Trickster and the Mothers (§13 of the Trickster Cycle)

translation based on the interlinear text of Oliver LaMère

Hocąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation

(274) As he went along there, unexpectedly, there sat an oval lodge. (275) He went over to peep in, and unexpectedly, there were two women and a great many children. Then he did this: he threw one of these plums into the lodge. (276) Indeed, it made quite a noise. Then he would throw yet another one. One of these women peeped out, and there, unexpectedly, was a man who was doing it. (277) "Waną́, it's my older brother who's doing this." They asked him to come in, so he went in. He gave them one apiece. "Where, brother, did you pick these?" they asked him. (278) "There are a great many of these, my dear sisters. I will tell you about it if you really want to go and pick some." (279) "Brother, we long to very much, but it would not be good to leave our babies alone. They are wild," she said. "My dear sisters, if you want to go, I'll take care of the children for you," he said. (280) "Brother, you've spoken well," they said. "It's not possible to miss them. There are a lot of them. It's not possible to pick them all. (281) If you used to see the sky turn red with the setting of the sun in the evening, that was what caused it. Don't turn back, you'll find them," he told them. Right then they left.

(282) As soon as they got out of sight, he killed their children. Thus he did, and he singed them. He boiled them. They were raccoons. "Hąhą́, after all this time, finally I'll have a good meal," he said. (283) He ate a lot of food there. He ate the singed little raccoons. Thus he did, and he did this: one of him he cut clean through his neck. He did this to him: he stuck a stick in his neck and placed him so that he was peeping out the lodge door. (284a) He made it so that it was as if the little raccoon head were laughing.

The American Badger

Then thus he did, and then he went to a hill there. There, unexpectedly, he saw Miss Badger. (284b) "Grandmother, I wish to ask you to work, right away," he said. "What are you asking me to do?" she said. (285) "Grandmother, I want you to dig a hole through this hill. Do it right away," he said. "All right," she said. Then it was done right away. In earth digging, she was really fast. (286) There he sat and looked on. She was very fast. Already she had dug in very deeply. He followed her in. He sat behind her and looked. He hurried her. (287) "Sister, hurry up! Sister, hurry up! Sister, hurry up!" he was saying. Now she dug in very deep. Again he said, "Sister, hurry up! Sister, hurry up! Round vulva," he said. (288) There Miss Badger stopped. "What grandson, what did he do? Did you say, 'round vulva (šą poroporo)'?" she said. (289) "Not at all, grandmother, what I'm saying is, 'Hurry up, tear up the earth long, tear it up (s’í mirupara paraš)!' Hurry to get there," he said. She started in again. He was already saying again. He sat there looking and said it. (290) As she was digging with her buttocks facing him, he sat watching her and said it. Again he said, "Sister, hurry up! Sister, hurry up! Round vulva." "Ąhą grandson, what did you say?" she asked. (291) "Te, 'Grandmother, do it immediately! Grandmother, hurry up! I am getting warm (Hotaipurupuruną),' is what I was saying. It is because I am getting very warm that I said that," he said, (292) so she started in once more. Again he said it. Once more she stopped and asked, but again he told her politely to say no more. Four times he said it to her. (293) By then she had burrowed through the hill. She had done it in no time. And thus she did, and then he gathered up dead grass. He placed some at each end of the hole. (294) Then he went and stood around waiting there.

And they were still coming, and when they saw him, he went into the hill. Then as they came back near the lodge, they became angrier and angrier, (295) since they had found nothing. When they got back to the lodge, unexpectedly, one of their children was standing there smiling. "What fun did we have as we went? (296) Since we found nothing, I am angry," she said, and she slapped his cheek and knocked it over. Unexpectedly, it was only the head. (297) They cried out, "Our children, he has destroyed them for us! Trickster must have done this. He did it. He was the one who went into the hill," they said. They wept.

