The Ice Hole

translation based upon the interlinear text of Thomas Sebeok

Version 1

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

(168) Early in the morning they did it. When the sun came up, they started coming. And they visited Big Sand (P’ų́zakexétegà) over there. His wife said [to Big Sand's brother, Black Otter (Tošónąksepga)], "There is a little water over there, go get some." He went down with a water bucket. He went down where in the winter they chop a hole in the ice to get water. The ice was piled up around the edges where the hole was. There he slipped. There he fell into the ice hole. Many were camping there. At an ice hole some distance away, there he came out. When some of them went out for water, they saw him there. They cried out, "To whom does he belong?" He said, "My brother is Big Sand." They took him across there.

So that man did not speak or socialize. From then on he did it, he fasted. Originally, he used to eat at noon. All day long he did it until night would come. He slept, spending the night fasting overnight. He would keep on doing it. All the time that he kept doing it, Big Sand was with him.1

Version 2

Tōšą́nąksépka (Black Otter), my ancestor, paternal great-grandfather, originally was from the Thunderbirds, and he came to live among the people, and he told this story himself.

When he came to live among the people he was conceived by a woman who had passed her climacteric. Therefore his was a premature birth. Therefore he was very small, and his skull was not hard. And the mother died immediately after his birth.

One of his brothers, Pų́zakexètega (Big Sand) they called him, brought him up. His brother's wife was barren, and this woman brought him up. And because he was an orphan, in brin[g]ing him up they never had him fast.  And he lived with them all during the time until he was grown.  One time when he was able to walk and run and understand and talk, Big Sand had visitors, and they had the little boy go after water. It was winter, and he fell through the hole in the ice where they dipped out the water. When he fell through the ice, he stayed there under water until he came out through another hole, downstream.  As he was floating downstream under the ice, he was thinking that he was walking through a long-lodge. There was another Indian boy who came down to the river to get water, and as the boy came out through the hole, he asked who he was, what people he belonged to. He told him that he was brother to Big Sand.  So they took him back.  It was quite a long distance below where he fell in, When they brought him back, they saw that he was all wet; he had been under water for some time.  His brother never said a word when they brought him back.  From then on, they never let the little boy go after water or do any kind of work.

Then, one morning when they woke up, they saw that he was fasting; his face was blackened with charcoal.  From then on he always fasted.  At the first he just fasted until noon, and later he fasted all day long.  Then as he got accustomed, he fasted for three, four, five days at a time.  This went along until during the summer he used to fast for a month at a time.  Then, about harvest time, he stopped fasting.  It was believed by the people that no one should fast after harvest time, so they had to stop then.2

Commentary to Version 1. "Big Sand (P’ų́zakexétegà)" — a variant of the name "Big Sand (Bar)," Puzákexátega, is a Waterspirit Clan name. See the next entry.

Black Otter — Frank Weinhold, who lives in the Louis' Bluff area, has been able to contribute some valuable information on this story: "By chance, I have some information that pertains to the "Ice Hole" entry and other listed individuals. The boy's name is Black Otter (rendered Tošą́nąksepga, while his older brother and guardian Big Sand is rendered Pozákax'etiga). The incident probably occurred about 1770."3 A name like "Black Otter" is almost certainly a Waterspirit Clan name. Vide the Waterspirit Clan names "White Otter" and "Little Otter." This would help explain the extraordinary powers exhibited by Black Otter with respect to the water.

"go get some" — it is rather unusual for a woman to order about a man, especially in this context, since fetching water is a woman's job. We are not told to whom the order was issued, although the person who emerges from the distant ice hole is said to be Big Sand's brother, rather than Big Sand himself. From this we may deduce that it is the brother who went to fetch water. If he began fasting thereafter, he may have been a child of about the age of puberty at the time. This is consistent with his being ordered to do something by a woman.

"Big Sand was with him" — Big Sand is the adult, older brother. It is unusual that he should fast along with his younger brother. We might suppose that his brother's survival is a sign of the favor of the spirits, and the older brother hopes to gain the full power of this favor by taking the opportunity to petition the spirits for a blessing at that time. This is the time that men go on the warpath, an activity that also requires fasting and the aid of the spirits. Perhaps the salvation of his little brother was a sign to Big Sand that a warpath was propitious.

Commentary to Version 2. See the Commentary to "Black Otter's Warpath," here.

Links: Waterspirits.

Stories: about the Waterspirit Clan: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth.

Themes: someone falls through a hole in the ice into the water below: A Mink Tricks Trickster, Black Otter's Warpath.


1 Thomas A. Sebeok, "Two Winnebago Texts," International Journal of American Linguistics, 13 (1947):167-170; Text I — Vision Quest, 168-169.

2 Forrest and Monty Green, "Origin of Black Otter's War-Bundle" (December 14, 2001). Presented to the Hocak Encyclopedia by Frank Weinhold, June 6, 2020.

3 Frank Weinhold, personal communication (email), January 1, 2002.