Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remembering Whitestone Hill

This engraving of Whitestone Hill which appeared in Harper's Weekly, after a pencil drawing by General Alfred Sully.
Remembering Whitestone Hill
Sacred Cultural Site: Remembering Tragedy

By Dakota Wind
WHITESTONE HILL, N.D. - In 1914, about five thousand people attended the dedication of the Whitestone Hill Battlefield. Amongst the visitors were three Sioux Indians who went out and correctly identified the battle site and encampment of Sioux which is south-east of where it was supposed to be. The three Sioux delegates were: Red Bow, Takes-His-Shield, and Holy Horse. Red Bow and Takes-His-Shield both gave accounts of what happened at Whitestone Hill, with Rev. Beede, an Episcopal missionary on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, serving as interpreter. Holy Horse, a veteran of the incident at Whitestone Hill, did not offer his account and only showed himself. Only one known record of Red Bow's account is available.[1]

At least one pictograph of the Sioux perspective of the Whitestone Hill Battle exists, that rendered by Mr. Richard Cottonwood under the direction of Takes-His-Shield in 1913; Takes-His-Shield was there in 1863 and was eighteen years old at the time of the battle. It was then interpreted by Rev. Aaron Beede in 1932.

See image below for Takes-His Shield’s map of events of Whitestone Hill.[2] An abbreviated interpretation follows (note: the map may well be a reverse; numerals may have been added later):

Takes-His-Sheild sat across from Richard Cotton Wood, directing Cotton Wood what to draw in this pictographic representation. The top of the pictograph is actually south, the bottom north, the left east, and the right west.

Many men, women, and children were in the camp. They were on an annual autumn bison hunt and drying meat for the winter. The camp was in the broken prairie country beside a small lake. The camp consisted of two groups of Sioux: one group prepared for war and the other for the hunt. They were on friendly terms with each other and so camped in one circle. White soldiers are shown to have attacked from the lower right (east?) of the camp. The Sioux back away in the opposite direction of the attack. 

The Sioux are near a small lake when soldiers rush in and surround them. A group of soldiers pursue some Sioux who’ve escaped, but don’t kill them. No one has been killed at this point.
The soldiers have the Sioux between them and are killing them, but the Sioux are not fighting back. Many Sioux were slaughtered at this point, with up to thirty Sioux were killed.
The soldiers distance themselves, cross their own trail from their first movement. At this point in the engagement, when darkness crept in, the Sioux made their escape.

It is interesting to note that according to Takes-His-Shield’s account, that not a single Sioux retaliated or offered resistance when they came under attack.

About 156 prisoners were taken into custody, mostly women and children and brought to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. There, in November, 1863, Sam Brown, an interpreter sent a correspondence to his father about the incident at Whitestone Hill:

I hope you will not believe all that is said of “Sully’s Successful Expedition,” against the Sioux. I don’t think he aught to brag of it at all, because it was, what no decent man would have done, he pitched into their camp and just slaughtered them, worse a great deal than what the Indians did in 1862, he killed very few men and took no hostile ones prisoners…and now he returns saying that we need fear no more, for he has “wiped out all hostile Indians from Dakota.” If he had killed men instead of women & children, then it would have been a success, and the worse of it, they had no hostile intention whatever, the Nebraska 2nd pitched into them without orders, while the Iowa 6th were shaking hands with them on one side, they even shot their own men.[3]

Some winter counts mention the Sioux Uprising of 1862, much less the incident at Whitestone Hill. Colonel Garrick Mallory, an ethnologist employed by the US Army to study the Plains Indian sign language after the Civil War, suggests that the Sioux’s reluctance to record the history of the consequence of the Uprising (the Sibley and Sully campaigns of 1863) are the reason for choosing to not remember those military campaigns. Here are some entries in around the time of the Uprising of 1862 and the Whitestone Hill incident of 1863:

Anderson Winter Count[4]
1862-1863: Plenty buffalo that winter.
1863-1864: Red Feather, an Assiniboine Sioux, was killed.
1864-1865: The Crow came that winter and killed eight.

No Ears Winter Count
1863: Eight were killed by the enemy.
1864: Four Crow were killed.
1865: Horses died off that winter.

Short Man Winter Count
1863: Eight were killed by the enemy.
1864: Four Crow were killed.
1865: Horses died off that winter.

