Redhorn and His Brothers Marry (§3 of the Redhorn Cycle)

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

An orphan who always wore a white beaverskin wrap lived with her grandmother at the edge of the village. One day her grandmother made the rather shameless suggestion that the girl court Redhorn. Despite the girl's adamant refusal, the grandmother insisted. So she relented and went off to find Redhorn, who was surrounded by other girls. She teased him, and unexpectedly, he smiled at her. The other girls were jealous, and pushed and shoved her and told her, "You don't know anything." Redhorn and his friends went out on the warpath for the fourth time, and camped just outside the village. This is the time that wives and sisters bring the men their moccasins. The girl in the white beaverskin wrap brought Redhorn a pair, and to the surprise of everyone, he accepted them. This made the other women jealous, so they pushed and shoved her and said she didn't know how to do anything. When the warparty returned, even Turtle had won a war honor, but as was their habit when they approached home, they had the herald shout, "Storms as He Walks has been killed! Redhorn has been killed!" When the girl's grandmother heard this, she began to cut the hair of the orphan, just as if she were Redhorn's wife. Just moments later he came into view and it became plain to see that he was all right. "Oh no," Grandmother lamented, "I have wrecked my granddaughter's hair." The victors danced for four days, during which time many of the young men approached Redhorn to recommend their sisters to him, but he took no interest, and asked instead, "Where does the girl in the white beaverskin wrap live?" Some of them replied, "What would you want with her? She lives outside the village by the dump." Some of the men didn't think it was right to lie to him, so they told him where she really lived. At night Redhorn showed up at the girl's lodge and laid down next to her. Her grandmother said, "I'm afraid this orphan girl will not keep him very warm," whereupon she threw a blanket over them. Thus Redhorn was married.

The war chief went on the warpath four more times, and after they completed the proper ceremonies, he said to his nephew, "We must now return to where we came from." He meant the Thunderbird spirit village. But Storms as He Walks stayed behind and kept his Thunderbird Warbundle with him. All the great heroes were made chiefs, and Kunu was made head chief.

One day a man came to the lodge. He pointed the stem of his pipe at Redhorn to see if he would give his assistance. The enemy had shot a man with an arrow that no one could extract. Redhorn signaled his willingness to doctor the man by taking a puff from the pipe. Others had tried before him. Hawk had breathed upon the arrow, then had given it a pull and had gotten it half way out. The man, however, had yelled, "Ow!" Now Wolf tried his hand, but could hardly move it. Then Turtle took a crack at it. He grabbed hold of it and gave the arrow such a tug that the man bellowed, "Aargh!" Turtle had actually forced the arrow back in somewhat. Then Redhorn took hold of the arrow and shook it as he pulled, and out it came. After extracting the arrow, he spit on his hands and rubbed the wound, and this healed it completely. The man was so grateful he gave Redhorn one of his sisters, and Redhorn in turn gave her to one of his brothers to marry. After four more feats of doctoring, Redhorn had received enough women to marry off all his brothers. This is how Redhorn and his brothers found wives.1

Commentary: "the edge of the village" — this is where single grandmothers and orphans are always said to live. It is a reflection of low status (the chief lives in the center of the village). It is the most undesirable part of a village since it is most susceptible to enemy attack. In the astronomical code, the full moon is as distant from the sun in its opposition as it can get. The sun corresponds to the fire which represents the center (as it is in the center of every lodge).

"shameless suggestion" — this is a reversal of the usual practice. The risk is that it can be received as offensive.

"she teased him" — teasing is an activity tightly circumscribed by custom. The right to tease defines the "joking relationship." Hįražič means "to practice the joking relation," and žič itself means, "to tease, show disrespect, court."2 This gives some idea of what is involved in this kind of "joking." The joking relation obtained for one's father's sister's children, mother's brother's children, mother's brothers, sisters-in-law, and brothers-in-law.3 Such teasing by an outsider is liable to be rebuffed by a remark like, "What kind of joking relation are you to me?" That she teased Redhorn is once again a reversal of the normal courting tradition. The response from the other young women is not only jealousy, but resentment that she has acted successfully without knowing the proper way to proceed.

"wives and sisters bring the men their moccasins" — this is a custom observed among the Hočągara. For an unmarried woman to bring moccasins to a bachelor is to present herself as the equivalent of a wife. If he accepts them from her, it is almost tantamount to consenting to marriage. Having a spare set of new moccasins is a practical matter, since the returning warparty will run all the way back. However, it may also have symbolic value, as it says here,

When the earth was young it had neither hill nor valley, but was without any contour. Then the Thunders strode forth upon the land, and where they stepped the valleys formed, and where they struck the land with the Thunderbird Warclub, great indentations were pressed upon it.4

The feet of the Thunders create depressions and valleys, which is a way of representing hierarchy. So the presentation of a new set of moccasins may also represent the power to trample down the enemy and be victorious over them.

"the girl in the white beaverskin wrap" — Redhorn is identical to Wears Faces on His Ears (Įčorúšika). He is a fixed star, which can be shown to be Alnilam, the central star in the belt of Orion. In the story "Įčohorucika and His Brothers", each acquires a wife over a period of days, with Įčorúšika obtaining the last and fairest (hinųkšįra, "the fat woman"). These are moons that pass near the constellation of Orion in the west as the moon waxes to fullness. So Įčorúšika's wife is the full moon. This comports well with the color of the beaverskin wrap. Beavers are associated with both wood and water. When the moon sets, it falls either into the trees or into a body of water, both realms of the beaver. Elsewhere (1, 2, 3) the crescent moon is often pictured as a woman carrying wood on her back (the wood being the darkened part of the moon that creates the crescent).

