Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Painted Woods: A Tragic Love Story

"The young lovers approach the dead cottonwood tree," Dakota Wind, 2014.
Painted Woods
A Tragic Love Story
By Dakota Wind
This paper was originally part of another paper that appeared in the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation's quarterly paper "The Past Times," Vol. IX, No. 4, 2002.

The story goes, that a long time ago the wooded area now called Painted Woods was neutral ground between the Yanktonai Dakota and the Mandan. Then it happened one day in the autumn that the Yanktonai Dakota came to trade with the Mandan, for that’s the time of year when fighting stopped between the native nations and friendly trade relations were opened. Sometimes it happened that men and women would choose a mate from another tribe, cementing a friendly trade alliance between families.

A young Yanktonai Dakota brave came with his people to learn how to trade, to learn how to meet on friendly terms with a traditional enemy. The term “enemy” in those days implied people not one’s own, that there were “good” enemies who one traded and occasionally married into, and that there were “bad” enemies who one fought against and sometimes stole horses from.

The Mandan Indians were a sedentary horticultural tribe who lived on the Missouri River bottomlands between the Knife River (present-day Stanton) to the north and the Heart River (present-day Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near the city of Mandan) to the south. It was a golden age for the Mandan. They dwelt in as many as a dozen fortified earthlodge villages. The women owned the lodges. The women owned the gardens. The women determined the worth of their produce when it came time to trade. The bloodline was carried down from mother to child. A woman usually stayed in her mother’s village all the days of her life. The Mandan lived along the Missouri River for a thousand years. 

"Winter village of the Minatarres," by Karl Bodmer.

The fall is a beautiful time of year along the Missouri River. Frost glitters on everything, thickly on leaves, vines, and branches, sparsely on boulders and grass, but everything shines in the morning light. Fog stretches along the Missouri River bottomlands as far as the eye can follow, so thick one couldn’t see the lodge at the end of the village, to thin wispy tendrils hanging in the air so delicately one feels almost an otherworldly presence.

The Yanktonai came to trade with the Mandan. War was politely put aside in efforts for each side to acquire needs and wants from the other. For the Yanktonai, they needed the corn, squash, beans, sunflowers, and tobacco the Mandan grew in their gardens; the Mandan wanted trade items, guns, trade iron, mirrors, beads, and such that could only be obtained by trade with the Yanktonai.

The story goes a Yanktonai Dakota brave met and fell in love with a Mandan maiden, and she for him, most likely during the time of trade.

The Mandan have many cultural conventions, among which is when a couple marry it is the man who goes to live with the woman in her mother’s lodge. The Lakota/Dakota too have many cultural standards about how to live and how to live married, but should a man take a wife from another tribe it would often work out that she would live with him.

Young, innocent, first love often sees past the barriers and codes set in place by wiser, more experienced love. So it seems.

When trade came to an end, the Mandan held a feast to see their trade partners off, a strong tradition that they held even for enemies.

The story goes that when the Yanktonai broke camp to head south towards winter camp, north of Omaha territory, the brave opted to stay behind with his true love. It seemed that Mandan custom won out and the Yanktonai departed in peace. Sometime after the Yanktonai left, the young couple eloped and made a departure of their own. Mandan custom didn’t hold the young man or the young woman as strongly as they hoped. 

Sitting Rabbit, a Mandan, painted a lengthy mural of the Missouri River which showcases the old villages, various significant cultural sites, and landmarks as the Mandan knew them. 

She must have loved him for she gave up a thousand years of tradition, her ancestral homeland, and the lines of her family to be with him and his traveling people.

The Mandan and Yanktonai agree on the story up to this point: that a Mandan maiden and a Yanktonai brave fell in love. The Mandan say the Yanktonai brave stole her and that the Yanktonai people killed her. The Yanktonai say that the Mandan killed the brave and lost the young woman.

What is the truth? Is there a middle ground? There just might be if we look at through the cultural eyes of the times.

The brave and the maiden eloped. Her father probably gifted the Black Mouth Society, a police society of the Mandan made up of fierce warrior protectors, to bring her back. The brave led them to neutral ground, a wooded area on the east bank of the Missouri River just south of the Knife Rive confluence.

In the old days, in the grandeur of the Plains Indian horse culture, when a woman was kidnapped, she died to her people for they often never saw her again. Women and children were often brought into the circle of the tribe and made one of them, women to live and eventually love as their captors, children raised to be like their captors. To borrow a Christian thought, one “died” to one’s self and became a member of another tribe, even given a new name to reflect a new stage of life.

The Yanktonai say that the Mandan killed the brave. When the Mandan warriors came to get back one of their own, the brave turned and fought his last stand and died for the love of his life.

In the old days, in the splendor of the Plains Indian culture, a woman would sometimes pick up and carry a man’s weapons, even ride into battle – but that’s another story. It is reasonable to say that the Mandan maiden, blind in her grief, reached for her lover’s weapons. She died to her people and became a Yanktonai. She became the enemy and the time for trade passed by. She died when she eloped. She died when she became a Yanktonai Dakota. She died with her lover.

The Mandan and Yanktonai agree that the bodies of the young lovers were wrapped in bison robes and placed them in the branches of the grove of cottonwoods where they spent their last day together. The Mandan warriors took out their paints and illuminated the trunks of dead cottonwood trees nearby.

The story concludes that in the spring when the Yanktonai ventured north, ostensibly to visit the brave they left behind, they came across the bodies of the young lovers hanging in the branches of the cottonwoods. The Yanktonai carefully removed the bodies and buried them in the ground below. They also saw the pictographs painted on the bleached and weathered trees around, and the Yanktonai warriors took out their paints and went to neighboring cottonwoods and adorned them with pictographs of their own.

Gradually, all the trees in that particular wooded area became known to all as “Painted Woods.” The Mandan were struck by smallpox and moved north and west, eventually to Fort Berthold, their concerns mainly for survival. The Yanktonai were split and moved onto different reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota.

