The Quail Hunter

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

There were ten brothers who lived alone in a long lodge. All of them were good hunters, but each specialized in a particular animal. The eldest, Kunu, would always return home first packing a buffalo. The second youngest returned next with a moose. The third would follow bringing a bear, and the fourth brother with a black tailed deer in tow would be the fourth one home. So each of the brothers would pack home a different animal and arrive in the order of his birth. The tenth brother would always arrive last, and he never had anything but a quail in hand. When they set out for the hunt, they would go some ways down a common trail, then they would split up and scatter in every direction. They would invariably return down this same trail.

One day Kunu came down the hunting trail and saw a woman standing by his lodge. He greeted her, saying, "Hąho sister! I see that you have come." He boiled the tongue from the buffalo he was packing and offered her some. "Don't eat all of it," he cautioned, "since I always save some for my brothers." Consequently, she only took a couple of bites and set the rest aside. When the second brother arrived with his moose, Kunu told him that his sister had arrived. So he too cut the tongue from his moose and boiled her up some to eat. Each of the brothers did the same except for the last, who refused to greet her or give her anything from his quail. This went on for some time until the second youngest brother finally asked him why he was acting like that. "Kunu has told us almost everything he knows," said the youngest, "but when has he ever mentioned that we have a sister? I don't think she is our sister at all." Thus he spoke to each brother, but they still held firmly that she must be their sister. Nevertheless, in time the doubt felt by the youngest spread even to Kunu.

One day as they were on their hunting path, they sat down together for a smoke. They began to wonder what the woman was up to if she was not their sister, so they agreed that they should send a spy back to check on her. They chose the youngest brother who then turned himself into a small bird and alighted on a tree near their lodge. The sister was outside talking to herself: "It will be easy to ambush them along their hunting trail, that way I can kill them one at a time. But I wonder about the youngest brother — he might prove difficult." When he overheard these musings, he flew rapidly back to his brothers and told them of her murder plot. They decided to split up and rendezvous later where she was not likely to find them. When they did not show up as expected along their hunting trail, the woman raised her skirt to her knees and ran up the trail looking for them. She carried an elkhorn warclub. When she reached the end of the trail, she saw that they all headed out in different directions, so she picked one trail and tracked that. When the brothers arrived at their rendezvous point, she was not far behind. They decided at Kunu's suggestion to disguise themselves as buffalo. They joined a herd of buffalo and traveled with them to throw her off, but she just chased after the whole herd. After changing back into humans, they followed the second brother's suggestion that they transform themselves into moose and escape that way. Even this did not shake their pursuer. They changed nine times, each time into one of the animals that one of the brothers specialized in hunting. None of these attempts to escape worked, however.

Finally, they asked the youngest brother, "What can you do?" He answered by singing the quail's song:

Bobwhite, bobwhite!

No sooner had the sound escaped his mouth than all the brothers were suddenly transformed into quails. Even so, she continued to chase after them relentlessly until they were forced to take to the air. The heaviest brother, Kunu, was almost caught as he had to run longer to get off the ground. They all flew to a tree that jutted out from a promontory. She was even able to reach them there, and struck the tree with her club so hard that the brothers were almost knocked off their perch. The brothers frantically appealed to the youngest to do something, so he sang again,

Bobwhite, bobwhite;
Bob-bobwhite, bob-bobwhite!

Then, unexpectedly, a dark cloud suddenly formed in the west and rapidly spread over the sky. Soon the winds blew violently around them and rain began to fall in torrents. Then as quick as the blink of an eye, a bolt of lightning crashed down from the sky and ripped fatally through the woman's body. Thus, the Thunders had come to their rescue, and the brothers were able to climb down from the tree. Kunu spoke to them all, and said, "We came to earth in human form to enjoy the food that they eat, but now let us put aside meat and eat only vegetation." So each changed into the animal that he had formerly hunted. The youngest therefore became a quail. It is said that quails run far before flying because Kunu took so long to get airborne when he was a quail. And because of the youngest brother's call to the Thunderbirds for help, whenever a quail sings "bobwhite" we know that it will soon rain.1

Commentary. "tongue" — the tongue was considered a delicacy and the choicest part of an animal. On the supposition that the sister is a Waterspirit (supported in the commentary following below), the tongue is of further interest because it is seated in the orifice that contains saliva, which the Hocągara call "mouth water" (i-nį́). So the mouth becomes an image of the cave in which the Waterspirit dwells, complete with its water. The tongue itself then becomes a counterpart to the Waterspirit inside its cave.

Quail (Partridge)
Colinus virginianus

"refused to greet her or give her anything from his quail" — presumably, only the youngest comes home with a bird, the rest have more substantial game, which is to say, mammals. The Lower Moiety of the Hocąk nation is made up of those clans descended from animals of the earth and waters, including the Waterspirits, whose clan by some accounts, is the leader of the Lower Moiety. So the last and youngest brother is associated with the Bird Clans, or Upper Moiety. They are the opposites of the Lower Moiety and the Waterspirit Clan in particular. In the spirit world, the opposition between the Waterspirits and the greatest of the birds, the Thunders, is one of eternal conflict. The tongue of the quail makes the whistle of the wind, and the "mouth water" of its Thunderbird kin is the rain. To the other brothers, the Waterspirit is in some sense a sister, but not to the youngest avian brother.

