The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (§5 of the Redhorn Cycle)

Text of Paul Radin

(129) At this time, Red Horn's first wife was pregnant and, finally, the old woman's granddaughter gave birth to a male child who was the very likeness of his father, Red Horn, having long red hair and having human heads hanging from his ears. Not long after this, the giantess also gave birth to a male child whose hair was likewise just like his father's. Instead of having human heads hanging from his ears, he had them attached to his nipples. As these two had been spared by the giants, very good care was taken of them. The best of food was always brought them to eat. Finally they grew to be quite large boys. The oldest one called the giantess "mother" and the son of the giantess called the woman-with-the-white-beaver-skin-as-a-wrap, "mother."

Every day the older son went out somewhere. The old people took very great care of him and his brother. They were always preparing arrows to bring to them. Thus the children always had plenty of arrows. One day the younger one said, "Where is it that you go every day when you are away from us? You make me very lonesome." Then the older one said, "I go out and fast and utter my cry in order to be blest1 by the thunderbirds." "When you go again, let me know so that I may go along and utter my cry for a similar blessing," said the younger one. "Well, then, have your mother tan two deerskins2 for you and I will tell my mother to tan two for me." The mothers then tanned two deer-skins apiece for each. These they took and went away.

After walking for some time they came to a pleasant, level country in which a large village was situated. Then the older brother said, "These are the people that killed our father." In the middle of the village, in the chief's lodge, the scalps of their fathers were tied to poles and used as flags.3 They were very much faded and Red Horn's hair had turned white. Then said the older one, "Brother, I hope that you are like me when you cry, for all who hear me must die." So saying, he sang wailing songs4 and the giants in the village began (130) to move about, "He, hark! Somebody is singing something." Even as they spoke they jumped, head first, into the fire.

When he got through, the older brother said, "Now when I sing, all those of the same size as myself who hear me, they also shall die." So saying, he sang wailing songs and all the young people in the village who heard him jumped into the fire head first. Then the old men of the village began to foretell what was likely to happen, saying, "Some of you must remember that Red Horn had two wives. Now, if these two wives gave birth to children, they must certainly be grown up by this time. Perhaps they are the ones who are causing all these things. Let someone therefore watch the scalps." So they put four guards at the foot of the poles and these were told to look upward all the time.

"Come," said older brother, "let us try to take our fathers' scalps away from these people." So they painted two of their arrows red and two black. Then, taking two quivers, each one started for the poles to which their fathers' scalps were attached. Every now and then they stopped and rested their quivers. Finally the brothers turned themselves into light feathers and let themselves float upward. They alit on the scalps, the younger on Turtle's scalp. Then taking the arrows that they had painted, they shot them into the throats of the guards who were looking upwards. The guards had had their bodies painted, two of them being black and two of them red. That is why the boys painted their arrows in the same fashion. When those who had been painted black were shot by the black arrows they coughed up black blood until they died. The other two did the same when they were shot, except that their blood was red.

Then the boys took the scalps and ran. "They have taken the scalps!" shouted the giants and gave chase to them. The boys fought as they ran. Whenever they shot one of their arrows off it would mow down the giants as far as it sped. When the arrows were about spent the boys would reach for one of their quivers and thus, freshly supplied, they fought on. When their arrows were again spent, they would reach for the other quiver. When, finally, all their arrows were gone, they said, "Now is the time to stop running and to fight in the same manner in which the giants fight." So they turned and gave chase to the latter. Loosening their bowstrings and using their bows as clubs, they struck right and left, killing all the giants except a few who succeeded in taking flight. The boys would run down one group of giants and when they had killed these, they returned and chased another. They had fled in all directions. Finally they came upon a little girl who was carrying her little brother on her back. These were the last left. Then said the older brother, "I thought I would destroy all of you but if I did that, whom will the people be able to call giants in the future?5 Because Earthmaker6 has created you, I will spare you, but you can no longer stay on this earth." So saying, he threw them across the seas.

This done, the boys returned to the giants' village. There they built a big fire and threw all the bodies of the dead giants into it. It made a big blaze for the giants were very fat. When they were through they took all the bones7 out and said, "Let us look for a grinder." They searched about the village and (131) found one. Then they put the bones into the grinder and pounded them fine. When they thought they had enough they filled their tanned buckskins with them.

