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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Day The Sun Died

A partial solar eclipse as seen on the Northern Great Plains, Oct. 23, 2014.
Remembering The Day The Sun Died
This Year The Moon Kissed The Sun
By Dakota Wind
Great Plains - In the Lakȟóta creation story, Wí (the Sun) and Haŋwí (the Moon) were created after Makȟóčhe (Grandmother Earth) and Škáŋ (the Source of All Power and All that Moves). 

Sometime after creation, Iktómi (the Trickster) convinced Ité (Face), the beautiful daughter of Wazíya (the Power of the North) and his wife Wakánaka (Old Woman) to commit an indiscretion with Wí and usurp the place of Haŋwí , even as Ité herself was married to Tȟaté (the Wind). 

It so happened then, that at a feast in the lodge of Haŋwí, that Ité seated herself next to Wí. When Haŋwí entered her lodge and found Ité in her place they all laughed at the situation, and Haŋwí drew her shawl over her own face in shame. 

After the feast, Škáŋ presided over all as judge and pronounced that Wí should be rendered from the embrace and comfort of Haŋwí, and from that time forward, Wí ruled the day, and Haŋwí the night. However, Haŋwí might appear in daylight because Wí is her husband and she may want to see him, but when they appear together in the sky, Haŋwí, to this day, draws her shawl over her face in shame. 

Ité received her due. Škáŋ allowed her to keep her beauty, but only one half of her would retain it, the other half was rendered so hideous that any who looked upon her would be terrified. From that time on, she was called Anúŋg Ité (Double Face). She was also parted from her husband Tȟaté and their children, the Tȟatíye Tópa (the Four Winds) and their youngest son, the fifth wind, Tȟatéiyumni (Whirlwind). 

Iktómi was banished to the edge of the world, and would forever remain friendless. 


"The Morning-Sun A-Died [1869]," The Swan Winter Count. 
The Sun Died
On August 7, 1869, a full solar eclipse darkened the Great Plains. Ten Lakȟóta winter counts from all seven Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton) tribes remember this outstanding event. All remember the event as "The year the sun died." 

Dr. Washington Matthews, the post surgeon at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, recalled that the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai) chief Matȟó Núŋpa (Two Bear) and his band camped outside the fort for the express purpose of viewing the eclipse and discourse with the soldiers about it. They viewed the eclipse through smoked glass. One of the mysteries of creation seemingly explained by way of science, the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna solemnly parted ways with the soldiers.

Matȟó Núŋpa later fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. 


A rainbow in the clouds preceded the eclipse.
A Rainbow In The Cloud
The morning was relatively calm. Quiet and cloudless, but as morning passed into afternoon clouds marred the autumnal landscape. Immediately following work I raced my little beast north of town. Dark clouds on the western horizon crawled ominously across the sky, threatening to overtake the heavens.

A rainbow appeared in the clouds above and gently illuminated the gray with a pearly luster. 

The Lakȟóta have the tradition to politely point at rainbows with one's elbow or one's lips. If you point with your finger, they say, your finger will swell up. The story behind the swollen finger lies in an old tale about spirits that live in the rainbow who discovered a boy who had ascended their arch and entered their world. He was never seen again, and rainbows became intangible ever after.

 The clouds only seemed to get darker. 

One cloud split and light cascaded down like downy feathers. High above the open sky another cloud, pale and high, made the sun itself appear as if it were swimming, rays of light played with shadow upon the prairie. Then I looked past the veil and saw the sun. 

The sky remained open for perhaps half an hour, but in that half hour I watched the moon kiss the sun, and I thought for a moment, that perhaps she loved him after all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Legend Of Sica Hollow

Sica Hollow State Park, in South Dakota.
The Legend Of Sica Hollow
Remembering The Good Land
By Dakota Wind
SICA HOLLOW STATE PARK, S.D. – ŠíčA Hollow is a rise of gently rolling hills that are thickly wooded with cottonwood, ash, and some oak. Cool crystal streams of water burst out of the hillsides in a series of little waterfalls. The sounds of babbling brooks carry only as far as the nearest trees and hills allow. Winding footpaths and horse trails run seemingly at random throughout the park and everywhere daylight and shadow fell.

