Turtle and the Merchant

by Charlie Houghton

based on the interlinear translation of Oliver LaMère

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

(132) Turtle came to earth. There in a little village he lived with his wife. And in the fall they all lived there. By a large body of water they lived, looking for furs, and they lived by a French store keeper who bought furs. And the men got credit for food, also they got credit for meat, but Turtle was not able to get credit, (133) nor would he be able to get it. It is said that he could not get credit.

One day, with his wife by his side, he came to get credit and, "My friend shook hands. I have come for credit. I am coming for food." But the trader objected, and "Turtle, they say that you can't hunt anything. (134) You will be unable to get credit." Again, "Ho, my friend! I came for credit, also I wish to get credit for food. The children are hungry." "Impossible," the man objected, "and so I will not do it." At last, "Ho my friend! I came to get credit. I want food on credit." "All right, I will do it. Friend, these men objected, they do not know he hunts, but anyhow, I will do it. And you would not pay the credit off, they said, but anyhow, I'm going to do it. I understand. I also have children. When my children get hungry, my heart does not feel good, and so I am doing this for you."

A Trader and His Customer

And one day the old man came to Turtle's lodge: "Friend, I need some furs," he said. And [Turtle said], "Ho, my friend, I will go out. (136) Come back tomorrow." And while it was still dark in the morning, the merchant came, they say. Turtle, his wives with him, went hunting. He let the women kill the beaver. He made them stand around naked, and he made both of his wives do the killing. And absolutely everybody carried a share. (137) And the trader came. They arrested the trader at the bullet moulding place. They came there one morning. And Turtle went there. The friend too they took back with them. They arrested him. He could not pay his debt. They took him back.

And so Turtle loaded the furs into a boat. The boat was full of hosá and in order to tie it, he made his wife twist rope fibers. (138) Yes, and Turtle got in. He left. They say that he went down the Little Mississippi (the Wisconsin River). As he went along, there a snake lay completely across the waters, they say that it was a blue snake. He said, "Sit in another place." He said, "Don't do it," they say. Four times he asked it. "Heho, you will bring this upon yourself," Turtle said. (139) And so now he rowed mighty hard. When he did it, the snake broke in half. In this way he came into the Mississippi proper (Nįkúse Hoxetéra). And there Turtle came to the bullet moulding place. Sure enough, the Frenchmen came, and Turtle: "Ho, my friend has shaken hands. How is it upstairs?" (140) "He is locked up." "Ho, I will see him, that is why I asked." There he left the boat tied. And he went upstairs there. There was the trader. "Ho friend, I have come." "Yes," said the trader. "Friend, how much did you owe that they would arrest you? Friend, I brought furs with me. Pay off your debt." (141) And so they came down and went to the boat. There were many Big Knives (white people). Now this boat as it lay there, indeed it would tremble. It was the beavers that made it do so. And so Turtle said, "Boys, stand up high." And then they took the beaver furs and the trader counted them and paid off completely how much the trader owed. (142) And there were even some left over. "Now then, my friend, take them. Fix yourself up a store." "All right," the trader said. "Yes, well then Turtle, are we to go home?" he said. And, "Friend, eat," he said. The trader said it, they say. Turtle said, "Friend, I am not hungry," he said. (143) "My friend, it would be good if I had some fire water (whiskey) to drink," he said. "All right." Turtle broke open a barrel. And he got hold of it and drank it up completely. And when Turtle was ready to go home he said, "Friend, I'll take some fire water home with me," he said.

Well, one day they held a council, (144) and Turtle told all of what Earthmaker had said. And so he said to the Frenchman, "Yes, I spoke the truth. So be it. As long as I live on this earth as a human, it will always be thus," he said. And so since then they have given a good price for furs. Yes, the French people say Turtle fixed everything.

(145) Well, then Turtle went home. He went home going up the Mississippi. He had put four whiskey barrels into the boat. In time he got home. And he told the people about it. "And now you will live well. Yes, that's all there is to it. The reason that I came here is that Our Father told me that he would fix this. (146) Four days from now I will go home. Yes, this very day I am going home. In time when something not good happens, I will come to this earth again," he said. Yes, he went home. He went home up above. That's all.1

Commentary. "hosá" — we learn from other sources that this word denotes fibre string.

"the Wisconsin River" — the Hočąk is Nįkúse Xonúnįgra, which is translated as "the Mississippi, the small part." However, it is well attested that this is the name given to the Wisconsin River. Thomas George says, "The latter part means 'small': hence 'the Little Lengthy River,' apparently 'little' is contrasted with the Mississippi."2 In other words, the Wisconsin River as known as "the Little Mississippi." Dr. Gatschet adds, "Ní kusa xónonik, Little Mississippi; also name for other rivers — Wisconsin River, Pikatonik River."3

"the Mississippi proper (Nįkúse Hoxetéra)" — usually the Mississippi River is just called Ni Kuse, "the Lengthy River"; but here it is being contrasted with the Wisconsin River, which is known as Ni Kuse Xonunįgra, "the Little Mississippi." Consequently, the expression Ni Kuse Hoxetéra, "the Large Part of the Mississippi," has grown up for the sake of clarity. See the entry immediately above.

"the bullet moulding place" — There were extensive lead mines in Hočąk territory, and the French seem to have set up a bullet manufacturing plant nearby one of these. It is there, apparently on the second floor, that they have a secure locked room that they can use for a jail.

Links: Turtle, Beavers, Snakes.

Stories: 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, 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 Spirit of Gambling, 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 Turtle's Wife as a character: Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Trickster Soils the Princess, Redhorn's Father, The Nannyberry Picker; mentioning beavers: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Dipper, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Chief of the Heroka, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men; mentioning snakes: The First Snakes, The Woman who Married a Snake, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Snake Clan Origins, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Serpents of Trempealeau, Rattlesnake Ledge, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, Wears White Feather on His Head, Creation of the World (vv. 2, 3, 4), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Waruǧápara, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Lost Blanket, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; mentioning the French: Introduction, The Fox-Hočąk War, First Contact, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, How Jarrot Got His Name, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon; mentioning traders: Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, How Jarrot Got His Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The Tavern Visit, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning whiskey (fire water): Little Fox and the Ghost, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married; set on the Wisconsin River (Nįkúse Xonúnįgra): Bluehorn's Nephews, The Chief of the Heroka, The Lame Friend, The King Bird, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Sioux Warparty & the Waterspirit of Green Lake (v. 1), The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e.

Themes: 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 Spirit of Gambling, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father.


1 Charlie Houghton, Turtle and the Merchant, translated by Oliver LaMere; in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3894 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #9: 132-146.

2 Thomas J. George, Winnebago Vocabulary, 4989 Winnebago (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1885) s.v. Nee-kooce-och-hun-nu-nick. Informants: Big Bear of Friendship, Wisconsin, and Big Thunder. Cf. Ni Kuséxununíkra, Capt. Don Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe. Legends of the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: Don Saunders, 1947) 71-74.

3 Ní kusa xónonik, Albert Samuel Gatschet, "Hočank hit’e," in Linguistic and Ethnological Material on the Winnebago, Manuscript 1989-a (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, 1889, 1890-1891). Informants: Michael and Reuben David St. Cyr.