Tsikidikikea and the Crypto-Vortex
The Wichita Indians told stories of the Spirit Tsikidikikea: “The Windman”
by Lee Streiff
The Historical Background
The Wichita Indians were by no means the first people to live in the place that the present-day city of Wichita occupies. They were, in fact, relatively late-comers to the river valley where the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers merge together at a Y shaped confluence. Flint points found in Gypsum Creek behind my house, up on the eastern bluff above the old valley, show that Archaic hunters lived there at least four-thousand years ago — and perhaps even earlier — the Grove Park site in the northern part of the city may date to as early as 5000 BCE. And, in a later time, a half a city block down from my house, on the other side of the creek, we have excavated a Woodland site dating back eighteen-hundred years and a Quiviran site from around six-hundred years ago. It is thought by some that the Quivirans and the Wichita were the same people.
When Don Juan Onáte, the Spanish Governor of New Mexico, arrived at the confluence of the two rivers in 1601, he found a sizable village of some 1200 grass houses there. Though it is hard to correlate the archaeological materials and the descriptions derived from early European contacts with historic tribes, the fact that these people lived in grass houses suggests that they were the Wichita (or Kitikiti’sh people), for building such lodges is a unique and characteristic trait of theirs. A 1703 map published by Guilaume Delisle and a recorded visit in 1749 by Felipe de Sandoval also refer to grass houses at the confluence. In later times, Lt. James B. Wilkerson, a member of Pike’s 1806 expedition, also mentioned the village, as did Captain John R. Bell when he mapped the Arkansas River in 1820. One may trace Captain Bell’s journey through the modern day city by his compass headings, physical landmark descriptions, and estimates of distances traveled. At that time the village was so large that it extended all the way from the river east to Chisholm Creek — slightly over a mile.
At some point around this time the Wichita left the area — we are not certain when. We do know, however, that the Osages and the Pawnees lived in the area when white settlement in the form of “trading posts” first began. In fact, the land on which the modern city is built was Osage Trust Territory, granted by treaty in 1825. The events which led up to the Civil War changed the territorial status of Kansas, however, and Kansas became a state in 1861. By 1863 permanent white settlements were springing up all over the area. Ironically, because the Wichita bands had sided with theNorth in the war, an agency was set up for them and 1800 of them were brought back from Oklahoma and Texas to their ancestral home at the confluence of the rivers in 1864. In 1867, however, they were again moved — back to Oklahoma — and the new village of Wichita — a white village this time — began to take shape.
It is clear, then, that although many different peoples have lived in this place over a long period of time, it is the historic tribe of the Wichita and its affiliated bands: the Waco, Tawakoni, (and the absorbed Taovayas and Yscanis), and the adopted Keechi, that would be the most probable source of authentic legends about the place as it was before the European incursions. This, despite the fact that these bands were spread over a larger area than just the modern city of Wichita — where apparently the Tawehash band lived — reaching at times westward to the great bend of the Arkansas (the Tawakoni band), and southward to the Oklahoma border (the Wichita band), as well.
The Legends of the Wichita
And the Wichita do have a rich and complex mythology and cosmology — which, fortunately for us, has been largely saved by having been transcribed by George A. Dorsey in the latter part of the 19th Century from the words of Tawakoni, Wichita, and Waco storytellers. These stories were published in 1904 by the Carnegie Institution as The Mythology of the Wichita, and that work was re-issued with some additional material by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1995.
Dorsey, who was Curator of Anthropology of the Field Columbian Museum, genuinely admired and understood the Wichita. He was not a redactor of the tales he wrote down — and he seemingly had no ax of his own to grind with regard to the myths, even though his own intellectual framework and the mores of the times he lived in led him to think in terms of “gods” and “magic”, and to translate sexually explicit passages into Latin. The texture of the language he records and the repetitive nature of some of the narratives, however, leads one to have confidence in the reliability of his transcriptions.
In addition, because only a sparse few of the tales even refer to the horse — the animal that became the necessary prerequisite for the Plains Indians’ style of life — it seems certain that these stories date back to a time before the introduction of the horse by the Spaniards. The absence of the horse, then, argues both for the antiquity of the tales and their authenticity, uncontaminated by later cultural elements.
