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Friday, May 8, 2015

A Tale Of Jealously And Death

Ghost Hill on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, south and east of Fort Yates, ND.
Legend Of Ghost Hill
Jealously Drives Mob To Murder

As Told By Šiyáka (Pied-Billed Grebe)
Song by Two Shields
Recorded by Frances Densmore
Standing Rock, SD & ND – Musical ethnologist Frances Densmore recorded this story and song on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation between 1911 and 1914. About eight miles south-east of present-day Fort Yates, ND is a high butte known as Ghost Hill.

When Sitting Bull and his band were brought from Canada they camped one winter on the lowland beside the Missouri River, a few miles below Fort Yates. It was a large camp, including many hostile Indians, who were afterward located at Pine Ridge and at Cherry Creek in the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Among these Indians was a particularly handsome young man, who was very fascinating to the young women.

One day he disappeared. As no trace of him could be found, his parents consulted a man who had some sacred stones, giving him a horse and asking that he would tell them of their son. This man said that during the next night the voice of the missing man would be heard passing through the camp, and that all must follow the voice. On the night designated all the camp was on alert; just before dawn they heard the voice of the young man approaching. His parents and friends, recognizing the voice, began to lament, and the dogs barked at the approach of a person.

The voice passed through the camp, singing a love song, then turned and came back, retracing its way toward this hill. The people followed, but could not go as fast as the voice, which gradually became more distant until it was lost in darkness.

This incident seemed to make the grief of the young man’s parents more acute, and they went again to the owner of the stones, to whom they gave another horse, asking him to tell who had killed their son. The man said he had been murdered by ten men, who were jealous of him, and that one of these men would die in ten days, another in ten days after the first, and so on until all were dead.

This came to pass as he predicted. The parents of the missing man then went again to the owner of the stones and begged to know where they could find the body of their son. The man said that their son had been chased a long distance by his enemies and finally had been killed far from home, and that his body had been devoured by wolves. He told the parents to follow the voice (which was still heard at intervals singing the same song) and to keep following it until they reached the place where the voice disappeared, where they would see their son.

The next time they heard the voice they hastened toward the place whence it came and saw at some distance before them a figure wrapped in a gray army blanket. They followed it but could never quite overtake it. Sometimes they would feel its presence behind them, and on looking back, would see it, but it never quite overtook them. It always followed the path toward Ghost Hill, and the parents thought it disappeared in the side of the hill.

Accordingly they dug into the side of the hill and made a diligent search, but the body of the young man was never found. A man named Walking Elk lived at the foot of Ghost Hill. He had a large family, the members of which died one after another. He laid their deaths to the ghost and shot at it with his rifle. The last appearance of the ghost was about the year 1889. It is said that a similar figure wrapped in a gray army blanket was later seen at Pine Ridge and on the Rosebud Reservation.

Two Shields assented to record the song attributed to the young man’s ghost:

Hénake (Finally)
Wačéye (I Weep)
ČhéyA (Weeping)
Omáwani (I-wander-about)
Kȟoškálaka (Young-man)
Wióyuspapi čhaŋ (Courting-women Then)
Iyótaŋ Wačháŋmni Kȟó (Best I-tried As-well)
ČhéyA (Weeping)
Omáwani (I-wander-about)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lakota Woman Goes To War

Camp of the Gros Ventre on the Prairies, by Karl Bodmer. 
Brave Woman Counts Coup
Huŋkphápȟa Woman Remembered

As told by Jenny Leading Cloud
American Indian Myths And Legends
Edited by The First Scout
White River, Rosebud, SD - Over a hundred years ago, when the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (“Sioux”) were still living in Mníšota (Minnesota), there was a Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton) band of Huŋkphápȟa at Mní Wakȟáŋ (Spirit Lake) under an chief called Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe (His Country). It was his country too, Indian Country, until the white soldiers with their cannon finally drove the Thítȟuŋwaŋ across the Mníšoše (Water-Astir; Missouri River).

In his youth the chief had been a great warrior. Later, when his fighting days were over, he was known as a wise leader, invaluable in council, a great giver of feasts, and a provider for the poor.

