Making a Northern Cheyenne Tipi

Making a Northern Cheyenne Tipi

These women came to the Vore Jump from Lame Deer, Montana, to make a tipi on site, in the old ways they had learned. From left: Tee Jay Littlewolf, Lori Killsontop, Larie Clown, Rebekah Threefingers, Maria Russell, Jodi Waters; kneeling is Victoria Haugen.

These women came to the Vore Jump from Lame Deer, Montana, to make a tipi on site, in the old ways they had learned. From left: Tee Jay Littlewolf, Lori Killsontop, Larie Clown, Rebekah Threefingers, Maria Russell, Jodi Waters; kneeling is Victoria Haugen.

A special event took place at the Vore Buffalo Jump site in 2014 when the Foundation Board decided they wanted a tipi. Not just any tipi, but a fully authentic one. And the buffalo hides had to be tanned in just the way women tanned them and sewed them together long before they had horses.

They hold high standards. Vore Buffalo Jump leaders have tried to adopt and use ancient Native American methods and authentic Native tools in their work when possible.

 That meant the tipi had to be small enough and light enough to be hauled by one or two dogs. So why not find Native women to do it?

They soon discovered that the well-known expert in the art was closer than they imagined. The ancient technique was being taught at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana—not so  far away. And a class of Northern Cheyenne women in the college was studying just that.

Seven Cheyenne women agreed to come and make the tipi in the old way on the Wyoming site.

The last tipi made by the Northern Cheyenne was around 1877—when herds of buffalo were on the verge of extinction and reservations were being established. 

They said they’d be delighted to come, tan the hides and make the proper kind of tipi needed..

 In fact, for these women it would be “A dream fulfilled!”

The women who came were Larie Clown, Victoria Haugen, Lori Killsontop, Tee Jay Littlewolf, Maria Russell, Rebekah Threefingers and Jodi Waters.

The new tipi found a home in the big building down in the sinkhole. Note tipis pulled by dog travois were smaller than later when they had horses to haul their belongings. This tipi weighed about 90 pounds so would probably be pulled by two dogs.

The new tipi found a home in the big building down in the sinkhole. Note tipis pulled by dog travois were smaller than later when they had horses to haul their belongings. This tipi weighed about 90 pounds so would probably be pulled by two dogs.

The morning of June 11, the women began the task of tanning the first buffalo hide. They needed five buffalo hides for a complete tipi.

The morning of June 11, the women began the task of tanning the first buffalo hide. They needed five buffalo hides for a complete tipi.

The hide was laced onto a frame so the women could use buffalo leg bone fleshers to remove fat and meat from the skin. After the hide had dried and become stiffer rawhide, the hair (wool) was scraped off using an elk horn scraper.

 In an article he wrote for the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation Gene Gade, then president, wrote that few tasks were more labor intensive—or necessary—than processing the skins of buffalo and other animals into tanned leather and then using it to produce all kinds of essential products including clothing, tipi covers, moccasins, storage bags and many other items.

 It was a time‐consuming job, performed almost entirely by women.

 All tribes in the region were using some form of “brain tanning” by the time the Vore Site was used. It’s a technique that early people throughout the world discovered, in one variation or another. He explains that without this treatment the hides would have quickly become rancid and start to decompose.

 The brain contains oil called lecithin that becomes a natural tanning agent to lubricate the skin. If you intend to make the hide into a blanket or warm winter coat, only one side of the hide needs to be scraped, because the hair doesn’t have to be removed. The hair was left on and the hide left to dry, stretched and taut.

But if you plan to make a tipi cover or use it as leather, all the hair must be removed. Soaking it in water up to three days, loosens the hair and raises and softens the grain layer of the hide..

Because brains “mix oil and water,” they form a stabilized emulsion on the hide. Nearly all buffalo skulls at the Vore site, Gage said, have been bashed open to remove the brain for hide tanning purposes.

The next day the rawhide was soaked in water to make it more pliable and buffalo brains were rubbed into the hide.

The next day the rawhide was soaked in water to make it more pliable and buffalo brains were rubbed into the hide.

The first priority after a buffalo jump that killed many buffalo was to process the tons of meat that would otherwise spoil quickly. Hides were usually tied in bundles and set aside or soaked in water while the meat was being dried and preserved.

 Then the arduous process of “Soak and Scrape, Soak and Scrape!” began, says Gage. After first soaking and cleaning, the next critical step was to thoroughly scrape away any flesh, fat, muscle or connective tissue from the hide—a job the women usually did on their knees.

After brains had time to soak into the skin, holes were made in the hide, and it was laced onto a frame using sinew.  The hide was pushed and staked to stretch the fibers so the skin would be soft and not stiff when completely dried.

After brains had time to soak into the skin, holes were made in the hide, and it was laced onto a frame using sinew. The hide was pushed and staked to stretch the fibers so the skin would be soft and not stiff when completely dried.

After working the skin for hours on the frame, the hide was unlaced and another technique stretched the hide: the hide was used to toss youngsters into the air. Such a sport was enjoyed a century earlier.

As a child sat in the center of the robe, those holding the edges of the hide pulled in unison to send the child up into the air. After a dozen tosses, another child got a turn. This unique method stretched the hide and thrilled the children!

The Cheyenne group returned in August to sew the hides together in a half circle, which took three days. The sewing involved poking holes with an awl, and the hides were sewn together at their edges using sinew as thread.

The Cheyenne group returned in August to sew the hides together in a half circle, which took three days. The sewing involved poking holes with an awl, and the hides were sewn together at their edges using sinew as thread.

The students then used sinew to stitch five hides together to construct the tipi. Their one concession to modern times was the use of metal needles. Sewing the hides together took three days.

Lodgepole pines were cut and peeled, chokecherry lacing pins carved and a buffalo hide tying robe braided to complete the tipi.

Lodgepole pines were cut and peeled, chokecherry lacing pins carved and a buffalo hide tying robe braided to complete the tipi.

On the morning of the dedication, the tipi was traditionally honored by having military veterans walk barefoot across the tipi cover while an honoring song was sung. Cheyenne elders spoke about the importance of this tipi.

The women next set up the pole framework, wrapped the hide cover around the poles, pinned the right and left sides together and inserted smoke flap poles. 

 Alan Blackwolf, Keeper of the Northern Cheyenne Sacred Buffalo Hat, then smudged the tipi.

 Accompanied by drumming and singing by two Cheyenne elders, the group danced in a circle to a Friendship Dance.

For the Northern Cheyenne women, they had accomplished their mission. They were happy and proud of what they had done— ‘A Dream fulfilled!”

Buffalo hides, travel and refreshments had been rather costly. But the Vore Foundation Directors had been able to get grant funds and donations together to do it right.

 So the tipi was constructed on site by students as planned, accompanied by an instructor from Chief Dull Knife College under the guidance of Larry Belitz, one of the few experts in the art.

“To bring this long-sought dream into reality required the effort of the Cheyenne workers, Larry Belitz who directed the tipi-making, and behind-the-scene work of Vore Buffalo Jump Board of Directors,” said Jackie Wyatt of the VBJF, who lives in Sundance WY.

In a closing ceremony, visitors and local people joined hands around the new tipi for a prayer and friendship dance

In a closing ceremony, visitors and local people joined hands around the new tipi for a prayer and friendship dance

This kind of tipi—made with five buffalo hides—was used by Plains tribes before they had horses. Once the Plains hunters obtained horses, their tipis could become much larger. This one weighs about 90 pounds so it likely would have taken two dogs to pull the travois.

 When finished, the new tipi found a home in the large research building down in the Vore sinkhole, where it now provides inspiration to researchers and volunteers as they work to excavate new layers of bones and develop new educational panels.

 Funding for the project came from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, the Wyoming Humanities Council, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and donations.  Photos credit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation. See also “The Ancient and Arduous Art of Brain Tanning Buffalo Hides” by Gene Gade.

 

NEXT: STUDIES FOR SCHOOLS
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________________________________________________________________

 

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Join Us in Celebrating National Bison Day!

Join Us in Celebrating National Bison Day!

Photo from NationalDaysToday.com.

First, we have a buffalo story that you can tell your children and friends to celebrate National Bison Day!

Traditional storytellers believe that old stories are best told in the Native language and to listeners who understand their culture.

They say an amusing story is “not as funny” in English. Much of the spirit, humor and excitement gets lost in translation.

Often the venerable grandmother with a twinkle in her eye entertained with hilarious tales about coyote tricksters and other mischief.

This story may have been told just for fun with its twists, turns and surprises, by a grandmother to a giggling circle of attentive children seated around her.

Buffalo was largest and strongest of all. He was hungry and wanted to be chief—the grandest of all animals and people. So he challenged the Native People to a race. Photo credit Chris Hull, SD Game Fish Parks.

Race Between Buffalo and the People

Many years ago all the animals lived in peace. No one ate anyone else. All the animals were the same color, because they had not yet painted their faces.

Buffalo was the biggest of the animals and he was getting hungry.

He wanted to be chief of all the animals and to draw strength from all the other animals by eating their flesh. Buffalo wanted to become the grandest of all the animals.

He said he deserved this as the largest and strongest of all.

But the Native People disagreed. They wanted to pull strength from the other animals and become the most important.

So buffalo challenged the Human People to a race. The winner would become chief of all the animals.

The People said they would accept this challenge, but since buffaloes have four legs and People have only two, the Native People claimed the right to have another animal run the race in their place.

The buffaloes consented.

In this story the Buffalo challenged the Native People into a race. The winner would become chief of all animals and could eat all others. Photo CH SDGFP.

The People chose Bird People to represent them in the race. They selected Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk and Magpie.