A likely time this may have happened is after the Yanktonai wintered with the Mandan, a winter of peace, in 1715, and before Pierre la Verendrye made first contact with the Mandan in 1738, for the Yanktonai and the Mandan were sore enemies.

Today a game and wildlife preserve protects the Missouri River bottomlands of the Painted Woods. An interpretive sign tells an abbreviated version of the tragic love story on site.

Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count by James Howard, as published in the Plains Anthropologist, 1976.

Origins of North Dakota Place Names by Mary Ann Barnes Williams, 1966.

Author conversations with various elders of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, particularly Mr. Edwin Benson and Ms. Diana Medicine Stone, 2002-2010. 

Enemies Or Allies: Conflict On The Great Plains

"Fur traders in canada 1777," by William Faden, 1776.
Enemies Or Allies
Conflict On The Great Plains
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - This paper originally appeared in the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation's quarterly "The Past Times," Vol. IX, No. 4. 

Sometime in 1615 French explorers made first contact with the Algonquin-speaking Anishinabe. The Anishinabe, like many native peoples, refer to themselves as “The People, and like other tribes, break themselves down into bands. This particular tribe or band of Anishinabe call themselves Ojibwe, meaning “Puckered Moccasins,” in reference to how they made their moccasins. The French couldn’t easily say Ojibwe and instead referred to them as “Chippewa.”

France’s new world empire was built on the fur trade and they badly needed Indian allies to help sustain it. Went the French came up the St. Lawrence River, they encountered the Chippewa. The Chippewa were stunned with their first encounter and their oral traditions reflect stories of men they thought were bears at first “walking off of a floating island,” and when the trappers took a meal of wine and biscuits the Chippewa thought they were drinking blood and eating wood.

They Came For Gold Then Stayed For Fur
At first Europeans came for gold, when little or none was found, natural resources like fur became a substitute. The French wanted furs for trade and profit, the natives wanted guns to hunt and expand their territories.

Beginning at the turn of 1600 traditional skirmishes over territories escalated into the one-hundred years long conflict, the Beaver Wars. The Iroquois allied themselves with the Dutch for their supply of guns, the Algonquin with the French. The Iroquois made war on the Huron in the Great Lakes and by 1649, with the assistance of disease, destroyed the Huron confederacy. As the Iroquois battered the Huron, the Chippewa braced for war and looked west to the territories of their enemies there.

A lot happened at the turn of 1600. Two groups of people either moved or were forced out of the lower Great Lakes region, the Hidatsa and the Catawba, both tribes Siouan speakers, both would probably cringe at being identified as anything Sioux. The Hidatsa moved west to the upper Missouri to live with the Mandan. The Catawba who have the oral tradition say that they were pushed south over the Appalachian Mountains by the Iroquois.

What the Chippewa called the Iroquois before Beaver Wars is no longer recalled. What they called the Iroquois during and after the wars is recorded as “Nadowaysws,” or “The True Adders.” The Chippewa called their enemies in the western half of the Great Lakes “Nadowaysuaig” or “Nadowaysuis,” translated as Snakes-In-The-Grass or the Lesser Adders. The French couldn’t quite say either word in Chippewa and instead used an adopted short form of the word, “Sioux.”

It was about 1640 when the Assiniboine Sioux broke away from the main body of the Great Sioux Nation. The Great Sioux Nation is made up of four Dakota tribes, the Mdewakaŋton, Sisetowon, Waĥpėtowon, Waĥpėkutė, two Wiceyena tribes, the Ihankton and Ihanktowana, and the Teton.

The Seven Council Fires
Members of the the Great Sioux Nation today refer to themselves as Oċėti Śakowiŋ, or the Seven Council Fires. The Seven Council Fires consist of the Dakota (Mdewakaŋton, Sisetowon, Waĥpėtowon, & Waĥpėkutė), Nakota (Ihaŋktowon & Ihaŋktowana; the French called them “Yankton” & “Yanktonai”), and the Lakota (Tetonwon, whom are the most numerous and are organized into seven sub-tribes: Huŋkpapa, Sihasapa, Itażipċo, Mniconjou, Oohėnuŋpa, Śiċaŋġu, & Oglala).

The Assiniboine have the oral tradition that recalls a fight over meat and broke off from the Yanktonai. This infighting occurred during the Beaver Wars and as the Chippewa were pushing west for territory and furs. Natural resources became scarce forcing people to fight back, move further west, or starve. In one generation, the Assiniboine moved northwest and allied themselves to the Plains Cree and Piegan. The Assiniboine were ever after known to the main body of Sioux as Hohė, or rebels.

In 1659-60 the French explorers Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers journeyed west to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan followed by Jesuit missionaries twenty years later. In 1680 the Jesuits Hennepin and Duluth made contact with the Sioux in northern Minnesota at the height of conflict between the Sioux and Chippewa at Mill Lac. The Okdada Dakota moved west to the Missouri River where, in a generation, changed their lifestyle from sedentary horticulture and hunting to nomadic hunting so completely, changed their dialect, that they came to be called Oglala Lakota.

The Confluence Of Guns And Horses
Armed with guns from trade with the English, the Lakota arrived on the plains at nearly the same time as horses, 1692, and took complete advantage of both to the dismay of all tribes on the northern plains, all but the Cheyenne.

When the Sioux came to dwell on the plains the only tribe with whom they didn’t have an antagonistic relationship with were the Tsistsistas, who the Sioux referred to as Śahiyėna, or Cheyenne, meaning “Red Talkers.” The relationship didn’t remain friendly for long.

Horse stealing raids and skirmishes to gain and control territory became the lifestyle of the Lakota in the early eighteenth century. The first recorded horse stealing raid was against the Hėwaĥtoĥta, the Hidatsa, in 1706. Then a war with the Mandan followed.