The chief had three sons and one daughter. The sons tried to emulate their father in deed by becoming great warriors as their father, but it was a difficult thing to do. Time and again they battled against the Kȟaŋğí (Crow) with reckless bravery, exposing their selves in the front rank, fighting hand to hand, until one by one they were all killed. The sad chief had only his daughter left. Some say her name was Makȟáta Wiŋ (On The Ground Woman). Others called her Ohítika Wiŋ (Brave Woman).

The young woman was beautiful and proud. Many young men sent their fathers to the old chief with gifts of fine horses that were preliminary to marriage proposals. Among those who desired Ohítika Wiŋ for a wife was a young warrior named Hé Lúta (Red Horn), himself the son of a chief, who sent his father again and again to arrange a marriage on his behalf.

Ohítika Wiŋ would not marry. “I will not take a husband,” she said, “until I have counted coup on the Crow to avenge my brothers.”

Another young man, Waŋblí Čík’ala (Little Eagle), also loved Ohítika Wiŋ. He was too shy to declare his love because he was poor, and had never been able to distinguish himself.

At this time, the Kȟaŋğí made a great effort to establish their nation on the upper Mníšoše, a country the Saóŋ (Northern Thítȟuŋwaŋ) consider their own. The Huŋkphápȟa decided to send out a strong war party to chase them back. Hé Lúta and Waŋblí Čík’ala were in this same war party.

“I shall ride with you,” Ohítika Wiŋ said. She put on her best dress of white buckskin, which was richly decorated with beadwork and quillwork; around her neck she wore a dentalium choker.

Ohítika Wiŋ then went before Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe and addressed him, “Father, I must go to the place where my brothers died. I must count coup for them. Tell me that I can go.”

Tȟáwa Makȟóčhe wept with overwhelming pride and profound sadness. “You are my last child,” he said, “I fear for you, and for a lonely age without children to comfort me. Your decision has long been determined. I see that you must go. Do it quickly. Wear my warbonnet into battle. Go and do not look back.”

Ohítika Wiŋ then took her brothers weapons, her father’s warbonnet and best horse, and rode out with the war party. They came upon a vast enemy camp, that it appeared to be the entire Kȟaŋğí nation – hundreds of men and thousands of horses. There were many more Kȟaŋğí than Huŋkphápȟa, but they attacked nevertheless.

Ohítika Wiŋ was a sight to stir and motivate the warriors to great deeds. She gave Hé Lúta her oldest brother’s lance and shield, and said, “Count coup for my brother.” To Waŋblí Čík’ala she gave her second brother’s bow and arrows, and said, “Count coup for him who owned these.” She gave her youngest brother’s war club to another young warrior. For herself, Ohítika Wiŋ carried her father’s coup stick wrapped in otter fur.

At first Ohítika Wiŋ held back in the fight. She supported the Huŋkphápȟa by singing brave-heart songs and trilling (the tremulous cry which women use to encourage their men). When the Huŋkphápȟa were driven back by overwhelming numbers, she rode into the midst of the fight. She didn’t try to kill her enemies, but counted coup left and right. What Lakȟóta warrior could think of retreat when a woman fought bravely beside them?

The press of the Kȟaŋğí and their horses pushed the Huŋkphápȟa back a second time. The horse of Ohítika Wiŋ was hit by a musket ball and went down. She was one foot and defenseless when Hé Lúta passed her by. She was too proud to call out for help and he pretended not to see her. Waŋblí Čík’ala then came riding out of the battle dust, dismounted, and told her to get on. She did so, thinking that they would ride double when he called out, “This horse is wounded, and is too weak to carry us both.”

“I won’t leave you to be killed,” said Ohítika Wiŋ, when Waŋblí Čík’ala struck the horse’s rump with her brother’s bow. The horse bolted and Waŋblí Čík’ala went back into the fight on foot. Ohítika Wiŋ rallied the war party for a final charge. Their final push was so determined and fierce that the Kȟaŋğí retreated.

This was the battle in which the Kȟaŋğí were driven away from the Mníšoše. It was a great victory for the Huŋkphápȟa, and many brave young men had died. Among the dead was Waŋblí Čík’ala, struck down with his face towards the enemy. The Huŋkphápȟa warriors took the bow of Hé Lúta and broke it, then took his feathers and sent him home.

They placed the body of Waŋblí Čík’ala on a scaffold, where the enemy camp had been. Then, they killed his horse to serve him in the spirit world. “Go willingly,” they told the horse, “Your rider has need of you in the spirit world.”

