[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Mississippi Valley / Great Lakes unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1914).
The Thunderers and the Origin of Fire
WHEN the Great Mystery created the earth, he made also many manidos. Those of animal form were People of the Underground, and evil. But the bird manidos were Eagles and Hawks. They were the Thunderers. The golden eagle was the Thunder-which-no-one-could-see.
Now when Masha Manido, the Good Mystery, saw that Bear was still an animal, he permitted him to change his form. Thus Bear became an Indian, with light skin. All this happened near Menomini River, near where it empties into Green Bay. At this place also Bear first came out of the ground.
Bear found himself alone, so he called to Eagle, “Ho, Eagle! Come to me and be my brother.” So Eagle came down to earth and became an Indian.
While the Thunderers stood there, Beaver came near. Now as Beaver was a woman, she became a younger brother of the Thunderers.
Soon after, as Bear and Eagle stood on a river bank, they saw a stranger, Sturgeon. They called to him. Therefore Sturgeon became Bear’s younger brother and his servant. So also Elk was adopted by the Thunderers. He became a younger brother and water carrier.
At another time, Bear was going up Wisconsin River and sat down to rest. Out from beneath a waterfall came Wolf.
Wolf said, “What are you doing in this place?”
Bear said, “I am traveling to the source of the river. I am resting.”
Just then Crane came flying by. Bear called, “Ho, Crane. Carry me to my people at the head of the river. Then will I make you my younger brother.”
Crane stopped and took Bear on his back. As he was flying off, Wolf called, “Ho, Bear. Take me also as your younger brother. I am alone.”
Bear said, “I will take Wolf as my younger brother.”
This is how Wolf and Crane became younger brothers of Bear. Wolf afterwards let Dog and Deer join him, having seats in the council.
Now Big Thunder lived at Winnebago Lake, near Fond du Lac. The Thunderers were all made by Masha Manido to be of benefit to the whole world. When they return from the Southwest in the spring, they bring with them the rains which make the earth green and the plants and trees to grow. If it were not for the Thunderers, the earth would be dry and all things would perish.
Masha Manido gave to the Thunderers squaw corn, which grows on small sticks and has ears of several colors.
The Thunderers were also the Makers-of-Fire. Manabush first gave it to them, but he had stolen it from an old man living on an island in the middle of a great lake.
Bear and Sturgeon owned rice, which grew abundantly in the waters near Bear’s village. One day the Thunderers visited Bear’s village and promised to give corn and fire, if Bear would give them rice.
The Thunderers are the war chiefs and have charge of the lighting of the fire. So Bear gave rice to them. Then he built a long tepee and a fire was kindled in the center by the Thunderers. From this all the people of the earth received fire. It was carried to them by the Thunderers. When the people travel, the Thunderers go ahead to the camping place and start the fire which is used by all.
Next: The Gifts of the Sky God