"elkhorn warclub" — the woman is almost certainly a Waterspirit, the opponent of the Thunders who eventually kill her. The elkhorn represents the cladistic nature of water tributaries that branch out like a cervid antler. They are the counterpart of the branching of lightning, the latter being the weapon of the Thunders. Waterspirits are said to have horns including elkhorns, giving rise to a variety known as an "Elk Waterspirit."

"she was not far behind" — Waterspirits are believed to have countless "roads" in their subterranean world on which they travel everywhere. This is an expression of the idea that the underworld is honeycombed with caves which act as channels for water. Water travels everywhere in the underworld and spills out at places as springs. The word mąnį, "earth water," also is a homonym meaning, "to walk." So noted are the Waterspirits for their travels around the world, one of the most famous of them is called "Traveler." So the brothers could hardly expect to escape a Waterspirit.

"buffalo" — buffalo are also famous for traveling over vast distances, so much so that the earth itself is said to be a buffalo. The stars are also said to be buffalo, since they travel across the great plains of the sky. However, when they set, they enter into the subterranean abode of the Waterspirits until the whole herd emerges on the opposite horizon when the stars with which they are identified rise again.

"moose" — the moose, whom the Hocągara call the "black deer" (ca-sep), in the mythology of the Deer Clan, is said to have traveled the whole world and to have arrived, in the end, right back at the center of it. So the moose is also a great traveler. That it ended up in the center is symbolic of a claim to sovereignty, made explicitly by the Deer Clan when they claim "partial sovereignty" for having blown on the first fire (a symbol of sovereignty as well) causing it to light up. (The breath is the wind of the deer, and the winds emanate from the four quarters, and in the deer from its lungs, which are the Centre, and he who has charge of the four quarters and the Centre, has charge of all.) However, it is the Waterspirit Clan that lays claim to sovereignty, not over the tribe as a whole, but over the Lower Moiety of which the Deer Clan is a member. So the moose cannot escape the power of the Waterspirit either.

"struck the tree with her club" — the idea is that the impact caused the tree to shake. This seems to represent an earthquake, which it is reasonable to think is force at the disposal of the underground Waterspirit whose weapon is symbolic of the force of water. There are Old World parallels to the idea that a god of subterranean waters can also be responsible for earthquakes (see below), the supposition, apparently, being the earthquakes are caused by the power of underground springs to shift the earth above them. The image of the tree quivering from being struck by the symbol of water, the elkhorn, is captured by another homonym: cax means "saliva, foam, marsh," but also means "to quiver."

"blink of an eye" — the Thunders shoot lightning by blinking their eyes.

"ripped fatally through the woman's body" — the Thunders generally attack Waterspirits, which makes it rather more probable that the sister here represents one of that spirit tribe.

"a quail sings" — it's a pity that we don't have a Hocąk text for this story, as one might suppose that the bird is not the quail, but the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), a kind of grouse. Range maps show that they once lived within the Hocąk lands, where tall grass prairies were found. In Hocąk these birds are called k'o. This very same word also means "thunder," creating the most intimate connection between these birds and thunder. It is no coincidence that they are associated in name with thunder: "During breeding season, the birds gather at a dancing ground called a lek, where males inflate yellow sacs near their throats, raise feathers on their heads like pointed ears, and send booming calls across the prairie."2

Comparative Material. Among the Greeks, the god of waters also had the power to cause earthquakes, which gave rise to Poseidon's byname "Earthshaker."

Links: Partridge (Quail) I, Thunderbirds, Lightning. See Glossay, sv. Quail.

Stories: featuring partridges (quails) as characters: The Big Stone, Black and White Moons, The Spirit of Gambling, Partridge's Older Brother; 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, 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; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Story of the Medicine Rite (loons, cranes, turkeys), The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), The War of Indian Tribes against White Soldiers (little white bird) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there.

Themes: a large group of brothers (usually ten) live alone together: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Bladder and His Brothers, Wojijé, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Spotted Grizzly Man; each member of a group of brothers specializes in the hunting of just one kind of game animal: Grandfather's Two Families, The Brown Squirrel; a group of brothers return from the hunt in the order of their birth: Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, The Old Man and His Four Dogs; an evil spirit unexpectedly appears to humans and is believed by them to be one of their own relatives: The Big Stone; a woman abuses someone with whom she is living: Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, Snowshoe Strings, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Bluehorn's Nephews, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Were-Grizzly; a group of brothers goes down a common hunting trail and split up when they reach the end: Waruǧábᵉra; an evil woman goes on the rampage with an elkhorn club: The Green Man; people turn into birds: Waruǧábᵉra (owl, Thunderbird), Worúxega (eagle), The Thunderbird (black hawk, hummingbird), The Dipper (black hawk, hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Hocąk Arrival Myth (ravens), The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (turkey), The Markings on the Moon (auk, curlew), The Fox-Hocąk War (goose), The Fleetfooted Man (water fowl?), The Boy Who Became a Robin (robin); a small bird's call causes the Thunderbirds to come forth thundering: Turtle's Warparty.

Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hocąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mącosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).


1 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 65-74. Informant: Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan).

2 From a Sierra Club website: