A picture of the Medicine Bear Winter Count from the collections at the Montana Historical Society (picture courtesy of the Montana Historical Society).Waníyetu Wowápi Tȟá Matȟó Wakȟáŋ Akhé
A Medicine Bear Winter Count Variant
By Dakota Wind
Helena, MT - Medicine Bear was an itáŋčaŋ, one of four principal chiefs, of the Pȟabáksa (Cut-Head) division of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai). He was forty years old when the reservation era, the time of nothing, began. By then he kept a winter count, a history of his band of Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna, rendered in his own hand, on muslin cloth. It seems he kept one on brain-tanned buckskin as well.
A variant of that winter count has surfaced in the collection at the Montana Historical Society. The paint on this variant is much worn and flaked (charcoal, but probably mixed with bear grease or other animal fat), but there is enough distinction in the images and execution of style in the pictographs that this researcher has determined that the hide winter count is a variant, if not the originator, of the Medicine Bear Winter Count.
The waníyetu wowápi, winter count, is a pictographic record, a mnemonic device, in which each image represents a year with a story of the people, in this case, Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna. It is not a calendar, not in the sense that you can look ahead and see the next month or year, but a record to look back at previous years.
The traditional homeland of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna lies between the Mníšoše (Water-Astir; Missouri River) and Čaŋsáŋsaŋ Wakpá (White Birch River; James River), and south of Mní Wakȟáŋ (Water With-Energy; Spirit Lake) on the Northern Great Plains. Occasionally the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna ventured as far east as Ohio, and as far west as the Čhaŋsótka Wakpá (Towering Tree River; Little Missouri River).
In Josephine Waggoner’s book “Witness: A Húŋkpapȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Songs of the Lakotas” there are listed thirteen bands of Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna. These thirteen groups were split among three different reservations in the late 1800’s, Standing Rock (Wičhíyena), Fort Peck (Wačhíŋča Oyáte), and Crow Creek (Húŋkpathi).
The Montana Historical Society Medicine Bear Winter Count has been correlated with the Medicine Bear Winter Count (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna) at Dartmouth College, the Blue Thunder Winter Count (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna) at the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND), the High Dog Winter Count (variously listed as Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna and Huŋkphápȟa) at the SHSND, the Chandler-Pohrt Winter Count at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, MI, and the John K. Bear Winter Count (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna). The Lakota Language Consortium standard orthography has been used to write the text of each entry in Dakȟóta.
1823 (1): Wahúwapa šéča ȟápi waníyetu kiŋ (Ears-of-corn dried bury-they winter the). That winter they cached parched ears of corn.
1824 (2): Ȟaȟátȟuŋwaŋ ób kičhízapi. Čhaŋkáškapi yuȟdéčapi ([Water] Fall-dwellers with fight-they. Fence-fortification to-tear-apart-they). They fought with the Chippewa. They tore their palisades to pieces.
1825 (3): Mní wičhát’E (Water many-dead). Dead bodies in the water.
1826 (4): Tȟaspáŋna Wakpána éd waníthipi (Apple-[Little] Creek at winter-camp). They made winter camp at Apple Creek.
1827 (5): Wičháakiȟ’aŋ na wičháša čheȟpí yútA, Isáŋyathi (Starvation and people flesh to-eat-something, Santee). In their desperate hunger, the Santee ate their own.
1828 (6): Wakáŋkadaŋ ób kičhízapi (Thunder-beings with fight-they). They fought with the Thunder Beings.
1829 (7): Makhú Šá čhaŋkáğa thípi káğA Hiŋháŋ Wakpá éd (Breast-bone Red trimmed-logs lodge to-build Owl River at). Red Breast built a cabin on Owl River (Moreau River). The variant depicts a lodge alongside a cabin. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts a man wearing a hat (a white man; a trader) next to a cabin.
1830 (8): Pȟadáni ób kičhízapi kiŋ (Arikara with fight-they the). They fought with the Arikara. The variant depicts four figures representing the enemy. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts only two.