All the other animals and birds wanted to join the race, too, each of them thinking that just maybe they too had a chance to become chief of all the animals.

All the animals took paint and painted their faces for the race, each according to his or her spiritual vision.

Skunk painted a white stripe on himself as his symbol for the race.

Antelope painted himself the color of the earth. Raccoon painted black circles around his eyes and around his tail. Robin painted herself brown with a red breastplate for the race.

The race was to be held at the edge of the Black Hills at the place known as Buffalo Gap.

The competitors would race from the starting line sticks to the turn-around stick and then back to the starting line.

All the animals, painted according to their vision, lined up between the sticks.

Among the animals were the Bird People—Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk and Magpie—who would run the race with their wings for the Human People, and Runs Slender Buffalo, the fastest runner of all the buffalo.

The cry was given to begin and all the animals and birds burst from the starter stick.

Hummingbird took the lead, ahead of Runs Slender Buffalo, but his wings were so small that he soon fell behind.

As the animals neared the turn-around stick, Runs Slender Buffalo took the lead. Then Meadowlark came up beside Runs Slender Buffalo, and the two went along side by side right into the turn.

Runs Slender Buffalo wheeled around the stick, his hooves thundering, and he pulled away from Meadowlark, who flew wide to make the turn.

The animals in the lead passed the late runners who were still headed for the stick.

Meadowlark fell behind and cheered on Hawk as he passed her.

Hawk gained on Run Slender Buffalo, and it looked like she might pass him. His heart was pounding and his legs were tiring. But Hawk’s wings were tiring also, and she soon fell behind.

Runs Slender Buffalo was nearing the finish line as the winner.

It looked like the Buffalo would become eaters of all the other animals!

Then, behind the Buffalo, wings beating steadily, came Magpie. She was not a quick starter, but her wingbeats were hard and true. Her heart was strong. Her eyes did not wander from the finish line.

She never looked back. Her wings were wide and she drove herself forward with beat after beat after beat.

All the other animals had fallen behind. Runs Slender Buffalo looked over at the magpie, but Magpie never looked away from the starting sticks.

With each beat of her wings she moved past Runs Slender Buffalo by no more than the length of her bill.

At the starting sticks, many animals began to line up to watch the finish.

Raccoon, who had fallen out of the race early, had returned to the starting sticks.

Now he stood up between the sticks and put out his little hands for the runners to touch as they passed. He would feel the touch of whoever was in the lead, and turn toward the winner.

Closer and closer came Runs Slender Buffalo and some of the animals feared Raccoon would be trampled.

Magpie gradually flew nearer to the ground so she could brush Raccoon’s little hands as she flew past. Raccoon did not move, but stared straight at the onrushing pair.

Magpie seemed to be pulling ahead. Runs Slender Buffalo leaned forward as he ran to touch Raccoon’s hand with his great nose.

But Magpie’s wingtip touched Raccoon’s little hand and he turned toward her an instant before Runs Slender Buffalo thundered past, surrounded by a great cloud of dust. All the animals waited breathlessly for the dust to settle.

At last, there stood Raccoon with his little hand raised toward the path of Magpie.

The Human People had won the race!

Thus, the Native People became great hunters and chief of all animals. They feasted on buffalo meat while the Buffalo wandered the great plains eating grass and chewing their cud.

But the Native People never ate the Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk or Magpie, who had befriended them and won the race for them!
(http://www.ilhawaii.net/~stony/lore122.html )

“They took care of us when we needed them; now it’s our turn to take care of them!” say many Native Americans. Photo CH SDGFP.

The Magnificent Buffalo

You see them everywhere—on coins, on sports team logos, on T-shirts and a couple of state flags.

No, we’re not talking about the bald eagle. This honor is reserved for North American bison.

On National Bison Day, November 5, an annual event that falls on the first Saturday in November, all Americans should reflect on the impact bison have as a part of our environmental and cultural heritage.

Bison are especially revered by Native People—for thousands of years central to their survival as both food and spiritual inspiration.

Today many Native Americans say, “They took care of us when we needed them; now it’s our turn to take care of them!”

The American Bison was officially named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016, after a unanimous bipartisan vote in the US Congress. This majestic animal joins the ranks of the Bald Eagle as the official symbol of our country—and much like the eagle, it’s one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time.

In prehistoric times, millions of bison roamed North America—from the forests of Alaska and the grasslands of Mexico to Nevada’s Great Basin and the eastern Appalachian Mountains.

Millions of buffalo roamed North America. However, even in stampede they never crowded together quite as tightly as imagined in this ‘Eye-Witness Account,’ drawn by M S Garretson. They’d have been shredded by heavy, sharp horns on every side. Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society, Dave A Dary, The Buffalo Book.

But by the late 1800s, there were only a few hundred bison left in the United States after European settlers pushed west, reducing the animal’s habitat and hunting the bison to near extinction.

With powerful newly-developed guns the still hunt was deadly. The hunter made a stand from a point above the herd, bracing his rifle. The secret was to shoot leaders that tried to escape, while other buffalo milled around in confusion until all were slaughtered. Hides were stripped off and the meat left to rot across the plains. Sketch by JH Moser from William Hornaday’s ‘The Extermination of the American Bison.’

Had it not been for a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, the bison would be extinct today.

What to do on National Bison Day!

Celebrated on the first Saturday in November. This day is observed to honor the majestic beasts of the United States.

1.Tell buffalo stories to your family, your friends, at the Senior Center, your office or on the Radio or TV. Everyone enjoys a buffalo story.

2.Visit a national park, or a nearby buffalo herd. You may not be able to get to a large national park like Yellowstone, but every state and Canadian province has a buffalo herd or two—or more. There are a vast number of parks from which to choose, and many have buffalo. So get acquainted and ENJOY watching live buffalo.

Every state and Canadian province has a buffalo herd—or several. Give your children the opportunity to experience the wonder of our latest national icon—the Bison. Photo the large Johnson herd near Shadehill in South Dakota.

Just be careful and don’t get too close! Seventy-five feet away is recommended—and stand by something solid so—just in case—you can dodge behind it!

Give your children a chance to experience the wonder of our latest national icon—the Bison or Buffalo. Imagine what it must have been like to see thousands of them freely roaming the plains!

3. Wear a buffalo T-shirt. It won’t be hard to find a T-shirt that shows your love of bison. Wear it proudly because we only have one national mammal. It’s a majestic symbol to wear—or maybe a cute bison cartoon.

4. Many groups use this day to raise funds in support of bison. You can help.

5 Reasons We Love Our Bison

1. Watch that tail
​If a bison’s tail is hanging down and moves naturally from side to side, the animal is relaxed. But when the tail stands straight up, it’s a signal the buffalo is getting ready to charge. Too late to run!

2. They’ve got skills
​Given their size as the largest mammals in North America, bison are surprisingly agile with an ability to swim well, jump up to six feet, spin on a dime (pivoting from their front legs, not the rear as do most animals) and run between 35 and 40 mph.

3. They’re oldies but goodies
Bison have always roamed in Yellowstone National Park as evidenced by prehistoric fossils found in modern times. But they were once cut down to about 24 head and replenished by buffalo from various sources.

4. Throw a stone—hit a bison
Herds of bison can be found in all 50 states.

5. Bison as symbols
The American bison is not only the country’s official mammal. It is also the state mammal of Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas. And yes, buffalo are found on coins, belt buckles, flags and jewelry!

Why National Bison Day is Important

Bison are our national mammal. Here are a few interesting facts about the Bison:

  • Bison is North America’s largest land mammal
  • Bison have a lifespan of 20 or more years
  • The male Bison can grow up to 6 feet tall and weigh nearly 2000 pounds
  • The female Bison grows up to 5 feet tall and weighs 1000 pounds
  • Calves have a reddish coat at birth and are nicknamed “red dogs”z

Calves are cinnamon colored for the first three months, then nubbins of horns and a hump begins to grow and gradually they turn dark like their moms. Mothers are very attentive and keep their calves close by. Photo CH SDGFP.

  • Fully-grown Bison will have shaggy coats that are dark brown to black
  • Bison have a strong sense of hearing and smell but poor eyesight; However because they have an eye on each side of their head and can’t focus sharply, they have good peripheral vision to keep track of what’s behind
  • The Bison’s hump is a composition of long vertebrae that support the muscle allowing it to plow through snow
  • Fossil accounts reveal that Bison has been a native continuously to Yellowstone since the prehistoric period
  • Bison can run up to 35 to 40 mph i.e., as fast as a horse. They can ‘spin on a dime,’ pivot quickly and jump high fences
  • The Bison tail displays its mood. If it’s hanging down and swinging naturally, the bison is calm. If its tail is straight up, run for your lives

History of National Bison Day

National Bison Day was initiated in 2012 by conservationists and Native Americans with their concern for the American Bison. The resolution was headed by Sen. Michael Enzi and Sen. Joe Donnelly and co-sponsored by a mix of other senators.

It took 4 years, but Congress passed the National Bison Legacy Act in April 2016 with unanimous support. They set the first Saturday in November as National Bison Day. 

This brought together the Vote Bison Coalition consisting of more than 50 Indian tribes, businesses, and organizations led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, National Bison Association, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Both Native and Non-native bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison.

The American Bison, also commonly known as the American buffalo, once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds, and became nearly extinct.

The bison are considered a historical symbol of the United States and were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes through their culture, trade and sacred ceremonies.

Bison are also known to play an important role in improving soil and creating beneficial habitat while holding significant economic value for private producers and rural communities. 

