Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Origins Of The Cannonball Stones

A cannonball concretion near Sentinel Butte, ND. Photo by ND State.
Origin Of The Cannonball
How The Stone Is Formed

By Dakota Wind
Cannonball, N.D. (TFS) – Mníšoše (the “Water A-stir;” Missouri River) is perhaps as old as 80 million years. Before the Quaternary Ice Age, the river ran north and drained into Hudson Bay. Following that ice age, the river altered its course and flowed east and south. The Lakȟóta worldview perspective observes that over time, rivers and mountains change. The Lakȟóta worldview embraces change. Everything changes.

One of the Mníšoše tributaries, Íŋyaŋ IyÁ Wakpá (Talking Stone River; Cannonball River) is a natural landmark, known by the first nations for thousands of years, and later by explorers and traders like the Corps of Discovery, traders, and military expeditions.

The Cannonball River is known by many names. The Húŋkpapȟa and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna call it Íŋyaŋ IyÁ Wakpá, or Íŋyaŋwakaǧapi Wakpá (Stone Production [“Cannonball”] River), respectively. The Cheyenne call this same river É’ome’tá’á’e’t, in reference to the cannonball concretions. The Hidatsa know the Cannonball River as Aashihdia, which means Big River. The Mandan Indians, whose earliest historical record goes back to the Cannonball River, call it Pasąhxte’, meaning Big River.

The Mníšoše was known to the Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Dwellers On The Plains; Lakȟóta) as a dangerous river with a deadly undercurrent. Where tributaries converged with the Mníšoše, great wamníyomni (whirlpools) formed in the river. When the first nations crossed the Mníšoše they did so upstream of the wamníyomni. 

A Mandan Village by Karl Bodmer. In the image, Mandan women cross the Missouri River to tend to their gardens on the flood plain of the opposite shore. 

There are two explanations that explain the origin of the cannonball concretions. One mystical, a lesson in holding dear the mystery of creation; the other geological, telling us that these stones have a long history reaching back to a time before humans. In both explanations water is the key to their formation.

According to Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the wamníyomni at the confluence of the Mníšoše and Íŋyaŋ IyÁ Wakpá, where the energy of one river converged with the energy of another, is where the cannonball concretions were formed. The energy of the wamníyomni created the stones. Eagle contends that after the construction of Oáhe (Something-To-Stand-On; a “Foundation”) Dam, after the creation of Lake Oáhe, the wamníyomni at the confluence of Íŋyaŋ IyÁ Wakpá and Mníšoše, stopped producing the spherical cannonball stones.

Dr. Ray Wood sums up the disappearance of the cannonball concretions in his Prologue To Lewis And Clark, “the banks and valley of this stream once were home to uncounted spherical sandstone concretions that ranged from a few inches to several feet in diameter. Some of them indeed were the size of cannonballs. Today they have been carried away by curio hunters in such numbers that they are very rare.” 

Bluemle explains how the Missouri River once drained into Hudson Bay. Visit his amazing website explaining the geological history of the Great Plains:

John Bluemle Ph.D. (former State Geologist for the state of North Dakota) explains the cannonball stones’ process through cementation. The cannonball stones “form as a result of the selective deposition from water of cementing materials in the pores of the sediment,” and, “All the geologic formations in western North Dakota contain concretions and nodules of many sizes and shapes.” Bluemle states in his work The Face Of North Dakota, that “some concretions are nearly spherical, some long and tubular, and others have irregular shapes.” As the landscape erodes around the cemented concretions, the cannonball is revealed.

The cannonball is so important to the identity of North Dakota, that the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum features several cannonball concretions outside its east entrance.

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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