Kunu's Warpath (§2 of the Redhorn Cycle)

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Very early in the morning a runner came to the lodge where Redhorn and his eldest brother Kunu lived, and shouted, "Hoho! Redhorn, you and Kunu are invited to go on the warpath." They replied, "All right!" Redhorn took a dish that would be used in the feast they always had before starting out on the warpath. He stood with his legs wide apart, then he said, "Dish, enlarge yourself," and dropped it between his feet. Suddenly, the dish became larger. Redhorn did this four times, and finally the dish was as big as the distance between his feet. When Kunu tried this, he ended up breaking his dish. Kunu and Redhorn started out for the feast with the two youngest brothers tagging along uninvited. When they arrived many other guests were already there. Redhorn, Turtle, and Otter were given the choice parts of the meat. Then it was time for the Fast Eating Contest which was to show whether any of the enemy that the spirits promised to the warparty would succeed in escaping. Redhorn ate his food the fastest, followed by Wolf, Otter, and Turtle last of all. Turtle, as always, tried to justify himself: "I knew you would be reckless, so I took my time and made sure that I ate every piece. Because of you, now one of the enemy will escape." The host arose and said, "In four days I intend either to go on the warpath or take a hunting trip."

Four days later they started out, but camped just outside the village. Then the warleader called upon Redhorn, Wolf, Otter, and Turtle to start out hunting, each from a different side of the village, but Turtle, not being much of a hunter, sent a small turtle in his place. Then, unexpectedly, those in the camp heard someone say, "Over there ... there! Go there and I will give you a smoke." The warleader gave orders to go out and shoot whatever seemed to be talking. They came back with a bear. This happened twice again. When they had shot the first three bears, Turtle had been absent. The fourth time they heard a shout, and when they went out to investigate, they found Turtle alone. They said, "What is it Turtle?" "Over there is a cave with someone in it." So they all ran over to the cave, and sure enough, they killed the biggest bear of all. The next two nights the same things happened again.

The fourth night the warleader asked for scalps. He knew from his vision that the victims would be two newlywed couples who were so fond of each other that they left their village to be alone. He sent forth Storms as He Walks and Redhorn as scouts to find out where they were. Storms as He Walks was the nephew of the warleader, and both had come from the Thunderbird spirit village. Storms as He Walks said to Redhorn, "If you were a Thunderbird like me, we could travel there in the clouds," but Redhorn replied, "We can do that anyway, my friend, even though I am not a Thunderbird." So they went in the clouds, and where the victims were walking, it began to drizzle. The victims said, "Let's camp, it's starting to rain." The two scouts returned to their own camp and told the warleader that they found the enemy camp and that they were not expecting an attack. The warleader announced, "At dawn we will get ready for the attack." Then he warned everyone to keep their eyes on Turtle, "For he is very tricky." When they set out for the objective, Turtle said, "I need to turn aside here." After that no one saw him again, so the warleader said, "We had better rush them now," so they attacked. Storms as He Walks gave the first victory cry, shouting, "Sons of War!" Redhorn killed the second, Wolf the third, and Otter the fourth enemy. All the rest of the warparty was allowed to give themselves a lesser war honor by touching each of the slain. Then Turtle suddenly appeared and complained, "I wish these cowards had defended themselves so that I could have arrived in time!" As they returned home, a runner was sent ahead, and he shouted, "Storms as He Walks has been killed! Redhorn has been killed! Wolf has been killed! Otter has been killed!" At this the old men became despondent, and said, "Those whom we most relied on are no more." No sooner was this said than all four men with their warparty appeared and ran in a circle around the village. Then they came to the place of the Victory Dance, and they danced there for four days. After the dance, a woman followed them home. She was interested in Redhorn, but Redhorn said he was too young to marry. Finally, after all the other brothers said the same thing, the second oldest married her.

