Life on the Plains in the 1800’s (“Fighting the Enemy” thru “Hunting”) as told to Col. A. B. Welch

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


Fighting the Enemy    Elk and Drags Wolf talk about their battles, etc.

Fires, Cooking & Campfires    “the commonly accepted position for a fire within a tipi or an earth lodge, was in the middle of the domicile”

Food    Tipsina, Bull Berry, Maize, Making glue, Palani Vegetables, Preparing buffalo and dog…etc.

Games    Observed at a Celebration at Solen, N.D., July 4, 1924, etc.

Getting to the Point     But he talks too much.  He TALKS DOWN MANY ROADS AT THE SAME TIME.”

Gift Giving    The Proper Way to Give and Receive…Welch visit to Fort Berthold, October 1921″, etc.

Government    Description of the Seven Fires Council, etc.

Hair Styles    Arikara names means “Living Head,”  Paul Fast Horse talks, etc.

Health    Small Pox epidemics did not affect Sioux as much since they were always on the move……

Heraldry    Various manners of ‘counting coup’ were in vogue among the Dakotah, to designate a token of victory, etc.

Hermophrodites    It was not an uncommon thing for these people to be found among the Indians……..

Honor    Mrs. Van Solen talks…“….If you get an Indian to say he will do a thing, he will do it.  But, it is hard to get them to say ‘Yes,’ sometimes.


Hunting    some Sioux Hunting Customs

Hunting: The Last Buffalo Hunts, 1882, 1883    original Letter relating to the ‘Great Buffalo Hunt’ of September 1883



Fighting the Enemy

 Elk, a Yanktonnaise warrior, 79 years of age, February 10, 1934

“….We went into Montana to find the enemy.  Crows we wanted to find.  We found them.  It was summer time.  We were mounted.  We found them on the prairie close to the White Buttes (Note: Chalky Buttes, south of present Amidan, Slope County, N.D.).  We rode out to meet them then.  They got separated.

Elk, 1932biog97-elk-1933

I rode after two of them and they were running away from me.  At last one of them turned his horse and came straight at me.  I shot him dead when he got close.  He fired his gun and then could not load it again (Note: probably a single shot muzzle-loader).  I did not stop.  I rode after the other one.  He had a bow and arrows and a spear.  I killed him then.  I scalped him and went back and took the hair of the first one.  Then I caught up both the enemy horses.  I took first coup on both of these crows.  Chase Flying struck them then and got second coup.”

Drags Wolf goes to his first battle, talks Feb. 10, 1934:

“The old men were going on a war party.  I was 12 years old.  I wanted to go.  I kept still and followed them.  When they were a long time from the village, I showed myself.  They were angry with me.  I said, “I want to fight, too.”  So they let me go along and soon got a horse for me.  This was in the summer time.  We rode then.  In the winter we go afoot.  Whenever we camped in some draw or trees, I got the water for them.

Drags Wolf, 1934biog83-drags-wolf-photo

If they were thirsty, I always went for water.  That’s what I did all the time we were away.  Finally, some enemy were discovered.  We watched them and knew what they intended to do.  So the fight was planned.  I rode into it with the rest of the men that time.  Several enemy were killed.  They were the Piegans (Montana Blackfeet).  I helped to round up the enemy horses and struck several of the dead men.  I rode an enemy horse when we entered the village upon our return.  I was young but that was my first fight.”

 August 28th, 1928.  Today, a group of four old men were talking to me of old fights with the enemy.  In the conversation they mentioned that:

Young Bear was a very brave man; that he made seven coups in one fight in one day.  Then Elk, who wears buckskin clothes with heraldic devices upon them, told of having rescued four of a war party who had been put afoot, their horses having either been killed or run away  – and pointed with pride to four “marks,” done in beads upon his leggings and coat, which, he said, represented to all Sioux, the fact that he had done that.  Each mark was a pair of 3 inch crossed sticks, he said.  They were made of red beads upon buckskin which had been yellowed by wild sage, during the tanning process



Fires, Cooking & Campfires

Welch notes, undated:

