A Weed's Blessing

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 153 | 154 |

(153) A party of Winnebago went to war with prairie Indians (Móskaci). When they killed somebody, then they ran back, but one of them got lost. They went different ways in order to hide their tracks, and one got lost from the others. Then he kept on going, eating nothing. Then he suffered, and he had stomach trouble. Then he passed blood. He thought sure that he would die. This was on the prairie. He got so weak that he could go no farther and lay down. Then he heard someone talking to him. "Try to get up and look at me," it said. He rose to a sitting position. It was a weed talking. It said, "You eat me, just as I am, now. I will cure you and give you new strength." This he did. After eating it (154) his sickness was all gone. Then the weed said, "When you get home, tell your people to use this weed like myself for medicine, and when they are sick this way, I will cure them. But they must give me tobacco when they use me." So that is the best medicine for stomach trouble.1

Commentary. "Móskaci" — all this word means is, "to dwell on the prairie" (móska, "prairie"; ci, "to dwell"). The stomach medicine known to Gilmore is hąpok hiscasu, known as the "Prairie Groundcherry" (Physalis lanceolata, now P. hispida).

The root of this plant was used in the smoke treatment. A decoction of the root was used for stomach trouble and for headache. A dressing for wounds was also made from it.2

In Hocąk, its name means "Owl Eyes." However, this can't be eaten "as is," as parts of it are poisonous. It is probably more likely that it is Artemisia (wild sage) that is being referred to. Gilmore says,

A decoction of the plant was taken for stomach troubles and many other kinds of ailments.3

The Hocągara called it xąwįska, "white weed."

Prairie Groundcherry   Wild Sage

"he suffered" — this sickness may be due to certain beliefs concerning the ghosts of those enemies killed in action by the warparty. McKern's informant told him,

When going to war, and winning the war, in coming home there from, maybe there would be a man there with a dream of a Buffalo spirit. If someone is overcome by the dead enemy's ghost, and couldn't walk, like a faint, they had what they called cemą́ką, "buffalo medicine"; this is a weed. Some of this was prepared for the fainting warrior. A buffalo tail was taken and used as whip on him while the medicine is taken internally — no other songs or rituals. Receivers: this medicine must belong to one who has had a buffalo dream. This fainting is called, kixĕ́wĕ. This same medicine is good for treating wounds obtained in battle. A buffalo is good for a long run, that is why this medicine is good. This same is used also for horses and other cases, and buffalo hunters.4

The sickness caused by the pursuing ghost of the slain enemy produces weakness and fainting, which at least partly satisfies the symptoms felt by the fleeing warrior.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: ...

Stories: ...

Themes: a small plant speaks to someone: Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; someone is blessed with a medicine: The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Seer, The Healing Blessing, A Snake Song Origin Myth, Young Man Gambles Often, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Elk's Skull, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Sweetened Drink Song.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 153-154.

2 Melvin Randolph Gilmore, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1911-12 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1919) 84.

3 Gilmore, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, 111.

4 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 114.