The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

In the center of a village lived a chief with ten children, the youngest of which was a girl. He also had a boy and a girl from a previous marriage. It was the time when the boy had finished his fasting and received a dream from the spirits who blessed him, and now they were to hold a feast for him. The youngest girl then saw her half-brother for the first time, and she was struck with how handsome he was. She said to herself, "This one shall be my husband." When she got him alone, she told him that they were destined to be married, but the boy was aghast. He decided that he should leave the village to escape his moral dilemma, and headed for his boat by the river. No sooner had he stepped into the boat than there, unexpectedly, was his half-sister. She said, "Hand me the oar, and I shall row for you." He replied, "But you are the very reason that I am leaving!" And with that, he killed her and set off down the river. Suddenly, there she was in the back of his boat, and again she offered to row, so he killed her yet again, and dumped her in the river. No sooner had he rid himself of her, than once again she appeared in the boat, and again he had to slay her. A fourth time all these events happened again, but this time after he killed her, he threw her work bag out with her. From the shore, she said, "Hey you, you're playing hard to get." Then she said sarcastically, "You will see your village again."

He rowed all that day. Then, quite by surprise, his wolf-hide quiver suddenly spoke to him: "Older brother! I had better have a look around here." So they stopped, and the wolf killed many deer, and kept killing them throughout the night. The next morning the wolf was very quiet, so the boy asked him what was on his mind. The wolf said, "It is very good around here. I would like to stay here and hunt. If you ever need me, I will come to your assistance." So the boy said, "All right!" As the boy rowed on and was near his second camp, the black hawk wing in his headdress spoke to him: "Older brother, I should go look around," he said. The black hawk killed numerous ducks, but like the wolf, he too wished to remain at the camp, but declared that he could be summoned whenever he was needed. So the boy said, "All right," and moved on downstream. As he was pulling into his third campsite, the otterskin tobacco pouch spoke to the boy and said, "Older brother, let me go out and look around a little." The otter killed many fish, but the next day he became quiet. The boy guessed that he too wished to stay where he was presently hunting, and granted him his wish. The otter promised to assist the boy whenever he was needed.


So the boy set off again. He was going to a village not far away, where he hoped to marry a princess and thereby escape once and for all the unnatural attentions of his half-sister. His suit was successful, and he married the chief's daughter. He lived there but a short while, then decided he had better head back to his native village, since he was concerned about the safety of his mother and sister. When he arrived at the first camp, the otter told him that no sooner had he left than the half-sister who had bothered him so much had wiped out his whole village with the exception of his sister, whom she abused constantly. She had a coyote who worked for her, and every night he would come to the sister's lodge and say, "I'm back!" Then he would scoop up hot ashes from the fire and throw them in her face. So the young man ambushed the coyote, stuffed him in a bag, and slammed the bag into the smoke hole at the top of the lodge. Meanwhile, his half-sister had transformed herself into a grizzly bear and had eaten the entire village. When the young man had found the grizzly, he killed her. Then he burned her up and took the bones and pounded them into a fine powder. He took this powder and spread it over the entire village. The next morning, everyone who had been killed came back to life. His wife's kin came to the village and took up an abode there. They all lived in prosperity, eating the things killed by the young man's animal brothers. Their aid was the very blessing that he had received in his puberty fast.1