It appears that the commonly accepted position for a fire within a tipi or an earth lodge, was in the middle of the domicile.  We have never seen a cooking or warming fire anyplace else.  With the tipi it would not be possible to have it anywhere else on account of the danger of firing the sides of the lodge, but in an earth lodge like those built by the village Indians, a fireplace might have been maintained on the side, had those Indians had any ideas of a fireplace like those made in the south among the shacks of the engross or poor whites.  These were often made of stone, sticks or mud, and appear to have been the useful fireplaces intended by the builders.  Many are seen yet, made of split “shakes” all through the south.  But the Missouri river Indian tribes apparently did not conceive of a “flue,” and no explorer, hunter or other chronicler has ever written of any fireplace along the side of an earth lodge.  All seems to have been built as near the center of the lodge as was possible, and were often enclosed in a sort of bed, surrounded by flat sandstone set in the ground, on edge.  Several of these have been located in recent years upon the old sites of the lodges of the Mandans, Arikaras and Gros Ventre at their Heart River villages, deserted about 1752 to 1775, according to my personal reckoning.  We have not kept a record of those writers of journals, who visited the above-named Indians at Fort Clark and Knife River, but they all mention the fire as having been in the middle of the lodge, except, perhaps, in certain ceremonial lodges, where two or more fires were maintained.  We are of the opinion that even most of those even, did not pertain to ceremonial rites, but were placed where the warmth would be most acceptable, in lodges of other forms than a circular formation.

Fires are now sometimes built outside where dancing is to take place or a gathering is formed for a feast or other social function, and they are generally large.  The cooking fires of the present and of the past, were built of small sticks with the butts toward the center, and fire was maintained by constantly pushing the sticks in toward the fire, thus being a economical arrangement when fire wood was scarce.  No mention is made by an early traveler, of any Indians of the region, making use of coal, which was abundant in thousands of outcroppings.

The sun dried manure of the buffalo, commonly called “buffalo chips,” was the ordinary fuel of the hunting or war parties.  Small, dry branches of trees were hauled to the camps when they could be secured, and broken off and used when necessary.   This makes a small, hot fire and the pot, during trade times, was hung directly over the flame.

In old times, small stones were heated in a fire and placed in the stretched stomach of an animal, in which water was quickly heated and meat dropped therein.  The stones were taken out and reheated as often as wanted; water boiled violently, and meat was quickly cooked.




Tipsina (wild turnip)

From conversation with Mrs. Grass, May 15th, 1921:

“We used to eat a great deal of this.  We dried it with the cover on.  We sometimes cut it in slices and dried it that way for winter use.  We boiled it then.  We also made wasna with it (mixed with fats and other fruit).  It was white and very good to eat.  We did not boil it together with meat.”

Bull Berry

According to John Brown, April, 1921 … the common bull berry is called Maste Pute or “Rabbit’s Nose.”

Preparing Maize

Maximillion’s notes:

“  … They cultivate maize, beans, fresh beans, gourds, sunflowers and tobacco.  Of maize, they have several varieties…white maize, yellow maize, red maize, spotted maize, black maize, sweet maize, very hard yellow maize, white or red stripped maize, very tender yellow maize.  Each family prepares three or five acres of maize, rows of small furrows are made in which maize is thrown.  Three times in the summer the plants are hoed.  The maize is boiled or roasted, then pounded, mixed with fat and made up into small cakes and baked.  The sweet maize is boiled when in the milky state and dried and laid by for future use.”

Mandan Hoe made of Buffalo Shoulder Blade

A party from this city gave me a perfect agricultural implement on Aug 16th, 1931.  It had been picked up on a plowed field near Hensler, N.D.  There are several ancient Mandan village sites in that locality.  It is perfect.  The large socket joint and the sides of the bone as well as the extension parts have all been cut smoothly, but with a steel implement, not flint.  This indicates that it was not prehistoric, but modern within the time the Indians obtained iron or steel knives or axes.  It is polished by use in the ground; the edge is sharpened, and two notches for the raw hide fasteners, are on the sides.  The bone is quite heave compared with other hoes from prehistoric sites, indicating its more recent use.  My opinion is that it is less than 128 years old.

Glue (Con-pe-ska)

Obtained by boiling up heads of buffaloes with the feet.  Made a very strong glue for domestic purposes.

Palani Vegetables

Fort Yates Indian Fair,  September 1915

Itunkasan Mato (Weasel Bear) had some Arikara vegetables on exhibition which interested me very much.  He told me that they were the old time things to eat which the Palani grew.

