Visit of the Medicine Man

by Rev. Theodore P. Bolliger

"An Indian became very sick and having no confidence in the white man’s drugs, he sent for a medicine man. Decorated with claws of bears and feathers of eagles, carrying bells of various kinds and holding in his hand the sacred rattle, the medicine man went through a lot of hocus-pocus and then announced that the trouble was caused by an evil-minded spirit lodging in the patient’s stomach. Therefore, to effect a cure it was necessary to drive him out; hence, the medicine man proceeded to make it so unpleasant for the “evil spirit” that he would be glad to go. With shrieks and howls, he leaped and danced beside the bed, like one possessed, the bells ringing and the rattle sounding. Then the place of the pain was rubbed, a mouthful of medicine squirted upon it, and a bowlful of some bitter mixture was prepared. The patient was told to take large doses of this, and the evil spirit would be driven away.

If the sick person recovered, the medicine man claimed all the credit; but should he die then the spirit causing the sickness was too powerful, or some other excuse was invented. At the present time, these old superstitions are practically discarded; and the doctors and the drugs of the white man are relied upon in case of severe illness."1

Commentary. "medicine man" — McKern's informants told him that there were three kinds of Medicine Men: Warbundle makers (Waruǧáp gų́s), Waterspirit dreamers (wažą́ca), and Medicine Men proper (wąktóšĕwĕ). "They are all great men, and can do as much as any man is able to do (spiritually). That is why they are all respected.2 ... People went far, when a man was sick, to find a great medicine man. They gave him tobacco. He placed some in the fire. If it did not burn, it was a sign that the sick man would not recover, and it was no use for the medicine man to go down."3 Good Medicine Men were good dreamers, that is, when they fasted for a spiritual vision they were patient and waited for a good Spirit to bless them with medicine. The most powerful medicine was obtained from the Waterspirits, but a good dreamer would not accept the first blessing offered, but would wait for good Spirits to appear first, like Deer or Elk Spirits. Only then would he accept what was offered as a blessing by a Waterspirit.4 Medicine men used to say, "If this sick man is going to get well, tomorrow will be clear and calm."   Hocąk Medicine Men were in demand by foreign tribes on account of the fame of their skills. Sometimes the Hocągara would themselves seek a foreign Medicine Man, particularly from among the Ojibwe.5

"bitter mixture" — the Indian pharmacopia often contained many effective remedies, many of which have no doubt been lost in recent times. Prior to the latter half of the XIXᵀᴴ century, before the rise of scientific medicine, Indian remedies were often more effective than the white patent medicines that were so often peddled on the frontier. Many Indian women were noted for their ability to cure a wide variety of ailments, although there was no doubt a white prejudice against the employment of actual Medicine Men, whose religious presuppositions were considered to be erroneous.

Links: Witches.

Stories:mentioning Medicine Men: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Phantom Woman, Black Otter's Warpath.

Themes: ...


1 Theodore P. Bolliger, The Wisconsin Winnebago Indians and the Mission of the Reformed Church (Cleveland, Ohio: Central Pub. House, 1922) 26.

2 McKern Papers, p. 182.

3 McKern Papers, p. 270.

4 McKern Papers, p. 182.

5 McKern Papers, p. 270.