Monday, July 31, 2017

Mandan Woman Turned Into Stone

A lichen covered red granite stone rests in the earth about halfway up the plateau at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. Not evident in this photo of this stone, but a rut runs through the half which is exposed to the elements.
Mandan Woman Turned Into Stone
Trees Grew To Honor Her Bravery

As told by Capt. Henry Marcotte (ret.)
Bismarck Tribune, Reprinted Dec. 15, 1922 as “The Clump of Trees on The Hogback”
Mandan, N.D. (TFS) - Fifty years after the construction of Fort McKean and Fort Abraham Lincoln, Captain Henry Marcotte (ret.), shared a story of sacrifice and remembrance regarding a Lakȟóta war party leader, a Nu’Eta (Mandan) man, and a beautiful Nu’Eta woman.

In 1872, Marcotte was serving at Fort McKeen as the Chief of Scouts. In his first summer of service he witnessed many ambuscades carried out on the north side of the newly constructed fort. Marcotte also witnessed the brave responses of the Fort McKeen Detachment of US Indian Scouts - namely, the Sahnis (Arikara). On the evening of November 3rd, Marcotte was invited to sit and smoke with the Sahnis, Hidsatsa, and Nu’Eta, and heard the tale of Black Hare, a Nu’Eta woman.

They had gathered just outside the north side of the palisades of Fort McKeen. It was the custom of Plains Indian men and women to sit on the ground in treaty, in council, at home, and in prayer. Men sat with straight backs and legs crossed; women sat with their knees together, legs tucked under and back, heels to one side. On this day, however, only men were present, and Marcotte undertook to sit on a rock that had been rolled into the circle.

At this gathering, though all spoke different first languages, Marcotte watched and listened to the men speak carefully and deliberately, testing the friendship of all gathered. Sergeant Young War Eagle began the afternoon with a pipe and passed it onto each man calling out his name, who responded in the affirmative. 

By 1910, five trees remained on the top of the plateau, where once was Fort McKeen.

When it was Marcotte’s turn, Young War Eagle recognized him as an officer, then pointed at the rock upon which Marcotte sat. Young War Eagle explained that Marcotte sat on the petrified remains of the Nu’Eta woman known to them as Black Hare. It was to recount her story that brought them together that day. Marcotte doesn’t mention whether or not he removed himself from his perch, but it would have been good manners to do so, and to apologize for his faux pas. Young War Eagle and the men gathered apparently took no offense, and the sergeant recounted the story of Black Hare, as Marcotte noted, “in pleasing tones.”

Black Hare, a young woman, was renowned by many nations near and far for her great beauty. She turned down all her suitors for the simple reason that she didn’t want to leave her village there overlooking the floodplain of the Heart and Missouri Rivers. According to the Sitting Rabbit map of the river, this village was called Watchman’s Village, which today is known as On-A-Slant.

A Thítȟuŋwaŋ (lit. “Dweller On The Plains”; Teton; Lakȟóta) man whom the Nu’Eta knew as Crow Necklace, a leader amongst his people, approached the Nu’Eta and wanted Black Hare for his woman. She declined. Crow Necklace then threatened the Nu’Eta leader with death, to be carried out by sundown, if Black Hare wasn’t brought to him.

The Mandan leader, “To’sh” according to Marcotte’s memory and spelling, induced Black Hare to go walking with him, and on this walk, he took her to where Crow Necklace was lodged, and turned her over to the Xa’Numak (Nu’Eta: lit. “Grass Man”; the Nu’Eta word for the “Sioux”). When To’sh returned to the safety within his palisaded village, he contrived to tell his people that Crow Necklace abducted Black Hare.

The Nu’Eta suspected To’sh’ insincerity, and the other leader of the village - for each village each had a civil chief and a war chief - ordered To’sh to be buried on the spot up to his neck for his disingenuity. The other Nu’Eta leader then made the very threat to To’sh that Crow Necklace made earlier that day, saying that if Black Hare wasn’t here by sundown, To’sh would die. 

By 1922, only one tree remained on the plateau. This photo was taken in the 1930s following the CCC's reconstruction of the three blockhouses. A last tree, dead, can be seen in this image.

From a distance, To’sh saw Black Hare returning to the village, her feet wounded and bleeding. Marcotte’s recollection didn’t tell readers why Black Hare would return in this condition, but other first nations of the Great Plains knew by cultural understanding that when a Lakȟóta man stole a woman from another tribe with the intention of making her his wife, he removed her háŋpa (her moccasins) so that she would be less likely to return to her people. Makȟóčhe Wašté (lit. “The Beautiful Country”; the Great Plains, and by extension, North America) is fraught with uŋkčéla ( little cacti). In this story, Black Hare was a strong-willed young woman to leave her captor and return.

To’sh feared that Black Hare’s return would reveal his falsehood, and earnestly prayed for her to turn into stone. Lo! Black Hare turned into a red calcined stone (as Marcotte described his seat)! A bird sang out during this transformation, and a spirit planted seeds in Black Hare’s bloody footprints. Winter spread its mantle of purity over the stone of Black Hare and her seeded tracks. The sun warmed the land and from Black Hare’s innocent blood grew trees to shade and shelter her stone memorial.

The stone is near Watchman’s Village, within present-day Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, about halfway up the plateau. When the 17th Infantry arrived, they cut all but eight trees, which were transplanted in front of the officers’ quarters at Fort McKeen. Black Hare’s stone lay on the hillside, bereft of shade and shelter. The water wagons used the stone to check and hold the rear wheels to afford the mules momentary rest.

In 1922, one last tree remained on the hilltop.

Marcotte's narrative appeared as "The Clump of Trees on The Hogsback" in The Bismarck Tribune, Dec. 15, 1922. 

Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout.

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