Wolf and Dog Spirits

by Richard L. Dieterle

In the beginning, Earthmaker made four wolf brothers: Blue Wolf (Blue Sky), Black Wolf, White Wolf, and Gray Wolf (Gray Fur). Only the gray wolf now lives on the surface of the earth, his brothers having been given abodes in the underworld. Gray Wolf is a guardian of mankind. Blue Wolf controls the day, Black Wolf controls the night, and White Wolf commands all things that are holy.1 Wolf (Šųkcąkega) is the spirit chief of wolves, and usually lives in his canine form. Once Wolf tried to turn himself into a human to live in our society, but he succeeded only in becoming a white dog. Nevertheless, in this capacity he helped his master fight against a large enemy warparty. He spilled so much human blood that his white coat turned red. Ever after he was known as "the red wolf."2 Wolf possesses a particularly wákącąk (holy) artifact, a wooden hoop with a cross of string inside it, to the middle of which is attached a shrunken piece of buckskin. The hoop is the earth and the crossed strings are the path to anywhere on its surface. The shrunken buckskin at the center is the power to shrink any distance on earth so that no place is too far for him to reach. This relic is his Warbundle. On other occasions Wolf assumed the form of a man to fight evil spirits preying on human beings. Since his powers are concerned mainly with war and hunting, he is strongly associated with the great hunting spirits, the Heroka, and even married the lilliputian daughter of their chief. He won his wife as a prize for taking first war honors in an expedition led by the Chief of the Heroka.3 His war powers are considerable, and among the great spirits who have gone on the warpath beside him, he stands behind only Storms as He Walks and Redhorn (Heroka).4 However, in a raid against two red Waterspirits, Wolf was not chosen as one of the shooters.5

In a lacrosse game in which lives were wagered, Wolf completely dominated his true opposite Coyote.6 Coyote is inept, comical, tricky, unwarlike, and of a generally bad character, all traits that stand in polar opposition to those of Wolf. (For more, see Coyote.) Fox is a similar disappointment among the canines. He proved to be greedy, and as a result, foxes ever since have lived in a condition of want.7 (For more, see Foxes.)

Both foxes and wolves have been brothers of Stellar Spirits, and have been changed into their normal animal form to live ever after. Įcorúšika (Redhorn) had two stellar brothers, but the rest of his brothers were foxes.8 Similarly, three of the brothers who were sons of Sun and Moon, were wolves, and two were Stellar Spirits.9 All of Bladder's brothers were turned into wolves because they like to roam.10

Wolves have a fluid spiritual nature that is strongly associated with water. The Wolf Clan considers water to be its sacred possession, and among them it is offensive to look into any pail of water in one of their lodges.11 When crossing bodies of water, the Wolf Clan has the power to control the winds that blow over it.12 The clan was founded by Wolf Spirits that originally lived in the depths of the ocean. There were four wolf brothers, Blue Wolf, Gray Wolf, Black Wolf [inset], and White Wolf, who came to Red Banks swimming across the lake. There they founded the Hocąk Wolf Clan. Afterwards, they gradually evolved into human form.13 The relationship of Wolf Spirits to humans is also very fluid. Two Wolf Spirits who hatched from human testicles placed in a pair of oyster shells, slew a Fish Spirit who had been tormenting two old people. The two Wolf Spirits rescued the sons of the old couple, who had been held captive by the North Wind. These brothers were transformed into the earth's first wolves. So wolves are all descended from humans, and some humans are descended from wolves. The old man, the father of the brothers, then retired to a hill, as he had been a spirit, in all probability, a Wolf Spirit.14 The case of Hįcoga, "Blue Fur" (a Wolf Clan name), illustrates some other aspects of the relationship between wolves and humans. She used to meet a wolf by a spring where she drew water. He changed into a man in a coat whose insides were lined in sea shells. He took her away from her home by Lake Winnebago to be his wife among the wolves. When a plague struck the community, the wolves blamed Hįcoga for the disease, saying that she was a witch. Before he died, her husband gave her the means to protect herself, so she was able to make good her escape.15 In another story, a young orphan who brought back to life the chief's daughter, was a Wolf Spirit. They descended through a spring to the abode of the Wolf Spirits below the earth.16 One of two brothers, who are both white Wolf Spirits, decided to be born among the humans. He lived there in prosperity with his human wife until she induced him to commit a wrongful act, whereupon he was unable to kill any more game. He returned to where his brother still lived in wolf form, and the two of them spent the night together on an ice flow. The ice broke apart, and the two brothers rode the ice across the ocean to the land of the Giants. There he sacrificed his brother, as he was instructed, and made bracelets out of his hide. With the supernatural force vested in these, he finally vanquished the Bad Giants with the help of his friend, who was a Beaver Spirit incarnate.17