An extended Dakȟóta family had gathered in the forest shade alongside a stream for prayer and community as they celebrated the naming of two of their own. The family patriarch, a Dakȟóta spiritual leader officiated the naming ceremony. They didn’t allow photography or other media to record the event, but I think I can share this: my friend stood upon a star quilt laid there upon the ground, and as he received his Dakȟóta name the sun broke through the cloudy overcast and shown down so intently, that an afterimage of a star quilt was burned into my eyes for a quarter of an hour afterwards. 


"...I saw a tree bent in an arch over the path."

I had decided to take a brief walk through the woods, when in my path I saw a tree bent in an arch over the path. I wondered at the way it grew, and so asked the eldest Dakȟóta in attendance about it. She said if there was one, she couldn’t recall, but told me to go back and take a cutting from the root and to plant it back home.

The park is named “Sica Hollow” and I suspected that there must be a story there and asked that uŋčí (grandmother) about it. She said that a long time ago it was called Makȟóčhe Wašte (The Good Country). My friend sent me some information about the park name he acquired from Blue Cloud Abbey. A monk of the abbey, Fr. Stanislaus Maudlin, had recorded an unattributed story of ŠíčA Hollow. It follows here with minor edits:


Fr. Stanislaus Maudlin, O.S.B. (above), was honored with the Dakȟóta name Waŋbdí Wičháša (Eagle Man).

There is a place that today is called ŠíčA Hollow. It is deep and dark, and long memories live there. Few people, except the Sisíthuŋwaŋ (Sisseton), know its entrance, and these people keep its story a secret.

Once it was a shelter for many camps. Quiet smokes rose up to the prairie. Wazíya (North Wind) tried every opening into the Hollow, but the great trees held back his white breath.

Deer and antelope slipped into the folds of the Makȟóčhe Wašte. They found open water and salt, when all the earth above was hard with ice.

Great thipȟéstola (lodges) lay under buffalo robes, and the old men sat every day in their thípiyókhiheya (council lodge). Their bones were warm, and their pipes prayed to tȟuŋkášila (grandfather), who had blessed them.

But a stranger came from the west into the Makȟóčhe Wašte.

His bow was broken and his moccasins were worn. He had no family. He made a sign to say his name was Napé (Hand). He was not tall, and his eyes were thin. The young girls looked at him, and something told them to be afraid.

He ate much, and did not show thanks. He laughed under his breath at the wičháȟčala (elder men), and no one saw him pray. He did not smile like good men do, nor did he tell stories.

The winúȟčala (elder women) said he should be sent away. But it was cold outside of Makȟóčhe Wašte, and thick ice covered the Bdé Íŋyaŋȟčake (Granite Lake, Big Stone Lake). The wičháȟčala said he would go when it was warm.

After several moons the great light in the sky, Wí (the Sun), began to move back to the north. Uŋčí Makȟá (Grandmother Earth) began to open and let out her young. Young braves quit their winter games and crept out of Makȟóčhe Wašte to search for fresh meat and for the eggs of water birds that flew at night from the south.

Napé was older and slyer, and he showed the young boys many tricks. He hid like a lynx in the grass. His eye drew the game to him. He was proud and laughed at the mistakes of the young men.

Around the prairie camp fire, when the old men could not hear, he said, "Why do you follow the old ways? What little glory do you have? In the dark of the night I can bring you to big kills that will make you warriors, feared by everyone. You will be great chiefs and wear scalps at your belts. Not the tails of rabbits. Will you listen to me, and keep my secrets away from the council fires?"

It was spring, and the young braves' hearts were beating for the beautiful maidens hidden in their mothers' thipȟéstola. A great kill would prove manhood, and the maidens would surrender to marriage.

"Listen, then, to me and prepare your war clubs. Soon the Valley trail will be dusty with camps moving north to the Lakes of Rice. If you follow me, you will strike many coups, and you will have many eagle feathers in your hair. You will be men, not old skeletons who sit and dream in the lodges."

This talk stirred the blood of the youths, and they made war clubs and waited. Every dawn they watched the Valley in order to make their first kill.

And it was easy.

The people of Makȟóčhe Wašte had a always been good. The camps who passed them sent signals of friendship and slept safe on the open earth.

Now no more. Napé had taught the boys to strike.

Travelers woke to wail over their dead. They ran for their lives into the tall grass, holding their hands over the mouths of the little ones. Blood ran everywhere. It fell into the River, and even today this river is called Šá (Red).

