Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Trickster, who disguised himself as a Waraxi (Potawatomi) hunter, overheard a dispute among a wolf, a turtle, and a meadow lark [inset]. Each had received a reward for good works: the wolf had a shiny coat, the turtle had long legs, and the meadow lark had the finest plumage of all birds. They were arguing over who had been awarded the greatest prize and they wanted the unbiased "Potawatomi" to arbitrate. To settle the matter of who should receive the highest honor, Trickster told them that there would be a race to retrieve a sample of yellow soil which was found at a unique place far distance from the starting line. As they set off the wolf cheated by grabbing honey from a hive of bees, whose stings greatly inspired the speed of his premature return. The turtle cheated by retrieving yellow sand from the bank of a stream. The lark was the only one to honestly find the genuine yellow soil, but in her conceit, as she was thinking about her victory, she accidentally scooped up some black muck which dripped on her chest. When they returned, Trickster denounced the wolf and condemned his kind forever to scratch, and shiver, and avoid man with just as much fervor as this wolf did when he was attacked by the bees. Trickster then condemned the deceit of the turtle who in shame shrank into his shell, just as his kind has done ever since. The meadow lark was honest, but Trickster observed that her conceit had put black spots upon her breast, so in such a guise would her kind appear ever after.1

Comparative Material. This little waiką has many points of resemblance to the famous Greek myth, the Judgment of Paris.2 There a trouble maker, Strife (Eris) throws a golden apple inscribed "to the fairest" among the guests of a wedding attended by the gods. Three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, each claim to be the fairest. They asked a Trojan shepherd to arbitrate, but each goddess tries to cheat by bribing him with her particular virtue. Paris makes the worst choice (Aphrodite) and suffers negative consequences at the hands of the shunned goddesses. In the Hocąk myth, Paris becomes Trickster, and the three goddesses are now animals representing three the three realms of air, earth, and (subterranean) water. They attempt to acquire the gold substance by expressing their virtues (speed), but attempt to cheat, except for one who is declared the winner. In Hocąk thought, it is the conceit of the competitors that is in error, so each receives an appropriate punishment, which becomes integral to their natures. The story might indeed be a translation of The Judgment of Paris into Hocąk thought and symbolism — but it must be conceded that it is a very ingenious translation.

