Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Spirit and The Sky, A Book Review

The Spirit And The Sky, A Book Review
Astronomer's Study Of Lakota Starscape
By Dakota Wind
Hollabaugh, Mark. The Spirit and the Sky: Lakota Visions of the Cosmos. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press. 2017. 276 + xii pages. $50.00 (hardcover). Illustrations, tables, photos, notes, bibliography, and index.

The title of Hollabaugh’s The Spirit and the Sky calls to mind Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 psychedelic/gospel classic rock anthem Spirit in the Sky. I contacted the author about this, and he personally assured me that the title of his book is inspired by Lakȟóta star knowledge (which is touched on at the end of chapter 9).

Hollabaugh’s bibliography draws heavily from non-native resources who’ve spent considerable time learning Lakȟól Wičhóȟ’aŋ (Lakota language, tradition, lifeways, philosophy) direct from the Lakȟóta themselves. These resources reach back through the years with specific references to winter count (pictographic records) years, and recorded oral tradition.

What makes The Spirit in the Sky special is that Hollabaugh draws on carefully constructed relationships with contemporary Dakhóta and Lakȟóta people since the ‘90s, and fully acknowledges lasting friendships with scholars, native and non-native in his preface.

A chapter on Telling Time gives readers an insight into how the Lakȟóta reckon a year (generally thirteen months), a month (a lunar month; from new moon to new moon), and seasons (winter is the longest, and why a year is called a “winter”). The times of the month are explained (phases of the moon) as well as times of day (position of the sun). Counting sticks are touched on briefly insofar as the Lakȟóta attempts to measure the months and years, which is frustrating to any who try to tack down exact times. The general acceptance of natural time in the Lakȟóta tradition encourages a non-reliance of exactness. What matters is Wókiksuye, or Remembrance.

A chapter on Eclipses and the Aurora Borealis examines Lakȟóta beliefs of the two events. The eclipse is regarded as the sun’s death by many Lakȟóta, and some reacted with fear. Some said/say that a great serpent swallows the sun, but the sun proves victorious and lives again, and some fire their guns or holler into the air in triumph. The Northern Lights have several names, and several narratives – none more important than another. Surprising to this reviewer is the connection of the Northern Lights to Woȟpé (Falling Star Woman) of Lakȟóta myth-history, and to the Huŋkáyapi (the Making-of-Relatives; when one is taken as a relative).

A chapter on Stars and Constellations explores the cultural narratives of the night sky. Many of the same familiar Greek and Arabic constellations have Lakȟóta counterparts with equally interesting stories. The children of the Sun and Moon dance forever around one wakȟáŋ (with-energy; “holy,” or “sacred”) star, Wičháȟpi Owáŋžila (The Star That Does Not Move), and those who do not, fall down as Wičháȟpi Hiŋȟpáya (Falling Stars).

Hollabaugh doesn’t conclude his study with the establishment of the reservation era. His work breaks that tired trope and includes an entire chapter dedicated to the living tradition of Lakȟóta star knowledge. It’s necessary to show the Lakȟóta as they are today, survivors of a system that has tried to extinguish language, culture, and tradition. Some of Hollabaugh’s native resources and informants are still alive and still sharing.

What makes The Spirit in the Sky an essential for studies of the North American Plains is that the Lakȟóta relationship with the land is reflected in the sky. The Lakȟóta star stories are indigenous and to hear them, one must go to an elder to hear them. This book is a good place to become acquainted. 

The only thing that would make reading this resource better would be to read, deconstruct, and interpret each topic as it’s mentioned with a Lakȟóta elder or other knowledgeable person. It would be a wonderful supplement if Hollabaugh or his publisher included a slideshow or an interactive online feature or smartphone application to articulate the heavens as one goes through each chapter. 

The Spirit in the Sky isn’t hearty enough for college instructors to develop an entire course around – Hollabaugh might even agree with this, but it is solid enough to pique anyone’s interest whether he or she have a passive or deep interest in the stars or Lakȟóta views of the heavens and earth. Make certain your local library has a copy, or get yourself one.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Forgotten Fires, A Book Review

Wíačhéič’thi, "The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself." In English, you'd call these "Sundogs."
Forgotten Fires, A Book Review
Historic Narratives Of Fires
By Dakota Wind
Stewart, Omer C. Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Edited by Henry T. Lewis. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. 364 pp. $24.95 (paperback). Illustrations, bibliography, and references.

