The Hare Cycle

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Published Hare Cycle

The Hare Cycle is a set of myths tracing the adventures of the culture hero Hare.1

The whole Hare Cycle can be told in a brief overview, with more expanded versions linked to the titles of each section:

§1. Hare Acquires His Arrows. Hare's virgin mother dies giving birth to him, so he is raised by Grandmother Earth. One day a fragile looking creature shoots him with an arrow. He keeps the arrow and gradually learns how to shoot it himself. When an eagle captures Hare and takes him to its nest, he kills the eaglets he finds there and makes from their plumage white arrow feathers that shoot out bolts of lightning when touched.

§2. Hare and the Grasshoppers. Hare confronts beings who are hoarding the tobacco that rightfully belong to human beings. They cannot bribe Hare off, and in panic scatter tobacco over the whole face of the earth in their flight. They retained only a small quantity for themselves. The tobacco thieves turned out to be grasshoppers.

§3. Hare Kills Flint. When Hare was out looking for arrowheads, he found a man who had been withholding tobacco from the humans, and he killed him. Next he encountered his grandfather Flint, who tried to withhold flint arrowheads from Hare. Hare killed him and scattered flint over the face of the earth.

§4. Hare Kills Sharp Elbow. One day Hare killed an Elk with his new arrow, but when he tracked the elk down, he found his arrow missing. When he sent his friend, a chief, to get it back for him, Sharp Elbow killed the young man. Hare killed Sharp Elbow in return and revived the young chief.

§5. Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear. Hare brings a sack of acorns to his grandfather Bear, who eats everyone of them, but denies that he had any at all. Hare says that he feels uneasy on account of enemy raids where Bear lives, but Bear says nothing frightens him. Hare tricks Bear into thinking he is under attack, and when he stumbles out of his lodge, Hare shoots him with one of his special arrows.

§6. Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat. Grandmother goes with Hare to pack back the meat, but goes her own way with Bear's hindquarters. She slides down a hill on top of it, then tells Hare a lie about what really happened.

§7. Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads. Hare crosses a river by using a crab as a boat. He visited people who had heads but no bodies. While he was eating, he slit his nose. Later, he visited them again, but this time they wished to eat Hare., but he was able to escape from their lodge. In the pursuit, Hare tricked the heads into falling into a creek where they all drowned.

§8. Hare Kills a Man with a Cane. A tall, fragile man strikes Hare into the ground with the tip of his cane. Later Hare retaliated by taking a cedar tree to use as a cane and smashing the creature to pieces with it.

§9. Hare Burns His Buttocks. Hare tries to trap a being who is using a perfect path upon which to travel. When Hare went to untie him, he had to back up to the trap, since the creature was so hot. However, before Hare could cut the cords of the trap, he burned his buttocks.

§10. Hare Gets Swallowed. Hare attempts to ride on the back of a water monster but gets swallowed by it. Through his grandmother's intercession, the water monster vomits Hare back up. Hare covers himself with arrow points and induces the monster to swallow him again. Hare takes an arrow point and cuts his way out of the monster's stomach, leading the people inside to safety.

§11. Hare Kills Wildcat. Hare goes out to the rope grass place singing. The wildcat that lives there takes offense at the song and challenges Hare. Hare escapes down a hole, but advises the wildcat that he could smoke him out. When the wildcat returns with the matting to smoke Hare out, Hare ambushes him and pushes the wildcat into the fire, killing him.Hare splashes wildcat blood on his grandmother's legs while she is not looking. He says that she is having her period and must build a lodge at a distance from the main lodge. After she does this, Hare pretends to host a feast at which they eat the wildcat. He tells Grandmother to expect a visit from one of the guests, a one-eyed man. That night Hare visits his own grandmother disguised as the one-eyed man. The next morning he finds that the eye he had removed and left outside had been gnawed by mice.

§12. Hare and the Dangerous Frog. A creature sings a song in the night threatening Hare. Hare and Grandmother attempt to hide four times, but each time the creature says that he will find them with his dogs. However, Hare finds that the voice is that of a frog, but one whose mouth was full of sharp teeth. Hare knocks all of these teeth out.

§13. Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp. An old man who was scalped tricks Hare into entering his lodge. There he persuades Hare to go across the ocean to retrieve his lost scalp. The man has the power to make things move by simply uttering commands to them. He promises to give this power to Hare and his kinsmen if he is successful. Hare travels to a lodge of beavers, where they agree that Hare will cross the ocean on the back of the mother beaver. Once Hare crosses the ocean and disembarks he happens upon the very man for whom he is looking. This man tells Hare about everything he usually does, so Hare kills him, skins him, and assumes his identity by wearing his skin. Hare arrives at the chief's lodge where he pretends to be his son. The mother is suspicious, but Hare fools everyone else. Hare puts on the scalp as a headdress and makes a dash for the shore with everyone in hot pursuit. The beaver disables all the canoes and Hare returns on her back. When he got back to the old man's place, he tossed the scalp back on his head and it took hold again. He granted Hare the powers that he promised, then departed to Spiritland. He was told, however, that in using these powers he could not issue the same command four times in succession, nor put his hands upon the woman who lived behind the partition in the lodge. Unfortunately, Hare did both at once, and lost these powers for humanity.