Altogether, Dorsey recorded sixty stories — although some are near duplicates of each other (being told by different storytellers). Some of the stories are cautionary tales — most of those with Coyote as a character, for example. Others are eitiological, or explanatory in nature — as in why a certain kind of rock formation is called what it is. Some are humorous narratives, some philosophical commentary. Others seem to have elements of tribal history embedded in them. A few are in the form of the celebration of the feats of a great warrior or cultural hero. By and large, however, they are genuine myths of the type Malinowski defines:
If we can get past Malinowski’s use of the terms “primitive” and “natives” to the essence of what he is saying, it is clear that such myths are fundamental truths about the nature of reality and a people’s place in that reality — and most of the myths of the Wichita are precisely this.
The Characters of the Myths
In his introduction to the stories, Dorsey summarizes his understanding of the basis and structure of the Wichita religion. While being perceptive, this introduction also reveals Dorsey’s own cultural bias and limitations. For example, he states that the religious system of the Wichita “may be characterized as a star cult.” (Dorsey, 1995: 18). In a way, both terms are incorrect. First, of course, the religion is not a “cult”, but a full-fledged religious conception of ancient origin — elements of which can be found in many Indian mythologies and in many ancient religions of the Old World.
Second, it is broadly “astronomical” in nature — a constituent also shared by many religious conceptions. The Sun, the Morning Star (Venus), the South-Star (possibly Jupiter), the North Star (Polaris), the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the “Ghost-Bear” (possibly the Andromeda Nebula), “Flint-stone-lying-down-above” (an unidentified faint star directly overhead), the Moon, and meteors all play structurally important roles in the mythology. One of the most important astronomical myths is that of “the hunter and the three deer” — which contains imagery and a narrative amazingly like the myth of the Hiisi Elk in Lapp (Saami) mythology. The importance of the constellation of the Great Bear in Wichita myth is also akin to the constellation’s importance in Lapp myth.
And while Dorsey mentions “medicine men” and their relationship to the star called the “Ghost-Bear” (which derived its powers from the Sun) — he does not seem to fully grasp the significance of the medicine man’s — or more properly, the shaman’s — dream journeys, nor the importance of the role he played in the life of the tribe. For an excellent analysis of this role, one can consult the article by Håkan Rydving cited in the credits.
As important as the astronomical component of the Wichita religion is the part played by animals in the mythology. Nearly every native mammal, from the opossum to the bison, and nearly every kind of bird and many species of reptiles are to be found, as well, as characters in the stories. What is remarkable about the animals, however, is their interchangeability with men in the narratives: by immersing himself in water, an animal becomes a human; by conscious choice a man decides to become some animal; a man acquires the powers of a particular animal; a man falls in love with a buffalo-woman and goes to live in the land of her buffalo people; and so on.
Initially, one might think that these elements are mythic interpretations of clan totems and are thus remembrances of historical occurrences — but that does not seem to be the case. Neither are the transformations “magical” in character. In no respect can they be reduced to the terms of Sir James Frazer’s “magical” framework modeled in The Golden Bough and used by many commentators since to “explain” the myths of “primitive” peoples. Rather, it seems that they are a clear recognition of a unity of life that is fundamental to the world-view of the Wichita.
And there are several spirits in the Wichita mythology, too. These are not so much “gods” (as Dorsey’s conceptualization would have them) as they are the manifestations of elemental forces. Foremost among these is Kinnekasus (“Man-never-known-on-Earth”) who set the process of the First Creation into motion. There are also Otskahakakaitshoidiaa (“Woman-having-Powers-in-the-water”) who gives water its powers (primarily the power of transformation); Mother-Earth, who gives birth to nature and makes the corn grow; and Newerah (the Wind), who is the breath of life itself.
And there are a few “monsters” as well — unnatural beings. Most notably, there are the Witschatska (the “Double-Faced-Monsters”, who are also referred to a being “double-headed” and thus may be a remembrance of a pair of Siamese twins) and the four Hoskakakadiki monsters (who were four-footed but could stand on their hind legs and grew to an enormous height). The Hoskakakadiki were the creatures who gave the four cardinal points their names and who brought on the general destruction of the Deluge that marked the end of the second phase of the Cycle of time that the Wichita believed in.