As a boy, my younger brother and I were fascinated with fire. Sometimes, around the Fourth of July, Golf Hill (aka “Boot Hill,” “Agency Hill,” or even as the Cheyenne knew it, “The Hill That Stands Alone”) would burn. It was an annual occasion. At some point, before I cared, someone had arranged and painted white some stones to say on the hillside, “WARRIORS.” Following one of the fires, my brother and I took to rearranging the letters to spell, “ASS.” You could see it fifteen miles away.

We loved fire. Especially starting them. My enthusiasm for fire waned one day after burning myself on the smoker in the backyard. My brother’s infatuation continued unabated. He’d carefully cut open fireworks to light the powders. One day he almost burned down the house when he lit our mother’s god’s eye that hung in the corner of the dining area. I still remember him saying, “It started by itself!” I threw a pitcher of water on it, and he hung it back up after turning it around. When our mother discovered it, she thought it was the result of one of her parties.

Omer’s Forgotten Fires is a great resource for all things fire related in native North America. Historic fires, like the Chicago Fire, isn’t included here, and with good reason. One can find a number of resources on that one topic. Omer has combed through the journals of explorers, traders, trappers, and artists and has delivered an astonishing read that challenges the notion of Indians living harmoniously in a pristine Garden of Eden.  

There are several reasons to start fires on the Great Plains and Omer explores them all. From renewing the grass so that horses could consume fresh green grass and driving game to signal fires and maintaining trails.

Omer perfectly captures George Catlin’s fascination with the great prairie fires, “sparkling and brilliant chains of liquid fire.” Catlin also describes a firestorm, “…there is yet another character of burning prairies…that requires another letter, and a different pen to describe – the war, or hell of fires!” The kind of firestorm that creates and sustains its own weather, drawing in air with hurricane force winds, which overtakes the swiftest horses, and animals coming to an immutable and terrified stop when such fires cross the plains.

The German traveler Maximilian Wied-Neuwied mentions that some of the fires were caused by the natives in order to escape the pursuit of their enemies, and witnesses fire whirls or, “graceful undulations, to the zenith.” Catlin and Bodmer never seem to run out of adjectives and adverbs to describe the wildfires.

Other firsthand accounts of fires range across North America from the woodlands to the mountains, plateaus, and valleys. Omer’s book is an amazingly fast read because of it. And suffers because of it. These accounts are overwhelmingly non-native, that the book title should perhaps be instead Forgotten Fires, Forgotten Resources: Non-Native Accounts of Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness.

There is no mention of sedentary agricultural tribes like the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, or Pawnee burning their fields in the fall after a harvest, or why. The resources to draw from are out there, like Bowers’ Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization or Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization. These two tribes are still with us today, it’s not as if one couldn’t ask them “why?”

While there’s some mention of fire used in warfare, there isn’t one native narrative regarding the use of fire in war. Garrick Mallery’s Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 1, contains part of such a narrative when the Cheyenne resorted to prairie fires in retaliation against a Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton; Lakota) war party in the 1760s.

Lastly, what’s missing is an inclusion of the living memory of Native Americans regarding fires, actual and metaphorical. There are many descriptions for fire, but here’s a basic few to consider: óna (prairie fire), pȟetá (fire), and očhéthi (the council fire). Fire is for more than burning, cooking, signaling, and destruction. It’s constructive, has spiritual significance, and for gathering the community together.

If one is studying the Great Plains, one needs this book. It contains immense ecological value about establishing a balance on the Great Plains between natural and human benefit. It is worth one’s time to revisit it a few times more, and certainly worth referencing Omer’s scholarship. Forgotten Fires is a good book, it's only missing a little. If it’s worth this much time to read and re-read, get a copy for yourself. 




Saturday, October 7, 2017

The History of Wells County, A Book Review

The History of Wells County, A Book Review
Book Offers Insight To Place Names, Stuff
By Dakota Wind
Spokesfield, Walter. The History of Wells County, North Dakota and Its Pioneers, with a sketch of North Dakota History and the Origin of Place Names. Jamestown, ND: North Dakota, 1929. 804 pages. Index, illustrations, maps, and photos.

