Arikara Legends

Neshanu Natchitak is the Arikara name for the Great Spirit or God. It lterally means the Chief Above, and He is often just called Nishanu (“Chief” or “Lord“), which is still used as the Arikara word for God today.

Characters Found in Arikara Legends:

Charred Body, Unknown One, First Creator, and Only ManThese are not really Gros Ventre legends at all, but Mandan and Hidatsa ones. Sometimes, especially on the Internet, they are mislabeled as Gros Ventre myths, because the Hidatsas were also called “Gros Ventres” by the early French settlers, and in the reservation era these three tribes were combined to form the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Bertold Reservation.

Chirich – Coyote, the trickster figure of Arikara Indian myths. He is clever but reckless, and is forever getting himself and the people around him into trouble, particularly through socially inappropriate behavior like greediness, boastfulness, lying, and chasing women.

Like modern cartoon characters, Coyote frequently dies during the course of his adventures and returns randomly to life– it is impossible to truly get rid of that trickster for good. Coyote stories are often humorous in nature, but they can also be cautionary tales about the consequences of bad behavior and the dangers of interacting with irresponsible people.

Drinks Brains and Long Teeth – These magical twins whose mother was killed by a monster are common to the myths of many Midwestern and Plains tribes.

Mother Corn – Her Arikara name (Atna or Atina) literally means just Mother. The corn was added to her name by anthropologists because she was the goddess or spirit of the corn. According to Arikara mythology, Neshanu created the Mother from an ear of corn and she became the protector of the Arikaras, leading them to their homeland and teaching them to farm.

Scalped Man (Tshunuxu) – A warrior who returned to life after being killed and scalped in battle and now roams the world as a fearsome spirit being.

Stuwi – A woman of loose morals who features in many jokes and stories told among Arikara men. Stuwi stories usually feature adult humor.

Whirlwind-Woman – A powerful storm spirit of Arikara mythology.

Arikara Legends:


Article Index:

Burr Woman

Long ago, there lived a very handsome youth. All the girls were eager to marry him, but he did not care for women. There was a good-looking girl who was living with her grandmother. She proposed to the youth, but he refused to marry her. The girl returned and complained to her grandmother.

The Buffalo Wife

A man wanted some eagle-feathers. He got to an eagle nest, found four young birds there, and plucked off their wings. The old eagle attacked him, but was killed in the struggle. The chief of the eagles, Big-Eagle, then pursued the man and, catching hold of his head, flew with him to a mountain-top, where he left him astride a crag. The man was nearly starved. After ten days the eagle returned, gave the man two feathers from each wing, and took him down to a buffalo-trail. “You will meet an old buffalo-chief. He will be wild, but don’t run away. Put one of the feathers in his head, and he won’t hurt you.”

When the buffalo came, the man followed the eagle’s directions. The buffalo told the man he would meet another wild buffalo and bade him put a feather in his head also. The man obeyed. The second buffalo then said, “My youngest brother is coming behind me. Put a feather in his head.” The man obeyed, and though the bull was preparing to kill him, he left him alone as soon as he was offered the feather. The bull said, “At the end of this road you will find a spring and you will see the tracks of a buffalo cow. Don’t tell her about the tracks.” When the man got to the tracks, he said, “I should like to eat kidneys, I should like to eat buffalo feet.” The cow appeared and asked, “What did you say about me?” “I did not say anything about you.” “I heard what you said; I want to take you home.” She took him to the camp as her husband. There they gave him his brother-in-law’s kidneys to eat.

The Indians were making a buffalo-pound. The man’s father-in-law told him not to look outside his tent. But when the man heard the buffalo running he looked out and saw his brother chasing buffalo. Then he made bows and arrows, saying, “I am also going to catch buffalo.” The next morning he went to the Indian camp and gave each man two arrows. Then they killed most of the buffalo.

The man picked up grass, willow-leaves, and other kinds of food, and asked the old buffalo, “What would you like to live on?” The old buffalo tried the different kinds of food. He said, “I prefer grass.” Then the man asked the moose to choose, and he picked out willow-leaves. The bear chose berries and roots, the deer grass and leaves. This is how the animals got their food.

