortune, so that he was victorious at whatever he played. Soon he had won the smaller possessions of humanity and they were now at a loss as to what they might bet. "Why not bet those things that Earthmaker created just for you?" he suggested. So they wagered maize, beans, and vegetables; they staked the fruit of the trees; and finally they bet every kind of animal that was good for food. All these they lost. Nor did it end there. "Why not bet your women?" urged Kunu. The men thought, "We have nothing by which to live anyway, as he has won all the bark and skins by which we may build shelters; and all the meat, fruit, and vegetables that we might eat. Perhaps this way we shall be able to win them back." So they consented to stake their women on the outcome of the game. Mightily they exerted themselves, but at the end of four days they had lost all their women. Then Kunu claimed all his winnings. All the corn of the world he compressed so that it grew in a small field next to his lodge where he could closely guard it. He did the same with everything else. The maple trees he reformed into one single giant tree, whose syrup flowed down like a spring brook from the mountains. All the women and girls he transformed into a single beautiful woman, and her he kept in his own lodge. Thus Kunu guarded all the earthly possessions of humanity, and men began to starve.

The good spirits held a council and decided that they must descend among the humans to save them. Many came down to help: Hare, Turtle, the Thunder Hešučka (Redhorn), and even Trickster. They appeared as human beings and promptly challenged Kunu to a game of chance. Kunu asked them, "Exactly what are you going to wager? The last time I looked, I seem to own everything that there is in the world." "Not one thing," they replied, "we can still bet ourselves and if you win, we will become your slaves." "All right!" he replied. Hare and his allies were to compete against Kunu and all the evil spirits allied with him. They would play at "Jack Pines," a game in which a bundle of twigs is thrown in a pile and the player runs a stick down the middle of the pile and attempts to push aside an even number of sticks. Kunu went first, but he chose Partridge to be the player so that he could use his bill as a stick. Partridge thrust his bill into the pile and was pulling out an even number of twigs when Turtle suddenly took in such a deep breath that, unexpectedly, he sucked one of the twigs into the other pile. Kunu had never lost and was amazed at his own failure. Then Hare sent Crane forward to use his bill as a stick. The tall blue bird easily separated out an even dozen, and so the people won back many of their former possessions. Thus Kunu was only too happy to schedule another match.

The next time they met, they agreed to play "Stare," a game in which two opponents would sit opposite each other with their eyes wide open, and the first one to blink would lose the match. The good spirits knew that Kunu would choose Owl as his player, for who could keep his eyes wide open longer than an owl? The good spirits looked around for someone who could hold his own against Owl. The Trickster spoke up and said, "I could last until about noon, but after that it will be very difficult." Hešučka, the Thunderbird, stepped forward and said that he could exert his special powers if Trickster could last that long; but when he could hold out no longer, he was to make a sign by squirming in his seat. When they met for the game, just as they had thought, Kunu brought Owl forward as his champion. Trickster and Owl stared at each other all morning without either one of them so much as twitching an eyelid. But just after the sun reached the zenith, Trickster stirred in his seat. When the evil spirits saw this they shouted for joy, thinking that Trickster was about to lose. Just then Hešučka shot a single raindrop into one of Owl's eyes so that he blinked. The humans let out a victory whoop, but Kunu cried foul. Turtle, using all his oratorical skills, persuaded Kunu that Trickster had won. Thus the people once again won back many of their possessions.

Hare and his friends plotted what they would do in the next contest. They decided to hold the contest in the lodge of Forked Man, who lived at the center of a hill. The plan was that they would tell Forked Man to leave his lodge before the game, then return before it was over. Hare told him to pretend to be indignant that they were playing in his lodge without his permission. So the next day they met Kunu in Forked Man's lodge and they began to play a game called "Peg." The peg was four-sided with numbers indicated on each side. The ends were pointed so that the players could strike the end with a stick and cause the peg to fly into the air. The player scored the number incised upon it whatever side was up. Just as they were reaching game point, Forked Man returned. He yelled at the players, shouting, "Who told you that you could use my home as a gambling ring?" He was brandishing a huge club which terrorized everyone. As people began to rush for the exit, Hare and his friends scooped up the stakes and got away with them. By this means they recovered yet more of what was taken from the people.