The History of Wells County is heavy reading. There are some images scattered throughout, but it’s the kind of book that expects its reader to read, but it’s also the kind of book that is easy to get through once you become familiar with its layout. It also helps to know that the index is at the end of the book.

Google is an impressive search engine, and its book search shares excerpts of many books and features many books online, but this isn’t one of them. There’s something satisfying about going to the North Dakota State Library and finding something that isn’t online yet, and it’s there where I found this dusty tome. It was equal parts dusty, dry, and delicate, and frankly, I was surprised that I was allowed to take it home. I swear the book was almost grateful that I checked it out.

The subject of site names, and origin of place names is what piqued my interest, and this book has it. Spokesfield put more into this book regarding this subject than one could think possible. It is certainly more edifying than Mary Anne Barnes Williams’ 1966 effort: Origins of North Dakota Place Names.

Spokesfield research on North Dakota’s place names doesn’t have the finesse of works like contemporary place name historians like Mr. Louie Garcia, but then Mr. Garcia has the advantage of insight by marrying into the Dakhóta people. Spokesfield has something, however, neither Williams nor Garcia has, and that’s the sheer size of his work. Spokesfield has not just place names, but alternatives in names and narrative.

An example of rediscovering a place for me is “Hawksnest,” found in section 26 of the Hawksnest township, located about a mile south of Sykstown, ND. Spokesfield writes of this location as Huyawayapaahdi, written in what’s called “Mission Dakota,” which is how priests and missionaries wrote the Dakhóta language. Spokesfield’s “Huyawayapaahdi” means nothing to me, until I read his narrative: the Dakhóta saw an eagle (or hawk) carrying a bit of meat in its beak as it took to the sky. Suddenly, I can deconstruct Spokesfield’s word and pronounce it. Using the new Lakota Language Consortium’s standard of writing the language, I would write Spokesfield’s word as: Ȟuyá Wayápȟa Akdí (Eagle [archaic] To-Hold-Things-In-The-Mouth To-Return-Bringing-Something).

Hawknest was an overnight campsite when Dakhóta went west to the Missouri River, and for when the Lakȟóta went east to Spirit Lake.

History is also a collection, a who’s who of pioneers, but he also acknowledges explorers and the indigenous. Many of the narratives of people and places, at least in the first half of the book, are written in the first person. One narrative is outstanding for its concise information regarding horse thieves in 1896 operating between Spirit Lake and the Missouri River. The Wells County sheriff and deputy captured four horse thieves, but failed to secure one of them properly which resulted in the escape of one. The others were later released for lack of evidence. Eventually, the sheriff married one of the supposed horse thieves’ sister.

Another eye-catching narrative is about the “Teton Okandandas.” When I see a word that looks “native” I try to pronounce it several ways, with different accent placement, and with glottal pronunciations until the word comes to me. This is another “Mission Dakota” word. In this case, this is an archaic word in Dakhóta for “They Scatter Their Own.”

Spokesfield probably never intended his written word to be powerful or emotive, but his work is certainly inspiring. Near the end of his work, I found myself unexpectedly moved: The Indians were grossly misunderstood and long cheated and abused. They objected to the intrusion of the white men because it interfered with their roamings and their hunting grounds and fought only for their lands and their homes, which were often wrested from them through force and intrigue.

Spokesfield gives all the people of North Dakota their due. Names of First Nations leaders appear along with prominent pioneers and settlers. Histories of early explorers get mentioned. The Corps is included, and Spokesfield coverage of them is not overdone. General Custer, the 7th Cavalry, and the Little Bighorn Campaign are included, neatly and concisely in Spokesfield’s writing, not aggrandized, but certainly more is written of than contemporary North Dakota Studies.


This book deserves to be in all North Dakota city, county, college, and university libraries. It probably is. Go check it out. 

Powwow Highway, A Film Review

Powwow Highway (1989)
Authentic Film About Modern Indians
By Dakota Wind
Powwow Highway. Directed by Jonathan Wacks. Produced by Jan Wieringa, George Harrison, and Dennis O'Brien. By David Seals, Janet Heaney, and Jean Stawars. Performed by A. Martinez, Gary Farmer, and Amanda Wyss. U.S.A.: Handmade Films / Warner Bros., Feb. 24, 1989. Film. 87 minutes.

