Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Warfare On The Northern Plains: Interpreting The Pictographic Bison Robe

The Pictographic Bison Robe, Peabody Museum.
Warfare On The Northern Plains
Painted Robe Reveals Battle
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Massachusetts has a spectacular collection of Lewis and Clark related artifacts in all the country. The artifacts have been determined to have been collected by the Corps of Discovery who gathered dresses, shirts, and various painted robes in 1804-1806, or by Lt. George Hutter in 1825-1826. In particular, both parties acquired a painted robe depicting conflict either with or against such tribes as the Sioux, Arikara, Hidatsa, and the Mandan.

Castle McLaughlin, Associate Curator of North American Ethnography, Peabody Museum at Harvard, carefully researched the “Pictographic Bison Robe” and has concluded that the robe is likely to have been collected by Hutter, not the Corps of Discovery. McLaughlin noted that another robe was collected by a Charles Wilson Peale in 1826, and that this robe was said to depict the Arikara War of 1823, the first American military campaign against Plains Indians. However, McLaughlin notes, “this is unlikely to be the Peabody robe, which does not depict Anglo-Americans.”[1]

In a telephone interview, McLaughlin offered an updated reflection about the painted bison robe, “The robe is likely to be Siouan in origin, and it was collected after the Corps of Discovery Expedition of 1804-06, maybe not by Hutter.” The Lewis and Clark Collection came to the Peabody Museum from more than one source and at different times.

There are about three major conflicts the Očhéti Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires, aka “The Great Sioux Nation”) participated in that fall within a thirty year window: a fight against enemy tribes in the 1790s, a conflict along the Grand River involving the Arikara and Ensign Pryor’s command in 1809, and the Arikara War of 1823.

Warfare At The Turn Of The Century
In the winter of 1794-95, the Dakota camped with the Mandan[2] perhaps to trade but the peace was short lived when a Mandan killed a Dakota with long hair and took his scalp,[3] however other winter counts recall that the Mandan killed a Crow instead, and that may be the case as White Bull recalled this particular conflict at Rawhide Butte.[4] The following year, the Mandan Chief Man-With-A-Hat became noted as a warrior[5], the Mandan knew this great leader by a different name in their own language, Shekek Shote (White Wolf).[6]

In summary, the Očhéti Šakówiŋ waged near continual warfare against such tribes as the Crow, Ponka, Assiniboine, Arikara, and Omaha. In particular, the Očhéti Šakówiŋ continued war against the Omaha until an epidemic of either smallpox or chickenpox struck the Lakȟóta in 1802.[7] The Omaha retaliated in a series of relentless attacks, but when the Lakȟóta recovered sufficiently, a warparty leader raised a pipe with a horsetail affixed to it and waved it over the people, a call to arms.[8] The Lakȟóta rallied together and launched an offensive that left seventy-five Omaha dead and fifty as prisoners.[9]

In 1803, there was one major battle of note, the Battle of Heart River. The northern Očhéti Šakówiŋ known then as Saúŋni, or simply as Saúŋ (White-Rubbed Shirts/Robes), who were made up of Huŋkphápȟa, Oóhenuŋpa, Sihásapa Lakȟóta in alliance with the Iháŋkthuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta[10] fought against the Assiniboine who were possibly allied with the Arikara who were then living at the mouth of Beaver Creek (south of present-day Bismarck, ND). [11]

Conflict At Grand River
A second possible interpretation of the Painted Bison Robe is of the 1808 conflict between Ensign Nathaniel Pryor’s command, the Saúŋ Lakȟóta, and the Arikara. This conflict has its roots in the Corps of Discovery’s visit a few years previous.

In 1804, the Arikara selected a leader, Arketarnarwhar, to descend the Missouri River with an escort provided by coterie from the Corps of Discovery who would escort and interpret his eventual meeting with President Thomas Jefferson back east. The Arikara leader never returned. Manuel Lisa, of the American Fur Company, was charged with delivering the missive of Arketarnarwhar’s death[12], which was found to be of natural causes.[13] The news was carried upriver in 1806 by two French trappers who in turn were detained by the Corps of Discovery on their return journey. The trappers having delivered the Corps news of civilization were dismissed.

