White Fisher

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 302 | 303 | 304 | 305 | 306 | 307 | 308 |

(302) The Chippewa and Sioux were the largest Indian tribes. There was a Chippewa chief whom the Winnebago called Wazų́kskaga ("White Fisher"). He was a brave man. He had a buffalo mark on the breast (painted or tattooed). When their enemies came, this was known by the motion of the buffalo. They could tell by these whether it was a small or a large band that was coming. Winter came, and they went out on a winter hunt. They moved away from the village where game would be more plentiful. Near the village was a lake with good timber and plenty of game, but this was so infested with enemies that all were afraid to camp there, but this chief decided to camp at this place, nevertheless. White Fisher had two daughters with their husbands. A single son he also had with him, and his wife completed the party. So they camped there. As soon as they arrived, the son and two brothers-in-law went hunting. While hunting, the old man built a fence of logs about the lodge. Soon the hunters returned with a deer. Then they prepared the evening meal. Then it was that they saw the buffalo moving sign. (303) "That tells me that a large band of enemy are very near," said the chief. Then he said to his children, "They are nearly here, many of them. So get plenty of water and cook all the meat. So this they did. Every vessel that would hold water was filled, and all the meat was cooked.

Night came. The two sons-in-law went out to spy on the enemy. A scouting party of four enemy was advancing. There the two sons-in-law killed all of these four. They cut off the four heads and brought them to the old man. "I thank you for them, my sons-in-law. You have here a head for each of my legs and each of my arms. So I thank you." Then the chief's son went out to spy on the enemy. He surprised a scouting party of two. These he killed and brought their heads home to his father. A great many more were coming. The three young men went out and fought all night. They killed many of the enemy. Then they fought all the next day. One of the enemy had a buffalo headdress with the horns on it. He was a lively warrior and a smart fighter. He nearly got one of the chief's party. Just before noon, the buffalo man and the chief's (304) son met together in combat. He motioned to the chief's son that he would kill him about noon. So the chief's son was killed about noon. This news was brought to the chief. "My sons-in-law, bring me the body of my dead son," said the father. So they went out, one fighting on the outside and one staying on the inside. They decided that one should drive the enemy away while the other brought in the dead body. So one went after the enemy, the other lay a lariat on the dead man, then carried him in on his shoulder. So the body was brought to the chief. The chief was a great doctor, a Buffalo Spirit dreamer, it is said. So he began to doctor his son. All day the fight lasted.

Then came the second night. The enemy noticed that one of the defenders was killed. About the middle of the night, the dead son's wounds closed and he came to life. "When day comes," said the chief's son, "I am going out to kill that man who killed me. I have more spirit power than he has now." They were still fighting. At dawn, he said to his brothers-in-law, "You have done well. If you want to, you can rest. I will do the fighting. (305) I shall not be killed anymore." So he went out and fought all day. Then he saw the buffalo-headed warrior. He motioned to him that he would be killed when the sun was half way to the zenith. This warrior's body was painted entirely red. When the time came, he killed this warrior. When he shot him, he was only wounded, but the son cut his head off while he still lived. The man then got up, without a head, and started running about. Finally, he fell down dead. As soon as he fell down, the enemy said, "Ku-u-u-u-u-u." Then the old man said, "Let us go down to stay where there is a hole caused by an overturned tree. Some of these enemy are sure to return to be avenged. So they all went into the hollow where the tree roots had been.

Then the enemy returned, and the fighting was resumed. Then the old man said to his children, "My children, we are many. Maybe some of our people will bear and come to our aid." Sure enough, another Chippewa chief and his (306) band of Indians were on their way to the place of battle. The leader said to his people, "My spirit has told me that White Fisher is attacked by our enemy. That's where we are going." They were still fighting, the third day. In the woods they fought. When the three young men went to fight, one remained where the women and old men stood, while the others went behind the big log. One of them was standing by the log and saw many people coming beyond those engaged in the fight. The Chippewa warparty had arrived. The young men reported to the chief, "Our people are coming and there are many of them," he said. "They are our neighbors." So they killed all the enemy. There three young men had killed many of their enemies.

