Monday, September 16, 2013

Development Disturbs Significant North Dakota Historical Site

Development Disturbs Significant Cultural Site
Killdeer Mountain: Sacred Site, Battle Field
By Dakota Wind
KILLDEER, N.D. – Killdeer Mountain as a natural land feature is hardly worth commenting on in a land where the view is more sky than earth. The rock appears to break out of the surrounding earth like the reach of a tired hand after a long yawn. The plateau is flat and even, as if a great knife had cut the top of some mountain, as a child might decapitate a flower with a stick, but where the top of this mountain is, is anyone’s guess.

Plains Indian tribes have been coming here for ages. An old campsite on the south west side of Killdeer Mountain is littered with tertiary flakes of Knife River flint, evidence that the plateau has born witness to a continual cultural occupation for thousands of years.

In those long years, untold generations of young men have ascended this step to heaven to pray, to look out upon the unmarked beautiful landscape, to look through the veil of sky above and bear witness to the vast mystery of creation. And so, Killdeer Mountain became a special place, a sanctuary, a natural cathedral.

The Lakȟóta call this special place Taȟčá Wakutėpi, Where They Kill Deer. Their name doesn’t take away from the sacredness of the site, but it was a name that notes it is a place they came to annually to hunt, and in that hunt too, offer thanksgiving.

At the top of Killdeer Mountain is a cave that descends over a hundred feet. Lakota oral tradition holds that some of the people escaped General Sully's assault by climbing down and then navigating through the series of caves and emerging west of the plateau. The cave is called Medicine Hole.

Another nation, whose cultural occupation of the area reaches back a thousand years, the Nu’Eta (Mandan), have a cultural story of a figure in their long tradition who brought his staff down upon the mountain in retaliation and broke the single plateau into two. Broken cracked rock lay about the entire step as if in testimony to this long ago punishment.

The Lakȟóta call July Čhaŋpȟasapa Wi, or The Month Of Ripe Chokecherries. Late in this month, in the year the Lakota call in the Long Soldier winter count First Fight With White Men, the Lakȟóta came to Taȟčá Wakutėpi to hunt. It was late July, 1864, when the Lakȟóta men were hunting and the women were gathering chokecherries in preparation for the long winter. It was a time of year, no different than any of the thousands of Čhaŋpȟasapa Wi before, only this time a great cloud of dust appeared to the south east of Killdeer. It turned out that it wasn’t a gange of bison.

General Sully knew this day as July 28, and he brought with him a force of about 2,200 men and he was looking for a fight. His objectives were to engage and punish any hostile Sioux who partook in the 1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict, and to utterly destroy their food stock and camps.

The Lakȟóta say that a lone warrior rode out and taunted the soldiers. Sully ordered this lone rider killed immediately and set his sharpshooters upon this task. Truly, Sully engaged in battle without parley as though there were no other alternative. At the end of the day, as many as 150 Lakȟóta lie dead or dying on the field. Children who were inadvertently left behind in the wild melee were set upon and murdered to the last, their delicate scalps carved from their precious heads.

A map outlining the oil wells, some on private, some on state owned lots, on which the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved. 

The North Dakota Industrial Commission looked past the majesty of this step, looked beyond the site held sacred for thousands of years, and looked through the tragedy of conflict. In a series of public hearings, the ND Industrial Commission heard from landowners, historians, archaeologists, and tribal representatives. Despite overwhelming support from the public who went to the hearings, the ND Industrial Commission approved over fifty wells in the Killdeer Mountain conflict “study” area.

In a recent development, Basin Electric has requested to install a transmission line and substation in their petition ND PSC Case #: PU-11-696. This new line and substation are in response to the growing power requirements in northwestern North Dakota. Basin Electric’s plan calls for construction over two years in the Killdeer Mountain conflict “study” area beginning in 2014.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission recently held three public hearings in regard to Basin Electric’s proposal. Comments from the State Historical Society of North Dakota are luke-warm, acknowledging Basin Electric’s plan and that a future assessment of the cultural resources within the “study” area will mandate future projects.

A map of Basin Electric's proposal. 

On September 12, 2013, during the annual tribal summit hosted at United Tribes Technical College, tribal chairmen from the five tribes of North Dakota, the federally recognized Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (Lake Traverse Sioux Tribe), the Spirit Lake Oyate (Devil’s Lake Sioux), the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and the Three Affiliated Tribes (Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan Nation), signed a resolution opposing the disturbance of Killdeer Battlefield State Historic Site.  

