Indian Mythology | Assiniboin Mythology

The Thunder-Bird


One summer, there were three camps on the margin of a big lake, one was Sioux, and the two others belonged to Assiniboine bands. In the middle of the lake there was an island called "the old woman's home." Once the weather was cloudy. It began to rain and the rolling of thunder was heard. Suddenly a flash of lightning struck the island and lingered there for some time. Something was drawn up from the island. It was an animal writhing like a snake. The thunder-bird lifted it up to the clouds until its tail disappeared amidst a peal of thunder. While the monster was borne up, all the on-lookers had their hair standing on end, and the manes of their horses were also bristling up. Anything loose and light was raised in the same way. After the thunderstorm was over, snow fell in the afternoon until it lay knee-deep on the ground. Then all the lake dried up, and all kinds of animals died.

(The narrator afterwards examined the site and found a turtle-skeleton of human size and remnants of some horned animals; the island was covered with feathers. The story-teller's aged mother, who professes to have witnessed the encounter of the thunder-bird with the water-monster, added some particulars. The thunder-bird dropped his enemy three times before finally carrying him up, and each time there dropped a blaze of fire. The snow continued to fall for four days after the contest. A rainbow-like reflection of red, white, and blue streaks was seen on the island, and the clouds overhanging it were shaped like buffalo-horns pointing towards the island.)

A man was walking high up in the mountains. He came to, Thunder's house and saw the young bird there. "Where are your parents ?" "They are far away, but they will soon be back." "When are they coming back?" "It is about time for them to be home now." "I should like to see them from near-by, hide me somewhere." The young bird hid the man under its wing. The father came in. "Has no one been here?" "No." "Some one must be here." "No, no one has come." "Hold up your wings, let me look under them." The bird raised its wings. The old Thunder saw the man and threw both him and his son out of the eyrie. "The nest must be cleansed, it smells after a man." The mother-bird arrived. "Where is our son?" "I have thrown him outside." The mother-bird went out and brought him in again. The old man said, "You have picked him up again, but you must cleanse the house."

The Women Who Married Stars

Two women were in a tipi at night. They were not asleep, but were looking out of the smoke-hole. The younger one said to her sister, "I wish I could marry that fiery star. You can have the smaller one for a husband." They could see the stars quite close. The older girl said, "Stop talking about the stars, you are crazy." Still the younger continued, saying, "I should like to marry the larger star, you can have the smaller one." The next day the camp was moved. The two girls packed their belongings in rawhide bags and slung them on their backs with a shoulder-strap. The younger girl's strap tore, and she was obliged to stop and mend it. Then her sister's strap tore, and she had to fix hers. All day long the two girls' straps tore alternately, so that they fell behind the rest of the people. By night they had not yet caught up, and were obliged to camp by themselves. About midnight two men came to their lodge; one was old, the other was young. "What were you saying last night?" asked the older of the two. The girl did not reply. He asked her again. The fourth time she answered, "We were talking about the stars last night." "What were you saying about the stars?" "I said I should like to marry the bigger star, and my sister could have the little one." "I am that bigger star, "said the old man, "you wanted to have me, let us go home now." The stars took the girls to the sky. The country was fine, but the girls felt lonesome. They were digging tipsi'n roots one day. The star came over and said, "Don't dig near those trees." When he had gone away, the younger woman saw some roots near the trees, and said, "I'll dig the roots over there." " Don't dig them, the star has forbidden it." The girl would not listen, but began to dig until she had made a large hole. She looked down, saw the earth below, and recognized her own country. She became homesick and began to cry. The older woman asked, "What is the matter?" '"Come here and look down." The other woman looked down, and also fell a-crying. Spider approached them, and asked, "What are you two crying about?" "We belong down there. Our country is below, it is far off, and we cannot get back." "You can get back easily; if you wish, you can return home." "Help us, and we'll be happy." Spider tied each to a rope, and connected the two ropes with a string. "While you descend, you must shut your eyes. If you feel something, don't look. Only when you strike the ground, you may open your eyes."

Spider began to lower them. When the feet of the younger struck something, she opened her eyes, and both were sticking in the fork of a cottonwood. They could not climb down in any way, and began to cry.

A wolverine passed by. They called out to him, "Sweetheart, help us." The wolverine answered, "If you two promise to marry me, I shall help you." They agreed, and the wolverine took them down. They were taken to his house, and saw many good-looking women there, but all had one leg broken. While the wolverine was out hunting, these women told the newcomers to run away because the wolverine would climb up to the smoke-hole and jump down on them, breaking their legs also, in order to prevent them from escaping. They said, "If you see something queer while fleeing, don't touch it, but keep on running."