These they took back with them, and returned to the place where they had left the scalps. These they now carried in their hands and continued homeward. The younger one carried Turtle's head and the older one Thunderbird's8 and Red Horn's head. When they got home it was late at night. They went to the center of their village and there the older one said to his brother, "Take your bones, throw some in each lodge and some around the lodges. Try to put bones in every place in your half of the village. I will go over the other half and do the same." After they had gone around for some time, each one in his direction, they met at the place from which they had started. "Did you have enough?" the older one asked and the younger one said, "Yes." "Well, then, let us go to our own lodges."

When they got there the older one took Red Horn's head and handed it to his little brother and said, "Take it to your mother, and tell her to lie in bed with it." So he went to his mother and woke her up. She said, "Oh, my son, you have returned?" "Yes, mother," said he, "Won't you lie with father?" — "Oh my son, your father has been dead a long time," she said. "But, nevertheless, here he is" he said. "Why that is only a skull. How can I lie with that?" retorted the woman.

Then, when he met his brother, he said, "My mother also refuses." "It is strange that they won't lie with father now. However, tell them to make a bed in the center of the lodge anyhow," the older brother said. So they made a bed and upon it they placed the heads in a row.9

Early in the morning, the older brother said to the younger one, "Go look at them." As there was a partition there he went in and looked and he beheld their father and his friends, all alive, sleeping and snoring.

Then he went outside and saw people fast asleep scattered here and there over the village. "And so it should be," one of the brothers said, "so it should be. Our fathers are alive again, sleeping in the center of the lodge,10 while other people are sleeping outside, scattered throughout the village." Thus did the older brother speak from inside the lodge. Then he addressed his younger brother again saying "Wake up one of our mothers and tell her to get breakfast for these people." So the other brother went and woke one of the mothers and said, "Mother, get up and make breakfast for our fathers." "But, my son, your fathers died a long time ago." "Yet in spite of that they are here, asleep, in the center of our lodge," the brother said. So she looked up and, sure enough, there they were! Crying with surprise she went and woke the other mother and they all said, "Oh — o-o! Our sons have brought our husband back to life again!" Then one of the boys said, "Wake up the wives of our other fathers and tell them to get breakfast for their husbands." So one of the mothers went and, behold! outside of the lodge, all over the village, the people were sleeping. Then she went out and woke the other wives so that they might get breakfast for their husbands.

(132) Kunu's brother and all who had been killed by the giants had now come to life again. In the morning the whole village began to stir. All these men had loved the boys very much before but now, indeed, they loved them even more. When they awoke, they picked them up and carried them in their arms, each in turn, although they were grownup men. The boys were very much handsomer than their fathers, although their fathers were themselves handsome men.

Then the older boy said, "Fathers, you must have been very weak11 indeed for, look, this is what we did to them," and he showed them how they had battled with the giants. And then he added, "My little brother carried you and I carried the other two." Then said Turtle to the younger brother, "You have made me very happy because I was in a shameful condition. I therefore give you my war weapons12 with which I never failed to conquer." Then said Storms-as-he-walks to the older brother, "My son, I also give you my weapon,13 one of the best that exists." The boy rose and thanked him. Then Red Horn said, "My sons, I have nothing to give you, for I am not your equal and, besides, you are already just like me."14 And indeed they were.a

Radin's Notes to the Text

1 Fasting began often at the age of five. Children never did so of their own accord. That the older of the Twins should do so is a sign of his superiority.
2  Deerskins are never offered to spirits during the puberty fasting. They are, however, one of the proper offerings on all other occasions.
3  This was a common Winnebago custom.
4  Wailing songs proper were those sung by a captured man before he was killed. Here they are symbolic of the death of the captors. Cf. the next paragraph.
5 A characteristic motif to explain the continued existence of certain animals, objects, etc.
6  Earthmaker, as a rule, is never credited with the creation of the evil spirits. This is undoubtedly a very late interpretation.
7  That is, the bones of the victims of the giants.
8  That is, the scalp of Storms-as-he-walks. Although the Winnebago have a special word for scalp, throughout this episode the word for head is used. There is considerable evidence to indicate that at one period in their history they cut off the heads of their enemies and did not merely scalp them. In the above account there is considerable confusion on this point, one moment the narrator means scalp, the other head.
9  Here and in the following paragraphs, heads, not scalps, are clearly meant.
10  This must mean "sleeping in the lodge in the center of the village," i.e. in the chief's lodge.
11  It must be remembered that in this myth the children have been almost completely identified with the Twins and it is consequently not strange that they speak like them. Cf . The Twin Cycle that follows.
12  In this particular instance Turtle is not playing the clown. We know that, at one time, he was connected with warfare.
13  That is, the thunderbird warbundle. However cf. the next episode.
14 Red Horn was associated with war powers but no particular war weapon is ever mentioned as particularly his.