The squash is very hard and pretty and should be a good winter keeper.  One sort of round and flat, yellow and red; the other green with dark stripes and one sort is long, yellow and red.  These squashes are eaten mostly young.

Beans of good size, some red, some black and others with dark lines and spots.

Tobacco two feet high, with small thick leaves and rather heavy veins and stock.

Palani corn in Good Wood’s garden, near the sub-agency at Cannon Ball, was three feet high, sweet and with six inch small cob ears.

Boiling Meat in Olden Times

At a camp of 175 lodges on the Cannon Ball river July 6-7 and 8, 1915, where I went to make a fourth of July speech to the Indians, several old men showed me how they cooked meat before they had pots or kettles of iron or earthenware.  Hundred of Indians sat around and watched the proceedings.  Mrs. Welch and Dr. & Mrs. Rice of Cannon Ball, were also present besides other whites.

A hole was dug in the ground, about 18 by 24 inches and 18 inches deep.  A pile of stones the size of one’ two fists was collected and a fire was built and the stones placed thereon with fire under and around them to heat them; a hunter soon appeared with fresh meat in imitation of buffalo meat, and he also brought the stomach of the animal.  This was opened and pegged over the hole in the ground with six inch sticks about two inches apart;  a cold rock was placed in the middle of the stomach to make it sag;  about a bucket of water was then poured in.

The meat was cut into strips eight or ten inches long.  The rocks were picked out of the fire when hit, with a racquet of green willows, the ashes were blown off and then the hot rock was dropped into the water, which boiled very quickly and violently.  The meat strips were then dropped into the hot water, which was so hot that the outside was seared and held the juices within.  In a few minutes it was ready to be eaten and I found it to be exceedingly good to eat.  As the stones cooled in the water they were removed and replaced upon the fire to sue again if needed.

Chief John Grass, 1917lb19-chief-grass-photo

The stomach was finally cut up into little strips and eaten.  I paid twenty five cents for some of the meat and handed it to Chief Grass.  He ate it all with great relish without offering any of it to anyone else.  It appeared to be proper to eat all of a present himself.

Buffalo Preparation

Mrs. Amanda Grass, wife of Chief John Grass, Mandan Hospital, N.D., April 22nd, 1921:

If someone killed a buffalo and wanted to give Chief Grass some, what part of the beast would he give him?

“He would give him a hind quarter and a part of the shoulder, that part which is the hump.”

Is that the best part of the animal?

“No, but that is what he would give to an honorable man, except he had some tongues.  The tongue is the best part, but he would want have three of them if he gave them away to someone. One is not enough for a gift to a great man, but he should have three.”

In olden time when a buffalo hunt was going on, what did you women do?


“We would get much excited and sing much.  When the kill was made we took care of the meat and the hides and got the meat ready to eat.  We cured it and packed it away in cases and prepared the hides for robes and to use in tents.”

How did you tan hides?

“We first scraped them to get the flesh and the sheets of skin off.  Then we soaked them in water and scraped them again.  After that we soaked them again and rubbed grease in them after the hair was off.  If we did not have the grease we took the brains and the liver and, after boiling them together, we rubbed that tin instead of the grease.  My father had the biggest tipi of anyone.  His tipi had twenty two hides in it and that was large.  Some people only had ten or twelve and a large one took sixteen hides.”

What did you eat for breakfast in the olden times?

“We had boiled meat.  The water it was boiled in was good soup.  We had no salt.  For dinner we had boiled meat.  We had fruit too, sometimes.  We dried it when the fruit was fresh and kept it what way for other times.  That was mostly plums and cherries and buffalo berries.  We had wasna, too.  Many people would lay dried meat, which was fat, on the coals. That was good to eat.  Nice fat entrails and small pieces we put on a sharp stick and toasted that way.  We stewed tipsina and fruit in water.  We had plenty.  It was strong food.  It was better.”


Notes from Celebration, November 13, 1919:

“ …Then,” and old woman said that, “at the next dance, when I was present, she would furnish two puppies for the feast.  I hope they are not too young as I hate to eat dog if they are too young.”

