Hotcâk (Hochunk) Nation

Hotcâk Literature

“Try to do something for your people — something difficult. Have pity on your people and love them. If a man is poor, help him. Give him and his family food, give them whatever they ask for. If there is discord among your people, intercede. Immerse yourself totally in your own language and you will receive culture as a byproduct. The soul and culture of a people are reflected in their language.”


Boy Stolen by Thunderbird




Many, many years ago, a young Winnebago Indian orphan boy lived in a small village with his grandmother. He found a friend about his own age. One day, they hunted for hickory wood to make bird arrows, which they used for hunting hawks. Orphan-Boy captured a young pigeon hawk and took it home. Soon, it became his pet bird.

Some time later, Orphan-Boy put a little tobacco in a bundle and tied it around the hawk’s neck. It disappeared for a few days, then returned without the tobacco bundle. Again, Orphan-Boy tied another bundle of tobacco around his pet’s neck. It disappeared again, but returned to Orphan-Boy as it had before.

When the pet hawk became fully grown, Orphan-Boy suggested that it might want to go away and make a life for itself. So he tied another tobacco bundle around the pigeon hawk’s neck, thanking him for staying with him for so long a time. Immediately, the bird flew away and never returned to Orphan-Boy.

Another day, Orphan-Boy and his friend hunted for dogwood to make pointed arrows. They accidentally became separated in a low fog. From above, however, a bad Thunderbird saw Orphan-Boy and swooped down, seizing him in his claws. The huge bird carried him away to its home in the high mountains.

For a long, long time the friend looked for Orphan-Boy. Finally, he gave up searching far and wide. But every day, he faithfully returned to the place where Orphan-Boy had disappeared, mourning still for his lost companion.

When the bad Thunderbird reached its mountainous home, he and his friends tied Orphan-Boy down to the floor. Their purpose was to hold him there until nothing remained in his stomach. Then they planned to devour him.

Little pigeon hawk decided to go and have a look at Thunderbird’s prisoner. Imagine his surprise to find that Orphan-Boy, his kind friend, was the prisoner.

Little pigeon hawk left and decided to hunt for some young birds and roast them. Later, he returned, putting some of the meat under his wings and secretly dropping it into Orphan-Boy’s mouth. Every day little pigeon hawk brought meat for Orphan-Boy, until the thunderbirds became suspicious of pigeon hawk.

The next day, the bad thunderbirds decided to exclude little pigeon hawk when he came to visit Orphan-Boy. One thunderbird pushed him toward the door, but little pigeon hawk accidentally on purpose fell close to the fire and scorched some of his feathers. He made a great noise and commotion, running to his big brother, Big Black-Hawk, who was Chief of the Thunderbirds.

“What can the matter be, little brother?” asked the Chief. Little pigeon hawk told his big brother the whole story from the beginning. When the Chief heard all, he became very angry.

Immediately, he went to the place where Orphan-Boy was still held down to the floor. The Chief scolded the bad thunderbirds for their wrongdoing. Because they had pushed little pigeon hawk too close to the fire, the Chief announced they could no longer keep Orphan-Boy as their prisoner. Chief Big Black-Hawk cut the ropes and took the freed young boy home with him.

Every day, little pigeon hawk brought roasted bird meat for his friend Orphan-Boy, helping him to regain his strength. Later, Orphan-Boy made a bow and some arrows and took little pigeon hawk hunting with him.

Before winter weather arrived, Chief Big Black-Hawk informed his little brother that it would be better for Orphan-Boy to return to his own people.

“He does not belong up here with the Thunder Spirits, and I do not think Mother Earth Spirit will approve of it,” said the Chief.

Little pigeon-hawk took Orphan-Boy back to the very place from where he had disappeared a long time ago. That evening, Orphan- Boy’s old faithful friend came as usual to that place and found Orphan-Boy had returned! How surprised and delighted both boys were to see each other again. Orphan-Boy told his old friend everything that had happened to him since he had been kidnapped by the Thunderbird.

A thanksgiving feast was prepared by the grandmother for both families to celebrate the happy homecoming of the boy stolen by the Thunderbird. From that time forward, Orphan-Boy and his faithful friend had many happy hunting times together, trying never to be separated again.

Holy Song (Medicine Song)

Long ago, before the Winnebagoes left their homes by the Great Water in Wisconsin, a young man went into the hills to fast. He fasted for twelve days, and then a spirit came to him in a vision and talked with him. The Earth-Maker, called Ma-o-na by the Winnebagoes, had sent a spirit to teach the young man. The spirit gave him knowledge and also taught him wonderful words that brought him health, well-being, and long life.

Wise was the young man when he left the hills, for he brought with him the teachings of the spirit and the power of the holy words. When he came back to his people, he sang a special song, and this song was the beginning of one kind of medicine ceremony.