When Powwow Highway (PH) hit the Pheasant Drive-In Theater in Mobridge, SD, in the spring of ’89, my maternal grandparents took my brother and me to see it. I remember an impatient evening, waiting for sundown, and then a sense of growing anticipation for darkness to descend on a largely vacant parking lot. I watched it again, and made my sons watch it with me.

It’s low budget, made in the ‘80’s, and set on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana. And it’s a buddy road trip movie. It’s the biggest movie to come out featuring natives since ‘83’s Triumph of a Man Called Horse, and unlike ‘Horse, PH holds up fair.

If one has spent considerable time on a reservation, one experiences a ten to twenty year time lag, and as a result, PH time is ambiguous enough to have been filmed in the ‘70’s or the turn of the twenty-first century. The clothing (lots of denim, apparently Indians like to wear jean anything), vehicles (rusty “rez” cars and pick-ups on the verge of falling to pieces are still driven today, and probably without insurance too), and depressing, crowded homes (project homes built cheaply and without variation) are as much a part of genuine Native American reservation life as the film exposes.

The protagonist, a hot-headed Buddy Red Bow (named in honor of the Oglála Lakȟóta musician activist) attends a tribal council meeting in Lame Deer, MT and advices his people (the Northern Cheyenne) against a new strip mining contract – in real life, the Northern Cheyenne passed a Class I Clean Air Act on their reservation, which was challenged by the strip mining town, Colstrip, MT (located just north of Lame Deer, off the reservation) which was challenged and taken all the way to the US Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the Northern Cheyenne, which required that Colstrip install filters on all their stacks. There’s more to this story, and I couldn’t appreciate the details as a punk kid).

The Rez runner "Protector," or Philbert's war pony. Your reservation experience isn't real until you've ridden in one. 

Buddy’s sister is set up for possession of illegal drugs during a traffic stop, and the police officer knows just where to look for the stuff when he pulls her over. Buddy needs to get his sister and her kids out of New Mexico and back to Montana, but he’s unable to get there and back again with just enough money to make bail too, so he enlists his part-time friend and recovering alcoholic. Enter: the eccentric Philbert, who works in a vision quest and gathers traditional medicine along the way.

Philbert sleeps nude. He loves food, and leaves a Hershey’s chocolate bar as an offering to the ancestors in his hero’s journey. Philbert looks at a field of rusty, broken, peeling, junked cars out of a filthy window and sees a herd of horses. He trades his weed for a spotted war pony. His car is practically a character in itself, and is a humorous, yet genuine, addition as the protagonists’ vehicle: Protector.

The film reaches its climax when Buddy and Philbert rescue Buddy’s sister Bonnie. Buddy finds his “medicine” when he chooses to stand and face down a police car, and Buddy unexpectedly transforms into a warrior – Protector’s window becomes a tomahawk – when he leaps into the air to protect his own. Reality is suspended for just a moment, or maybe it’s the viewers’ turn to see Buddy as he sees himself.

PH is categorically a drama; maybe it is too serious at times to be a comedy, but it isn’t dark. Nor is PH a tragedy. The fact is, this is a quintessential ‘80’s low budget “B” movie. The acting is great, but this is a “B” movie, and there has to be some stilted, wooden acting. Thankfully, Joanelle Romero steps in to cement this “B” movie’s status, but her scenes are few and fast.

PH isn’t bad enough of a “B” movie, and nor does it have popular “cult” movie status, so it will never be riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3K. It doesn’t need any of that. It’s not high art. It’s a good escape at about eighty-plus minutes. Go see it. 


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse Is Time For Prayer And Reflection

A modern take on a historic pictograph representing the solar eclipse of Aug. 7, 1869. Metallic pencils (gold and silver) on black composition paper. 
Cloud On Fire
Eclipse Is Time For Prayer
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, N.D. (TFS) – The Húŋkpapȟa Lakȟóta call the solar eclipse Maȟpíya Yapȟéta, or “Cloud On Fire.” Other Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires; Great Sioux Nation) tribes have different names for the eclipse, many calling it Wí’kte (Sun Killed). The New Lakota Dictionary, 2nd Edition, has a few entries for eclipse as well: Aháŋzi (Shadow) and Aóhanziya (To Cast Shadow Upon).