The same man called for another warpath, and everything went just as it had for the first warparty. Once again Turtle failed to win a war honor. Then for a third time the warparty went out and everything happened as before, only now they took eight captives. During the Victory Dance many girls teased Redhorn, but he never paid any attention to them.1

Commentary: "a dish that would be used in the feast" — in other words, this is the dish that Redhorn will use in the Fast Eating Contest (Waruč-sak). The food itself represents the enemy that have been given to the victor by the spirits who rule over war, which is to say, the number that they would be destined to kill, all things being equal (which they often are not). This likens the enemy to food, which is to say, game animals. This is the same theory that underlies the practice of cannibalism. Unlike the cannibalism practiced elsewhere in the world, where the victim is consumed to acquire the virtues associated with his body parts, as courage with the heart, swiftness with the legs, etc., that practiced by the tribes of the upper Midwest did not send the now "politically correct" message, "we admire you," but the opposite: "we consider you to be nothing more than game animals (timid deer)." For another example of this attitude, see The Fox-Hočąk War.

"enlarge" — a very large dish would suggest that the amount of food placed on it would be greater than that of other competitors. Since the food represents the enemy given over to him by the spirits, a very large dish implies that the spirit will give over to him a very large number of men, or perhaps men of very high status.

"his feet" — there is more than one metaphor for killing the enemy. The one appropriate to the Fast Eating Contest is swallowing them, which has overtones of cannibalism. The other metaphor of conquest is trampling down under foot. We see this in "How the Hills and Valleys were Formed," where the Thunders are said to have created the hills and valleys by trampling down the earth with their feet. The hills and valleys are status differentials, and reflect the fact that the Thunder Clan is the chief clan. The metaphor of feet here draws the association of victory with trampling underfoot.

"the distance between his feet" — there actually exists a phrase used in an historical myth that expresses the idea of reaching the end of the warpath: "whenever I reach the end of the dish" (s'ahújaip'àregi wasgéra). Radin actually translates this phrase as, "at the end of the path, I see my enemy." The word wasgera, of course, is the standard word for "dish." When Chief Čap’ósgaga organized a warparty against the Fox, he first performed this feast,

Then they put on the kettles there. When it was cooked, they went as feast messengers and very many arrived coming to feast. And when the feasters had finished, he said, "I am going on the warpath. Whenever I reach the end of the dish, right away I jump up and start after them to do it to them. And our Grandfathers, the War Controllers (Wonáǧire Rukónona), obtained them for me. I shall have the pleasure of doing it to ten men. I am going after ten chiefs." Near the door he indicated what would be the stopping place. He put the Warbundle across the entrance and jumped over it. And to do it to them he carried the Warbundle himself.2

([Here-]gigire, "to do it," is a euphemism for killing.) Here we see the warpath itself likened to the dish, and his walking to its end is the same as reaching the end of the dish. So Redhorn's dish being expanded to his pace length indicates that it's contents are those to be gotten at the end of the warpath. So his warpath will encompass the taking of all the enemy held in his dish. The jumping over the Warbundle may be understood on a similar model. Radin says, "It was always customary for the leader to do this."3 The stepping is the progress of the warpath, so stepping over the Warbundle would seem to mean that the Warbundle's power will be identical with the warleader's power on it; in other words, that the Warbundle will be efficacious on the warpath about to be undertaken. So when Redhorn makes his dish exactly the length of his pace, he symbolizes the fact that his warpath will encompass all that the dish contains, which is to say, it will result in the taking of all the many enemies allotted to him.

"the choice parts of the meat" — the best cuts are always given to the most prominent warriors at any feast. This is the equivalent to the Irish "Champion's Portion."

