Life on The Plains in the 1800’s. Items D thru E (“Dances” thru “Exchange Media”) as told to Col. A. B. Welch

This is the second section of a lengthy list of subjects of Welch interviews between 1900 and 1930’s with “Old-Timers” of the Indian Nations


Adoption Dance for Mato Watakpe….Dr. McG. Beede, said that it was the greatest display of war gear he had ever seen among them

Brave Heart Dance for Welch, Poplar, Montana, October 28, 1932

Corn Dance Ceremony of the Arikara, Nov. 3, 1927

Coup Dance...This was an old time dance in which every warrior taking part had the right to depict some brave war deed in pantomime

Feast of the Dogs Dance…”…Meanwhile, the dog’s head had been placed in a bucket, which stood upon the floor in front of me”

Give Away Dance…Cloud Bear said, “Dancing is bad for the Indian.  I call the drum the saloon”

Grass Dance...”I noticed a very decided social form at this dance of the Hidatsa………….”

Indian of Indian Dance at Standing Rock, early 1900’s

Kiss Dance…  A man would select a woman to dance with.  He would take a bowl of food to her….and…

Night Dance…It was a great dance with perhaps 150 dancers and was wonderful (1932)

Open the Door Dance…No one but War Mothers and Fathers danced with me, and each gave 25 cents for this.(1923)

Petition to Hold a Dance…(No date … petition appears to have been written by Welch on behalf of the War Mothers)

Rabbit Dance…“This is danced by all the Missouri River Indians, but it is seldom seen among the Sioux dancers”

Scalp Dance… When a warrior took a scalp of an enemy, he brought it home and gave it to his woman to dance with.

Sun Dance….“The right name of this dance is ’Wiwanyanwachi’ or ’Looking at the Sun Dance.’

Virgins Dance...The people make a ceremonial place of boughs.  When the time comes, women who do not know men can go in there and sit down

War Party Raising Dance…“On July 4th, 1917 I motored to Cannon Ball to a celebration of the Indians….”

Whirling (or Gahomni) Dance… Women select their partners and other women may take the man away from them by slapping the dancing woman on the back

Wounded Man Dance…The flags of Albert Grass (John Grass’ grandson, killed in action in France) and Blue Earth were tied to the center poles of the place and……..

Entering a Lodge...As there is nothing upon which to knock when desiring to call at some tipi, the custom of making your presence known in that way was never known among the tipi dwellers of the Great Plains.

Etiquette...”.…. Someone brought them a big bird (turkey).  They put it down in front of Gall.  He said, “That’s mine now.”

Exchange Media....Welch, 1921: Fifty years ago it was the honorable and common thing among the Dakotah to buy wives.  The usual price was equivalent to $40.00 (a horse, four or five guns and some blankets)


Adoption Dance  –  for Mato Watakpe (Welch), 1913

At the ceremonies of my adoption it was announced by the official herald that a new dance and song would be made in honor of the event.  When the drums started, Welch started the dance, taking the old time step of the warrior when dancing.  This is a short, quick stamp of one foot as the other is lifted from the ground.  This step is unlike the new fancy steps of the younger Indians.

This dance was taken part in by all the old warriors of John Grass who were present and no others were allowed except some old men who had been wounded in war.  About 100 men took part and a Missionary among them for many years, Dr. McG. Beede, said that it was the greatest display of war gear he had ever seen among them, and was himself surprised at the magnificence of it.

Major A. B. Welch

The music started slow, one strong accented beat and three soft beats.  As the dancers gradually became more and more excited, the singing of the new song rose higher and higher in volume and martial accent, until the drums changed to one hard and two soft beats and finally, toward the close, it was again changed to one hard beat followed by one soft beat, very fast and the singing was somewhat frenzied in character.

Each dancer in this dance went through the actions of some fight or coup of his own, in pantomime.  Welch danced through the crowd and dropped several dozen silk handkerchiefs, which were picked up by the dancers and retained as totems of friendship or good medicine.

Several very old men, too weak to take part in the rush of the dance, did not join in the circle, but stood where they had sat and sung and moved their bodies to the music.  3,900 Indians were present in the camp and crowded around to any point of vantage to watch the dance.  During the dancing all were careful not to disturb the ashes of the sacred fire.

During the dance one old man staggered out of the surging dancers and fell prone upon the ground.  Later he arose and took his seat upon the grass at the side of the ring.  I was told that the dance was the same as that in the ceremonies when a young man had done a great deed, counted coup and was being made a warrior in ceremonial.  The Medicine Man also danced in it.

They said now that they had another great warrior, a young man.  The words of the song, repeat ed over and over together with many ha-ha-ho-ho and other interjections, were “I am a soldier of Charging Bear.”  It was expected that Welch would show how he had counted coup when he was dancing alone.  He did not do so, but the Indians thought it was because he was not boastful of his coups, and had sorrow for his fallen enemies.

The old man who had fallen down exhausted, sent a man around the ring of dancers after the dance had finished, who said for the other:  “I fell in the dance because I am not as strong as I used to be when I was a fighting man with Grass.  I have fought many battles when I had Buffalo meat to eat.  But now I can not get that to eat any more and I am weak.  I am ashamed that I am weak.  I have lost my honor.  But I will buy back my honor if no one objects.  I am sorry to have fallen down in this new dance of Mato Watakpe’s, so I will give two dollars for the feast.  Does any one object?  Then it is done.”


This was related in a song by the man he sent around the circle, who walked slowly while he sang.  I asked to be allowed to pay the two dollars for him and did so.  After this the weak old man stood and sang a song about….”

He has a good heart.

He is a good friend.

He does not lie.”

The dance was put on once more when I was present several months later at a gathering at Fort Yates, when many white people were present.

Welch Note  –  Since the above was written, I have danced the same dance many times.  It is always put on when I am present in the camp.  The name of the old man who fell down was Tatonka Hoksina or Buffalo Boy.


Brave Heart Dance for Welch, Poplar, Montana, October 28, 1932:

Poplar is situated on a bench land above the Missouri river timbered bottom lands and the river was at some distance from the city, although in times past steamboats had docked at the foot of the bench. The committee informed me that an escort would appear for me at 7:30 pm.  The Captain of Co. B., 165th Infantry, and Sergeant Finley, U.S.Sergt. Instructor for that unit, came early and we went to the Captain’s house where we had supper, and then an escort of a squad of National Guard, all Indian soldiers, came for me, and we started for the dance hall.

Upon arrival there, we discovered a great assembly of autos, wagons and riding horses about the place.  The squad entered first and when they had taken station, I was met by the President, an Indian named Diserly (name taken from a white man who had been good to his father) and escorted to my seat, where I received a rifle salute from the squad, and many old people came over to shake hands.  They had already finished their banquet and were ready for the ceremonies to start.  The entire affair was in charge of a committee composed of Brave Hearts.

There was a prayer by an Indian missionary, followed by “rendition” of the Star Spangled Banner, by the local band.  Then an Indian made a speech of welcome, which was full of compliments.  A white member of the society, Scott Hart, whose society name is Standing Soldier, who was to have been present and was to make a speech  –  place taken by Louis Youngman, and he went into the history of that country and of the old days when Fort Union at the mouth of the Yellowstone, was the greatest trading center in the frontier west.

Between these speeches, dancing was enjoyed.  I noticed that the dance costumes and other ceremonies were about the same as those to which I was accustomed to see among the other tribes of the Sioux and northern plains Indians, so I had no difficulty in following.  Costumes were not as flashy or beautiful as those of the Standing Rock Sioux, and there were not so many as usually to be seen in a similar number of other Indians I have visited.  I noticed one old man, particularly  –  he was dressed in black union suit, and appeared to be a man of some station among them.

Later on, this man, whose name is White Shield, and a Pabaska Sioux, made me a speech, saying that he was allowed to dance alone because he was the only member living of the Brave Hearts, who had “carried the sash’ and, in the performance of that implied vow, had gone into the camp of the enemy (Montana Blackfeet or Piegans) and returned with horses and coups.

So then he started to dance alone and when he had gone around and arrived before my seat, he asked me to dance with him, because “you have been to war four times.”  He carried the rattle of the society, with which he kept time to the drum and singers, flitting the rattle to the right and to the left in cadence.  For the honor of dancing, he then made me a present of an eagle head dress, which I, in turn, gave away to old Black Tail.

Then an old man prepared the pipe for smoking.  He first held it to Wakantonka, then to the principal cardinal points and then offered it to me to smoke.  I grasped the stem with both hands, and took three puffs and exhaled the smoke with a hissing noise, then with both hands, made the downward sweeping motion across his body  –  the old sign of  thanks.

Many people shouted my name and a new song was sung in which Charging Bear was honored, and I danced this dance with them.  There was a white man who was dressed in Indian costume.  I found out that he was a student from some eastern college, seeking information for his thesis.

Then I was presented with the regular presents which accompany the member of this society   –  a broad beaded belt; arm bands in same motif of decoration, and the rattle, also the moccasins.  These last are in a regular Assiniboine pattern, and have the “sign” of the society on them.  This is a pattern of “foot prints” in which the feet must be crossed.  It was explained to me that these are called “the erratic moccasins,” and mean that whenever a member becomes so weak or helpless or drunk or lost or confused or sick, etc., that the others must come to his aid and assistance.  The marks upon the belt and arm bands are in the regulation “man between the sky and earth” motif.  The rattle is of par flesche and beautifully done, with a “sash” of feathers on a strip of cloth descending from it.  When a member “takes up the sash” and displays it to the people, it is tantamount to making a vow that he will leave on the war path and not return until he has obtained honors.   (In several drawings made by the Sioux, this sash is shown being carried hanging from, the wrist or from the head.  Grass is so depicted, also Sitting Bull and many others).

A Brave Heart dance was then done.  This step is different and is a hard stamp when bringing the foot down, and across the other foot, at the same time a flirt of the rattle is made.  It is difficult.  The dancers generally were in single file, dancing in a “single column.”  Women joined the dance singly or in groups, but did not attempt to follow the men, neither did other dancers who joined in.  Dancing was furious and very exhausting and was of some length of time.  I was very glad when it ended, as my knees were giving out.

After this Brave Heart dance, some women presented me with meat (dog) and some bread, and soon thereafter, a recess was announced, and they led me to a regular table, where they had all sorts of cakes, chicken, coffee, pie, etc.  I was expected to eat and smoke, during which thep people sat quietly and ate apples and crackers which had been passed.  Then more dancing and singing.

It was formally declared by the officers that I was now a member of the Brave Heart Society, and that I would be expected to do my part by assisting them there when they had problems to meet, and I was told that I had the right now to establish a similar society among the Standing Rock Indians, should the occasion arise or the need for doing so be evident.


Corn Dance Ceremony of the Arikara, Nov. 3, 1927:

 Eight actors, men, sat in the segment of a great circle.  They were drummers, singers and otherwise took part.  Four women sat at each side of these men.  They also took part.  One hand drum, one gourd rattle from the sacred bundle, and several drum sticks were used while singing.

In front of the middle of the men was a pipe resting upon a red painted, forked stick; arranged to its left were a squash, many ears of corn, an old time hoe of a buffalo shoulder blade, several threshing sticks, a bow and arrows, a corn basket and a wild cat’s hide; an earthen bowl of Indian make, several corn balls for food, and the two male and female pipes.


After all are in position the ceremony opened by a wise and fearless and good man (Star) taking the pipe from its resting place and lighting it.  The white smoke was blown to the four corners of the earth and to the heavens and then to the grounds.  The sacred objects were covered with the sacred smoke from the pipe and then Star handed it to the men, each taking three puffs and drawing the hands with fingers extended, down the stem as it was withdrawn from them to present to another man.  Then the pipe was placed before one of the men upon the ground.  This man must be a brave and good man, too.  In fact all the men are selected with that object in view.