In fact, so many horse stealing raids occurred in the first half of the 18th century that when Pierre La Verendrye made first contact with the Mandan there were no horses to barter for. La Verendrye walked his entire stay on the northern plains. 

War between the Sioux and Cheyene broke out around 1740 and lasted until 1766 when a war party of Oglala Lakota attacked a Cheyenne village near present-day Fort Yates, North Dakota. The Cheyenne retaliated by setting fire to the plains. The Oglala’s horses broke free and they were forced to abandon camp and run cross country. The Oglala were forced to run in the flames as the fire caught up to them. They who survived the running the fire jumped into Long Lake. This band of Oglala became known afterward as the Śiċaŋġu, whom the French called Brulė, or Burnt Thigh. The Sioux and Cheyenne put aside their differences and became allies.

Tenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian, 1888-'89, paper by Garrick Mallory, edited by J. W. Powell.

Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smothsonian, 1894-'95, paper by W. J. McGee.

Siouan Sociology, by James Owen Dorsey prepared in the 1890s. Paper published in The Sioux Indians: A Socio-Ethnological History, an introduction by John F. Bryde, Ph.D., edited by Sol Lewis, 1973.

Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count, paper by James Howard, Plains Anthropologist, 1976.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waneta, The Charger: Dakota War Chief, English Captain in the War of 1812

The Charger by James Otto King.
Waneta, The Charger
Dakota War Chief, English Captain
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - Waneta was a War Chief of the Cut Head Band of Yanktonai Dakota, as was his father, Red Thunder, before him. Red Thunder’s eldest daughter, Ista Totowin (Blue Eyes Woman) or Helen Elizabeth Winona (b. 1781, d. unknown), was married to the English Indian Agent, Robert Dickson.

Waneta was born about 1795 in what is now Brown County, South Dakota. He joined his father, Red Thunder, in siding with the British against the United States during the War of 1812. He fought at the siege of Fort Meigs in 1813 and at Sandusky and was wounded in the latter battle, receiving nine life threatening wounds. It was at Sandusky, that he received the name Wana’ata (Leading The Charge), or Waneta (The Charger), for leading the charge against the Americans. There in battle, Waneta killed seven men in hand-to-hand combat. During the attack on Sandusky, he was struck by a musket ball and three buckshot in the chest. The bearing glanced on his breastbone, passed around under skin and came out at his back. Already wounded, Waneta took five more shots, and yet he stood and held his ground. 

In his hair, in later paintings or sketches, Waneta is pictured with nine wooden knives or sometimes nine feathers to represent his deeds and injuries at Sandusky. 

King George III.

After the war, the British rewarded Waneta for his loyalty by presenting him with a captain's commission. He subsequently visited England and was taken before King George III. 

Upon Waneta’s return from England, he resumed his chieftanship and immediately resumed the Dakotas’ age-old feud against the Chippewa near Pembina. He completely annihilated the Chippewa band living there, leaving none alive. 

President Martin Van Buren.  In the late 1830s, The Charger had met this president.

During the summer solstice of 1819, Waneta celebrated in the annual sun dance. In preparation for the dance, he gave away all his posessions. Whatever vision or sacred call Waneta received from the Creator, certainly left him a changed man. In the spring of 1820, he led a party of Yanktonai and Sissetons to Fort Snelling, ostensibly to have a friendly visit with Colonel Snelling about the murder of a tribesman. On the march to the fort, Waneta flew the Union Jack, and on arrival he burned his flag, but was seized at the fort’s entrance and the guards found reason to believe that he was there to attack the fort. Waneta was placed under arrest, his possessions seized, and he was marched before the colonel. Snelling saw for himself all the badges and medals awarded to the chief and came to the conclusion that Waneta must have been there on behalf of the English. Snelling then burned all Waneta’s trophies before his eyes. Snelling then ordered his men to forcibly “naturalize” the chief until he was fully convinced of the power of the Americans. So beaten was Waneta that his warriors thought him dead at first, and immediately gashed the flesh of their arms in sorrow.  Amazingly, the chief’s policy ever after was peace towards the whites. Perhaps the chief’s vision the previous summer prepared him for this new direction and allegiance to the United States, whom he faithfully served until his last days. 

Fort Snelling in the 1840s, this is probably as close to how The Charger saw it twenty years previous.

In 1823, the first U.S. military campaign was waged against a tribe on the Great Plains against the Arikara Indians, called the War of 1823, or the Arikara War. The Sioux Indians demonstrated their whole-hearted commitment to the United States by siding with the Missouri Legion led by Colonel Leavenworth against the Arikara, north of present-day Mobridge, SD, on the Missouri River. Waneta was directly responsible for exacting a tribute from the Arikara for not killing them, and took much of their food stock for the coming winter. He set up winter camp on Beaver Creek and took tribute from the Mandan for protecting them from the rest of the Sioux. 

Waneta’s chieftanship was strongly supported by extensive family connections and a strong belief that he was guarded by supernatural protection. In his thirties and forties, Waneta took to wearing an officer’s uniform, top boots, green spectacles, a saber, and pistols. It was because of Waneta’s penchant for wearing spectacles, that he was later called Ista Maza, or Iron Eyes. 

There were two treaties of Prairie Du Chien.  Visit ND Studies for a breakdown of what the treaty entailed for the Dakota and Lakota Sioux. 

A dominant chief of the Sioux tribe, Waneta signed a trade treaty with the Americans on July 25, 1825. On August 17 the very next month and 450 miles later, he signed the first Treaty of Prairie du Chien which fixed the boundaries of Sioux territory. Waneta’s dominance, charisma, and authority became so great, that at least one of his own tribesmen became resentful and jealous of his recognition. 

Charles King Bird created this striking image of The Charger.  His bear claw necklace and nine feathers are clearly seen.  Brilliant red moccasins adorn his feet and calves. 

In 1826, Waneta made a trip to Washington DC, in celebration of the peace and trade made with the U.S. in the treaties the previous year. While there at the Capital, Waneta’s likeness was forever preserved by artist Charles King Bird.

