The Thunderbird Warclub

by Richard L. Dieterle

The first Thunderbird warclub was made by the Thunders themselves, who after shaping it, blackened it over the fire. It was the kind that they call the Nąmą́ce Pešará, the "Baldheaded Warclub." Its virtue was that it was lethal against whomever it was swung. It was first used to successfully defend the Nightspirits against the cranes, with whom they used to constantly war.1 This warclub was poor looking and rather nondescript, and was often hung at the end of the rack.2 It was painted red on one side, and was much smaller than the normal club. It was usually kept on a small mound in front of the lodge of Great Black Hawk, Chief of the Thunders. It is clear that this is a lightning weapon. All Great Black Hawk had to do was shake it lightly and the noise of its discharge could terrorize even the spirits of heaven.3

In primordial times the Thunderbirds created the valleys and hills by striking the flat earth with their warclubs.4

The first Thunderbird Warclub of the Thunderbird Clan was obtained by a young man who was captured by the Bad Thunderbirds. They were going to eat him, but because of the great kindness that he showed to Pigeon Hawk, the brother of the Chief of the Thunders, the man was released. Great Black Hawk gave him a warclub of the Thunders to copy, and it is this copy that the young man took to earth.5 In another version, it is said that when Blue Thunderbird was reborn among humans, he was given devout attention by his youngest human uncle. He caused this uncle to be reborn as a Thunderbird. When he returned to earth, he retained a copy of the original Thunderbird Warclub which now rests in the sacred warbundle of the Thunderbird Clan.6 Another story tells how a human made it to the Spiritland abode of the Thunders, where his presence had been foreseen in a Thunder woman's dream. He blessed her and eventually married her. Because of his skill in killing two Waterspirits, his father-in-law gave him the choice of any of the warclubs he saw hanging on the rack. The young man picked the one that seemed the worst, but in fact it was the Thunderbird Warclub, a weapon of supreme power.7

When the human first obtained the Thunderbird Warclub, Great Black Hawk took him to the center of the lodge where he presented him a bowl from which to drink. As he drank deeply he heard a myriad of people crying out, begging for their lives. "What you heard," said Great Black Hawk, "were the voices of all those whom you will kill on the warpath with this club. It was their brains that you drank." Such was the power of the original Thunderbird Warclub.8

Links: Thunderbirds, Nightspirits, Pigeon Hawk, Great Black Hawk, Black Hawks, Bird Spirits, Waterspirits, Crane and Crane Spirits.

Stories: mentioning the Thunderbird Warclub: The Thunderbird, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Waruǧábᵉra, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, cf. Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; recounting the origins of warclubs: How the Thunders Met the Nights, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; making reference to the baldheaded warclub: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Morning Star and His Friend, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head; mentioning the Thunderbird Clan: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, The Creation Council, Waruǧábᵉra, The Greedy Woman, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 5), The Thunderbird; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, 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 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, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Black Otter's Warpath, Aracgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Ciwoit’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.


1 Paul Radin, "Mąceniabera," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #21: 1-134.

2 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 298-303; Emil William Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 46 (1914): 404-420. Told by Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan, to Radin in the summer of 1908 and to Lenders in Aug.- Sept., 1909. Paul Radin, "The Thunderbird," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #16.

3 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 302-311.

4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 166.

5 Radin, "Winnebago Tales," 300-303. Informant: Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan.

6 Ibid., 288-300; Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," 404-420.

7 Paul Radin, "The Thunderbird," Notebook #16.

8 Radin, "Winnebago Tales," 300-303.