The horror spread into the Makȟóčhe Wašte. Children ran for fear when they saw the dripping scalps. Women and girls spat on the tracks where the boys walked. The wičháȟčala called for a Council and for the wičháša wakȟáŋ (medicine man).

"How can we make up for what our Sons have done? How can we wash Makȟóčhe Wašte from this crime? What will be our Sacrifice? We want Makȟóčhe Wašte to be as it was long ago.



The wičháša wakȟáŋ listened to the old men. He went to his own lodge to listen to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka (Great Spirit). He sat with his whistle and rattle and burning sweetgrass. He did not sleep, but his eyes were closed. He waited for Wakíŋyaŋ (a thunder-being) to bring him a message.

And Napé did not sleep. He and his killers lit a big fire in the middle of the camp. They leaped and killed again and again. They bragged and shouted to the girls, "Lift up the wihúta (base of a thípi) and follow us out into the grass. Your children will have our blood in them and everyone will tremble when they call out."

But the camp listened only to the wičháša wakȟáŋ and prayed with him. An evil had come into their Peace, and only Wakíŋyaŋ could cleanse it from them.

A wind stirred . The whistle and rattle in the lodge stilled. Tȟuŋkášila (Grandfather; Great Spirit) had heard his people. He had accepted their sacrifice. His messenger was coming.

Through the smoke holes women saw the dark wings of Wakíŋyaŋ. A flash and then another come from his eyes.

Sudden fear touched the shoulders of Napé. He crouched and shook like a water reed. Madness took him, but he could not escape. He ran and ran, but the wings of Wakíŋyaŋ beat him back into the flood that rained from the cloud.

Vines reached out for him and took him by his ankles. The water rose to his screaming mouth and to his gaping eyes. He was too evil to cry for mercy, and the talons of Wakíŋyaŋ ripped out his sight, so he would never see Wanáği Wičhóti (where the spirits dwell; “Happy Hunting Grounds”).

Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka did not take all the sacrifice offered to him by his people in Makȟóčhe Wašte. Most sat in their thipȟéstola and went to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka with a prayer.

But one was saved. By her father she was called Thíŋgléška (Fawn).

When the wičháša wakȟáŋ had began his prayer Thíŋgléška slipped into the door of her mother's thipȟéstola. Her hair was black as a raven and long. With a bone she began to comb it and oil it. She set it into two braids and tied the ends with a bit of ermine. From her bundle she drew her tassled dress and high white moccasins. Her Medicine was calling her to flee the rising water.

Up and up the steep slope she flew. The water rose higher behind her. All the world was covered. On the top of the highest hill she stood bright and smooth-skinned in the sun light. She was alone, the only one of her tribe not touched by man or by the evil that Napé had brought to her people.

She began her song, and Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka behind Wí listened:

"I am grieved for the evil that my brothers did. Your beautiful land is destroyed. I stand alone with you. Let me sing my song, before I join my sisters. You were good to us before evil entered our Peace. Now I grieve. I ask your kindness. Tȟuŋkášila make this ground, where I stand, holy again. Remember this little spot and send your love here. From this ground make a new people and they will worship you always. Now I go to you."

Her song and her great grief made Thíŋgléška drop to the ground and she slept. Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka saw her, and he sent a white cloud to cover her. She slept many days, and the cloud covered her.

She could not feel it, but from the cloud new life stirred in her. She felt no pain either, but a motion awakened her. It was a child hungry for her milk.

A tall brave looked down on her and touched her face.

Below her the hollow was clean and bright again. Only the memory lingers, ŠíčA Hollow. Some day even this bad name will be changed and be forgotten. Gentle smokes will rise again. It will be called by its old name: Makȟóčhe Wašte (the Good Country).

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Origin Of The Hunkpapa Lakota

Sitting Bull is probably the most recognized Huŋkphápȟa, seen here in this photo from his days in Buffalo Bill's western show.
The Origin Of The Hunkpapa Lakota
Different Stories And Pronunciations
By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. – When I was in the eighth grade, the teacher dedicated about an hour to North Dakota Studies. She didn’t focus so much on non-native history, but developed her own curriculum and content. At the time, I didn't appreciate the effort and energy she poured into our native identity and culture.

I distinctly recall one day how she told the class that we were Teton. If I turned in homework with “Sioux” on it, she wrote in that threatening blood red script way that only teachers can, that we were Teton and I had better use that word.