The girls fled. After four nights' running, they heard a sound, and stopped to listen. They found a nice, fat, clean baby lying on its back, crying. The older girl passed by without paying any attention to it. The younger, however, turned back, saying, "Poor child, I want to take it." Her sister warned her, but she took the infant, and made it dance up and down. The child moved its feet, and managed to open her dress. "Look, sister, at what the baby is doing." Again the older warned the younger girl, but in vain. Suddenly the baby turned into the wolverine, and threw the woman on the ground. Tunc major natu puella fuste copulatoris dorsum verberavit. Ille "'Vehementius verbera" inquit "ut quam pro-fundissime mentulam inserere possim." Both girls struggled with him, and finally prevailed, killing him.

Then they went to look for their mother. They struck a river, and saw people passing in canoes. They hailed one man, asking him to ferry them across. He said, "My boat is not good, it is too light, and might upset. The boat behind with a tail at the end is good." When the boat indicated approached, they asked the man inside to ferry them across. He stopped and allowed them to leap in, but instead of taking them to the opposite bank he followed the course of the other canoes. They got to a place where many people were camping near the bank of the river. These were saying, "Old Diver (cia'ga=hell-diver?) has brought two women." Diver pointed behind, and told the women, "That's not my name, it's the one behind there they call Diver."

Diver camped near the rest of the people. In the night he heard the people dancing. He ordered the women not to look at the dance,c1 when he went out to see it himself. The younger girl wished to see it, and followed. As a result, she also became a diver. The dancers were ducks and geese. The transformed woman returned to her sister, and said, "Diver is ugly, let us flee." In their places they put bees and ants, covering them up with blankets; then they ran away.

Diver came home after the dance. He called the younger girl. "Wake up, I wish to go to bed." There was no answer. At last he picked up a blanket, and covered himself with it. After a while he felt the ants beginning to bite him, but thought it was merely the girls pinching him. He moved to the older girl's couch, and saying, "I'll sleep with both," extended his arms, as though to embrace both women. Then the bees began to buzz, and bit his face and body.

Diver was angry, and began to pursue the fugitives. The women got thirsty and lay down on their bellies to drink water. Diver got into the water, and killed them with his bow and arrows. When he got home, the people asked, "Where are those two women?" He replied that he had been unable to find them. After some time the people detected the corpses. Diver feigned great grief. He stayed by a lake, and moaned. That is why the divers make such mournful sounds to-day. He killed an animal, cut out its guts, filled them with blood, and carried them home. The people looking at him said, "Perhaps he will commit suicide, he feels so lonesome." When at a distance, he pierced the guts with an arrow. The people saw the blood oozing, and said, "He is killing himself now."c2 Diver plunged into the water, and came up unseen near the shore of a distant lake. But the next day he was heard saying, "I have killed my wives myself." The people said, "He killed those two handsome women. We shall kill him." They had a council to decide how they had best dispatch him. They could not approach him, because he was hiding in a large lake. At last they said, "Let Tosna' (some kind of shell-fish) drink up all the water in the lake." Tosna'commenced to drink, until he swelled to the size of a hill. The people said, "Look at Tosna', he is getting big." Mninku'n (a bird) was there. Tosna' had drunk up nearly all the water; there was just a little left in the middle of the lake, and there Diver became visible now. All the people tried to kill him with stones. Then Mninku'n broke Tosna's shell. Be-fore Diver could be killed, Tosna' disgorged all the water back into the lake, and Diver escaped.c3

2 Ft. Belknap. The idea of an antagonism between Thunder and a water-being occurs among the Winnebago and Iowa. J. 0. Dorsey (b), pp. 424-425. Cf. also Riggs, p. 142 (Dakota); G. A. Dorsey, (a), p. 73 (Pawnee); Id., (e), p. 102 (Wichita). According to Mr. Skinner's field notes, the conception is shared by the James Bay Cree.
b1 Cf. Kroeber, (e), p. 88 (Gros Ventre); J. 0. Dorsey, (d), p. 30 (Omaha).
c1 For the following incidents, cf. Riggs, p. 149 (Dakota) and Dorsey and Kroeber, p. 272 (Arapaho).
c2 In an Albany Cree tale taken down by Mr. Skinner, Diver, after killing his brother, resorts to the same stratagem.
c3 In several respects, the Stoney version resembles that of the Micmac. Cf. Rand, Legends of the Micmac (New York-London, 1894) pp. 160, et seq., 306 et seq. The corresponding Shuswap tale (Teit, p. 687) introduces the wolverine as a character, but in a different connection, and the other incidents also differ. The girls' cannibal husband is said, however, to cut off their feet in order to test their fatness. The widespread initial incident is found in Wissler and Duvall, p. 58 (Blackfoot); Kroeber, (e), p. 100 (Gros Ventre); Dorsey and Kroeber, p. 321 (Arapaho); Simms, p. 301 (Crow); Riggs, p. 90 (Dakota); G. A. Dorsey, (a), p. 60 (Pawnee); Id., (d), p. 14 (Arikara); Id., (e), p. 298 (Wichita).

Assiniboin Mythology

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Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History, 1909



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