Notes from a Victory Feast (sounds like War Games), Cannon Ball, N.D., July 4th 1922:

“After the fight we were feasted.  I had watched them prepare the dogs.  They killed them by swinging them around by the hind feet and dashing their heads upon a stone.  The hair was singed off over a fire and the meat was cut up and boiled with tipsina and rice.  They, however, fed the ex-servicemen on chicken, hard bread, bananas, coffee and some fried beef.  The dog went to the older people who sat in a circle outside the lodge.  The prisoners were fed last amid much glee.”

Food Pounder for Toothless Old Men

Crow Ghost, Sept. 27th, 1923:

Shown a small club head of stone, picked up on the Young Man’s Village site (Mandan), he said, “This is not for war.  It is not for pounding bone or cherries.  When a man is old he has but few teeth.  Then he uses a stone like this with a short handle.  He pounds the meat easy with it.  He does not have to chew it them.  I have seen small stones used that way.”




Observed at a Celebration at Solen, N.D., July 4, 1924:

….While there this time, they had several games called Moccasin Games, with the stick in hands, guessing.  This is a favorite game and cause much excitement.

Red Fish, Welch, Chasing Fly, His Holy Horse, in front rowcustoms108-games-day-1924

Also a game where they blindfolded women and turned them straight toward a stick placed in the ground.  The women would then walk toward the stake, trying to walk into it. The one who walked into it was the winner. This stick was placed about fifty feet away from the starting place.

Another game was to find a piece of money hidden in the thick grass.  Women were blindfolded and placed in a ring about the place where the money, or large bead, had been hidden.  The one who found it kept it.  The woman who did find it held it for quite a while and had fun while the other still hunted.

The men had a game where twenty stood in a line and, leaning over, passed a stick between their legs to the rear.  When it got to the last man he ran to the head, and so on until every man had been to the head.  The side which got through first was the winner and took the money.

There were running races and roping contests to jerk a roped barrel the farthest.  Dancing was going on all the time and many young men were painted and in costume.

Hoop Game, as related by Yellow Horse, May 29, 1920:

“….. My father got his name (Roll the Hoop) because he liked the roll the hoop game.  They have a little hoop (six inches in diameter) covered with cloth and divided into quarters with sticks.  They have a stick which they use in their hands.  They start the hoop rolling and throw the other stick at is and where they go through, or stick in the quarter places, it counts that way.”

Plum Seed Game, as related by Mrs. Crow Ghost, Sept. 1929:

Mrs. Crow Ghost gave me a set of smooth, wild plum seeds.  One side was natural, upon the other side of the seeds were characters burned in with a hot file.  The set is composed of six seeds, and the game is to throw from the hand, similar to dice, and count the value on the upper side of the seeds.

The cross counts ten; the two lines, six; the black, four … a possible of forty, as there are two seeds of each value.

Drawing of Plum Seed Game piecescustoms109-plum-seed-game


Drawing and description of Mandan Bones Game




Getting to the Point

Welch notes, undated (but most likely around 1914-15):

A committee of noted men came to consult with me at Bismarck.  This body was headed by Chief John Grass and he had with him, Red Tomahawk, Bear Using Arrow, Buffalo Boy, All Yellow and the interpreter was Acy Little Crow.

After our conferences and a smoke in my office, they said they would like to see and talk with Captain I.P.Baker, and old river steamboat man living in Bismarck.  Capt. Baker did most of the talking as is his custom, and the Indians could not get a chance to make their ceremonial speeches in the dignified and deliberate manner they wished.  After they had listened to Baker tell all about his new books and listening to him tell them all about Sitting Bull, we left, but they were disappointed.

Chief Grass said, “We know Captain I.P.Baker and he is a great man.  But he talks too much.  He TALKS DOWN MANY ROADS AT THE SAME TIME.  We do not like to hear him talk.  All the Indians like to hear you make a speech.  We like your way of speaking.  You talk down one road at a time and we can understand you easily that way.”



Gift Giving

Gift to Sister-in-Law:

In the spring of 1915, Chief John Grass, his wife and Thos. Ashley, a full-blood Yanktonais, and wife came to Bismarck to pay me a visit.  Mrs. Grass very ceremoniously presented Mrs. Welch with a beautiful beaded bag made on buckskin, saying that it was ‘the usual custom for a mother to present the wife of her son with something which she had made with her own hands so she gave me this bag.’  This was when a visit is made, I understand.

