by Richard Dieterle

Leeches are slug-like, blood sucking animals that usually inhabit bodies of water. They attach themselves with their mouths to animals and humans who cross their path, and are notoriously difficult to shake off. When Redhorn was called by a princess, he changed himself into an old man and headed towards her voice. She had seated herself on the opposite side of a very narrow iron bridge. Redhorn then summoned the leeches of the river and selected two of them to attach to the soles of his feet. As he crossed the bridge, the princess, thinking that he was someone else, shook the structure and turned it upside down; but because leeches cannot be shaken off, Redhorn did not fall into the water.1

Leeches of supernatural proportions are found in the stories about the Twins. The father of the Twins (the sun) told them not to visit a lake in the south, but being of a contrary nature, that is just what they did. They went swimming and soon found themselves covered in leeches. Matters got worse as time went on: the leeches kept growing (as leeches do when they suck blood), until some of them were as big as the boys themselves. The leeches actually killed one or more of the boys, but they revived each other and kept on fighting. Soon they had killed the giant leeches and began to feast on their meat. They referred to the leeches as "(soft-shelled) turtles," not knowing — or pretending not to know — what they really were. The father of the Twins was offered a kettle full of this "turtle" meat, but knew what it was, and demanded that the meat be dumped and the kettle scoured out.2 In another version of the same story, the leeches are called cųsára, "blood suckers."3 The Twins in yet another variant claimed that the giant leeches were just strips of jerky.4

Links: Sun, Redhorn, The Twins, Gottschall.

Stories: in which leeches occur: The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, The Two Boys, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Two Brothers (blood-suckers); mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, 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 Hocągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara; mentioning the Twins: The Twins Cycle, The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket.

Themes: crossing a body of water on the back of an animal: Ocean Duck (Waterspirit), Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads (crabs), The Seduction of Redhorn's Sons (leeches), The Hocąk Migration Myth (turtle), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (beaver), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (horse), cf. The Shaggy Man.


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 134-136.

2 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 58-74, 87-90.

3 Alexander Longtail, "The Two Brothers, Waloga and Little Ghost," text with interlinear translation by James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2 (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, October and November, 1893) Story V: 1-9, 16-19.

4 Jasper Blowsnake, "Waretcawera," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman Numbers 3850, 3896, 3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 67: 2-41 [13-28].