My grandparents told me we were called Huŋkphápȟa, and pronounced it with a clear distinction from my pronunciation of Hunkpapa. In the culture club at school, I remember being told that Huŋkphápȟa translated as “Head of The Circle,” “End of The Circle,” and “Camps At The Entrance” in reference to how this band camped at the entrance of the Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Teton) councils. The Huŋkphápȟa were the first to arrive and the last to leave.

According to Mary Louise Defender-Wilson, a traditional arts scholar and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the historic etymology of Huŋkphápȟa is that the tribal name was once Henúŋpapȟapha, and related to a time when this particular group of Thítȟuŋwaŋ people were camped near Matȟó Thípila (Bear Lodge; Devil’s Tower).

Josephine Waggoner’s “Witness: A Huŋkphápȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song Of The Lakotas” another word history is offered. It’s as different in the telling as it is comes from a different Lakȟóta tribal perspective, the Oglála. The Oglála historian, Makhúla (Breast), recounted that “in the earliest days, the Huŋkphápȟaya were of the Oglála band, who wandered far north and roamed on the upper part of the Missouri River and further up into Canada. They were called the upper river Indians – Íŋkpapaya, afterwards called Huŋkphápȟaya.

In a discussion with Jerome Kills Small (Oglála) in September 2012, Kills Small related much the same story as recounted in Waggoner’s book, that the Huŋkphápȟa were once Oglála whose country was the Upper Missouri River. He was deliberate in his explanation too in the pronunciation of Hunkpapa as Huŋkphápȟa, and offered no variation of the name.

The traditional territory of the Huŋkphápȟa is of course the Upper Missouri River, which ranges from the Wakpá Wašté (Cheyenne River) in the south, along the Mníšoše (Missouri River) to the Čhaȟí Wakpá (Powder River) and Heȟáka Wakpá (Yellowstone River) in the north and west. Naturally, this territory was contested by other tribes.

Today the Huŋkphápȟa can be found on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation with some at the Fort Peck Sioux Indian Reservation and the Wood Mountain Reserve in Saskatchewan – not to mention many more who live off the reservations throughout the country.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Origin Of Fire

The jacket of the book features ledger book art by Black Hawk titled, "Sans Arc Lakota."
The Origin Of Fire
Pȟéta Ohútkȟaŋ

By Dakota Wind
Standing Rock, N.D. & S.D. – The following is an excerpt from Josephine Waggoner’s wonderful book “Witness: A Húŋkphapȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song of the Lakotas,” which is published by the University of Nebraska Press, available now. Get your copy today.

The origin of fire as it is remembered in the traditions told by the old men of the tribe of the Sioux is that there had been no fires used by them in the times past. Fires may have been seen but not used. It was feared by the Indians as a destructive element.

Pȟóğe (Inside-Of-Nose) was the first to discover fire. He was an active man, was always examining and noticing everything about him. One day Pȟóğe went to the woods to look for hardwood knots. Those days, men looked for knots in decayed wood. The fallen logs were rotten, but the knots were hard. These were picked up, scooped out, and used for dishes. The dishes were sometimes sort of sandpapered or filed on sandstone till they were the shape they were wanted.

Pȟóğe found a rotten stump. He scooped it all out; he worked with it for quite a while. He tried to work a deep hole in the center. He got a stick. He sharpened it at the end, and with this stick placed sharpened side to the heart of the stump, he rolled it fast between his hands, trying to deepen the hole. It started to smoke, but he kept on twirling the stick. A fire started where it was smoking.

Pȟóğe has been sitting on a knoll and when the fire burnt in earnest, he started toward the camp, toward the center of the village where some of the village had gathered. Everyone was watching Pȟóğe as he walked along with the burning stump. From camp to camp it was spoken of. “Look at Pȟóğe, look at Pȟóğe. He is coming home in a strange way.” The burning stump was taken to the council lodge. Men ran and got wood. Wood was brought from all sides of the camp. Excitement ran high about this new thing that had been discovered. People carried lighted sticks home from the council lodge to start fires in their homes. Meat that had always been cured and dried before using was now cooked – that is, it was roasted.