When the corps passed by the Arikara villages going downstream they deliberately withheld news of their leader’s death, in fact, the Arikara didn’t hear word of Arketarnarwhar’s death until 1807.[14] The Arikara developed a hostility towards the United States thereafter, and harassed trappers and traders alike coming upriver, and actually halted Ensign Nathaniel Pryor’s expedition to return the Mandan Chief Shehek Shote to his people at Knife River in August 1808 with a war party of about 650 Arikara warriors.[15] Location: where the Grand River converges with the Missouri River near present-day Mobridge, SD.

The Saúŋ Lakȟóta, who had their own mixed history with the Corps of Discovery, were also present when the Arikara stopped the Pryor expedition. The Wapȟóštaŋ Ğí (Brown Hat) Winter Count records the event that a Huŋkphápȟa man named Red Shirt was killed.[16] No Ears recorded the year with the following text, “Ogle Luta on wan itkop ahi ktepi,” which translates a few ways, but essentially means that Red Shirt died in conflict.[17] Lone Dog’s pictograph indicates that Red Shirt died by two arrows[18].

It is possible that Oglé Lutá (Red Shirt), in the Lakȟóta tradition of great leaders, had a different name, Tȟatȟáŋka Sapá (Black Bull). It should be noted that in the Corps of Discovery’s encounter with the Thithúŋwan (Teton) along Bad River in 1804 ended when the Corps gifted a Lakȟóta leader, then Black Bufallo, a hat, a medal, and a red military coat.[19] Black Buffalo intervened on behalf of the Corps of Discovery when the Corps refused to pay a toll. Black Buffalo ordered the warriors to lower their bows. The Corps passed after throwing a twist of tobacco at the feet of the Lakȟóta.

The Arikara War of 1823
The third possibility is the Arikara War of 1823.

The Arikara War saw Colonel Henry Leavenworth ascend the Missouri River to defend the interests of the American Fur Company from the hostile aggression of the Arikara. Leavenworth led a command of six companies of the US Infantry, and an aggrieved William Ashley plus sixty men of the American Fur Company who were accompanied by about 750 Očhéti Šakówiŋ warriors.[20]

The Očhéti Šakówiŋ led the assault on the Arikara village at dawn on Aug. 9, 1823. The fighting consisted of an exchange of gunfire and hand-to-hand fighting until the Arikara retreated behind their stockade. The following morning Leavenworth ordered artillery to commence firing on the Arikara. The Arikara pressed for a cease-fire soon after and Leavenworth heard them out. Thirty Arikara were killed by the artillery in addition to the fifteen from the previous day’s fighting.[21]

Leavenworth negotiated peace with the Arikara. Unbeknownst to Leavenworth, the Arikara were preparing to abandon their village that very night. The peace talks were likely a diversion while the village made ready. The Arikara left that night under Leavenworth’s sleepy watch. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ warriors were anticipating a fight in which they’d get many war honors, but were ultimately disgusted with Leavenworth’s decision to treat with the Arikara. The Očhéti Šakówiŋ raided the Arikara cornfields. Ashley was also disgusted with Leavenworth in that the entire Arikara village wasn’t destroyed.

The Lakȟóta remember the Arikara War of 1823 as “The year of much dried corn.[22]” Many winter counts depict stalks of corn to remember 1823 and frequently reference conflict with the Arikara. It is interesting to note that while Leavenworth organized this punitive campaign against a Plains Indian tribe, and referred to his command, including the Očhéti Šakówiŋ, as the Missouri Legion, that three winter count pictographs actually mentions Leavenworth, his soldiers, or the trappers in his command.