The white wolf in the last tale could also change himself into a dog, a practice known from other accounts.18 Once Wolf himself was reborn on earth as a black dog owned by the son of a chief. He helped make the young man into a great hunter, and used his prophetic powers to enable his people to intercept and destroy an enemy warparty.19 The four great Wolf Spirits came to earth in the form of dogs and helped feed, heal, and defend their senescent master. He was himself a spirit incarnate and blessed the dogs with great powers.20 Many times Dog Spirits come down to earth to live in canine form to help the humans. One such spirit saved his human friend by transforming himself into a panther and fighting off an attacking warparty.21 Another dog was considered equal to warriors, not only because he could enlarge himself and fight off enemy raiding parties, but because he could understand the language of humans.22

The Hocąk Wolf Clan is also sometimes called the "Dog Clan"23 showing that there is no hard distinction between wolves and dogs. The word for a dog is šųk, and that for a wolf is šųkcąk, "great dog." The Hocąk appreciation of the essential unity of dogs and wolves has been recently confirmed by modern genetics. The closeness of wolves to humans is also reflected in the social status of dogs. Dogs were often treated with great affection and had the status of being members of the family circle. At dinner, for instance, a plate was set out for the dog in the family dining area.24 Dogs have high status because of their role in hunting, especially in hunting bears, and their effectiveness as guard dogs in detecting the approach of enemies. The sounds that dogs make when they try to communicate with humans are understood to be a form of language. As a result, there are people who have learned the language of dogs, called šųk-hit'énąxgų, who are often called upon to discover what dogs are trying to communicate.25 Dogs, because of the extent of their humanity, are often used where circumstances would otherwise demand a human sacrifice. This role is particularly important in the cult of Disease Giver, who in withholding fatal disease from humans, could be expected to receive a suitable substitute in recompense for the human life that he relinquished. The sacrificial dog can be given a message to give to Disease Giver before he is offered up. The dog must be killed so that he does not cry out,26 so often hanging is used. The best offering is a white male dog.27 The dog sacrificed to Disease Giver must be solemnly buried in ground that has been purified by the smoke of the red cedar (juniper) [inset]. This ground should lie at the base of a tree. The burial is accompanied by further offerings of red feathers and tobacco.28 Peter Menaige (ca. 1850) remembers a dog sacrifice made by Pawnee Blanc (Pani Wasąníka):

... used at the Portage every year to prepare as a "Sacrifice" three or four dog pups, which he killed and painted about the head and neck either red, green, or white, and then tying tobacco to their heads and necks, he placed them at the foot of a certain tree in Interpreter Paquette's field.29

The important role of canines as go betweens to the spirits is reflected in Hare's choice of a young white wolf to be a messenger to the spirits. He sent this wolf to invite the spirits to the foundational rite of the Medicine Lodge. The wolf was gone so long that he looked like a worn moccasin when he got back, but he shook himself in the center of the lodge and in an instant became young again.30 The speed, endurance, and voice of canines make them ideal messengers for those who can understand their language.

The important social role of dogs is also found among spirits, where, however, the "dog" may actually be another kind of animal. Turtle's dogs are actually frogs (1, 2); the dogs of evil spirits have been alligators, giant raccoons, grizzly bears, wolves, otters, and beavers.31 Some Dog Spirits have enlisted in the service of evil. An evil spirit attempted to use his giant dogs to intimidate Wojijéga, the Meteor Spirit. However, Wojijéga was able to hammer one of these dogs into the ground, causing the giant dogs to fear him instead.32

Links: Otters, Coyote, Foxes, Little Fox, Disease Giver, Heroka, Redhorn, Storms as He Walks, Trickster, North Wind, Deer Spirits, The Meteor Spirit, Horses, Giants, Beavers, Bluehorn (Evening Star), Swans, Sleets as He Walks, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: having Wolf as a character: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, Redhorn's Sons, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, The Healing Blessing; mentioning Gray Wolf: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 1), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1-2); 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, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, 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 the Wolf Clan: Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Little Priest's Game, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 3), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth; featuring Coyote as a character: Coyote and the Ghost, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Coyote Goes on the Warpath; mentioning foxes: Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Redhorn's Father, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Holy One and His Brother; mentioning dog sacrifice: Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 5), Redhorn's Sons, Black Otter's Warpath, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga.

