Canku Ota logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 22, 2001 - Issue 45


pictograph divider


How Catfish Got a Flat Head


Little Jumper, aka:LitlJump
In regards to the following story:

This was a legend in one of the many books I have from ages past, Indian Campfire Tales by W.S. Phillips, and is of the stories similar to the Lakota legends. It is paraphrased by me from original story. I did not write the original.

Long ago, when the fish and the animals could talk, the chief of the catfish called council. He said to all,

"Hau, brothers. I am very tired of eating things from the mud at the bottom of the lake. I think we should have meat as do the wolves. Let us watch for the moose when he wades into the lake to eat the lily pads and let us spear him and kill him for meat. He comes when the sun is at the edge of the sky, so we will hide among the lilies and grasses and spear him when he comes."

The other old catfish agreed and the whole tribe hid along the lake where the lilies and pads grew the thickest.

When the sun was at the edge of the sky the moose came. He did not go into the lake right away but ate at the edge where the sweet grasses were. At last he entered the lake and the chief catfish said,

"Now, he is in! I will spear him as soon as he gets further from the shore where the water is deeper."

They all waited until the moose was in deep water and then the Catfish chief speared him as hard as he could!

The big moose bellowed with pain and jumped around in the water. He was hurt and frightened at the same time.

"Ho!", he said. "Ho! What is this? Who has speared me in my leg? I will find out who has done this!"

He then stuck his head right down into the water until he could see beneath the surface. There, in the grasses, he saw the catfish tribe getting ready to spear him again.

They were going to kill him for his meat! This made him very angry! His eyes turned red and his heart was bad toward the catfish tribe. He bellowed his war cry and said,

"Ho! Listen to me! Catfish has speared me in my leg! I will make war on them! I will trample this tribe into the mud! Ho! Hear me! I will go to war!"

He began to jumped up and down all over the edge of the lake and trample all the catfish he could find. He crushed them with his big hooves and trampled them deep into the mud, shouting,

"Ho! Catfish speared me in the leg! Ho! I will trample his tribe into the mud!"

He did not stop until all the catfish were trampled into the muddy bottom of the lake. Then he left satisfied he had avenged the wrong done to him.

After the moose left, some of the catfish managed to wriggle out of the mud and get away. Now there are catfish in all lakes and rivers but every one has a flat head because of the war from the big moose that flattened the heads of their grandfathers.

In old times there were very large catfish but now they are very small. They still all carry spears. To this day, they are black and are flatheaded and they are so afraid that they stay hidden in the daytime and only swim at night, which serves them right for trying to kill the big moose long ago.

pictograph divider

Flathead Catfish (Pilodictus olivaris)

Characteristics of the family: Family members can be separated by the simplest criteria into three major groups: the large catfishes that include channel catfish, flathead catfish and blue catfish, all of which often reach weights of over 20 pounds; the bullheads, including black, yellow and brown, which rarely exceed 4 pounds in weight; and the madtoms, represented by the tadpole madtom, slender madtom, stone cat and freckled madtom, which are the smallest of the catfishes. Catfishes are easily distinguished from the other fishes by their smooth scaleless bodies, eight elongated fleshy barbels or "whiskers" abouth their mouth, and the strong, sharp spines that are located at the insertion of the dorsal and pectoral fins. It is beived that the spines are adapted as defensive structures in the catfish family.

Identifying traits of the species: Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with black and/or brown. The belly is usually pale yellow or cream colored. The head is broadly flattened, with a projecting lower jaw. The tail fin is only slightly notched, not deeply forked as is the case with blue and channel catfish. Young fish may be very dark, almost black in appearance

Type of habitat: The flathead catfish is found in rivers and lakes from the Mississippi Valley south into Mexico. Found near cover, in deeper, slower moving pools of rivers. Often congregate in swift water below dams to feed on live fish. Flatheads spawn in spring or early summer, building nests in caves, depressions under rocks or undercut banks.

Range: Common in most large impoundments and streams. The native range includes a broad area west of the Appalachian Mountains encompassing large rivers of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio basins. The range extends as far north as North Dakota, as far west as New Mexico, and south to the Gulf including eastern Mexico. Flathead catfish occur statewide in Texas. St.Croix below Taylors Falls, and the Minnesota River.

Food sources: Variety of aquatic animals, larger individuals eat mostly fish. Fingerlings feed on insect larvae, juveniles feed on small fish and crayfish.

Mating habits and reproduction: After spawning, the male drives the female from the nest -violently if necessary. The male guards the eggs and fans water over them until they hatch and may tend the swarm of young until they disperse.

Yearly activities: During the winter, flatheads seek deep waters, where boulders or logs provide refuge from current. There they remain through the winter, so torpid that they may be covered by a fine dusting of silt. The flathead catfish spawns in summer when the water reaches 72 to 75 degrees. It nests in cavities, such as hollow logs, root wads or log jams in quiet water.

Important predators: Humans

Relationship with man: They are considered a good sport and food fish and is commercially harvested in some areas. Considered by many to be the finest table fare available.


Flathead Catfish
Pylodictis is Greek, meaning “mud fish”, and olivaris is Latin for “olive-colored”. Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow (hence the name “yellow cat”) to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with black and/or brown.

pictograph divider



pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


Canku Ota logo


Canku Ota logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.