"she began to cut the hair" — hair is cut as part of the ritual of mourning. Hair is considered the stuff of the spirit, so the loss of the husband's spirit is represented by a loss of her own spirit- or life-substance. In the case of the moon, this substance ought to be her light. This is confirmed to some extent by the terminology of the Medicine Rite where the word hąp, which means "light", is used as a metaphor meaning "life", so that Radin usually has it translated as "Light-and-Life." This loss of light, which is the waning of the moon down to its crescent stage, is in response to the presumed death of Redhorn. In other stories, Redhorn is actually killed. In one he is beheaded and his head placed in the central fireplace, which is symbolic of Redhorn-as-Alnilam being in "conjunction" with the sun. This occurs in July. At this time of the year, the only moon close to the "dead" Redhorn is the crescent moon. At the opposite time of the year (December) Redhorn is in opposition to the sun, being in the west. There he can only come into contact with the full moon, the girl in the white beaverskin wrap. So the myth says, on the assumption that Redhorn is dead (in [near] conjunction with the sun), it follows that the moon will have cut its hair (light). So when Orion is invisible (due to [near] conjunction), the moon will only have a sliver of its life-substance.

"outside the village by the dump" — the dump is the repository of "dead" inanimate objects. She in fact lives in the west at the time of her union with Redhorn (in Orion), and the west is the land of the setting sun, where the light-and-life of things disappears.

"thus Redhorn was married" — this is all there is to Hočąk marriage. There is no wedding ceremony.

"the war chief" — the warleader (točąwąk) is apparently the chief of the Thunders, Great Black Hawk.

"breathed" — the breath (ni) of a spirit seems to have a special power. A secondary sense of ni means "to be born." This stem gives rise to ni'ąp, the standard word meaning "life." The Hawk is the patron spirit of the Hawk Clan, which is also known as the Warrior Clan. So Hawk has some power over war weapons. For more on Hawk as a physician, see the commentary to "Holy One and His Brother."

"out it came" — Redhorn, who is also identical to Herokaga, the spirit of the bow and arrow, has the greatest power of any spirit over the arrow, which here answers only to his control.

"he spit on his hands and rubbed the wound" — in Hočąk, the word 'į, į, "to be, to become, to live"; and i, "mouth" form an assonance and are nearly homonymous. So the mouth becomes associated with being, becoming, and life itself. It is the source of breath, ni, as well as mouth-water (saliva), also (i-)ni. The naǧirak, the ghost-spirit within a person, is defined as, "shadow, a man's reflection in the water."5 It should follow that a spirit's saliva has special life powers. However, there may be more to it than that — see Comparative Material below.

Comparative Material: Just as Redhorn is able to heal a wound with his spittle, in Christian mythology, Jesus is said to have cured infirmities by use of the same procedure.

And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. (Mark 7:31-35)

And again he cures a blind man in a similar way,

And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. (Mark 8:22-25)

In this second case, the spit of Jesus is only partially efficacious.

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

Links within the Redhorn Cycle: §2. Kunu's Warpath; §4. Redhorn Contests the Giants.

Stories: 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, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; 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, Kunu's Warpath, Redhorn Contests the Giants, 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 Storms as He Walks: Redhorn's Sons, Kunu's Warpath, Redhorn Contest the Giants, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty.

Themes: a woman takes the initiative in courtship: The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Old Man and Wears White Feather, (see also, Redhorn's Father), (see also, Redhorn's Father), a woman expresses grief for her slain husband by altering her hair: Redhorn's Sons, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth; a doctor successfully extracts an arrow from someone's body by shaking it while he pulls it out: Holy One and His Brother; blowing upon a person: The Red Man, The Two Children, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Chief of the Heroka, Aračgéga's Blessings; a man is cured when someone spits on his own hands and rubs them on the wound: The Raccoon Coat, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; a hero wins a girl but decides to let one of his brothers marry her: The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Kunu's Warpath, The Raccoon Coat, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son.


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 122-123.

2 Charles N. Houghton, "The Orphan who Conquered Death," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 70, p. 4, handwritten note by Radin. Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) s.v. jič.

3 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 85.

4 Charles E. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place Legends (Madison: Works Progress Administration, Wisconsin, 1936): 5; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 166.

5 Albert Samuel Gatschet, "Hočank hit’e," in Linguistic and Ethnological Material on the Winnebago, Manuscript 1989-a (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, 1889, 1890-1891) s.v. nąǧidak — "1. dead man’s spirit, 2. soul, 3. shadow, 4. man’s reflection in the water" (q.v.); Marino, s.v. nąǧi ("soul, ghost, spirit"); nąǧirak ("soul, vital principle, the spirit"); Kenneth L. Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon (Kansas City: University of Kansas, June 1984) s.v. nąǧírak ("ghost, shadow"); Hocąk Teaching Materials, edd. Johannes Helmbrecht and Christian Lehmann, 2 vols. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010) 1:151, s.v. nąąǧírak. This is an old Siouan word: cf. Hidatsa, nokidáḣi, "a human shade, a ghost"; dáḣi, "a dim shadow or shade." Washington Matthews, Ethnography and Philology of the Hidatsa Indians. Department of the Interior, United States Geological and Geographical Survey, Miscellaneous Publications, #7 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1877) 143, s.v. dokidáḣi, 225, s.v. "Ghost"; 143, ss.vv. dok, doḣ; 138, s.v. dáḣi, 158, s.v. idáḣi, 234, s.v. "Shade."