Fort Pierre by Choteau. 

In the summer of 1832 at Fort Pierre, George Catlin painted Waneta’s likeness. Catlin noted that the chief’s influence was supreme on the Upper Missouri, without rival. Traders on the Missouri characterized Waneta as brave, skillful, sagacious, artful, but also grasping and sometimes overbearing. 

When Waneta was about 44, he was struck with snowblindness that he never fully recovered from and he lost his sight altogether when cataracts formed over both of his eyes. With the loss of his sight, went the loss of his chieftanship. 

Waneta died in 1840 at the mouth of the Warreconne River, the present Beaver Creek in what is now Emmons County, North Dakota. He was struck down by one of his own tribesman, blind and unable to defend himself. 

Waneta had two sons, Iron Eyes and The Charger II. The descendants of The Charger reside on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation and the Spirit Lake Sioux Indian Reservation.

A United States Navy ship was named the USS Waneta in honor of Waneta.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On the Plains Before And After Lewis & Clark

Smallpox entry on the Rosebud Winter Count for the year 1819-1820.
Before The Corps of Discovery
The War of 1812 And After

By Dakota Wind
THE GREAT PLAINS - The Sioux came out onto the plains and tested the strength of other nations that were already there. With their claim staked out over much of the present-day Dakotas and Upper Nebraska, southeastern Montana, and northeastern Wyoming, the Sioux land claim had to be defended. The war to win the Black Hills wasn’t over after the Kiowa were pushed out of the area; the Arapaho had to be removed as well. Relations between the Cheyenne and Lakota were nurtured, though with some small fights. 

Battles continued with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, who had a very powerful presence on the Upper Missouri and whose strength would be severely tested in 1780-81 with an epidemic of smallpox[i]. The Sioux had been tested long before the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, with epidemics of the pox, measles, and other diseases since contact with whites began in 1640 in Wisconsin[ii].

The John K. Bear wintercount says that the Dakota were tested by famine in 1689. So pushed to the limit of gnawing hunger that they resorted to eating their dead. The Baptiste Good wintercount says that three lodges, or about thirty people, staved to death. John K. Bear’s entry for 1722 records an epidemic of diarrhea and cramps that struck the entire tribe and the only way to escape it was for everyone to break camp and scatter. Another entry entered in the John K. Bear wintercount in 1733, shows yet another example of cannibalism, while a few years later (1746) another epidemic of disease gripped the Dakota. Baptiste Good records that over the winter of 1755-56, many pregnant women died; this event would reoccur in 1792-93, 1798-99[iii], and later at 1815[iv]. Back in the John K. Bear wintercount we see an entry for 1762, in which an ulcerative disease struck the Sioux. The 1760’s as recorded in the John K. Bear wintercount also show that the Dakota fought amongst themselves, but the fighting probably lasted only a few years, at least until the Sioux would put aside their self-frustrations and took it out on the Mandan in 1771[v]. There is nothing like a war to unite a people and take their focus off their own concerns and displace on others.

The 1700’s see a great many epidemics of disease, stress, and famine striking the Sioux, and yet for the most part, the strength of the other Upper Missouri Indians remained as strong as ever until that epidemic of smallpox hit the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. That same epidemic is recorded in various L/Dakota wintercounts, yet the Sioux never suffered the loss of people or strength as the other tribes did. Why? Those three tribes lived in densely compacted earthlodge villages along the Upper Missouri, but the key factor in the decline of the earthlodge cultures was the simple virtue of visiting their sick relatives[vi]. They unknowingly contaminated themselves and others with their familial visits. The Sioux had in mind of another method of dealing with new diseases, sequestering. If they couldn’t treat a disease, that person would more than likely leave the village and come back if/when that person recovered, thereby saving the village[vii].

Just how did the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara become stricken with smallpox in 1781, and why? 

Get yourself a copy of Fenn's book and read about biological warfare during the American Revolution. 

In her book, “Pox Americana,” Dr. Elizabeth A. Fenn puts forward the theory that the Mandan and Hidatsa villages traded horses from the Shoshone, who got their horse stock from the Spanish by way of the Comanche[viii]. Later in the same book, Fenn writes that the Native Americans in the Great Lakes region and those in close contact with the Hudson Bay Company would go west to dictate the terms of trade of European goods, and if their demands weren’t met, they would take their business elsewhere. Tribes like the Cree and Assinboine went west “not as hunters and trappers, but as middlemen, carrying manufactured goods to the Blackfeet, Bloods, Atsinas, Mandans, and Hidatsas[ix]” to then ferry furs back east to the European market. Both of Fenn’s possible routes to the Upper Missouri are well charted, and Fenn makes some use of wintercounts that explicitely cite cases of smallpox. Perhaps Fenn didn’t look back a few years in her brief studies of wintercounts, for if she did (and used more than John K. Bear’s and Baptiste Good’s counts), she might have found a peculiar reference to white soldiers coming west.

Another Possibility
Here is another possibility of how the smallpox came west to the Missouri River Valley.

English traders heard from the French and Sioux of earthlodge dwellers on the plains who were very friendly and traders themselves. By some possibility, the English came out west, in hopes to ensnare other Indians in the expanding fur trade. Whether or not they were French or English, Canadian traders were actively engaging their trade all along the Mississippi from the Natchez to its source in 1792[x]. Americans proclaimed their freedom in 1776, but fighting still continued and the British held Canada and began to actively manipulate the trade market west of the Ohio to gain the Indian favor in hopes that the Indians would harass the Americans there. It is highly possible that British soldiers were in the mid-west to gain the Indian favor as well.