The politics and value of Killdeer Mountain are still up for discussion. The battle for preserving Killdeer Mountain needs more voices from Indian Country to stand in unity with the landowners, historians, and archaeologists who want to save it.


Meanwhile, people are still going to Killdeer Mountain to pray. Prayer flags testify to a quiet but sure presence; native pilgrims ascend heaven’s step to pray. Hikers ascend too, maybe not in prayer, but to appreciate the stark beauty of this natural cathedral. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yellow Horse's Narrative Of The Apple Creek Conflict

Sitting Bull's own pictographic record placed him at Big Mound, where he stole a mule and counted coup on one of Sibley's men.
Yellow Horse’s Narrative Of Running Battle
From Big Mound To Apple Creek, 1863
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – On February 25, 1921, Yellow Horse, an Iháŋktuwaŋna Huŋkpáti (a member of the Huŋkpáti band of the Yanktonai Dakota) gave his narrative account of the 1863 Sibley arm of the Punitive Campaign to Lucille Van Solen, an interpreter, at the Cannonball Ranch on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Yellow Horse was seventy-five years old.

The narrative which Yellow Horse shared is of the running conflict which began on July 24, 1863 near present-day Jamestown, ND and concluded where Apple Creek converges with the Missouri River near present-day Bismarck, ND five days later.

Here is an excerpt of Colonel A.B. Welch’s Oral History Of The Dakota Tribes, 1800’s-1945, Story No. 37, Yellow Horse Talks About Battle On James River, 1863.

I was born where Jamestown is now.  We called that place Itazipa Okaksi (Bows cut with axe).  We got good bow wood there.  Not on any branch which flows in but on the river, itself, we found the wood.

...a runner came in saying that the soldiers were on the way coming.

I want to tell you something about the soldiers:  Some distance above where Jamestown now is, there is a big bend in the river and a sort of “Square Butte.”  A large camp of us were there one time.  There was a lake east of that place, too.  I was about seventeen years old then (1863). One time a runner came in saying that the soldiers were on the way coming.  We pulled down our tipis quickly and got away.  We went east from that place.  All of a sudden we were surrounded with soldiers.  Soldiers on white horses were on the north of us; soldiers on bay horses were on the south and others in front of us.  They started to march us back again.  It was almost night time and that night the soldiers stayed all around us. We could not get away.  We thought they were going to shoot us.  A young man started to sing about his bravery and, to do it right, he shot off his gun.

That seemed to be a signal for all the soldiers to shoot at us and they fired among us then and killed eleven of us there.  I got away and got away up north somewhere, and I thought that I was the only one left alive.  But, after a time, I found another man who had got away and we found some more after that, too.  We went down to the place where the fight had taken place.  Our skin tipis and all our buckskin clothes and everything else was burned.  All we found there was some iron we had to make fire with a stone.  We gathered all these irons up and went away.

My father and I came to the waterway about where the Bismarck penitentiary is now and then we went south from there.  We heard that Two Bears was having some trouble with some soldiers down there, so we went to see about that.  My father was killed down there and since then I have been an orphan.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mní Nažúŋspe KawéğA (Broken Axe Lake), A Tragic Love Story

Mní Nažúŋspe KawéğA (Broken Axe Lake)
Tragic Love Story: Painted Woods Revisited
By Dakota Wind
WASHBURN, N.D.The story of tragic young love is universal. It is perhaps most widely known through the wonderful Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet. It’s the age old tale of boy meets girl; a story of secret forbidden love. But whereas the story of Romeo and Juliet is fictional, this is a true story.

A summary of the tragedy is that a young Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai) man met a Miwátaŋni (Mandan; Nu’Eta, or The People as they know themselves) maiden during an intertribal trade one fall many winters ago near what was then known as Mní Nažúŋspe KawéğA (Broke Ax Lake).

This young couple fell immediately and deeply in love. When trade ended, the young man elected to stay behind with his girl. This was the custom of the Miwátaŋni Indians that the man goes to live with his wife in her mother’s lodge. But they eloped.

The Miwátaŋni have the story that the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna killed the young woman, while the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna have it that the Miwátaŋni killed the young man.