Iron Crow Winter Count[5]
1863: He and his wife died.
1864: Two Face was hanged (note: Two Face was unjustly hanged by the US Army after he returned a captive white woman he rescued from his own people.)
1865: Many Deer made peace that winter (note: This is reference to a treaty signed at Fort Laramie in 1865, in which Colonel H. Maynadier officiated over. The colonel’s name sounded like “Many Deer” to the Lakota and so they called him thus).

Red Horse Owner’s Winter Count[6]
1863: They scalped a boy near the camp.
1864: They were fighting with the white man [in reference to the battles the year before].
1865: Many Deers made peace.

The Red Horse Owner Winter Count. 

Blue Thunder Winter Count[7]
1863: Big Brain died. 
1864: A man was our prisoner, he told us the truth, so we named him that. 
1865: Turtle Head was stabbed to death. 

Iron Shell Winter Count[8]
1863: Broken up dance. Many divisions of Sioux were camping together when suddenly they dispersed [in reference to the Whitestone Hill incident]. 
1864: Laugh-As-He-Lies-Down is burned. The interpreter named so, was patronizing a trading post, located on the south bank of the Platte River near the Oregon Trail, when the post burned down. The Cheyenne were suspected of starting the blaze. 
1865: Many Deer came to make a treaty. 

John K. Bear Winter Count[9]
1863: The Santee Dakota warred with the whites (in reference to the uprising the previous year). 
1864: They camped with the beaver along Stone Idol Creek (presently known as “Porcupine Creek). 
1865: The Santee were held captive in a village (in reference to the Sioux who were taken prisoner after the Sioux Uprising of 1862; they were brought to Crow Creek Indian Reservation before being relocated to Santee, Nebraska). 

American Horse Winter Count
1862-1863: The Crow scalped an Oglala boy alive. 
1863-1864: The Oglala and Mniconjou took the war path against the Crow and stole 300 Crow horses. The Crow followed them and killed eight of the Sioux war party. 
1864-1865: Bird, a white trader, went to Powder River to trade with the Cheyenne. They killed him and took his goods. 

Cloud Shield Winter Count[10]
1862-1863: Some Crow came to their camp and scalped a boy.
1863-1864: Eight Dakota were killed by the Crow. 
1864-1865: Bird, a white trader, was burned to death by the Cheyenne. 

Flame Winter Count
1862-1863: Red Plume kills an enemy. 
1863-1864: The Crow kill eight Sioux on the Yellowstone. 
1864-1865: Four Crow were caught stealing horses from the Sioux and were tortured to death. 

Lone Dog Winter Count
1862-1863: Red Feather, a Mniconjou, was killed. 
1863-1864: Eight Sioux were killed. This year, Sitting Bull fought General Sully in the Black Hills. The interpreter Lavary says that General Sully killed seven or eight Crow at The-Place-They-Shot-Deer, which is about 90 miles south-west of Fort Rice. Another interpreter, Mulligan, says that General Sully fought the Yanktonai and the Santee at the same place. [Maybe the interpreter meant “90 miles south-east of Fort Rice,” which would be roughly the distance to Whitestone Hill.]
1864-1865: The Dakota killed four Crow. 

Swan Winter Count[11]
1862-1863: A Mniconjou killed an Assiniboine named Red Feather. 
1863-1864: Eight Mniconjou killed by the Crow.
1864-1865: Four Crow killed by the Mniconjou. 

Big Missouri Winter Count[12]
1862: Death of Chief Turkey Leg. The Minnesota Uprising this year alarmed the Sioux throughout the West. The Santees had asked for new hunting grounds, as their old ones had been taken. Promised government supplies did not arrive, and they asked for food from a private store owner because they were hungry. The store owner, Nathan Myrick, said, “Let them eat grass.” Following this and a long series of deceptions, the angered Santees went on a rampage, killing Myrick and other settlers, and taking many white hostages. This was the war in which Secretary of the Interior, Caleb Smith, proclaimed that Indians should be regarded as “wards of the government,” no longer as independent nations. Here is the origin of the BIA’s “trust powers” doctrine. 
1863: In a battle with the Pawnee, the Sioux were badly defeated. Nine of the bravest Sioux warriors were killed. 
1864: This year nearly all the Sioux bands camped together. 
1865: The Omaha dance was brought to the Sioux. The typical headdress of the Omaha was the roach. 