The buffalo were saved from extinction by a very few individuals. Five family groups—three with Native American roots—deserve the credit. If they hadn’t acted in the way they did—rescuing buffalo calves, mothering them up with cows and growing their own herds—we’d have no buffalo today! Photo by Jim Strand.

Who really Saved the Buffalo?

Amazingly, saving the buffalo was in the hands of a very few individuals. All were western ranchers who also hunted buffalo. Five family groups in the US and Canada get our praise and international credit for saving the buffalo from extinction.

Three of the families had Native American roots. If they hadn’t acted in the way they did—to save individual buffalo calves, mother them up with domestic cows and grow their own herds—we’d have no buffalo today!

It is true that many groups stepped in to make permanent homes for the buffalo in parks, refuges and tribal herds, after local herds began thriving. We also honor them for their important follow-up work.

But let us never forget that it was the people who knew buffalo best—those Westerners with moccasins and boots on the ground—who rescued and fed fragile orphan calves, nourished them and grew them into viable herds and cared for them—who did the critical rescue work that saved the species!

The Native American families were Pete Dupree in South Dakota, whose mother was Lakota Sioux, who grew his herd to 83 head until his death—and his herd purchasers Scotty Philip who also had a Native American wife. James McKay, a Metis from near Winnipeg. And the Native hunter who travelled from the Flathead reservation east across the Continental Divide in Montana to hunt buffalo with Blackfoot friends and brought back 4 live buffalo calves which grew into a herd of 13. (Some say this young hunter was Sam Walking Coyote; but others say Walking Coyote was the sneaky stepfather who sold the herd without the young hunter’s permission for $2,000.)

Charles Goodnight, cattle rancher from Texas and CJ “Buffalo” Jones of Kansas were the other two who first hunted buffalo, and then turned to their rescue.

Amazingly, saving the buffalo was achieved by a very few individuals. All were Western ranchers who also hunted buffalo. Three of the five family groups had Native American roots. Photo CH SDGFP.

  • Amazingly, saving the buffalo was in the hands of a very few individuals. All were western ranchers who also hunted buffalo. Five family groups in the US and Canada get our praise and international credit for saving the buffalo from extinction.
  • Three of the families had Native American roots. If they hadn’t acted in the way they did—to save individual buffalo calves, mother them up with domestic cows and grow their own herds—we’d have no buffalo today!
  • It is true that many groups stepped in to make permanent homes for the buffalo in parks, refuges and tribal herds, after local herds began thriving. We also honor those people for their important follow-up work.
  • The Native American families were Pete Dupree in South Dakota, whose mother was Lakota Sioux, who grew his herd to 83 head until his death—and his herd purchaser Scotty Philip who also had a Native American wife. Jaimes McKay, a Metis from near Winnipeg, and Walking Coyote or a young hunter from the Flathead reservation west of the Continental Divide in Montana.
  • Charles Goodnight, cattle rancher from Texas and CJ “Buffalo” Jones of Kansas were the other two who first hunted buffalo, and then worked to save them.

A buffalo cow may weigh 1,000 pounds; while the bull might weigh twice as much, or up to 2,000 pounds! In the US we use the terms Bison and Buffalo interchangeably. CH SDGFP.

What should we call them—‘Bison or Buffalo?’

 Bison, Bison, Bison!” admonish our European friends.

But just a minute! Yes, scientifically speaking our buffalo are named Bison. We know that. Of course.

Scientific names also apply to Equine, Bovine and Canine—that’s fine between scientists and veterinarians. But in conversation, we don’t call them that, do we? So let’s not get hung up on this technicality.

In the US we use the terms Bison and Buffalo interchangeably—and it’s OK.

Use whichever you like. But note it’s National Geographic usage; American dictionaries, most Westerners and certainly Native Americans prefer to use the term Buffalo, unless they’re saying it in their Native language.

Here in the west—and certainly all across America—we have towns and creeks and hills named after the buffalo.

In the county next to us we have two towns, ‘Bison’ and ‘Buffalo.’ Which is the more correct and more important? It’s a toss-up. The people there don’t seem to care. I think they are happy to share the honor.

‘Buffalo’ was a term first used in America in 1625. ‘Bison’ was documented here after 150 years later—in 1774.

The word ‘Buffalo’ actually came from early French fur traders and trappers who called the animals ‘les boeufs,’ a Greek word for ‘the beeves’ meaning oxen or bullocks. In that context both names, ‘bison’ and ‘buffalo’ have a similar meaning.

‘Buffalo’ even has a verb form—‘to buffalo,’ meaning to overawe or bewilder.

British friends say we are confused. I don’t think so.

Confusion is not really the issue. Neither is science—we understand and accept the science.

The thing is, we just like our buffalo. And we like to call them that. It fits.

William T. Hornaday, that great historian of the species, was good-humored about it. He called the animals ‘Bison’ in his own writings. Nevertheless, he wrote in 1889:

“The fact that more than 60 million people in this country unite in calling him a buffalo, and know him by no other name, renders it quite unnecessary to apologize for following a harmless custom which has now become so universal—that all the naturalists in the world could not change it if they would!”

Even more important to us: the word ‘Buffalo” rolls off the tongue in a friendlier, more comfortable way. ‘Buffalo’ fits these majestic, stoic and powerful beasts.

 ‘Bison’ doesn’t do that—it’s kind of a sissy word (unless you give it a ‘Z’ sound as do NDSU Bison football fans).

 

Curled 2-finger salute of North Dakota State Bison football fans—at upper left—denotes curved horns of a prized bison head. Fans also go hoarse shouting, ‘Go Bizon!’—Emphasis on the ‘Z’ to celebrate their football dominance. Photo by Mike Stone, OregonLive.

‘Bison’ sets barriers and keeps a cool distance between us and these beloved animals.

I think Professor Dale F Lott, University of California, said it best. He’s a scientist who grew up in the shadow of buffalo. He’s not confused about anything–most especially his beloved buffalo!

Born on Montana’s National Bison Range, where his grandfather was the Superintendent, Lott grew up watching buffalo on the hills every day. His father, from a nearby ranch, worked on the Bison Range. He had married the boss’s daughter.

Professor Lott, who in my opinion surely loved and understood the buffalo as much, if not more, than any other scientist who wrote of them, explains why he uses both terms interchangeably.

“I’ve given a lot of thought to whether I should call my protagonist ‘bison’ or ‘buffalo,’” he explains in the preface to his book: ‘American Bison: A Natural History.’

 “I decided to use both names. My scientist side is drawn to ‘bison.’ It is scientifically correct and places the animal precisely among the world’s mammals.

“Yet the side of me that grew up American is drawn to ‘buffalo’—the name by which most Americans have long known it.

“’Buffalo’ honors its long, intense and dramatic relationship with the peoples of North America.”

Lott drops the discussion there. Enough said.

: According to all accounts Indian buffalo hunting horses were better trained for the job than those of white hunters, reported William Hornaday, our first great buffalo historian, in 1889. Painting of scouts by CM Russell, Amon Carter Museum.

So, when it all shakes out, what should we call them? These majestic, magnificent creatures of the Plains and Prairies?

My answer is this: Call them whatever you like, the term with which you are most comfortable—or use both interchangeably, as does Professor Lott.

Maybe ‘Buffalo when you’re with friends; ‘Bison’ when you’re with scientists.

Or just ‘Buffalo.’ Whichever feels right to you. But as Hornaday suggests, don’t apologize.

It’s a mistake for Americans to think we ‘should’ call our own Greatest Mammal whatever others tell us we ‘should.’

We can say, cheerfully, with a smile, no trace of rancor, “No, I don’t think so!”

To many of us, they are simply ‘buffalo.’

It fits. We know them well!

This is the name that honors the majestic animal itself.

Because it’s true: ‘Buffalo’ celebrates that “long, intense and dramatic relationship” they have with the Native people and settlers of North America.

And that’s the issue.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Stories of Origin

Stories of Origin

For thousands of years buffalo were honored by Native Americans of the Plains in story, song, dance and ceremonials. They lived together in harmony, interconnected physically and spiritually. Photo NPS, J Schmidt.

The buffalo is celebrated as sacred by the Plains Indians in stories, songs, dances, artwork and religious symbols and ceremonials.

For thousands of years buffalo were intimately connected with the Indian culture, both physically and spiritually.

They were considered as relatives who protect the people and deserve protection and gratitude in return. As brothers and sisters, they lived together in harmony.

In traditional Plains belief, buffalo gave themselves up willingly as food for Native people, and furnished many other gifts as well.

Daily the people thanked the buffalo and prayed for them to continue helping them survive.

Storytelling an Art

Storytelling was an art. The people recognized certain restrictions and taboos. Some stories were passed down by a certain medicine man—and he alone was allowed to tell them.

Telling stories was an art and an important way of passing down religious beliefs, history and tribal culture. The same traditions in several variations might be told by storytellers from different tribes, especially if they shared kinship or traded with each other.

Restrictions and taboos applied. Certain stories were passed down to a specific medicine man, and he alone was allowed to tell them. Traditional beliefs were taught at a grandmother’s knee—or by grandfathers.

 There were stories of the origin of buffalo—and people—the flood that covered the earth, the close connections of the people with the spirit world of their relatives—buffalo and other wildlife and birds.

 Other stories modeled good behavior such as kindness to the less fortunate and the generosity of every good hunter in sharing his game.

 Stories and traditions of Native people are told for different reasons—to teach, to entertain, to ridicule, to cause fear or laughter. All bring the knowledge of elders to younger generations.

 Traditional storytellers believe the old stories are best told in the native language and to listeners who understand their culture.

 They say an amusing story is “not as funny” in English. Much of the spirit, humor and excitement get lost in translation.

