Indian Mythology | Assiniboin Mythology

The Underground Journey


A man was living with his wife. It was summer. The woman was pregnant. One day, while she was picking berries, a big bear saw and abducted the woman, whom he kept in his cave. Before spring, the woman gave birth to a child begotten by her first husband, but with plenty of hair on his body, wherefore he was called Icma' (Plenty-of-Hair). In the spring the bear came out of his cave. The boy looked outside and told his mother, "We had better run away to where you first came from." But the bear had stopped up the entrance with a big rock, and the woman said, "We can't get out, the rock is too heavy." The boy tried it, and was able to lift it. They fled before the bear returned. They were already near the Indian camp when they heard the bear coming in pursuit. The woman was exhausted, but the boy packed her on his back and ran to the camp. At first, the woman went to a stranger's lodge. Then someone told her husband that his wife was back. The chief then took both her and his son home.

The boy used to play with other boys. Once he quarreled with one of them and killed him with a single blow. This happened again on another occasion. Then Icma' said to his father, "I don't like to kill any more boys, I'1 go traveling." He started out and met two men, who became his comrades. One of them was called Wood-Twister (Canyub'ha), the other Timber-Hauler (Hē'isno'han). They got to a good lodge, and decided to stay there together. On the first day, Icma' and Wood-Twister went hunting. They bade Timber-Hauler stay home and cook. While they were away, an ogre that lived in the lodge came out, threw Timber-Hauler on his back, and killed him. The two other men found him dead, but Icma' restored him to life.. The next day Icma' said, "Wood-Twister, you stay home, I'll go hunting with Timber-Hauler." At sunset Wood-Twister began cutting firewood. He saw something coming out of the lodge that looked like a man, but wearing a beard down to its waist and with nails as long as bear-claws. It assaulted Wood-Twister, who was found dying by his friends, but was restored by Icma'. The next day Icma' said, "You two go hunting, I will stay home." As he was beginning to chop wood, the monster appeared and challenged him to fight. Icma' seized its head, cut it off, and left the body in the lodge. When his comrades returned, Icma' asked them, "Why did not you kill him like this?" Then he said, "I don't like this house, let us go traveling."

They started out and got to a large camp. The chief said, "My three daughters have been stolen by a subterranean being. Whoever brings them back, may marry them all." Icma' told Timber-Hauler to get wood and ordered Wood-Twister to twist a rope of it. Then he made a hole in the ground and put in a box to lower himself in. He descended to the underground country and pulled the rope to inform his friends of his arrival. He found the three girls. The first one was guarded by a mountain lion, the second by a big eagle, the third by giant cannibals. Icma' killed the lion. The girl said, "You had better turn back, the eagle will kill you." But he slew the eagle. Then the girl said, "The cannibals are bad men, you had better go home." "I'll wait for them." The twelve cannibals approached yelling; they were as big as trees. The girl said, "Run as fast as you can." But Icma' remained, and made two slings. With the first he hurled a stone that went clean through six of the men and killed them; and with the other sling he killed the remaining cannibals in the same way. One of the girls gave him a handkerchief, another one a tie, and the youngest one a ring. He took them to his box, and pulled the rope. His two comrades hoisted up the oldest one. Both wanted to marry her, but Icma' pulled the rope again, and they hauled up the second girl. Then Icma' sat down in the box with the youngest, and pulled the rope. As they were hauling them up, Wood-Twister said, "Let us cut the rope." The other man refused, but Wood-Twister cut the rope, and Icma' fell down. He stayed there a long time, while his companions took the girls to the chief.

At last Icma' begged a large bird to carry him above ground. The bird said he did not have enough to eat for such a trip. Then Icma' killed five moose, and having packed the meat on the bird's back, mounted with the third girl. Flying up, Icma' fed the bird with moose-meat, and when his supply was exhausted, he cut off his own flesh and gave it to the bird to eat. Icma' came up on the day when his false friends were going to marry the girls. All the people were gathered there. Icma' arrived. "I should like to go into the lodge before they get married." When he came in, Wood-Twister was frightened. "I should like to go out, I'll be back in a short time," he said. But he never returned. Then the chief asked, "Which of you three rescued the girls?" Then Icma' showed the handkerchief, the tie and the ring given him by the girls, and got all the three girls for his wives.

