Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later, 1863-2013
The Bloodiest Massacre On The Great Plains
By Dakota Wind
WHITESTONE HILL, N.D. – The wind blew in gusts across the vast open plains. The Dakota and Lakota people who have lived here for millennia are people of the stars, and some of them say too that they are people of the wind. The wind isn’t just the defining characteristic of prairie life, but a part of the indigenous culture.
The Dakota say that the patterns on ones’ fingertips indicate which direction the wind was blowing on the day of one’s birth. The swirling pattern on one’s crown was taken to mean not just the living presence of one’s spirit, but the wind that brings that spirit. Sometimes, a very powerful wind was even referred to as Táku Wakȟáŋ Škaŋškáŋ, Something With-Energy Is Moving About. Indeed, a Dakȟóta elder visiting from Crow Creek, SD declared that the strength of the wind was an indication that the spirits were there at Whitestone Hill.
On Saturday, August 24, 2013, over 300 people from across North Dakota and the Great Plains gathered at Whitestone Hill near Kulm, ND to remember the bloodiest massacre of Dakota Indians following the largest mass execution in the history of the United States, which involved thirty-eight of the Dakota Indians in Mankato, MN, Dec. 26, 1862.
Despite high winds, and green lodge assemblers, this beautifully painted lodge was set up.
On this day, someone from Lake Traverse, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, brought a beautifully painted thipí rendered in warm earth tones of red, orange, and brown with constellation patterns embellishing the outside of the lodge. A call went out for assistance to erect the lodge on that windy day and volunteers rushed to assist.
They say in the days of memory, that women could erect a lodge in as little as ten minutes. Their nomadic life way demanded a lifetime of practice, but on this day Dakȟóta women supervise a handful of non-native men, there’s even a Chippewa in the mix helping to get the lodge up.
Renowned and eminent flute-player and hoop dancer, and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Kevin Locke, was called forward to begin the day with a prayer. At the end of the afternoon’s lectures and reflections, Locke would share the message of vision and unity of the human spirit with the hoop dance, traditional stories, and flute songs.
Locke performs the hoop dance, pictured here at Williston State College.
Locke, known among the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta as Tȟokéya Inážiŋ, The First To Arise, is also a descendant of Ta’Oyáte Dúta, His Red Nation, who is more widely known by the name Little Crow. Locke doesn’t make a public issue about his great-grandfather, probably because Tȟaóyate Dúta was not at Whitestone Hill, but had died of a gunshot wound in a field near Hutchinson, MN in a fight with a farmer.
Richard Rothaus, owner and director of Trefoil Natural and Cultural out of Minnesota, was invited to present about the causes of the 1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict, and expertly tied the Dakota Conflicts in Minnesota and Dakota Territory to the American Civil War which was being waged concurrently in the south.
Aaron Barth, a historian and archaeologist from North Dakota State University, offered his thoughts about the Whitestone Hill massacre as an agent of genocide in American history. Barth facetiously suggested attaching cables to the current monument atop Whitestone Hill and pulling it down, but in seriousness suggested a memorial be erected on site honoring the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta.
A local city band gathered together over the lunch hour and played music themes from popular movies and other pieces. The music, while rendered in the spirit of peace, seemed decidedly out of place. At one point the band played the theme made popular in the Rocky movies. A visitor from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate observed that the music was very nice but out of place and jovially said during the Rocky theme, “That makes me feel like running to the top of the hill and raise my fists and shout, ‘We’re still here!’”
A panel discussion made up of members from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and the Standing Rock Sioux shared observations regarding the history and conflict of Whitestone Hill. LaDonna Brave Bull-Allard shared her grandmother’s story of survival when her people, the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Pabáska, the Cuthead Yanktonai, came under sudden and unexpected fire.
The Cuthead Yanktonai band had been proponents of the United States since 1818 when their chieftain, Waná’at’á, The Charger, was released from an internment at Fort Snelling. The Charger led the Yanktonai in a siege under the command of Colonel Leavenworth against the Arikara in 1823. The Yanktonai had no reason to fear their American allies until General Sully brought the wrath of the soldiers on them at Whitestone Hill, Sept. 3-5, 1863.
