White Flower

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

There was a village in Nįš-hakí-sųc-ra (Wisconsin Dells) in which lived a young man and a girl who loved him very much. The girl was called "White Flower" (Š’esgaga?). The young man, Hotonga, was a very good hunter. One day they agreed to go away from the village to be alone together. He would go hunting that day and she would meet him in Chapel Gorge. She waited at the rendezvous site, but he never appeared. She was still waiting for him when the moon rose like a birchbark canoe. He would never come: while he was hunting, Hotonga was ambushed and killed by a Šąhą (Sioux) warparty. Every night she would return to their rendezvous spot on Pulpit Rock [below], but every night he failed to appear. She cried much and would not eat, so she began to waste away. Finally, the spirits took pity on her and transformed her into a white flower. Whenever any winged creature visits this flower, the blossom holds it and never lets it go.1


Commentary. The name Hotonga has very interesting associations. Given the alternance between /o/ and /u/ in Hocąk, the name may have been seen as essentially the same as Ho-t’ų-ga, "He who Throws Away [His Life]." A warrior who is humiliated on a warpath in dispair may make himself into what the ancient Romans called a devotio, a kind of kamakazee devoted to throwing himself against the enemy until he is killed, thus "throwing away" (t’ų) his life. Consequently, the word has the secondary meaning of "warrior."2 A warrior who joins a warparty uninvited is called a hocųgit’é.3 The name seems appropriate to one who is killed by a Šąhą (Sioux) warparty. On the other hand, the name carries a second meaning in the sister Çegiha Siouan languages, where tųga, tǫga means, "big, great." This very name, Ho-tǫga, in Ponca, Hu-tųga in Omaha, means "Big Voices, Winnebago," a translation of the Winnebago name for themselves, Hocągara.4 Therefore, the name Hotonga (Ho-tǫga) also means, "Winnebago (Hocąk)."

However, the tribal identity of the warparty here leads us on to other puns of intellectual significance. The Šąhą also call the Hocągara, Ho-táŋ-ke, "Great Voices."5 The name Hotonga, however, has even greater similarity to the Lakota word Ho´taŋka, "sturgeon."6 This name too is almost identical to their name for the Hocągara, and in the waiką River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, a Hotáŋka actually becomes a Hótaŋke.7 Hotonga might actually be the Lakota word for sturgeon. The second "o" is not really problematic, as we see from the native Dakota speaker Paul WarCloud, who gives as the phonetic pronunciation of Hotaŋke, "Ho-TǪ-keh" which would make the word for sturgeon, "HO-tǫ-kah," identical to the proper name Hotonga.8 In the 1850's the Dakota gave their name for the Hocągara to be Otonkah.9 In Hocąk -ka is a suffix that indicates a personal name, and in this context it is softened to -ga.


Why would the hero be called "Sturgeon"? The primary use of the sturgeon, besides food, was for glue (qv, 1, 2), especially to attach arrow feathers to the shaft. Marriages among the Hocągara were between people of different moieties. White Flower seems by name and destiny to belong to the Earth Moiety, which would mean that Hotonga was of the upper moiety. Thus he is like the feathers of an arrow, and White Flower is like the botanic wood used for the shaft. The union of these two, which is also love, is the sturgeon glue. It is while he is on his way to the rendezvous that he is ambushed and killed by the Dakota, leaving her love unrequited, for want of the physical glue, the Sturgeon. She is turned into a plant to compensate her — but why is this considered compensation?

The white flower into which she transformed seems to be the pitcher plant [above] which catches insects and holds them until they are dead. The irony of the myth is that White Flower cannot have Hotonga except in death, but as an over-compensation, her plant (lower moiety) catches its winged creatures (upper moiety) and holds them for life, unlike her relationship with Hotonga. And how is this effected? The plant has a sticky substance in its base in which the winged creatures get stuck. It is another image of the sturgeon glue. Yet this botanical image of their relationship does not result in a physical union except with the death of the captured winged creature. Pulpit Rock, where this flower is said to have emerged, itself looks like a pitcher plant including even the pool of water below it. The crescent moon hanging like a white canoe over the waters is another reflection of the structure of the plant, whose love for the creatures of the sky is all encompassing.

The affair that they engage in seems illicit: they do not get together under the public approval of their parents, but slip off into the wilderness, as much outside the physical bounds of the village as they are outside the social bounds that it symbolizes. The glue of love is ambushed, illicitly contravened outside the bounds of domestic life. This destroys the proper glue binding the two moieties together, which takes precedence over the physical glue of love. The illicit love which ambushes the glue of the moieties is like the glue of the pitcher plant that entraps the sky creatures only to kill them, rather than to reproduce them. Thus, the Hotąga of foreign name, becomes a Ho-t’ų-ga, throwing away his life, and failing in the end to be properly Hotąke, Ho-tǫga, Hu-tųga, that is, Hocąk.