A big mountain lion went about killing everything he saw. Three men were digging a hole in the ground, and were lowering a pail by a rope in order to escape. One of them, Stick-Twister, said, "I'll go down first. If I pull the rope, draw me up quick." When he had got far down, he saw many lodges. In the first lodge he saw two good-looking girls. He said, "I like you girls very much." "Why?" "Because you are so pretty." "Oh, our sister in the next tipi is much prettier." There were blue, yellow and red tipis. The girls said, "You will see many of us people underground here." He went on and reached an old woman's tent. "Oh, my grandson," she said, "don't go any further, those people are bad, they will kill you." The man said, "Give me some. water." She said, "We have to buy our water. I have only this much left." She gave him a cup and a-half. The man, after drinking, said, "Give me a pail, I'll fetch water." He got water. The old woman said, "You will make the people angry at me. They kill anyone that steals water; they will throw you into a hole, where the mountain-lion will devour you." He gave the old woman a ring, and returned to the first tipi. He took one of the girls, went back to his pail, and got in. They heard the roar of the lion, pulled the rope, and were drawn up. The man told his friends, "I found many good-looking people there." One of them said, "I'll go down and learn how to make guns." "Take a little iron along, put it in the ground when you get down there, and invite all the people to come up with you." The second man descended. He met two men and asked them, "How do you make iron?" "Out of stone juice." "I come from a fine country; come up there with me." "What kind of people are you talking about? You are no good." "Where I come from there used to be lots of people, but the mountain-lion has killed most of them." He knew he was in danger, so he ran back to the pail, jerked the rope, and was hauled up again.


Long ago a man was living with two wives, one of whom had a son. Once the other woman asked her stepson to fetch some fire-wood. While out in the woods, he shot a partridge. The stepmother went for the partridge before it was dead. She put it between her legs. The partridge scratched her thighs. She came home and told her husband that the other woman's son had tried to seduce her; she had repulsed him, but while assaulting her he had scratched her legs.

The man was very angry. He asked his son to look for eggs with him. They started out in a canoe on a big lake, where there were four islands. On one of these they landed. There were no eggs there. The boy walked about on the island. In the meantime, his father returned to the boat and paddled away. The boy shouted to his father to stop, but the man only answered, "Who is your father?" The boy cried for four days and nights. At last a gull flew to him. It advised him to kill a gull, take off its skin and feathers, and put them on himself. The boy did as he was told, donned the skin, and tried to fly. At first he rose only a short distance and fell down again. At last he learnt to fly. Then he flew across the lake. When he descended on dry land, the gull told him he would have to pass two chasms that were alternately opening and closing, but if he caught two small fish and threw them into the cracks he would be able to pass in safety while the earth was swallowing them. He did as he was told. When he came to the first crack, he threw in one of the fish, and while the earth closed over them, he passed across. In the same way he stepped over the second chasm.

He traveled on towards his father's camp. When he got nearby, he heard his mother crying. He stood listening. She was chopping wood. A little bird flew up to her, and said, "Your son is here." She listened. The bird repeated the same words. She answered. "That is not true, my son has been dead for a long time." Then the boy approached her. She ran up and embraced him. "My boy, are you back?" She showed him sore spots all over her body, telling him how her husband was abusing her. The boy got angry. He bade her go home and bring the other wife's baby. "Throw it into the fire, run out of the lodge, and cry, 'O, my son! 0, my son!"' She did as he had bidden her. Her husband followed her, crying, "No matter where you go, I shall kill you." The boy was waiting behind a tree. The woman ran towards him. When the man saw his son, he stopped. "O, are you back?" He did not hurt his wife. He invited his son to their lodge, and they agreed to have a trial of strength. The man failed to overcome his son. At last the boy said, "Which of us can bring the sun down here?" He caught the sunbeams, pulled them down like ropes, and thus brought the sun down.2 It got very hot, and the father was nearly suffocated. Then the boy told his father to hide under fat, but the fat soon melted.2 The father could not escape from the heat and was burnt to death.

Two brothers were living together; the older one was married.3 One day, while the older brother was out hunting, the woman tried to seduce her brother-in-law, but he refused to have anything to do with her. Then the woman requested him to catch her a chicken and bring it home alive. The boy obeyed. The woman put the chicken between her legs, until it had scratched them all up, then she released it. The boy asked her, "Why did you do that?" She did not reply. The boy waited for his brother outside. When he had returned, the woman feigned crying. "Your brother tried to ravish me, and when I resisted, he scratched up my legs." "You lie, you asked me to bring you a chicken, and the chicken scratched you." The man, however, believed his wife' he ate nothing. He said to his brother, "There is a big eagle's nest over there. We'll take a rope along and catch the young birds." They started out. The eyrie was near a large river. The man told his brother to climb up. The boy climbed up, killed the young birds, and threw them down to his companion. The older brother then chopped down the tree, so that Tez6xnin fell into the water. Then he went home. His wife asked, "Where is your brother?" He refused to answer, though she repeated the question several times. At last he said, "I killed him, because he tried to ravish you." The woman said, "I lied to you," and began to cry. But Tez6xnin got out of the water, and afterwards became very strong.

(The older brother, Red-Boat, has abandoned his brother on an island.)