All that remained to be won back was the woman. Hare decided that getting her back would be his special project. When Kunu was away, Hare did his very best to court her, but three times she refused his advances. The fourth time Hare had to resort to more drastic measures. He completely transformed himself so that he looked exactly like Kunu. No one could tell them apart. Hare snuck up to Kunu's lodge and hid underneath it. Kunu told his woman, "I'm going out for awhile. While I am gone, be on guard against Hare: he is very clever, and may attempt to fool you into going with him." Then he left. No sooner had he gone than Hare entered the lodge and said to the woman, "You know, on second thought, perhaps you had better come with me, that's the only way we can be sure that Hare won't trick you." Not for a moment did the woman think that she was following Hare, but follow him she did. And that was how the men got their women back from Kunu, the Spirit of Gambling.1


Commentary. In The Green Man, the latter half of the story is essentially a variant of the present story. There Cricket corresponds to the Spirit of Gambling, but in the end disintegrates into a hoard of crickets.

However, since the Spirit of Gambling is the first man that Earthmaker created, it is clear that he is Herešgúnina, the chief of the evil spirits; unless we are to understand Kunu to be the first of Herešgúnina's creations. The good spirits that come down to help are specifically the sons of Earthmaker: Hare, Trickster, Turtle, and Redhorn, with the exception of Bladder.


Comparative Material. An Ioway-Oto story (see Ioway and Oto) is very similar. Wakanda (Earthmaker) created Muskrat (Udwánge) in order that he might guard and protect the resources of humanity, but Muskrat instead protected them from human beings. As a result, the people of earth began to starve. Hare (Mišjinye) decided to rectify this injustice, and on the way joined forces with Day (Hanwe), Turtle (Ketan), and Trickster (Išjinke). They reached the place where Muskrat was keeping the animals under guard. There they decided to gamble at Sticks. The good spirits had nothing to bet except the lives of the human males, since people belonged to them. Against this Muskrat bet the totality of the buffalo herds, but in the game he lost them to Hare. Eventually, by this and other games, they won back all the animals for mankind. Then they played the staring game. Muskrat turned into an eagle, and Hare, remaining in his own form, put acorns where his eyes were. At one point Turtle blew out so much water that a heavy rain fell, and the droplets of water made the eagle-Muskrat blink. Afterwards Hare left his warbundle behind instructing it to masquerade as Hare himself. Meanwhile, Hare went off to Muskrat's wife and pretended to be Muskrat. At first she did not believe him, but eventually he convinced her. He slept with her, then announced that he was indeed Hare, just as she suspected. She warned him that her husband Muskrat was holy and would kill him. Hare quickly finagled out of her the secret of where her husband stored his external heart. Hare went out to destroy it. Along the way, Hare met Beaver. Beaver was kind enough to lend Hare his heart and one of his teeth. When Hare arrived at the lake in the middle of which Muskrat's heart was hidden, he talked to the Loon who guarded it. Hare pretended to be Muskrat, and although Loon at first believed that he was Hare, the latter finally convinced him that he was in fact Muskrat. Pleading a cardiac complaint, Hare induced Loon to give him Muskrat's heart, which is switched with the beaver's heart. Hare went back to the woman's lodge and cut the muskrat heart into strips and burned it up completely. He returned to Muskrat and told him what he had done. Muskrat was not to die, but being robbed of his heart, he has thus been robbed of his personhood, and now he is nothing but what muskrats are today. "Thus shall it always be that humans will hunt you," declared Hare. Hare went home to his grandmother (Earth) and she was pleased with what he had done.2 For more affinities of this story, see the Comparative Material under The Green Man.

