Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath

"When the Hocągara lived at Red Banks, there was a chief named Big Thunder who used to go about with a cane. One night he was spoken to by some spirits. When it became day he called his grandson Cap’ósgaga and said, "Grandson, I want to give a feast and I shall therefore want you and four of your friends to go out and hunt game for me." Cap’ósgaga said, "Very well, I am here to do your bidding." So he took his arrows and went in search of his young friends and told them what his grandfather had said, and asked whether they would not go with him. They consented and got ready to go.

They were gone all day and in the evening they returned, bringing four large deer with them. They took them to the place where the feast was to be given and the attendants prepared them and put the meat in kettles. Then when all was ready, those that were invited came to the lodge and the feast began. Big Thunder and his grandson were there and they sang. They expected him to say something when he was through, but he did not say anything.

The next morning after breakfast the old man called his grandson and said, "Grandson take your arrows and let us take a walk to the old village." So the young man put his arrows into his quiver and went along with his grandfather. The old man with his cane preceded him in silence for some time, as they walked toward the site of an old village. The people watched them and thought, "What is the old man thinking about?" One said, "He must be going with some object in view, but he hasn't told any of us." At last the two disappeared from view. It was a fine day, and some of the people thought that they were probably going out for a walk.

While they were thus walking some of the people in the village went out hunting while others stayed at home. The old man and his grandson kept right on. Finally when they had passed the old village, the old man stopped and said, "Grandson let us sit down here and I will tell you why I asked you to come here with me. I want to bless you my grandson. You must do the following things. I am an old man and that is why I am telling you these things and taking pity upon you. Ever since the people made me chief, I have ruled them well. Now I have reached the end of my life and therefore you will have to take care of them in my place. If you accomplish what I tell you, you will fare well in life. The first thing I want you to do is to kill an elk and prepare it as well as you know how. Then you must take out the tongue and broil it well over live coals. After that you must cut it up for me and when you are through you must spread it over a white deer skin and pour tobacco, and spread red feathers over the deer skin. If you do this, grandson, you will have boiled something for the spirits and you will be working for your own interests. Do your best and try to accomplish all that I have told you. Now, grandson, look at that gopher mound beyond and shoot at it. By thus shooting you will kill the animal that I told you about."

The grandson did not see anything but he shot in the direction indicated an sure enough, a big elk fell dead. After this he gathered some wood and began to do what his grandfather had told him. When he was ready he told his grandfather. The old man said, "Grandson, you may rebuild the fire and spread apart some live coals. That (fire) is the greatest spirit in existence. The deer skin, the tobacco, and the red feathers we shall offer to the other spirits." Then he arose and told his grandson all the words he must use and the songs as well. He told him all about the future and how he would fare on the warpaths to come. The fact is, Big Thunder had known that the Osage were approaching their village and it was for this reason that he was giving the Winter Feast.

Shortly after the feast, they saw a few people and the old man said, "My grandson, be ready for they are about to rush upon us. Do not get frightened, for if you do as I tell you, you will kill the greatest of them." Just then the Osage rushed upon them. Cap’ósgaga, although it was his first battle, accomplished wonders. He rushed towards them and chased them; but they seemed to come back reinforced every time. Finally, one of the enemy came far ahead of the others and Cap’ósgaga made a rush for him and killed him. Then he cut off his head and placed it in front of his grandfather. Soon he killed another of the enemy and brought his head to his grandfather. The old man thanked him and struck the heads. When he had killed the third person they were practically in sight of Big Thunder's village; and when he killed the fourth one, they were almost home. The people in the village saw Big Thunder some distance in front swinging the heads to and fro. "The old man seems to be coming along in a peculiar manner," they said. But when he got nearer they saw what it was. Then they all ran toward him, for there was Big Thunder with four heads coming as fast as he could. They immediately began to shoot the Osage that were pursuing him, and soon the Osage ran away. They chased them, but the Osage leader managed to get away. He had been fooled by a spirit and thus caused many people to die. He knew that he had been fooled when he started out, hence his people considered it the same as if he had thrown those lives away.