The story is also very similar to an Oglala Lakota myth, which is reproduced here verbatim. "(p. 210) The Old Woman told the wolf, the turtle, and the lark that if they would help her grandson find his wife she would give each of them what he most wished. They helped her grandson and he found that his wife was stolen by the Crazy Buffalo. He killed the Crazy Buffalo and brought his wife to his grandmother's tipi. Then the wolf wished for fur clothing for himself and his people. The turtle wished for tough clothing for himself and his people. The lark and all his people had clothing which would hide them where there was no cover, so he wished for a pleasant voice for himself and all his people. The Old Woman gave each one what he wished and together they went on the trail. Each claimed that his gift was the best and they argued and soon quarreled. They were about to fight when a young man appeared and asked them why they quarreled. They told him. He said that the only way to decide whose gift was the best was to find which would help the most in a game. The wolf proposed a hunting game, but the turtle and the lark said they could not hunt. The turtle proposed a swimming game, but the wolf and lark said they could not swim. The lark proposed a singing game, but the wolf and turtle said they could not sing. Then the young man said that a running game would decide the question and all agreed to (p. 211) run a race. The young man told them that they must run by a plum thicket, across a marsh, and to the top of a hill where they would find white and colored clays; and that the first that brought white clay to him would win the race. They ran. The wolf and turtle ran side by side, for neither could run swifter than the other; but the lark ran far behind them. When the wolf was near the thicket he saw a bundle in a plum bush and sniffed toward it. The scent was not like any he had smelled, so he became curious and wanted to know what was in the bundle. He asked the turtle to wait. The turtle. said he would when he came to the marsh. The wolf walked around the bush and eyed the bundle with care. Then he reared against the bush and sniffed at it, but still he was puzzled. He jumped to pull the bundle down, but did not reach it and the thorns on the bush pricked him. Again he jumped, and again the thorns pricked him. This made him angry and he determined to get the bundle. He jumped many times. Each time the thorns pricked him and made many wounds on his back and sides. Finally, he pulled the bundle down. He was so angry that he shook it from side to side and it flopped against his sides. The bundle was a young woman's menstrual bundle and it smeared its contents into the wounds of the wolf. This made him itch so that he must scratch himself, but the more he scratched the more he itched. He scratched and scratched, until he tore his fur clothing and his blood flowed and he forgot the race. The turtle ran to the marsh and there waited for the wolf a long time. He thought that the wolf had tricked him and gone on to the hill. He saw a puff ball; because it looked like white clay he thought he would trick the wolf and fool the young man with it. So he carried it back and showed it to the young man who said that the turtle was the first to show something as proof that he had been on the top of the hill. When the lark ran by the thicket, he saw the wolf jumping and this encouraged him to run faster. When he came to the marsh, he saw the turtle waiting, and he was more encouraged, so he ran on to the top of the hill. Here he took a lump of yellow clay and ran to carry it back to the young man. When he was crossing the marsh, he stumbled and dropped the clay into black mud. He picked it up, but was in too much of a hurry to clean the black mud from it. When he was near the young man, he saw the turtle sitting and smiling so he thought he had lost the race and wept. His tears washed the yellow clay from his mouth and made the. front of his clothes yellow while the mud made a black stripe on the yellow. The wolf came last, scratching and howling, and the turtle taunted him, saying that he howled like an old woman mourning for the dead, and whimpered like a hungry babe. The turtle strutted and swaggered saying that nothing could make him whimper. The young man said that the turtle was first to return in the race, but he must prove his boast that nothing could make him cry out if he should lose. The turtle said he could prove in any manner all that he had said. Then the young man placed the puff ball on the turtle's back. It quickly grew so large that its weight was all that the turtle could hold up. The puff ball continued to grow and soon it crushed the turtle's body to the ground and made his legs short and cracked. Still the puff ball grew and mashed the body of the turtle flat, and forced his breath from him so that he lay as if dead. Then the puff ball became black and light as a feather, but still the turtle could not straighten his legs or make his body as it was, so he hid his head under his thick hard skin. Then the young man laughed loud and long and told the wolf, the turtle, and the (p. 212) lark that his name was Iktomi and that because they quarreled about the good things the Old Woman had given instead of using them, he had tricked them and caused them to bring on themselves that which would be with them and with their people forever; that because the wolf had meddled with that which was not his affair whenever he or any of his people meddled with a young woman's bundle they should itch and scratch and lose their fur clothing. In this manner the wolves get the mange. He said that because the turtle had cheated to win the race his legs and his people's should forever be short and crooked and their bodies should be flat, so that they could never run in a race; that because he had lied about the puff ball by saying that it was white clay, neither he nor his people should ever speak and should always hide their heads for shame; that the lark had won the race, but because he had brought yellow instead of white clay, his clothes and the clothes of his people should always be yellow in front and there should be a black stripe on the yellow, so that none of them could ever hide themselves where there was no cover."3

Links: Trickster, Bird Spirits, Turtle Spirits, Wolf & Dog Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker.

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, 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, Trickster and the Mothers, 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; mentioning turtles (other than Turtle): Turtle's Warparty, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Porcupine and His Brothers, Redhorn's Sons, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Healing Blessing, The Spider's Eyes, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Mesquaki Magician; relating to dogs or wolves: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, White Wolf, Wolves and Humans, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Worúxega, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Dog that became a Panther, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Wild Rose, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Big Eater, Why Dogs Sniff One Another, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Loses His Meal, Sun and the Big Eater, Redhorn's Sons, Hog's Adventures, Holy One and His Brother, The Messengers of Hare, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Grandmother's Gifts, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Old Man and the Giants, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, Black Otter's Warpath, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; Peace of Mind Regained (?); mentioning bees: Trickster and the Honey, The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon's Crossing; mentioning the Potawatomi: Fourth Universe, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), The Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact (v. 2), Little Priest's Game, Xųnųnį́ka, Introduction; 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 Hocąk 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, Waruǧábᵉra, 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), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk 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, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Story of the Medicine Rite (loons, cranes, turkeys), The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds.

Themes: a spirit assumes the form of another person: Old Man and Wears White Feather, Trickster and the Mothers; a prize is claimed by someone who cheated in a race by doubling back before reaching the midway turn-around point: The Race for the Chief's Daughter; violating the terms of a blessing does harm: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, The Dog that became a Panther, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Greedy Woman, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle.


1 Capt. Don Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe. Legends of the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: Don Saunders, 1947) 8-9.

2 Proclus, Chrestomathy 1; Apollodorus, Epitome 3.2; Euripides, Iphigeneia in Aulis 1300-1310; Trojan Women 924-930; Hyginus, Fabulæ 92; Isocrates, Helen 41; Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods 20; cp. Iliad 24.25-30 for the epic's sole allusion to the Judgment of Paris.

3 "How the Lark Won the Race," in J. R. Walker, The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of The Teton Dakota, The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XVI, Part II (New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1917) 210-212.