Not always did the traditional stories provide religious or cultural significance or even teach a lesson. Often the venerable grandmother, with a twinkle in her eye, entertained children with hilarious tales about coyote tricksters and other mischief.

Petroglyphs carved into rocks in Nebraska mark a notable place of religious ceremony. Photo Smithsonian.

Cave of Origin

The creation of humans and buffalo as emerging from a cave or hole in the ground is a traditional belief held by many Plains tribes.

For many Lakota that cave is Wind Cave in the southern Black Hills, one of the world’s longest caves. The pine-covered hills there are coursed throughout with large caves, interconnected through a network of tight honeycombed passages.

A Pawnee traditional belief tells of the beginning of the world from such a cave or hole.

Long ago all living things waited far underground. Great herds of buffalo lay there, all the people, antelope, wolves, deer, rabbits, and even the little bird that sang ‘tear-tear.’  They waited as if asleep.

One day Buffalo Woman awoke, stretched and began to walk slowly among the others touching them lightly. As she did they began to stir and stretch.

She headed toward an opening where she saw a great shining light and felt warmth streaming into the cave.

A young cow rose and followed her. Then came another buffalo and another and soon a great line was moving out of the opening into the bright, warm, grassy place that was the earth.

Next the people woke up and streamed out one by one, followed by all the other animals and even the small tear-tear bird flying toward the warming sun.

They spread out in all four directions toward the circling horizon. And the people knew they were in the right place, the place where they would live well, together with their relatives, the buffalo.

Stories and traditions of Native people are told for different reasons—to teach, to entertain, to bring the knowledge of elders to younger generations. Painting credit Howard Terpning.

Grandmother gives Magic Bowls of Meat

A traditional Cheyenne belief brought knowledge of how the sacred buffalo arrived on the Plains.

Long ago, a tribe of Cheyenne hunters camped near a spring at the head of a small rushing stream. Farther downstream the creek disappeared into a deep hole.

The people were starving and could find no food, not even a rabbit or a grouse.

One day the Chief called a council meeting. “We must explore the hole,” he said. “It may be dangerous, but we have brave hunters. Who will go?”

No one responded. Finally, one young brave painted himself for hunting and stepped up. “I will go and sacrifice myself for our people.”

He arrived at the hole, and to his surprise, he found two other Cheyenne hunters near the opening, where the stream rushed underground.

“Are you here to taunt me,” the young hunter asked. “Will you only pretend to jump when I do?”

“No, you are mistaken about us. We really do want to come into the hole with you,” they said.

They then joined hands and together jumped down into the opening. They fell into deep darkness. Finally their eyes began to adjust, and they discovered a door.

The first hunter knocked, but there was no response. He knocked again, louder.

“Who are you and what do you want, my brave ones?” asked an old Indian grandmother as she opened her door.

“Grandmother, we are searching for food for our hungry people,” the young man replied. “Our tribe never seems to have enough to eat.”

“Are you hungry now?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, kind Grandmother, we are very hungry,” all three braves answered.

She opened her door wide, inviting them in.

“Look out there!” she pointed out her window.

beautiful wide prairie stretched before their eyes. The young hunters could hardly believe what they saw! To their surprise, great herds of buffalo grazed there contentedly.

Then she seated the hunters and brought each of them a stone bowl full of buffalo stew. It was delicious. They ate their fill and still more meat remained in their bowls!

“Take these special bowls of buffalo meat back to your hungry people,” the grandmother said. “Tell them that soon I will send buffalo.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind Grandmother,” said the three young Cheyenne braves.

They helped each other climb back up the hole without spilling any of the buffalo meat out of the bowls.

As they climbed out of the hole, their people were delighted to see them safe.

And even happier that they brought delicious food. Everyone in the camp ate heartily and rejoiced over the tasty new food. And though all ate their fill, still more meat remained in the old grandmother’s three magic bowls.

When the Cheyenne waked at dawn the next day, they looked out of their tepees and could scarcely believe the vast herds of buffalo that had mysteriously appeared, surrounding their village and covering the hills and prairies far into the distance.

They knew this would be a good supply of food, shelter and clothing for their people.

Gratefully they gave thanks to the spirit grandmother and to the buffalo for their generosity.
http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/OriginoftheBuffalo-Cheyenne.html)

Teams of young men drag the sagebrush as a first step in building a Medicine Lodge. Historic photo from Smithsonian files.

White Buffalo Woman Brings Pipe

White Buffalo Woman is a holy being who figures powerfully into Plains lore. Although she first appeared in human form, she is also a buffalo, one of the brothers and sisters who gave their flesh so the people could live.

One summer long ago the Sans Arc band of Teton Sioux had nothing to eat and people were starving.

Two young men went out hunting but could find nothing all morning.

Then toward them came a beautiful young maiden in beautiful fringed white buckskin that shone in the sun. She said she brought a message from the buffalo nation.

One of the hunters reached out to touch her with disrespect. As he did so a cloud dropped over him and when it lifted, only his skeleton lay there, scorched and burned.

The other young man treated her with awe and respect. She told him to go back to camp without looking back and tell the people to prepare a medicine lodge for her visit at sunrise.

At daybreak the White Buffalo Woman came toward their camp, holding the sacred buffalo calf pipe.

She told them the pipe was a peacemaker, and that their tribe was especially selected for good qualities and reverence toward sacred things.

She talked to the women, “You have a hard life, yet without you this life would not be what it is. The Great Spirit is with you in your sorrows. He has given you the great gift of kindness. He knows you love your children dearly.”

To the children she said, “Your parents love you and have made many sacrifices for your sake.

“Learn to respect and reverence this pipe and, above all, lead pure lives.

And to the men she said, “My dear brothers, in giving you this pipe you are expected to use it for nothing but good purposes.

“When you are in need of buffalo meat, smoke this pipe and ask for what you need and it shall be granted you.

“On you it depends to be a strong help to the women in raising of children. Share the women’s sorrow. The Great Spirit smiles on the man who has kind feelings for a woman. Be good and kind to the little children.”

She showed them how to use the pipe. Then as White Buffalo Woman walked away toward the setting sun, she rolled over four times.  

The first time she changed into a black buffalo calf, the next time a brown calf, then a red calf. The fourth time she rolled, she changed into a white female buffalo calf.

As the white calf disappeared from sight over a nearby hill, great numbers of buffalo came down the hill, allowing themselves to be killed. This was so that their relatives, the people, might survive.

From that day the buffalo furnished the people with all the food they needed, skins for their tipis, warm clothing, bones for tools and sacred items for religious ceremonies.

The tribe named the sacred pipe the White Buffalo Calf pipe. It is said that their Chief Buffalo Stands Upward received it from the White Buffalo Maiden herself.

Elk Head, the keeper of the pipe when Frances Densmore recorded this story in 1918, was said to be 98 years of age. He died soon after. Each previous keeper of the pipe lived to be more than a hundred years old, Densmore was told. Two very old tribal pipes were said to be kept by the Looking Horse family at Eagle Butte in South Dakota (Densmore).

In traditional belief the buffalo were put on earth to feed the Native people. They gave themselves up willingly as food and brought many other gifts as well—hide for tipis, blankets and clothing and bones for religious ceremonies, tools, sleds, ornaments and toys. Photo SD Game, Fish and Parks.

How the Buffalo Escaped from Humpback

An Apache/ Comanche tradition tells of the release of buffalo before they ran freely over the earth.

A powerful being named Humpback owned all the buffalo. He kept them locked in a stone corral in the southern mountains where he lived with his young son.

He shared them with no one else and refused to give any meat to his neighbors, even though they were starving.

The people sought help from the wily Coyote.

Coyote called them into Council. “Let’s go over to Humpback’s corral and make a plan to release the buffalo.”

After dark Coyote and the hunters inspected the corral. The thick stone walls rose too high to climb and there was no gate—only an entrance that led through the back door of Humpback’s house.

For four days they watched the father, his son and the buffalo from behind a brushy hideout.

Paintings on buffalo hides could tell a story or mark the passing of time in a more permanent way. CM Russell.

“I have an idea,” Coyote said. “Have you noticed the boy has no pet to play with? I’ll change myself into a puppy for the boy. Once I’m in the house I can open the door and stampede the buffalo out of the corral.”

The next morning when the boy went to the spring for water he found a small dog there drinking.

He picked up the dog, laughed, snuggled and played with it and carried it back home.

“See my nice puppy!” he said. “I want to keep him for a pet.”

“Take him back! A dog is good for nothing,” his father scolded.

“Besides he’s probably not a real dog—some schemer has done this to get our buffalo.

“Look—we’ll test him.”

He held a hot coal from the fire close to the puppy’s eyes. It barked three times.

“All right. It probably is a real dog,” decided Humpback. “You can keep it. But only if it stays away from the buffalo.”

That night when father and son went to sleep, Coyote opened the back door and ran to the buffalo, barking and nipping at their heels.

The terrified buffalo had never been chased by a dog before. They stampeded through the house, smashing down the front door.

Humpback awoke and tried to stop them, but could not hold them back.

Every buffalo escaped and ran up and over the green hills, scattering across the earth.

Coyote ran after them and the people danced with joy.

After the last one had galloped away, Humpback’s son looked for his small dog. “Where is my puppy?” he cried. “I want my pet puppy dog.”

“That was not a dog!” Humpback shouted angrily. “It was Coyote the Trickster. He fooled us. See him out there dancing with the people.

“He turned loose all our buffalo and we can never get them back again.”
 (http://darkwell.com/lor297.htm )

The Buffalo was part of us, his flesh and blood being absorbed by us until it became our own flesh and blood.

Our clothing, our tipis, everything we needed for life came from the buffalo’s body. It was hard to say where the animals ended and the human began.