This Cycle was the fundamental underpinning of everything in Wichita mythology. According to Dorsey, the Cycle consisted of four “eras”:
- The Creation of the earth, of the first man, Kiarsidia (“Having-Power-to-carry-Light” — the Morning Star), and the first woman, Kashatskihakatidise (“Bright-Shining-Woman” — the Moon) and their subsequent teaching of the culture to others, the appearance of the animals, and the beginning of the hunter Kinnihequidikidahis’ (“Star-that-is-always-moving”) chase of the three deer.
- The Transformation of the people and their spreading out to cover the earth. In this period, the people learn their names and some are transformed into the animals whose names they bear. But things begin to go wrong, and finally, the wife of a chief gives birth to the four Hoskakakadiki monsters, and they must be destroyed — which they are, in a great flood from the north.
- The Present. In this period the earth is re-peopled by those who survived the flood. The culture is learned again and the people are taught the “mysteries of the animals” and are given powers by the animals (Dorsey, 1995: 21). In this time they also learn of death, and in one important story a journey to the Spirit-Land is told of.
- The Dakawaitsakakide (“When-everything-begins-to-run-out”). This is the last times, the end of everything. Everything degenerates and becomes sterile, and the earth itself wears out. The man who has been following the three deer is beginning to overtake them. At the end, a star will come down to earth and explain what is happening, and all of the heavenly bodies will become people again.
Following this, the Cycle will begin again, and other generations will arise.
One cannot help but note the similarities here between the Wichita mythology and the predictions made later by the Paiute prophet Wovoka when he preached the “Ghost Dance” to the Indians in the 1880s.
Many of the myths have standard story elements that appear in otherwise different narratives. For example, the situation of two villages side-by-side separated only by a street is a common element. In some cases this sets up a story in which the daughter of the chief of one village and the son of the chief of the other seek out each other (each independently having decided to do so) and run away together. The following stories are sometimes similar, and sometimes different.
In another set of stories which have the same situation of two side-by-side villages, one chief is good and the other is evil. When visitors come to the village of the good chief they are challenged by the evil chief to a contest (sometimes a foot race, sometimes a ring and stick game, or some other competition) — and the loser must forfeit his life. Usually the visitors are four brothers who come one at a time and are each killed in turn. Then their father comes, and by his superior wisdom overcomes theevil chief (though not always). Eventually, in all cases, the evil chief is defeated and his body is burned, and out of the fire come all those who were killed by him, restored to life.
The variants on these stories are the classic conflicts found in many mythological systems. These conflicts are typically resolved either by peaceful uniting, as in the first case, or by one combatant overcoming the other, as in the second.
Perhaps the most important myths, however, are those which describe the happenings of the great Cycle outlined above, and two others: one which tells of the deeds of Hawhiswiks (“After-birth-Boy”) and the other which tells of the story of “Child-of-a-Dog”.
Legend # 12 in Dorsey’s compilation is “The Deeds of After-Birth-Boy”, a story told by Ahahe, a member of the Waco band. The set-up for the tale is the “two side-by-side villages” and the boy and girl who are the children of chiefs. In this story they run off together and find a place of their own — and the set-up ceases to have any more significance.
The girl becomes pregnant and the boy becomes the provider for the two of them, going off hunting each day. He warns his wife that while he is gone a man will come around and she is to feed him, but not look at him. Overcome by curiosity, one day she does look at the man and discovers that he is a “two-headed monster”. He promptly kills her and takes the unborn child from her womb. He also takes the After-Birth, which he throws into a river. The child is dropped off in the woods, and the man disappears.
When the husband returns from hunting he finds his wife dead and understands what has happened. He takes her out to the stream and lays her out on the ground, but cannot bring himself to bury her. He then goes looking for the child and finds him.
The husband raises the child and when the child is old enough, leaves him at home when he goes hunting. One day the child meets another boy (who has a tail and lives in the water) who calls him “brother” and they engage in contests and become fast friends. Finally, the “lodge” boy tells his father about the other boy — whose name is Hawhiswiks — and they catch him and bring him into their lodge to live with them. The father is impressed with the boy’s powers.