The gourd was then taken up and handed to one of the men, who got up and went to the center of the men and took his place as leader of the singing.  Another man, who appeared to be an official scene shifter, placed the earthen bowl upon the ground about twenty feet in front of the leading singer.  The singing them commenced.  A woman upon the left of the singer then got up and went to the bowl; holding her hands above it, palms down, she made several circular motions above it, and her place was soon taken by another woman from the other side.  This was continued until every woman had performed the circular movement over the bowl, and returned to her seat.

Then the singing changed and the first woman danced toward the bowl; picking it up in her hands, she made a motion with it, holding it a few inches from the ground, like she was sifting in a hand sieve.  She was then interrupted by another woman who did likewise, until every woman had performed this “planting” ceremony.

During this part of the ceremony, another man, who had not been noticed before, with a mask upon his face, danced in and picked up the bow and arrows and went through motions of protecting the woman at her work, from any enemy which might appear.  I was told that this man was a clown.  Singing was by this time continuous and the rattle and the drums were beaten and shaken and the drum sticks of the other singers beating the ground.

The “property man” now returned the bowl, and the women danced a descriptive motion of “geese in the air.”  When these fowls came in the spring, it was the sign for the dance to begin.

The two pipes, “male and female,” were now picked up and carried by two men who had been of especial good use to the people and sort of public benefactors.  These two men danced side by side around the ring many times.  Behind them came the eight women, two by two.  Behind, and on the sides at times, danced another well-established brave  –  and he carried an old time wooden war club with a great nail in the head.  This was supposed to represent the march through the village and the fields and was called “Carrying the corn.”  It was to sanctify the ground and propitiate the Great One Above that He might bless the season and the coming crop and make the fields thrive.  One of the women carried the skin of the wild cat and the other all carried ears of white corn, or Mother Corn.  The men and the one with the war club represent the aid of the warriors in help to the women while at work and to the fields while growing.  The wild cat is especially valuable, as it keeps down the mice and other animal pests and was frequently to be found near the fields.  The two leaders have the right to give a loud cry at times, to permit the processional rest.  They did this several times.  I think that the steps of the marching dance are not according to ancient ritual, but as each dancer desires, just so it maintains the rhythm.

When this processional was completed, one of the leaders rushed to the singer who held the sacred and old rattle and tore it from his hands.  He then walked about and recited some of his own brave deeds, after which he gave it once more into the hands of the man from whom he had wrenched it.

Again the conductor brings out the hoe and the bow and arrows.  The women take turns as before in swinging the hoe to the songs rhythm while a man carries the bow and arrows in a threatening manner to indicate alertness in protecting the workers and the growing corn, as well as provide meat by the hunt.

These articles are removed and two ears of corn are placed on the ground in front.  The women dance now holding in each hand an ear of corn and snapping it back to represent the motion of the red-headed woodpecker.  The first kernels of corn are supposed to be planted just when these birds appear, for then is the time to plant corn.

Then two ears are placed on either side of the spot of ground in front, these representing, as the women pick them up and dance, the Monarch butterfly.  When this butterfly appears the people know the grain is sprouting.

The four ears are placed there.  The women now danced together, each holding two ears in either hand.  The motions are to represent the geese of the planting time and the cranes of the “last planting.”


Then these were removed and a ripe squash was placed upon the ground.  This was danced with by each of the women, as the first ripe squash is always kept for seed, and is the first thing of the garden to mature.

Then the basket is danced with.  The dancers make aimless motions toward it, representing not the harvest, but the foolishness of those maidens who have neglected the gardens all summer and then go there to gather a crop which has died by choking weeds.

During this dance the clown ran in and places his arms about the woman in expression of the way in which she has spent the summer and growing time when she should have been working.  There is much laughter in this part of the dance.

Then a pile of corn and a squash is placed upon the ground, and each woman dances up and takes the red painted threshing stick and, kneeling upon the ground, flails the grain in harvesting.

Two men then danced, each carrying some balls of corn, indicating that this good food was the food of warriors.  They danced a fight between them, as one represented an Arikara and the other the common enemy, a Sioux, who often came to rob them of their hard-earned corn.

All of the objects having been used now, they were all brought forward and danced around.  The song at this time was that the people were thankful for a bountiful harvest, to the Great One Above, and, although the land is theirs to use and cultivate, it is not theirs really, but belongs to the Great One Above who lets them use it and sends them the crops.

The ceremony concluded with the sacred smoke ceremony as at the start, and the gathering of all objects together, when they are purified by the sweet smoke of the sweet grass and turned over to the man who is to keep them until the next ceremony.

My interpreter was a full blood Arikara, Eli Perkins, November 3, 1927


Coup Dance

Re:  Queen Marie of Roumania visit, November 1, 1926:

“….This was an old time dance in which every warrior taking part had the right to depict some brave war deed in pantomime.

Practically all of these men had “counted coup” on the enemy.  The warriors dance in the center and those women and men who have been honored by a public presentation of the right to show a “coup,” dance in the outside circle.  This outside circle always moves “with the sun.”

The old warrior who dances on the outside and in and out, as it appears to please him, is called the Noosegekaka.  His duties are to guard against the approach of evil-minded humans and mischievous spirits.  He glares at the sky, as he watches against evil spirits and often rushes at some spectator to determine whether or not he is an evil person.

The songs they sing at this time, always mention the name of the party they desire to honor.  Men of the last war have, in many cases, been given the right to dance in the middle of the circle and allowed to wear a war bonnet. “


Feast of the Dogs Dance

Cannon Ball, N.D., June 16th, 1922, I  witness this dance for the my first time:

Two men (Feather Necklace and Grey Bull) danced around the circle four times.  As they approached a bucket of meat standing in the southeast corner, they held out their arms at length with palms toward the bucket, after which they sat down.

Then four old dancers (White Cow Walking, Two Bulls, Brown Face and Many Horses) took off their bonnets and laid them down on the ground before them,  all in a line facing south toward the bucket of meat and the other two dancers, who had sat down, south of the meat bucket.  The four old men knelt as did the two first dancers.  They all extended their arms during the singing, finally arising to their feet and putting on their head dresses, they danced toward the meat four times, in line, returning to their places.


Then one of the four dancers struck the meat, and fell as dead.  He was carried off by the other three men and that ended that act.

Then one of the first two dancers (Feather Necklace) approached the meat in dance, four times, and struck it with a forked stick, wound with porcupine work, leaving it sticking in the meat, then sat down, ending the act.

Then a man came up, they told me was “the spoon man” (Bull Bear).  He danced with the pipe and offered it in this manner: first he presented it to the earth  –  then to the west  –  to the east, south and north, and then to the heavens or Wakantanka.  All stem first, with arms extended full and in slow, solemn motion and thoughtful mein.  Then handing the pipe to another seated dancer, e danced around the meat, finally taking up the forked stick with the meat on, and holding it high, selected an old man (No Two Horns) to eat .  He came and had to jump for it and catch it in his mouth.  He then carried the meat to his woman, holding it in his mouth.  She took it and placed it in her shawl, and the play was over.

I was told that it was “The Feast of the Dogs Dance,” and was danced in honor of the dogs, which were most always treated badly, but that they realized the dog was a friend and so they gave a Dog Feast once a year for the honor of the dogs.

Armistice Day, November 11, 1925 at Cannon Ball, N.,D.:

“….a cooked dog’s head was placed upon the ground by the drummers and singers who were in the middle of the circle; the head represented the enemy.  Three young soldiers, besides myself, and four old warriors were also selected to take part.  I was told to dance three times around the circle; the young soldiers followed and behind them were the old warriors, with coup sticks  –  all following in a string behind me.

After the third time around, I was supposed to discover the enemy and to dance back and indicate it to my party.  This I did, and then we charged toward the dog’s head and I struck the enemy.

There was a great commotion and much yelling and the women sang the ‘joy song or victory song.’  The people than all joined in the dance and I picked up the cooked head of the dog and carried it in my hand.

At the close of the drumming and singing, I was instructed to tell the story of some ‘coup’ made by myself upon the enemy.  I told the story of a battle just south of Cunel in the Argonne.  There was much yelling.  Then I handed the head to the next soldier and he told of his coup someplace.  Thus is passed from hand to hand to my ‘war party’ and each told of one of his coups.  We then took our seats.  Many presents were then given in honor of these men who told of their coups.


While preparations were being made for the next scene of this Dog Dance, there was a dance for the prize man dancer of the night.  It was won by a man who had just been turned loose from Leavenworth, where he had been for three years for the murder of his comrade while drunk at Ft. Peck, Montana.

Meanwhile, the dog’s head had been placed in a bucket, which stood upon the floor in front of me.  The Master of Ceremonies took a long, pointed, decorated stick, which was wrapped with porcupine quills.  This stick was about 30 inches long and the upper end terminated in a wide fork.  The Master of Ceremonies speared the head with the stick and held it up high for all to look at.  Then an old warrior, named Bear’s Heart, was selected to ‘bite the enemy.’  He could not use his hands, and the head was held so high that he was compelled to stand on his tip-toes to reach it with his mouth.  He bit it and tore loose a piece of meat, which he carried about the circle in his mouth, after which he took his seat and ate the meat.

Everything in this dance, which took an hour to complete and was more in the nature of a dance story or play than anything else, was done in a series of three.  Three times around the ring; three advances toward the enemy; three strikes; three attempts to eat the head before being successful; three attempts to spear the meat in the pail; etc., etc.  It was a new dance to me and I do not know the correct story of it, but it was very interesting and caused much excitement and merriment.”


Give Away Dance

Mahkpiye Mato (Cloud Bear), Sihasapa, November 15th, 1919, Mandan, N.D.  This man is an Episcopal Minister (Rev. Welsh).  His father was ½ brother to Chief Grass’ father:

“Dancing is bad for the Indian.  I call the drum the saloon.  When they hear that there will be a dance, they say ‘well, I will go and camp there and wait for the dance.’  So, they stay sometimes five days for that dance.  They leave their haying and all their work and go there.  If they would give away bead and skin work, that would be all right, but they give money and horses and stock and it keeps them poor.”




Grass Dance of the Gros Ventre, August 4-5, 1927

biog39-bulls-eye-photoIt was practically the same as the Grass Dance of the Sioux; drummers in the middle, dancing men in the circle, but with the addition of four men who stood apart and sung with hand drums.  These men were Drags Wolf, Bulls Eye and two others, and when the dance was ended and the drummers were resting, this group sung.  As I approached the dancers, I was met by Stanley Dean, Interpreter, who said that they were waiting for me.  Twenty women belonging to the woman’s society called ’Fox Imitators,’ were dancing together at one side.  They were formed in two lines facing each other and wore curious decorations upon their heads  –  insignia of their society  –  of a beaded head band and feathers sticking out on either side.  They danced toward each other and then back and at last one women, whom I took to be the Head of the organization, danced through the middle and back to her station at one end.  One man was standing alone at one place by the men singers, and, at last, he walked toward me and took off the trailing head dress he wore and handed it to me.  Drags Wolf then explained that the head dress had been intended for Hon. J. J. Sinclair, but, as he was not present, it was mine now.  I shook hands with the man who had worn it for the donor and told them that I would see that Mr. Sinclair received the bonnet.

Then the four men sung a song and a woman came over and asked to wear the bonnet and I took it off my head and allowed her to dance with it, with the Fox Imitators, after which she brought it back.  The a woman came slipping rapidly through the grass and spread out a beautiful Oregon City Blanket (Pendleton Woolen Mills) on the ground before me, as a present.  I took it up and, after giving a few presents of tobacco, I gave the blanket to Mrs. Good Bear, but she did not come for it, so I then gave it to the oldest man of the Gros Ventre who sat close by.  Then Mrs. Coffee gave me fifty cents and another woman gave me a dollar, both coins I gave away   –  one to the singers and one to the old men.  There were some more dances and songs, and then an old man named, Bear in the Water, came forward and said that he wanted to give me something which I would always keep, and handed to me a tobacco bag made of the skin of a very young deer, nicely tanned and a red stone pipe with a twisted, carved stem, and bowl inlaid with silver and black stone.  Decidedly a Gros Ventre pipe in decoration and form.  When I was ready to leave, they danced a Farewell Dance and the crowd dispersed quickly into their tipis.