According to the Anderson wintercount’s entry for 1779-80, it appears that the year correlates with others and name might well be “Akicita cuwita tapi,” which translates as, “Soldiers Cold They-die,” or liberally, “Soldiers died in the cold or that they died from the cold.” Granted that there is the possibility that this year’s entry is actually referring to a failed Lakota war party that got caught ill prepared in the intense cold, this might not be the case. The word “Akicita” today is taken to mean “Soldier” in the Dakota and Lakota dialects, but it is actually a borrowed word from the Ojibwa “Ogijita,” meaning “Long Knife,” in reference to white soldiers. So, with the soldiers’ death from the cold, and finding their bodies, about two years of smallpox epidemics struck, or all of the year 1781, though the year would span from spring to spring according to the wintercount year beginnings and endings[xi].

War And Trade Resumes After Smallpox
After the smallpox epidemic, the Mandan temporarily reconciled with their immediate neighbors to the south of them, the Arikara, and mounted an attack on a Dakota village killing twenty-five and capturing a boy. A few years after the Mandan/Arikara campaign, the Dakota made peace with the Mandan, camping among them for the winter[xii]. Perhaps there was an inter-tribal marriage arranged for mutual trade benefits.

In 1784-85, an Omaha woman who was living among the Lakota tried to run away. Perhaps she was taken captive in a raid or became disenchanted with being a Sioux wife, no matter what her motivations were though; she was hunted down and killed. Her death ignited conflict between the Omaha and Sioux for the next thirty years[xiii].

In 1789, according to the Roan Bear wintercount, a Hidatsa woman came to the Dakota and joined their camp[xiv]. Perhaps she was seeking asylum from her people. White Bull’s wintercount sheds some light on the Hidatsa woman, and according to Stanely Vestal, she left her people after having trouble with her parents, but after awhile the Dakota returned her to her people with gifts[xv]. In 1789-90, according to Batiste Good’s[xvi] and the Flame’s[xvii] wintercounts, they killed either two Hidatsa or two Mandan, respectively. There may have been tensions between the Sioux and Mandan/Hidatsa involving the young woman who left her people for the Sioux that seemed to precipitate this minor conflict.

The next year though, tension must have been down as the Sioux wintered with the Hidatsa, according to Roan Bear[xviii]. 1791-92 sees a peace made between the Sioux and the Mandan, or perhaps the Omaha (there are conficting accounts of this peace, though on the Anderson wintercount it does appear to be Hidatsa or Crow rather than Omaha). The Flame says that the peace was made between a Mandan and a Dakota who swam out into the Missouri River and clasped hands in the middle[xix]. The peace must have held strong, for the Sioux wintered with the Mandan in 1791-92 and 1792-93 according to White Bull[xx], and Roan Bear seems to support this for his entry in 1792[xxi]. The Flame says that in 1793, they also camped with the Mandan[xxii]. In 1794-95, the Anderson wintercount says that the Dakota camped near the Mandan[xxiii], and maybe started to strengthen their ties to one another; White Cow Killer’s entry for 1794-95 says that a Mandan chief killed a Dakota with very long hair and took his scalp[xxiv] (many other wintercounts at this time say that it was a Crow killed, and White Bull mentions that this took place at Rawhide Butte[xxv]). The Flame says that in 1796-97, a Mandan Chief known as The-Man-With-The-Hat became noted as a warrior (perhaps a late entry that correlates with White Cow Killer the year previous), but there was no Mandan chief known by that name[xxvi], or was there?

White Men Ascend Missouri River
Back to 1790-91. Many wintercounts centering on these particular years mention white men coming up the river and passing around a flag or book. Many wintercounts seem to contradict the other over whether or not it was a Spanish, British, or American Flag, yet “no historical verification seems possible [for this to be an American flag]. A Spanish document for 1791 mentions that English traders were going as far up the Missouri River to trade with the Indians[xxvii].”

In 1794, a Frenchman named Regis Louisel, a member of the firm Glamorgan, Louisel & Co. (organized in 1789) came up the Missouri to gain some business for himself. Louisel and two of his men promised the Sioux that if they would let him pass that he would return and bring weapons. On his word, the Sioux gave him buffalo robes and dogs to pack with to hurry him on his way. Louisel did come back by way of dog sled in 1797-98 and was recognized by the Sioux with the name of Little Beaver[xxviii]. Though Louisel came up the river a few times, it wasn’t until 1800 that he received permission to form a trading establishment on the Upper Missouri, and even then the Sioux stopped him from going up the river to do business with other tribes. Louisel was forced to build his trade post on Cedar Island, just south of present-day Pierre, South Dakota[xxix].

In 1795, James MacKay and John Evans reached the Mandans, and took over the post that was established by British traders, and raised the Spanish flag[xxx].

Seven Council Fires Go To War
With more powerful weapons steady supply to the Sioux, they waged near continual warfare with the Crow, Ponka, Assinboin, Arikara, and Omaha, as evidenced in many wintercounts throughout the 1790’s. The warfare was going well against the Crow, Ponka, and Omaha until an epidemic of smallpox struck the Sioux in 1802[xxxi]. The Omaha saw an opening to strengthen their campaign and began to launch several offensives against the L/Dakota (as evidenced in many wintercounts in the immediate years surrounding 1800). The Sioux had no other choice in the warfare that the Omaha had inflicted on them than to call together the Seven Counsel Fires to put an end to their increasingly aggressive attacks. The Sioux called all able bodied men together and waved the pipe, which had a horsetail affixed to the end of it, over the men, that they would all quicken for war[xxxii], according to Blue Thunder’s wintercount. The Sioux launched their own renewed offensive against the Omaha that in September of 1804, they killed about seventy-five of their warriors and took another fifty of them as prisoners of war[xxxiii].

In 1803, the Saoun Lakota (Hunkpapa, Mniconjou, Itazipco, and Sihasapa) and the Yanktonai Dakota launched an attack on the “enemy” at the mouth of the Heart River. A Frenchman named Charles Le Raye mentioned an Arikara village at/near the mouth of Beaver Creek, in present-day Emmons North Dakota and that there was a Ree village on an island just north and across the river from that village. This fight likely involved the Ree against the Sioux[xxxiv]. The outcome of the Battle of Heart River found the Lakota in control of the Heart River and west to the Little Missouri River, with the Yellowstone River Valley now becoming contested territory between the Crow and Lakota, this also included contested territory that extended south into the Big Horn Mountains putting strain on potential relationships with the Shoshone.