Then Trickster came over to them again. (298) He had made himself into another man and blackened his face, and when he got to them, he said, "My sisters, why are you talking this way?" he asked them. "Trickster has destroyed our children. (299) He has eaten all of them," they said. "Hagagasgéžą, I wish I could meet him on the warpath. So whenever they mention him, I long to get him. (300) Don't you know in what direction he went?" he asked them. "At the time, someone went into the hill. I think that it must have been him," one of them said. "He will know. (301) Show me where you mean." So they went. Unexpectedly, there was a large hole, and the cut in the ground was fresh. "He will know, he it was who did it," he said. (302) He went inside. He made stamping and rattling noises. There also someone seemed to have groaned. After awhile, he came out. He came out covered in blood. (303) He came out with the area around his nose cut open. He had bruised his own nose, and he was the one who had done it. "This one was very great. That's why they are always telling so much about him. He fought me hard," he said. (304) "I killed him, and there we went at it. You must have heard us. He is there inside. Go get him. He is dead, so don't be afraid," he said. Now they went in there. They kept turning back. "He's in a little farther. (305) Don't be afraid," he told them. Finally, they went in deeper, then he put the hay in, and he set it on fire. (306) Again he ran to the other side. Again he put the hay there and lit it on fire. And once the hay was burned, he went in and brought them out, singed really well. (307) "Hohó, it's been a long time, but I'm going to eat fat." He went there to get some water. And when he was through washing them, he built a fire and boiled them.1

Commentary. "into the lodge" — that is, through the smoke hole. An inversion is found in the episode in which Trickster throws plums as offerings to the raccoons inside the lodge — ordinarily, the mortals make use of the smoke hole to hoist up offerings to the spirits (of emblematic deerskins, typically). When animal spirits accept an offering, they become obliged to go to earth and be hunted as food. However, the recipients of the offering leave and their children end up being taken as food where they live. When they leave, it is not to offer themselves, but to get more of what they were offered. Those seeking the aid of a spirit will fast and go up a hill to exhibit themselves as worthy of pity. In this story, the spirit being comes down the hill with his face blackened and not with any view to fasting, but to having a feast. The raccoons secure the "aid" of a spirit without having to ask for it, and the "aid" turns out to be a fatal trick of which they are the victims.

"the sky turn red" — Radin says that the sky turning red presages death, but the opposite is the case: the red color of clouds or the sky disappears when someone dies (see 1, 2), showing that we have another inversion from the expected norm. Red normally is the color of life. Radin remarks that the episode in which the child's head is put on the stake and made to look like he is greeting them, "This is a Winnebago war custom which, however, they ascribe to their enemies." In any case, Native Americans were never known for slapping their children, so the raccoon's behavior would seem very odd.

"Miss Badger" - LaMère translates this as "a female skunk." The standard word for female skunk is, Ko dKe wi (gųšgewį). The form, x[oA]o Ke wi (xogewį) would mean, "female badger." The only source that gives xok as the term for skunks is Marino, and that conclusion is based on precisely this translation. Since all other sources translate this as "badger," it is very likely that LaMère was merely unfamiliar with the standard meaning of the word. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that a badger is paradigmatically an excavating mammal, much more so than its relative the skunk. The suffix -ga appended to the word indicates that it is a personal name, and the penultimate suffix -, indicates the female gender.

"very warm" — this is, of course, meant to be a joke, since he was saying this because he was indeed getting, as we would say, "hot" (sexually stimulated).

"blackened his face" — also odd is the fact that it is Trickster, rather than the women, who blackens his face in apparent mourning.2

"he will know" — a Hocąk idiom very close to the English expression, "we will teach him a lesson."

"lit it on fire" — in hunting raccoons or other animals that may hide in holes, the usual course is to chase them into a hole, then smoke them out, killing them when they emerge. Trickster does this backwards: the raccoons go hunting for the hunter, believing him to be cornered in a hole. The hunter-avenger then goes in to kill himself, forcing the raccoons to go into the hole to retrieve the actual hunter. Instead of being smoked out, they are, as it were, "smoked in." Then the real hunter has to go in and retrieve their bodies.