Here is an excerpt of Colonel A.B. Welch’s Oral History Of The Dakota Tribes, 1800’s-1945, Story No. 32, Story Of Painted Lake [Note: In Welch’s version, the story entangles an Arikara maiden rather than a Mandan]:

A long time ago many Indian tribes, at war with each other, were encamped on the shores of the lake now known as “Painted Woods Lake,” but at that time known to the Sioux as “Broken Axe Lake.”

...Broken Axe Lake has passed into disuse.

A Sioux warrior flirted with an Arikara woman and they prepared to fly away.  But that night the Arikara men killed the Dakotah in the arms of newly-found love.

When the Dakotah discovered this murder, they all went to the tipi where the body lay, with the poor woman weeping over it.  They fitted arrows and shot her many times.  Then there was war for many years, and a dead tree trunk, white with age, was painted red by the Rees and their friends.  Whenever a war party of any Indians would pass that way, they would paint their war deeds upon the boles of certain dead trees as a taunt to their enemies.

Therefore, the place has become the Painted Woods place of the Indians, and the name Broken Axe Lake has passed into disuse. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pahá Kȟoškálaka: Young Man’s Butte

Pahá Kȟoškálaka: Young Man’s Butte
Plains Indian Warfare And Bravery
By Dakota Wind
RICHARDTON, N.D. – The Lakȟóta and the Kȟaŋğí (Crow) were once traditional enemies, that is, before the reservation era, these two tribes fought for war honors such as counting coup and stealing horses. Once in while however, these two tribes came together in great violent clashes that could not be called skirmishes, but battles.

At times warfare amongst the tribal nations in the pre-reservation era also involved the abduction of women and children. Sometimes a warparty might be mustered for the grim sake of revenge too.

The warparty that went out to steal horses did so, not just for war honors, but to keep the enemy off-balance. Having horses meant that a Thiyóšpaye, extended family, had the power to move a camp swiftly and further than those without horses. Horses meant a change in hunting too. No longer did the Oyáte, people, have to organize a community-wide effort to startle and direct a bison stampede over a cliff, which risked the safety of runners and scouts, and if unsuccessful, left them facing starvation.

Sometimes a horse raider might take advantage of a frenzied moment and on impulse abduct a woman too. That woman might then be married into the tribe. This was practical too as inter-tribal marriage, whether by formal trade or abduction, kept the blood lines open.

The young man’s self-sacrifice was regarded as gesture of great courage...

The John K. Bear winter count, a pictographic record of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Pabáska, Cuthead Yanktonai, recalls a full scale battle in 1710 as the year they wiped out another group whom they referred to as Wičóšawaŋ.

Cedric Goodhouse Sr. carries a story which came to him from his father, the late Innocent Goodhouse, about how a Lakȟóta horse-stealing raid to Crow country led to a young man stealing a woman there and bringing her back to his Thiyóšpaye. She grew to dearly love the Lakȟóta, and they her. When she took her journey, the Lakȟóta dressed her in her finest Crow regalia and took her home.

Another story handed down from Innocent Goodhouse was that a Lakȟóta Thiyóšpaye was camped at the base of Fire Heart Butte, north of the present-day North Dakota and South Dakota border just off HWY 1806. Late one night, the Crow made a successful horse-stealing raid to recover horses which were taken from them.

North of Spearfish, SD is the sight of Crow Buttes, where according to story, a Crow warparty were killed to the last man on the buttes there in a bloody standoff. Nine Crow Indians were shot and left there. A tragedy for certain, but also a story of bravery for not one of them pleaded for his life.

About three miles east of present-day Richardton, ND on the north side of I-94 is a little butte. It’s an unassuming hill and resembles many others on the western plains.  

The story goes, a long time ago, that a Crow hunting party numbering 106 came east to hunt. Perhaps drought drove bison east that summer, as drought drove the Húŋkpapȟa east across the Mníšoše, Missouri River, in 1863 to hunt bison which had migrated out of the dry airy region.

The Lakȟóta happened upon the Crow hunting party, immediately surrounded them, and fought them, for the Crow were not just hunting but trespassing on Lakȟóta territory. The Crow fought to the last, until there was one left, a young man.

The young Crow ascended the butte, whereupon he sang his last song. When he finished his song he took his own life rather than be taken by the Lakȟóta.  The young man’s self-sacrifice was regarded as gesture of great courage by the Lakȟóta who regarded the butte thereafter as a very significant and special place. From that day forward, they came to call it Pahá Kȟoškálaka, Young Man’s Butte.