Treating Old People with Respect:

In my adoption ceremonies Chief Grass said that it was the old-time custom for a son to hunt and give the game he killed to his father.  ‘It was a good thing to treat old people with respect, so the killed buffalo or deer should be given to the old man of the family  – the father.’  As I had presented two steers for a feast, that was just the same as hunting buffalo in the old days, now that the buffalo were all gone.

Gifts of Tobacco Pouches by Red Fish, Crow Ghost, Fool Bear, July 6th, 1915:

Mrs. Welch and myself went down to the Cannon Ball to a great camp of the Tetons who had invited me to be present and make a speech. Mrs. Rice and the Doctor were our hosts while there.  We went to the camp to make a call upon Chief Grass and, while there, Red Fish invited me to his lodge.  In front of it was erected the ceremonial tipi, over which was flying the “Seven Fires Flag,” which we had made and given to him some time before.

Red Fish, 1915biog253-red-fish-photo

This old man is an Indian of the old school and is very courteous.  He called in one of his wives, for he has two, and he brought cantojoha, or tobacco pouch and handed it to me.  It is evidently a very old one and not overly clean, being buckskin and rather dark in color.  In his presentation speech he told me that it had belonged to his dead daughter who had made it a long time before, and on that account he liked it very much and that is why he gave it to me.  They give away the things they prize the most highly.  A few beads were missing on the bag and he said that it had been used too much in hospitable ceremonies that they were worn away and it was almost a sacred article and a very honorable article.

At this camp there were about 1200 to 1500 Tetons and a few from other reservations in North Dakota and some visitors from Montana.  The camping circle was at least a half mile wide.

I was sitting there with some old men, listening to their stories and watching the dancing, when a young man rode up, dismounted and told me that I was invited to a feast.  So, I walked over to the sector of the camp where the Cannon Ball Indians were.  There was a circle of people there before one of the lodges, perhaps two hundred people.  It was another ceremonial tipi and I went inside, where I found Chief Grass and several other head men.  I sat down and they brought me a cup of coffee, a piece of boiled beef and some hard bread.

Shortly after this, a man named Fool Bear (Mato Witko) presented me with another fine pouch and a beautiful catlinate pipe and pipe cleaner stick, all done in quill-work.  The circle of Indians all expressed their joy by loud “Haos” and several women gave the Joy Song, which is a high, shrill tremulo.

Bonnets, Andrew Iron roads, 1915:

Andrew Iron Roads, 1933customs113-andrew-iron-roads

“In old times when a woman wore a bonnet, it was to give it away as a present to someone.  Now, some women wear bonnets in parades and not give them away and the Indians laugh at them, now.”

Meat to the

“…I paid twenty five cents for some meat and handed it to Chief Grass.  He ate it all with great relish without offering any of it to anyone else.  It appeared to be proper to eat all of a present himself.”

Horse Soldiers, Potlatch at July 4, 1920 Celebration, Solen, N.D.:

“…During the festivities we had a soldier’s parade on horses around the camp and I had soldiers from 12 different divisions.  Many horses were given to us, and many of the soldiers also gave presents away.  They had a white horse which represented Albert Grass’ horse, which they gave to me and I gave it away by turning it loose and letting the first man who caught it keep it.  Several soldiers were given sticks which represented horse gifts and they threw them away.  The first man to pick them up owned the horse.  There was no unseemly scrambling, but someone would talk up and pick it up and shake hands with the giver.  About fifty horses were given away besides much money and several head dresses and clothing, etc.”

Hand-Made gifts preferred, Fort Yates, Sept. 7th, 1915:

Mrs. Welch and myself left Bismarck on the 6th and spent that night with Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Rice at Cannon Ball; next day motored over to Fort Yates and I pitched my tent in the Indian circle next to the tipi of my father, Chief Grass.  He had an old time summer lodge of bended sapling frame, covered with canvas.  Many of the Indians were greatly interested in my double shelter tent and sleeping roll and eating kit.

After my camp had been made we presented Grass with a 5 x 8 flag and tobacco and Mrs. Grass with eight yards of goods for a dress, and a new blanket.  The flag was erected the next day on a newly-peeled pole, upside down, but was quickly put right when I called their attention to the distress signal.  They are very proud of this flag as it was sewed by Mrs. Welch and the stars were painted by myself.  They like things made by the hands of the giver better than store things they say, and do not care so much for the cost as for the spirit displayed in the giving.