It was decided that the fire must always be kept up in the council lodge so that those who wanted it could go and get it. After this, the fire was never extinguished. At each council the sacred fire was kept, till there were seven fires among the Sioux.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Painting Tradition: Black War Bonnet Pattern

Painting the Black War Bonnet Society motif. The pattern is penciled in, then painted. 
Wičhóȟ’aŋ Itówapi
The Painting Tradition

By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – The Black Warbonnet Society of the Thíthuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta people was an elite warrior society in the late nineteenth century. Members and especially the leader of this group would paint a special symmetrical and geometrical pattern that represented birth, the road of life, and death, within two concentric patterns of “feathers.” Owners, and sometimes wearers, of these extravagantly painted robes, believed that the pattern – even the execution of the pattern – was good medicine and protected the owner.

The major color scheme of the Black War Bonnet Society pattern is almost overwhelmingly black for a reason. Black represents west, the thunder beings, bravery, and death. Placing black patterned with white represented feathers in this headdress, but also a balance of life and death.

Members of this warrior society would also paint their pattern upon bison skulls and shields. Variations of the Black War Bonnet pattern could be found on the robes of other tribal nations too. 


The bison robe measures about 38 feet square. It is a winter bull hide; the fur side is full of soft thick fur. 

In the pre-reservation era, the pattern was associated with Woóhitika, the traditional Lakȟóta value of bravery. After the post-reservation era began, and into contemporary times, the pattern became associated with Wóitȟaŋčhaŋ, the values of leadership and service, though these values often went hand-in-glove with bravery.

The most popular execution of the Black War Bonnet design today on bison hides was featured in Thomas E. Mails’ “Mystic Warriors Of The Plains,” which in itself is based on an actual painted robe. It is often recreated in almost clinical detail on shields, bison skulls, and bison robes with little to no variation. 

This sundog appeared above the Missouri River on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D.

Early last year, my lekší Cedric, shared the wonderful story of the sundog, which the Lakȟóta call Wíačhéič’ithi, or “The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself.” The Lakȟóta word, Wíačhéič’ithi, also refers to the ring that sometimes appears around the moon, which signifies a change in weather. 


"...a new interpretation of the Black War Bonnet design, one of hope and light..."

The story of the how the sundog came to be and the stories of the sun, who wore a fiery headdress, bring to mind a new interpretation of the Black War Bonnet design, one of hope and light, and I decided to paint one.

The Black War Bonnet Society design is nearly finished. 

The pattern calls for a "road" running between three medicine wheels. The medicine wheel represents the four cardinal directions, the four winds, four stages in life, and the four great Lakȟóta values: Wóohitike (Bravery), Wówačhaŋtognaka (Generosity), Waúŋšila (Compassion), and Wóksape (Wisdom). There are, of course, more than four virtues, and this is just an example. 

The three medicine wheels in this case represent birth, life, and death. The Black War Bonnet Society motif is arranged around the center wheel. The popular execution of the pattern involves using yellow. I've substituted red in place of yellow in this case. 

White has been added to the pattern. White is said to represent anything from purity of spirit to life, or the north direction. 

The two concentric tracks of feathers represent the headdress. In this re-examination of the pattern, the center medicine wheel represents the sun, the two flanking medicine wheels represent the campfires.

The painted hide is finished after a red border accents the edge. 

The entire pattern is flanked by eight "fans." A red border represents the life and wisdom. The entire project was carried out and finished over the summer of 2014. Each time I set up and painted in the back yard, I was blessed to hear songs from Tȟašíyagmuŋka (the Western Meadowlark) and Wakíŋyela (the Mourning Dove), and one morning in particular, a Tȟašíyagmuŋka landed next to my paint and sang, as if to ask, "Tȟaŋháŋši, taku huwo [Cousin, what are you doing?]?"

My experience of painting this bison robe is varied, from sitting at an improvised table in the golden light of an early summer morning, watching my paint dry on a hot mid-summer afternoon, to enjoying a cool cloudless windy evening under a dark azure sky. Through it all, birds shared their songs, and no matter the day or time, I was never once pestered by mosquitoes. I would do it again. 

Support an enrolled member of a federal tribe, support an artist. View it in person for yourself. It is on display at the Five Nations Arts in Mandan, N.D. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tipi Rings Or Stone Circles

A foggy morning at Whitestone Hill, N.D. One stone is visible in the foreground, the remaining stones in this circle are nearly covered up by years of soil and grass. 
Tipi Rings, Stone Circles
Features Attributed To Trickster
Edited by Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS, N.D. – My good friend Aaron Barth, proprietor of The Edge Of The Village, recently asked me about stone circles, a feature regularly found on the Great Plains of North America.