Ohítika Wiŋ gashed her arms and legs with a knife in her grief. She also cut her hair short and tore her dress. Thus, she mourned for Waŋblí Čík’ala. They had not been husband and wife. In fact, he hardly dared look at her or speak to her, but now she asked everyone to treat her as a widow.

Ohítika Wiŋ never took a husband, and she never ceased to mourn the loss of Waŋblí Čík’ala. “I am his widow, “she would tell people. She died of old age. She had done a great thing and her fame endures.

Huŋkphápȟa: Head Of The Camp Circle, Hunkpapa
Kȟaŋğí: Crow
Očhéthi Šakówiŋ: Seven Council Fires
Mníšoše: Water Astir, Missouri River
Mníšota: Smoking Water, Minnesota
Mní Wakȟáŋ: Water With Energy, Spirit Lake
Saóŋ: Northern Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Huŋkphápȟa, Oóheŋuŋpa, Mníkowožu, Itázipčho)
Thítȟuŋwaŋ: Dwellers On The Plains, Teton

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Lakota Woman's Lost Love

An engraving of Lake Pepin in Minnesota. Maiden Rock appears in the background in the right half of this image. 
Legend Of The Maiden’s Leap
A Lakȟóta Woman’s Lost Love

Collected by Frances Densmore
Fort Yates, ND – In 1911 Frances Densmore, an anthropologist and ethnographer, on behalf of the Bureau of American Ethnology, came to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation and recorded hundreds of songs on wax cylinders for preservation.

While Densmore was stationed on Standing Rock she heard a story about a Lakȟóta woman’s leap which bore some similarity to a Sisíthuŋwaŋ (Sisseton) woman’s jump off of a promontory on the eastern shore of what is today Lake Pepin. The Dakȟóta woman jumped off this point and killed herself on the rocks below.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton; Lakota) say that their young woman jumped from a high point somewhere in the west. Here is their story:

A young woman had promised to marry a man, but he wished to make a name for himself before the marriage took place. He had been on the warpath, but he wished to go again that he might distinguish himself by valor. When the war party returned they said he had been killed by the Crow.

Sometime afterward in the course of tribal wanderings a camp was made at the place where, according to the report of the war party, the young man had been killed. Dressing herself in her best attire, the maiden went to the edge of the cliff, she offered a song and gave a trill before jumping into the river below her.

This is her song:
Zuyá iyá’yelo (He has gone to war)
Ehápi k’uŋ (You have said)
Hé wašté waláke (I love him)
Iyótiye wakíye (I am sad)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Woodcraft And Wisdom, Be Aware As You Go

The Northern Great Plains, photo by World Wildlife.
XXIII: Woodcraft And Weather Wisdom
Akhíta Máni (Be Aware As You Go)

By Charles Eastman
Note: The following is an excerpt of Charles Eastman's "Indian Scout Tales." Since the life of the Indian is one of travel and exploration, not for the benefit of science, but for his own convenience and pleasure, he is accustomed to find himself in pathless regions —— now in the deep woods, now upon the vast, shimmering prairie, or again among the tangled water-ways of a mighty lake studded with hundreds, even thousands, of wooded islands.

How does he find his way so successfully in the pathless jungle without the aid of a compass you ask? Well, it is no secret. In the first place, his vision is correct; and he is not merely conscious of what he sees, but also sub-consciously he observes the presence of any and all things within the range of his senses.

If you would learn his system, you must note the relative position of all objects, and especially the location of your camp in relation to river, lake, or mountain. The Indian is a close student of the topography of the country, and every landmark—— hill, grove, or unusual tree—is noted and remembered. It is customary with the hunters and warriors to tell their stories of adventure most minutely, omitting no geo graphical and topographical details, so that the boy who has listened to such stories from babyhood can readily identify places he has never before seen.

This kind of knowledge is simple, and, like the every-day meal, it is properly digested and assimilated, and becomes a part of one’s self. It is this instant, intelligent recognition of every object within his vision in his daily roving, which fixes the primitive woodsman’s reckoning of time, distance, and direction.