The Navaho have a similar story. The Sun secretly had intercourse with a woman, but no one knew who had impregnated her. She gave birth to a boy who grew very rapidly. The Sun took the boy up to his abode where he taught him many games of chance. The Sun had hoped that the boy would win the Great Turquoise, a round piece of stone as tall as a man and encircled with twelve feathers. The boy returned to earth and began gambling with the human beings. Gambler won everything from the humans, even all the men, women, and children. Then he went on to win the whole earth, including the rain and the rainbow. He had a mansion built for himself where all these things existed in plenty. Finally, he won the Great Turquoise from the people. The Sun came down and asked him for it, but Gambler said that Sun would have to play him for it, so Sun left in disgust. The Sun went off and visited a woman of the Mirage People. She gave birth to a son who grew up quickly. When the boy visited the Sun, he was shaped into the doppelgänger of Gambler. It was to be his mission to win back all the Gambler had acquired. The boy gave gifts to various animal helpers who would influence the games so that the boy would win. The boy, who looked just like Gambler, played a trick on the latter's wife, which made her mad at Gambler, since she had no idea who it really was. In a series of games, the boy regained everything from Gambler, including even the Gambler's life. He gave the Great Turquoise to the Sun.3


Links: Hare, Trickster, Turtle, Redhorn, The Sons of Earthmaker, Partridge (I), Redman, Crane, Thunderbirds, The Forked Man, Earthmaker, One Legged One, Herešgúnina, Owls.


Stories: alluding to the creation of man: The Creation of Man, The Creation of the World, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Elk Clan Origin Myth, Wolves and Humans, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth; featuring Herešgúnina (the Bad Spirit or One Legged One) as a character: The Creation of Evil, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Woman Who Became an Ant, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Šųgepaga, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers, The Two Brothers, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Buffalo's Walk; see also Black and White Moons, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; featuring Turtle as a character: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle's Warparty, Turtle and the Giant, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Redhorn's Father, Redhorn's Sons, Turtle and the Witches, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Morning Star and His Friend, Grandfather's Two Families, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Kunu's Warpath, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, The Skunk Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Creation of Man, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee, The Chief of the Heroka, The Nannyberry Picker, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Markings on the Moon (v. 2), The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster's Warpath, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Elk's Skull, Trickster and the Mothers, The Markings on the Moon, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Green Man, The Red Man, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster's Tail, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster's Penis, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Scenting Contest, The Bungling Host, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster and the Children, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧápara, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, Įčorúšika 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 Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Heroka, Redman; featuring the Forked Man as a character: The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Wears White Feather on His Head; featuring cranes as characters: The Crane and His Brothers, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Bladder and His Brothers (v. 1), Wears White Feather on His Head, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; featuring Owl as a character: Owl Goes Hunting; in which owls are mentioned: Owl Goes Hunting, Crane and His Brothers, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Glory of the Morning, The Chief of the Heroka, Partridge's Older Brother, Waruǧápara, Wears White Feather on His Head, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, The Green Man; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧápara, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; 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, 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, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, 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; mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Peace of Mind Regained, The Necessity for Death; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow.


Themes: an evil spirit wins everything that humanity owns and keeps it to himself until he is defeated by a coalition of good spirits: The Green Man; 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 Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Redhorn Cycle, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant; polygamy: Bladder and His Brothers (v. 2), The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Green Man, Wazųka, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Gets Swallowed, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister; birds used as implements in a game of chance: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Roaster, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants; Turtle acts improperly to influence in his favor the outcome of a game of chance: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants; Trickster wins a contest by cheating: The Green Man, The Scenting Contest; a spirit transforms himself into another man's doppelganger: How the Thunders Met the Nights; a good spirit tricks a woman: The Woman Who became an Ant; good spirits rescue women held by an evil spirit: Hare Gets Swallowed, The Green Man, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Iron Staff and His Companions.


Genealogy: The Forked Man (+ Chief of the White Cranes, Hįča Owl Spirit, the Čaručge)


Notes

1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 75-86. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

2 Francis Gale LaFlesche, Rabbit Frees the People from Muskrat, translation by Jimm G. Goodtracks, with notes on Ioway - Otoe - Missouria Traditional Stories. From the Ioway Website. Ten Ioway-Oto stories known to Francis Gale (1826-1909) were recorded by James Owen Dorsey and are presently in the Smithsonian's collection.

3 Aileen O'Bryan, Navaho Indian Myths (New York: Dover Publications, 1993 [1956]) 48-62. These stories were collected by the author in 1928 from Old Man Buffalo Grass.