§14. Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans. Hare assembles the animals and asks some of them to volunteer to be food for people. The elk says that he should be a predator, but Hare gives him juice that knocks out his front teeth. When Hare tells him that the juice was human blood, the elk changes his mind. The animals that volunteer are to roll in oil to fatten themselves. Two jump in uninvited, and one has to have the oil squeezed off of him. Bear makes all kinds of preconditions before he will consent to be hunted by humans. However, Hare adopts a rite that allows him to find Bear using dogs. Once Bear sees how easy it will be for men to hunt him, he drops his preconditions.

§15. The Necessity for Death. Hare thinks that now that he has destroyed the evil spirits plaguing mankind that humans will be able to live forever. Grandmother explains that she cannot bear such a load of humanity, nor could they feed themselves. Thus the Creator made them finite in life. This makes Hare melancholy, and in his pity for humanity he conceives of the Medicine Rite.

The Hare Cycle of the V.23 Text

This is a text of unknown provenience written in Hočąk syllabary (perhaps by Sam Blowsnake). The author is unknown.2

§1. Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Version 2. Hare assembles the animals in order to determine which of them will be food for the humans. Eel tries human flesh, but his teeth are damaged. Hare then fattens them up by having them roll in a pool of grease. Mink dove in, but since he was not edible, they squeezed the fat off of him.

§2. Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Version 2. Hare establishes the Medicine Rite Dance and the first Medicine Lodge. He and Grandmother sing the Black Root Songs for the first time.

§3. Hare Establishes the Bear Hunt, Version 1. Hare creates a rite using mind control that brings bear under human control. Bear balks at this, but in the end is convinced that it must be the way it is.

§4. The Necessity of Death, Version 3. Grandmother asks Hare how he will provide an immortal life for humans (his uncles and aunts) inasmuch as Earthmaker made death for a reason with the mere power of his thought. Hare looks back, and his grandmother's back caves in. With this, so too does live cave in. Thus he failed to give humans immortality. However, he was able to give his uncles and aunts a fullness of life by founding the Medicine Rite.

Russell's Hare Cycle

This short Hare Cycle was told by Jacob Russell in a rather abbreviated way. It is written down in a phonetic text without translation. The first story of the set is unknown from any other Hare Cycle.3

§1. Hare Steals the Fish. While out looking for arrows, Hare encounters a group of women. He is accused of having stolen fish from them, but when they track him home, they find him laying in bed sick, so they give him some of their fish. The next day Hare went back to the same place and speared a great many fish. However, Grandmother says that he has stolen her brothers. The women return and accuse Hare of stealing fish once more. They turn out to be ghosts, but when they see that Hare is sick, they tell him that he can keep them. Grandmother tells him that it is wrong to steal, and Hare says that it will not happen again.

§2. Hare Gets Swallowed, Version 2. Sticks His Tongue Out, a monster, laps up people with his tongue. He cannot lap up Hare until his fourth effort, but then gets an upset stomach and vomits him out. Hare is swallowed again, but once inside he finds a knife and cuts his way out, liberating everyone else inside.

§3. Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Version 2. Hare makes a cane and kills a man with it. However, when he gets back home, he scratches him with a stone, and he revives. While Hare is talking to Grandmother, the man escapes, so Hare makes two canes out of pine trees and kills him again.

§4. Hare Burns His Buttocks, Version 3 (incomplete). Hare tracks an enormous trail to where the sun sets. There he meets a woman. He tells her to gather up wood to keep a bonfire burning. Hare asked the aid of the woman in keeping him awake. He told her stories.

Links: Hare, Earth, The Sons of Earthmaker, Earthmaker, Sun.

Stories: featuring Hare as a character Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; variants of stories in the Hare Cycle: Hare and the Grasshoppers, cf. The Lake Winnebago Origin Myth; cycles of other great soteriological spirits: Redhorn Cycle, Trickster Cycle, Twins Cycle.

Themes: spirits come to earth in order to rescue humanity from enemies who threaten their existence: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Bladder and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Grandfather's Two Families, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Redhorn Cycle, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Spirit of Gambling, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant.


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 93-114. The cycle is also found in Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 63-96. The original Hočąk 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: 1-156.

2 The Hare Cycle, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #23: 135-157.

3 Jacob Russell, Stories from the Hare Cycle, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #14, Freeman #3893 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) 27-59.