How the Hills and Valleys were Formed

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Version 1 (of the Waterspirit Clan). When Earthmaker created the earth it was perfect: its surface was as flat and smooth as a piece of ice. But when the people of this new earth tried to walk upon it, they slipped and slid and could not keep their footing. When they cried out to Earthmaker to pity them, the Creator was moved to tears by their plight. His first tear fell from the sky with such force that the whole earth quaked, and the ground reverberated in colliding ripples. When his second tear struck the earth, craters appeared and mountains were forced up from the impact. His tears soon formed rivers, lakes, and the ocean, making the land so uneven everywhere that the people could now walk without any worry of falling.1

Version 2 (of the Thunderbird Clan). When the earth was young it had neither hill nor valley, but was without any contour. Then the Thunders strode forth upon the land, and where they stepped the valleys formed, and where they struck the land with the Thunderbird Warclub, great indentations were pressed upon it.2

Version 3 (of the Thunderbird Clan). When living things were newly created, the ground that they lived on was perfectly flat so that both men and animals found it easy to travel over its surface. In this limitless prairie-earth was a village where a young man named Wakąjagišišika ("Bad Thunderbird") lived with his grandmother. His uncles, who loved him very much, were Thunderbirds. One day Wakąjagišišika went on a hunt with the approval of his uncles. On the fourth day out he spotted a herd of elk, but they escaped before he could kill any. Later he ran across a herd of deer, but the same thing happened. Finally he came to a village where an evil chief lived with his son. The chief told his people that they were about to be attacked by an enemy. So when Wakąjagišišika approached, the chief's son riddled him with arrows. The Thunderbirds were furious, and sought revenge. They put charcoal upon their faces and fasted. Over the face of the land they wandered ceaselessly and struck the earth with their mighty warclubs until countless valleys and ravines were hammered into the ground. The chief and his son fled in terror to the Lower World where they devolved into earthworms. The earthworm is the lowest of Earthmaker's creations, for they are food even for the fishes.3

Commentary. Version 1 — In many ways version 3 is the opposite of version 1 — the flat earth is good for humans and animals in v. 3, bad for them in v. 1; it is pity that creates in v. 1, but the spirit of vengeance in v. 3; it is Earthmaker who is the creator in v. 1, the (Bad) Thunderbirds who destroy in v. 3; the action in v. 1 is conceived as creation, in v. 3 it is destruction; in v. 1 it is water that is the creative agent, in v. 3 it is lightning (= Thunderbird Warclub), a version of fire; v. 1 is of the Waterspirit Clan, v. 3 is of its opposite, the Thunderbird Clan.

Version 2 — The creation of contour through the use of the Thunderbird Warclub is really the counterpart of lightning. Lightning is said to shoot from the eyes of the Thunderbirds. Both versions 1 and 2 therefore have something to do with creation from the eyes.

The word mące denotes the warclub, but it seems also to mean "earth-divider."4 It may in fact come from mącé, which means, "to break, crack, or tear a soft substance by cutting."5 However, the fact that it seems to mean "earth-divider" is no doubt a stimulus to a story in which the warclub actually divides the earth into hills and valleys.

Version 3 — The Bad Thunderbirds are responsible for the rain, and its the rain that drives earthworms to the surface where they can be eaten by birds. Lightning, which is shot from the eyes of Thunderbirds, is by nature a stone. The Hocąk arrowhead, the counterpart of the thunder stone, is made from the snapping turtle claw, flint arrowheads having been purely found items. Items that are found were considered to have been left by the spirits to be so discovered. The tradition is that these points were made by worms.6 Thus, worms make a weapon-stone that is the lower world counterpart to the thunder stones launched by the Thunderbirds. The Hawk Clan, who has a ritual where they eat the center of a fish and move its head and tail to either side, are closely aligned with the Bad Thunderbirds. The creation of hills and ravines in the earth is a creation of hierarchy which impedes the license of the earth animals (and clans). The fish ritual expresses height and centrality; the driving down of the earthworm enemies is a complementary expression of the establishment of hierarchy in terms of the contrast of superior and inferior. The transitive nature of the food chain is another expression of hierarchy. "Worm" seems to function as a Thunderbird word for snakes (see Waruǧabᵉra). Thunderbirds eat snakes, just like the large raptorial birds upon whom they are partly modeled. The Snake Clan is responsible for maintaining the grounds of a campsite or village, so they have much to do with the surface of the earth. Thus, they represent a terrestrial counterpart to the Fish (and Waterspirit) Clan, and the myth establishes the complementary terrestrial expression of hierarchy over the earth as well as over the waters.