– John (Fire) Lame Deer, Oglala-Lame Deer Seeker of Visions
(with Richard Erdoes, 1972)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Buffalo Stories of the Northern Plains

Noble Fathers

Here’s a remarkable buffalo story—one of my favorites—told by an army surgeon on the Plains way back in buffalo hunting days.

One day the surgeon was out buffalo hunting. As he headed back to the military camp he saw what he described as “The curious action of a little knot of 6 or 8 buffalo.”

Riding closer behind some rocks, he saw that the buffalo were all bulls, standing in a tight circle with their massive heads facing out, snorting and pawing dirt.

Around them danced a dozen large gray wolves licking their chops in impatient expectancy of a tender meal.

Large gray wolves danced around the circle of bulls in impatient expectancy, licking their chops, while the bulls faced them, snorting and pawing dirt. Sketch by C.M. Russell, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum.

After a few moments the knot broke up, still keeping a compact mass, and started off for the main herd, a half mile away.

Then to his very great astonishment, the surgeon saw what the bulls were protecting—a newborn calf on wobbly legs in their midst.

The calf stumbled 50 paces or so, then fell down.

The bulls again formed their protective circle around the newborn, shaking their heads fiercely.

Disappointed, the hungry wolves sat back down and licked their chops.

Again the calf got up and struggled on, well protected on every side by the bulls.

After watching this drama play out a few times—the calf struggling ahead, falling, the bulls tightening their circle, pawing dust and tossing wolves with their horns when they dove in too close—the surgeon rode on.

While the Army surgeon watched, the buffalo bulls protected one small newborn calf until he was strong enough to catch up with the herd. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Telling the story later, he said, “I have no doubt the Noble Fathers did their whole duty by their offspring and carried it safely to the herd.”

As reported by William Hornaday in his book “The Extermination of the American Bison,” printed by the US Government in 1889. Told by Francie M. Berg, Apr 28, 2020.

Noble Fathers We Saw in Action

Buffalo Bulls take responsibility for protecting the mothers and calves from wolf pack. Sketch by Wm. Cary, Harpers Weekly 1871 from DDary.

by Francie M. Berg, Jul 14, 2020

Buffalo bulls grow up with a strong sense of responsibility.

The “noble fathers,” as they’ve been called in earlier times, for protecting mothers and calves from the ravages of wolves. In blizzards and fierce storms, it was said, they form a triangle facing into the wind and shield the calves and cows from wintery blasts.

I saw those “noble fathers” in action once myself.

We were riding in the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt Park in North Dakota with a group of family friends.

Our kids were teenagers then and we were about 15 riders. We came riding over a hill and suddenly saw below us—spread out and grazing—a herd of about 60 buffalo.

They looked up, startled by the sudden appearance of so many riders, and started to run. We pulled in our horses and paused to watch.

They didn’t run far. The big bulls stopped in an open area below and formed a tight circle facing us, shaking their massive heads, while cows and calves took the inside.

It was clearly a defensive position they all understood—and so did we—the calves well-hidden and protected with their moms, and the bulls ready and eager to take us on.

Describing a similar defense of bulls in the 19th century buffalo herd, Colonel R.I. Dodge, wrote in his Plains of the Great West:

“The bulls with heads erect, tails cocked in air, nostrils expanded and eyes that seem to flash fire, walk uneasily to and fro, menacing the intruder by pawing the earth and tossing their huge heads.”

We paused and watched the amazing bulls for awhile, charmed to think that for over 100 years this herd and their ancestors had lived safely inside the national park—without any large enemies to fear.

Yet this generation of noble fathers stood ready and willing to fight us off and protect with their lives the young calves and their mothers, just as dozens of observers described their response to wolves and other threats long ago.

No hungry wolves would have broken through their defenses that day!

Neither wolves nor grizzly bears would have stood a chance.

We skirted far around the herd and let the ‘noble fathers’ think they had successfully stood off our attack. It was quite impressive!

 (Told by Francie M. Berg, Jul 14, 2020.)

Buffalo Heifer attacked by Grizzly

Grizzly bear and buffalo were well-matched according to Blackfoot report. Painting, Imagining Head-Smashed-In, Courtesy Jack Brink.

In another unusual rescue, a Blackfoot Native American reported seeing a buffalo bull charge a grizzly bear that attacked a heifer.

The grizzly bear was lying in wait, hidden by a trail into a creek, when a small bunch of buffalo trailed down to drink. Led by a young buffalo heifer, they came down the bank in single file.

As the heifer passed under the clay shelf where the grizzly was hiding, he reached down with both paws and caught her around the neck, then leaped on her back. She squealed for help and struggled to escape.

Suddenly a “splendid young buffalo bull” came rushing down the trail and charged the bear, knocking him down.

They fought fiercely. The grizzly tried to grasp the bull by the head and shoulders, but could not hold him. The bull slashed furiously with his heavy horns.

Blood gushing from mortal wounds, the bear finally tried to escape, but the bull would not let him go. He kept up the attack until he finally had killed the bear.

Even then he continued to gore and toss the bear carcass up off the ground. The bull seemed insane with rage.

The Blackfoot hunter—who was also hiding near the trail—was afraid he’d be discovered and attacked too.

Finally, much to the hunter’s relief, the buffalo left the carcass and went off to join his band.

(Source: George Bird Grinnell interviewing Blackfoot hunter. Francie M. Berg , Jul 28, 2020.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 3-American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)

Part 3-American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)

“Dakota” means “friend.” Thousands of people made up The Great Dakota Nation.
They occupied parts of Minnesota, South Dakota and other areas west of the Mississippi River.

The Chippewa Indians, enemies of the Dakota, called them “adders” (an adder is a type of snake). When the French traders tried to say this word in the Chippewa language, they could not say it correctly and it came out sounding like Sioux” (soo). This name became commonly used for people of The Great Dakota Nation.

The Chippewa had made friends with the French who gave them guns and helped them in their battles. In time, the Chippewa began pushing the Sioux people out of Minnesota and into North Dakota.

The Great Dakota Nation—Lakota, Nakota, Dakota

The Great Dakota Nation was divided into three separate groups, each having its own culture and language patterns. The three groups were the Lakota (or Teton), Nakota (or Yankton), and Dakota (or Santee). A large northern area west of the Mississippi River was named after The Great Dakota Nation. It was called Dakota Territory.

The Great Dakota Nation (about 1822) consisted of three separate groups—the Lakota (or Teton), Nakota (or Yankton), and Dakota (or Santee). SHSND-ND Studies.

The largest group of the Great Dakota Nation was the Lakota Sioux, who were made up of seven major tribes. The Lakota people were taller than most other people at that time. Many of their warriors were over six feet in height.

The Lakota became expert horsemen. Hunting bison was their main source of livelihood, but they also raided other tribes to get more horses and other items that they wanted. They claimed a very large hunting area ranging hundreds of miles from Oklahoma into Canada. All of the Sioux tribes were nomadic, but the Lakota were the most nomadic of the three groups of The Great Dakota Nation.

The Dakota Sioux moved into North Dakota from Minnesota after conflicts and battles with both white settlers and U.S. soldiers. Four tribes made up the Dakota group.

Like the Lakota, the Dakota traveled long distances on horseback to hunt and to raid other tribes. The nomadic tribes lived in tipis, so it was easy for them to pack and move to another place when the bison herds would move on.

The Nakota Sioux were pushed west by the Chippewa. They were divided into two tribes that settled in South Dakota and the southern part of North Dakota. Many of them built permanent homes like the ones they had left in Minnesota. Hunting bison became a central part of their lives, but many people also raised corn, squash, and other vegetables.

The nomadic tribes lived more out in the open than the tribes who lived close together in permanent villages. For this reason, when the smallpox epidemics came, the disease did not spread among the Sioux as much as it spread throughout the agricultural people in villages. In fact, when the Mandan and Hidatsa were losing thousands of people to smallpox, Sioux warriors raided the villages and killed even more people.

The Indians of The Great Dakota Nation had been woodland people who had hunted, fished, and sometimes farmed. When they moved to the plains, they had to change their way of life from a woodland culture to a plains culture.

Chart shows the 3 major divisions of the Great Dakota Nation, and how each is then also split into bands. SHSND-ND Studies.

The bison provided food, shelter and clothing, as well as skulls and bones for religious ceremonies of the Plains Indians,. Some called the animal “A Walking Department Store.” SHSND-ND Studies.

Chief Rain-in-the-Face was a traditional Lakota leader from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. He was a brave warrior who stood firm to prevent the senseless killing of bison and other game. Rain-in-the-Face was also a key leader at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. (Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council)

Millions of bison lived on the plains and these huge animals were very different from the forest animals that had been hunted in the woodlands of Minnesota. In fact, the survival of the plains people depended on hunting bison. They used every part of the animal, not wasting anything. The bison has been called “a walking department store” because so many items came from this animal. Food, shelter, clothing, weapons, tools and musical instruments are a few examples of products that were made from the bison.

Millions of years ago, tiny, three-toed horses lived in North Dakota. They became extinct millions of years before modern horses arrived. Modern horses did not live on the continent of North America until people from Spain brought them to the southern part of the continent in the 1500s.

They slowly spread northward as they were traded from tribe to tribe until the horses reached North Dakota toward the end of the 1700s. After the Indians got horses, they were able to travel long distances which made the bison hunting much easier.

It has been estimated that before 1800 about [30 million] bison roamed the plains. The Sioux, as well as all of the other Indians of the plains, had lived for many years being totally dependent on the bison.

