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.

Gros Ventre Legends


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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.