Gros Ventre Legends

Ihityebi-Nihaat (Ixtcibenihehat,Chebbeniathan) – This means “Spider Above” or “Spider of Heaven” in the Gros Ventre language, and is the Gros Ventre name for the Creator God, as distinguished from the earthly Nihaat (see below).

Sometimes the name is translated in English as “Man Above,” since the literal form of a spider is not ascribed to Ihityebi-Nihaat. Some people believe that Nihaat and Ihityebi-Nihaat were originally the same mythological entity, and split into two figures after trickster legends were borrowed from the Crow and Sioux.

Common Characters in Gros Ventre Legends

By-The-Door and Found-In-Grass – Were mythical twins whose mother was killed by a monster. They are common to the folklore of many Midwestern and Eastern tribes. They are generally portrayed as heroic monster-slayers in Gros Ventre stories.

Charred Body, Unknown One, First Creator, and Only Man — these 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.

Horned Serpents (Bha’anbi:’itha, Bi’itha or Bi’ithan): Giant underwater snake monsters, who lurk in lakes and rivers and eat unwary travelers. Although they are dangerous and fearsome creatures, they were also respected by the Gros Ventres, and were sometimes said to help those who honored them properly.

Bashnobe (also spelled Basnobe or the Big Sand.) This is not a person but a place. It is the Gros Ventre afterworld.

Little People: Although benign races of small magical creatures exist in many Native American tribes, the Little People of Gros Ventre stories are dangerous man-eaters feared by the people. They are said to be about three feet tall, dark-skinned, and left-handed. Some Gros Ventre people used to leave offerings of animal lungs for the Little People to keep them from becoming hungry and preying on humans.

Nihaat (Nihant, Nixant) – is the spider trickster of the Gros Ventre tribe. His name is pronounced nih-hawt or nih-hawt-ah. Nihaat is an interesting figure– in some tales he plays the typical trickster/transformer role common to Algonquian tribes, making more or less benign mischief and shaping the world for the Gros Ventres as he goes.

But in other tales, Nihaat is depicted as a more violent, anti-social trickster type similar to Siouan spider spirits like Iktomi. In any case, the literal meaning of the character’s Gros Ventre name is “Spider.”

It is given as “White Man” in many older translations, but this is a misleading translation– the Gros Ventres named white people after the trickster character, not vice versa! It doesn’t literally mean “white.”

Thunder-bird (Bha’a in the Gros Ventre language.) A huge bird of prey, common to the mythology of most Plains Indian tribes,who is responsible for creating thunderstorms. The Gros Ventre considered Thunder-bird a particular benefactor of their tribe, who brought the sacred pipe to the people.

The Sun is a powerful being who is often seen as a creator god. He is also seen as a benevolent force, and he is often prayed to for good weather and bountiful harvests.

The Moon is a powerful being who is often seen as a symbol of mystery and magic. She is also seen as a benevolent force, and she is often prayed to for good health and fertility.

The Stars are often seen as a symbol of guidance and hope. They are also seen as messengers from the gods, and they can be used to guide humans on their journey through life.

The Four Winds are powerful beings who control the weather. They are often seen as benevolent forces, but they can also be destructive.

The Buffalo is a sacred animal to the Gros Ventre people. They are seen as a symbol of strength, power, and abundance.

The Bear is a powerful animal that is often seen as a symbol of strength and power. In Gros Ventre legends, Bear is often a dangerous creature, but he can also be a helpful ally.

The Snake is a mysterious creature that is often seen as a symbol of danger and death. In Gros Ventre legends, Snake is often a trickster figure, and he can be both helpful and harmful.

Gros Ventre Legends

  • The Creation of the World
  • The First People
  • The Coming of the White Man
  • The Battle of the Gods
  • The Story of Ihityebi-Nihaat
  • The Story of Nihaat
  • The Story of the Sun
  • The Story of the Moon
  • The Story of the Stars
  • The Story of the Four Winds
  • The Story of the Buffalo
  • The Story of the Bear
  • The Story of the Snake
  • The Story of Coyote
  • The Story of Eagle
  • The Story of Water Monster
  • The Story of Thunderbird
  • The Story of the Afterlife
  • The Story of the Medicine Man
  • The Story of the Warrior

Article Index:

Two Companions

A man living far south dreamt of a man in the north and wished to become his comrade. He went in search of him, and they set out traveling together. The Southerner killed a bear and ate its tongue. He said to his companion, “Run away now, something queer has happened.” He changed himself into a bear and pursued his friend, who fled in terror.


The fugitive fell down. The bear just played with him without biting him, then he turned into a man again.

The Northerner then killed a buffalo and ate its tongue. He turned into a buffalo and pursued his friend, hooking him so as merely to rip his clothes. After a while, he let him alone and resumed human shape.

They traveled on for a long distance. The Southerner killed a moose. “We’ll make two fires in the night,” he said.

He gave half the meat to his comrade. They ate without talking. They began cracking the bones for marrow. Then they counted how many bones each had cracked.

The Northerner said, “I have broken all the bones, give me some marrow. If you won’t, we’ll play at kicking.”

The Southerner got scared. He chopped off his feet and sharpened his legs. The Northerner saw it and went outside to a tree of his own age to which he said, “If this man speaks to you, answer, ‘No.”‘ Then he ran away.

Sharpened-Leg came back and said, “Let us play at kicking.” The tree repeatedly answered, “No.” After a while, Sharpened-Leg went to his comrade’s lodge and only found a stump there. He was angry, split the tree, and pursued his companion, holding his feet in his arms.

When he had caught up, the Northerner climbed a tree. Sharpened-Leg began splitting it. The Northerner begged the tree to hold him. It obeyed and Sharpened-Leg, striking the thickest part of the trunk with his sharpened leg, got stuck. Then the Northerner jumped down.

Sharpened-Leg asked to be freed, but his comrade refused. At last, he said, “If I help you, let us stop these pranks altogether.” Sharpened-Leg agreed, then his comrade released him and set his feet for him.

They traveled on. The Northerner had a great deal of power.

The Southerner said, “Today we shall meet many people.” His comrade replied, “I am not afraid of anything; if lots of people come, I have a war-song.”

Both of them had rattles. A great many people came their way, and they began to sing.

The chief said, “Two friends are coming.” The chief wished to test which of the two was the braver. He put them on horseback and had the horses led to a steep river-bank. When the leg-sharpener got close to the water, he got frightened and caught the line.

The other man was not scared at all, but whipped his horse onward. Then the chief declared the Northerner to be the braver of the two.