"Spring-Boy and Lodge-Boy"

This version comes from Martha Warren Beckwith's fieldwork among the Mandan and Hidatsa's in the 1930s and is published in her Mandan-Hidatsa Myths and Cermonies (NY, reprint,1969), pp. 30-43.

How is the structure of the cosmos revealed? How are the origins of material phenomena explained? What proper ways of behavior are modeled by the mythic beings/culture heroes? What sacred ceremonies find their origins in this myth? What mythic events are associated with specific places? What moral lessons are taught? What healing powers originate in this myth?

[The story begins with Charred Body, whose origin was in the sky world, deciding to colonize the earth world, bringing different sky beings with him. The earth is inhabited by monsters, who try to prevent the new arrivals from surviving, killing many. Coyote helps Charred Body and his sister find a new home after the massacre.]

 After they had lived thus from day to day bringing in game until there was plenty, Coyote went away to the enemy’s village to see what the people were doing, promising to return again. It is an old custom with both Mandan and Gros Ventre that when a sister is alone in a house, a brother must not enter out of re spect to his sister. Only if some one else is with her is it right for him to enter. Hence Charred Body did not think it right to stay alone with his sister, so he went off hunting by day to bring in choice bits of food for her and he told his sister on no account to let anyone into the house if anyone should come around asking for the door. “No one can come in if you do not take out the crossbar,” he said. One day when he came back from hunting he saw his sister standing outside looking as if she were laughing and he took the meat inside and waited for her, but she did not come in. This is what had happened. While he was away on the hunt she had heard a voice crying “Tuk! tuk! tuk! my daughter, where can the door be?" She forgot what her brother had said and undid the door for the stranger. There entered a headless monster. He said, “Place me on the west side between the pillows.” She said, “Grandfather, what will you have to eat?“ He said, “The best is the fat of the stomach. When I eat this fat I must have a pregnant woman lie on her back and then I place the hot fat upon her and eat in this way.” The woman was frightened and only half cooked it. He held it himself to the fire and the flames wrapped his hands but he did not seem to feel it. He made her lie down on the floor and placed the hot fat upon her. The woman screamed and twins were born as the woman died. The monster took one by the leg and threw it into the center of the lodge and said, “Lodge center, make this boy your slave!" The other he threw into the spring and said, “Spring, take this child for yours!" Then he took the doorposts which were forked and set them up outside and placed the woman against them and held out her lips with two sticks as if she were laughing. Then he gathered up all the food and was gone.

When Charred Body knew that his sister was dead he made a burial scaffold for her and by means of a rude lattice he placed her body upon it and cried bitterly. In the evening he came home and was preparing an evening meal when he heard a wee voice from the center of the lodge say, “Brother, give me something to eat.” Twice this happened, then he investigated. He cut a splinter and wrapped fat into it and using this as a torch he looked into the dark spot from which the voice came and found a baby boy. He brought the child to his knee. This was the child who had called him “brother.” (Among these people, a mother’s brother is called “brother”; a father’s brother is an “uncle.”)

When Coyote drifted back he found to his amazement that their sister had been killed and he mourned her loss. One day he said, “Can’t we do something for our brother here? Let us take this baby up and wish that he grow to a certain height.” This is the song that Charred Body sang,—my father used this song in ceremonial rites. First he took sweet grass and with a coal from the fire made some incense and smoked him, then he raised him up and sang (but I do not know the song right) “I want my child to grow this high !“ Coyote did the same. Charred Body raised him again and sang and he became like a boy of twelve. Coyote got up and raised him and sang, “I want my brother to be the height of a man,” and he became like a boy of eighteen. And at the same time, since the boys were twins, the Spring-boy attained the same age also.