The Seven Counsel Fires were on a roll with all their military might ensuring their victories, which made them perhaps a little too brave, and so they reached north to Assiniboine country to steal some of their horses in the winter of 1803-04[xxxv], according to The Flame. The following winter, the Assiniboine came south to reclaim their dignity from the Sioux, passing by the Mandan prompting Lewis and Clark to mention some Sioux passing by their fort during the winter of 1804-05.

All of this mentioned above is the politcal and social situation that the Corps of Discovery stumbled into on the Upper Great Plains when they parlayed with the Yankton and Yanktonai Dakota in August of 1804, and again with the Tetontowon Lakota in September, near exact one month later. Here’s how it played out.

Enter: The Corps Of Discovery
In 1804, the Omaha sought a peace with the Yankton and Yanktonai, and entreated them to seek on behalf of the Omaha nation to go get their Omaha relatives who were being held prisoner by the Teton Lakota. On August 27th, 1804, Clark’s observations were “…one Maha boy informed us his nation was gorn to make peace with the Pania’s…”The young scout was sent to make an allaiance with the long-standing enemy of the Sioux, the Pawnee. Reading Clark’s entry that day, he even says that the “Maha” boy was returning from the Yankton. The scout’s plan to go the Pawnee was probably a “Plan B,” if the Sioux didn’t have a positive parley with the Omaha.

On Monday morning, September 24th, 1804, John Colter, who was out hunting in Lakota territory, let out a hollar that the “Indians” had taken his horse. Today, hunters have to ask permission to hunt on someone’s land before doing so, and often enough, the hunters give a gratuity to the landowner. The same principal held true then. The “Indians” simply took Colter’s horse for his hunting on their land. What made matters bad to start off with was that the co-captains went to the chiefs and lied about the horse, saying that it was intended as a gift to grand chief of the Tetons, in hopes of getting it back. If the horse was indeed for the chief of Tetons, then why would they ask for it back, only to simply present it back to the chief? It is really a simple situation: the Sioux took a tribute, the captains lied about the horse, so the chiefs forged no knowledge or little interest in the horse.

What did happen to the horse? The horse probably so impressed the Lakota with its peculiar tracks it left, that they just simply took for the novelty of having it. In many wintercounts, this year, 1804, is often recorded as “Brought-In-Horse-Shoes-Winter,” “Stole-Horse-With-Shoes-On-Winter,” or something along the lines of horse’s and shoes.

The Corps Of Discovery Lies
Lewis and Clark made their first mistake with the Teton Lakota by lying about the horse. Their second mistake was challenging the Lakota with the statement that they “were not afraid of any Indians[xxxvi].” With this bravado the captains called to question the bravery of the Sioux who had just had a series of military victories. The captains even stumbled into their situation with the mortal enemy of the Sioux, Pierre Cruzatte who was Omaha born and Omaha raised (his father was French though), and was serving the Corps as an interpreter.

The captains spoke big words about their new great white father and his plans for his red children, and then invited the Teton on board for some shots of whiskey. Clark says that the Teton were very fond of the drink, gulped it down, and then affected drunken trouble upon the Corps. So, why did the “drunken” Teton hug the mast of the keelboat, seize cables, and insist on sleeping on the boat?

Blue Thunder says that 1804 was a many council winter, and that a council was held to decide whether or not to allow some white men to go up the river. In this council, while the drunken men were distracting the Corps with their stubbornness, the Shirt-Wearers (Four Magistrate Chiefs) and other respected leaders concluded that the Corps could indeed pass. This decision was acted upon when Black Buffalo stepped between the Corps and the Teton warriors, and signaled them to let the Corps go.

The Unpredictable William Clark
Clark, raised to be an American gentleman, extended his hand in courtesy to the chiefs after nearly going down on his ship. Many non-natives would see this gesture as a sign of respect even friendship, and might even think that Clark was the better man for doing it. To the Lakota, they saw a man who extended his hand, the very hand that moments ago gripped his sword and nearly drew it on them; if they thought anything of Clark, it was that he was unpredictable. This is why no one took Clark’s hand.

Could anything have been done to make amends? Probably not. When the Teton detained the Corps, Clark made an ignorant request to the Sioux on behalf of the great white father, which was to release the Omaha prisoners.

Imagine that events two hundred years ago could be any different than today. Lets say that America was struck by terrorist attacks, which would provoke the great white father of the United States into launching a war on terrorism and taking the fight to nations with some connection to the terrorists that attacked America. Lets also say that we captured some terrorists and imprisoned them, and while we imprisoned the terrorists, fed them three squares a day, and treat them to the best our ethics will us to concerning prisoners, and allowed them to pray as their faith demands. Further, we’ll say that a foreign state or government asked us to release our prisoners. Just how would America respond? Not any different than the Teton Lakota imprisoning the Omaha. People are people at any time and place.

But They Didn't Do Anything Wrong
What did Lewis and Clark think about this? Probably that they did nothing wrong, just like anyone else. Historian Stephen Ambrose states “Lewis and Clark had not initiated hostilities…[xxxvii]” If Lewis and Clark thought they did no wrong, and just a few years ago a noted historian thought that they committed no hostilities, it is likely that the rest of America thinks that the Corps was on a peaceful mission, rather than a military one. You rarely see Lewis and Clark without Sacagawea and York, as if to say that the United States was inclusive for the past two hundred years all along.

In his book, Undaunted Courage, Ambrose writes a brief “What if” scenario, where Clark lights the swivel cannon followed by an all too brief firefight, with the Lakota standing as victors. In this I would agree with Mr. Ambrose, if that scene played itself out, then Manifest Destiny would only have been delayed.