Commentary. "black" — black in contradistinction to red, is the color of night, and probably as well the color of death.

"red" — red is the conventional color of the sun and of hąp, "light, day." Inasmuch as hąp also means "life," red can also be the symbol of life.

"bones" — Radin believed that the powdered bones used in resurrection were those of the victims of the Giants rather than those of the Giants themselves. The text itself shows that this is not correct:

There they built a big fire and threw all the bodies of the dead giants into it. It made a big blaze for the giants were very fat. When they were through they took all the bones out and said, "Let us look for a grinder." They searched about the village and found one. Then they put the bones into the grinder and pounded them fine. When they thought they had enough they filled their tanned buckskins with them.

Two other stories also show that the dead are resurrected from the powdered bones of those who ate them. In the myth "Grandfather's Two Families," it is clearly the bones of Giants that are used to resurrect a village, and in "The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother," the powdered bones of a were-grizzly were used to resurrect the village that she had massacred (and eaten). For the version imagined by Radin, see the Aztec material below.

"you are already just like me" — it appears as if the boys are other versions of Redhorn himself, as the hero seems to be identical across generations. In "Redhorn's Father," the father is called, "Human Heads for Earrings.," and his son is called "Redhorn"; yet these are the same person. In "The Seduction of Redhorn's Son," the hero's eldest son is taken to be Redhorn, his own father. This is never treated as mistaken identity.

Comparative Material. The Ioway have a story that is very similar. "Human-head-earrings had a son who was exactly like him in appearance except that instead of having tiny human heads in his ears, one grew out of the middle of his chest. Blackhawk also left a son, and the two boys grew up together. When they were about eleven years of age they asked their mothers what had become of their fathers and they were told that the giants had killed them. The boys found out where the giants were and set out to find them and be revenged. When they drew near to the giant village they turned themselves into spider webs and floated over the settlement. They found out that the heads of Human-head-earrings, Turtle, and Blackhawk were kept in a sacred place and watched over constantly by the braves. They retired about a quarter of a mile from the town, and the son of Human-head-earrings sang: 'Father, father, the giants are going to die; I've located them.' Then the son of Human-head-earrings, who was on a bush, began to rock and spit blood. At once the giants were magically affected in the same way. One of them cried, 'That's what we get for bothering human beings, one of them has at last grown up and is attacking us.' Finally they all died, and now there are no longer any giants. The boys found the three heads and brought them home. The son of Human-head-earrings placed them together on the ground and the boys shot four arrows into the air and brought the three to life. Old Turtle sat up first and yawned, rubbed his eyes, stretched, and said, 'I've slept a long time.' 'Yes,' replied the son of Human-head-earrings, 'but for us you would be still asleep.' They all went home. 'Well,' said Turtle, 'I'm going to leave my children here, but I'll still be helpful to them, and make them strong and powerful when they think of me and see me as a turtle. They can swallow my heart and thus gain my qualities and attributes. I will give them my tenacity of life.' From then on Turtle went into the water to live. Blackhawk likewise decided to depart, but before leaving his children he gave them the war powers that are included in the war bundles. These powers were to see far, locate the enemy, and pounce upon them. Human-head-earrings was only a man like the rest of us, but he said that when he died his little heads should live always. So now when we die the little person invisible to us that dwells in us (the soul) goes to the other world."b [Previous Episode]

"the boys painted their arrows in the same fashion" — among the Osage, the red and black arrows represented day and night and were used in the tribal initiation rite for warriors. The bow was painted black on its back side and red on its front. Two arrows were made, one painted red and the other black.c These arrows were shot westward "not only to symbolize the endless recurrence of night and day, but the flight of the mystic arrows was also equivalent to the Initiator saying to the candidate: 'Your life, represented by your descendants, shall be as the bight and the day, endlessly recurring'."d