The man had a calf by his buffalo-wife. He also married a moose-woman. His brother, Magpie, was lusting for one of the wives. One day the man was out hunting. Magpie asked the women to race. The buffalo-woman won. The second time the moose made a mud-hole in her rival’s path. The buffalo-woman stuck in the mud, and the moose won. The buffalo-woman was angry, and when she had gotten out she returned to her father, accompanied by the calf. When her husband came home, he found one of his wives gone and pursued her. When he got to the buffalo camp, the old buffalo got up a dance of the buffalo, in the course of which they trampled the man to death.

Magpie was living with the moose-woman. When his brother did not return, he went to look for him. The calf told him how the buffalo had killed his father. Magpie looked for his brother’s hair. At last, he found some of it, took it back to the camp, and restored his brother to life. Then the man said to the calf, “Tell your grandfather to get all the buffalo after me. We shall fight.” When the buffalo came after them, the moose-woman began to cry. Magpie said, “Give me some red iron.” He chewed it, threw it in the air and thus made an iron house. The buffalo ran against it, but only killed themselves. Some were scared and ran home.

Magpie married a buffalo and a moose-woman. The buffalo gave birth to a calf. The two women were jealous of each other, each wishing to stay alone with her husband. Magpie once declared that he would stay with the one that would defeat the other in a race. They began to run on level ground, and the buffalo ran ahead. Then the moose said, “I wish you would get stuck in a mud hole before you get back.” On their way back, the buffalo got stuck and lost the race. When she extricated herself, she was very angry and returned to her father.

When Magpie found that the buffalo-woman had deserted him, he followed after her. The buffalo-calf was lingering behind his mother. When the man got near him, he said, “Look, my son, I am thirsty and exhausted.” The calf said, “Follow my footsteps and you will get to a good spring.” The man obeyed and found good water. The calf said, “You will get thirsty three times before we reach the buffalo camp.” The man continued following his wife and got thirsty again.

Again his son directed him to a spring. After drinking, he ran after his wife, thinking he might catch her, but he never even caught sight of her. At last they got to the buffalo camp, where there were many lodges.

The buffalo-woman went to her father’s lodge. “What is the matter, my daughter? Why do you come back?” “I had a race with the moose-woman, and got stuck in a mud-hole. She has my husband all to herself now.” The man was afraid at first, but finally he went to his father-in-law.

The old buffalo said, “We are going to have a war dance now. Put on your headdress and your best clothes. Watch the buffalo and act like them.” Before dancing, Magpie said, “I am hungry.” The old buffalo said, “I’ll give you something to eat.” Then he allowed him to eat one of his brothers-in-law, but ordered him not to cut his legs and to pile up the meat after skinning him. After the man had eaten, the dance began. They danced three times without hurting him, the calf dancing beside his father. The fourth time all the buffalo jumped up, hooked him, threw him continually in the air, and killed him.

When Magpie did not return, the moose-wife began to cry. Her brother-in-law said, “Stay where you are, I’ll go to look for my brother.” He started out. At last, he found a buffalo trail. He was afraid to enter the buffalo camp, but, seeing a young calf, he asked him, “Where is my brother?”

“The buffalo have hooked him to death in their war-dance.” Magpie’s brother stayed outside the lodges and listened here and there. He heard his nephew crying. The calf told him how his father had been hooked and trampled to pieces. He walked on the dance-ground until he found a small bit of Magpie’s hair. He wrapped it up in his blanket, blew smoke at the blanket, and said, “Wake up!” Thus he restored his brother to life. Magpie got angry at the buffalo, seized one of the buffalo by his horns, and made a fire that burnt up his hair. That is why the buffalo have curly hair.

The moose was staying with Magpie and his parents. One day all the buffalo came to attack them. The old man went outside the lodge and saw the buffalo thundering along. All were terrified except Magpie, who continued to sleep. “Look, all the buffalo are coming, get up!” For a long time he paid no attention to them. At last, he got up, asked for water, washed himself, and asked his mother for some iron. She said there was none.

Magpie looked for it himself, found a small piece, and chewed it up. Thus he transformed their lodge into one of heavy iron. The buffalo ran against it, but could not destroy it, while Magpie, sitting on their roof, shot many of the buffalo. Sitcon’ski joined the buffalo, saying, “I’ll try to kill Magpie, give me some iron horns and I’ll hook his house.” For a long time Magpie did not notice him. At last, he ‘said, “What is Sitcon‘ski doing there?” “Oh,” answered Sitcon’ski, “I was only joking.”