On August 7, 1869, North America experienced a solar eclipse. One group of Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Dakhóta, under the leadership of Matȟó Núŋpa (Two Bear), camped outside Psíŋ Oyáŋke (lit. “Rice Place;” Fort Rice) for the occasion. Throughout the summer, the officers and soldiers told and retold the Húŋkpapȟa and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna about the impending occlution. Dr. Washington Matthews, the post surgeon at Fort Rice, remarked about the palpable anticipation the month before the eclipse[1].

The day of the eclipse, however, found the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna not filled with excitement or anticipation, rather, they were filled with a quiet reverence. Some loaded their pipes for prayer, others lit sage, burned braids of sweetgrass, and others offered cedar as their incense. Some of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna discussed the eclipse with the soldiers at Psíŋ, the soldiers in turn explained the science of the eclipse. After the sun returned, the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna solemnly departed the fort.

The Swan Winter Count records the solar eclipse of 1869. 

It is worth observing that not one Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna winter count ever mentions the 1869 solar eclipse. The Chandler-Pohrt Winter Count (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna) details a black circle for 1867 but the accompanying text and interpretation relate that this entry refers to a death (the filled in black circle can represent death, night, moon, or winter, within context). They undoubtedly saw it, but chose not to record it.

That same day, Aug. 7, 1869, some of the Oglála at Fort Laramie viewed the solar eclipse alongside the soldiers there. Matȟó Sápa (Black Bear) and recorded the eclipse on his winter count as a black circle with a few stars. The Oglála contended that the solar eclipse was in fact a great uŋȟčéǧi (monster; i.e. “dragon”) that swallowed Aŋpétuwi (the Sun) [2].

Concurrently, at Iyóȟaȟa Ipákšaŋkšaŋ (lit. “Winding Waterfall”)[3], the present-day waterfalls at Sioux Falls, SD, astronomer Cleveland Abbé observed a large presence of Iháŋtȟuŋwaŋ (Yankton) were present for the observation. Abbé made no further note of visitation with the Iháŋtȟuŋwaŋ, but did record that their attention to the non-native reaction was equal to their observation of the eclipse itself[4].

When a rainbow appears in the clouds like this, the Lakȟóta call it Wíačhéič'ithi, which means, "The Sun makes a campfire for himself." This was taken on the day of the partial solar eclipse in 2014, as seen from North Dakota.

At the same time, at Whetstone Agency in Dakota Territory, DC Poole, an Indian agent and physician, thought to increase his standing among his charges (it was the era of paternalism) by telling them he would take away the sun on Aug. 7, 1869, until he chose to bring it back. The eclipse came as he predicted (he took his prediction from an almanac). The Sičáŋǧu (lit. “Burnt Thighs;” aka Brulé) and Oglála watched the eclipse impassively until the occlusion reached its climax, at which point they drew their guns and fired, dispelling Poole’s "medicine." The doctor might be able to predict the event, but the Lakȟóta could dispel it. Poole wasn’t a real medicine man after all[5].

According to Oyúȟpe Wiŋ (Drags Down Woman; sister of Chief John Grass) the Sihásapa Lakȟóta were hunting on Makȟóčhe Wašté (lit. “The Beautiful Country;” Great Plains), when the eclipse occurred, “It became very dark. The medicine man told them all to fire their guns at the sun or it would never awaken again and they would be lost in the darkness. So everyone fired their guns at the sun and yelled very loudly, and wailed and cried and prayed. Finally, the sun began to get brighter and finally came to life again.[6]” This narrative indicates that this band of Thítȟuŋwaŋ regarded the eclipse as though the sun had died. They called it Wí’kte (lit. “The Sun Died”).

A partial solar eclipse as seen from North Dakota in 2014. 

The Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ Dakhóta (lit. “Leaf Dwellers;” Wahpeton) at Portage la Prairie and Griswald in Manitoba informed anthropologist Wilson Wallis in 1923 that the solar eclipse served as a warning to prepare for disaster. The eclipse signified the end of the world; or that great conflict was soon to break out in the world. Also, a lunar eclipse signified the same warning. The luminaries, Aŋpétuwi and Haŋwí (the Moon) favor the Dakhóta and give them an early warning to prepare them[7].