The words he had learned from the spirit were so holy that the man lived a long time without any sickness. Nor did he die of any sickness. At the end of his long life, all the joints of his body fell apart from mere old age, and of old age alone the man died.

The song that he created, with the wonderful words learned from the spirit, has always been cherished by the Winnebagoes because of its great power.

The song was created long ago when our language was different from what it is now. Today, our people do not use such words in common speech. Indeed, no one knows the exact meaning of the wonderful words. The song is still sung in some of the medicine ceremonies, but only the Medicine Men, the Holy Men, understand its meaning.

The Medicine Ceremony of the Winnebagoes lasts four days and four nights. Holy songs are sung, and there is a spoken ritual. In the ritual, the Holy Man gives commandments and teaches our people the ways of goodness. Now and then, in order that we may not become tired and drowsy, the ceremony is given life by dancing. So the slow part of the Holy Song is followed by the quick part, which is the music of the dance.

In the olden times, the Medicine Ceremony was very solemn and sacred. And its mysteries were known only to the Medicine Men, the Holy Men. White people called it the “medicine religion of the Winnebagoes.” Here is one of the Holy songs:

Saith the spirit,
“Dream, oh, dream again,
And tell of me,
Dream thou!
Into solitude went I
And wisdom was revealed to me.
Saith the spirit,
“Dream, oh, dream again,
And tell of me,
Dream thou!”
Let the whole world hear me,
Wise am I!
Now saith the spirit,
“Tell of me
Dream thou!”
All was revealed to me;
From the beginning
Know I all, hear me!
All was revealed to me
Now saith the spirit
“Tell of me
Dream thou!”

Some Adventures of the Little Hare


“In the summer of 1950, on an Indian reservation along the coast of Washington, I had an experience that I think I shall never forget. I sat on the platform of an old warehouse with three elderly Indians and heard two of them tell some of the old stories they entertained themselves with almost every day.

“The unique feature of most of these tales was the chants. When the storyteller began a chant, the other two joined him. No one translated the words, but the singing was delightful. The Indian words in clear tones must have gone through the entire village. The chants, the gestures, the changes of voice and of facial expressions for the different characters in the tales–all dramatized the story and made the morning one to be remembered.”

The songs in the following stories are from the Hochunk (Winnebago) Indians, who now live in Nebraska. The Hochunk told many tales about Wash-ching-geka, “the Little Hare.” In many tribes, it has been said, there were “legends to account for the remains for prehistoric animals.”

While the Little Hare was doing his work, he lived with his grandmother. She was the Earth, and she was very wise. She cooked for the Little Hare, and she took good care of him.

At that time, a great, big elephant lived near them. He devoured people by reaching out for them with his long tongue and then swallowing them. The elephant looked like a large hill all covered with grass. The Little Hare went out to kill the huge elephant, because he devoured so many of the people. First, the Little Hare sprinkled himself all over with small pieces of flint. Then he sat down in front of the elephant and sang this song:

You, who reach with your tongue,
Great One, you draw them in.
So I have heard it told.
Gather me in!
Gather me in!

The elephant saw the Little Hare’s ears sticking up in the grass, and he thought that they were feathers on somebody’s head. So he reached out his tongue and swallowed the Little Hare. Inside the elephant all was dark and vast. There were starving people there, some dead and some dying, for they had no wood to cook with.

Then the Little Hare said to a young woman who was inside, “Look in my fur and see if you can find a piece of flint.”

The woman searched through his fur and found a little piece of flint. The Little Hare struck his hand upon the flint and said, “Grow bigger!” And it became bigger. Four times he struck thus, and each time the flint grew bigger. Then he struck it again and said, “Be a knife!” And it became a knife. Then he struck out again and said, “Be a big knife!” And it became a great big knife.

The Little Hare felt along the ribs of the elephant until he found a soft place between two rib bones. There he cut a hole like a door, and through it he sent out all the people. Then he ran forward to the elephant’s heart, and with one blow of his knife he split the heart in two. Like the people inside the elephant, the Little Hare then jumped out through the hole. On his way he caught up the elephant’s young ones. When he reached the outside world, he threw the little elephants clear across the water. That is why the elephant now lives only on the other side of the water.


You, who reach with your tongue,
Great One, you draw them in.
So I have heard it told.
Gather me in!
Gather me in!

While running here and there over the earth, to see what other work he should do, the Little Hare found a pass or trail where some huge thing had gone by.

“I must find out what this is,” he said to himself. “Maybe it is some huge animal that will run over the people and kill them.”