Sunrise on the Great Plains, featured on Wallpaper Up

Time is measured simply by the height of the sun. Shadow is the wild man’s dial; his own shadow is best. Hunger is a good guide when the sun is behind the clouds. Again, the distance traveled is an indicator, when one travels over known distances. In other words, he keeps his soul at one with the world about him, while the over-civilized man is trained to depend upon artificial means. He winds his watch, pins his thought to a chronometer, and disconnects himself from the world-current; then starts off on the well-beaten road. If he is compelled to cut across, he calls for a guide; in other words, he borrows or buys the mind of another. Neither can he trust his memory, but must needs have a note book.

The wild man has no chronometer, no yardstick, no unit of weight, no field-glass. He is himself a natural being in touch with nature. Some things he does, he scarcely knows why; certainly he could not explain them. His calculations are swift as a flash of lightning; best of all, they come out right! This may seem incredible to one who is born an old man; but there are still some boys who hark back to their great-great grandfathers; they were not born and nursed within six walls!

The colors of tree, grass, and rock tell the points of the compass to the initiated. On the north side, the bark is of a darker color, smoother, and more solid looking; while on the southern exposure it is of a lighter hue, because of more sunshine, and rougher, because it has not been polished off by the heavy beating of snow and rain in the cold season. An Indian will pass his hand over the trunk of a tree in the dark and tell you which way is north; some will tell you the kind of tree, also.

The branches of the tree tell the same story; on the south side they grow thicker and longer, while the leaves lie more horizontal on the sunny side, and more vertical on the north. Again, the dry leaves on the ground corroborate them; on the north side of the trees the leaves are well-packed and overlay each other almost like shingles. The color and thickness of the moss on rock or tree also tells the—secret.

But I must leave some things for you to discover; and I advise you to select a rock or tree that is well exposed to the elements for a first attempt. Of course, in well-protected localities, these distinctions are not so marked, but even there are discernible to a trained eye.

If you ever lose your way in the woods, do not allow yourself to become unnerved. Never give up.” Fear drowns more people than water, and is a more dangerous enemy than the wilderness. A normal man, with some knowledge of out-of-doors, can without much effort keep in touch with his starting-point, and, however tortuously he may rove, he will pick the shortest way back. Know exactly where you are before starting, in relation to the natural landmarks, and at every halt locate yourself as nearly as possible. Measure your shadow (it varies according to the season), and scatter dry earth, leaves, or grass, to learn the direction of the wind. The water shed is another important point to bear in mind. On a clear night, look for the well known stars, such as the Great Dipper,” which lies to the north in summer, the handle pointing west. The Milky Way lies north and south. Once you locate the camp, you may be guided by these or by the wind in night travel.

Hunting bison in the dusty airy landscape.

The Indian, as an out-of-door man, early learns the necessity of a weather bureau of his own. He develops it after the fashion of another system of precaution; that is, he takes note of the danger-signals of the animals, those unconscious criers of the wilderness, both upon water and land. These have definite signals for an approaching change in the weather. For instance, the wolf tribes give the storm call” on the evening before. This call is different in tone from any other and clearly identified by us. Horses kick and stamp, and the buffalo herds low nervously. Certain water fowl display a strange agitation which they do not show under any other circum stances. Antelopes seek shallow lakes before a thunder-shower and stand in the water the Indians say because lightning does not strike in the water. Even dogs howl and make preparations to hide their young. Ducks have their signal call; but the chief weather prophet of the lakes is the loon, as the gray wolf or coyote is of the prairie.

Certain leaves and grass-blades contract or expand at the approach of storm, and even their color is affected, while the wind in the leaves has a different sound. The waves on the beach whisper of the change, and we also observe the ring around the sun, and the opacity and disk of the moon. The lone hunter may be left with only the open prairie and the dome of heaven; but he still has his grass-blades, his morning and evening skies. Sometimes the little prairie birds give him the signal; or, if not, he may fall back upon his old wounds, that begin to ache and swell with the change of atmosphere.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The High Dog Winter Count, 1798

The High Dog Winter Count on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center.
The High Dog Winter Count
History Of The Great Plains
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND – The High Dog Winter Count, a pictographic history of the Huŋkphápȟa Lakȟóta people is on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center. It reaches back to the year 1798 and concludes in 1912. Šúŋka Waŋkátuya (Lit. Dog On-High), or High Dog, kept a winter count, a pictographic mnemonic device in which each year was remembered with one image and a “name.” Years, or winters, were never numbered.

When the year was named, a collective of elders, leaders, and medicine people would gather together to determine what to call the year, sometimes in the spring when the new year began, or sometimes in the fall or over the winter.