Comparative Material. Among the Fox, it is the tribe of buzzards who make the hills and dales under the trickster deity Wī́sa‘kä́ka. Because Buzzard had dropped Wī́sa‘kä́ka from the sky, Wī́sa‘kä́ka now punished the tribe of buzzards. "Thereupon the Buzzards set to work, and sad they were at their task. Some formed in line, one behind the other, and pushing their breasts against the soil, formed the river courses. Others dug up the ground with their talons and piled up huge mounds of earth. Afterwards they came and soared slowly along the slopes of the mounds and gave them shape with the under side of their wings. It was these that made the hills and the mountains and formed the slopes of the valleys in between. Thus Wī́sa‘kä́ka prepared the world for his people."7 [Previous episode of the Fox story. Next episode of the Fox story.]

Concerning conquest symbolized by stamping the feet into the ground, we have a parallel from Central Mexico (Aztec) where it is said, "About this devil or idol [the goddess Cantico] ... they say that it had such a figure that they could remove a thigh with its leg and when they went to war, in the land that they had to conquer, they took that idol's thigh or leg and they struck it in the ground, and this meant that they vanquished and conquered and subjugated the enemies."8

Links: Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird Warclub, Cosmography.

Stories: about the creation of the world: The Creation of the World; Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Šųgepaga; alluding to the creation of man: The Creation of Man, The Creation of the World, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Elk Clan Origin Myth, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolves and Humans, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; mentioning the Thunderbird Warclub: Waruǧábᵉra, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, cf. Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Black Otter's Warpath, Aracgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Black Otter’s Sacrifice to a Thunder, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Ciwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The War of Indian Tribes against White Soldiers, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; mentioning the Ocean Sea (Te Ją): Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 1), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster and the Children, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Wears White Feather on His Head, White Wolf, How the Thunders Met the Nights (Mąznį’ąbᵋra), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), Redhorn's Sons, Grandfather's Two Families, Sun and the Big Eater, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (sea), The Dipper (sea), The Thunderbird (a very wide river), Wojijé, The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 1), Redhorn's Father, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Berdache Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Morning Star and His Friend.

Themes: a body of water is created by tears falling from above: The Creation of the World, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Holy One and His Brother; as a punishment, a spirit decrees that someone be transformed into an animal: The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), Old Man and Wears White Feather (owl), Brass and Red Bear Boy (grizzly), Waruǧábᵉra (owl), The Chief of the Heroka (owl), Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), 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), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), 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), 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), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); a human is an affine of the Thunderbirds: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra.


1 Keeley Bassette (Waterspirit Clan), "Legend," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 149.

2 Charles E. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place Legends (Madison: Works Progress Administration, Wisconsin, 1936): 5; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 166.

3 David Lee Smith (Thunderbird Clan), "How Valleys and Ravines Came to Be," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 100-101.

4 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 159, sv mące.

5 Kenneth L. Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon (University of Kansas: June, 1984) s. v.

6 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 38.

7 William Jones, "Episodes in the Culture-Hero Myth of the Sauks and Foxes," The Journal of American Folk-lore, XIV, #55 (Oct-Dec, 1901) 225-238 [237].

8 Procesos de indios idólatras y hechiceros, ed. Luis González Obrigón (Mexico City: SG-AGN/Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 1912) 179-180. The Spanish text reads, «de este diablo o ídolo ... dizque tenía tal figura, que le podían quitar un muslo con la pierna, y cuando iban a la guerra, en la tierra que habían de conquistar, tomaban aquel muslo o pierna del ídolo y con ella herían la tierra, y con aquello dizque vencían y conquistaban y sujetaban a los enemigos.» Guilhem Olivier, "Sacred Bundles, Arrows, and New Fire: Foundation and Power in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2,"in Cave, City, and Eagle's Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Mapa De Cuauhtinchan No. 2, edd Davíd Carrasco and Scott Sessions (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007) 294b.