So he blocked up the pass with trees and stones. But when he came there again, lo! the huge thing had burst through them! Then he went to his grandmother and told her what had happened. She made a net for him to spread across the pass. Next day he hears someone crying aloud and singing this song:

Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!
Your uncle and your aunts
Oh, whatever will they do,
Whatever, whatever will they do!
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!

Who was it that the Little Hare had caught? Who but the Sun! The Sun used to go through that pass every day, but this time he had been caught in the Little Hare’s net.

“You go and set him loose!” commanded the grandmother. She scolded the Little Hare and beat him with her cane. “What will all your little-fathers and your little-mothers do without the Sun? So! Set him loose!”

So Wash-ching-geka tried to untie the net, but the Sun was so hot that the Little Hare could not face him. He could only back up, turning away his head. And thus the hind parts of the Little Hare were so scorched that, to this day, the skin of the hare’s hind quarters is tender and easily broken.


Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!
Your uncle and your aunts
Oh, whatever will they do,
Whatever, whatever will they do!
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!

The Little Hare had another adventure with a monster. This monster was shaped like a living ant, with a big body and legs but with a very, very small middle part. At his waist, he was scarcely thicker than a hair. He lived behind a hill. Whenever he left home, he carried a very big tree and pounded the ground with it while singing a song. If elk and other animals came near, he threw the tree down upon them and killed them.

The Little Hare thought that because the Ant-Man was very thin at the waist, he could blow him in two. So the Little Hare blew “Soo! Soo!” But instead of blowing Ant-Man in two, he himself got killed. The Ant-Man threw his tree and crushed the Little Hare. When the Ant-Man lifted his tree, he found only a very small, flattened thing, he picked it up by the ears, said, “No good to eat,” and threw away the little dead body.

That evening, when the Little Hare did not return home, his grandmother knew that he had been killed. The next morning she rose and ate, gathered her dress above her knees so that she could run faster, took one of the Little Hare’s elkhorn clubs, and started out to find him. The old grandmother, able to run fast like Little Hare, ran over the whole earth until she heard the Ant-Man pounding and singing.

When he lifted up his tree to throw at her, she said, “Brother, better not do that!” So he stayed his hand and talked with her.

In a very short time, he admitted, “I did kill something very small yesterday. It was no good for eating, and so I threw it away. You go down there and look at it.”

Finding that the little creature was her Little Hare, she picked him up by the ears and said, “You sleep here too long! Wake up and go to work!”

He went home with her. Next morning he started forth to find a big tree that would protect him from Ant-Man and his big fir tree. The Little Hare went away to the very edge of the earth, where the biggest pine trees grow. There he spoke to Wa-zi- chunk, the tallest tree in the world.

“Big tree,” said he, “I plan to use you. I will pull you out of the ground, but when I have finished with you, I will put you back again.”

He laid hold of the tree, pulled it out, and carried it to the place where he had been killed. He climbed the hill at one end while Ant-Man climbed it at the other end, singing and pounding with his tree. The Little Hare also sang and pounded with his tree. Then the two danced toward the other, each one singing and pounding with his tree.

Soon big Ant-Man walked more and more slowly. He could hardly keep on his feet because the Little Hare made the ground shake by pounding it with the tallest tree in the world. Slowly the two came nearer and nearer to the other. When the Little Hare reached the tall Ant-Man, he took the tallest tree in the world and crushed the monster.

A swarm of flying ants came out of the monster’s body, and the Little Hare said to the dead body, “You can never again kill anything. And you little ants will have to creep on the ground, but sometimes you may fly.”

And then the Little Hare carried the tall tree back to the edge of the earth and set it in its place.

The Encyclopedia of Hotcâk
(Winnebago) Mythology


Hotcâk Chiefs: Little Prophet, Whirling Thunder,  White Breast, Little Decorah, CoghoknÓka (Little Hill)

A Gallery of Hotcâk Notables
Hotcâk (Winnebago) Language Studies

Winnebago were called “people of the filthy water” and even the English called them Stinkards. They belonged to the Siouan family, related to some Iowa, Oto, and Missouri bands. Winnebago of ancient times lived on Green Bay in Wisconsin territory, extending inland to Lake Winnebago. Though they generally maintained peaceful relations with surrounding tribes, in 1671 they were nearly destroyed by Illinois tribe raiders, but recovered from the surprise attack. Winnebagoes thrived upon a delicious native grass they named wild-rice, which grew abundantly in lakes, ponds, and streambeds. These plants, self- seeding in spring and summer and harvested from canoes and barges in fall, maintained their people in good health. They also hunted much game for meat and furs. By treaty in 1825 and 1830 they ceded all of their lands to the federal government in return for a large reservation on the west side of the Mississippi River above the Iowa River. Later, Winnebago moved to another reservation in Minnesota, then to Nebraska where they remain. Winnebago are known as a mother tribe of Siouan linguistic families.

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