Because North America was the only continent where bison lived, Europeans had never seen such an animal. When traders began sending bison robes to Europe, the robes became so popular that the traders could not keep up with the demand.

In the 1800s, millions of bison were killed. Bison hide traders, farmers, railroad companies, sport hunters, and the U.S. Army all had a part in reducing the bison herds. Wagon load after wagon load of bison robes were hauled away to be sold in the east or shipped to Europe. Farmers wanted the bison gone so that they could raise crops and build fences for their cattle. Railroads were being built across the continent, and the railroad companies wanted to bring in more settlers so that they would get more business.

Bison herds were in the way of settlement, so railroads hired people to shoot the animals. The U.S. Army wanted the Indians’ food supply removed so that the Indians would move to reservations. Hunters came from the east to shoot bison just for sport. Most of the bison meat and other parts were wasted by these whites.

Because of all of these wasteful killings, the magnificent bison became almost extinct. It has been estimated that by 1890, only about 500 bison remained in North America.

The loss of their food supply led to the defeat of the Lakota and other plains tribes. The bison had not only served as the source of their food, but it had also been a sacred animal for them. With its disappearance, they lost a great source of their spiritual strength.

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull. Photo Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council.

Sitting Bull was a Lakota leader and medicine man who became one of the most famous American Indians in the world. He was born around 1831. When he was about 14 years old, he proved his bravery in a battle, and that was the beginning of his career as a warrior.

Sitting Bull was the leader of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota and widely respected leader in the Lakota Nation.

Sitting Bull’s goal was to protect his people and their lands from “whites” who were moving onto Indian lands and killing off the bison. In 1876, Lakota and Cheyenne families gathered at the Little Big Horn River in Montana. In June, army troops led by George Custer from Fort Abraham Lincoln (near present-day Mandan, North Dakota) attacked, but the Lakota warriors defeated Custer’s army, killing Custer and most of his soldiers.

After Custer’s defeat, the U.S. Army began attacking all Indians who were not on reservations. Sitting Bull led his followers to Canada for safety. In 1881, Siting Bull surrendered to save his people from starvation. He and his people were sent to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Sitting Bull became famous because of the battle with Custer, so he was asked to join “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” He agreed because he wanted to earn money to help his people. He stayed with the “Wild West Show” for four months and earned good pay, but he missed his home and family at Standing Rock.

A few years after Sitting Bull returned to Standing Rock Reservation, a new religion called the “Ghost Dance” came to the Lakota. Ghost Dancers believed that if they danced and followed the beliefs of the Ghost Dance that the bison would return.

The reservation agent feared the power of the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull’s influence on the unhappy Lakota. The agent sent Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull. His followers resisted and there was a fight. Sitting Bull was shot and died.

Sitting Bull is honored today as one of the greatest leaders of the Lakota Nation.

Chippewa

Birch-bark canoe. The Chippewa used the birch-bark canoe for fishing and travel. SHSND 053-04.

A Chippewa/ Métis family shown with a Red River cart. Red River carts were equipped with high wheels that traveled well on prairie sod, similar to the peasant carts the fathers and grandfathers had known in France. SHSND A2472-2.

Map of Red River cart trails hauling their bison hides and pemmican to Winnipeg and St Paul for trading. SHSND-ND Studies.

The Chippewa, or Ojibwa, people came to North Dakota from the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota. They lived in wigwams most of the time, but during the summers when they hunted bison, they used tipis, which could be set up and taken down quickly.

The Chippewa were good fur trappers and traveled along rivers to trap beaver for trade with Euro-Americans. They used the birch-bark canoe for fishing and traveling on rivers and lakes. These canoes had high ends and sides so that even in rough or choppy water, the water did not come in easily. Birch-bark canoes were very strong, but they were light enough to be carried on land.

The Chippewa Indians organized themselves into groups called “bands,” which were named after the area in which they lived. A main chief led each band, and he was assisted by lesser chiefs.

A tribal council made sure the chiefs were carrying out their duties. After the death of the main chief, his son would take over and act as chief for the rest of his life. However, if the chief was not doing his job properly, the council could replace him with someone else.

Each band was divided into “clans,” named after animals, birds, or fish. The clans were made up of several families who seemed like one big family. They would look after each other and help each other out. People were not allowed to marry anyone in their own clan.

Before 1800, groups of Chippewa had come to eastern North Dakota. These people trapped and traded in the Pembina area, so they called themselves the Pembina Band.

After a few years, so much trapping had been done in eastern North Dakota that the population of fur-bearing animals was very low. In order to be successful in their business, the Chippewa needed to move farther west.

A group settled in the Turtle Mountains and called themselves the Turtle Mountain Band. In this hilly region of lakes and trees, animals such as fish, beaver, muskrat and deer were plentiful.

Because the Chippewa had gotten horses in the early 1800s, they were also able to hunt bison successfully. The Chippewa not only continued their commerce at the Pembina trading post, but they could also travel great distances to trade with other tribes. The Chippewa people adapted well from the woodlands to the plains.

Many Chippewa women married French or Scottish fur traders. Their children, who were half Chippewa and half French or Scottish, were called Métis (may-tee).

The Métis people usually thought of themselves as Indian, but their culture was a mix of Indian and European traditions. They were known as good bison hunters and fur traders. They developed a two-wheeled cart pulled by oxen or horses. These carts were called Red River carts.

They could carry huge amounts of bison hides and other goods to major trade centers such as St. Paul, MN and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

During the late 1800s, the Turtle Mountain Band faced many hardships. Euro-American settlers were moving onto Chippewa lands, and the bison, the Chippewa’s main source of food, became almost extinct on the plains.

During the winter of 1887–88, over 150 members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa starved to death.

Reservations in North Dakota

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is home to Lakota and Dakota Sioux people. The reservation was set up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 1889. Before that, it was part of a large reservation that was broken up by the government to allow for white settlement.

Standing Rock Monument is located near the entrance to the Standing Rock Tribal headquarters in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Neil Howe.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is located about 40 miles south of Mandan ND and extends into South Dakota. The ND part of this reservation is located almost entirely in Sioux County, the only county in the state that is entirely reservation. Most of the land has rolling hills and grasslands that are good for ranching and farming.

The Cannonball River runs along the north side of the reservation and Lake Oahe on the Missouri River forms the eastern boundary. Lake Oahe was created when a dam was built in South Dakota on the Missouri River.

The dam was finished in 1962 and 50,000 acres of fertile bottomland and timber were permanently flooded when the lake was formed. Today, Lake Oahe attracts tourists as a water recreation area. Many picnic areas and campgrounds are available near the lake.

The tribal headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is at Fort Yates. Most of Fort Yates is situated on a peninsula of Lake Oahe.

Two tourist attractions at Fort Yates are Sitting Bull’s gravesite and the Standing Rock monument. An old Dakota story said that an Arikara woman married a Dakota man. This man later married another woman and the first wife got jealous.

When the rest of the band left the camp, she refused to leave. Two men who came back to get her found that she had turned to stone. The Standing Rock monument reminds people of this story.

Fort Yates is also the location of Sitting Bull College. This college, which was first called “Standing Rock Community College,” began offering classes in 1973. It now offers four-year college degrees.

Farming and ranching are the major means of support on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, but several hundred people are also employed by the tribe.

Prairie Knights Casino and Resort is a successful tribal business. It consists of an entertainment center, hotel, RV park and other attractions that bring people to the area.

In spite of these opportunities, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation still has a shortage of jobs, so many people struggle to make a living. Many tribal members have left the reservation to find better jobs.

It is important to the Sioux people that their children receive a good education, including being taught their traditional language and culture. The elders share the rich traditions that have been handed down to them and the young people can carry these gifts into the future with pride.

Tribal Headquarters building for the Standing Rock Sioux at Fort Yates ND. Neil Howe.

Josephine Gates Kelly

Josephine Gates Kelly was the first woman in US to be elected Tribal Chair. SHSND 1952-5040.

Josephine Gates Kelly believed she could make a difference in the lives of the Indian people, and she became an outstanding leader. Her goal was to help her people, which she did, but she also made history.

Josephine Gates was born January 24, 1888, and was raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. She was the first woman from Standing Rock to graduate from Carlisle (car-lyl) Indian School in the state of Pennsylvania. She married Covin Kelly in 1920, and they had six children.

In 1940, Josephine was elected to the Standing Rock Tribal Council. Her leadership abilities were so good that in 1946 she won an election that made history. Josephine Gates Kelly became the first woman in the United States to be elected Tribal Chair.

The U.S. government had planned on putting the Standing Rock Indian agency together with another Indian agency, but the Standing Rock Tribe opposed this action. They thought it would weaken their tribal rights.

Tribal Chair Josephine Gates Kelly traveled to Washington, DC to fight for fair treatment of the Standing Rock Tribe. She was successful in her efforts and the Standing Rock Tribe was able to keep their rights.

In the early 1950s, Josephine helped establish a memorial for Indians killed while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This memorial is located in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

After serving three terms as Tribal Chair, Josephine Gates Kelly remained active in politics and government. She worked for the rights of not only the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but for all Indians, and earned the nickname “Champion for Indian Rights.” She died in 1976.

Turtle Mountain Reservation

A Chippewa bandolier. Warriors wore the bandolier across the shoulders and used the pockets to carry ammunition. SHSND 870.

The Turtle Mountain Reservation is home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Located in the Turtle Mountains near the Canadian border, it is close to the International Peace Garden.

The land in this region was shaped by glaciers which left rolling hills and many lakes and streams. The area also has a lot of trees.

A treaty was signed in 1863 that established the Turtle Mountain Reservation. In 1882, the size of the reservation was reduced to a rectangular area measuring just 12 miles east-to-west by 6 miles north-to-south.