1831 (9): Nuŋpá kičhíkte (Two killed-each-other). Two men killed each other.
1832 (10): Thí tȟáŋka obléča káğapi (Lodge big square-sides built-they). They built a large cabin.
1833 (11): Wičháȟpi hiŋȟpáya (Star-Nation to-fall-down). The stars fell down.
1834 (12): Matȟó kičhí waníthipi, Čhaŋté Wakpá éd (Bear with winter-camp, Heart River at). They made winter camp with a bear, at Heart River.
1835 (13): Wičhíyena óta wičhákasotapi waníyetu (Wičhíyena many massacre-they winter). Many Upper Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai) were massacred that winter. Both the variant and the Medicine Bear Winter Count depict a Hupáwaheyuŋpi (Poles Pack-things-up-to-travel), or travois which was used to move their wounded and deceased.
1836 (14): Tȟatȟáŋka Iŋyáŋke tȟóka kte na thi akdí kiŋ (Bison-[Bull] Running enemy kill and camp return the). Running Bull killed an enemy and returned to camp. The variant and the Medicine Bear Winter Count depict a figure above which is featured four horse tracks, killing or counting coup on another figure. The horse tracks represent a successful horse raid against his enemy.
1837 (15): Wičháȟaŋȟaŋ tȟaŋká (Smallpox big). There was an epidemic of smallpox.
1838 (16): Wičháȟaŋȟaŋ aktá (Smallpox again). Another epidemic of smallpox.
1839 (17): Pté sáŋ ktépi (Bison-[Cow] creamy-white kill-they). They killed a female white bison.
1840 (18): Tȟámina Wé Padáni ob kičhize waktékdi (His-Knife Blood Arikara with fight return-in-victory). His Bloody Knife returned in victory from a fight against the Arikara. This is the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta headman of the Wičhíyena, or PȟabáksA (“Cutheads”) division. In later years he was known as Oscar No Heart. The forehead of the figure in the variant is painted scarlet, indicating that this is a PȟabáksA figure.
1841 (19): Itáŋčhaŋ ktépi (Leader kill-they). They killed a chief.
1842 (20): Tȟatȟáŋka Oyé Wakȟáŋ t’Á. Wakhéya kdézena uŋ wičháknakapi. (Bison-Bull Tracks With-Energy died. Lodge striped using above-the-ground [buried]-they). Holy Buffalo Tracks died. They laid him to rest in a striped thípi.
1843 (21): Čhaŋčéğa Yuhá ečíyapi ptehíko (Drum Has called-by-name-them bison-to-attract). Drum Owner called the bison.
1844 (22): Wíŋyaŋ onákte (woman prairie-fire-killed). A woman died in a prairie fire. The figure depicted is standing in flame.
1845 (23): Huŋkádowaŋpi (Singing-over-a-relative-they). They sang over someone in ceremony and made a relative. The making-of-relatives ceremony is still practiced among the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (the Seven Council Fires; the name the “Great Sioux Nation” refers to themselves) today.
1846 (24): Šuŋg’híŋzi áwičakdipi (Horse-teeth-yellow captured-return-they). They brought back horses with yellow teeth.
1847 (25): Wašíču nuŋpá kičhí waníthi (Takes-The-Fat two with winter-camp). Two white traders camped with them that winter.
1848 (26): Kičhí ktépi (Each-other killed-they). They killed each other. This year’s entry depicts two men shooting each other.
1849 (27): WatȟókhiyopȟeyA čhúŋkaške éd waníthipi (To-Trade fort at winter-camp). They wintered at a trading post.
1850 (28): Wópȟetȟuŋ waŋ Wičhíyena ópi. Matȟó Núŋpa thíŋktes’a t’eyÁ (Trader a Wičhíyena wound. Bear Two murderer-would-be caused-to-die). An Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna wounds a trader. Two Bear puts the would-be murderer to death. Note: The Two Bear family on Standing Rock insist on the use of “Two Bear” as opposed to “Two Bears.”
