The Legend Of Standing Rock
A Look Behind The Name Of Reservation
William A. Rogers engraved this image he called "Standing Rock, The Sacred Stone Of The Sioux." It appeared in Harper's Weekly, January 25, 1879.
Fort Yates, N.D. - According to the John K. Bear Winter Count the legend of Woslata Inyan, or Standing Rock, happened not so long ago. In fact, the entry of the legend happened in the 1740 A.D. There are many different stories of the stone and how it came to be, but all involve a woman who turned to stone. The Cheyenne and the Arikara Indians also have Standing Rock stories. The stone can be found today along the western bank of the Missouri River, in present-day Fort Yates, ND, in front of the Tribal Administration.
In one version of the story, a Dakota man took an Arikara woman for a wife, and together they had a child. Sometime later he took a second wife, as was a custom of Plains Indian men.
The first wife took offense at the attentions her husband gave the second wife, and she grew resentful and jealous. At this time, the Yanktonai Dakota were camping along what today is called Stone Idol Creek, a tributary of the Cannonball River. When the time came to break camp, the angry woman refused to move from her place on the lodge floor. The lodge was taken down around her, and still she refused to move and there she sat on the ground with her baby on her back and remained there as the camp and her husband moved on.
Sometime towards the middle of the day, her husband halted the moving camp when he noticed his wife wasn't among them. He called out to his brothers and said, "Go back to your hankansi [sister-in-law], tell her to come along, and we'll await for you all here. Inahni yo! [Hurry!] I fear she may become desperate and take her own life."
The two brothers mounted their horses and made the best possible speed to their previous camp, arriving that evening. They saw that she was still sitting on the ground where they left her.
The older brother called out to her, "Hankansi! [Sister-in-law!] Inajin yo! [Rise!] We have come back to get you. The camp and our brother, your husband, await you." But she did not answer.
The elder brother reached out to her when she did not answer and put his hand on her head. She had turned to stone!
The two brothers immediately mounted their horses and rode them furiously back to rendezvous with their tiyospaye [extended family; camp; band] and shared what they had seen, but no one believed such a story. "Ohk, duwahle! [an interjection of disbelief]," as they might say today.
The husband immediately thought something foul happened and braced himself for the worst news. He believed that his wife had indeed taken her own life, and his brothers refused to tell him how they found her.
Though the camp had already traveled half a day, their interest was roused enough that the entire tiyospaye broke camp and made the journey back to their previous campsite. When they drew close they saw a figure sitting on the ground where they left her, and as they came up close they saw for themselves that she was now a figure of stone.
The tiyospaye couldn't leave her behind again, and believing that the stone itself was now sacred, they chose out a fine horse and painted it, and mounted a travois with streamers unto it. Then they carefully placed the stone, the rock which stood in place of the woman, into the catch of the travois.
The stone was considered holy by all and was given a place of honor in the center of camp and whenever the tiyospaye moved, so to did the stone. In the days when the bison began to disappear, when the Iron Horse on his iron road traveled from sunrise to sunset across the land, when the permanent Sioux reservations were established, and the people were utterly driven to settle and move no more, the stone, Woslata Inyan [Standing Rock] made the journey with them. The stone was placed on a brick pedestal when the reservation era began, and Standing Rock now stands in silent vigil overlooking Mnisose [The Missouri River].
Inyan Woslata rests in the middle of a parking lot in front of the Administration Building in Fort Yates, ND these days. A few bricks are missing from the pedestal and the mortar is much cracked or missing entirely in places.
In another story, the Dakota and Lakota generally believed that the stone was once a young and beautiful maiden among them, whose intended love was slain in battle. She mourned for him with a deep and constant sorrow. Many suitors sought to win her heart in marriage but she only had room in her heart for her one first and true love. She turned away all suitors and died an old maid.
Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit some say, looked upon her old and broken body and transformed her body into stone, rather than allow her to decay return to dust, so that she might remain a memorial of her love and faithfulness.
The Dakota and Lakota would frequently gift the Standing Rock with tobacco ties, food, or other demonstration of veneration, others would paint Standing Rock in loud shades of red or blue.