The US government had not counted the Métis as part of the Chippewa population at that time, so the reservation was much too small. In order to meet the needs of all the people, an area about 250 miles west of the Turtle Mountain Reservation was later established.

This region is called the “Trenton Service Area” and provides services mostly for Chippewa and Métis people. Part of this Indian service area extends into Montana.

In Canada, the Métis are considered a separate tribe, but in North Dakota they are part of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Through the years, many of the Métis developed their own lifestyles which blended parts of both the Indian and the French cultures. They dressed in a combination of Indian and European clothing and their language was influenced by both of their cultures.

Sketch of a Métis campsite. Notice the Red River carts with their two large wheels next to each tipi. SHSND C0621.

 Dream Catcher

An ancient Chippewa tradition
The dream net has been made
For many generations
Where spirit dreams have played.

Hung above the cradleboard,
Or in the lodge up high,
The dream net catches bad dreams,
While good dreams slip on by.

Bad dreams become entangled
Among the sinew thread.
Good dreams slip through the center hole,
While you dream upon your bed.

This is an ancient legend,
Since dreams will never cease,
Hang this dream net above your bed,
Dream on, and be at peace.

The only town on the Turtle Mountain Reservation is Belcourt, the largest Indian community in North Dakota. The tribal headquarters of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is located in Belcourt. Many Turtle Mountain Chippewa live in other towns nearby.

The Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Heritage Center near Belcourt is a museum complex which features displays showing the history and special culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
Besides the exhibits, articles are offered for sale, including craft and beadwork items, as well as supplies for arts and crafts. A library and outdoor cultural park are also part of this complex.

The well-educated and hard-working Chippewa own many successful businesses both on and off the reservation. The Belcourt area is home to Turtle Mountain Community College, a manufacturing plant, a watch factory, a shopping mall, a hospital, and other businesses.

Sky Dancer Casino and Resort is an entertainment center that includes a hotel and a restaurant. The second oldest Indian-owned radio station in the United States, 88.5 FM Public Radio (KEYA), is located in Belcourt.

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich, noted author. www.eyeonbooks.com

Louise Erdrich (air-drik) is one of the most famous authors of our time. She was born in 1954 to a Chippewa mother and a German-American father. Her grandfather had been a tribal chair on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Louise is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

When Louise was young, she heard so many stories told by her large extended family that she became interested in writing stories. Her parents liked her stories so much that her father paid her a nickel for every story she wrote, while her mother made covers for her “books” out of construction paper.

After growing up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, Louise went to the East Coast to attend college. She continued with her writing but also worked at other jobs in order to make a living. She has worked as a waitress, lifeguard, construction flag person and poetry teacher at a prison. She also taught writing to young people.

Louise was married and is the mother of six children. She used her background to blend Indian concerns into her magazine articles, poems and books. Her books became popular and she was able to devote all of her time to writing. Many of her books deal with serious issues, but Louise still blends humor into her writings.

She has stated that because Indian people have such a great sense of humor, it is one of the most important parts of American Indian life and literature.

Today, Louise Erdrich is a successful author who has written many award-winning books. Some of the most famous ones include Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace. She also has authored a children’s book called Grandmother’s Pigeons.

In 2013 Louise Erdrich was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award. The award recognizes present and former North Dakotans for their contributions to the state.

Further study, activities:

https://www.ndstudies.gov/curriculum/4th-grade/american-indians-nd

 

#

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2-American Indians of North Dakota (4th Grade)

Part 2-American Indians of North Dakota (4th Grade)

A Plains Woodland Camp Scene. Photo ND State Historical Society.

About 2,500 years ago, the people of the Woodland era appeared in North Dakota. These people came from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Woodland people hunted and gathered as the earlier groups had done and they got corn through trade. The Woodland people were the first people in North Dakota to make pottery.

Woodland People

The Woodland people lived mostly near rivers where they had a ready supply of drinking water. Trees and brush that grew beside the rivers provided firewood and served as habitat for game which could be hunted. 

They protected their villages with walls made of upright logs. 

Woodland pottery. Pieces of a pot found in North Dakota (right). Also shown is a replica of the pot (left). Pottery examples are on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo Neil Howe.

Some of the Woodland people had houses that used wood frames covered with bison hides or grasses. The sites of a few Woodland villages have been found in North Dakota.

Another difference between people of the Archaic era and people of the Woodland era was in their burial traditions. In the Archaic era people placed their dead on platforms or under piles of rock. Some Woodland people buried their dead in the earth. After a body was placed in a grave, a mound of dirt was placed over the grave.

Sometimes weapons, tools, and other possessions were also placed in the mounds. These mounds became big cemeteries, and some were used for hundreds of years. This practice earned the Woodland people the nickname “Mound-builders.”

About 1,400 years ago, North Dakota became home to the Late Woodland culture. The Late Woodland people may have been ancestors to the Mandan Indians. They lived much like the earlier Woodland people, raising crops and hunting bison, but they also depended more on fishing.

We Are All Equal
The color of skin makes no difference. What is good and just for one is good and just for the other, and the Great Spirit made all men brothers. I have a red skin, but my grandfather was a white man. What does it matter? It is not the color of the skin that makes me good or bad.                          –White Shield, Arikara Chief

Notable American Indians of North Dakota

As you continue you will notice full-page tributes to notable American Indians of North Dakota. These people include Keith Bear, Mary Louise Defender Wilson, Sitting Bull, Sakakawea, Four Bears, Cynthia Lindquist, Josephine Gates Kelly and Louise Erdrich. Please study these tributes to learn how these North Dakotans have contributed to the history and culture of our state.

By 1500, or even earlier, American Indians of North Dakota had organized into tribes, or groups of people who have a common heritage. The people of an Indian tribe share a culture or a way of life that includes language, traditions and religion. A tribe’s oral traditions, or storytelling, help the people understand their common history and traditions. Culture makes each tribe different from all other tribes. Each tribe also identified a particular area of land where they lived and hunted.

Today there are six tribes with headquarters in North Dakota. They are the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota Sioux, Dakota Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The Lakota, Dakota, and Chippewa are related to other bands of their tribes that live in other states.

Six tribes have headquarters in North Dakota—the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota Sioux, Dakota Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

Plains Village People—Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara

The Mandan and Hidatsa people lived in villages of earthlodges. The earthlodge was a dome-shaped home made of logs and covered with willow branches, grass, and earth. The women built, owned, and took care of the homes. They also owned the property within the homes, as well as the food, gardens, tools, dogs, mares (female horses), and colts (young horses). When a couple got married, the man moved into his wife’s home. He brought only a few things along, such as his medicine bundle, clothes, weapons, and horses. The men were responsible for protecting the village and hunting for meat.

A cache pit was used to store dried corn, nuts, berries, and squash. This shows the inside of a cache pit from a side view. Photo by Gwyn Herman.

Besides bison hunting, agriculture (farming) was a means of support for both the Mandan and Hidatsa. The women were the farmers. Corn, squash, pumpkins, beans, sunflowers, and tobacco were their main crops. Raising these crops provided food for the families. The crops were also used as trade items to get products from other tribes.

Each earthlodge had a hole in the ground about 3 to 4 feet deep. This was called a cache pit. It was used to store dried corn, nuts, berries and squash. The cache pit acted somewhat like a refrigerator because of the cooler temperatures below the surface of the ground.

Birds-eye view of a Mandan village. SHSND 970.1C289NL.

From 20 to 40 earthlodge homes usually made up a village. The villages became major trading centers. Money was not needed in this trading business because a system called “bartering” was used. Bartering means trading items for other items without exchanging money.

Nomadic tribes would come to the villages to get corn and other food products. In turn, the agricultural people would trade for items that the nomadic tribes had gotten by hunting or trading in other places.

During the summers, nearly the entire village would take their tipis and move out onto the plains to hunt bison. The actual hunting would be done by the men, but getting the meat ready for winter use was a job done mostly by the women.

Horses came to the people of this region around 1750, but weren’t important until around 1800. The Mandan and Hidatsa probably obtained their first horses by trade with Indians of other tribes.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara learned that horses made hunting easier. Horses were also important in defending the village. They became important trade items and were often stolen by enemies.

Warriors from one tribe would often raid other tribes in order to take their horses.

Keith Bear—Three Affiliated Tribes

World renowned flute player, Keith Bear, Hidatsa and Mandan, is from the Three Affiliated Tribes in Fort Berthold ND.

Keith Bear, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, is a flute player known all over the world. He uses his flute to tell stories.

Keith started his life being raised by his mother and relatives in the Sioux and Mandan cultures. Before he started first grade, he was placed in a foster home and between the ages of 6 and 12, lived in 14 different non-Indian foster homes.

After Keith grew up, he was working in the Wyoming oil fields. Another worker carved a flute out of wood and gave it to him. Keith carried this flute around for two years before he got interested in playing it. At that time, he had a drinking and drug problem and did not know what he wanted to do with his life.

One day, Keith realized that he wanted to change his life. He took his flute out to a hill and stayed there for three days and three nights while he sobered up for good. As the wind blew through the flute, it made a low tone, and the rustling leaves added to the sound. Keith thought this was a gift from the Creator.

When he came down from the hill, Keith started playing his flute. At first, only sour‐sounding notes came out, but the more he practiced, the better it sounded. After about a week of steady practicing, he played his first song.