I noticed a very decided social form at this dance of the Hidatsa and much dignified ceremony at all times, especially in the way of giving presents and in the demeanor and grave courtesy of the men and women toward me. There were several buck skin coats among the men decorated all over with yellow and this color appears to be a favorite with that tribe, and the costumes were very gaudy indeed and many had daubs of yellow clay, made like buttons in the strands of their unbraided hair.  Those with no headdress which hid their head, wore the hair parted in two places, one above each ear, and the middle part, thrown up in a high, stiffly greased pompadour which fell over toward the back of the head.  A very enjoyable ceremonial dance in my honor.


Indian Dance at Standing Rock, early 1900’s



Kiss Dance

Mrs. Cross Bear (Oyuhpewin, “Drags Down Woman), November 1939, 84 years old Wakpala, S.D.:

Mrs. Angela Boleyn, now writing the story of Chief John Grass of the Sihasapa Dakota, found many objections to a Dakota Dance named the Kiss Dance by Fr. Stephan, a Catholic Priest and one time agent at Fort Yates.  Not having knowledge of this dance, we visited Mrs. Cross Bear, sister of Chief Grass, to obtain her story of it, as follows:


“The men sat on one side of the dance place.  The women sat on the other side.  The singers sat at a big drum for the dance songs.  Two pairs of dancers took part.  A man would select a woman to dance with.  He would take a bowl of food to her, then they would dance.  The two pairs were opposite each other and danced back and forth toward each other.  Their arms were over the shoulders of their partners, like in the Gahomni Dance.  At certain times they would kiss.  For each kiss the man must give a plate of food or a present.  Then another man would take the place of the man, or a woman would take the place of the woman.  It was plenty of fun.  The government stopped that dance a long time ago.  They said that it was immoral.  I have danced the dances  –  the scalp dance, too, many times.  Finally the government stopped all dances, except the Grass dances.”

During the tale, the old lady covered her face with her hands and beneath her hands, her face bore a broad grin, as she thought over her younger days.  ABW.

 Editor’s note:  Mrs. Boleyn exchanged information with Welch during the 1930’s and early 1940’s as both of them researched John Grass’ participation in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.


The Night Dance

Sioux Semi-Centennial at Fort Yates, N.D., September 1932:

On the evening of the 2nd, I watched a dance called “The Night Dance.”  It was a new one to me.  It was the regular war dance with women taking part.  They appeared to dance in groups of three, these groups changing place rapidly.  The Little Eagle people were at the drums.

On the last night, they made a great dancing place in front of my lodges and held the last dance there.  Little Eagle people came in a body, walking across from their camp, with the drum and singers in front.

When they approached the dance ring, I went to meet them, carrying my coup stick.  They stopped and awaited me, and I said ‘He yu o’  ‘Come in’   I then told them that the place was theirs.  The drummers found a place in the middle; the costumed men sat together on the east of the circle, the women in the south, close to the entrance.  I sat alone in the place of honor across from the entrance, in the north.  They sung the Mato Watakpe song and I danced once alone. biog216-one-bull-standing

One Bull arose and sung the song again.  I finally danced across to him, and took his hand, introduced him to the whites, returned him to my own seat and motioned him to take it.  He did.  I sat at his right.  After that, he would not dance unless I arose first, and always danced with me at my left side.  The dances were swift and difficult but I danced most of them.  Several grass dances; a woman’s dance in which I was the only white;  men of five tribes dancing;  Mrs. Two Bear gave away a pipe;  Mossman, the Superintendent, was called in and presented with a beaded blanket and a bonnet; several other gifts were made; I was presented with a beaded blanket and a bonnet; several other gifts were made; I was presented a Hunku Pipe by the grand daughter of One Bull;  I then gave One Bull the blanket upon which he sat, one of my army blankets.

It was a great dance with perhaps 150 dancers and was wonderful.  The women were splendidly costumed, many had the pipe bead necklaces, and many were in buckskins.  Three drums were used at the last; one from Cannon Ball, one from Little Eagle and one from Kenel, the Grass Creek country.  The last dance was a circle grass dance with 164 men and women by actual count.

The next morning was Sunday, and I was driven home by Alvin Warrior in a government car, my tents and poles following in the wagons of Bull Bear.


Open the Door Dance

Porcupine Creek, April 2nd, 1923:

I attended an Indian dance here tonight.  When I came to the door of the dance lodge, Two Shields, Master of Ceremonies, took me to a seat among the Chiefs.

After a while they sung my song and I opened the dance with a flag in my hand.  No one but War Mothers and Fathers danced with me, and each gave 25 cents for this.  A woman sung a song about me and I gave them a dollar.

About ten o’clock, an old man danced alone, and finally danced out of the door.  It was explained to me that this was an ‘Open the Door’ Dance, and that any one could get up and go out now without prejudice.   Many did no, attended to nature’s requests and came back.


Petition to Hold a Dance, c. 1920

(No date … petition appears to have been written by Welch on behalf of the War Mothers)

Standing Rock Reservation,

Fort Yates, N.D.                                                To Whom it may concern:

We the undersigned, members of the “War Mother’s Society” of Standing Rock, Sioux County, North Dakota, extend to you through our authorized delegates who are to attend your meeting in the near future our most hearty greetings and best wishes for your success in the noble work that you are engaged in.



At heart and soul, we are with you in your work and would delight in assisting you in every way possible but we are handicapped in several ways; being Indians and wards of the government, we are tied down, as you may say, and cannot get out and do as we would much like to do; what little money a few of us have is held in trust by the Government and dished out to us in little sums which are used to buy provisions as far as the money will permit, so, financially, we are not able to help this thing along and live at the same time to any degree of pleasure; we have not the education to successfully carry our plans out as we would like to do.  We are placed under numerous restrictions as government wards which will not permit us to carry on the work of our organization as we would very much like to do.

At the outbreak of the World War we encouraged our sons to offer their services and lives, if need be, to defend our country and mankind; some of our dear ones were killed in action and were buried abroad; some died of disease and wounds; some lost their limbs and returned to us to be cripples the rest of their lives.  It appears to us that the sufferings of those who returned in an almost helpless condition has been overlooked by the officials in charge of these soldier boys who so willingly gave up their all to defend this country, especially is this true with our Superintendent who has overlooked the fact that quite a number of our returned soldiers are fairly well educated and, with a little proper coaching, could do office work and other positions at our Agency which require no great degree of ability and thereby earn a good living for themselves and those dependent on them.  Our Supt. Could make life easier for these boys in this manner and not obligate himself to any great extent but it appears to us that he has overlooked this fact entirely and, when a vacancy occurs in one of the positions mentioned above, fills the position with some one less deserving.

Before the war these boys were wards of the Govt. or trust patent Indians and, at the close of the war, and on their return to the reservation, the most of them were granted patent in fees for their allotments of 160 acres, thereby entitling them to full citizenship in a way and in undertaking to make a living as such, they encountered difficulties naturally after so sudden a change and their only alternative to  overcome these difficulties was to dispose of their allotments of 160 acres at most any price in order to make a living for themselves and those dependent on them and, as a result, they are practically all penniless and without homes in several cases.  We believe these boys are entitled to a little consideration by the U.S.Government and, since there is still remaining intact a large area of unallocated Indians lands, that these boys receive an additional allotment.

The Indians of this reservation started to solicit funds two years ago with which to erect a Memorial Hall in honor of the Soldier boys who fell in battle; this building we wish to be made of the best material to insure its longevity and remain intact for years to come; towards this end we have so far collected the small sum of $1070 which is merely a beginning as we have had difficulty in soliciting funds; our only hopes of ever collecting sufficient funds to carry this plan through is to have to so-called Indian dances at which we can take up collections but the Officer in charge at this place restricts us from doing this thereby shattering our only hope and means of raising the money.  It appears to us that he takes no interest in this plan of ours and makes no effort to encourage the thing along as he should do.  If he will raise these restrictions we are confident that we can raise the necessary  amount at the so-called Indian dances and social gatherings and, if it is within your power, or if you have any influence that will have any bearing on the withdrawal of these restrictions by the Indian Office or the Officer in charge of this reservation, we would certainly appreciate your help.

We are sincere in expressing our desire and we would like, above all things, to erect a building suitable for the memory of our soldier boys.

The so-called Indian dances, as it is executed at the present time, has, undoubtedly, been misrepresented to the officials at Washington, D.C. to a great extent; the Indian Office Official’s imaginary picture of these Indian dances is that he sees him dressed in gorgeous or weird costumes of feathers, etc., and in many instances, almost entirely naked, dancing around in a circle and at the same time pouring forth from his powerful lungs, whoops and yells that do credit to an Indian only; such performances on the part of the Indian are a thing of the past and their present mode of dancing is far from fitting into the above.

On the contrary, the Indian dances of the present day, as practiced, are harmless and in no way a detriment to the Indian, morally or otherwise.   For an illustration we may add that these dances are nothing more than a side step indulged in to the tune of an Indian chant and the beating of a drum and may be likened unto the Two Step that you white people indulge in to the tune of some musical instrument.  At these dances the Indian, young and old, appear in full dress, always the best they can afford as is customary in all communities whereas we notice that at the dances in white communities there are many instances where the lady’s dress is not entirely naked but very scant in places and this manner of dressing appears to us as though the early style of dressing at a dance by Indians is being taken up by our white sisters to the enjoyment and approval of all concerned but we are condemned for doing it.  If a moving picture were taken of the present-day dance of the Indian and presented to the Officials at Washington we are certain that they would be convinced that the manner of carrying on these dances has been grossly misrepresented to them and the restrictions they have placed upon us to our detriment and for no just cause would be waived.  We pray and petition that you will give this your careful thought and, if possible, help us to overcome our obstacles so that we may be able to carry on the work of our organization successfully as it should be.

Thanking you for the recognition that you have given us in this matter and hoping that we may be able to cooperate in matters pertaining to the organization in the future, we are respectfully,                                 ———- Sisters


Rabbit Dance, May 31, 1928


This dance is attended by music similar to the Gahomni, and it is a variation of that dance.  Women dance with the men.  Four singers with tom-toms began the song and the women went to the men they wanted to dance with and each placed their arms about the other’s body, side by side.  Some men danced with two women, one on either side.  Both step forward with the left foot; on the next beat the right foot is advanced about three inches; next beat the left foot is moved to the rear about twelve inches; next beat, the right foot is advanced another three; next beat, the left foot is advanced about twelve inches to a spot above three inches in advance of the right foot.  Repeat.

At time, the Whipper shouts “Gahomni,” and all while slowly right to left and when facing original position, the left foot is advanced and the steps are repeated as above.

The couples form a circle, each behind another and the slow movement is from right to left or following the sun.  All are very serious during the dance, and when it is finished, the women simply leave their partners without thanking them, and go to their place upon the floor, and site down upon their blankets.

I danced this several times.  One time, with a Crow woman visitor.  She wore the usual short skirt and moccasin half way up her calf, and she also wore the usual Crow woman’s head dress which consisted of a large bright silk handkerchief tied over her hair and fastened at the chin.

This is danced by all the Missouri River Indians, but it is seldom seen among the Sioux dancers.   ABW.


Scalp Dance

Crow Man, Hunkpapa, Fort Yates, N.D, July 12, 1921:

“The Scalp Dance used to be a great ceremony.  When a warrior took a scalp of an enemy, he brought it home and gave it to his woman to dance with.  The women carried them in the dance.  The way they did it was this way:  A scalp is something sacred and is not brought into the tipi.  It is hung up outside.  Some old man, who is very holy, or pure, goes into the sweat lodge and gets very pure all over.  Then he rubs the grease on the scalp and tans it.  After that he paints it red on the skin side and puts it in a good hoop and makes it on a pole for the dance.  When I was a boy, my father took a Crow scalp and brought it home.  It was fixed the way I tell you.  Mrs. McLaughlin has a Crow Scalp.  It is of a war chief.”   ABW.