"fastest" — one would think, with Turtle, that thoroughness might be more important. However, in ambush warfare it is the speed of the attack, the old form of blitzkrieg, that determined the efficiency of the raid. In a sudden and swift attack, the enemy is caught unaware and unprepared, usually without his weapons. This allows him to be easily shot down or clubbed. If the attack is not carried off in this fashion, the added time will allow the enemy to get their weapons, and the result will be a more even match. Any casualties taken on the warpath were considered to have resulted from the incompetence of the warleader, who is expected to have thoroughly researched the raid, and to have done all the necessary things to gain the support of the spirits in pulling it off. So it was absolutely essential to conduct a swift and lethal attack. It should be noted that any escaping enemies from such a raid would go to the main village and gather a pursuit party, thus putting the whole enterprise at grave risk and even posing a danger to the home village whence the warparty departed. Thus, the speed of eating, inasmuch as it symbolizes the quickness of the attack, is the key to total victory.

"to go on the warpath or take a hunting trip" — another affirmation of the equivalence of killing the enemy with the killing of game animals.

"go there and I will give you a smoke" — the little turtle is seducing the bear to expose himself by offering him tobacco, which the spirits themselves cannot resist.

"scalps" — it's a pity that we do not have the original Hočąk text. Radin often translated the word for heads (nasura) as "scalps," but in all texts otherwise the practice engaged in is head hunting and not scalping.

"his vision" — the warleader is expected to go out in the wilderness and "cry to the spirits" for a blessing. The theory is that the suppliant makes himself pitiable by blackening his face as if in mourning and crying as if in distress. This will induce pity in the spirits who will bless him with powers to compensate him for his inherent human weakness and the tragedy of mortality. Here, of course, the suppliant is appealing especially to those spirits who can dispense war powers and who can give him a vision in which he clearly sees his warpath and even how many of the enemy he will be destined to claim. In reality, good warleaders disappear into the wilderness not just to cry to the spirits, but to undertake a thorough scouting expedition where they find out all of these details in the most empirical fashion. The spirits help those who help themselves first.

"two" — two couples makes four individuals in total. The number four is the number of totality and completeness (see below). The myth is therefore saying that they raided a group of the right size, a complete group, rather than some number that can be taken as precise and literal.

"newlywed couples" — at first it seems like gratuitous brutality to attack newlyweds camped outside the main village during their "honeymoon," but the thought here is that no one on earth would resist with more fanaticism in defence of their loved ones. Thus, they would be the most formidable foes, not the weakest and most vulnerable.

"I am not a Thunderbird" — this is one of the most important statements made in the Redhorn Cycle, since it makes it crystal clear that Redhorn is not a Thunderbird. Oliver LaMère says that he is, but the evidence is overwhelmingly against it (see Gottschall Debate and Discussion). Most archaeologists writing on the subject of Redhorn and his possible SECC predecessors, seem to be convinced that he is a Thunderbird. He is able to travel in the sky because he is a star, probably Alnilam in the center of the Belt of Orion (see Įčorúšika and His Brothers).

"Sons of War" — this looks as if it were the old warcry of the Hočąk nation. In Hočąk this would be, Wonąǧire Hinįkra!

"a lesser war honor" — normally, touching a dead enemy takes precedence over killing him. This is because most killing is done at a distance with arrows, so that it is more dangerous to actually touch a dead enemy whose body his comrades are trying to recover. This is much the same as what we see in the Iliad. However, in this case, the killing was apparently done with clubs, so that killing and touching were one and the same. See "war honors" in the Glossary for more details.

"the second oldest married her" — it is interesting that this implies that the brothers were asked in reverse order of seniority. Kunu had already married, so he was not asked.

"eight captives" — this number represents twice four (see above). Four is the number of wholeness and more fundamentally, the number of the quarters of space. Eight is also the conventional number of Great Spirits (Waxopini Xetera), although only Redhorn makes this list out of those participating in the warpath. It is possible to contrive a list of the Hočąk clans that numbers eight:

Bird Clan
Buffalo Clan
Waterspirit Clan
Bear Clan
Wolf Clan
Elk-Deer Clan
Fish Clan
Snake Clan

So this amounts to one captive for each of the clans thus counted.

"teased" — this is blatant courting behavior which might conventionally be considered shameless.

"he never paid any attention to them" — not marrying and sexual disinterest are considered signs of holiness. However, in this case it might indicate more his extreme youth. Being a prodigy is itself, of course, a sign of holiness as well.