Comparative Material. A Dakota story is similar in many respects. "In the days of the great chief Wahpashaw, there lived at the village of Keoxa, which stood on the site of the town which now bears her name, a maiden with a loving soul. She was the first-born daughter, and, as is always the case in a Dahkotah, family, she bore the name of Weenonah. A young hunter of the same band, was never happier than when he played the flute in her hearing. Having thus signified his affection, it was with the whole heart reciprocated. The youth begged from his friends all that he could, and went to her parents, as is the custom, to purchase her for his wife, but his proposals were rejected. A warrior who had often been on the war path, whose head dress plainly told the number of scalps he had wrenched from Ojibway heads, had also been to the parents, and they thought that she would be more honored as an inmate of his teepee. Weenonah, however, could not forget her first love; and, though he had been forced away, his absence strengthened her affections. Neither the attentions of the warrior, nor the threats of parents, nor the persuasions of friends, could make her consent to marry simply for position. One day the band came to Lake Pepin to fish or hunt. The dark green foliage, the velvet sward, the beautiful expanse of water, the shady nooks, made it a fit place to utter the breathings of love. The warrior sought her once more, and begged her to accede to her parents wish, and become his wife, but she refused with decision. While the party were feasting, Weenonah clambered to the lofty bluff, and then told to those who were below, how crushed she had been by the absence of the young hunter, and the cruelty of her friends. Then chanting a wild death-song, before the fleetest runner could reach the height, she dashed herself down, and that form of beauty was in a moment a mass of broken limbs and bruised flesh. The Dahkotah as he passes the rock feels that the spot is Wawkawn."10

This outcrop is known as "Lover's Leap" or "Maiden Rock," and is located by Lake Pepin.

Maiden Rock

Links: Introduction.

Stories: about flowers: The Wild Rose, Fourth Universe; mentioning the Sioux (Šąhą): The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," Little Priest's Game, Berdache Origin Myth, Great Walker's Warpath, Potato Magic, The Masaxe War, The Man who Fought against Forty, First Contact (vv. 2-3), The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Love Blessing, Run for Your Life, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, Introduction; pertaining to the name Hocąk: Introduction; Hocąk Clans Origin Myth; featuring sturgeons as characters: The Great Fish, Redhorn's Father, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake; set in the Wisconsin Dells: The Twin Sisters, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Red Cloud's Death, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Sunset Point, Mighty Thunder.

Themes: the wilderness as a lover's tryst: Trickster Soils the Princess; frustrated love: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Twin Sisters, The Phantom Woman, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Partridge's Older Brother, The Stone Heart, Snowshoe Strings, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Trickster Soils the Princess, Sunset Point, The Message the Fireballs Brought, Rainbow and Stone Arch; someone is disconsolate over the death of a relative: Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, The Lost Child, The Shaggy Man, Holy One and His BrotherBrother; spirits take pity on women deprived by death of their lovers: Twin Sisters; a person's body turns into a plant: Fourth Universe (white flower), The Boy who would be Immortal (tree), The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, Aracgéga's Blessings (inverse: log > human), cf. The Wild Rose, Deer Clan Origin Myth (v. 2); a body turns into a white flower: Fourth Universe; something is of a (symbolic) pure white color: White Bear, Deer Spirits, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Fleetfooted Man, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Worúxega, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket (white spirits), Skunk Origin Myth, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Messengers of Hare, The Brown Squirrel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Bladder and His Brothers, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Dipper, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Creation of the World (v. 12), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Descent of the Drum, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Grandmother's Gifts, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Completion Song Origin, North Shakes His Gourd, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Peace of Mind Regained.

Maps: The Wisconsin Dells.


1 Capt. Don Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe. Legends of the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: Don Saunders, 1947) 4-5, 15-18.

2 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]) 402, sv t’ų.

3 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, 200, sv tcų.

4 James H. Howard, The Ponca Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 1995 [1965]) 134; Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, 2 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 1992 [1911]) 102.

5 Rev. Eugene Buechel, A Dictionary of the Teton Dakota Sioux Language (Pine Ridge: Red Cloud Indian School, Holy Rosary Mission, 1970) 185, sv Ho´taŋke; John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992 [1902]) 261, sv "Winnebago"; Stephen Return Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992 [1890]) 155, sv Ho-táŋ-ke; Paul WarCloud, Dakotah Sioux Indian Dictionary (Sisseton: Tekakwitha Fine Arts Center, 1971) 180, sv Ho-TǪ-keh.

6 Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary, ssvv Ho-táŋ-ke, ho´-taŋ-ka, p. 155.

7 Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe, 34-42.

8 WarCloud, Dakotah Sioux Indian Dictionary, 180, sv Ho-TÔ-keh.

9 Henry Schoolcraft, Information respecting the Historical Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1852-1854) 3:277.

10 Edward Duffield Neill, The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1858) 93-94. Much expanded upon (and in poetry) by Dr. L. H. Bunnell in The History of Wabasha County, Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, etc., Gathered from Matter Furnished by Interviews with Old settlers, County, Township and Other Records, and Extracts from files of papers, pamphlets, and such other sources as have been available : also a history of Winona County (1884) (Chicago: H. H. Hill & Co., 1884) 571-576, 81.