Stephen R., Riggs discusses Scalp Dance:

“…This dance follows the bringing home of the scalps of their enemies.  A circle is formed, on one side of which stand the young men, with their bodies painted, with their feathers in their heads and their drums, rattles and other instruments of music in their hands.  While on the other side stand the young women in their best attire, carrying the scalp or scalps stretched on a hoop.  The war song commences and the women dance around, sometimes advancing towards the men who are stationary, and then again retreating, and responding at intervals to the music in a kind of chorus.  If the scalp is taken in the winter, the dance is kept up, frequently by day and night, until the leaves grow in the spring.  If it is taken in the summer, they dance and rejoice over it until the leaves fall off, when it is buried.”

ABW comments on Riggs:

I do not believe that Mr. Riggs thinks the dance continues for so long, but rather, that dances are frequently held and the scalps brought out and carried in the dances of the people.  They are many times, carried in the common grass dances  –  but that does not constitute a Scalp Dance.  The owners are allowed to carry them to any dance.  I have been told that the scalps of the enemy were often buried after having been kept some


Sun Dance

Big Foot talks, July 22, 1922:  “I carried around four buffalo heads.  Then I also tied a wild horse to the ropes in my shoulder and held him from going anywhere.”

Blue Thunder talks, Fort Yates, Sept. 9th, 1915, Black Hawk, interpreter:

“When a war party or war soldiers goes to war they have a leader selected by themselves.  He does not have to be a chief, but a brave man and one who knows how to do this thing.  He prays and makes himself holy and promises Wakantonka that, if he returns with honor and not too many killed in his party, he will cut himself and bleed for Wakantonka.”


“So, when he returns with honor and horses, this dance begins.  He does not eat for a day and a night time and then he is cut by the right men and the ropes tied in.  There is great ceremony in setting up the poles and the booths.  This is very important, too.  They have a feast and certain selected men put them up.  The ropes are tied to the pole and then he tears them out of the flesh where it was cut.  It is painful.  He must not faint or cry with pain.  Sometimes he thinks of other ways to do it.  Some are tied up from the ground and hang there.  It is just like Jesus on a cross.  They bleed for the rest of the people.

“Some men stay at home but take the dance, too.  They do it that way if they promised to.

They don’t have to go to war to take but they may also make the promise to bleed for honor.  Sometimes those men who stay at home don’t eat for two days and get clean in the sweat lodge inside and outside, too.  It is a great honor to make this dance.  It is all right if any are wounded for that is honorable and is not considered misfortune.”

Welch note:  Okute (Shoots) was also there and said it was right.  Relatives and friends may promise to bleed for their friends, and I know one old woman who took 50 cuts for her husband who had promised to cut himself 100 times.  This is done by raising the skin of the arms with a sharp bone, and cutting out a small piece of flesh with a knife.  It makes a scar like a small pox scar.

John Brown talks to A.B.Welch, 1917:

Selecting the Pole: “The right name of this dance is ’Wiwanyanwachi’ or ’Looking at the Sun Dance.’  The man who selected the pole was a very good man.  I have heard that your father once was the man to do this.  Sometimes he would find it a long ways away.  He must not touch the tree.  So, all the people go to bring home the pole.  Four young girls, daughters of honorable men, would hold a certain axe up to the north, east, south and west, then each one would chop the tree.  When it fell, they would chop it 26 feet long with a branch up near the top and they would leave that branch about a foot long.  Every one gave a great shout when the tree fell.  The they would put it carefully across other poles and carry it to the camp.”

Setting up the Pole:  “Hundreds of people would sing and when they rested it on the ground they would all shout again.  Lots of horsemen raced round and round it all the time.  Every one carried boughs and sweet grass with them at that time.  When they got to the right place a very good man dug the hole for it.  At the tope of the pole they would put a buffalo image, so this meant a prayer to Wakantonka for plenty of meat.  Below this they hung a wooden image of a man or a man doll made out of hide.  Then there was a cross pole tied near the top place.  The ropes were tied near the top piece at the branch where it had been cut off. “


The Sun Dance:  “The man who cut the dancers had to have had the dance before, himself.  He did it the same as had been don to him before.  They stayed outside for sometimes two or more days without food or drink and were holy inside and out.  They tied him up.  First they would stretch out the skin and punch a knife through it.  Sometimes they started to dance at about four o’clock and then when it was finished it would be four o’clock again.  Sometimes three or four men did the dance and sometimes more.  Those men had made vows to do it.  Sometimes they dragged buffalo heads around, too, outside the place.  The dance must break the flesh or rope.  If the flesh was not broken, the dance might let a man cut the flesh to free him and give him a horse for that.  The people practiced singing about three days before that time.  It was a very expensive dance to all who took part in it.  They always looked at the sun the blew on an eagle’s bone whistle.  They cut their arms, too, if they had vowed it, and that made a place like you say vaccination place.”

Circling Bear talks to Welch:  A splendid old Hunkpapa, who died in the winter of 1914-15, showed me three separate sets of scars upon his breast and two sets upon his back, where the thongs or sticks were tied or thrust, when he took this dance on five different occasions.

Crazy Buffalo talks to Welch, July 27, 1922:  “They cut me in the back and tied ropes there.  They hung me up on the pole.  I hung there for a long time.  My feet did not touch the ground.  It hurt pretty bad.”

biog71-crow-ghost-photoCrow Ghost talks, 1924:  Crow Ghost showed me his scars, which were in the breast, just above each nipple.  He said that a very small place had been cut with a knife and that they used a splintered skewer, and that he danced nearly two days before they tore the flesh.  They swung him back and forth.  He was 18 years old then. (note:  He was born about 1850).



Drags Wolf talks, 2/10/34:  “One time we hunted buffalo.  They cut off two heads at the throat.  They left the hide on with the tail attached.  They cut me in the back.  They tied in the heavy, green heads.  I walked all around with them, then.  I walked thirty miles I think.  I lost much blood.  I have those marks today.  It was an honorable thing to sacrifice that way.  I think that is one reason why they named me Head Chief of my people, because I was a strong man and brave.  My father’s name was Crow Fly High.  He was chief, too.  He is buried west of the Shell Village on the high hills there.”




Good Bird’s experience … A.B.Welch at Fort Berthold, October 1921:

Zitkala Waste (Good Bird), a Dakotah visitor was sick in his tipi.  As I called upon my brothers, the Sioux, I found him with a high fever, lying on a blanket, naked.  His arms were covered in nice rows with white spots about as big as a pea.  Upon examination, I discovered them to be the so-called ‘bleeds’ of the Dakotah Sun Dance, or sacrifices of flesh, which had been cut out.  They were doctoring him with the old-time roots and herb medicine of the Sioux.  He passed through Mandan yesterday in a wagon (Oct. 18th) and said he would be able to get home all right.

Chief John Grass talks about the ordeal, c. 1915:

Chief John Grass told me that when he first took the Sun Dance ordeal, he first went into a sweat lodge.  Here he took steam baths in the following manner:

The house had been made by bending small saplings, with the sharp ends stuck into the ground in a circle, toward the center, where they were tied together at their tops.  A number of buffalo robes were then thrown over this framework and made tight.  A small hole had been dug in the center, lined with clay and burned to make it water tight.  Water was then put into the hole.  He went in naked and women passed in to him on whicker rackets, small hot rocks, and these he rolled into the water;  steam arose and created intense heat.  He stayed in this lodge about twelve hours, without eating or drinking or sleeping.

Then he came out and walked barefooted to the top of a high butte where he sang and called upon the spirits to make him strong, brave and truthful.  The sun coming up he went back to camp where the cuts were made in each breast and a strong stick with raw hide rope attached, was run into the cuts and turned around so it would not come out.  The cord from each breast was tied together a short distance in font and then run up to the cross piece where the sacred bundle was tied.  Then he started to dance and surge and pull to either break the cord or pull loose the flesh.  He said the pain was worse than knives.  But he did not faint or cry and after a long time, the flesh finally tore loose and he fell away from the pole.  He was then a warrior and received his father’s own warrior name of Mato Watakpe.  This was when he was but seventeen years of age (born 1837), after returning from a successful war expedition against the Crows.  In this he had been head soldier.

Chief Grass was selected to be the man to select the pole for several other Sun Dances.  This is a great honor and a man “must be a very good and a good councilor to do this thing about the pole.”

Mrs. John Grass talks to Welch, November 28, 1919:

It is called Wi Wan Guwa Wacipi.  Itancan is leader of the dancers.  Wakan han is medicine man.  Kuwa Kiyapi is intercessor.  Oan Wakan is sacred pole.  Owanka Wakan is sacred place.  Nite Iyapehe is deer skin apron worn by dancers. Mid summer is the season of the Sun Dance.

Red Weasel (Itunkasan Luta), Teton, was intercessor at the Sun Dances on four different occasions.  He received his instructions from Dreamer of the Sun, (Wiihanbla), who was his uncle.  The only man alive (1919) who ever acted as intercessor.

Dreamer of the Sun carried a hoop while dancing.  Asked what it represented, he said, “Once while dancing in the Sun Dance on the second day, the intercessor had a small looking glass and threw the light in my eyes.  I became dead then and dreamed that I saw the sun and the intercessor’s face was in it.  So, I wear this hoop, which is the sun; these feathers are the eagle, the bird of day; these are the crane, which is the bird of night and these are the hawk, which is the bird of prey.”

Colors used in decorating dancers in the Sun Dance:

Red is the tribal color, indicating the red clouds at sunset, i.e. fair weather.

Blue represents the cloudless sky,

Yellow, the split lightning,

White corresponds to the light,

Black is associated with nighttime.

Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, May 8, 1921:

I have seen many times the Sun Dance.  I never saw any one hung up to the pole.  I have seen them up so high that only their toes touched the ground.  The people swung them back and forth.  Sometimes a man would drag one or two or three buffalo heads along.  I have heard that the Mowatani (Mandan Indians) dragged more than this.  Maybe that is right.  But the Mowatani drank water and took meat when they danced.  They were not as brave as the Dakotah.  The Dakotah danced the Sun Dance with no water or meat.  They took a bath in the lodge first.  That made them clean and weak.  A buffalo head is very heavy to drag around.


No-Two-Horns talks to Welch, July 24th, 1924:

He took off his shirt to show me his scars.  He had a row of four from the middle of the shoulder blade to the other, and two about six inches lower, one on either side of the backbone.  They were ugly looking scars, each about an inch long.  In these had been attached buffalo skulls, which he dragged around until they tore out the flesh.  One cut only had been made, and a skewer inserted and turned at right angles to the cut.  He was 21 years old when that was done (born 1854).

Rain in the Face takes the Sun Dance, told by W.C.Gooding, Custodian, Fort Abraham Lincoln, 1898:

One of the last times this dance was made was on the Standing Rock Reservation in July 1874.  I was present and saw it taken by Rain.  Rain in the Face had made a vow to submit his body to one thousand cuts and other tortures, should the Great Spirit spare the life of his child who was sick unto death.  When this vow was made known and that the child had recovered, preparations were made for the Great Sun Dance.

Many of the relatives of Rain volunteered to help him so that when the dance took place his part would be but the suspension from the medicine pole, but this, in itself, is the most trying and requiring the greatest suffering and fortitude.  All was commotion among the Indians.  The lodges scattered about the agency, some at a distance of five miles, must be taken down and moved to a site selected for the occasion.  The camp was a circle one eighth of a mile in diameter.  Feasts and dances are now the order of the day, and everybody is nervy, while the head chiefs of the different bands meet in council and appoint the days, and arrange other, preliminaries for the great dance.