1851 (29): Heȟáka šá kútepi (Elk red hunted-they). They hunted a red elk. The variant depicts a lodge in front of the elk indicating that the hunters conferred and prayed about this hunt. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts only a leaping red elk.
1852 (30): Matȟó Wašté ečíyapi ptehíko (Bear Good called-them-by-name bison-to-attract). Good Bear called the bison. The variant depicts a lodge in front of the bison indicating that the hunters, in this case Good Bear, prayed about this hunt. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts only a charging or leaping bison.
1853 (31): Hé Tópa uŋ waŋ ktépi (Horn/s Four wearing a killed-they). They killed a man wearing a headdress with four horns. Both the variant and the Medicine Bear Winter Count depict a head with what appears to be a shaved horn headdress with four horns, and a trailer of what appears to be ermine tails and a slat (slats were quilled and sometimes decorated with feathers or plumes).
1854 (32): Waníyetu kičhízapi (Winter fight-they). They had a fight that winter.
1855 (33): Phuthíŋ Ská wawáhoye kiŋ (Beard White to-order-things the). White Beard [General William Harney] gave the order.
1856 (34): Wapȟáha waŋ yuk’ézapi (Warbonnet in-particular to-shear-off-they). In a fight, he sheared a war-bonnet off [the enemy’s head]. The variant depicts a wapȟáha (a warbonnet) with what appears to be horns. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts the same but without this embellishment.
1857 (35): Tȟatȟáŋka Ináži wiŋyáŋ áwičakdi (Bison-[Bull] Standing woman captured-returned-with). Standing Bull brought back a captive woman.
1858 (36): Waŋbdí Hoȟpí t’Á (Eagle Nest died). Eagle Nest died.
1859 (37): Wókapȟaŋ paŋȟya (Meat-block/pemmican very-much). Much pemmican. The variant depicts blocks or parcels of meat in front of the lodge door. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts the same on the lodge.
1860 (38): Šuŋkawakȟaŋ óta áwičakdipi (Horses many captured-returned-with). They returned with many captured horses.
1861 (39): Hitȟúŋkasaŋ Dúta šuŋkawakȟaŋ óta áwičakdi aktá (Weasel Red horses many captured-returned-with again). Red Weasel returned with many captured horses.
1862 (40): Kȟaŋğí tópa ktépi (Crow four killed-they). They killed four Crow.
1863 (41): Akíčhita Pȟá Tȟáŋka kaškápi. Kdí na t’Á (Soldier/s Head Big imprisoned. Return and die). Soldiers imprisoned Big Head. He returned and died. The variant depicts a figure with four feathers, and appears to be wounded. The Medicine Bear Winter Count depicts a figure with three feathers.
1864 (42): Wíŋyaŋ nuŋpá ktépi (Woman two killed-they). They killed two women.
1865 (43): Pȟatkâša Pȟá čhapȟÁ t’ekíyA (Jugular-vein-scarlet Head [Western Painted Turtle] stab to-cause-one’s-own-death). Western Painted Turtle Head [or “Turtle Head”] was stabbed to death.
1866 (44): Wóoyake Wičháša ktépi (Story Man killed-they). They killed Storyteller.
1867 (45): Waníyetu osní (Winter cold). It was a cold dark winter. The accompanying text of the Medicine Bear Winter Count says that this was an especially cold winter. The image depicted for this year’s entry is a circle that appears to be hastily filled in. This might also represent the solar eclipse the summer of 1868.
1868 (46): Itázipčho akézaptaŋ t’Á (Without-Bows fifteen died). Fifteen members of the Itázipčho (Sans Arc) died. The conflict appears to be with the Kȟaŋǧí (Crow Nation).
1869 (47): Kȟaŋğí wičháša wikčémna yámni wičháktepi (Crow men ten three men-killed-they). They fought and killed thirty Crow men. Only four are depicted.
