The Bow and Arrow

Collected by Amelia Susman1

Hocąk Interlinear Text

Original Text — | 39 | 41 | 43 | 45 | 47 | 49 |

BAE 37, Pl. 3
A Hōcąk Bow and Bird Arrow

(39) More than one of these Hōcągara stood here to begin their own life at the beginning of this earth. It is said that they did not wear clothes. They say that they were naked. There in hand, they say, they had their own bows and arrows. (41) They knew that the bow they had was something that they were going to use. When somebody took his bow and arrows, he would not go very far before he killed a deer. He used the bow and arrow and (43) so the Hōcągara made the bow and arrow holy for themselves. They gave us life. Then again, from the beginning, they had to fight enemies. There again they helped us a great deal. They preserved life, the bows and arrows.

And if one would make a bow, if they were going to use one of the trees, there at the tree where they were to get it, they must pray to Earthmaker. (45) They asked for power from the trees they were going to use. Then they took it. This had to happen in the winter. That was the the Deer Breeding Moon, from there and then again to the Coon Breeding Month, only that long would the wood to make a bow be good. Then put it away for two months, and/or for three or four. It should be really dry, and if this is done, it should be a really good one.

(47) If you are married to a woman, if you are one of those who has a child, then if you yourself make the bow, making it deliberately, you will make your own really well. Try this out, and given how much you'll like using it, make it for yourself just this way. Then use that and hunt game for your child. (49) So something this excellent you're going to make yourself. Thus it is.

Notes to the Text

1 it is not stated who authored this work, although, given the fact that her major informant for almost everything was Sam Blowsnake, it is likely that he is the author.


  H. H. Bennett
  Big Bear (1810-1890) with Bow and Arrows
Bruce Marlin  
A Hickory Tree  

"the tree" — the favorite wood of the Hōcągara for making both bows and arrows seems to have been hickory. In the Green Lake village of 1845-1855, S. D. Mitchell says that they made their bows of hickory and red cedar.1 In literature, Grandmother tells Hare, "You need a bow to shoot an arrow. Go out and get a hickory branch and I will make you one."2 In a Redhorn story, his grandmother, Old Woman, makes him a bow and arrows out of hickory.3

"Earthmaker"Mą’ų́na, the counterpart of the biblical God (Yahweh). The idea of praying to Earthmaker shows Christian influence, as in the old religion he was very much more an otiose god. In earlier times, the supplicant would have prayed to the spirit of the tree.

"the trees" — the Hōcągara believed in what the Greeks called Άμαδρυάδες (Hamadryads) or Tree Spirits. These Spirits were often asked to bless supplicants with wood or bark, and in stories are often portrayed as speaking to the supplicants.

"winter" — contemporary bowyers are of the same opinion: "Try to cut the wood in winter for a couple of reasons. Not as much brush grows in the winter, which makes it easier to see a straight piece. Also, not as much sap is in the tree so the ends won’t crack as badly during the drying period."4

"Deer Breeding Moon"Caíkiruxewi. The white-tail deer breed from October to December,5 so the moon typically falls in November, but sometimes in October.6 The tendency of Hōcąk moons to drift owes not only to the range of variation in the mating cycle of the deer, but to the fact that about every 2½ years there are 13 moons in a year.

"Coon Breeding Month"Wakékirúxĕwi. "Raccoons breed during February or early March as temperatures begin to increase. An average of four young are born during April or May, following a 63-day gestation or development period."7 All lunar lists agree on March, although one suggests that February is the moon under which the raccoons mate.8

"put it away" — this is the curing or seasoning process. Contemporary bowyers advocate puting it away for an entire year. A long period of curing is necessary:

The wood needs to season fully before any stress is placed on it. If green (unseasoned) wood is bent, it will hold the memory in the bow. To see an example of this, take a green branch from a tree. Bend it close to the point of breaking, then let the wood go. You will see an “elbow” in the wood. This would not be good. The elbow creates a weak spot that will always be present in the wood’s memory — a likely spot for future breakage.9

Notes to the Commentary

1 Charles E. Brown, “Antiquities of Green Lake,” Wisconsin Archeologist, 16, #1 (March, 1917): 1-55 [19-22].
2 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 93-98. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) §§1-4, pp. 63-65. The original Hocąk text is missing, but the English translation of Oliver LaMère is preserved in Paul Radin, "The Hare Cycle," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3851 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago IV, #1: 1-13.
3 David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 64-82. The original text is from W. C. McKern, "A Winnebago Myth," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 9 (1929): 215-230.
4 Jim Hamm, Bows & Arrows of the Native Americans. A Step-By-Step Guide To Wooden Bows, Sinew-Backed Bows, Composite Bows, Strings, Arrows & Quivers (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2007) 23; cf. 94: "… straight shoots are easier to see when the leaves have fallen."
5 Tanya Dewey, and Animal Diversity Web Staff. 2003. "Odocoileus virginianus white-tailed deer" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. 8 March 2024.
6 see Moon.
7 Raccoon Ecology & Damage Management," Wisconsin DNR, Electronic Text, viewed 9 March 2024.
8 see Moon.
9 Dan Corcoran, "Bowmaking Basics" (Electronic text, posted on March 25, 2020) > Prepare the Stave.

Links: Earthmaker, Tree Spirits, Moon.


Amelia Susman Schulz, "Life of the Winnebago," Susman's Winnebago Notebooks (American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 30, 1938) Accession Number, X 5.2. Book I: 39-49.