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

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Redhorn's first wife, the girl in the white beaverskin wrap, gave birth to a son who had the same red hair as his father and even the human heads hanging from his ears. Redhorn's second wife, the Giantess, also gave birth to a red haired boy, but he had living faces where his nipples should have been. These were spared by the victorious Giants and grew up to be very large. One day the older boy went out to fast in order to get a blessing from the Thunderbirds. He would seek his visions at a place not far from a broad prairie where the Giants had a village. There he knew that the head of his father, whose hair had by now turned white, hung from a lodge pole. When he called out to the spirits he did so with a death song, the kind sung by prisoners who are about to be executed. This song had a strange power so that whenever a Giant heard it he would immediately jump into the fire. That is why he fasted near this village. When the old men of the village saw that so many Giants were immolating themselves, they correctly guessed at the cause, and ordered that four sentinels be posted by the scalp pole to watch in the direction of the sky. Two of the sentinels painted themselves red and the other two painted themselves black. Just the same, the boys resolved then and there to retrieve the heads of their father.

First they made two red and two black arrows, then turned themselves into feathers and floated down from the sky, each landing on a different severed head. Immediately they shot the two black sentinels in the throat with black arrows and they died coughing up black blood. They next shot the red Giants in the throat with red arrows and they died coughing up red blood. The boys grabbed the heads and ran as the Giants yelled, "After them! They stole the heads!" As the boys fled they mowed down the Giants with their arrows, each arrow killing several Giants at once. When the arrows ran out they used their bows as clubs, killing almost all the Giants. A little girl and the boy that she packed on her back they spared so that the race of Giants should not become extinct. Nevertheless, they threw the two survivors across the sea as an added precaution. Afterwards they burned the bodies of the Giants and ground up their bones, spreading the powder around their own village.

They took the head of Redhorn and asked their mothers to sleep with it, but each replied, "How can I sleep with that, it is only a skull?" So the boys took all the heads and laid them in a row on a bed in the middle of the lodge. The next day Redhorn, Turtle, and Thunderbird were all found whole and sleeping in the bed. Furthermore, where they scattered the powdered bone, all the people whom the Giants had killed were also found alive and sleeping. When the wives of the resurrected men saw them, they shouted, "Oh, our sons have brought our husbands back to life again!" The boys picked up their fathers and carried them around like children. In gratitude, Turtle and Storms as He Walks promised to give the boys their special weapons, but Redhorn had to confess, "I have no weapon to give you, yet I have given you of myself, as I see that you are just like me."1

Commentary. "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.

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

"the powdered bone" — 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 original translation 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.

"I have given you of myself" — 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."2 [Previous Episode]

"two red and two black arrows" — 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.3 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 descendents, shall be as the bight and the day, endlessly recurring'."4

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. He says,

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.5

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.6

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 effacacious.

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 Hočągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; 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 Hočągara 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 Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, 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; 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, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Morning Star and His Friend, The Hočągara Contest the Giants.; a being has red hair: Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn's Father, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (vv. 1 & 2), The Hočągara 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 Hočągara 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), Įčorúšika 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 Čap’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.


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

2 "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].

3 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.

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

5 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.

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