The young man found an enemy on the island. He killed and scalped him, making two pieces of the scalp. Then he went back to where his older brother had left him. Something rose from the water. It had a long body and two horns, one straight, the other crooked. "Grandchild," this being said, "where are you going?" "I am looking for my brother." "Your brother has left you, get on my head, we'll go after him." The young man tied a piece of scalp to the crooked horn, and told the animal he was giving it to him for a present. Then the Horned-One declared he would save the boy. The boy mounted between his horns and they pur-sued the older brother. The Horned-One said, "When we are close to him, say, 'You have abandoned me, but if you have anything to take pity on you, we shall see which of us will live longer."' When they got close, the boy called out to his brother according to these directions. Red-Boat cried, "Very well, you will soon be killed by a big mosquito." The younger brother cried, "You will be burnt to death by the sun." They parted. The Horned-One took the boy to an island and bade him land. "Always look at the sun at noon. If you see a little cloud just below the sun, get on the largest log you can find, and lie there for some time." He departed. The boy walked about with the one piece of scalp. He saw a cloud appear, and got on a log. A huge mosquito made a dash at him. He got under the log, and the mosquito's sting went clean through it. The boy had received a piece of bone with instructions from the water-animal. He now used it against the mosquito and killed him. He walked on, crying.

Suddenly there appeared some animals coming over a hill. The first two were tigers,2 followed by two bears. They were followed by a woman. She bade the animals stop and spare the boy, because he was so pitiable. The boy approached her and sat down. She asked him what he was doing, and he recounted his story. She said, "I am hunting people somewhere." The water-animal had told him to give the second scalp to an old woman he would meet. It turned out that she was the Horned-One's wife. She was wearing a scalp-robe, and the scalp he offered her fitted nicely. She was grateful. "These animals would have eaten you up, but I stopped them. I will tell you where to go. Your brother's brother-in-law is chief in his tribe and known as its greatest medicine man. He is always abusing your sister. Though he is wakan', I will tell you how to act. Travel towards his camp, and wait until evening. On your way you will meet some of my children. They generally come at this time. You may kill and eat the last animal you meet, but don't break its bones." A number of animals passed; a black one was in the rear. It turned out to be a fat young skunk. The young man caught and killed it, skinned it, and roasted its flesh, but without breaking any of its bones. He picked up the bones and wrapped them up in the animal's skin. He laid it down, and the skunk got up alive again.

He walked on and got to a hill, whence he saw a camp. Going to a coulee, he remained there until dark. Then he approached the camp to listen to what was going on. In one lodge, in the center of the camp, where the medicine-man lived, he heard a woman crying. It was his sister. He went first to his parents' lodge. He tied his bone weapon to one of the tent-poles, and entered. No one inside knew him. His parents had grieved about his supposed death, but did not recognize him. They had had nothing to eat for three days. He said, "Father and mother, it is I that have come back to life." Then he told them his story. They told him how unhappy his sister was. The boy said, "We shall soon get rid of him." "It is pretty hard to get rid of him; he is very powerful, there is no way of killing him." After a while, the medicine-man dispatched his wife to invite her brother to his tent. He refused at first, saying her husband was not a good man, but when she came the second time he accepted the invitation. The medicine-man offered him something to eat and smoke, but the boy refused the pipe. A short time after, his sister was again maltreated by her husband. The boy sent his mother to tell her that when her husband beat her again she should seize him by the hair and try to pull him outside of the lodge. The next time, the woman acted according to his instructions. Her brother was waiting outside, his bone weapon in his hand. When the medicine-man was outside the lodge, the boy broke his back clean through. The medicine-man said, "I did not expect a boy like you to kill me, but you did, and now you will take charge of the camp." The boy bade his sister build a fire. She heated rocks and cast them into a pit dug in the ground. Her husband attempted to rise, but he grew weaker and could not move. Thus he was killed, and the boy saved his sister.

The hero was now going to kill his older brother, Red-Boat. One day he summoned all his relatives, and said, "Gather as many baskets of water as possible. Set them in your lodge, and remain there." The next day it was very hot. It was so hot that the water began to boil. Nearly all the people, except the boy's relatives, were getting burnt. Red-Boat tried to enter his brother's lodge, but his brother would not permit it, so he burnt to death outside of the door. Red-Boat's wife was saved. The next day it grew cool, and several people who had hidden appeared again. The young man told his parents to use Red-Boat's wife as a slave. "First I will punish her," he said. He took a badger's claws, and with them scratched all her back. Then she became the slave of his parents.

b1 A rather confused version.
a1 Also found among the Biloxi: J. O. Dorsey, in Riggs, p. XXXI; the Dakota: ibid.,p.139; the Omaha: J. 0. Dorsey, (d), p. 138; the Cree: Petitot, p. 451; the Blackfoot: Wissler and
Duvall, p. 98.
a2 This is a rather popular mode of destroying the enemy in Stoney folklore.
a3 This incident occurs in a James Bay Cree version recorded by Mr. Skinner.
b3 The narrator identified the younger brother with Tezxnin.
c1 Ft. Belknap.
c2 I use my interpreter's expression.

Assiniboin Mythology

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Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History, 1909



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