The Proper Way to Give and Receive…Welch visit to Fort Berthold, October 1921:

The singers around the central drum were augmented by the addition of four singing women and a spirited song was started.  I was told that the song was for Mato Watakpe, the Sioux.  So I got up and started the dance.  I danced around the circle twice.  On the first round, all the Sioux present rose where they were sitting and dance where they stood, this was to honor me.  On the second round the young fellows of the northern Indians joined the dance and soon all the dancers were in the ring as well as a circle of women outside.  I could hear some crier outside the hall shouting that this was the Dance of Mato Watakpe.  It was rather a furious dance, all of them seeming to work hard at it.  A few old men danced around where I was and spoke my name as they passed.  One old Arikara and a Mandan finally danced to my side and accompanied me until it was finished.  They call that “helping out.”

As the dance neared the end, many women came into the circle and dropped cloth, ornaments and clothing in a pile.  Several horse sticks were dropped also.  I stayed in the ring by the presents when the other dancers sat down and an interpreter came to my side.  There was at least 100 yards of calico and muslin and other cloth there besides the other presents.  They were all mine now.

I sorted out the cloth into piles and the others things also.  I then said that I wanted to give the cloth to the Northern Indian women who had not received any presents so far.  These women came into the ring and each picked out what cloth they wanted and each shook my hand in thanks.

The horse sticks (presentation of which allows a person to select any horse in the owner’s herd.  The sticks have brands on them for that purpose)  I gave to various men I pointed out.  They came and took the stick and shook hands.  A splendid woolen shawl I gave to the wife of an old blind man; a hair pipe ornament I gave to another woman who did not have any dance clothes.

And, in that manner, I gave away all the things they had given to me.  The fact that I understood the custom and followed it, was very pleasing to the Indians.

The war bonnet, which they had intended to give to me, was a very fine one, reaching to the ground, and with two buffalo horns and many weasel skins on the head part.  Some one offered some money for it and, according to custom in that case, it was put up for auction to help out the Dead Grass Society.  Bidding finally settled down between a man and a woman and at the last I heard the auctioneer say, in the language of the Sioux, “Who will give Sixty Five Dollars.”  The woman had bid sixty three and this was the last bid.  She had it sold again and it was sold one after that, too.  So the Dead Grass received quite a sum of money for it.  I don’t know who finally took it home, but I was disappointed that I did not get it.


June 3, 1932, Young Bear, the Commander of Richard Blue Earth American Legion Post, made a speech and held a flag in his hand.  Anyone could claim the privilege of “Opape” or “joining” – of course, paying some little present at the time for the privilege.  I gave $1.00.

Keeping Gifts:

Oct, 1928….Mrs. Crow Ghost and Mrs. Two Bull came to see us at the house.  They both wanted to see the buckskins and feathers of Crow Ghost, for someone had said we had sold them for much money.

Mrs. Crow Ghost and Welch, 1933customs114-mrs-crow-ghost-in-summer-shade

I got them out and laid them down on the floor.  They both caught them up and wailed for some time.  I was afraid that the neighbors would think I was killing my wife.

Then they brought out the following gifts:

A large hide dish, with a stone mortar in it, used for making wasna.  Also the shorthanded, white stone pestle.  Mrs. Crow Ghost said she had the thing since a very small child.  Then a buffalo hide, painted par fleche bag; a deer hide bag; a steer hide bag; an elk horn scraper with iron in it; another scraper for green hides, made of an iron rod with teeth, handle protected by buffalo hide; several packets of colored porcupine quills; a small pipe which was the property of her father; several portions of sinew for sewing; and several horn paint sticks for painting robes in the old way.  These are made from the pith of elk horn, which soak the paint and release it like a fountain pen, when applied to a hide.  Some are blue, some red, green, yellow.  A very interesting collection of articles actually used by her for many years.

War Headdress … Queen Marie’s (of Roumania) visit, 1926:

The giving-away of an eagle feather head dress is a rare event, although they are sometimes sold.  A woman is seldom given the right to wear on but the first requisite is that she must have performed some act of bravery against the enemy.  In the case of H.R.H. Marie, Queen of the Rumanians, it was thought to be permissible for the reasons that she is of the ‘Ruling Class’ and a ‘War Woman,’ having sent her soldiers into the Great War, where they fought together with the Indian soldiers.