Maǧáska (Swan), a Mnikȟówožu (lit. “Those Who Plant By The Water) Lakȟóta man and winter count keeper, seems to be the only one who outright recorded that they experienced fear when they witnessed the 1869 eclipse[8].

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ have many words to describe the solar eclipse.

Aháŋzi[9]: Shadow

Aŋpétuwí Tókȟaȟ'aŋ[10]: Disappearing Sun

Aóhanziya[11]: To Cast A Shadow Upon

Maȟphíya Yapȟéta[12]: Fire Cloud

Wakhápheya[13]: Of A Singular Appearance

Wí’Atá[14]: Sun Entire

Wí’kte[15]: The Sun Died

Wí’te[16]: "New Moon"

Does the solar eclipse serve as a warning of calamity and war? Is a great dragon devouring the sun, or is it the false medicine of a white man? The eclipse is a call to remember the mystery of creation. I imagine that the Dakhóta in Sioux Falls were amazed at the non-native reaction to the sacred balance of light and darkness of the eclipse, wondering, perhaps, why such regard couldn’t be held for Makȟóčhe Wašté, for each other, and for their fellow human beings.

What do the Lakȟóta and Dakhóta do during an eclipse? Some fired guns. Others felt an inexplicable fear. Others, a need to prepare for war. The Húŋkpapȟa pray. The Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna pray. They pray for others in that sacred moment. The sky is visibly wakȟáŋ, it is with-energy. They burn incense to carry their prayers.

Lekší Cedric Good House (Húŋkpapȟa; Standing Rock) maintains the tradition that the solar eclipse is a time of prayer, and to reflect. 

Visit the Native American Mint for more information about this curious coin

The Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation and the Native American Mint have teamed up to produce a silver coin with a face value of $1.00 to mark the eclipse event. The coin is regarded as legal tender, but only on the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation. The face side of the coin features a map of the western hemisphere with the path of the moon detailing the eclipse. The reverse features an image of the moon in front of the sun. There is absolutely nothing cultural about the coin in its imagery.

The next solar eclipse over North America will be on April 8, 2024[17].






[1] Powell, J. W. Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1882-'83. Washington, DC: Washington Government Printing Office, 1886.
Time: The Dakota Winter Counts, page 126.
[2] Ibid., page 125.
[3] Mr. Kevin Locke, August 2017.
[4] Ibid., page 125.
[5] Hollabaugh, Mark. The Spirit and The Sky: Lakota Visions of the Cosmos. Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indian Series. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.
Eclipses and the Aurora Borealis, page 112.
[6] Welch, A. "Life on The Plains in The 1800's." Welch Dakota Papers. November 1, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[7] Ibid., page 114.
[8] Greene, Candace S., and Russell Thornton. The year the stars fell: Lakota winter counts at the Smithsonian. 1st ed. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 2007.
Page 265.
[9] New Lakota Dictionary, 2nd Edition. 2008.
[10] Mr. Warren Horse Looking, 2014.
[11] New Lakota Dictionary, 2nd Edition. 2008.
[12] Húŋkpapȟa word for solar eclipse.
[13] Ms. Leslie Mountain, 2014.
[14] Mr. John Eagle, 2014.
[15] Many Lakota Winter Counts.
[16] Anonymous Lakota man, 2014. Note: this can also be found on a few winter counts.
[17] McClure, Bruce. "When’s the next U.S. total solar eclipse?" http://earthsky.org. Accessed August 15, 2017. http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/whens-the-next-total-solar-eclipse-in-the-us.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Crying Hill, An Endangered Historic Site

"Crying Hill," or "Mandan Hill" can be seen in the middle of this photo, the Missouri River down below, city development behind in the distance. 
Crying Hill Endangered
Site Overlooks River, City, Interstate
By Dakota Wind
Mandan, N.D. (TFS) – A hill rolls above the floodplain where the Heart River converges with the Missouri River. It divides the city of Mandan from traffic of I-94. It loudly proclaims “MaNDan” on its east face in bright white concrete lettering; the south face of this same plateau says the same but with trees spelling the city's name.