Since the boy was now grown he was left to look after the lodge when the two went hunting and every time this happened Spring-boy came out and played with him. The name of Lodge-boy was A-tu-tish, which means “Near-the-edge-of-the-lodge,” and the Spring-boy was Ma-hash from Ma-ha, meaning “spring,” and the pronominal form. He was dark and his brother was light and a little taller than Spring-boy. The two men kept buffalo tongues strung up and wondered why they disappeared so rapidly. “Are there two of you?” they asked, but the boy denied it. They had him bite the tongue and compared the mark left by Spring-boy’s teeth and they were different. At last Lodge-boy confessed that he had known all the time what happened when his mother was killed by the stranger and he was taken by the leg and given to the edge of the wall as a slave and his brother had been thrown into the spring. The brother did not recall this. Spring-boy seems to have been a kind of maverick— he did not belong to anyone. He had a long tusk and lived on water creatures and was influenced by his wild life in the spring. If anyone tried to catch him he would tear him to pieces with his tusk. They arranged a plan to catch him. The boys used to play with gambling sticks and a round stone with a hole bored through. The men fixed up two buffalo hides as a kind of armor with a lace down the back to hold it tight. In the game there was to be a dispute and when the boy got down on his knees to look and see if the ring lay on the stick, Lodge-boy was to jump on his back, tangle up his hair and thrust in a stick to which a bladder was fastened. If he ran for the spring they could catch him by the bladder. Then they prepared a sweat-lodge with hot stones and water ready, transformed themselves into arrowheads and went up on the lodge. Lodge-boy called for his brother. Spring-boy came trotting up, quick and agile, and encircled the lodge to see if there was anyone about. He complained of smelling his brothers, but Lodge-boy told him that was because they had been there before going out hunting. He came into the lodge and was surprised to see the bladder; Lodge-boy told him it was used to separate the marrow from the bones. He asked about the sweatbath and was told it was for the men when they came home from hunting. They began to play and when Spring-boy knelt down to see how the ring had fallen, Lodge-boy jumped upon him, wound his legs about his body and the two boys rolled on the ground and Spring-boy’s tusk could be heard snapping at his brother, The two men dashed in, dragged him to the sweatbath and began to switch him, crying, “What kind of a person are you? You are a human being and should behave like one.” Spring-boy cried out, “I am coming to myself !“ They drew him out and examined his mouth, but the tusk still showed. Three times they returned him to the bath and poured on water and switched his flesh; the fourth time the tusk had disappeared and he lay exhausted. So they fastened up his hair and thrust sticks through it to which the bladder was atttached. The moment he was released he ran to the spring and jumped in but was unable to go under because of the bladder. After the fourth time of trying to get under water he surrendered. They gave him water to drink, inserted two fingers into his mouth, and he vomited up all the water creatures which he had eaten and was restored to the ways of men.

Now there were four occupants of the lodge. Several days passed before Spring-boy came entirely to his senses. The men he was accustomed to call “your brothers” and one day he said, "I wish you would tell your brothers to make a bow and arrows, two painted red and two black for me and the same for you.” Lodge-boy said, “You always speak indirectly to our brothers, but we are twins. We are from the sky. There is a big village where we came from. The chief is Long-arm and he knows everything that is going on and is called a holy man. When our brother Charred Body wanted to come down here to this earth he asked for permission and, although Long-arm said neither yes nor no, he took it upon himself to come down here and this has led to the destruction of all our relatives. But the holy man knows what is going on below here. Our brother and Coyote went courting and our brother killed the chief’s daughter. So there was a fight and our brother was enticed away and was not in the fight, but our other brother Coyote stowed our mother away in a cellar and I knew all these things that were going on. One of the formidable men who took part in the fight was a monster with no head but a big mouth from shoulder to shoulder who lives around the bend of the creek. He killed our mother and I knew all about it and thought that you did too.” Spring boy said that, through living in the spring, he had forgotten all these things. The arrows he had asked for the men made for the boys. Then they went through a ceremonial and Spring-boy said that these arrows, one painted black and one red for each boy, were to be kept sacred and used only in emergency and they were to have other arrows for daily use.

One day as they walked near their mother’s grave, Spring-boy proposed that they use the sacred arrows to bring their mother to life. The two boys had watched the arrow rite. When the two hunters had gone out before sunrise, they took down the arrows from the quiver, burned sweet grass and sang the arrow song. They did the same for the bow, resting one end of the bow on buffalo-bull manure while they strung it. Then they went out where their mother lay. Spring-boy placed one arrow in position, sang the arrow song and let it fly. They could see it go up into the sky like a streak of flame. As it fell the boys cried, “Mother! mother! look out! the arrow is going to hit you !" The figure on the scaffold looked as if about to turn. Lodge-boy shot an arrow. It went high in the sky and came down like a bright light. They cried, “Mother! mother! look out! the arrow is going to hit you!" The figure began to move. Spring-boy sent the third arrow and this time the mother sat up. Lodge-boy shot the fourth arrow and the mother yawned and stretched her arms. She said, “I must have slept a long time; I feel tired.” The boys set up a ladder to the scaffold and the mother came down and embraced them and said, “My spirit has remained here and was about to return to my people when you sent the arrow. You are motherless and it is a joy that you have done this for me and my spirit has returned to my body.” When they returned to the lodge she noticed at once how the meat was cut in strings, not in the nice flat pieces that a woman is accustomed to cut. So she ate a hearty meal. In time came Charred Body and Coyote home from hunting and as Charred Body threw down his pack he recognized his sister and they all cried for joy and she told him how her spirit had pitied the children and had lingered about until it had been restored to her body by means of the sacred arrows.

