Shoshone Myth: Wolf Challenges the Euro-American “Iron-Man”

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Northern Shoshone Myth on how the Wolf, father of the native people, defeated the white-man’s father “Iron-Man,” documented by Robert Harry Lowie in 1909.
wolf, Yellowstone National Park, Northern Shoshone

The father of the Indians, in Northern Shoshone myth, is the wolf. Photo from Howling for Justice.

Shoshone Story of their Creator, Wolf, Overcoming the White-Man’s Creator, “Iron-Man”

Iron-Man, or Wihindaibo to the Lemhi Shoshone, the father of the white people, lived in the middle of a big sea. Wolf, the father of the Indians, lived underground. Wolf went to visit Iron-Man, recommended by his brother, Coyote. Wolf paddled across the water in his canoe until he reached Iron-Man’s house. When Wolf came nearer, Iron-Man locked himself inside and sat down, but Wolf entered nevertheless with a breath of air.

“You have arrived at your friend’s dwelling,” said Iron-Man, as he produced his large iron pipe, which he filled with cut tobacco and began to smoke. He handed the pipe to Wolf. With one puff, Wolf smoked up all the tobacco. Then the father of the Indians took his little pipe from a quiver and filled it with kinikkinik. Clouds of smoke rose. He handed it to Iron-Man, but the father of the white man could not smoke it all up. The house filled with smoke and Iron-Man was completely stupefied by it. Worried that he might die, Wolf wished that the doors, which Iron-Man had closed, be blown away by the wind. The wind blew so hard that Wihindaibo’s house began to totter. Iron-Man trembled with fear, freezing from the wind, and Wolf had him lay down in the sun.

Iron-Man challenges Wolf, but he ends up overcome in a smoking contest and freezing from Wolf taking down the sun. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Lemhi Shoshones of Idaho were labeled “vicious and immoral” by governmental officials, their religious and social practices banned, buffalo long gone, and every year armed police rounded up their young for the Fort Hall Reservation Boarding School. In 1907, the entire tribe was forcibly removed to this reservation in the south of Idaho. In their creative imaginations, their contender, Wolf, could use their traditional source of power, sacred tobacco smoke, to best the Euro-American at his own game, making guns. — from Peter Nabokov, “A Forest of Time”

They sat down for a while. Iron-Man asked him whether he could take down the sun. To show his power, Wolf shot an arrow at the sun, and suddenly it went dark. Wolf achieved this with his spirit power. Iron-Man stumbled against objects in the dark house, hurting himself, so Wolf put the sun back.

Then Iron-Man said, “We shall see which one of us can beat the other in making guns.” Both made guns as quickly as possible, putting them up as soon as possible as soon as they were completed. Yet, Iron-Man still looked peaked from the smoke, a bruise on his head from the bump into darkness. Wolf made more guns in the same time as Iron-Man. On that day, the father of the Indians won.

Original stories that provided the basis for this myth were recorded from informants of the Lemhi Shoshone or Agaidika by Robert Lowie, in The Northern Shoshone, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1909. It is also found in Myths of the Idaho Indians, by Deward E. Walker, University of Idaho Press, 1980. This version was edited by Jack Eidt.

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt