GIANT GODS OF THE DAHCOTAHS
by Mary Eastman
Legends of the Sioux
Wah-Zee-Yah had a son who was killed by Etokah Wachastah, Man of the
South. Wah-zee-yah is the god of the winter, and Etokah Wachastah is the
god of the summer. When there is a cold spell early in the warm weather,
the Dahcotahs say Wah-zee-yah is looking back. When the son of
Wah-zee-yah was killed, there were six on each side; the Beings of the
south were too strong for those of the north, and conquered them. When
the battle was over, a fox was seen running off with one of the Beings
of the north.
These gods of the Dahcotahs are said to be inferior to the Great Spirit;
but if an Indian wants to perform a deed of valor, he prays to Haokah
the Giant. When they are in trouble, or in fear of anything, they pray
to the Great Spirit. You frequently see a pole with a deer-skin, or a
blanket hung to it; these are offerings made to the Great Spirit, to
propitiate him. White Dog, who lives near Fort Snelling, says he has
often prayed to the Great Spirit to keep him from sin, and to enable him
and his family to do right. When he wishes to make an offering to the
Great Spirit, he takes a scarlet blanket, and paints a circle of blue
in the centre, (blue is an emblem of peace,) and puts ten bells, or
silver brooches to it. This offering costs him $20. Christians are too
apt to give less liberally to the true God. When White Dog goes to war,
he makes this offering.
White Dog says he never saw the giant, but that "Iron Members," who died
last summer, saw one of the giants several years ago.
Iron Members was going hunting, and when he was near Shah-co-pee's
village, he met the Giant. He wore a three-cornered hat, and one side
was bright as the sun; so bright one could not look upon it; and he had
a crooked thing upon his shoulder.
Iron Members was on a hill; near which was a deep ravine, when suddenly
his eye rested upon something so bright that it pained him to look at
it. He looked down the ravine and there stood the Giant. Notwithstanding
his position, his head reached to the top of the trees. The Giant was
going northwards, and did not notice the Indian or stop; he says he
watched the Giant; and, as he went forward, the trees and bushes seemed
to make way for him. The visit was one of good luck, the Indians say,
for there was excellent hunting that season.
The Dahcotahs believe firmly the story of Iron Members. He was one of
their wisest men. He was a great warrior and knew how to kill his
enemies. White Dog says that at night, when they were on a war party,
Iron Members would extinguish all the fires of the Dahcotahs, and then
direct his men where to find the Chippeways. He would take a spoonful of
sugar, and the same quantity of whiskey, and make an offering to the
spirits of their enemies; he would sing to them, and charm them so that
they would come up so close to him that he would knock them on the head
with his rattle, and kill them. These spirits approach in the form of a
bear. After this is done, they soon find their enemies and conquer them.
The Dahcotahs think their medicine possesses supernatural powers; they
burn incense,—leaves of the white cedar tree,—in order to destroy the
supernatural powers of a person who dislikes them. They consider the
burning of incense a preventive of evil, and believe it wards off danger
from lightning. They say that the cedar tree is wahkun (spiritual) and
on that account they burn its leaves to ward off danger. The temple of
Solomon was built of cedar.
Unktahe, the god of the waters, is much reverenced by the Dahcotahs.
Morgan's bluff, near Fort Snelling, is called "God's house" by the
Dahcotahs; they say it is the residence of Unktahe, and under the hill
is a subterranean passage, through which they say the water-god passes
when he enters the St. Peter's. He is said to be as large as a white
Near Lac qui parle is a hill called "the Giant's house." On one occasion
the Rev. Mr. —— was walking with a Dahcotah, and as they approached
this hill the Dahcotah exclaimed, "Do you not see him, there he is." And
although no one else saw the Giant, he persisted in watching him for a
few moments as he passed over the hill.
Near Lac qui parle, is living an old Dahcotah woman of a singular
appearance. Her face is very black, and her hair singed and
faded-looking. She was asked by a stranger to account for her singular
appearance. "I dreamed of the Giant," she said; "and I was frightened
when I woke; and I told my husband that I would give a dance to the
Giant to propitiate him; but my husband said that I was not able to go
through the Giant's dance; that I would only fail, and bring disgrace
upon him and all my family. The Giant was very angry with me, and
punished me by burning my face black, and my hair as you see it." Her
husband might well fear that she would not be able to perform
It would be impossible to give any idea of the number of the gods of the
Dahcotahs. All nature is animated with them; every mountain, every tree,
is worshipped, as among the Greeks of old, and again, like the
Egyptians, the commonest animals are the objects of their adoration.
May the time soon come when they will acknowledge but one God, the
Creator of the Earth and Heaven, the Sovereign of the universe!