The Corps was allowed to pass after a throwing a symbolic gift at the feet of the Teton, and went on their way.

The Mandan Chief Remembered
Despite the fact that the Mandan and Sioux were traditional antagonists to one another, both nations must have been still at peace. 1806 is recorded in the Big Missouri wintercount as a “Delegation of Indians and wives started to Washington to see the ‘Great Father.’ Embarked in rawhide boats on the Missouri River. Did not know where they left on the Missouri for Washington, but were gone so long the Indians thought them lost. A few finally came back[xxxviii].” The device that Big Missouri chose to use consists of vertical dashes to represent sticks, with a hat atop the center stick, meant to represent the Mandan chief Shehek-Shote, White Wolf (aka Sheheke, White Coyote; aka “Big White;” The mention of the bullboat is a reference to the Miwatani (meaning “Water-Boat [people],” an old Dakota reference to the Mandan).

American Military Escorts Mandan Diplomat
In 1808 Ensign Nathaniel Pryor came up the Missouri River to bring back the Mandan chief and was forced back to St. Louis by the Arikara. The wintercount year 1807-08 is listed recorded on many wintercounts as the year Oglesa, or Red Shirt/Coat was killed. What does this have to do with Pryor? Red Shirt’s name and the manner of how he died, hints at who he was.

The very name, Red Shirt, suggests that he was a Shirt-Wearer, or a selected magistrate chief. Names can be associated with holding a certain office or position to the Lakota, names can also be attributed to a certain deed, manner, or attitude of a person.

How did Red Shirt receive his name? It is possible that he was once called “Tatanka Sapa,” or Black Buffalo/Bull. The very same Black Buffalo who Clark designated “as the leading chief present and gave him a medal, a red military coat, and a cocked hat[xxxix].” A red military coat. Being that Black Buffalo was one of the Magistrate Chiefs, he would still have been held in high regard just a few years later, whether or not he was still considered a chief and his passing especially in a military conflict would certainly have been recorded somewhere, wintercount or orally.

The Arikara Chief Who Never Returned
What were the Lakota doing in an Arikara village? They were trying to make an alliance with the Arikara, perhaps to persuade them to help them fight the Crow and Assiniboine, but no doubt to strengthen their own position on the Upper Missouri as middlemen traders by assuring the safe and secure passage of Manuel Lisa to Lakota Territory. The Arikara though were an angry hive, understandably stirred to hostilities after they were told of the death of their chief, Arketarnawhar. Chief Aketarnawhar was sent east by Lewis and Clark to meet the great white father back in 1804, but had died of natural causes while there, though the Arikara thought treachery was afoot in the death of their chief. Again, Lewis and Clark did a questionable thing in witholding that information when they passed south to St. Louis in 1806.

Just days before Pryor came with the Mandan Diplomat, Manuel Lisa told the Arikara of Pryor’s coming up the river with trade goods solely for the benefit of the Arikara[xl]. It is easy to see why the Arikara were frustrated with Americans, they weren’t told of the death of their chief and they were lied to.

Baptiste Good records that Red Shirt was a Hunkpapa Chief killed by the Arikara[xli]. No Ears records the Lakota text as follows, “Ogle Luta on wan itkop ahi ktepi[xlii],” which can translate a few different ways: 1st, Red Shirt was killed by the enemy face-to-face, and 2nd, Red Shirt was followed back by the enemy and killed. Lone Dog says that Red Shirt was pierced by two arrows[xliii], which would suggest that he was killed by the Arikara.

Regarless of how the Pryor event unfolded, the Arikara were unpredictable for the next fifteen years, at times killing indiscriminately any white person they came upon, allowing passage at other times, and appropriating traders’ goods and/or forcing them back downriver. This tension led to the first military campaign into the Great Plains, the Arikara War of 1823.

The War Of 1812
The British still had some place in the trading hearts of the Sioux and would be drawn into the conflict of the War of 1812. Whatever happened in the east was surely felt in the west. The Louisiana Purchase seemed to do nothing but increase pressure between the Red and Blue. The British trade out west was disrupted and so the Sioux made a journey to council with their Isanti relatives in 1811, at the mouth of the Redwood River (near present-day Redwood Falls, MN) and stayed in council with them for about a year[xliv].

With war looming between the British and Americans, a British officer named Isaac Brock managed to sway the mind of Robert Dickson (who happened to be married to an Isanti) to recruit the Sioux as allies. Dickson was actually a merchant in the fur trade in the Niagara Falls region and worked through his wife’s tibal connections to enlist the aid of the Yanktonai under the chieftanship of Red Thunder and ‘Thunder’s son, Waneta, The Charger[xlv].

Waneta was eventually commissioned as a British Captain in 1813, and was in the thick of battle at the sieges of Forts Miegs and Stephenson, both in Ohio. Waneta tried to turn on the British at Fort Snelling, in Minnesota, in 1820, but his failed attempt left him having a pro-American opinion[xlvi]. Waneta became so infatuated with European/American dress that he eventually took to wearing a pair of glasses to help his vision. Waneta’s tinted lenses prompted the people to calling him “Iron Eyes[xlvii].” Iron Eyes’ descendants can still be found on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation today.

Dickson managed to call together a native force of about 715, including Chippewa, Sioux, Ottawa, and Winnebago nations for Capt. Charles Roberts at the siege of Fort Michilimackinack. Of the 715 recruited, 400 were Isanti and Yanktonai who were the primary muscle behind the strike at Mackinack. Roberts eventually attained the rank of Lt. Col., moved west to the Red River, and died in 1823[xlviii].

Some Dakota Fought To Defend Americans Too
There were some Dakota who did fight for the Red, White, and Blue during the War of 1812. Fighting for the U.S. were some of the Isanti under the chieftanship of Tatanka Najin, or Standing Bull. Standing Bull stayed faithful to the U.S. and was awarded a nice hat, a chief’s coat, and a medal[xlix]. Also fighting for the Stars and Stripes was another Isanti Dakota named Wambli Okicize (though it is actually in the Laktoa dialect here), meaning, Soldiering Eagle, but often referred to as War Eagle or Little Eagle.