In Memoir 19 of the Plains Anthropologist (1982), is a collection of papers about the “tipi ring” feature. Within those pages is an account of an archaeological survey of a tipi ring site; the tipi ring site, at least this one, featured a cache pit which seems to indicate to the writer to that people intended to return. I don’t believe that's entirely accurate. Another possibility is that food or other items were left as offerings to a higher power when someone long ago prayed there.

"...tipis were staked to the ground with pegs, not stones."

One thing for certain is that tipis were staked to the ground with pegs, not stones.

Next follows an edited excerpt from Colonel Alfred Welch’s papers about stone circles (references to locations have been removed). Welch had interviewed several people from the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation to create this wonderful summation of stone circles (not tipi rings):

All through the Missouri river country may be found certain systemically formed “Stone Rings or Circles.” These round patterns, or mosaics, are formed by stones placed side by side, describing a more or less well-formed circle.

They are of various diameters, the largest which we have measured being forty feet across and the smallest twelve feet across. Some of these circles are formed with a single line of stones, others have two well-defined circles, one within the other, and a few have been found with three or more lines of stone laid closely together, forming a “circle” which was wide like a paved walk.

"...they are rocks which have been used to hold the bottom of the lodges from being flapped by the wind." 

The commonly accepted version of the farmers upon whose lands these are to be found is that they are rocks which have been used to hold the bottom of the lodges from being flapped by the wind.

This idea, however, is discarded for the rings, or circles, are to be found where lodges would not have been erected, in all probability. An examination of…many others [stone circles] confirms us in the belief that they are ceremonial places. 

The regularity of the position of the stones indicates that they were not used as weights for tipi edges, for stones used for that purpose would have been rolled out of line when breaking camp, and they are too heavy for that purpose.

Lodges would certainly not have been put up in those particular locations during the winter time and, if they were there during the summer, the complete circumference of the lodge would not have been weighted down, but would have been left free to open to the side from which the cool winds blew. No half circles have been found. There is generally no wood readily available, and only sometimes the stone circles are located conveniently close to water.

They are not of glacial formation, as the great number of them and their regularity as to shape and entrance clearly indicates the work of human hands.  Entrances are a space of some two or three feet across, entirely free from stone, and in most cases is in the direct eastern part of the circle, or nearly so, and shows a positive purpose or design. In the center of circles a larger stone is sometimes found, which also indicates a definite purpose.

The stones of the circles are, in many cases, almost covered with the accumulation of wind-blown dust and sand. A few have been seen, where no stones were seen at all, the only indication of the formation being by the grass-free spot over the rocks. The supposition is that they are of great age and the natives claim that they were here when they came into the country.

"Any peculiar form of rock is supposed to have been made by Iŋktómi, even the flint arrowheads were made by him."

Conversations with the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta regarding them nearly always end with the remark that “Iŋktómi made them.” Among the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta, Iŋktómi, the Spider or Trickster, was the wisest creature and possessed of wonderful powers of changing himself into any other form he desired. Great feats of strength are also ascribed to him. Any peculiar form of rock is supposed to have been made by Iŋktómi, even the flint arrowheads were made by him.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara do not claim to have built these rings and, in fact, say that they did not construct them but that they were made by some people who were here before any of their people came into this country.  The entrances all being toward the east, the fact that they appear to have been constructed both on high hills and low vales, the appearance of a stone altar in the middle of so many of them – are significant and of interest to all students of “ancient mysteries” and “land marks.” 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Impact Of Killdeer Mountain Battle Felt 150 Years Later

Killdeer Mountain at sunset. Photo by Dakota Wind.
'Overlooked' History: Killdeer Mountain 
Battle Felt 150 years Later
By Nadya Faulx, for The Dickinson Press
KILLDEER, N.D. - Monday marks 150 years since the battle at Killdeer Mountain, an event that shaped North Dakota in ways felt more than a century later.

As one of the western-most Civil War-era battles, the Killdeer Mountain Battle was “a turning point in Dakota history,” said writer Jennifer Strange, co-coordinator of a commemoration event beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Dunn County Historical Society and Museum, where she also sits on the board.