The Swan winter count recalls 1823 as “US troops fought Ree Indians.[23]” The 1823 entry on The Flame winter count is “White and Dakotas fought Rees.” Cloud Shield reveals a little more, “They joined the whites on an expedition up the Missouri River against the Rees.” Lone Dog’s entry says, “White soldiers made their first appearance in the region.” Lone Dog does not mention the Corps of Discovery as his people, the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta were stealing horses from the Crow in 1804. Had this band of Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna been at Bad River in 1804, they certainly would have recorded white soldiers ascending the river as Blue Thunder,[24] also an Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna, did.

The battle depicted on the Pictographic Bison Robe could represent the Arikara War of 1823. Because it does not include the representation of white soldiers or trappers does not mean without certainty that it isn’t. Why would it? The Očhéti Šakówiŋ did the actual fighting. The robe depicts warriors fighting warriors. Leavenworth refrained from ordering his infantry to engage in the fighting, but was still involved in the fight through use of his artillery.

Ken Woody (St. Regis Mohawk), Chief of Interpretation, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, reproduced the Pictographic Bison Robe for the National Forest Service’s Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Great Falls, MT. According to Woody, who examined the original, the green quills on the ends of the quilled strip are in fact bird quills. The Mandan and Hidatsa were well known for their quillwork involving the use of bird quills. The feathers would have been collected from sea gulls which came north in the summer to North Dakota. The feathers were stripped and treated for use in quillwork.[25] “The only thing on the robe which would hint of a Mandan or Hidatsa origin is the bird quills for the quilled strip, although if I remember right, most were porcupine quills and only the green quills at the beginning and end were bird quills,” remarked Woody.

It is entirely possible that the Pictographic Bison Robe represents other conflicts not recorded in winter counts or remembered in surviving oral tradition. There seems to be only one certain thing, that the robe was painted before George Catlin and Karl Bodmer for their visits among the first nations of the Upper Great Plains in the 1830s left such an impression with their art, that simple form pictography was transformed with elaborate flourish and became the high plains pictographic art of the middle nineteenth century.

Endnotes:[1] McLaughlin, Castle, Arts Of Diplomacy: Lewis & Clark’s Indian Collection, University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 2003.
[2] The Rosebud Winter Count.
[3] White Cow Killer Winter Count.
[4] White Bull, Chief Joseph (translated and edited by James H. Howard), The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, University of Nebraska Press, London, 1968.
[5] The Flame Winter Count.
[6] The Big Missouri Winter Count. It becomes clear who The-Man-With-The-Hat is when Big Missouri mention that a Mandan chief descended the Missouri River in 1806 with some white men to go meet the Great White Father.
[7] Pp. 130-146, Howard, James H., Fourth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of American Ethnology, Washington DC, Smithsonian, 1886.
[8] The Blue Thunder Winter Count, State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND.
[9] Clark, Capt. William, journal, Sept. 25, 1804.
[10] The John K. Bear Winter Count, 1803.
[11] Pp. 20-58, Howard, James H., Yanktonai Ethnohistory And The John K. Bear Winter Count, Plains Anthropologist: Journal Of The Plains Conference, Memoir 11, 1976.
[12] Page 306, Jackson, Donald C., Journey To The Mandans, 1809: The Lost Narrative Of Dr. Thomas,” Missouri Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 3, April, 1964.
[13] Pp. 5-7, Innis, Ben, Bloody Knife: Custer’s Favorite Scout, Smoky Water Press, Bismarck, ND. 1994.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Page 144, Potter, Tracy, Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat, Farcountry Press, Fort Mandan Press, Washburn, ND, 2003.
[16] The Brown Hat (Baptiste Good) Winter Count.
[17] No Ears Winter Count.
[18] Lone Dog Winter Count.
[19] Page 169, Ambrose, Stephen, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Long Soldier Winter Count, Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, ND.
[23] The Swan Winter Count, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC. The Swan Winter Count,
[24] Blue Thunder Winter Count, State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND.
[25] Woody, Ken, discussion with author, Nov. 26, 2014.