Charred Body warned the boys that although they had more supernatural power than he had they must never lie down to take a nap without setting up four arrows in the ground, one at each of the four directions, and lying within the arrows with the head resting to the north or to the west (for even an ordinary person should never rest his head to the south or to the east) and they must place their moccasins to point toward the west not toward the east because all the spirits go to the east. Among 1)0th Mandan and Gros Ventre a dead person is always placed with head to the east.

One day the boys went out to survey the country and came to an old man whom they knew to be Flame-around-the-ankle. They stood side by side and asked him to give them a demonstration of his power. He loosened the strings of his moccasin, let the flap fall, and they saw flames leaping. They asked him to run about a cottonwood tree; he trotted about it in a circle and the tree fell over in flames. Spring-boy asked to try the moccasin.—”Surely you may!" He ran about a tree, then back to his brother, and then all at once he circled the old man and burned him to ashes. Then the boys ran shouting and laughing home to their mother pretending that Flame was chasing them.

Again the boys wandered out and as they followed up the creek. Lodge-boy said, “Brother, right in that dense timber on the side of the hill lives the monster without a head who carries his mouth on his shoulder. Let us go over and have a look at him !“ They approached cautiously, then, turning into chickadees, they flew over the monster’s den and perching on a tree began to call. They had filled a water-bag made out of a buffalo paunch and had heated a stone red-hot and caused it to shrink so that they could carry it in the curve of a stick. They first got a big stone, then went into their mysteries and rubbed it until it became small. To this day when we heat a stone red-hot for the sweatbath we call it “the chickadees’ stone.” When the monster came out and opened his mouth to swallow them they dropped the hot stone. As it went down his gullet he thought, “It must be their claws that scratch so!"—“Enlarge! enlarge!" called the boys to the stone. He snatched the water-bag to drink and they said, “Enlarge yourself and hold more water!" The water began to boil in his stomach and the monster burst. The boys burnt up his lodge, skinned him and placed the skin on Spring-boy and ran back to the lodge as if the monster were after them. Its body was black, it had two tails and claws like a tiger’s. The mother was so delighted with this victory that she danced for joy, so from that time they dance when one wins a victory, generally the women but sometimes both women and men.

There was another mysterious spot where an old woman sucked people into a basket. The boys wandered far one day, came to her den and saw the basket hung upon a post. They asked her to demonstrate her power. The woman was afraid of them, knowing that they had supernatural power. A flock of birds were passing, she waved her basket to and fro, then to the side and brought down the birds into the basket. Spring-boy asked her to let him try. He took the basket, waved it as the old woman had done and drew the woman into the basket. Thus he killed her. Great was the joy of their mother when he brought her home dead in the basket.

All those mysterious beings lived in the vicinity of Turtle creek which the Indians call Charred Body creek, just about a couple of miles east of Washburn.

Some time later the boys heard about the Beaver-with-tail like-a-knife who could tear open the earth with a blow. Even today you can see where his tail struck the earth; it looks some thing like a shellhole. The beaver had sharp ears, but the boys lay in wait for him and Lodge-boy shot an arrow through his head as if it were a big pumpkin. When the beaver was dead they cut off the tail and brought it home.

These were the beings who lived about Washburn and had allied themselves with the enemy. There might be others living at a distance, but those who lived near were all destroyed. So their mother’s brothers urged them to attempt no more such exploits and the boys agreed that their mother’s safety was now assured. They wished however to wander further into the coun try, so they told their mother not to worry if they did not return and took their leave

While all this was going on down below, the people in the sky became uneasy lest the boys who had killed so many mysterious beings below come up to the sky and kill them. So they held a council and asked Long Arm to bring Spring-boy, who was dark and reckless, up into the sky and put him to death. Long Arm told them he saw nothing wrong with the boys and did not wish their death. They belonged to their own people. The father and mother had had hard treatment and they had avengedl themselves justly. But the [sky] people cried out all the more against Spring-boy, and Long Arm accordingly used his magic power to throw the boys into a sleep at noon. That is the origin of daytime napping. The boys grew sleepy and, remembering their brother’s instruction, they set up the arrows and placed their moccasins westward with the bow and arrows beside them and went to sleep. The sun cast his direct rays upon them, making them drowsy. Then Long Arm reached down to earth to where Spring-boy lay and picked him up and carried him up into the air.