But for many outside of the state — even inside the state — the conflict between the U.S. military and a gathering of Teton, Yanktonai and Dakota Indians doesn’t carry the same weight as other Civil War-era battles like Gettysburg or Antietam.

“It’s not much taught about, or, for that matter, discussed,” said Tom Isern, a North Dakota State University professor of history. “Here within North Dakota, there’s just a little postage stamp of a historic site. Hardly anybody goes there.

“It’s a very much neglected and overlooked chapter in history,” he said.

Some state historians say they hope that by commemorating the events of 1864, it will bring renewed attention to their impact on the state, particularly on Native American communities.

“It’s a good time to reflect on this,” said Diane Rogness, historic sites manager with the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The impact of the two-day battle in 1864 cannot be understated, she added.

“It’s very significant,” she said. “It changed the way of life for the Sioux and for the settlement of Dakota territory. It changed the world. It changed history.”


The Killdeer Mountain conflict as portrayed by C.L. Boeckmann.
Remembering The Battle
She and several others — including United Tribes Technical College instructor of Native Studies Dakota Good House and Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian Ladonna Brave Bull Allard — will speak at the Dunn County museum Saturday on a panel discussing the significance of the battle, which saw General Alfred Sully and 2,200 troops launch an attack on an estimated 1,600 Indians who had gathered at the sacred site of Killdeer Mountain.

Anywhere from 31 to 100 Indians were killed in the conflict, depending on whose historical account you read, as well as two U.S. soldiers. Troops targeted women, children and other non-combatants, even returning to burn down lodges and buffalo meat, and shoot abandoned dogs and horses, according to historians.

The bloody assault was and is regarded as a punitive campaign for the Dakota War of 1862, in which Sully and General Henry Sibley sent forces in to quell an uprising of Dakota Indians in Minnesota angered over late payments from the U.S. for their land. Sully and his men either didn’t know or didn’t care that most of the Indian tribes at Killdeer Mountain two years later had no involvement with the Dakota War, historians said.

Though Killdeer Mountain was theoretically punishment for the hostilities in Minnesota, it was beyond any provocation that took place in Minnesota, Isern said.

“This was about the fate of North Dakota territory,” he said.

Somewhat indirectly, the Battle of Killdeer Mountain opened the door for western railroad expansion, pushed many Native Americans onto reservations, and effectively shaped North Dakota 25 years before the territory was even a state.


Killdeer Mountain from the south side looking north. Photo by Dakota Wind.
A New Focus For An Old Battlefield
Historians and educators have put a renewed focus on Killdeer Mountain in recent years, both because of the lead up to the 150th anniversary of the battle, and because of the encroachment of the energy industry on the now-private land on which the battle took place.

New information is being discovered all the time, mostly in the form of U.S. military correspondence and documents, said Isern, but the American Indian perspective is often left out of the story.

More than a century later, the Native narrative that has been passed down orally for two generations or more is starting to help shape modern understanding of the conflict.

Good House said he has been meeting with tribal elders — many whose grandparents witnessed the conflict — who have continued to share the story of Killdeer Mountain with their own children and grandchildren.

“The most important thing is that we’re talking about it and we remember it so another generation or two don’t go by and we forget about it,” he said.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota could, in the future, update their North Dakota studies curriculum to included the American Indian perspective of not only Killdeer Mountain, but of other conflicts across the prairie between the U.S. military and Native Americans, he said.

Though the Civil War-era battles “did nothing but shape anti-American sentiment” among Native American tribes, by continuing to share the story in oral tradition, “I feel like there’s a burden that’s lifted,” Good House said.

“When we talk about history or significant sites or conflicts where terrible things happened, we need to remember those things happened,” he said. “But those things didn’t happen to us today or yesterday or just last year.”

Strange said the goal of Saturday’s event — featuring storytelling, a bison roast and a writing workshop — is to be “inclusive, educational and respectful of all cultures.”

The spiritual significance of Killdeer Mountain, where for years separate bands of Sioux Indians would gather, often for coming-of-age vision quests for young males, lends an added element to the battle that took place there.

A narrative is still taking shape of what happened at Killdeer Mountain 150 years ago, and what it means for North Dakota today.

“In some ways it’s not as climactic, I don’t think, as some have made it out to be,” Isern said, “but in other ways, it’s more so.

“I think it still remains to be placed in full context,” he said.