by Earl Hamner, Jr.
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
Once there was a man of the name of Hyder Simpson who lived in a cabin in the mountain country of Appalachia. He had a dog that he loved like a member of his own family. Every night they would go out hunting for raccoons or possums, and his dog never failed to pick up the trail. Once his wife Rachel remarked, "Sometimes I wonder who you love more, me or that dog of yours." He loved his wife dearly, but he liked to get out of the cabin and hunt whenever he could. He was tracking a raccoon on a particularly dark night, and his dog got well out ahead of him. He was an old man, and it was not easy for him to keep up. Although the dog was in hot pursuit, it seemed that he could never quite catch up to the raccoon. The raccoon cleverly doubled back on an old dead branch that stuck out way over the water's edge at a deep forest pool. The dog rushed headlong up the branch and fell straight into the water. Soon the old man was upon the scene. He called frantically for his dog, and soon realized that he had fallen into the pool. He did not hesitate for a moment to jump right in to the rescue.
The next day he woke up sitting against a tree trunk, his trusty dog lying by his side. "Well, old boy," he said to his dog, "it seems we spent the whole night sleeping out here in the boondocks. By now the old lady is probably frettin' up a storm. Time we got on back, I reckon." They were very near home when he crossed a field where two men were digging a hole in the ground. "Howdy," he said, "what's y'all diggin'?" But they did not answer him, even though they knew him. This made the old man angry: "What's the matter, you boys forget your manners?" Yet they just kept on with their idle talk just like he wasn't there. One said to the other, "You know, it's too bad about that dog, too." Then the old man understood, and said to himself, "That's mighty sad. No wonder they don't want to talk, they've lost their dog," and he and his own dog moved on towards home. He walked right in his cabin and there, unexpectedly, was a coffin sitting right in the middle of the room. He went to the back room, and there his wife was with the minister of the local church. She was in tears and he was trying to comfort her. The old man said, "Who died?" but no one answered him. "Woman," he said, "what's that coffin doing in our cabin?" Still she did not answer him. He found their behavior mighty peculiar to say the least. "Well," he thought to himself, "if that's how people are going to treat me, then I might as well spend the day huntin'." So he set out with his dog with nowhere in particular as a destination.
After traveling a very long ways, he came across a well traveled dirt road that he had never seen before. He had not long been on that course when he came to a fork in the road, and on the north fork was a man standing in a small booth like he had seen at the county fair many years ago. He looked just like a carnival barker, complete with straw hat and ready smile. "Howdy," said Hyder, "what's behind this here gate?" "Why, I would have figured that by now you'd know you was dead — this is the gate to Heaven, and I'm fixin' to let you right in!" said the gatekeeper. "Well, don't that beat all," said Hyder, "I should 'a known. So, you're St. Peter, then?" "The bona fide article," he replied. The gatekeeper swung the gate open. "And this here is Heaven," he added. However, Hyder saw wisps of smoke in the distance and asked the man, "What's that smoke off yonder?" "Why, them's just clouds," the gatekeeper replied reassuringly. As Hyder started to step in, the dog balked, and when he tried to pull him in, the gatekeeper said, "Now hold up there! We don't allow no dogs in Heaven." "Well," said Hyder with some regret, but with a firm resolution, "if they don't allow no dogs in Heaven, then I reckon Heaven ain't for me." With that, he walked on down the road, not knowing what to expect.
He didn't travel too far when to his surprise he saw a young man walking towards him. The man was dressed much like Hyder's own kinfolk, only his plaid shirt and levi britches looked new, store bought. The young man looked happy to see him, extended his hand, and said, "Howdy!" Hyder replied in kind, but felt a little uncertain about what was going on. "I'm the feller they sent to show you the way to Heaven," the young man said. "Now that's mighty strange," replied Hyder, "just down the road I met St. Peter himself and I would have been in Heaven already, 'cept they don't allow no dogs there. I just couldn't see goin' in if I couldn't take my huntin' dog with me." "That tweren't no Heaven, friend, and he tweren't no St. Peter," the young man replied. "Don't you see? If'n they had let your dog in he would 'a warned you of the burning sulfur up ahead. That's why he don't much cotton to dogs taggin' along." "My dog's gotten me out of plenty of jams before, but this do beat all!" Hyder declared. "Just the same, if they don't allow huntin' where you come from, then I don't reckon I'll be comin' along." The young man smiled at his naiveté — "Now what kind of heaven would it be if there was no huntin' and no dogs?" Then Hyder knew for sure he was headed in the right direction, and the two of them strolled happily down the lane towards the setting sun.1
Commentary. When I first saw this broadcast in 1962, I thought the story was very touching and in many ways more "realistic" than the usual Christian fare of winged angels and harps. The realistic elements are precisely those found in Hočąk thinking. I think any reader acquainted with Hočąk ideas of the afterlife will find it impossible to believe that this story is not profoundly indebted to them. For these themes, see below under "Themes."
The close association of man and dog is a prominent feature of Hočąk culture. In the accounts of some clans, the road to Spiritland has a fork with one branch leading off to the great Evil Spirit, Herešgúnina. The gatekeeper plays the role of Herešgúnina, and the young man is like one of the guides who helps the departed soul find his way to Spiritland. In the accounts of some clans, the soul may go to a heavenly village set aside for members of his clan. In the present story, this is reflected in the socio-cultural affinity of the young man with Hyder, and contrasts with the alien abode that will not admit dogs.
Links: Ghosts, Disease-Giver, Herešgúnina.
Stories: mentioning ghosts: The Journey to Spiritland, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Holy One and His Brother, Worúxega, Little Human Head, Little Fox and the Ghost, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lame Friend, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Hare Steals the Fish, The Difficult Blessing, A Man's Revenge, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Two Roads to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Message the Fireballs Brought; about journeys to and from Spiritland: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Journey to Spiritland, Sunset Point, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Lame Friend, Two Roads to Spiritland, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Holy One and His Brother, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Foolish Hunter, Waruǧábᵉra, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Petition to Earthmaker, Wears White Feather on His Head, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man Whose Wife was Captured; relating to dogs or wolves: The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, White Wolf, Wolves and Humans, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, Worúxega, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Dog that became a Panther, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Wild Rose, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Big Eater, Why Dogs Sniff One Another, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Loses His Meal, Sun and the Big Eater, Redhorn's Sons, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Hog's Adventures, Holy One and His Brother, The Messengers of Hare, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Grandmother's Gifts, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Bladder and His Brothers, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Old Man and the Giants, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; Peace of Mind Regained (?); featuring Herešgúnina as a character: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Šųgepaga, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers.
Themes: a hunter chases after an animal long after the animal should have fallen: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter; someone who has died does not realize that he is dead: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, The Lame Friend; a man, not realizing that he is dead, attempts to interact with people only to find that they treat him as if he were not there: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth; dogs rescue humans from their enemies: Wolves and Humans, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Dog that became a Panther, The Old Man and His Four Dogs, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Canine Warrior, The Dog Who Saved His Master; spirit beings help those who travel to Spiritland: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Lame Friend.
1 "The Hunt," Twilight Zone (Television Series, Originally Broadcast on Jan. 26, 1962). Producer: Buck Houghton, Director: Harold Schuster; Cast: Arthur Hunnicut as Hyder Simpson, Jeanette Nolan as Rachel Simpson, Robert Foulk as Gatekeeper; with Titus Moede, Orville Sherman, Charles Seel, and Dexter DuPont.