The people arranged for Spring-boy’s death. They dug a hole and the chief bade them set up a tree there with forked branches, but all feared to cut the tree lest Spring-boy come out alive and destroy the one who cut it down. They tried to persuade the women to cut it, but they said, “If you are afraid, how much more should we weak women fear!" Then the chief decreed that a hermaphrodite should cut the tree on which Spring-boy was to be hung. As soon as Long Arm brought Spring-boy up, the people rushed upon him and beat him until he was nearly dead. They had already prepared the form of death which he was to die. A rawhide was stretched across the arms of the crotch and wound around the tree while it was wet; when dry it was much tighter. The boy’s arms were lanced next to the bone and his feet through the cords and rawhide strips were run through and brought right around the tree so that he hung by wrists and feet. After he was securely tied they raised the tree and set it into the hole. They had put an antelope hide, tanned soft, about his waist so that it hung below the knee, this on account of the number of women present. Over the tree they erected a kind of bower the cross-pieces of which were inserted into the rawhide at the top of the tree. The whole was covered with leaves. All this time the boy said nothing, but

now he spoke: “I have been delivered into your hands and I do not think evil of you, for my mother was one of you and I do not wish to destroy you. If this were done by an enemy it would not be strange, but as you are my own people it does not seem right for you to cause me this agony. But you need not fear me.” The people did not answer; they could accuse him of nothing.

(Today they do not put up a man but they kill a buffalo and cut a strip along the back leaving the tail and raise it as if the buffalo were angry and on the other end they put the buffalo skull without the horns and hang this up to represent the buffalo. They set up a bower about it and gather up the earth into a ridge on the north side and stick bog bush into it, beginning at each end and leaving a place vacant between. They used to leave this space so that when the boy died his body could be laid there Today they lay there the sacred weasles or other animals used in the ceremony. To the right of the ridge on the west side sits the holy man in a robe worn hair side out.)

For three days Spring-boy hung there on the tree, then he began to get weary. Now when Lodge-boy awoke from sleep and could not see his twin brother, he was alarmed and, taking the shape of a flaming arrow, he flew over the earth even to both sides of the ocean calling the name of Spring-boy and, finding nothing, he returned to the place from which his brother had vanished. There as he lay looking up into the sky, he saw a streak of light at the point where Spring-boy had been taken through. Flying through the air he entered at the same place and saw that the land was empty where all the multitude had flocked after Spring-boy. So he changed himself into a little boy with shaggy, uncombed hair and a big belly, who was nevertheless old enough to talk, and followed the people to the field where they were massed about the bower. At the edge of the field was a lodge in which an old woman was sitting. He asked for food and the old woman adopted him as a grandson, he waited upon her and she was glad. All this time they could hear singing going on in the bowery. He said, “Grandmother, what is going on here?” So she related the whole story of Charred Body’s descent to earth and his crime and how the people feared the boys and especially Spring-boy because he was dark of color and reckless and how they had cut the tree and what Spring-boy had said about his own people destroying him.—”This is the third day and night and tomorrow at noon they will place his body on the ridge in the bowery,” she said, and she told how they danced in the morning, at noon and in the evening and sang ten songs in rotation, and how they could not stop dancing until the ten songs were sung or extend the lance beyond them. For a drum they used a long raw­hide without hair which they beat with sticks, and the dancers whistled to the rhythm of the song. The best singers beat with sticks on four small round drums of wood covered with skin on one side like a tambourine which were to indicate the four nights of the dance. It was difficult to remember the order of the songs correctly. (These four lead the singing) and the whole society must sing with the leader. (In old times my wife’s father was the manwho knew the order of the songs and all the society sang with him. It was an age society and each man sang according to the society he belonged to at the time. These songs were not originated on earth but in the skies.)