At last everything is decided and preparations are immediately made to erect the medicine pole, around which everything centers.  This pole was of elm about twenty feet in length and seven or eight inches in diameter at the base.  This pole is cut by virgin maidens, and may seek the honor to show their chastity.  It is firmly planted in the ground in the center of the circle of lodges; and then around it another circle of open sheds of boughs were made, forming an open space some fifty feet in diameter.  Some fifteen young men, ranging from fifteen to twenty five years of age, were scattered around the pole, their bodies naked and blackened with charcoal, wearing nothing but a short skirt of buckskin about their loins and head dresses of eagle’s feathers upon their heads.  These would dance at intervals, and have their arms, legs and bodies pricked by the medicine men.  Many squaws also entered the ring and had a small thong inserted in their arms, which the medicine men would remove after a certain time.

The participants of the dance were not to eat or drink anything during its continuance and this particular dance lasted for two days and nights.  The other Indians gathered under the sheds of boughs, feasting, making speeches and beating the tom toms.  Now and then an Indian, with a bucket of water and a long string of tin cups over his shoulder, would ender the ring  and offer water to those engaged in the sun dance.  Another would follow with food, but each and all resisted the temptation.


Suspended from the medicine pole by a stout lariat, the two ends of which were fastened to the two thongs in the hollow of his back, hung Rain in the Face.  In each hand he had a long pole which partly sustained him, but now and then he would cast them aside and swing with his whole weight upon the lariat, trying to tear the thongs from his flesh.  I stood near, watching the scene, and undoubtedly showing pity in my eyes.  Rain in the Face, looking down upon me, smiled.


For how long this Indian remained in his torture I am unable to say.  I was upon the scene the following day and he still remained fastened to the medicine pole.  The dance had reached its highest excitement.  A young brave was led into the circle by the medicine man and made to lie down upon his back.  Two thongs were placed in each breast, then turning him over, six more were placed in his shoulders.  He then stood erect, and to the thongs in his back six buffalo skulls were fastened.  The ends of a lariat from the medicine pole were attached to the thongs in his breast.

The drums commenced to beat and this Indian to dance, and as the skulls tore out of the flesh one by one, the onlookers shouted their appreciation.  Then, bracing back until the lariat pulled his breasts out like a woman, he danced with renewed vigor, and as the thongs tore from his breasts such a cry rent the air as only savages can make.

Many horses were given away at this dance, which was a very novel entertainment.  The animal was led into the circle and fully admired, then one of the dancers was given a stick which he threw among the crowd of onlookers, and whoever got the stick, took the horse.

The jagged flesh is carefully cut from the participants of the sun dance, and the medicine man waves it toward the four points of the compass, then points it toward the sun, then places it at the foot of the medicine pole.

The Indian maidens and, also, the married women seat themselves within the circle and have a dish of meat.  They call upon any one who can say ill of their good name to come and eat out of the dish.  The Indians show great skill in restoring good health to the participants of the sun dance and seldom has any serious result been known.

Red Fox’s experience in a Sun Dance:

Tokala luta (Red Fox) took part in a sun dance after he killed his first enemy when was a young man.  He was cut seven times below the elbow and two places above each ear, making 18 wounds.  “I gave my blood to Wakantonka.”

A story of her brother as told by Mrs. John Grass, May 8th, 1921:

Indian name for Sun Dance is Ista Pi (Uses for Eyes, Looking at the Sun).

When my brother was in the camp of boughs, where the Miniconjou (Their tribe) had left him to die after being shot with an arrow through the ankle, he had much time to think about things.  He prayed to Wakantonka to let him live and get home.

He said, “Wakantonka let me live.  I want to see my people again.  Don’t let me die now.  If you let me live I will do things for your honor.  I will smoke for you for three nights and three days.  I will bleed for you in three hundred places,  I will dance for you without food and water.  I will do these three things in your honor.  Wakantonka let me walk and live.”

So Wakantonka let him walk and live.  He sent a wolf to talk with him about people coming along.  He got home.  I have told you about that.  When the Looking at the Sun Dance time came he smoked three days and nights to Him.  He sang songs to Him.  He prepared to bleed three hundred times.  It was a great honor to bleed so many times as three hundred.  It was a great promise he made to Him.  He had many friends and relatives.  They wanted to take some of the bleeding for him.  So they made him many presents and took the bleeding.  They each one took ten cuts in their arms.  He danced in the dance then.  He did not eat or take water.  He made a great dance that time.  He made his vow good.

(Note:  Mrs. Grass was born in 1852).

White Cow Walking’s experience:

White Cow Walking took part in a sun dance and carried six buffalo heads attached to breast, back and arm shoulders.  “the women pointed at me many times and said I was a very brave man.”

Emeron White, Fort Yates, educated Dakotah, talks, August 17th , 1922:

I am 56 years old and have seen several dances.  The pole is selected by a very good man.  Some say it must be left in the ground after the dance and others say it should be taken, with some ceremony, back to the forest where they got it.

One time I saw only two girls strike it until it fell, but sometimes four girls chop it down.  Before it is placed in the hold, buffalo fat is always put into the hole.

The man or men who give the dance are the ones who are to be hung up.  They first purify themselves in the sweat lodge and get all clean inside and out.  They do not eat.  A friend leads them to the dance place then.  The man covers his face with both hands and cries and prays as he is led to the place.

When it is ready and the ropes are tied to the pole, a man comes to him and throws him roughly to the ground, face down.  He lays there upon sage, which is holy grass.  The man then takes the flesh in both hands and pulls it hard and stretches the skin away out.  Then he takes a knife or a stick which the other man has brought, and sings.  He tells of some thing he did in war.  He must be a brave man.  Then he says: “I did it like this,” and jabs the knife clear through.  He does this on both front and back.  Then he turns the stick in the cuts, and sometimes lifts the dancer clear off the ground to see that they are strong and the sticks all right.  Then he turns him over and cuts him in the breasts the same way.  He stands up and the ropes are tied to the sticks then, and the dancer leans away back hard.  It is the most honorable to be tied up, suspended, so the toes only touch the ground.  The dancer then kicks the pole and swings around.

Some people then may come and eat the best food in front of him.  They are three days without food and they are hungry.  After it is long enough, a man cuts the flesh and lets him drop.  When they carry buffalo heads, they first fill them with sand to make them very heavy.  The man takes the dancer to the top of a high hill, and they say he treats him rough, too.  Then he is led around the camp.  I saw one go clear around the camp circle once.  Many people follow along, for some people, his relatives, lay blankets and things on the ground where he is to walk.  The people can then pick these things up and keep them.

After the dance, the dancer is laid on the ground on some sage until he gets well enough to walk.  It is a hard dance, but only a man who took a vow does it.  There is much honor in this dance.

The man’s relatives prepare a feast, and after he can walk to his tipi, he finds the very best things to eat there.  All the dainty things have been saved for him.  No one ever dies, but I know one man who could not use his arm well after the dance.  The cutting man must have cut some cords which moved his arm.

Welch visits Little Eagle, S.D., September 8, 1936:

Today I took G. A. Thompson and Frank Everts of Bismarck, and went to Little Eagle to visit my old friends One Bull and White Bull, brothers, and the only nephews of Sitting Bull alive.  We took with us bread, a flank of meat and a kidney with its sweet fat, coffee, flour, tobacco, pears and peaches, as presents.  We drove via Flasher and McLaughlin, S.D., and arriving at Little Eagle, we found where they were living on the right bank of the Grand river, and drove down there through the great trees and lowlands.  The river did not have a drop of water in it where we crossed it, and soon we came to the little log house of Spotted Horse, whose educated wife is the daughter of One Bull.


I heard One Bull shouting that Charging Bear was coming  –  and we walked up to the entrance of their leaf-covered summer shelter, where we shook hands with both of the old men, his wife, Spotted Bear’s wife and another woman by the name of Growler, some relation of Sitting Bull.  We smoked and then started in to talk.  The old fellows were so happy to see us, and the present were so happily received.  They started to eat the fruit at once.  Soon I smelled the odor of boiling meat as they started the soup kettle,  We had a wonderful visit and talk.

I learned that One Bull was freighting and that White Bull was at Eagle Butte (southward) at the time the Indian Police arrested Sitting Bull, ten miles to the west on the Grand.  However, One Bull’s wife was in S.B.s camp that morning and fled with Big Foot after the fight, finally being corralled at Wounded Knee, a few days later.

One Bull is 84, White Bull is 87 years of age, both apparently being in good health at present.  They had quite a dispute as to how many daughters Sitting Bull had, but finally decided that there were three, one dying young, and the others later on.  His son, Crow Foot, and his adopted son, an Assiniboine (Hohe), called Little Assiniboine, were both killed at the fight when S.B. was killed.  S.B. had captured this Hohe and taken him as his own son. I gave a blanket to One Bull and a suit of clothes to White Bull.

They brought me all the things they had used during their recent Sun Dance.  I found out that they had two wreaths of wild sage to wear on their heads; One Bull wore four red sticks in his hair, a five inch pointed star and a half moon on his breast, and carried an eagle bone whistle with a six inch fluffy feather tied to it.

They prayed for rain to come, and that stars and moon and sun were implored to be mediums between God and themselves.  The red sticks (six inches long and as large as a lead pencil) were used to scratch themselves with during the day, as no one in the ceremony should ever touch their half-naked bodies during the day, but hold their arms close to their sides and glare at the sun all day without food or drink.  They told me that they did rest a little during the middle of the day, though.  They also dance barefooted, as the earth is the mother of men and radiations from her should come through direct to the bare skin.

One Bull told me that he had practically been raised from a boy by Sitting Bull, and that he was always with him wherever he went. White Bull was not with him so much as he was connected with the Minneconjous and stayed with his mother most of the time.

At last we shook hands and departed after a visit of a couple of hours  –  a delightful ceremonial visit with two men who had been savages during most of their lives and both active participants in the Custer fight, and the splendid old woman of One Bull, who placed her cheek to mine and wailed with pleasure and happiness.

What a transition in their lives  –  old buffalo hunters, one born in 1849, the other in 1852, hunters of human enemies, bloodthirsty and revengeful in their youth; then came the transition period when they were about 40 years of age; with the wild white soldiers and wilder hunters;  then modern times with near starvation and confusion to them.

The Sun Dance at Cannon Ball, July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 1937:

Long preparations had been made by the people in vicinity of Cannon Ball for this dance.  Old Mato Cante (Bears Heart), was chosen to be leader of the Dancers; of Fort Peck, Montana, was the Medicine Man in charge of the dance, and the singers also came from the Montana reservation, as the Yanktonaise at Cannon Ball did not know the Sun Dance Songs.


On July 1st I went by auto to the dance, accompanied by G.R.Thompson and Ackerman of Bismarck.  We went by the river road, ferrying across the swollen Cannon Ball river at the mouth.  We found about 1500 Indians at the camp, east of the Agency Offices, on the first river bench among the timber.  Here they had erected a dance circle of boughs, 100 feet in diameter, with a sun shad of boughs clear about the circle.  In the center was the hole waiting to receive the dance pole.  This pole had been selected previously by some committee, and the search for virgins to strike the pole was begun.  The fun of it was that they found but two women or young girls who were willing to sit out in sight of all and claim virginity.  Consequently they had to select two boys to make up the quartette required by ancient usage and ceremony.  But the tree was finally struck by them, each striking the part facing a cardinal point.  The tree was cut down, caught on boughs, carried into the camp and to the dancing circle and was ready for the erection.  Many men got under it, while some followed the gradual rising with a crotched tree.  At last it slipped into its place.  This pole was 15 inches in diameter, with a crotch about 15 feet above the earth, where a large bundle of green boughs was tied.  Just below this bundle was tied a ten inch cut-out figure of a buffalo.  The pole was secured by tamping.  At the crotch was tied a “flag” of red cloth.