Keith’s uncle taught him how to carve his own flutes, and over the years, Keith has made many different kinds, each with its own special sound. He is also a storyteller and sometimes dresses in his regalia when he performs. He has played music with many famous orchestras, including the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

Keith has proved that even if people have not had the best of childhoods, they can turn their lives around if they want to. Today, Keith Bear is famous, not only in the United States, but also throughout many parts of the world. He has won awards for his music and performances, and he has also acted in a movie. He believes that all humans were created by the same Creator, and everyone has a connection with everyone else. Flute music is the wind that breathes life into the heart.

On-A-Slant village was built about 400 years ago near what is now Mandan, where the Heart runs into the Missouri River. Photo by Gwyn Herman.

About 400 years ago, the Mandan people from some nearby villages got together and built a new village beside the Missouri and Heart Rivers, near the present-day city of Mandan ND. They called this village On-A-Slant because it slanted toward the Heart River. About 75 lodges were located in the village and its population was about 1,000.

In 1738 (about 280 years ago), a French fur-trapper and trader named Pierre La Vérendrye (lah ver-ON-dree) came to North Dakota from Canada. La Vérendrye was among the first non-Indians to set foot in North Dakota. He wrote in a journal about his experiences and so became the first Euro-American to record history in this area.

La Vérendrye spent some time visiting and trading with the Mandan people along the Missouri River. He estimated that their population was about 15,000 and reported that they were very peaceful people.

Some years after La Vérendrye’s visit, other Europeans and Euro-Americans began trading with the people in North Dakota. They brought metal tools, cloth, beads, rifles, kettles and other manufactured goods to trade for garden crops, meat, furs and other items.

Horses were a big advantage in hunting and war and were valued by the Plains Indians. The horse was also used for trading. This poster shows the items that could be traded for one and two horses. SHSND-ND Studies.

Because the Missouri River was a major travel route, the agricultural villages along the river were an ideal setting for trading. In fact, this area became one of the largest trading centers on the continent. It has been called “The Marketplace of the Central Plains.”

Trade with non-Indians changed the Indians’ way of life in many ways. Spear heads and arrow points could now be made of metal instead of chipped stone; cloth could be used in place of hides to make clothing and blankets; and colored glass beads could be used for decorations on clothing instead of the porcupine quills that had been used before. Trading was done within the villages and forts were also set up as trading posts. Corn, bison hides and beaver pelts were considered very valuable by Europeans and Euro-Americans and commerce became a huge business.

At the same time that commerce was becoming more important, something dreadful happened that had a tragic impact on the Indian people. The natives of North America had never been exposed to deadly diseases that had been in Europe for hundreds of years or more. Therefore, they had no natural immunity from diseases such as smallpox, measles and typhoid fever.

In 1781, a severe smallpox epidemic occurred in the villages. This horrible killer reduced the population of the Mandan Indians from about 12,000 to about 1,500 within a matter of just a few months.

Mandan horse races—the finish line. SHSND 970.1.

On-A-Slant village, which had existed for about 200 years, was almost totally wiped out.

Another village, on the present-day historic site called Double Ditch Indian Village near Bismarck, had been occupied for almost 300 years and when the epidemic struck, most of the residents died.

After the villages were weakened by disease and death, the Lakota attacked. The attacks caused the remaining people to move north, closer to the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa also lost many people to smallpox.

In the 1700s, the Arikara (ah-rick-ah-rah), or Sahnish, people came from the south and settled along the Grand River, a tributary of the Missouri. During the early 1800s, they moved northward along the Missouri River.

When the smallpox epidemic hit, their population was reduced from about 20,000 to only about 4,000. In about 1825, they continued up the Missouri River and settled near the Mandan and Hidatsa villages.

The Mandan and Hidatsa people were somewhat alike in their lifestyles and languages. The Arikara had a very different culture, but they lived in earth lodges in permanent villages. They raised crops and were traders. All three tribes benefitted from this close relationship.

In 1837, a steamboat docked at the Fort Clark trading post near the present-day town of Washburn ND. A man on the boat was sick with smallpox and the illness had spread to others on board. By the time the steamboat reached Fort Clark, it contained several men with smallpox. When Indians came aboard the boat to trade, they were exposed to the illness. Though a warning was sent to other camps and tribes, the disease spread rapidly among the Indian tribes.

In 1845, the Mandan and Hidatsa people started a village together on the Missouri River north of their old villages. The area of land where they built this town was in a bend of the river that reminded them of a fishhook. They called this village “Like-A-Fishhook.”

In 1862, the Arikara joined them. All three tribes had lost so many people in the epidemics that they felt it was necessary to band together to protect themselves against nomadic tribes that were raiding their villages.

Like-A-Fishook village, named for its location at a sharp bend in the Missouri River, was built by the Mandan and Hidatsa. The drawing is by Martin Bears Arm. SHSND 799.

Entire families as well as entire villages were wiped out by this disaster. The population of the Mandan people was reduced from about 2,500 to only about 125 people. More than half of the Arikara people died, leaving their population at about 1,500. The Hidatsa were also hard-hit.

Smallpox was a disease that affected Europeans for hundreds of years. It came to North America with the colonists. Europeans often died of the disease, but those who recovered became resistant or immune to another infection. American Indians had no immunity.

In the 1820s, an English doctor developed a vaccine for smallpox. The vaccine helped prevent the disease in people who were given the vaccine.

In the 20th century doctors and scientist made a major effort to wipe out smallpox. They were successful. Today smallpox is a disease of the past, and no one can get the disease.

Even though the three agricultural tribes were alike in some ways, they each had their own language, as well as other cultural differences, so each tribe lived in its own section of the village. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara groups became known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.

In 1851, a treaty with the U.S. government set aside twelve million acres of land as a reservation for the Three Affiliated Tribes, but the government later took away most of this land, leaving the Tribes with only about a half-million acres.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition visited Black Cat village in 1806.

Plains Nomadic People—followed Bison Herds

After a time, other Late Woodland groups moved into North Dakota. The Plains Nomadic
people probably came from forests in the east. They did not have permanent homes but traveled in small bands following bison herds.

The Plains Nomadic people left traces that show they lived in all parts of North Dakota. They may have been ancestors of the Sioux (soo), or Dakota, Indians. Another Late Woodland group that came from the east may have been ancestors of the Chippewa Indians. The Chippewa continued the lifestyle of the Woodland people.

Evidence has been found that the Woodland and Plains Nomadic people did a lot of trading with other groups. The first metal used by people in this area was copper, probably from Minnesota. It was made into knives, axes, and jewelry.

Seashells from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were uncovered at archaeological sites in North Dakota, and Knife River flint has been discovered in sites hundreds of miles from where it

Mary Louise Defender Wilson

Mary Louise Defender Wilson is a storyteller who has become famous throughout the United States among both Indians and non-Indians. She is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and also is part Hidatsa.

Mary Louise Defender was born in Shields ND on Oct 14, 1930. Her family raised sheep and gardened.

At a young age, she learned storytelling from her mother, grandparents, and other members of her extended family. She has become famous throughout the United States among both Indians and non-Indians. A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she also is part Hidatsa.

They told stories, not only for entertainment, but also to educate both children and adults.

By the age of 11, Mary Louise was already a good storyteller. She could speak three languages—Dakotah, Hidatsa and English.

The stories she had heard from her family and from the elders of her tribe were stored in her memory and she began passing these stories along to other people.

Mary Louise married William Wilson, a Navajo (nav-a-ho) Indian. He introduced her to Navajo elders who also told stories. When she returned to Standing Rock, she asked the Sioux elders to teach her even more stories.

Animals were a big part of many of the tales. They taught lessons about kindness, sharing, helpfulness and other important values.

Today, Mary Louise is an elder in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She has been a teacher and has also worked to educate teachers and others about American Indian culture.

She is very wise and uses her wisdom in ways that will help preserve traditions of the Indian people. Her goal is that all people respect each other and respect all life.

Mary Louise has won many awards throughout the United States for her storytelling ability. Many of her tales are now available on CDs and YouTube so that everyone can have a chance to hear the charming voice and the delightful stories of this great person.

From coast to coast, one of the best storytellers in America is Mary Louise Defender Wilson.

Archaeological Sites

An archaeological site is a place where archaeologists find evidence of people who lived long ago. These people did not record their history on paper, so archaeologists look for other signs of their cultures.

Evidence might include stone or bone tools, pottery, burned wood from the hearth (fireplace), shell jewelry or tools, or a burial. Archaeologists might find these things on top of or below the ground. They are careful to treat the objects respectfully.

In the time of pre-history, people reported on events and spread information by talking and telling stories. For the American Indians, storytelling was a ceremony that made the word sacred. The stories had to be told exactly the same way every time.

In this way, information was passed from generation to generation (parents to children, grandchildren, etc.). Passing on information this way is called oral history.

Another way of holding onto memories was by using pictures and other forms of art. Examples are carvings on rocks, pictures on tipis, and “winter counts.” The men did the pictographs, or picture-writing, because they were keepers of the tribe’s history.

Winter counts were calendars and records of history that were made by many of the Plains tribes. Each winter, a special event from that year would be selected. A picture would be painted on an animal hide or piece of cloth. A storyteller would use this as a memory aid to help in telling the story of the tribe’s past. Being the “Keeper of the Winter Count” was an important responsibility.

A winter count might also be called a pictograph. When groups used pictographs and other forms of written language, information could be saved and spread to more people than could be done by the spoken word alone. A written record of past events is called history.

Winter count by Swift Dog. SHSND 674.

Timeline: American Indians of North Dakota

This timeline shows events from 25,000 years ago through European contact and two ND smallpox epidemics. https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr4/american-indians-north-dakota/part-2-early-history-american-indians-north-dakota/section-4-woodland-people __________________________________________________

________________________________________
NEXT: Part 3—American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)

________________________________________

 

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Pin It on Pinterest