The Incarnate Thunderbird
from the collection of W. C. McKern
At the top McKern writes, "Story: — (not Winnebago)". However, it is clear that the story was told in Hočąk, since the one proper name is in that language.
(243) The chief's son had a friend. They each called the other by the same name, Mášgotani. The chief's son did not act like a chief. He was not proud like most of the chiefs. He used to play with children of all classes, and associated with any people regardless of cast. When he became an adult, he did not hunt like the rest of them. He never went on the war path. His friend was supposed to hunt for a feast. He told some one that he would invite the chief's son to go along, so that he could stay at home and do the cooking. So he invited the chief's son, and the invitation was accepted. "I would like to go very much, but one thing I wish to ask you. I want to fetch home a deer head for my grandmother." The other didn't know whether one could be spared or not. "I must have one for my grandmother if I go," said the chief's son. "The leader shall determine this," said his friend. The leader said, "Alright, we need (244) one head for the feast, and he can have the next one to take to his grandmother. Thus he can go."
So they all went. At the hunting place they put up a lodge. The chief's son was a good worker and helped with everything. First they got two fawns. Both heads they gave to the chief's son. The remainder of the bodies were for food while hunting. Anything else obtained later was for the feast. The chief's son took care of all the food stuff, cooking, gathering firewood, and all the work while the others hunted. This was in the wintertime. They had good luck and killed a number of deer. After they got back at night and had supper, the chief's son said to his friend, "I think something is going to happen to us." But they did not heed his words, because he had never had a dream. They all went to sleep. Several times he told them of his fears. He did not go to sleep at all. About midnight he saw someone creep into the lodge. The chief's son took his blanket and went outside. He had noticed a hollow tree nearby. He went in there and slept for the remainder of the night. At daylight, the enemy gave a war whoop and went after those in the lodge. Then he came out of the hollow of the tree after it was all over, and went back to the lodge. There he saw all his people lying dead and the lodge had been burned. All their heads were cut off. He was accustomed to carry deer heads with him all the time. When he got there he said, "I wonder where he is?" He was surprised. "They should have told me if they had a quarrel with these (245) people," he said. He could not find the body of his friend. "They must have taken him alive," he said. They threw all the deer meat all over, too. So he picked it all up again. "I will now eat," he said, "and then I shall look for him."
After he had finished eating, he followed the trail of the departing enemy. By nightfall he had not caught them. They had not stopped anywhere on the trail. Next morning he started after them again. he traveled all day. The enemy knew they had missed someone. They had sent a scout who counted all the men. After the attack one was missing. The second night he came to where the enemy had camped. He sneaked into the camp near the fire. There were two rows of fires, and he was tied in the center. He saw two men watching over his friend. They were now sound asleep, due to the fatigue of their long journey, all but these two. Soon these two fell asleep also. When he knew that all slept, he went over there. "I am here," he said. "Hurry and untie me," said his friend, but the chief's son said, "Did you have a quarrel with these people before? Why did you not tell me, if so?" "Hurry and untie me," said his friend. So he loosed his bonds and freed him. Then he wanted to go, but the chief's son refused. "We must stay and get even with them. Let us (246) gather all the weapons, and then get even with them." So this they did. Still they all slept. "Which of them is the leader?" said the chief's son. So his friend showed him. Then the chief's son killed him. There were two rows of sleepers, and each took one row. So they started, striking them one by one. When most of them were killed, one of the remaining ones awoke. "Run for you lives, our weapons are gone and our enemies are upon us," he shouted to the others. So they ran away without blankets, and it was winter time. Then the two friends rebuilt the fire. It was so cold, the others shivered and came back to the fire. Then they, too, one by one, were killed. The last one came back, and the chief's son said, "Let's tell him to go home. We don't want to take him back with us." So they cut off his lips and both ears and sent him away. "Bring all you can with you when you come again," he said to the man. Then they gave him blankets and clothes from his dead comrades and sent him away.
The chief's son said, "Do like they did to our men; take their heads off. Take all the heads of those killed and we will give them to relatives when we return home." This they did, and started for home. He kept the two deer heads, which he always carried on his person. When they reached (247) home they distributed scalps to all their relations. Then he (the friend) explained how it happened and how the chief's son had killed all but one, whom he had sent back to his home to tell of it. The chief's son said that he had warned the others, but they did not believe him. After he had finished, he did not associate with the brave chiefs, as was expected, but played with common children again. The brave warriors invited him to their councils, but he paid no attention to them.
Years after, the mutilated man's people came to avenge themselves on the two friends' people. The village people were being killed off fast. The chief's son wandered what was happening. He was not fighting. When he got back to his lodge, his father told him, "Do something, our people are being killed off fast." "No, they must have had a quarrel with these people. It is out of my jurisdiction." Finally, he decided to go and see "how these people play. "So he put on a blanket and leaned against a tree to watch them. When he saw one man knock down another, he laughed and said, "He must hate that man to kill him that way." Then they came after him. He forbade them to hurt him. "I never saw you before," he said. "I am not in this quarrel." They nearly killed him, but he ran away. Then he stopped to watch the fight again. Sons of the (248) warriors came to him and begged him to help; all the braves were being killed off. But he refused to do anything. Again the enemy came after him. They missed him, as he ran away, but tore his blanket. He looked at his torn blanket. "You spoiled my blanket," he said, "Now I'll show you what I can do. He threw his blanket away and said, "Alright, now we'll fight." So he seized a club and began clubbing them to death. He killed them off fast when he did start. Then they ran away, and the fight was over. The enemy shouted, "O-o-o-o-o-o-o." That was a sign that the fighting must cease. It was bad luck to disobey such a cry.
So he was ranked as an expert hunter and brave warrior. He told them then that he was a Thunderbird who had come down to earth.
That is all.1
Commentary. "Mášgotani" — this is the old Bear Clan name, Mąšgotaníga, attested by both Foster and Dorsey. It is form mąšgó, "notch"; taní, "three"; and -ga, a definite article used to indicate a personal name. So the name means, "Three Notches."
"they cut off his lips and both ears" — the most notable feature of the heads of birds is that they have neither lips nor ears. See the comment on the identical episode in "The Brave Man."
"scalps" — did the narrator forget so soon that they had taken heads and not just the scalps? Or did they keep the heads and give away the scalps?
Stories: This story bears a strong resemblance to "The Brave Man."
Note — Since this is said not to be a Hočąk story, it is not linked into the Hočąk corpus.
1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 243-248.