Then everybody went over to the “Medicine tipi” where sat the Medicine Man, White Shield, the leader of the Dancers and eight others who had previously “smoked the pipe” and were candidates for the ceremony of the Sun Dance.  Two women were among the number.  One wore a war bonnet and the other did not.  These people took at least two hours to dress and paint and otherwise prepare, but at last there were whispers among the crowd about the lodge, and a herald came out and warned the people to keep away and be respectful during the parade to the dance ring.  Then the singers and the drums came out.  Behind them appeared Bears Heart, while behind him came the red, yellow, white and green banners, denoting the rainbow  –  behind them marched the dancers, each painted in his own design and carrying various instruments which were to be used.  The Medicine Man brought up the rear.  I had been requested to broadcast the march and watched them carefully.  They appeared at the entrance and opened to allow the Medicine Man to enter first.  He went to the place of honor across from the twenty foot opening in the green walls of boughs, and carefully set up his sacred shrine.

Sun Dance altar, 1937customs81-sun-dance-altar

This was the first two forked sticks with a cross piece, each painted red.  Against this he set up his pipe by leaning it against the crosspiece.  Then he spread much green sage on the ground, and in front of it he placed the buffalo skull, painted in red, with sage in the eye sockets and nose.  Beside he placed his two shields one with a Thunder Bird on it, and one painted in symbolic pictures representing the sky, earth, sun, “power lines,” and an image of the buffalo.  A cane was stuck into the earth, with a red cloth and sage tied to it.  Fire was already burning in a large fire directly between the pole and the entrance; fire was carried by a “spoon” of wood to a small place on the earth in front of the shrine and sweet grass was broken from a braid of it and burned on this small fire.  This threw off a white, sweet smoke; the Medicine Man then lighted his sacred pipe and it was passed to the dancers for a last smoke.  Then the Medicine Man led the dancers to the place of dancing, which was directly toward the sun at the time.  The Leader of the Dance was on the left of the line, close to the pole, then came the two women and the other dancers.

The singers started up their song and the dance was on.  No cutting of the breasts was allowed by the Government.  The dancers stood in one spot and danced, each blowing through the eagle bone whistle and glaring at the sun;  sweat soon was running down the naked bodies and each blew a blast at each step.  One man, especially, interested me   –  his face was painted yellow with a half inch circle of red paint across his forehead and down to the point of his chin  –  he glared at the sun with unblinking eyes as he blew his whistle and danced.  He soon appeared to be in a trance or hypnotic state and mosquitoes settled upon his body in swarms.  One dancer was apparently overcome with some sort of emotion and soon hung his head and then fell out and went to his seat, seemingly exhausted.  The Medicine Man then blew his whistle in soft tones and waved an eagle wing fan slowly toward the dancers.  The singers stopped; the dancers went to their seats and rested.


Then Cottonwood rose and addressed the people in native tongue.  At the close of his remarks he said in Sioux, “Charging Bear is here and will tell you white people what I said,”  So I arose from where I had been invited to sit beside the Medicine Man, White Shield, and explained to the whites the significance of the dance and the symbolism to be seen, and the purpose of the dance, which was that of bringing rain, and that the dance would continue until six o’clock in the morning.  Then the dance was continued.  At one time it appeared as though the leader, Bears Heart, would fall and the Medicine Man sent him a cane to lean on while he recovered.  To two others he sent a shield to carry.  Later on he took those two and led them to in front of the dance.  At several times, the attendant of the Medicine Man carried new fresh coals from the larger fire to the smaller one and placed fresh grass upon it.

 White Shield’s war shieldcustoms80-white-shields-shield

We stayed until sunset and then left with no disturbance, returning to Mandan.  I had taken also a man from the Saturday Evening Post, who had flown from New York, but he preferred to remain all night.  His real name is West, and his non-de-plume is Demitri.  His a noted artist and photographer.  Before leaving we visited several lodges and talked with friends of mine.  I had taken some meat and shirts for presents, also tobacco.

The next morning, I returned alone.  The dance had ceased at six o’clock; the committee were at work erecting another dance circle of boughs for grass and war dances.  No other candidates were available, so the Sun Dance was over.  I visited the medicine lodge, and saw the exhausted dancers  – White Shield was glowing smoke from his pipe across their prostrate bodies.  I gave them tobacco, complimented them upon their bravery and strength to withstand the dance.  White Shield then said that he had danced when I had been made a member of the Brave Hearts out in Montana, and as we both belonged to that society, I could take the sacred things used in the dance.  I rolled up my car, piled in the painted buffalo skull, hoops, cane, the sticks of the shrine, the red banner, sweet grass braids, fire carrier, the fur neck piece of the Medicine Man, rabbit fur for the ankles and arms, eagle bone whistles and even the sacred sage upon which these things had reposed during the dance.  A short time after, the Medicine Lodge was taken down and erected in another spot  –  there was certainly a real reason for this, but what it was, I was not able to gather.  This is the first Sun Dance in N.D. since 1880.

The Shields of the Sun Dance, July 6th, 1937, today White Shield called to talk with me:

He reviewed the dance and the ceremony of my taking the Brave Heart a few years ago.  Then he said that he had not given me one of the shields used at the Sun Dance and wanted me to choose either one of them.  One was a Thunder Bird shield and the other was selected by me and, together, with the articles described above, is among the articles of my collection.  It is a Rain Shield and is described elsewhere.

Results of the dance.  On the second day I drove through rain for several miles.  Today, as I write, the 7th of July, it is raining and has rained all day after weeks of drought.  Did Wakantonka bring it?

Sun Dance at Little Eagle, S.D., August 8th, 1942:

In July I received a letter written by Mrs. Spotted Horse, an educated Sioux (Hunkpapa) woman, written at the direction of One Bull (Tatanka Wajila), the noted Sioux (Hunkpapa) warrior and Chief and Nephew of Sitting Bull;  It said, “My Dear Brother; I want to find out how you are getting along.  I’m alright.  My Friend and I want to put up a Sun Dance for the soldier boys at war.  I need your help.  I shake hands.  One Bull.  I said this.”

Coming from an old friend of many years, I would not have accepted an invitation to a blasé’ soiree at any noisy night club with a gay company of friends, any quicker or with more genuine pleasure.  The almost childlike affection this 97 year old Indian has for me, touches me someway  – “under the skin like.”  So, I knew that I would be present no matter what might arise to deter me.

After one postponement (on account of a “sign” from his medicine) the call was sent out for the 7th and 8th of August; the site of t he ceremony was to be in the deep, centuries-eroded, narrow valley of the Grand River, called by the Dakota, the Palani Wakpe (Arikara River), first mentioned by the Lewis and Clark Journals in 1804; explored by General Ashley in 1823; where the Ashley Expedition of the Rocky Mountain Fur Co. was attacked by the Arikara villagers the same year, and was the actual cause of the Col. Leavenworth Punitive Expedition against them that summer.  A historic river, running almost bank full today, heading in the area north of the Black Hills (Paha Sapa) and emptying into the turbid and wide Missouri (Minisose  –  “Roily Water”) about four miles from the bridge across it at the present Mowbridge, S.D.

The road approaches the valley across a gently rolling prairie country, this year covered with wild grasses belly deep to grazing cattle; suddenly turns and sweeps down into bottom of the wide timber-covered floor of the bottoms, another turn and it leads past the Little Eagle Indian Department Agency Buildings, where today a large U.S.Flag stood out from the tall staff, and into the deeper cottonwood timber land.

Fresh trails led off to the right, and following those “signs”  –  we soon heard, or felt, rather, the deep pulsations of the drums; yells and the high-pitched sounds of singing women directed us to the dance ring;  the usual barking dogs, neighing of horses, shouts of Indian children; the sign of a few tents; a glimpse of a few old time pointed ones through the trees  –  at last we were at the camp.

I had received a wire from the National Geographic Society to try to obtain pictures for their study, and had taken Mr. Mohr, whose Indian name is Wakiyan Hotonka (Good Voice Thunder); several heavy packages of fresh beef and some kidneys with the “white fat” on them; a couple of discarded shirts; a pocketful of small change; a carton of cigarettes  –  presents where and when expedient.

We had left Mandan early this morning  –  the sky was threateningly overcast, but within fifty miles we ran out of that condition and the sun beat down mercilessly between the walls of the valley as we entered the camp.


After parking the car in the shade of the trees, we walked slowly toward the Sun Dance booth, and was soon met by a woman who ran toward us   – she was the daughter of One Bull  and said that she had been watching for us to appear.  Under her guidance, we soon stood at the entrance of the circle and the Master of Ceremonies told me to follow him; and so that was my appearance there.  He shouted my name (Mato Watakpe  – Charging Bear) and loudly announced that I was present.  There were seven dancers, and they never allowed their eyes to drop, but stared at the hot sizzling sun;  the piercing sound of the sun dance whistles of eagle bone; the frenzied pound of the drums and the minor tones of the singer; the taunting shouts of spectators as they held water toward the dancers  – pouting the precious thirst-reducing elements to the ground  – or held out tempting things to eat to them, and then withdrew them;  – and over all was a silence of such it could possibly be  – of several hundred watchers  – such a religious atmosphere as when a christening  is taking place within a vaulted cathedral, or a baptismal ceremony is in progress within a country-side little brown church in the Wildwood.  A very old man, dressed in a splendid outfit of buckskin and double-eagle bonnet, arose on the south side and loudly sang my name in the “holy manner”  – and, following that custom, called me Holy Horse  – rather than mention my real name (this is a custom not very well understood by many so-called students of Indian customs, but is the apex of honor, apparently); many of the older people came to shake hands with me and I was able to call many of them by name, a thing which greatly pleased them.  Just at the time, the dancers, who had been on their feet since sunrise many hours before, were stopped by the man who represented the Medicine Man, and they followed him slowly and stumblingly toward the “honor seat” directly across from the entrance, which was in the east of the circle;  the Master of Ceremonies then led me around and behind the circle of posts, to where the dancers were sitting on the ground behind the “holy mellow ground” with its two buffalo skulls and sage, and I shook hands with all of them, being careful to not step over the pipe which was laying upon the ground in the center.

I will write the names of the dancers before I forget them:  Starting at the right end of the line, or the west as they faced the south:

White Bull (Tatonka Ska), middle-aged son of the old

Warrior White Bull.

One Bull (Tatonka Wajila), dance sponsor.

Spotted Horse Woman (Tasunkaka Galeska Win), the sister of the woman who watched for us.

Kills Pretty Enemy (Tokawastakte), old Blackfeet (Sihasapa) Teton warrior, and some

Indian relative of mine through the Grass connection.

Brown, (Giwin), a woman pipe holder.

Brown, (Gi), the pipe holder’s husband.  And another whose Indian name I did not learn.

Dress of the dancers:  Barefooted; the men were naked to the waist; the two women were in buckskin dresses, fringed but with no beads;  each dancer wore a twisted circle of sage about their hair, and from this head circle, there extended a pliant with the end of which was a fluffy white feather from the underwing of the golden eagle; some of them had sage wristbands also, while old Kills Pretty Enemy wore also at his wrists, a band of white rabbit fur. He also carried an object in either hand, one was made of a horse’s tail and in his left was sage and feathers.  White Bull wore a four inch wristband of otter skin on his right wrist; One Bull had a staff about five feet long, upon which to support himself, and at the middle of this there was a bunch of sage tied about it;  each man wore an eagle bone whistle about six inches long, about his neck, held by a twisted cord of buckskin  – and each had the same sort of underwing fluffy feather tied to the end, which flew out and sailed as the dancer blew through the instrument.  Each man wore a piece of tent cloth or a piece of a sheet about his waist and this hung to the ankles, completely covering his body from the waist down; under this was a breech-cloth and there was no suggestion of exposure in their makeup.  Each carried a bunch of olive-colored sage in his left hand;  the decorations were not worn as in a war dance, for decorative purposes, but the entire assemble and appearance was one of ceremonial usage and ritualistic custom  – humble and unassuming “before Wakantonka.”  Who was represented by the Sun as from time immemorial by the tribes of the Dakota.