Thus Big Thunder fought his last battle. He fared so well because he had blessed his grandson. This was the first time that Cap’ósgaga had been on the warpath."1

Commentary. Radin once said that if a disaster overtook a warparty, no Hocąk would think to question the blessings obtained by its warleader, but would probably not seek to explain the paradox at all. This story shows that at least some were prepared to account for reversal of fortune through the concept of false blessings. It is a well known doctrine that spirits, especially Waterspirits and some bird spirits, are particularly prone to practice trickery in answering someone's call for a blessing (see the theme below, "someone is deceived by a spirit").

Links: Introduction.

Stories:mentioning Cap’ósgaga: The Fox-Hocąk War, The Osage Massacre, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name; mentioning Big Thunder (Wakąjaxetega): The Osage Massacre; about famous Hocąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), Black Otter’s Sacrifice to a Thunder, Black Otter's Warpath (Dog Head, Black Otter), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), The Osage Massacre (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hocąk War (Cap’ósgaga), The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mącosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse (Yellow Thunder), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), How Jarrot Got His Name, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter); mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; mentioning canes: Iron Staff and His Companions, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, The Seven Maidens; mentioning feasts: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (Chief Feast), The Creation Council (Eagle Feast), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (Eagle Feast), Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth (Waterspirit Feast), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (Mąką́wohą, Waną́cĕrehí), Bear Clan Origin Myth (Bear Feast), The Woman Who Fought the Bear (Bear Feast), Grandfather's Two Families (Bear Feast), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (Wolf Feast), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Feast), Buffalo Dance Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Feast), The Blessing of Šokeboka (Feast to the Buffalo Tail), Snake Clan Origins (Snake Feast), Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief (Snake Feast), Rattlesnake Ledge (Snake Feast), The Thunderbird (for the granting of a war weapon), Turtle's Warparty (War Weapons Feast, Warpath Feast), Porcupine and His Brothers (War Weapons Feast), Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega) (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), White Thunder's Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Fox-Hocąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Black Otter's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Kunu's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Trickster's Warpath (Warpath Feast), The Masaxe War (Warpath Feast), Redhorn's Sons (Warpath Feast, Fast-Breaking Feast), The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits (Fast-Breaking Feast), The Chief of the Heroka (Sick Offering Feast), The Dipper (Sick Offering Feast, Warclub Feast), The Four Slumbers Origin Myth (Four Slumbers Feast), The Journey to Spiritland (Four Slumbers Feast), The First Snakes (Snake Feast), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (unspecified), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (unnamed); mentioning the Osage: The Osage Massacre, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), First Contact (v. 2), Black Otter's Warpath, Introduction; set at Red Banks (Mógašúc): The Creation Council, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Great Lodge, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2, 3, 5), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3, 8, 11, 12), The Winnebago Fort, The Beginning of the Winnebago, Blue Bear, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Creation of Man (v. 10), Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins (fr. 1), Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Deer Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Šųgepaga, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e ("St. Peet," "Hocąk Origins"), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), The Seven Maidens, First Contact.

Themes: a man is blessed with the ability to foresee the approach of enemies: Wazųka, White Fisher, The Moiety Origin Myth, The Dog that became a Panther, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, The Fleetfooted Man; descriptions of human warfare: Black Otter's Warpath, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Wazųka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Fox-Hocąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, White Fisher, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, The Osage Massacre, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, The Spanish Fight, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka; a Hocąk warrior single handedly fights an overwhelming enemy force (taking at least one enemy head or scalp): The Warbundle Maker, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier (Arapaho), Little Priest's Game (Sioux), The Man who Fought against Forty (Dakota), The Osage Massacre (Osage), Fighting Retreat, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka; head hunting: White Fisher, A Man's Revenge, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), The Dipper, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Turtle's Warparty, Ocean Duck, The Markings on the Moon, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man with Two Heads, Brave Man, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Redhorn's Sons, Fighting Retreat, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Were-Grizzly, Winneconnee Origin Myth; someone is deceived by a spirit: The Greedy Woman, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Seven Maidens, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lost Blanket.


1 Paul Radin, "How Big Thunder Taught His Grandson Cap’ósgaga to Go on the Warpath," Freeman #3861 [3891] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #8: 1-4.