So the little boy asked the woman to take him to the bowery. At the door she picked him up so that he could see and asked the people to make way for her and her grandchild. They were singing a song and dancing with whistles in their mouths and shouting to the man on the tree, “Be a man for one day more!" As Spring-boy looked about and saw his brother a light shone about his head and he began to move and stretch as if he had been strengthened. Lodge-boy, fearing he would be recognized, begged the old woman to take him outside. That evening they heard again the sound of songs and dancing. An announcer came through the village warning the young men and maidens not to sleep that night but to keep watch lest Lodge-boy come to his brother’s rescue, for the holy man thought when he saw the light that Spring-boy’s brother must have come there to strengthen him.—”My grandchild, did you hear what he was saying? He says that Lodge-boy is here!" said the grandmother. There she was speaking to Lodge-boy in person!

Rows of people slept at the bowery to watch the place. When the old woman was snoring, the boy got up, took some buffalo fat and went over to the place. Some slept, others were talking and moving about. It seemed impossible to reach his brother. He changed himself into a great spider and crawled up to the post where his brother was. With the fat he greased the wounds, then he cut the thongs and they came down to the ground. There he found a stone hatchet with eyes, the very one used to cut the pole, and they carried this out with them. They went out as spiders and the holy man knew all about it but could do nothing because the two together were too powerful for him. Long Arm went and placed his hand over the hole by which they passed through so as to catch them. Spring-boy made a motion with the hatchet as if to cut it off at the wrist and said, “This second time your hand has committed a crime, and it shall be a sign to the people on earth.” So it is today that we see the hand in the heavens. The white people call it Orion. The belt is where they cut across the wrist, the thumb and fingers also show; they are hanging down like a hand. “The hand star” it is called.

The boys went back to the place where they had left the arrows sticking in the ground, pulled out the arrows and went home to their mother. She told them that the people in the sky were like birds, they could fly about as they pleased. Since the opening was made in the heavens they may come down to earth. If a person lives well on earth his spirit takes flight to the skies and is able to come hack again and be reborn, but if he does evil he will wander about on earth and never leave it for the skies. A baby born with a slit in the ear at the place where earrings are hung is such a reborn child from the people in the skies.

While the people sang and danced about Spring-boy in the bower, he had learned the ten songs and he instituted the ceremony on earth in order to get power from the skies. In place of a man’s body he told them to use a buffalo skin. They should lance themselves at the wrist and tie cords to their bodies and suspend the cords to the nose of the buffalo skull and hang there just as he had been suspended. He said, “The person who performs the ceremony in memory of me may have the picture of the sun on his chest and of the half moon on his hack. The sun causes things to grow and the moon causes the moisture. Since I have named the buffalo hide as my own body, the buffalo shall range where people are. In regard to the tree, the maidens of the village must be examined and one who is a virgin shall cut down the tree and a young man, brave and unblemished, shall help her haul the tree to the dance place. In course of time they shall marry and their seed multiply so that the people may live and not go out of existence.”

The Gros Ventres (Hidatsa) people have believed in those rites. You can see where I have been lanced across the chest in those ceremonies. They took hold of the flesh, lanced it through with a sharp knife and thrust a Juneberry stick cut about four inches long and wet with saliva through the lance-thrust and tied it with buckskin so that it would not slip off, then pushed back the chest. It hurt at first but not later. As I ran around (after being suspended to the tree) my feet would leave the earth and I was suspended in air. Above my head I heard sounds like those made by spirits and I believed them to be the spirits of my helpers.

The chief celebrant at these ceremonies has usually killed an enemy. He cuts off the hand, brings it home, skins it, removing the bones, and fills it with sand. After it dries he empties out the sand and wears it at the back of the neck, where it flaps up and down as he dances. It represents Long Arm’s hand. He wears a hand at his back and a white antelope hide about his loins just as Spring-boy wore it. Every night he uses the ridge of earth as a pillow. Since Spring-boy hung on the tree three days and it took a fourth to escape back to the lodge, the ceremony lasts four days. The men who are lanced have to fast. The man who sleeps with his head on the ridge is naked and sage is strewn. The ceremony is called the Sun-dance in some tribes, but among the Hidatsa it is the “Hide-beating.”

The boys were worried for their mother’s safety and the mother for that of the boys, so they sent the two older men and the mother to join the people in the sky and take back the hatchet and give it to the owner. The boys promised their mother to stay below and help the people on earth in spirit as long as the world lasted and at the end of the world she would see them again. The greasing of Spring-boy’s wounds by Lodge-boy was the origin of the use of grease and tallow to heal wounds.