There is an Aztec parallel to the powdered bones used in the resurrection episode. It was Robert L. Hall who pointed this out in his article: "Note here that the two sons of Red Horn, half-brothers, recovered the bones of their father and of all the dead villagers and restored them to life after grinding them to a powder."e This is, as observed above, the incorrect interpretation, as they took the bones of the Giants and ground them up instead. Nevertheless, an interesting parallel is adduced:

This should remind us of the familiar Mexican myth of Quetzalcoatl and his nahual or twin or spirit double who entered the Underworld and recovered the bones of Aztecs who had perished with the end of the Fourth Sun. They then had these bones ground into a powder and restored to life as the first Aztecs of the Fifth Sun.f

The resurrection from powdered bone derives at least in part from the notion that the spirit resides in the marrow of the bones. It is not clear why turning the bones into a powder is efficacious.

Links: Storms as He Walks, Redhorn, The Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle, Sons of Redhorn, Giants, Thunderbirds, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Links within the Redhorn Cycle: §4. Redhorn Contests the Giants, §6. Adventures of Redhorn's Sons.

Stories: featuring the sons of Redhorn as characters: The Redhorn Cycle, Redhorn's Sons, The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, The Seduction of Redhorn's Son, Redhorn's Father; 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 Hocągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara; featuring Giants as characters: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Stone Heart, Young Man Gambles Often, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Old Man and the Giants, Shakes the Earth, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Little Human Head, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Origins of the Milky Way, Ocean Duck, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man; 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 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; mentioning the Ocean Sea (Te Ją): Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 1), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster and the Children, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Wears White Feather on His Head, White Wolf, How the Thunders Met the Nights (Mąznį’ąbᵋra), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), Redhorn's Sons, Grandfather's Two Families, Sun and the Big Eater, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), The Dipper (sea), The Thunderbird (a very wide river), Wojijé, The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 1), Redhorn's Father, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Berdache Origin Myth, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Morning Star and His Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed.

Themes: a spirit has faces on each earlobe: Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Dipper (hummingbirds), Redhorn's Father, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Morning Star and His Friend, The Hocągara Contest the Giants.; a being has red hair: Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn's Father, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (vv. 1 & 2), The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Heną́ga and Star Girl, A Wife for Knowledge, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Trickster and the Mothers (sky), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Deer Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hocągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Red Feather (plumage), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įcorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); polygamy: Bladder and His Brothers (v. 2), The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Green Man, Wazųka, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, Redhorn's Sons, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Gets Swallowed, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Spirit of Gambling; ground up bones of evil spirits used to resurrect their victims: Partridge's Older Brother, Grandfather's Two Families, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother; a hero recaptures a red-haired scalp: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp; wiping out the Giants except for two individuals who are thrown across the sea: Grandfather's Two Families; head hunting: White Fisher, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, A Man's Revenge, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), The Dipper, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Turtle's Warparty, Ocean Duck, The Markings on the Moon, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man with Two Heads, Brave Man, Redhorn's Sons, Fighting Retreat, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Were-Grizzly, Winneconnee Origin Myth; two brothers transform themselves to conceal themselves from the view of the enemy from whom they would retrieve their relative's head: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun; a hero floats down upon his enemies in the form of a feather: The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother; Turtle has a sacred, double-edged knife: Turtle and the Giant, Redhorn's Sons, The Chief of the Heroka, Turtle's Warparty, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Turtle.


a Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 131-132.

b "6. Wąkx!istowi, the Man with the Human Head Earrings," Alanson Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," The Journal of American Folklore, 38, #150 (October-December, 1925): 427-506 [457-458].

c Francis La Flesche, The Osage Tribe: Rite of the Chiefs; Sayings of the Ancient Men, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, 36th Annual Report (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1921) 99.

d Francis La Flesche, "Omaha Bow and Arrow Makers," Proceedings of the Twentieth International Congress of Americanists (Rio de Janeiro: 1922) 1:110-116 [116].

e Robert L. Hall, "The Cultural Background of Mississippian Symbolism," in The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Artifacts and Analysis. The Cottonlandia Conference. Edited by Patricia Galloway (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989) 243.

f Hall, "The Cultural Background of Mississippian Symbolism," 243.