The first entry of the High Dog Winter Count.

High Dog’s winter count echoes content within other winter counts, such as Blue Thunder, No Two Horns, Swift Dog, and Jaw, among others, but it has distinct entries all its own. The first entry of High Dog’s winter count features an image of one man with a “fan” of four very blue feathers fanning or presenting the feathers to another man. Here follows the entry:

Wiyáka tȟotȟó uŋ akíčilowaŋpi (Lit. Feathers blue-blue to-use-something singing-praise-they). They sang praises using very blue feathers.

It was agreed to among the people that any one of the tribe who was seen wearing the blue feathers should be an example to others in virtue and goodness, and should be esteemed by all as a guardian of the "nation." Four men at that time were set apart with the blue feathers.

The feathers that are depicted on High Dog's entry resemble the tail feathers of the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa (lit. “Bird-blue striped-very"), commonly known as the Blue Jay. In particular, this rendering resembles the beautifully blue Stellar’s Jay tail feathers. 

The Lakȟóta say that when the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa returns, cold rains follow. Steller's Jay photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By an old ceremony men were set apart as “Atéyapi” (Fathers) and women as "Ináyapi" (mothers). By this ceremony these people were chosen as leaders in the tribe, and their admonitions were heeded.

Sometimes a small child was raised to this class because of a portent at his or her birth that indicated his or her superior wisdom. Grown persons were raised to this class on account of some distinguished service to the tribe, as well as for manifest wisdom and foresight in affairs. Those raised to this class while they were babes are said to have been generally the most satisfactory administrators of justice. Such children received careful training both from those previously raised to this class and also from their grandmothers.

They were taught to admonish with discretion and with gentleness, to honor and respect each and every one of every age and themselves; to be kind to dogs and all animals. If one of this class proved unworthy, one was not deposed, but from that time on, or until one had purged oneself of old offenses and adopted better manners one had small influence in the council-meetings, yet the people still respected him or her.

At that time, men were gifted with blue feathers to designate their worthiness; women were gifted with blue glass pendants they wore proudly upon their forehead, though this practice has long since faded. 

The Blue Cloud Stone as sketched by Col. A. Welch

Kȟaŋpéska Imánipi Wiŋ (Walking On The Shell Woman), the wife of Matȟó Watȟákpe (Charging Bear; John Grass), was among the last Lakȟóta women to have possessed one of what they called Maȟpíya Tȟó, or a Blue Cloud Stone. The stone was actually a flat blue polished piece of glass, possibly volcanic, which was melted and poured into a sand or clay mold. The stone was made by a woman of virtue, and only one was made in a year.

When it was worn, the woman was held in high esteem by all as good and honorable, a role model for all women

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Ring Around The Moon: She Makes A Fire

A ring of light, or halo, appears around the moon. The planet Jupiter is visible within the arc of light. 
Wíačhéič’ithi: She Makes A Fire
A Ring Around The Moon
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS – It’s a clear cold night on the Northern Plains, following a cloudless icy day. A blanket of snow on the driveway had become compacted into crunchy ice over the past week. The sun bathed the land in silent golden light then he slipped over the horizon. The stars gradually blinked into their places in the vesper dusk. The full moon slid into the night sky and glided higher and higher. A vast gently glowing halo encircled the moon and altogether her milky white light spilled into the heavens.

I was standing beside my car one minute taking in the serene brisk scene. I imagine for a moment that another man stood here beside his horse in long ago days, outside the glow of his wife’s lodge, standing in the same snow, under the same sky, perhaps even breathing in the same air.

The part of my mind that has been educated and westernized says that the ring around the moon is probably caused by a light refracting through moisture in the atmosphere, and a quick internet search says pretty much the same thing. Science is beautiful in its own way as it questions and sometimes reveals the mystery of creation, but this explanation doesn’t endear me to the majesty of what I see above.

The Lakȟóta saw the natural world, the natural heavens and concluded that what happens here happens above. The thípi glowing in the evenings, filled with the smell of sweet cedar, earthy sage, or rich tobacco, and a mother or grandmother stirring her kettle of tȟaníǧa soup over the fire, now and then adding handfuls of shelled corn and dried thíŋpsiŋla. The way she stirred her kettle reminded the Lakȟóta of the phases of the moon.