Links: Redhorn, The Redhorn Cycle, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle, Storms as He Walks, Otters, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Thunderbirds.

Links within the Redhorn Cycle: §1. The Race for the Chief's Daughter, §3. Redhorn and His Brothers Marry.

Stories: mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn's Father, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Morning Star and His Friend, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Heroka, Redman; featuring Turtle as a character: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle's Warparty, Turtle and the Giant, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Redhorn's Father, Redhorn's Sons, Turtle and the Witches, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Morning Star and His Friend, Grandfather's Two Families, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, The Skunk Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Creation of Man, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee, The Chief of the Heroka, The Spirit of Gambling, The Nannyberry Picker, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Markings on the Moon (v. 2), The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; 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, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), 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 Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’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, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; featuring Otter as a character: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, The Origins of the Milky Way, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Morning Star and His Friend; mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Fleetfooted Man, The Dipper, The Two Children, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, The Origins of the Milky Way, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Kunu's Warpath, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Woman who Loved Her Half Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Story of the Medicine Rite; with Storms as He Walks as a character: Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, Redhorn Contest the Giants, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty; having Wolf as a character: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, Redhorn's Sons, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Morning Star and His Friend, The Healing Blessing, The Origins of the Milky Way; mentioning feasts: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (Chief Feast), The Creation Council (Eagle Feast), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (Eagle Feast), Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth (Waterspirit Feast), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (Mąką́wohą, Waną́čĕrehí), Bear Clan Origin Myth (Bear Feast), The Woman Who Fought the Bear (Bear Feast), Grandfather's Two Families (Bear Feast), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (Wolf Feast), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Feast), Buffalo Dance Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Feast), The Blessing of Šokeboka (Feast to the Buffalo Tail), Snake Clan Origins (Snake Feast), Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief (Snake Feast), Rattlesnake Ledge (Snake Feast), The Thunderbird (for the granting of a war weapon), Turtle's Warparty (War Weapons Feast, Warpath Feast), Porcupine and His Brothers (War Weapons Feast), Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega) (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), White Thunder's Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Fox-Hočąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Trickster's Warpath (Warpath Feast), The Masaxe War (Warpath Feast), Redhorn's Sons (Warpath Feast, Fast-Breaking Feast), The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits (Fast-Breaking Feast), The Chief of the Heroka (Sick Offering Feast), The Dipper (Sick Offering Feast, Warclub Feast), The Four Slumbers Origin Myth (Four Slumbers Feast), The Journey to Spiritland (Four Slumbers Feast), The First Snakes (Snake Feast), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (unspecified), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (unnamed); mentioning caves: Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Blue Mounds Cave, Silver Mound Cave, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Woman Who Married a Snake, Little Human Head, The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf Mounds, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, A Giant Visits His Daughter, Soft Shelled Turtle Weds, The Story of the Medicine Rite.

Themes: an inanimate object expands upon command: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Elk's Skull, A Mink Tricks Trickster; a spirit makes his dish grow larger: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; a sacrificial meal ("Fast Eating Contest") whose object is to insure that none of the enemy will escape alive: Turtle's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons; a hero wins a girl but decides to let one of his brothers marry her: The Raccoon Coat, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, The Seduction of Redhorn's Sons; walking like the Thunders: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; Storms as He Walks leads scouts by walking in the air: The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty; a warleader asks his followers for scalps and appoints two men for a special mission: The Moiety Origin Myth, cf. The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty; newlyweds are attacked by enemies: Kunu's Warpath.


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 118-121.

2 Jasper Blowsnake and Paul Radin, "A Semi-Historical Account of the War of the Winnebago and the Foxes," Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1914) 62:192-207. Told by Jasper Blowsnake in June, 1908. This is reprinted in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 11-17. An untranslated and untransliterated syllabic text is found in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago V, #17: 1-34.

3 Blowsnake and Radin, Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 196 nt. 9.