Comparative Material: The Ioway have a story much like this one. Once a chief's daughter fell in love with a young man, but he refused to marry her, so her father asked the Trickster Išjįki to help him avenge himself on the youth. Išjįki was to lead the young man into the wilderness, then abandoned him. That day Išjįki persuaded the young man to accompany him on an expedition to find kinnikinnick. They traveled across the Mississippi, but when the youth leapt ashore, suddenly Išjįki reversed the canoe, crossing back over and leaving the young man stranded. The young man wandered until he chanced upon a small lodge where food was being cooked; however, no one was present, so the boy ate nothing despite his hunger. He was there all night, but no one showed up, so the next morning he wandered about some more until once again he encountered a lodge where food was being prepared. Here again, no one was present. This time the boy was near starvation, so he resolved to eat some of the meat come what may. As he was eating he heard someone laughing. There was a dwarf, Maianwátahe, who said, "Go ahead grandson, eat your fill. You should have eaten yesterday. All that you came across had been prepared just for you." The next morning the two set out together. The dwarf fired his arrow blindly ahead of him so that it disappeared. When they finally arrived at the spot where the arrow had fallen, they discovered it embedded in the body of a slain deer. This they prepared for dinner. So it went the next day as well. Meanwhile, the boy's parents had given up on him as dead. They gave away all his property. He had three pets, a screech owl, a barred owl, and an eagle. They placed them in a canoe and set it adrift. In time the boat reached the opposite shore. The dwarf knew of all of this, and told the boy that he would find his pets by the water, so the next day they went to the river, and just as he had said, there were the three birds in the canoe. So he took up the birds and they went their way. They came to a tangle of grape vines where many mice lived. When the screech owl saw this, he said, "Master, this is the place that I would most like to live," so the young man set him free there. The owl promised him that if he needed his assistance, he would always be available. The next day they came to a place where countless rabbits could be seen. The barred owl said, "Master, this is the place where I would most like to live," and so the boy let him stay there, for which the barred owl promised his undying assistance whenever it was required. Then, traveling on, the next day they came to a stretch of woods where turkeys were to be seen everywhere. The eagle spoke up and said, "Master, this is the place where I would most like to live." So the young man let the eagle remain there. The eagle made the same promise of support as the others. Then the dwarf foresaw that the young man would need supplies and that he would find a canoe to take him on a long journey. They packed plenty of venison and soon found the canoe. Then the dwarf bid the boy goodbye, and assured him that if he was needed, the young man only need call upon him and he would appear. The boy paddled downstream and came upon a Giant and his equally large dog. The Giant called him over with the intention of eating him, but the boy tossed some of the venison out of his canoe, and said, "Try some of this!" While the Giant and his dog were preoccupied, the young man slew them both. That day he came to a lodge, and there inside was none other than the dwarf. The dwarf informed him that the next day would be even more difficult and gave him instructions on how to cope. His task was to paddle his canoe past a village of Giants without being captured. As he went along, he called to his pets, who answered immediately. The birds were reined to the canoe and moved it swiftly by the Giants' village, while they tried in vain to capture him using hooks. The next day he arrived at a village where he entered the last lodge on the outskirts where an old woman lived. She put him up, but then immediately went outside and yelled that a young man was there to court the chief's daughter. The chief gave him great hospitality, but when it came to food, all they had was frogs legs. The chief apologized, telling the young man that this is the only game left after the Giants in the area depleted the best game. However, they told him there was one lake full of game that was so inaccessible that even the Giants could not reach it. So later on the boy sent his pets out, and they killed a huge number of fowls of every description. The village was very happy. So in time he returned home with his new bride, stopping each night where his pets lived. At the last place they stopped, the dwarf gave him many presents of strong medicine. When at last he returned home, his parents had given him up for dead and were overjoyed to see him alive.2

This Ponca tale overlaps our own story at several points. In their version, a grizzly is surrounded and killed. One of the families took the bearskin home, and their eldest girl tanned the hide. However, as she tanned it she kept saying, "E¢a+!" (like a bear). When the children met to play games, she would put on the grizzly skin and pretend to attack them. She did this three times, but on the fourth occasion, she actually turned into a grizzly bear and killed all the children except her younger sister. Then she turned on the village, and killed all of them. She and her sister lived in a den, but every morning the grizzly sister let her go back to the village to forage for food. One day she met her four brothers who had escaped the carnage by having been on a hunting trip. They laid plans for their collective escape, telling her to meet them on the morrow. When she went on her morning forage, they came together and fled. The grizzly followed them over hill and dale, when she caught up to them she would say, "As you have made me suffer not a little, you all shall surely die!" They picked up and fled again. They put thorns on the path, and they slowed the grizzly down, but eventually she would catch up. Then they cut across a dense forest, and this slowed the grizzly down, but eventually she again caught up to them. Next one of the brothers made sharp thorns like awls, and these pierced the grizzly's feet, yet in time she was able to catch up. Now the fourth brother made a chasm in the ground, and when the bear made an attempt to jump across it, it widened, and she fell into the gap. The brothers surrounded her and shot her dead. Then the ground closed up over her and became as it had been before.3

A Kickapoo tale has some weak resemblances to our story. A young man came across an eagle and a tarantula disputing possession of a deer carcass. The boy arbitrated to their satisfaction, so they gave him the power to transform into an eagle or a tarantula and offered to support him in the future. Then the young man acquired as pets a jaybird, an redbird, a panther, an owl, and a screech owl. These all agreed to be his helpers. He went along in the company of his friends, until they reached a nice country where the panther said, "My friend, this is a good place for me to hunt." The young man replied, "Then you shall live here, my friend." Then they went on some more, and each time they came to good country, one of his pets did as the panther and was rewarded with that place as his hunting grounds. Finally, he arrived at a lodge where lived an old woman and her granddaughter. That night he slept with the young woman. However, it happened that at this village a ten-headed manitou habitually carried off maidens and held them in captivity. One day he carried off the young man's betrothed. Disguised in eagle form, he met with her in the Giant's domain. The next day he fought the manitou and with the spiritual aid of his animal friends, he slew him. He brought all the dead captive women back to life and married his betrothed.4

Links: Otter, Bear Spirits, Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Black Hawks, Hawks, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Coyote.