A column of moonlight reflected on a body of water is called a "moonglade." The Lakȟóta call this "Mníyata Ožáŋžaŋ."

Kevin Locke, enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, recalled a meeting long ago with Mrs. Holding Eagle at her home on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, “She said the phases of the moon were caused by how hard she stirred her kettle.” Mrs. Holding Eagle referred to the moon, in this sense, not as Haŋwí, but as Hokhémi, an old woman bundled in layers of clothing. The phases of the moon are described as though she were standing at times, dipping, or lying down, and at the full moon she is at her kettle.

When a ring of light appears around the moon, it is Hokhémi building a fire. Wíačhéič’ithi, “She Makes A Fire.”

Mrs. Amanda Grass on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation explained that as the moon wanes, as the moon loses light, the moon itself is the lodge of Haŋwí, and a large mouse with a pointed nose would nibble at the edge of her lodge, going back and forth, gradually, until there was nothing left. When the moon waxed, it was Haŋwí patiently and persistently rebuilding her lodge until it shown full once more. Then the cycle continued.

The cold shakes me from my reverie and I walk across the compacted snow to my home. The horse beside me a moment ago, replaced now by a little silver car. The windows warmly aglow, smells of supper adrift from the door, different smells and different light but homey all the same. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Warfare On The Northern Plains: Interpreting The Pictographic Bison Robe

The Pictographic Bison Robe, Peabody Museum.
Warfare On The Northern Plains
Painted Robe Reveals Battle
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Massachusetts has a spectacular collection of Lewis and Clark related artifacts in the country. The artifacts have been determined to have been collected by the Corps of Discovery who did gather dresses, shirts, and various painted robes in 1804-1806, or by Lt. George Hutter in 1825-1826. In particular, both parties acquired a painted robe depicting conflict either with or against such tribes as the Sioux, Arikara, Hidatsa, and the Mandan.

Castle McLaughlin, Associate Curator of North American Ethnography, Peabody Museum at Harvard, carefully researched the “Pictographic Bison Robe” and has concluded that the robe is likely to have been collected by Hutter, not the Corps of Discovery. McLaughlin noted that another robe was collected by a Charles Wilson Peale in 1826, and that this robe was said to depict the Arikara War of 1823, the first American military campaign against Plains Indians. However, McLaughlin notes, “this is unlikely to be the Peabody robe, which does not depict Anglo-Americans.”[1]

In a telephone interview, McLaughlin offered an updated reflection about the painted bison robe, “The robe is likely to be Siouan in origin, and it was collected after the Corps of Discovery Expedition of 1804-06, maybe not by Hutter.” The Lewis and Clark Collection came to the Peabody Museum from more than one source and at different times.

There are about three major conflicts the Očhéti Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires, aka “The Great Sioux Nation”) participated in that fall within a thirty year window: a fight against enemy tribes in the 1790s, a conflict along the Grand River involving the Arikara and Ensign Pryor’s command in 1809, and the Arikara War of 1823.

Warfare At The Turn Of The Century
In the winter of 1794-95, the Dakota camped with the Mandan[2] perhaps to trade but the peace was short lived when a Mandan killed a Dakota with long hair and took his scalp,[3] however other winter counts recall that the Mandan killed a Crow instead, and that may be the case as White Bull recalled this particular conflict at Rawhide Butte.[4] The following year, the Mandan Chief Man-With-A-Hat became noted as a warrior[5], the Mandan knew this great leader by a different name in their own language, Shekek Shote (White Wolf).[6]

In summary, the Očhéti Šakówiŋ waged near continual warfare against such tribes as the Crow, Ponka, Assiniboine, Arikara, and Omaha. In particular, the Očhéti Šakówiŋ continued war against the Omaha until an epidemic of either smallpox or chickenpox struck the Lakȟóta in 1802.[7] The Omaha retaliated in a series of relentless attacks, but when the Lakȟóta recovered sufficiently, a warparty leader raised a pipe with a horsetail affixed to it and waved it over the people, a call to arms.[8] The Lakȟóta rallied together and launched an offensive that left seventy-five Omaha dead and fifty as prisoners.[9]

In 1803, there was one major battle of note, the Battle of Heart River. The northern Očhéti Šakówiŋ known then as Saúŋni, or simply as Saúŋ (White-Rubbed Shirts/Robes), who were made up of Huŋkphápȟa, Oóhenuŋpa, Sihásapa Lakȟóta in alliance with the Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta[10] fought against the Assiniboine who were possibly allied with the Arikara who were then living at the mouth of Beaver Creek (south of present-day Bismarck, ND). [11]

Conflict At Grand River
A second possible interpretation of the Painted Bison Robe is of the 1808 conflict between Ensign Nathaniel Pryor’s command, the Saúŋ Lakȟóta, and the Arikara. This conflict has its roots in the Corps of Discovery’s visit a few years previous.