"washing" — the final inversion occurs when Trickster takes the food to the water and washes it thoroughly, an action for which raccoon's are famous.

Comparative Material. The closest parallel is an Arapaho story, which is almost identical to the present Trickster tale. The only significant difference is that the raccoons have been replaced by she-bears, otherwise the sequence of actions is essentially the same.3

In another Arapaho tale, the role of Trickster is played by a cannibal. "A man once went into some tents and told the women there were many plums across the river, and they should go and pick them. He would stay, and in the mean time watch their babies. So they went: and while they were gone, the man cut off the babies' heads, and left them in their cradle swings. The bodies he took away. Presently the women came back and told some of their girls to go in and see how the babies were. They came running out, and said that only the heads were in the swings. The women came crying: and when they looked, they saw the man at a distance. They pursued him; and when he saw them coming, he wished there were a big hole there. At once the hole was there. He ran into the hole; and when the women came there, they sat around the hole and cried. The man, finding some paint in the hole, painted his face, and then came out and asked them why they were crying. The women, not knowing him, said a man and killed their babies, and they thought he was in that hole. He came out, and said they should go in and see. They did so; and when they were in the hole, the man threw fire in, and thus killed them. He then got out the bodies, built a large fire, laid the bodies around it, and roasted them, in order to eat them. Just then a Fox came there, and said he was sick and wanted to get something to eat. The man proposed to the Fox that they go on a hill and then run towards the fire. Whoever should get there first should eat first. To this the Fox agreed; and he got there first, and ate up all the bodies. When the man got there, he found nothing, and went home."4

The Gros Ventre story has the episode where the trickster traps the women in a hole. "Then he got up and ran off, all the women running after him. He said, 'I wish there were a hole I could enter.' Then there was a hole and he went in. He came out on the other side. He found white clay. He put some over his right eye. He took a stick, peeled the bark off so that it looked white, and laid it across his arm. Then he went back to where the women were, and asked them what they were doing. They told him. Then he abused Nix’aⁿt. He said, 'He is always doing such things. Why do you not dig him out? Then you can pound him to pieces.' Then all the women crawled into the hole. He blocked the entrance with wood, and set it on fire. Then he smothered them."5

In the Hidatsa story, Coyote finds two plums and throws them into the lodge of the women. They ask him where he got them, and while Coyote watched their children, they went out to get more. After they had gone, Coyote killed and cooked the children, and when the mothers returned, he fed them to them. Coyote snuck away, and hid himself in a hole. They women came after him with their canes, but he came out the other side, and in disguise, said, "What's going on here?" "Coyote killed our children, and now he must die!" they replied. So Coyote went into the hole and pretended to deal with its occupant, and when he came out, he let it be known that Coyote was inside incapacitated. The women went into the hole, and while they were in there, Coyote started a fire. Both women were burned to death.6

The Omaha Trickster cycle says that Ictinike approached a lodge in which a woman and her baby lived with her sister-in-law. Ictinike rubbed semen over the plums that he had collected and threw them one by one through the smoke hole of the lodge. The women inside scrambled to collect them. Then Ictinike entered the lodge and offered to watch over the babies while the mothers went out and picked more plums for themselves. While they were gone, he killed the baby, cut off its head, and arranged things so that it looked as if the baby was still intact. Then he cooked and ate it. Having completed his meal, he left. When the women returned, they discovered what he had done, but in the meantime, Ictinike had disguised himself and returned to the lodge. The weeping women told him what had befallen them, so the disguised Ictinike grabbed an ax and pretended to go out to avenge them. He ran to the forest where he found a rotten log full of wood mice. He killed some of them and rubbed their blood over the ax, and when he returned, he showed them the bloody ax and told them that he had killed Ictinike. They say that the gray discoloration on ripe plums is the product of what Ictinike had done when he first threw the plums into the lodge.7

The Assiniboine have a parallel:

Sitcóⁿski kills his sister's children. The women pursue him. He builds a tunnel and suffocates them in it.8

Sitcóⁿski is the same as Inktumni.