It’s the home of the Mandan Braves, named after the indigenous people who lived there on the banks of the Heart River as traders, fishers, and farmers. The Nu’Eta, as they call themselves, could defend themselves when called for as well. They lived in fortified villages in the Heart River area from about 1450 to about 1781.

Each village had a civil chief and a war chief to advice and look after their interests. The Nu’Eta were productive and hard-working. They must have been doing something right; their villages possessed no jails.

Welch's notations on a 1911 US Geological survey map. Bismarck and Mandan have grown considerably in the hundred+ years since. 

The village along the banks of the Heart River in present-day Mandan, ND was large, with a population of perhaps as many as 3000. Its identified mainly as a Nu’Eta site, but the Hidatsa claim the populace as their own. The Hidatsa became neighbors of the Nu’Eta sometime around 1600 C.E., and inter-married with them over the centuries that today one isn’t Nu’Eta without having Hidatsa relatives.

This large village was known by many names. The Nu’Eta called it Large and Scattered Village. The Hidatsa called it the Two Faced Stone Village for the sacred stone feature atop the plateau overlooking their village. Crows Heart, a principle leader of the Nu’Eta, informed Colonel Alfred Welch that that they called the village there in present-day Mandan, “The Crying Hill Village.” Crows Heart also essayed to Welch that they called it so because their women went to the top of the hill to mourn for lost relatives.

Another village there, south of the Crying Hill Village, called Motsif today, was known by the Nu’Eta as Youngman’s Village. According to Welch’s informants, the Nu’Eta of both these two villages would gather together and inhabit a winter camp in the timber on the floodplain of the Missouri River[1].

According to the late Mr. Joe Packineau, the Crow separated from the Hidatsa at the Crying Hill Village, adding that the village was also called the Tattoo Face Village, and further, that it was Hidatsa, not Nu’Eta. In the time of Good Fur Robe, he had a brother whom they called Tattoo Face. A hunt concluded with a dead bison recovered from the middle of the river. Good Fur Robe divided the kill and took the paunch, which infuriated Tattoo Face and his people, who picked up and moved west. According to Packineau, the Hidatsa called them not Crow, but “The Paunch Jealousy People.” Where the Crow broke away from their Hidatsa relatives was at the Crying Hill Village[2].

Welch drew this diagram mapping the features of Crying Hill. Visit the Welch Dakota Papers site.

At the top of Crying Hill were stone features (including a stone turtle effigy measuring twelve feet across), sacred to the Nu’Eta, upon which were images or pictographs, which changed, and were said to be able to tell the future. One oracle stone in particular, was said known as the “Two Face Stone.” When diviners gathered ‘round to interpret the stone’s musing for the future, they would lift the stone, which seemed to them to be very light. Upon putting it down, they would lift again, and the stone mysteriously weighed more than one could lift. They called this stone Two Face because of its dual nature, and according to Welch’s informant, the village below was called “Two Face Village.” Enemy Heart, an Arikara man, estimated the side of the Two Face Stone to be a diameter of about 18 inches[3], it’s location, at least in 1912, was lay just east of the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan, ND[4]. Enemy Heart insisted that the Crying Hill Village’s proper name was Two Face Village.

In the 1870’s, as the city of Mandan developed on the remains of the Large and Scattered Village, or Crying Hill Village, or Tattoo Face Village, Two Face Village, homes and streets encroached on Crying Hill itself. One day, a prospective home owner, took dynamite to the sacred stone on the hillside of Crying Hill and blew it up[5]. Welch contends that the greater oracle stone was drilled and split by white settlers for building stone. One resident, Mr. G.W. Rendon built the basement of his house from fragments of this holy stone[6].

There used to be a burial ground at Crying Hill. In 1933, laborers of the city of Mandan were expanding development of the city for two new houses, and disturbed the graves of eleven Nu’Eta men and women, including a baby. Col. Alfred Welch was called on to offer his assessment of the findings, and he estimated that the size of the Crying Hill Village at about 3000 souls, and was occupied for about 300 years[7], from ~1500 C.E. to about ~1800 C.E. The bodies were hastily buried, possibly due to the haste in which the survivors departed the Heart River villages in 1781 following the smallpox epidemic which struck them.