When the fight was over, the warparty came to where White Fisher stood with his family. According to custom, they took everything that White Fisher had, all his belongings, even his weapon. This is called, hikųhĕ́. "Well, I thank you for this, White Fisher," said the leader, "I want you to go along with us with your family. And we will take care (307) of you all winter." He thanked him for holding the enemy until he had arrived. So they all went with the warparty. They took all the scalps with them. Each group took their own allotment of scalps. Back to the warparty's village they went. There they were camped in a large circle. "Come and eat," said the warleader, "you and your family. Don't bill up now, as you will eat often." So they ate at his house. Then they were invited to eat at another lodge. In that way they ate at several houses. After awhile, they saw a lodge in the exact center of the camp circle. They were notified that a place was being prepared for him and his family, where they could stay through the winter. "The lodge in the center belongs to you," they were told. "You can repair there whenever you wish." So White Fisher was taken to the centrally placed lodge. So they went in. it was well furnished with all manner of equipment and all manner of food and other supplies, everything any of them would need. Then one came and said, "Everything here, even the lodge, belongs to you. All you have to do is to (308) rest. Someone will be appointed to do all the work for you, to take care of everything." So they were cared for all winter. When they wanted fresh meat, it was given to them. Spring came. They told them, "Maybe your own people have been looking for you. We would like to care for you longer, but maybe you would like to go home. A hundred men will be furnished to carry all these things to your village." So all the supplies, lodge, dry meat, clothing and everything, were taken with White Fisher to his own village. So White Fisher came back to his own village, where he was chief. His people thought he had been killed, for spring saw everyone else returned but him. They were surprised to see him return with much supplies and scalps. They were very glad to see him.

That is all.1

Commentary. "Ku-u-u-u-u-u" — McKern adds parenthetically, "the signal to stop the fight." This sound, usually represented as gu, is a sacred syllable uttered when an heroic action suggests great holiness has manifested itself on the battlefield, and that out of respect for the spirits, the killing should cease.

"hikųhĕ́" — this word means literally, "to be in haste." At the end of the story, McKern says, "The White Fisher party gave their belongings to the warleader, and they helped themselves to whatever they saw, as according to a custom described elsewhere herein."

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Buffalo Spirits.

Stories: about buffaloes and Buffalo Spirits: Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Bluehorn's Nephews, Redhorn's Father, The Woman who became an Ant, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Buffalo's Walk, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Creation of the World (v. 3), The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Red Feather, Wazųka, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Holy One and His Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Story of the Medicine Rite, Black Otter's Warpath; about scalping: The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Moiety Origin Myth, Turtle's Warparty, Black Otter's Warpath, The Dog that became a Panther, Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Fox-Hocąk War; mentioning the Ojibwe (Chippewa, Ojibway): White Thunder's Warpath, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, The Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The First Fox and Sauk War, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, First Contact (vv. 2-3), Introduction.

Themes: someone expresses concern about the military danger of the area where someone has erected his lodge: Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, A Man's Revenge, The Warbundle Maker, The Dog Who Saved His Master; a man is blessed with the ability to foresee the approach of enemies: Wazųka, The Moiety Origin Myth, The Dog that became a Panther, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fleetfooted Man; descriptions of human warfare: Black Otter's Warpath, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Wazųka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fox-Hocąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, The Osage Massacre, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, The Spanish Fight, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka; a man wears a buffalo head: Wazųka, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister; someone returns from the dead: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Sunset Point, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Shaggy Man, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Miraculously Cured Man Finds the Prophet, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Waruǧábᵉra, The Lost Blanket, The Old Man and the Giants; finding refuge in a hole in the ground: Hare Kills Wildcat, Little Fox and the Ghost, The Boy and the Jack Rabbit, Redhorn's Sons; while a man fights a large enemy force, others go off to get reinforcements: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Warbundle Maker, The Dog Who Saved His Master, A Man and His Three Dogs; head hunting: 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, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, 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; a young warrior gives the head/scalp of a man he has killed in battle to someone else: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (warleader), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (warleader), Fighting Retreat (wife), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (oldest brother-in-law); a man continues to function without his head: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1a), The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka; uttering the sacred syllable gu brings a battle to an end: The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Wazųka, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Thunderbird and White Horse.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 302-308.