In 1804, the Arikara selected a leader, Arketarnarwhar, to descend the Missouri River with an escort provided by coterie from the Corps of Discovery who would escort and interpret his eventual meeting with President Thomas Jefferson back east. The Arikara leader never returned. Manuel Lisa, of the American Fur Company, was charged with delivering the missive of Arketarnarwhar’s death[12], which was found to be of natural causes.[13] The news was carried upriver in 1806 by two French trappers who in turn were detained by the Corps of Discovery on their return journey. The trappers having delivered the Corps news of civilization were dismissed.

When the corps passed by the Arikara villages going downstream they deliberately withheld news of their leader’s death, in fact, the Arikara didn’t hear word of Arketarnarwhar’s death until 1807.[14] The Arikara developed a hostility towards the United States thereafter, and harassed trappers and traders alike coming upriver, and actually halted Ensign Nathaniel Pryor’s expedition to return the Mandan Chief Shehek Shote to his people at Knife River in August 1808 with a war party of about 650 Arikara warriors.[15] Location: where the Grand River converges with the Missouri River near present-day Mobridge, SD.

The Saúŋ Lakȟóta, who had their own mixed history with the Corps of Discovery, were also present when the Arikara stopped the Pryor expedition. The Wapȟóštaŋ Ğí (Brown Hat) Winter Count records the event that a Huŋkphápȟa man named Red Shirt was killed.[16] No Ears recorded the year with the following text, “Ogle Luta on wan itkop ahi ktepi,” which translates a few ways, but essentially means that Red Shirt died in conflict.[17] Lone Dog’s pictograph indicates that Red Shirt died by two arrows[18].

It is possible that Oglé Lutá (Red Shirt), in the Lakȟóta tradition of great leaders, had a different name, Tȟatȟáŋka Sapá (Black Bull). It should be noted that in the Corps of Discovery’s encounter with the Thithúŋwan (Teton) along Bad River in 1804 ended when the Corps gifted a Lakȟóta leader, then Black Bufallo, a hat, a medal, and a red military coat.[19] Black Buffalo intervened on behalf of the Corps of Discovery when the Corps refused to pay a toll. Black Buffalo ordered the warriors to lower their bows. The Corps passed after throwing a twist of tobacco at the feet of the Lakȟóta.

The Arikara War of 1823
The third possibility is the Arikara War of 1823.

The Arikara War saw Colonel Henry Leavenworth ascend the Missouri River to defend the interests of the American Fur Company from the hostile aggression of the Arikara. Leavenworth led a command of six companies of the US Infantry, and an aggrieved William Ashley plus sixty men of the American Fur Company who were accompanied by about 750 Očhéti Šakówiŋ warriors.[20]

The Očhéti Šakówiŋ led the assault on the Arikara village at dawn on Aug. 9, 1823. The fighting consisted of an exchange of gunfire and hand-to-hand fighting until the Arikara retreated behind their stockade. The following morning Leavenworth ordered artillery to commence firing on the Arikara. The Arikara pressed for a cease-fire soon after and Leavenworth heard them out. Thirty Arikara were killed by the artillery in addition to the fifteen from the previous day’s fighting.[21]

Leavenworth negotiated peace with the Arikara. Unbeknownst to Leavenworth, the Arikara were preparing to abandon their village that very night. The peace talks were likely a diversion while the village made ready. The Arikara left that night under Leavenworth’s sleepy watch. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ warriors were anticipating a fight in which they’d get many war honors, but were ultimately disgusted with Leavenworth’s decision to treat with the Arikara. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ raided the Arikara cornfields. Ashley was also disgusted with Leavenworth in that the entire Arikara village wasn’t destroyed.