1870 (48): Wašíču waŋ Nasú ikčéka kté (Takes-The-Fat a Brain common killed). Brain, a Lakȟóta, killed a white man. This entry appears to correspond to the Blue Thunder Winter Count entry for 1871-1872.
1871 (49): Witkówiŋ nuŋpá ktépi (Crazy-women two killed-they). They killed two prostitutes.
1872 (50): Wakhéya Šáya t’Á (Lodge Red-Painted died). Red Painted Lodge died.
1873 (51): Šuŋkawakȟaŋ otá áwičakdipi (Horses many captured-returned-with). They returned with many captured horses. The variant depicts many horse tracks, while the Medicine Bear depicts only captured horses.
1874 (52): Wičháša zaptáŋ ahí ktépi (Men five came-here killed-they). They killed five of them.
1875 (53): Tȟóka nuŋwaŋki napá (enemy swim-home escape). The enemy escaped by swimming home. The arch below the enemy figures represent each one’s escape.
1876 (54): Heȟáka t’Á (Elk died). Elk died. A man named Elk died. The image represents a name glyph in this case, as opposed to them actually hunting an elk.
1877 (55): Waníyetu snížE (Winter withering). A withering year. Whether this year represents the weather or is in reference to the fallout of Okíčhize Pȟežísla Wakpá (the Battle of the Greasy Grass; the Battle of the Little Bighorn), it was a long wearying year. They were tired. This year marks the first of the remaining entries to include a palisade before the figure. This represents the “prison” era, or the beginning of the reservation era.
1878 (56): Tȟašúŋke Máza ktépi (Horse Iron killed-they). They killed Iron Horse.
1879 (57): Wapȟáha Sápa šuŋkawakȟaŋ óta áwičakdi (Warbonnet Black horse many captured-returned-with). Black Warbonnet led a successful horse raid.
1880 (58): Phizí thí (Gall lodge). Gall lodge. Soldiers fired into Gall’s camp on the Tongue River. Gall and his followers, Crow King, Black Moon, Low Dog, and Fools Heart, and their extended families (a total of 230 people) were brought to Standing Rock Agency in the summer of 1881.
1881 (59): Wakíŋyaŋ Nuŋpá ktépi (Thunder-Being Two killed-they). They killed Two Thunder. Two Thunderbirds are depicted.
1882 (60): Kȟaŋğí wičháša hípi (Crow men three came-they). The Crow man came to them. One Crow man is depicted “followed” by a white man.
1883 (61): 1883 (61): Matȟó Wakȟáŋ t’Á (Bear With-Energy died). Holy Bear died. The Medicine Bear and Blue Thunder Winter Counts both say that Medicine Bear died this year.
1884 (62): Makȟá k’apí (Earth dug-they). They dug earth. This could reference the construction of a sod house, construction (maintenance possibly) of an earth lodge, or preparations for funerals.
1885 (63): Waȟúŋ Nap’íŋ t’Á (Burning Necklace died). Burning Necklace died.
1886 (64): Wakȟáŋpahomni ktépi (With-Energy-Turns killed-they). They killed Turns Holy.
1887 (65): Maȟpíya Hétoŋ mníwani kté (Cloud Horn Turning kill). Turning Horn Cloud was killed. The image resembles the Medicine Bear Winter Count entry for this year. The Blue Thunder Winter Count text for this year, however, seems to be a better correlation: Matȟó Núŋpa huŋká waŋžítku t’Á, Čhečá Yámni ečíyapi (Bear Two ceremoniously-adopted one-his died, Thighs Three name-they). Two Bear’s ceremonially adopted brother, whom they called Three Thighs, died. Neither text from Blue Thunder nor Medicine Bear seem to fully match the entry on this variant. One of the figure’s cheek is colored red, as a woman would have colored her cheeks. Red painted circles on a woman’s cheeks were considered beautiful accents.
1888 (66): Išúŋmanuŋ t’Á (Fails-To-Steal died). Does Not Steal died.
1889 (67): Šuŋkawakȟaŋ waŋ kiíyaŋkdi t’Á (Horse a race-horse died). A race horse died.