Myths & Legends



Sioux: White Feather the Giant-Killer

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.

White Feather the Giant-Killer, a Sioux legend, is recounted by Lewis Spence in The Myths of the North American Indians.
— Orly

There once dwelt in the heart of a great forest an old man and his grandchild. So far as he could remember, the boy had never seen any human being but his grandfather, and though he frequently questioned the latter on the subject of his relatives he could elicit no information from him. The truth was that they had perished at the hands of six great giants. The nation to which the boy belonged had wagered their children against those of the giants that they would beat the latter in a race. Unfortunately the giants won, the children of the rash Indians were forfeited, and all were slain with the exception of little Chácopee, whose grandfather had taken charge of him. The child learned to hunt and fish, and seemed quite contented and happy.

One day the boy wandered away to the edge of a prairie, where he found traces of an encampment. Returning, he told his grandfather of the ashes and tent-poles he had seen, and asked for an explanation. Had his grandfather set them there? The old man responded brusquely that there were no ashes or tent-poles: he had merely imagined them. The boy was sorely puzzled, but he let the matter drop, and next day he followed a different path. Quite suddenly he heard a voice addressing him as "Wearer of the White Feather." Now there had been a tradition in his tribe that a mighty man would arise among them wearing a white feather and performing prodigies of valour. But of this Chácopee as yet knew nothing, so he could only look about him in a startled way. Close by him stood a man, which fact was in itself sufficiently astonishing to the boy, who had never seen any one but his grandfather; but to his further bewilderment he perceived that the man was made of wood from the breast downward, only the head being of flesh.

"You do not wear the white feather yet," the curious stranger resumed, "but you will by and by. Go home and sleep. You will dream of a pipe, a sack, and a large white feather. When you wake you will see these things by your side. Put the feather on your head and you will become a very great warrior. If you want proof, smoke the pipe and you will see the smoke turn into pigeons."

He then proceeded to tell him who his parents were, and of the manner in which they had perished, and bade him avenge their death on the giants. To aid him in the accomplishment of this feat he gave him a magic vine which would be invisible to the giants, and with which he must trip them up when they ran a race with him.

Chácopee returned home, and everything happened as the Man of Wood had predicted. The old grandfather was greatly surprised to see a flock of pigeons issuing from the lodge, from which Chácopee also shortly emerged, wearing on his head a white feather. Remembering the prophecy, the old man wept to think that he might lose his grandchild.


In Search of the Giants

Next morning Chácopee set off in search of the giants, whom he found in a very large lodge in the centre of the forest. The giants had learned of his approach from the 'little spirits who carry the news.' Among themselves they mocked and scoffed at him, but outwardly they greeted him with much civility, which, however, in nowise deceived him as to their true feelings. Without loss of time they arranged a race between Chácopee and the youngest giant, the winner of which was to cut off the head of the other. Chacopee won, with the help of his magic vine, and killed his opponent. Next morning he appeared again, and decapitated another of his foes. This happened on five mornings. On the sixth he set out as usual, but was met by the Man of Wood, who informed him that on his way to the giants' lodge he would encounter the most beautiful woman in the world.


Chácopee's Downfall

"Pay no attention to her," he said earnestly. "She is there for your destruction. When you see her turn yourself into an elk, and you will be safe from her wiles."

Chácopee proceeded on his way, and sure enough before long he met the most beautiful woman in the world. Mindful of the advice he had received, he turned himself into an elk, but, instead of passing by, the woman, who was really the sixth giant, came up to him and reproached him with tears for taking the form of an elk when she had travelled so far to become his wife. Chácopee was so touched by her grief and beauty that he resumed his own shape and endeavoured to console her with gentle words and caresses. At last he fell asleep with his head in her lap. The beautiful woman once more became the cruel giant, and, seizing his axe, the monster broke Chácopee's back; then, turning him into a dog, he bade him rise and follow him. The white feather he stuck in his own head, fancying that magic powers accompanied the wearing of it.

In the path of the travellers there lay a certain village in which dwelt two young girls, the daughters of a chief. Having heard the prophecy concerning the wearer of the white feather, each made up her mind that she would marry him when he should appear. Therefore, when they saw a man approaching with a white feather in his hair the elder ran to meet him, invited him into her lodge, and soon after married him. The younger, who was gentle and timid, took the dog into her home and treated him with great kindness.

One day while the giant was out hunting he saw the dog casting a stone into the water. Immediately the stone became a beaver, which the dog caught and killed. The giant strove to emulate this feat, and was successful, but when he went home and ordered his wife to go outside and fetch the beaver only a stone lay by the door. Next day he saw the dog plucking a withered branch and throwing it on the ground, where it became a deer, which the dog slew. The Giant performed this magic feat also, but when his wife went to the door of the lodge to fetch the deer she saw only a piece of rotten wood. Nevertheless the giant had some success in the chase, and his wife repaired to the home of her father to tell him what a skilful hunter her husband was. She also spoke of the dog that lived with her sister, and his skill in the chase.


The Transformation

The old chief suspected magic, and sent a deputation of youths and maidens to invite his younger daughter and her dog to visit him. To the surprise of the deputation, no dog was there, but an exceedingly handsome warrior. But alas! Chácopee could not speak. The party set off for the home of the old chief, where they were warmly welcomed.

It was arranged to hold a general meeting, so that the wearer of the white feather might show his prowess and magical powers. First of all they took the giant's pipe (which had belonged to Chácopee), and the warriors smoked it one after the other. When it came to Chácopee's turn he signified that the giant should precede him. The giant smoked, but to the disappointment of the assembly nothing unusual happened. Then Chácopee took the pipe, and as the smoke ascended it became a flock of pigeons. At the same moment he recovered his speech, and recounted his strange adventures to the astounded listeners. Their indignation against the giant was unbounded, and the chief ordered that he should be given the form of a dog and stoned to death by the people.

Chácopee gave a further proof of his right to wear the white feather. Calling for a buffalo-hide, he cut it into little pieces and strewed it on the prairie. Next day he summoned the braves of the tribe to a buffalo-hunt, and at no great distance they found a magnificent herd. The pieces of hide had become buffaloes. The people greeted this exhibition of magic art with loud acclamations, and Chácopee's reputation was firmly established with the tribe.

Chácopee begged the chief's permission to take his wife on a visit to his grandfather, which was readily granted, and the old man's gratitude and delight more than repaid them for the perils of their journey.




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