Garnier Winter Count[13]
1862: A boy scalped.
1863: Eight were killed.
1864: Four Crow were killed. There was a massacre at Sand Creek (in reference to the campaign led by Colonel Chivington on Black Kettle’s friendly band of Cheyenne). 
1865: All the horses were killed. General Patrick Conner organized three columns of soldiers to begin a campaign into Powder River country from the Black Hills to the Bighorn Mountains. They had one order: “Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.” Conner builds a fort on the Powder River. Wagon trains began to cross the Powder River basin on their way to Montana gold fields. The Battle of Platte Ridge, July 24-26, 1865. The Cheyenne and Lakota lay siege on the most northern outpost of the US Army and succeed in killing all members of a platoon of cavalry who were sent out to meet a wagon train. 

Cranbrook Winter Count[14]
1862: Twenty Mandan were killed. 
1863: Winter of chasing foxes. 
1864: Return of a captured white girl to her parents. There is a record of two white women being released by their Dakota captors during this year. The Oglala captured Mrs. Fanny Kelly while she was on her way to California with her family. According to one version, her captors sold her Brings-Plenty, a Hunkpapa, who made her his wife. An army major sent a delegation of Blackfoot Sioux to buy her freedom. Her Indian husband refused to sell her so the rescue group took her at gunpoint. She was released at Fort Sully. By her own account, she was well treated. 
1865: Winter of lots of blood for food.

This image of Whitestone Hill was taken in 1918 on site. According to Red Bow, the confrontation actually took place south east of where the Whitestone Hill Conflict is currently designated.

While there are hundreds of other Sioux winter counts from which to draw, many overlap with the ones correlated in this paper, meaning that they reflect warfare with the Assiniboine, Crow, Mandan, or Pawnee as the case may be. This may reflect the cultural norm of recording only one’s triumphs rather than one’s failures as in the case of making personal exploit robes. Or as Mallory suggested that the Sioux simply did not want to record the consequences of the Uprising of 1862.

[1] Newspaper clipping from the Battle of Whitestone Hill Collection, SHSND.

[2] Page 96-98, Clair Jacobson, “Whitestone Hill: The Indians and the Battle,” Pine Tree Publishing, 1991.

[3] Sam J. Brown to Joseph R. Brown, November 13, 1863. Joseph Brown Papers (Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul).

[4], Anderson winter count (also called the Rosebud Winter Count). Accessed and downloaded January, 2003.

[5] The No Ears, Short Man, and Iron Crow winter counts appear in James R. Walker’s, “Lakota Society,” University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

[6] Joseph S. Karol, “Red Horse Owner’s Winter Count: The Oglala Sioux, 1786-1968,” Booster Publishing Co., Martin, SD, 1969.

[7] Blue Thunder is the author’s great-great-grandfather.

[8] The Iron Shell Winter Count appears in Royal Hassrick’s, “The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society,” University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

[9] The John K. Bear Winter Count appears in The Plains Anthropologist, Memoir 11, 1976.

[10] The American Horse and Cloud Shield winter counts appear in Garrick Mallory’s “Pictographs of the American Indians,” Government Printing Office, 1886.

[11] The Flame, Lone Dog, and Swan winter counts appear in Garrick Mallory’s “Pictographs of the American Indians,” Government Printing Office, 1886.

[12] The Big Missouri winter count can be found in Roberta Carheek Cheney’s “The Big Missouri Winter Count,” Naturegraph Publishers Inc., 1979.

[13] The Garnier winter count can be found at, which was downloaded November, 2003 by the author.

[14] The Cranbook winter count can be found in Alexis Praus’ “The Sioux: 1798-1922: A Dakota Winter Count,” Institutes of Science Bulletins 44, 1962.


  1. My great- great- grandfather, Siegmund Maria Rothhammer, was Hospital Steward for the 6th Iowa Cavalry during the Sully expedition of 1862,63,64. His letters to his wife about Whitestone Hill, written just days after, caution her against the fiction that was already being reported about the attack. His journal gives a very detailed, yet second hand account of the 'battle', "from the most reliable accounts", as Rothhammer was in the rear with the hospital wagon. The University of North Dakota has the original journal.

  2. Your blog was especially poignant to me during the recent DAPL protest. Thanks for writing this.