Then follows the adventures of the two brothers. Their father has forbidden them to do certain things, but they go ahead, and one by one they kill the evil Spider-Woman (Itsezgarhenegits); go to the nest of the Thunderbird (Geleassegits) and throw out the two evil chicks, saving the two good ones; find the body of their mother turned to stone; kill the family of Double-Faced Monsters (Witschatska); kill the Headless-Man (Chearppeschaux); kill a Water Monster (after first being swallowed by it and living inside of it); and finally, follow arrows up to the sky where they become stars.
The story is a classic of the “astronomical hero” type found in many other cultures, and Hawhiswiks is the mythical equivalent of Lemminkäinen in Saami myth, Heracles in Greek myth, Gilgamesh in Sumerian myth, and Cú Chulaind in Irish myth. In fact there are several exact parallels in these myths with the Wichita story. As examples, Heracles also finds himself in the belly of a water monster and his story involves three-headed (Geryon and Cacus) and two-headed people (the Moliones); and Cú Chulaind also has a “tiny creature” born at the same time as himself (and in Welsh myth Dylan has a “small something” born at the same time he is, and this “brother” becomes the famous Lieu Llaw Gyffes — and Dylan himself had “the sea’s nature”). The unusual character of these and other parallels is striking.
Add to this the fact that all of the other astronomical mythic cycles have crucial stories about the hero’s engaging in a hunt for a deer — as the hunter Kinnihequidikidahis (“Star-that-is-always-moving”) does in Wichita myth — and it becomes clear that the Wichita mythic system has the potential for making a major contribution to the study of myth in archaeoastronomy.
The Story of “Child-of-a-Dog”
Similarly, Legend # 19, told by Yellow-Tipi of the Towakoni band, touches on important mythic images. Though these images are less astronomical, they never-the-less belong to that body of world-wide myth which Carl Jung calls “Symbols of Transformation”.
Chief among these symbols are Tsikidikikea, the Wind (“Thinking-of-a-Place-and-at-once-being-there”) — who is Child-of-a-Dog’s father and who Child-of-a-Dog becomes; and the image of “the Man in the Earth” — which has three iterations in the story.
In the first tale, it is Child-of-a-Dog himself who is buried in the earth in a pit of ashes — and is saved by the Kakia (the Quails). In the second, Child-of-a-Dog casts Likishsewatsquetsa (the “Wood-Rat-Man”) into the ground. In the third, he casts down Iskutukethas (a Mole woman) for stealing his child, which was conceived with a woman who was a Kitiishtadau (or “Striped-Animal” — a Raccoon) — and had been a prisoner of Itsishkaheidikits (“Little-Spider-Woman”). It might be borne in mind that the male Wichita tattooed themselves as Raccoons.
The origin of the Buffalo (Taah) from four angry brothers who challenged Tsikidikikea to a race and lost, and were condemned by him to be hunted for generations is also told. The tattoos of the Wichita women were based on Buffalo designs, among them, three concentric circles around the nipples.
And there is a special astronomical connection to this story — for Child-of-a-Dog is also a deer hunter, and this story may contain elements of the long hunt of the deer through the sky by Kinnihequidikidahis.
The myths of the Wichita are a mythic interpretation of the Place where the present-day city of Wichita stands, but they also are an important link to the world-wide mythologies of ancient times. They both offer an insight into the spiritual meaning of this Place, and have the potential for helping mythographers to understand where Native American myths fit into the larger picture of ancient culture.
- George Dorsey, The Mythology of the Wichita, © 1995, The University of Oklahoma Press.
- Rydving, Håkan, “Shamanistic and postshamanistic terminologies in Saami (Lappish),”Saami Religion, (Edited by Ahlbäck, Tore), © 1987, Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell Tryckeri.
- Malinowski, Branislaw. Magic, Science, and Religion, © 1948, Doubleday Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co.
- Craig Minor, Wichita, The Early Years, 1865-80, © 1982, The University of Nebraska Press.
- Dr. Arthur H. Rohn (WSU) and Lee Streiff (AASCK), A Preservation Plan for Archaeological Resources in the City of Wichita, 1975.