Myths & Legends



Sioux: A Voyage to the Underworld

Sioux: A Voyage to the Underworld

The Sioux are groups of Native American tribes and First Nations peoples in North America. The Sioux comprise three major divisions based on language divisions: the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota.

Today the Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations, communities, and reserves in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana in the United States; and Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan in Canada.

A Voyage to the Underworld, a Sioux legend, is recounted by Lewis Spence in The Myths of the North American Indians.

A tale of sorcery that features the underworld.
— Orly

There lived in a populous village a chief who had two sons and one daughter, all of them unmarried. Both the sons were in the habit of joining the hunters when they went to shoot buffaloes, and on one such occasion a large animal became separated from the herd. One of the chief's sons followed it, and when the pursuit had taken him some distance from the rest of the party the buffalo suddenly disappeared into a large pit. Before they could check themselves man and horse had plunged in after him. When the hunters returned the chief was greatly disturbed to learn that his son was missing. He sent the criers in all directions, and spared no pains to get news of the youth.

"If any person knows the whereabouts of the chiefs son," shouted the criers, "let him come and tell."

This they repeated again and again, till at length a young man came forward who had witnessed the accident.

"I was standing on a hill," he said, "and I saw the hunters, and I saw the son of the chief. And when he was on level ground he disappeared, and I saw him no more."

He led the men of the tribe to the spot, and they scattered to look for signs of the youth. They found his trail; they followed it to the pit, and there it stopped.

They pitched their tents round the chasm, and the chief begged his people to descend into it to search for his son.

"If any man among you is brave and stout-hearted," he said, "let him enter."

There was no response.

"If any one will go I will make him rich."

Still no one ventured to speak.

"If any one will go I will give him my daughter in marriage."

There was a stir among the braves and a youth came forward.

"I will go," he said simply.

Ropes of hide were made by willing hands, and secured to a skin shaped to form a sort of bucket.

After arranging signals with the party at the mouth of the pit, the adventurous searcher allowed himself to be lowered. Once fairly launched in the Cimmerian depths his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, and he saw first the buffalo, then the horse, then the young brave, quite dead. He put the body of the chief's son into the skin bucket, and gave the signal for it to be drawn up to the surface. But so great was the excitement that when his comrades had drawn up the dead man they forgot about the living one still in the pit, and hurried away.

Lost Underground

By and by the hero got tired of shouting, and wandered off into the darkness.

He had not gone very far when he met an old woman. Respectfully addressing her, he told her his story and begged her to aid his return to his own country.

"Indeed I cannot help you," she said, "but if you will go to the house of the wise man who lives round the corner you may get what you want."

Having followed the direction she had indicated with a withered finger, the youth shortly arrived at a lodge. Hungry and weary, he knocked somewhat impatiently. Receiving no answer, he knocked again, still more loudly. This time there was a movement inside the lodge, and a woman came to the door. She led him inside, where her husband sat dejectedly, not even rising to greet the visitor. Sadly the woman told him that they were mourning the death of their only son. At a word from his wife the husband looked at the youth. Eagerly he rose and embraced him.

"You are like our lost child," said he. "Come and we will make you our son."

The young brave then told him his story.

"We shall treat you as our child," said the Wise Man. "Whatever you shall ask we will give you, even should you desire to leave us and to return to your own people."

Though he was touched by the kindness of the good folk, there was yet nothing the youth desired so much as to return to his kindred.

"Give me," said he, "a white horse and a white mule."


The Return to Earth

The old man bade him go to where the horses were hobbled, and there he found what he had asked for. He also received from his host a magic piece of iron, which would enable him to obtain whatever he desired. The rocks even melted away at a touch of this talisman. Thus equipped, the adventurer rode off.

Shortly afterward he emerged in his own country, where the first persons he met were the chief and his wife, to whom he disclosed his identity, as he was by this time very much changed. They were sceptical at first, but soon they came to recognize him, and gave him a very cordial reception.

He married the chief's daughter, and was made head chieftain by his father-in-law. The people built a lodge for him in the centre of the encampment, and brought him many valuable presents of clothing and horses. On his marriage-day the criers were sent out to tell the people that on the following day no one must leave the village or do any work.

On the morrow all the men of the tribe went out to hunt buffaloes, and the young chieftain accompanied them. By means of his magic piece of iron he charmed many buffaloes, and slew more than did the others.

Now it so happened that the chief's remaining son was very jealous of his brother-in-law. He thought his father should have given him the chieftainship, and the honours accorded by the people to his young relative were exceedingly galling to him. So he made up his mind to kill the youth and destroy his beautiful white horse. But the sagacious beast told its master that some one was plotting against his life, and, duly warned, he watched in the stable every night.

On the occasion of a second great buffalo hunt the wicked schemer found his opportunity. By waving his robe he scared the buffaloes and caused them to close in on the youth and trample him to death. But when the herd had scattered and moved away there was no trace of the young brave or of his milk-white steed. They had returned to the Underworld.


Related Reading

Inuit: Qaudjaqdjuq

Cree: How Rabbit Deceived Fox