The Lakȟóta remember the Arikara War of 1823 as “The year of much dried corn.[22]” Many winter counts depict stalks of corn to remember 1823 and frequently reference conflict with the Arikara. It is interesting to note that while Leavenworth organized this punitive campaign against a Plains Indian tribe, and referred to his command, including the Očhéti Šakówiŋ, as the Missouri Legion, that three winter count pictographs actually mentions Leavenworth, his soldiers, or the trappers in his command.

The Swan winter count recalls 1823 as “US troops fought Ree Indians.[23]” The 1823 entry on The Flame winter count is “White and Dakotas fought Rees.” Cloud Shield reveals a little more, “They joined the whites on an expedition up the Missouri River against the Rees.” Lone Dog’s entry says, “White soldiers made their first appearance in the region.” Lone Dog does not mention the Corps of Discovery as his people, the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta were stealing horses from the Crow in 1804. Had this band of Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna been at Bad River in 1804, they certainly would have recorded white soldiers ascending the river as Blue Thunder,[24] also an Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna, did.

The battle depicted on the Pictographic Bison Robe could represent the Arikara War of 1823. Because it does not include the representation of white soldiers or trappers does not mean without certainty that it isn’t. Why would it? The Očhéti Šakówiŋ did the actual fighting. The robe depicts warriors fighting warriors. Leavenworth refrained from ordering his infantry to engage in the fighting, but was still involved in the fight through use of his artillery.

Ken Woody (St. Regis Mohawk), Chief of Interpretation, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, reproduced the Pictographic Bison Robe for the National Forest Service’s Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Great Falls, MT. According to Woody, who examined the original, the green quills on the ends of the quilled strip are in fact bird quills. The Mandan and Hidatsa were well known for their quillwork involving the use of bird quills. The feathers would have been collected from sea gulls which came north in the summer to North Dakota. The feathers were stripped and treated for use in quillwork.[25] “The only thing on the robe which would hint of a Mandan or Hidatsa origin is the bird quills for the quilled strip, although if I remember right, most were porcupine quills and only the green quills at the beginning and end were bird quills,” remarked Woody.

It is entirely possible that the Pictographic Bison Robe represents other conflicts not recorded in winter counts or remembered in surviving oral tradition. There seems to be only one certain thing, that the robe was painted before George Catlin and Karl Bodmer for their visits among the first nations of the Upper Great Plains in the 1830s left such an impression with their art, that simple form pictography was transformed with elaborate flourish and became the high plains pictographic art of the middle nineteenth century.

[1] McLaughlin, Castle, Arts Of Diplomacy: Lewis & Clark’s Indian Collection, University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 2003.

[2] The Rosebud Winter Count.

[3] White Cow Killer Winter Count.

[4] White Bull, Chief Joseph (translated and edited by James H. Howard), The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, University of Nebraska Press, London, 1968.

[5] The Flame Winter Count.

[6] The Big Missouri Winter Count. It becomes clear who The-Man-With-The-Hat is when Big Missouri mention that a Mandan chief descended the Missouri River in 1806 with some white men to go meet the Great White Father.

[7] Pp. 130-146, Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of American Ethnology, Washington DC, Smithsonian, 1886.

[8] The Blue Thunder Winter Count, State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND.

[9] Clark, Capt. William, journal, Sept. 25, 1804.

[10] The John K. Bear Winter Count, 1803.

[11] Pp. 20-58, Howard, James H., Yanktonai Ethnohistory And The John K. Bear Winter Count, Plains Anthropologist: Journal Of The Plains Conference, Memoir 11, 1976.

[12] Page 306, Jackson, Donald C., Journey To The Mandans, 1809: The Lost Narrative Of Dr. Thomas,” Missouri Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 3, April, 1964.

[13] Pp. 5-7, Innis, Ben, Bloody Knife: Custer’s Favorite Scout, Smoky Water Press, Bismarck, ND. 1994.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Page 144, Potter, Tracy, Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat, Farcountry Press, Fort Mandan Press, Washburn, ND, 2003.

[16] The Brown Hat (Baptiste Good) Winter Count.

[17] No Ears Winter Count.

[18] Lone Dog Winter Count.

[19] Page 169, Ambrose, Stephen, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Long Soldier Winter Count, Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, ND.

[23] The Swan Winter Count, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC. The Swan Winter Count,

[24] Blue Thunder Winter Count, State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND.

[25] Woody, Ken, discussion with author, Nov. 26, 2014.