This reconstruction of the 1863 Apple Creek Fight is overlaid on 1850's Warren survey map. 

Crying Hill overlooks one of the largest conflicts in Dakota Territory history. In 1863, General Sibley led ~2200 soldiers into Dakota Territory on a punitive campaign from Camp Pope in Minnesota. The campaign concluded at the mouth of Apple Creek, on Aug. 1, 1863, when Sibley withdrew from the field of conflict, unable to pursue the Lakȟóta across the Missouri River. The Húŋkpapȟa, led by Black Eyes, crossed the Missouri River where the Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge spans the river, and thence up the Heart River to escape pursuit.

A week after the Apple Creek conflict, Black Eyes brought the Húŋkpapȟa back across the Missouri River and re-crossed the Missouri at the northern most mouth of the Heart River (which had three mouths at that time), and camped above the floodplain opposite Crying Hill. During the night, miners from Fort Benton, MT came down and camped on a sandbar. The next morning the miners tried forced themselves on a Lakȟóta woman who had gone down to the river to refresh herself. She died at the miners’ hands; Black Eyes retaliated and the Húŋkpapȟa warriors awoke and hurried to the river’s edge and exchanged gunfire with the hostiles. During the fight, the boat’s swivel gun misfired into the boat itself causing a fire to break out. The miners were killed to the last man, and there precious gold was scattered about the sandbar[8].

The Mandan Historical Society features this photo of the "Mandan Hill" in the summer of 1959. Visit the Mandan Historical Society today.

In 1934, a local Boy Scouts troop arranged forty-seven truckloads of local stone into giant letters which spelled out “MaNDan,” on what became renamed “Mandan Hill.” It was maintained by the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Mandan Jaycees over the years, then in 1968, after Interstate 94 (I-94) was complete, the “MaNDan” sign was reconstructed in concrete. In the late 1990’s, pine trees were planted on the south face of Crying Hill arranged to spell “MANDAN[9].”

Sometime in 2003, Mr. Patrick Atkinson, acquired 4.7 acres of what remained of Crying Hill, to save it from development. Atkinson heard that the property was going to be put on the market, and he dashed up to Crying Hill after hearing a little about the lore, and provoked by his own winter memories of sledding down the face of Crying Hill. He took his son to the site to talk about what it meant to them. They concluded to save what they could. Atkinson maintains that the Crying Hill preservation effort is ecumenical and non-political, preserving the site for the sake of the sacredness and inspiration found there by native and non-native alike[10]. Visit Atkinson's site about Crying Hill.

In 2008, Preservation North Dakota declared that Crying Hill was endangered. To be declared endangered, a site must be of historical, cultural, or architectural significance and in danger of demolition, deterioration, or substantial alteration due to neglect or vandalism. Preservation North Dakota acknowledged the preservation efforts of Atkinson and the Crying Hill preservation coalition for saving Crying Hill for the edification and gratification of future citizens.



[1] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Good Fur Blanket Was Mayor Of Mandan In 1738 - Proof Is Found Of Ancient City On Present Site." Mandan Daily Pioneer (Mandan), April 14, 1924.
[2] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Joe Packineau's Verson of The Split and Formation of Crows." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[3] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Arikara Hide Their Sacred Stone From The Sioux." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[4] Welch, Alfred, Col. "More About The Two Face Stone." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[5] Welch, Alfred, Col. "The Minnitari Stone." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[6] Welch, Alfred, Col. "Stone Idol Creek Journey." Welch Dakota Papers. November 15, 2011. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.welchdakotapapers.com.
[7] "Spades Of Workers Rudely Disturb Last Resting Place Of Ancient Gros Ventres Warriors." Mandan Daily Pioneer (Mandan), May 11, 1933.
[8] Dakota Wind. “The Apple Creek Fight.” The First Scout. Nov. 17, 2014. Accessed Aug. 4, 2017. http://thefirstscout.blogspot.com.
[9] "Mandan Hill 501 N Mandan Ave." Mandan Historical Society. 2006. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://mandanhistory.org.
[10] Crying Hill Heritage Site. 2003. Accessed August 3, 2017. http://www.cryinghill.com