A tribal elder from Crow Creek, and a descendant of Tȟóka Khuté, Shoots The Enemy, who was captured at Whitestone Hill and imprisoned at Fort Thompson, Dakota Territory (present-day South Dakota), articulated a short explanation of the site before he departed from Whitestone Hill that afternoon. In the Ihanktowana dialect, Wičhéyena, Whitestone Hill was never called or recognized as Whitestone Hill. They called it Pa IpuzA Nape Wakpana, Dry Bone [as in “Very Thirsty] Hill Creek. “They never called it ‘Whitestone Hill,’” insists Corbin Shoots The Enemy.
Shoots The Enemy shared the story that few young men were in the village as most were out hunting. Men who were past their warrior days stayed behind with elders and youth in the village. Among the chiefs who led thiyóšpaye, an extended family, at Whitestone Hill that day are: Nasúna Thaŋka (Big Head), Taȟča Ska (White Deer), Šuŋkáȟa Napíŋ (Wolf Necklace), Mahtó Wakáŋtuya (High Bear), Hotháŋke (Big Voice, Winnebago), Mahtó Nuŋpa (Two Bear), Wáğa (Cottonwood), Hoğáŋ Dúta (Red Fish), Mahtó KnaškiŋyAn (Mad Bear), Awáska (White With Snow), Waŋbdí Wanapȟéya (Eagle That Scares), Waŋbdí Maní (Walking Eagle), Waoŋzoği (With Pants, or Pantaloons), Čhaŋ Ičú (Takes The Wood), Waŋbdí Ska (White Eagle), Tȟóka Khuté (Shoots The Enemy), and Ziŋtkála Maní (Walking Bird).
These Itȟáŋčhaŋ, chiefs, led tens to hundreds in their thiyóšpaye. There were easily at least a thousand Ihanktowana at Whitestone Hill. Several tons of food were destroyed following the massacre, thousands of dogs were killed, and as many as three hundred Dakȟóta people lost their lives, and over a hundred were taken prisoner, most of whom were women and children.
Lakȟóta language instructor, Earl Bull Head, and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was called upon to share a song and story. A storyteller, Bull Head opened with a few jokes about his travels to Europe and his experiences with the world before sharing a story and song he originally composed for a friend who lost his son. Bull Head’s friend was caught up in misery and heartbreak. The song came to Bull Head to inspire his friend to live a good life; it was a call to redemption and forgiveness.
A stone circle, this one about five feet in diameter, rests on private land at the Whitestone Hill site.
A local landowner invited this writer to his land nearby to view some of the features not found at the Whitestone Hill State Historic Site. On top of a rolling hill were several stone circles, several about five feet across and one measured about fifty feet in diameter, and a few great heavy anvil stones bore evidence of shaping tools over thousands of years, which reminded this visitor once again that people were coming here millennia before the conflict.
Sunset at Stoney Lake, north of Tappen, ND. This is where the Lakota engaged General Sibley's command for the second time in July, 1863.
The day ended with a buffalo feed. A long lingering line gradually worked itself through the hundreds of visitors present. Plates were piled with great cuts of lean bison meat, hot steaming potatoes, warmed beans, and handmade biscuits. Conversation ebbed and flowed as the line shrunk. The wind gradually calmed to a breeze, which in the great shade a cottonwood, actually cooled the waiting hungry crowd.
My plate was piled high and heavy with food. I took a cup of lemonade and downed it before I made it back to my car. I was hungry and the smell of roasted meat nearly made me break my fast, but I couldn’t eat. I felt the impression of my grandmother, after all these years sometimes it seems like I can smell her or sense her watching me.
Sunset at Big Mound where Sitting Bull counted coup on one of Sibley's men. Sitting Bull also stole a mule from the line in a show of bravery. This was the first engagement that summer between the Lakota and Sibley's command, July 1863.
I drove off down the dusty gravel road, over the rolling grassy hills, and out of sight from the crowd. It may seem like waste to some, but it wasn’t to me. I pulled over onto the grass, took my plate, and carried it to the side of the road. I said no prayer or benediction. I didn’t call out or cry. I could not eat there when long ago my relatives were forced to go without. It is the custom of the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta people to take food to our relatives who’ve taken their journey.