The Holy Mellow Ground (Shrine):  A place had been prepared by those who built the enclosure for this, and Kills Pretty Enemy had given thanks and otherwise blessed this spot, before the sun had risen.  It was an oblong place about three feet by two feet and six inches; from which the earth had been taken to a depth of about four inches, and all grass roots and foreign articles had been removed;  the earth, so prepared, was then piled on a flat oblong at the west end of the excavation, the same in length, but about six inches high;  upon this were placed two buffalo skulls, side by side, and facing toward the prepared place.  The one to the south had a piece of red cloth across the broad forehead and covering it as far as the eye sockets; the north one did not have this, but they both had strings of red cloth about three inches wide, wound about the bases of the black horns. (The eye sockets and their nasal openings were empty and not filled with sage as I have seen in other dances of a similar nature).  The skulls did not have the lower jaw, and were placed upon the earth mound upon the upper teeth.  In the bottom of the prepared earth excavation there was a cardboard (red) image of a man and another one in the shape of a “quarter moon.”  I noticed particularly that there was no sage in the bottom of this place.  This was the Holy Ground of the Dakota people and has often been described to me this way:  “The Sun is the Mother of the Earth; the Earth is the Mother of Men;  Earth, itself, is not dirty or contaminating, therefore, we make a place like this in order that the influence of Mother Earth may enter into us undisturbed by any unfriendly radiations from any sticks  or other thing which might not be clean and pure.  Earth is our Mother; this place is her heart, good and gracious.”

Today, old Male Bear said to me:  “No wrong may be committed near this Place. No blood may be shed because of hate or quick anger.  One sitting in the vicinity is secure and sacred and may not be disturbed by anyone.  The Spirits talk here, especially in the bright sunlight.  It is a Holy Place.”  While talking, he did not point with his fingers or hands, but used his lips to indicate direction, and another aged woman said:  “We do not look directly at that Place, any more than a woman looks directly at her Son-in-Law.  Always we look across that Place without seeing it.  Aye  – aye  – It is Wakan.”  She had actually turned her back toward it as she talked, then as I walked away, she placed her hand over her mouth, then raise her hand higher than her head, with the palm up, as though in supplication and extended toward the Holy Place, and wailed for a few seconds.  (In my army experience I have often slept in churches, some ruined, others not  – and have noticed that the area of the altars have never been desecrated by old time soldiers, and men’s voices dropped a little as though some sacred influence had been felt in the vicinity.  To me, this Holy Mellow Ground or Mother Earth means just that to the Dakotah.

The Pole:  This, too, is a Holy object. It is selected by some man who is noted among his people for his sense of justice, bravery and “sacrifices” (This means that he is kind and generous; a man sacrifices when he “gives away” to some friend or even, enemy  – and his most prized possessions, or deposits at the foot of some Holy Place like the sacred Standing Rock or Spirit Stone, at the confluence of the Cedar and Cannon Ball rivers, some proudly-owned pipe, bow and arrows, tobacco or valuable article of clothing or cloth).  I regret that I do not remember the name of the man who “cut it down” in this instance.  After having been trimmed the pole is rolled upon several long, s tout pieces of branches, all being careful not to touch the pole with their hands, and carried, with great shouts, to the place where it is to be erected in the hole which had been dug to receive it.  There, certain selected ones are waiting to receive it and erect it, which is done with as little handling as possible.  About twelve feet from the ground, this particular pole had a cross piece of wood, all covered with sage, tied across it, forming a rude cross-shaped affair; at about thirty feet, was tied a piece of red cloth (like a flag); above that was a leafy tuft of green branches of the tree, itself.  Just below the “flag” a cord was tied, from which suspended a cardboard figure of a man  – and below that and on the same cord, there hung an eight inch figure of a buffalo (meat); the figure of Man was about the same size.  From the pole, and at the bottom, was tied several red objects (tied around the pole) which appeared to me to be sticks wound about with porcupine quill work  – but I did not have an opportunity to get close to this and so cannot describe this.  The was about eight inches in diameter at the base, twelve or fourteen feet to the crotch, and overall, about forty feet in height.  Erected in the center of the enclosure, directly between the Holy Ground and the entrance to the enclosure.

The Dance Pavilion:  This structure was about 100 feet in diameter, outside to outside.  Thirteen posts about ten feet high had been set firmly into the ground; inside of this circle and about twenty feet from the outside circle, had been placed thirteen other forked posts, a little higher than the outside circle.  Other strong poles had then been placed in the forks from one post to the others and also from the outside circle to the inside posts. Upon these were placed lighter, leafier boughs, forming a shady bower about twenty feet wide all around the inside of their main structure, under which the spectators might be seated in comfort.  The ground in this shady space was covered with sweet clover, freshly cut.

Cannon Ball community center, inside by Welch drawingcustoms89-sun-dance-shrine

The entrance was exactly in the east, about 15 feet wide.  At the line of inner posts at the entrance was set a table upon which were photographs of Dakota youths of that district who were, at this time, in the service of the U.S.Forces, in various parts of the theaters of the world.  Hanging from the inner line of posts, and in the northwest segment of the inner circle, was a large red flag with white center, upon which were twenty two stars  – a service flag in honor of that number of Indian boys from the immediate area.  The drummers were on the south side of the circle and under the shaded part.  A rope was stretched from inner post to post as a warning for spectators to keep outside of the dance circle.  A square of green cloth (flag shape) was hung to the post west of the Shrine; another one of white was suspended from the post to the south of that.  These were about two by three feet.  Behind the Shrine to the west was the reposing place of the dancers, when a rest was called.  The dancers would slowly follow the Master of Ceremonies to this place by walking to their left, about the circle.  The dancers would dance one full hour, then set down a few minutes.  They danced in line and did not change the position of their bare feet during the period.  At about 2:30 pm it was announced that a “sign” had been received and that the dance would soon cease.  Just what the Medicine was, was not announced.  Soon the dancers were led about the circle to their resting place on shawls and a great buffalo hide   – during this slow march, they did not lift their eyes from the ground and old man One Bull could just make it and almost fell upon his piece of tent cloth.  The woman who was bearer of the Pipe deposited the long-stemmed, quill-worked stem and its red catlinite bowl just behind the post behind the Shrine, pointed to the east and the bowl upright in smoking position.  Outside the dance pavilion, and to the west, about 100 feet, were two old style tipis  – “soldiers lodges.”  Each was about twenty feet in diameter and each had thirteen poles   The north one had been used the day before for the preparation (spiritual) of the dancers.  There they contemplated and intensely to become “en rapport” with the spiritual atmosphere; they did not eat or drink that day or the day of the dance until after it had ended when the “sign” was announced.  The south tipi was the same soldier lodge, and used by them after the dance and the bath as a place to rest and eat and recover from their strenuous efforts.  Behind these, and a little to the northwest of the north lodge, a steam bath had been prepared; inside was a metal tub of water; a fire, in which stones were heated, was burning a few feet away from the bath lodge.  This was about four feet high  – willowpoles being stuck in the ground and then turned across to form a bowl-shaped frame, over which were thrown shawls and blankets.  Two lines of small trees had been stuck into the ground from the lodges to the dance enclosure, inside of which it is not proper to trespass.  Lines and groups of tents and lodges stretched away to the east in a great semi-circle about the dance pavilion.  There were no running horses and the usual noise of an Indian camp  – a silence such as it felt within a church or cemetery seemed to prevail throughout;  every one spoke in muted tones, and the few uninformed white people who laughed and joked were looked upon as ignorant people and allowed to do as they pleased (which in a few instances was not very nice I am sorry to say) for this was a religious ceremony and was solemnly and painfully carried out in detail.  It was in honor of their men in uniform.

Actions of the Dancers:  After their rest, they were again led into the dance space and, just before this last phase, they had lined up in a row before and to the west of the Shrine  –  White Bull and Kills Pretty Enemy each held up their arms high and with palms turned up; slowly the palms were reversed and held high in the peace sign, then brought down very slowly and, in time with the drums, in the slow sign of thanks of the old times, and then Pretty Enemy slowly brushed his arms and legs with the palms of his hands, but without touching his flesh (spiritual reception).  Both then stooped and, placing their hands under the horns of the skulls, lifted them to their bodies, where they held these symbols of food during an audible prayer which was offered by One Bull, and in which I recognized the name of Wakantonka and other “mysterious words,” and I have no doubt that it was directed in a most personal manner, to God, bluntly asking His protection for the soldiers and for the Victory over their enemies.

The skulls were then replaced by the Master of Ceremonies once again, and for the last time, to their appointed places facing the sun.  The woman still held the pipe extended toward the sun; the drums started again; the dancing was continued.  This consisted in holding the face toward the brilliant sun, eyes open; the body sagging at the knees in a short bobbing motion in time with the drum rhythm; all eyes soon became glazed again; at irregular times the Leader of the Dance, old Kills Pretty Enemy, raised his right arm, palm up as though in supplication for something he was to receive; at times he raised both arms in the same motion.  During this last phase of the dancing, all the men dancers raised their right arms, then, as names were called by the singers, assisted now by a few women, they dropped the right arm and raised their left with the same motion.  Then the dance stopped; the dancers were led entirely about the inside circle and outside to the soldier’s lodges, where they entered the bath and stayed nearly half an hour, coming out dripping with sweat.  While inside, One Bull had sung several times and the report went about that, once again the “sign” has appeared, and it was for Victory.  While waiting for this report, the crowd of Indians was tense and quiet  – standing and waiting.  The dancers were led into the south tipi and a tremendous quantity of food was placed before each of them; however, the lodge was still a holy place and, while many whites did walk past and looked inside, I did neither, but placed may presents of meat at the entrance and withdrew.


A woman in the crowd, sitting in the shade of the dance ring, sung a song in my honor, speaking my name and trilled the high staccato of the Victory Song for me.  I pretended not to notice her or recognize my name; later, passing her, I shook hands and left a dollar in her palm.  Some women invited us to eat, so they gave us pheasant and beans and “fried bread” and coffee.  I made no speeches during the day; did like the other Indians and did not intrude anywhere; just accepted what invitations I received from them.  For this was their own dance and ceremony, and, while I am inclined to believe that such earnest and sincere prayers are acceptable to both God and Wakantonka, I may neither criticize nor praise.  But the sincerity of the people may not be questioned; the natural religious inclinations of both white and red are identical  – that of “talking with God”  – so by any name one knows best.




Dance of the Virgins

Crow Man, Hunkpapa, Fort Yates, N.D., July 12th, 1921 (Talks English):

“Did you ever see the “Dance of the Virgins?”  It is very interesting.  No one can dance this or take part in the great feast unless they are virgins.  I saw the last one in 1878.  At least, that is the last one I saw.  There have been such since then.

The people make a ceremonial place of boughs.  When the time comes, women who do not know men can go in there and sit down.  Also young men who are pure can go it.  They sit down around the side of the place and everyone looks them over.  Sometimes some woman or women will rush in and take a young man out.  They say “Here, you can’t sit here. Don’t you remember that you courted me and promised that I would be your wife?  Come out of here.”  Also some men might go in and take a woman out, telling the people that that woman had lain down with them somewhere.  They take them out pretty rough, too.  They jerk them and the people all laugh at them.  They can’t dance it or sit at the great feast of young dog then.  It must be a very good woman or man who can go through this ceremony, for some one will know about them and it is all right for that person to tell the people.  The ones who do dance it are well thought of for a long time, and it is generally one of these young men who is selected to pick out the pole for the Sun Dance.”

Emeron White, Educated Hunkpapa, August 18th, 1922

“In this dance, which I have seen several times, they make a bough circle.  Across the circle is placed dangerous weapons of various kinds: a bow and arrows, a hatchet, a gun, a club and others.  Then they place a buffalo head sometimes there.

The women and girls and men who have lived good lives, dress in their best clothes and go to the dance place.  When they go in to sit down, they first touch these weapons and the game heads.  Then if they are not worthy to dance, yet do so, these weapons and heads will bring bad luck to them.  Some one will be killed or cut with them and the buffalo will probably kill the young men who touch them, or they will not be able to get game and will be hungry.