Themes: wolves are associated with water: The Wild Rose, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter; having the power to control the winds and/or the weather: Deer Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 5), Blue Bear, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Chief of the Heroka, The Dipper; four brothers, each of whom founded a Hocąk clan, are associated with a different color: Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth., Pigeon Clan Origins; animals begin as humans, then turn into humans again when they establish a Hocąk clan: Wolves and Humans, Elk Clan Origin Myth; animals evolve into humans: Wolves and Humans, Hawk Clan Origin Myth; friendship between wolves and bears: Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth; a canine makes hunting good for a human in exchange for a small left over portion of the kill: White Wolf (deer livers), A Man and His Three Dogs (deer lungs), The Dogs of the Chief's Son (leftovers); dogs rescue humans from their enemies: Wolves and Humans, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Dog that became a Panther, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master; a dog is killed in order to send it as a messenger to one of the great spirits: Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Disease Giver; a spirit's "dogs" turn out to be another kind of animal: Old Man and Wears White Feather (human), Porcupine and His Brothers (frogs), Turtle's Warparty (frogs), Chief of the Heroka (grizzly, wolf, otter, beaver), The Red Man (alligators), Bladder and His Brothers (giant raccoon).


1 David Lee Smith (Thunder Clan), "How Gray-Wolf Became Guardian of the World," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 158.

2 Paul Radin, A Man and His Three Dogs, in Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3853 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #6: 143-147.

3 Paul Radin, "A Wakjonkaga Myth," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #37.

4 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 118-121.

5 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 95-97. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.

6 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 123-129.

7 Charles Edward Brown, Wigwam Tales (Madison, Wisc.: Charles E. Brown, 1930) 28.

8 Paul Radin, "Intcohorúcika," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #14: 1-67.

9 Paul Radin, "The Sun," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #7L: 1-9 (= 78-86 = 978-996).

10 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 27-28. Informant: Felix White, Sr.

11 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 190.

12 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 190, 192.

13 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 191-192; Rev. James Owen Dorsey, "Winnebago Folk-Lore Notes," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 4 (1896): 140.

14 Paul Radin, "Wolves," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #5: 1-40.

15 Nile Behncke, "Winnebagoland Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist, 20, #2 (1939): 31-32.

16 Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves, Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1: 73-119. Informant: Charlie Houghton.

17 Paul Radin, "White Wolf," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #10: 1-64.

18 Radin, White Wolf, Notebook #10.

19 W. C. McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 10 (1930): 318-321.

20 Smith, "How Gray-Wolf Became Guardian of the World," in Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 158-160.

21 McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," 321-322.

22 Jim Pine, [untitled,] in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook #26, 237-240.

23 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 190-191.

24 Nancy Oestreich Lurie, "Dog Children among the Winnebago," Lore, 2, #2 (1952): 54-56; Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 403; Amelia L. Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society #21095, 1938-1939) Book 2: 2-3. Her informant was Sam Blowsnake.

25 McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," 318-321.

26 Fanny D. Bergen, "Some Customs and Beliefs of the Winnebago Indians," The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 9 (1896): 53-54; Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 403.

27 Sam Blowsnake (ed. Paul Radin), Crashing Thunder. The Autobiography of an American Indian (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983 [1926]) 84.

28 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 484.

29 Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #2,: p. 3, col. 1.

30 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 82-84.

31 Paul Radin, "Porcupine," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #11: 1-43; Paul Radin, "The Bladder," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #27: 1-61; Paul Radin, "The Chief of the Heroka," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #33: 1-66; Paul Radin, "The Red Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #6: 1-72; Paul Radin, "Turtle's Warparty," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #28: 1-74; Notebook #29: 75-143.

32 Paul Radin, "Coon Skin Fur Coat," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #59: 1-122; Paul Radin, "Wodjidjé," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #62: 1-50.