Another Oto myth is very like the Hocąk. "Īśṫhíṇke gathered some fruit and went along his trail, coming at last to a lodge in the forest. On hearing voices within, he mischievously threw some plums down the smoke hole. When two women came out to see who had thrown them, they noticed Īśṫhíṇke laughing at them, with his arms full of plums. The sight made their mouths water, and they asked him where he had found them. They wanted to go after some, but said regretfully that they could not leave their babies behind and would have to stay at home. Īśṫhíṇke volunteered to watch the babies while they were gone, so the mothers went away happily. He began to get hungry again, but there was no meat in the lodge; he was hungry for meat. The sight of the fresh young babies so increased his hunger that he killed one of them and ate all of it but the head, which he stuffed back into the baby-carrier so that no one would at once notice the difference. Soon the women returned after having gathered the plums and taken a swim in the creek. The mothers were grateful to Īśṫhíṇke for caring for their babies. But he told them that he had not minded the babies at all; in fact, he rather enjoyed one of them, but he had to go now, for he was expected soon at one of the villages. After he had departed, one of the mothers, thinking her baby had been quiet for a long time, went over to look at it. When she found only the head, she set up a loud wailing. Meanwhile Īśṫhíṇke had followed the trail until he reached a bend in the creek where he saw a man in swimming. He stole the man's clothes and left his own in their place. Then he painted himself so that no one could recognize him, for he felt guilty and did not want to be caught. He returned down the stream and soon met the two mothers, running, panting, and crying, all at the same time. Īśṫhíṇke stopped them, asking: 'Ho, sisters! What are you crying about, and why are you running so?' They did not recognize him, and answered: 'Īśṫhíṇke has killed one of our babies and eaten it! Then he ran away, so we are going to get help to catch him.' 'Which way did he run? I'll go ahead and catch him or else set the village on his trail.' They pointed upstream, and off he ran, laughing to himself at the trick he had played."9

A story is told of Old Man, a trickster figure among the Blackfeet. Old Man persuades two women to go fetch some animal that he killed, but it was a trick. All they found was some buffalo hair from his robe and some of Old Man's blood which he spread on the snow, leading them to think that coyotes had carried off the kill. Meanwhile, Old Man kills and eats their two babies, leaving their heads in their cradles. When the women come back, he shuts them in the lodge and runs away down a hole in the ground. The two women wait for him to come out, but he exits, disguised, from another hole. He tells the women that he will go down the hole and kill Old Man, and after feigning a great fight, he returns to tell them that Old Man is dead. He asks them to fetch the body, but while they are down the hole, he seals it up and suffocates them with smoke.10

The neighboring Ojibwe have a story with many shared elements. Manabozho killed the King of the Serpents. He fled for his life in close pursuit by his grandsons. He made it to the mountains where he met a badger whom he persuaded to dig a hole into the side of a hill. He did so, and Manabozho persuaded him to dig another hole out to the other side. The snakes finally caught up and waited patiently in front of the badger burrow. One day Manabozho got tired of the company of the badger and killed him. He went out the back hole and revisited the body of the King of Serpents, which he skinned and donned on his own person. He then approached the other side of the mountain, and when the snakes saw him they scattered. He killed many of them, however.11