Every one comes to see these dancers.  If some woman knows that some young man dancer should not be there, she goes in and takes right hold of him and drags him out and tells the people that he is not pure, that he went with her and promised that she would become his wife.  Then the people might be pretty rough with him for trying to dance.  The same with a woman.  A man has the right to go in and drag in impure woman out and throw her down among the people.  They laugh at her and she is ashamed then.”


War Party Raising Dance

On July 4th, 1917 I motored to Cannon Ball to a celebration of the Indians.  Interpreters were Red Tomahawk, Acy Little Crow and Thomas Ashley, all Dakotah.  Spectators were Mrs. Welch, Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Pierson of Mandan, many other whites, and Mrs. Van Solen and daughter, Lucille (educated breeds):

About 2,000 were present from many parts of the country.  Devils Lake, Fort Peck Montana and other places sent representatives.  I was in the uniform of a Captain of the N>D>N>G> on account of the war with Germany and as I entered the ceremonial enclosure, the musicians started up the Song of Mato Watakpe.  I am always expected to start the dance when this is sung, and did not at once.  Several old warriors joined in.  These men had all been wounded in battle.  After another grass dance or two, my song was started again and I started the dance a second time.  In a few minutes I was joined by many young men who danced to the finish of the dance and then all shook hands with me.  Red Tomahawk told me that that was the old way of raising a war party and enlisting.  When a man wanted to raise a war party he sometimes gave a dance and feast and those who danced with him became his soldiers and went to war with him.

Presentation of War Pipe by Mrs. Tatonka Nopa (Two Bulls):  After this dance she went to the center of the ring and presented me with a red stone pipe, saying: “In the olden times the leader of a war party always carried a pipe along with him.  I give you this pipe in honor of my two sons who have danced with you today and will go with you across the Great Water.  I want you to always carry it with you and we will sing songs for you while you are away.”  Accepted


I learned that it was an old custom to tie something to the tipi of those who were enlisting for war.  This was done in the camp today.  In this instance they tied a piece of the U.S.Flag to the lodge of each man who had danced with me.  In the morning, just at sunrise, the old herald shouted that they were getting ready and all to come to the center of the great camping circle and to bring his horse.  They then gathered in the center, rode to the eastern entrance and completely around the camp circle, singing of the leader and of war, his bravery, skill, honors, etc.  Women wept and cried and sung songs and gave a tremolo victory note of joy always repeating it at least two times, as they stood by the lodges or followed the parade on foot.  The war party then swept out of sight behind the hills.  After a short time they returned and were met by the camp in the “Return Ceremonies.”


Whirling (or Gahomni) Dance

Visit to Fort Berthold, October 1921:

They danced two dances called the “Gahomni.”  This is a Sioux word and means “Whirling.”  It originated at Fort Peck, Montana about three years ago, and has been borrowed by these Indians.  One man told me they had bought it.  It is a sort of two-step, dancing in couples, man and woman.  The music was singing, with four men, who beat the old-fashioned hand drums while they sung.  It is very popular.  Women select their partners and other women may take the man away from them by slapping the dancing woman on the back.  They danced me with relays and it was so long that I was danced to death.  They though they could make me take my seat, but I stuck it out although my muscles are sore as boils even yet.    ABW.


Wounded Man Dance

Armistice Day, Cannon Ball, N.D., November 12, 1928:

Being invited by a committee of White Horse Riders to be present at the ceremonies on the above date, I went down on the train, arriving just at dusk.  Had dinner with the Underhills and then an auto came from the camp for me and I soon entered the dance hall on the prairie. There were many tipis set up and at least 800 Indians were there.  I danced with the War Mothers; they then sang my song and I started a war dance of the old men, and other ceremonies came in fast order.


One of the dances was as follows:  The flags of Albert Grass (John Grass’ grandson, killed in action in France) and Blue Earth were tied to the center poles of the place and it was announced that they were never to be taken down until some act of heroism had been performed between them.  I wondered how this would be carried out, and later, the names of certain men were called out. The man named got to his feet and pronounced my Indian name and said that “he is my brother, or son-in-law, older brother, cousin, nephew, etc., etc.” and then walked to a designated place and stood on the dance floor.  Finally, there were about twelve standing in a row.  My name was then called.  I got up and said that the “Dakotah were all my relatives” and stood at the foot of the line.  Here an old man handed me a rifle to use in the dance.  Then another line of women was formed within the line of men, and the dance started.  There were three songs of war, all of which mentioned my name.  As the drummers sung, the line of men danced, or rather ran, in a slouching, leaning-over position of the body, one behind another, and from east to west or following the sun.  The women also ran following each other and within the circle of men and traveled from west to east.  During this run dance, I imitated a man who was on the watch for enemies, and when the second song was started I noticed that another man, a young soldier of the World War, followed me closely.  Each song was just long enough for the dancers to make three circuits of the room.  Then the third song, and I began to watch for some motion of instructions from the Master of Ceremonies.  At the fourth circuit, he motioned for me to fall wounded, between the two flags mentioned above.  I furiously engaged an invisible and imaginary enemy with my gun, finally it stuck, and while using it as a club, I staggered and fell as though badly wounded.  Immediately the man behind me lifted me to his shoulders and carried me to safety.  There was a terrific noise and cries and wailing then.  I immediately announced that I would give a dollar to the War Mothers, through, and in honor of the man who carried me from the field.  They all shook hands with the man as though he had given the money personally.  Then the two flags were untied and a victory dance was held with them in the circle.  It was a well-staged dramatic tragedy.

Visit to dance near Cannon Ball, April 25, 1920, by A. B. Welch:

This evening I accompanied the members of the Mandan Indian Shriners to an Indian dance at the round hall near Gun Sight Buttes.  Arrived there about nine o’clock; was met at the door and taken, by Master of Ceremonies, to the place of honor.  After many handshakes, I addressed them and started dancing.  Many different dances were given, among them being the War Dance, War Mothers, Wounded Men’s Dance, Coyote Dance, Rabbit Dance, side step, etc.  They treated us nicely and tried  to make the strange men feel at home.  Four old men beat the hand drums and san a song of old time war  – women and men, in single file, danced in opposite directions.  At last one of the men was wounded and fell.  Old Shoot Holy went to him  – made him bite a root of some sort, breathed several times into his mouth and his eyes then opened and the Medicine Man carried him away.

Then, in a dance of the White Horse Riders members, the same dance was given and I was the one selected to carry the wounded man away.  This was a breed named Buckley.  Mrs. Two Bears danced besides me during this dance, as her son had enlisted under me in 1917 and had been killed in France.  I was presented a pipe by Shoot Holy.  Also old White Lightning gave me a pair of beaded and porcupine-lined moccasins.  Several women and men gave various things  – a war bonnet, money, two horses, etc., in my name.  Some of these presents went to the War Mothers, some to the White Horse Riders, others to the 4th of July Dance Committee. Famous men there included Red Tomahawk.

Jan. 3, 1932 notes of A.B.Welch:

They carefully selected seven for the outside circle, going with the sun.  Seven women were in the inner circle, going to meet the sun.  On the third time around, Bull Bear, who headed the war party, took down a war bonnet from a post as he went by.  Mrs. Frances Red Tomahawk, who headed the ‘home party,’ took another.  At the signal given to me by the leader, I fell, shot.  Old Two Bulls, who is somewhat of a Medicine Man, danced about me and finally lifted me to my feet  – and a fast war dance was then given.  Each on of the ‘war party’ held the bonnet and told a story of war and made a present to the fund of the Fourth of July Committee, and the dance was over.


Entering a Lodge

Welch Notes, undated:

As there is nothing upon which to knock when desiring to call at some tipi, the custom of making your presence known in that way was never known among the tipi dwellers of the Great Plains.  The covering of the entrance is held open with the hand and the visitor looks over the people inside.  If the one desired is present, the called comes in, sits down and proceeds.

Sometimes, while inside of a tipi, I have heard someone on the outside call out and ask if certain persons were inside, and someone inside would reply.

I have also seen them make a scratching motion upon the canvas, as soldiers do often at the entrance of a tent.

Indians frequently enter a white man’s dwelling without any alarm having been made, or flatten their noses upon a window pane and look into the house.  It is not done to scare anyone of with any evil intent but they know no other way.  It is not thought to be impertinent or discourteous.

Often when a visitor comes who may be expected, a herald in front will call out his name or sing a song about him, if a noted person.  The head man inside then calls upon him to enter.



Auntie Cross talks to Welch, November 1939:

John Grass went to Washington.  White Head (Major McLaughlin, U. S. Indian Agent at Standing Rock Agency) took them.


He had many chiefs with him.  Gall was with Grass then.

“In a big city White Head took them to a great place.  It cost four dollars to stay there.  White Head told them that he would feast them good.  They would eat what the white people ate.  They went in.

“They sat down at a table.  Someone brought them a big bird (turkey).  They put it down in front of Gall.  He said, “That’s mine now.”  He wrapped it up in his robe.  John Grass said, “Tansi (cousin), give me some.”  “No,” said Gall,  “this one is mine.”

“So, Gall took it all.  The people did not bring any more birds.  I think something is wrong about that.  Maybe that was all the birds they had.  Gall walked away with the big bird.  The other chiefs had none.  White Head laughed about that thing.  The chiefs did not understand.  They had nothing to eat.  But it cost much money.”


Editor’s note:

McLaughlin was born in 1842, died in 1923.

Gall was born 1840 and died 1896.

Grass was born 1837 and died 1918.

Best guess at time of this ‘dinner’ would be early to mid 1880’s.



Exchange Media

Welch notes, undated but probably c. 1915:

Beaver Skin:  The standard medium of exchange in the early times was the pelt of the beaver.  About 1600 it became the basis of all trade between the French and the Indians and the Hudson Bay Fur Company as well as among the other traders.  This spread to the Plains Indians.  A beaver skin was worth six feet of twisted tobacco; a fourth of a pound of powder; six poor knives or a certain portion of small beads, blue ones.  This became the standard among all the Dakotah people and the neighbors.  One beaver skin was worth two otter skins; about twelve coon skins; four or five wild-cat skins.

Horse:  Later, however, with direct contact with the white trader and soldier, the horse became a great article of barter and trade, and almost became a standard.  In late years this was a fact.  A thing was said to be worth “so many horses” and today, when a present is made of great value, it is compared to so many horses.

Shells:  Certain shells were also used as a unit among the Dakotah.


The large pipe beads, made from a bone, and strung with other beads, were worth about thirty five cents each.  These shells are called “wabosdata.”  The shell of the periwinkle were strung and used as exchange to a certain, degree, but not like they were with the Eastern Indians.  These are called “wasuganu.”


Points on blankets:  These points were known as a mark of value and also size.  A three and one/half point Hudson Bay blanket hung upon my wall in Mandan (this discussion is probably from the late 1930’s) and I have asked many old people what they meant.  Some said that it took three and a half buffalo robes to get it.  Others said that it took three large and one small buffalo robe, or that value, to obtain one in the old times.  Others said that it meant that this was a large blanket as it was three and a half.  Four point many said was the largest.  The Dakota word for a three and one half point blanket is: Wawaha Yamina Semikisa (Wawaha means ‘buffalo robe’).



Crow Ghost, May 21st, 1926, talks to Welch:

He also told me that a well-tanned buffalo cow hide was worth four to six beaver hides in the old time; that otter were rather scarce and used much for the hair, and that one otter skin was worth in trade about five well-tanned deer hides.  When he saw the round wooden mirror which I took from an Arikara grave at Ft. Clark, he said that it was worth about one well-made buffalo robe or five deer hides (which would be equivalent to one otter skin or vie or six beaver hides).. He said that the round lead bullets found in the grave had been made round by chewing between the teeth, and that lead came in square sticks, at the fur traders store.

1921 Welch note:

Fifty years ago it was the honorable and common thing among the Dakotah to buy wives.  The usual price was equivalent to $40.00 (a horse, four or five guns and some blankets)