War Eagle worked as a pilot for the American Fur Company and when the War of 1812 flared up, he served as a runner for the U.S. Government. War Eagle was adopted into the Yanktonai Dakota and was also awarded and recognized the same as Standing Bull, both were given recognition by President Martin Van Buren. A statue honors War Eagle today in Sioux City, Iowa, in War Eagle Park[l].

Taken as a whole, the Sioux involvement with the British, French, and Americans through and past the War of 1812, we see that the Sioux were trying to accomplish what failed the Iroquois in their attempt to play one foreign country off another. With nothing learned from the Iroquois, the attempt by the Sioux also met with miserable failure, and eventually excalated into what would become the Plains Indian Wars.


[i] Mallery, Garrick, Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 1, pp. 293-328, Dover Publications Inc., 1972.

[ii] Winchell, N. H., The Aborigines of Minnesota, page 518.

[iii] Mallery, Garrick, Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 1, pp. 293-328, Dover Publications Inc., 1972.

[iv] Thorne, Tanis, Anderson Winter Count, website address:, site accessed January 8th to February 13th, 2003.

[v] Walker, Raymond J., Lakota Society, pp. 124-157, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1982.

[vi] Calvin Grinnell’s, a tribal historian and enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, presentation “I Remember Long Knife and Red Hair,” July 26th, 2003.

[vii] Conversation with LaDonna BraveBull Allard, tribal historian and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, September 18th, 2003.

[viii] Fenn, Elizabeth A., Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, map page 7, Hill and Wang 2001.

[ix] Fenn, Elizabeth A., Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, map page 172-173, Hill and Wang 2001.

[x] Wood, W. Raymond, Prologue to Lewis & Clark: The MacKay and Evans Expeditions, page 11, University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.

[xi] The American Horse winter count says that smallpox struck in 1780-81, while the Cloud Shield winter count says smallpox struck in 1782-83.

[xii] Walker, Raymond J., Lakota Society, pp. 124-157, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1982.

[xiii] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 131-146, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xiv] Howard, James H., Two Dakota Winter Count Texts, pp. 16-30, Plains Anthropologist No. 5, December 1955.

[xv] White Bull, Chief Joseph (Translated and edited by James H. Howard), The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, pp. 6-29, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1968.

[xvi] Mallery, Garrick, Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 1, pp. 293-328, Dover Publications Inc., 1972.

[xvii] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 100-127, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xviii] Howard, James H., Two Dakota Winter Count Texts, pp. 16-30, Plains Anthropologist No. 5, December 1955.

[xix] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 100-127, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xx] White Bull, Chief Joseph (Translated and edited by James H. Howard), The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, pp. 6-29, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1968.

[xxi] Howard, James H., Two Dakota Winter Count Texts, pp. 16-30, Plains Anthropologist No. 5, December 1955.

[xxii] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 100-127, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxiii] Thorne, Tanis, Anderson Winter Count, website address:, site accessed January 8th to February 13th, 2003.

[xxiv] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 130-146, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxv] White Bull, Chief Joseph (Translated and edited by James H. Howard), The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, pp. 6-29, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1968.

[xxvi] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 100-127, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxvii] DeMallie, Raymond J., Lakota Society, page 128, University of Nebraska Press, 1985.

[xxviii] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 130-146, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxix] Cheney, Roberta Carheek, The Big Missouri Winter Count, page 15, Naturegraph Publishers, 1979.

[xxx] Cheney, Roberta Carheek, The Big Missouri Winter Count, page 12, Naturegraph Publishers, 1979.

[xxxi] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 130-146, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxxii] Howard, James H., Dakota Winter Counts, pp. 348-414, Anthropological Papers No. 61, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 173, 1960.

[xxxiii] Capt. William Clark estimate, Sept. 25th, 1804.

[xxxiv] Howard, James H., Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count, pp. 20-58, Plains Anthropologist: Journal of the Plains Conference, Memoir 11, Augstums Printing Service, 1976.

[xxxv] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 100-127, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xxxvi] William Clark, September 24th, 1804.

[xxxvii] Ambrose, Stephen, Undaunted Courage: Meriwhether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, page 175, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

[xxxviii] Cheney, Roberta Carheek, The Big Missouri Winter Count, page 13-49, Naturegraph Publishers, 1979.

[xxxix] Ambrose, Stephen, Undaunted Courage: Meriwhether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, page 169, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

[xl] Potter, Tracy, Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat: The Story of White Coyote, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark, page 142, Farcountry Press and Fort Mandan Press, 2003.

[xli] Mallery, Garrick, Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 1, pp. 293-328, Dover Publications Inc., 1972.

[xlii] Walker, Raymond J., Lakota Society, pp. 124-157, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1982.

[xliii] Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 103-126, Washington D. C. Smithsonian, 1886.

[xliv] Howard, James H., Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count, pp. 20-58, Plains Anthropologist: Journal of the Plains Conference, Memoir 11, Augstums Printing Service, 1976.

[xlv] Howard, James H., Yanktonai Ethnohistory and the John K. Bear Winter Count, pp. 20-58, Plains Anthropologist: Journal of the Plains Conference, Memoir 11, Augstums Printing Service, 1976.

[xlvi] Jacobson, Claire, Whitestone Hill: The Indians and the Battle, page 15, Pinetree Publishing, 1991.

[xlvii] Howard, James H., Dakota Winter Counts, pp. 348-414, Anthropological Papers No. 61, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 173, 1960.

[xlviii], July 12th, 2003.

[xlix] Howard, James H., The Dakota or Sioux Indians: A Study in Human Ecology, plate 1 with caption, Dakota Museum, University of South Dakota, 1966.

[l], July 13th, 2003.