Stories: about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Seer, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Fleetfooted Man, The Dipper, The Two Children, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, The Origins of the Milky Way, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Kunu's Warpath, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga; featuring were-bears as characters: The Were-Grizzly, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Partridge's Older Brother, Turtle's Warparty, The Roaster, Wazųka, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Shaggy Man; mentioning grizzly bears: Blue Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Wazųka, Little Priest's Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistega's Magic, The Two Boys (giant black grizzly), Partridge's Older Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Dipper (white grizzly), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Creation of Man (v. 9), The Creation of Evil, cp. The Woman Who Fought the Bear; mentioning black hawks: Hawk Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), The Dipper, The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother, Waruǧábᵉra, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Morning Star and His Friend, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; mentioning hawks: Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Holy One and His Brother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother, Creation Council, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather; 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 Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk 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, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, 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), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk 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, Įčorúšika 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 Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds.

This waiką has very strong similarities to Partridge's Older Brother.

Themes: a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; a sister entertains an illicit love for her brother: Partridge's Older Brother; a woman abuses someone with whom she is living: Partridge's Older Brother, The Quail Hunter, Snowshoe Strings, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Bluehorn's Nephews, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Were-Grizzly; a sister, from whom a young man is fleeing, keeps mysteriously appearing in his boat even after he ejects her: Partridge's Older Brother; a rejected sister prophesies that her brother will never see his village again: Partridge's Older Brother; frustrated love: White Flower, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Twin Sisters, The Phantom Woman, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Partridge's Older Brother, The Stone Heart, Snowshoe Strings, Trickster Soils the Princess, Sunset Point, Rainbow and Stone Arch; marriage to a yųgiwi (princess): The Nannyberry Picker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Big Stone, Partridge's Older Brother, Redhorn's Sons, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Roaster, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, The Two Boys, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Shaggy Man, The Thunderbird, The Red Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Birth of the Twins (v. 3), Trickster Visits His Family, Redhorn's Father, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Morning Star and His Friend, Thunderbird and White Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Shakes the Earth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga; an empty hide comes to life: White Wolf, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga’s Magic; several animal brothers of a human help him in his escape and return to his village: Partridge's Older Brother; anthropophagy and cannibalism: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Witch Men's Desert, The Were-Grizzly, Grandfather's Two Families, The Roaster, Redhorn's Father, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Lost Blanket, Young Man Gambles Often, White Wolf, The Shaggy Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, Partridge's Older Brother, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Morning Star and His Friend, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Seven Maidens, Šųgepaga, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Shakes the Earth, The Stone Heart, Thunder Cloud is Blessed; cannibal were-grizzlies: The Were-Grizzly, The Roaster, Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Partridge's Older Brother; a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (blackhawk, owl), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), The Spotted Grizzly Man (bear), Brass and Red Bear Boy (bear, buffalo), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Fleetfooted Man (otter, bird), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (otter), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Omahas who turned into Snakes (four-legged snakes), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); someone kills his own kinsman: The Chief of the Heroka (wife), The Red Man (wife), Worúxega (wife), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (wife), Bluehorn's Nephews (mother), The Green Man (mother), Waruǧábᵉra (mother), Partridge's Older Brother (sister), The Were-Grizzly (sister), Crane and His Brothers (brothers), White Wolf (brother), The Diving Contest (brother), The Twins Get into Hot Water (grandfather), The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter (daughter), The Birth of the Twins (daughter-in-law), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (daughter-in-law), Snowshoe Strings (father-in-law); ground up bones of evil spirits are used to resurrrect their victims: Partridge's Older Brother, Grandfather's Two Families, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father.


1 Paul Radin, "The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #1: 1-11.

2 Alanson Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," The Journal of American Folklore, 38, #150 (October-December, 1925): 427-506 [441-446].

3 Nudáⁿ-axa, "The Bear-Girl," in Rev. James O. Dorsey, "¢egiha Texts," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 292-293.

4 Kickapoo Tales, collected by William Jones, trs. by Truman Michelson. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1915) IX: 45-53.