The Lakota have a close parallel to the Hocąk story. Unktomi once visited two widows, each with a baby, who lived alone in teepee within a remote forest. He showed them two plums he had recently picked, and they exclaimed, "Hinu! where did you get them?" "See that red cloud yonder," he replied, "it's reflecting the myriad of red plums just below it." So the two women rushed off to get some, since Unktomi volunteered to be their baby sitter. No sooner had they left, than Unktomi cut off the babies’ heads and made soup out of their bodies. He put the heads back where they were. The women returned empty handed, but Unktomi told them that he had made a nice soup of some meat that he had had with him. So they sat down to a meal. Then they tended to their babies, only to have their heads fall off as soon as they picked them up. While this was going on, Unktomi escaped through the door flap, then fled down a hole which the women were too big to follow. This hole had a back exit, and Unktomi came out undetected and fixed himself up with different clothes and face paint so that they would not recognized him. He then circled around and asked the women what all the fuss was about. They told him their story, and Unktomi told them that he himself would enter the hole and take care of the culprit. After much commotion, the stranger emerged victorious. "I have widened the hole so that you can get at his body," the strangter told them. As they both went into the hole, Unktomi stuffed its entrance with wood and set it ablaze. As a result, the two foolish women died from the smoke.12

Links: Raccoons, Trickster, The Sons of Earthmaker, Skunks.

Links within the Trickster Cycle: §12. Trickster and the Plums; §14. Trickster Loses His Meal.

Stories: 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 Plums, The Markings on the Moon, The Spirit of Gambling, 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, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; featuring raccoons as characters: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Raccoon Coat, Raccoon and the Blind Men, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Were-fish, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families.

Themes: Trickster takes care of someone else's children, but causes their death: Trickster and the Children; someone kills children, then sets them upright in front of their lodge with smiles on their faces so that their parents will think that they are greeting them: A Man's Revenge; the red of the sky disappears when someone is about to die (inverse theme): Chief of the Heroka, Red Man; the sky turning red indicates misfortune: Rich Man, Boy, and Horse; red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (hair, body paint, arrows), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Deer Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hocągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Red Feather (plumage), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įcorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); someone makes an insulting remark to an animal, then pretends he said something else that sounds similar: Hare Kills Wildcat, Holy One and His Brother; a spirit assumes the form of another person: Old Man and Wears White Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark; someone tricks an enemy into a hole in order to kill and eat him: Hare Kills Wildcat; someone stuffs dry grass down the opening of a hole in which a person is trapped, then lights it on fire: Hare Kills Wildcat.


1 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 28-31. The original text is in "Wakdjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 274-307.

2 Radin, The Trickster, 57-58 ntt. 70-73.

3 Caspar Edson, "Nih’āⁿçaⁿ and the Bear-Women," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 49: 101-103. Cf. the somewhat different variant, Cut Nose, "Nih’āⁿçaⁿ and the Bear-Women," Traditions of the Arapaho, Story 50: 103-105.

4 "11. The Cannibal and the Fox," in H. R. Voth, "Arapaho Tales," Journal of American Folk-Lore 25 (1912): 43-50 [48].

5 Assiniboine, "15. Nix’aⁿt's Adventures, (a) With the Mice's Sun-dance," in Alfred Louis Kroeber, Gros Ventre Myths and Tales, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, 1907) Volume 1, Part 3, p. 72.

6 Mrs. Good Bear, "43. Coyote Feeds the Women on Their Own Babies," in Martha Warren Beckwith, Mandan and Hidatsa Tales: Third Series (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1934) 293-295.

7 Rev. James O. Dorsey, "¢egiha Texts," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 562-563. Radin, The Trickster, 129, #14-15.

8 Radin, The Trickster, 98-99, #12-13. These tales are collected in R. H. Lowie, The Assiniboine, in The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1909) 4:239-244.

9 Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian (Norwood: The Plimpton Press, 1930) 19: 175-176.

10 Wissler and Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, Story 17: 33-34.

11 "Manabozho, or the Great Incarnation of the North," in Henry R. Schoolcraft, Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, ed. Mentor L. Williams (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1991 [1956]) 77-79.

12 "The Unktomi (Spider), Two Widows, and the Red Plums," in Marie L. McLaughlin, Myths and Legends of the Sioux (Bismarck: Bismarck Tribune Co., 1916) 198-200.