Welch, Red Tomahawk, Queen Marie of Romania, 1926customs114-queen-marie-and-headdress

The bonnet was one of thirty-five feathers and belonged to Chief Red Tomahawk, and was selected by A. B. Welch, Master of Ceremonies.  The feathers of a bonnet are heraldic devices.

Show of Friendship:

Stephen R. Riggs says that it was an ancient custom for one village or people to send a pouch of tobacco to some other village, to show, or indicate, friendship.  If the bag is untied, presents are sent back in return.  If they have nothing to give in return, the bag is not untied.

Money and Scalps, November 13, 1919 conversation with Crow Ghost;

……..Crow Ghost then said that I was his brother and, in honor of me, he would give $5.00 toward the cost of the dance hall.  Everyone came and shook me by the hand, just as it I had given the money, myself.  It is an old custom for the warriors to bring back from the field of battle something for the women, and they frequently gave the scalps of their enemies.

Exchanging Presents … Welch visits Crow Ghost, no date (probably about 1910):

….His wife then offered Mrs. Welch a beautifully painted hide but when she also admired a doeskin dress, Crow Ghost said, ‘If you like that dress, it is yours.’  but the dress was worth so much money that it was not accepted.  He gave me an old time buckskin coat, porcupine quill worked and long fringe, decorated with human air representing his scalps taken.  I gave him some tobacco and the children some colored crayons for drawing, which they thought was candy and the woman ate a stick of it before I could stop her.  He also gave me a beaded belt and gauntlet cuffs, tying them on himself.  They are either Chippewa or Yanktonai design, but Chief Grass told me they were Sioux, so they are probably made by some tribe or band of the Santee, who gave them to Crow Ghost.
Earning Right to wear Pictographs of Gifts Given:

After my address to the Gros Ventres on May 29, 1923 at Shell Village, Mrs. Big Head, who presented me with an eagle’s feather head dress last year, gave me a pair of moccasins with the star shaped pictograph of a war bonnet, done in porcupine quills on them  Coffee, part Gros Ventre and Mandan, had on a beautiful pair of moccasins.  I asked him to explain the pictographs to me.  He said, ’Once I gave a pipe to an old honorable man.  He gave me a head dress then.  Then I gave the head dress to another man and he gave me a red stone pipe.  That was long ago.  So, now I can wear the pipe and head dress upon my clothing or make the marks on my lodge.’

Giving Thanks … Cloud Bear, November 15th, 1919, Mandan, N.D.;

“My father’s name was Haye and it means drawing your hand over your face, touching the forehead and then down to below the chin.  This is the old way of saying thanks to anyone.  It is a good thanks and all the old people would understand it.  You say ‘haye’ when you do this.  That is what my father’s name meant.”

Giving Thanks … Shell Village, May 29, 1923:

Bird’s Bill presented me with an eagle’s feather head dress.

Burr, Birds Bill, Foolish Bear, Coffee, 1924biog20-birds-bill

He said, ’You spoke well of other dead people who are in that graveyard where Rabbit’s Head lies.  My wife lies there.  I give you this to wear for all the people.  The people of the Gros Ventre give it to you.  You are a warrior so you can wear it.  We want you to wear it for us.’






Description of the Seven Fires Council:

The League of the Dakotah existed previous to the migration of the Tetonwanna from the Minnesota river country to the prairies of the Missouri country.  The Seven Fires Council represented the seven major members of the league and the order of seniority was as follows:

1. Mdewankanton  – Village of the Holy Lake (Santee).

2. Wakpekute  – Leaf Shooters (Santee).

3. Sissetonwanna  – Village of the Marsh – Sisseton Sioux (Santee).

4. Wahpetonwanna  – Village of the Leaves  – Wahpeton Sioux (Santee).

5. Yankton  – Upper End Village (Upper Yanktonnais).

6. Yanktonaise  – End Village (Lower Yantonnais).

7. Tetonwanna  – Prairie Village (Teton Sioux).

Teton Gatherings:

Isnala Wica (Lone Man) said that the Dakotah usually assembled in a great gathering place at least once every year, especially the Teton.

It usually took place some time in the midsummer when everything looked good and alive.  This was also the season when the sun dance took place and people would sometimes fulfill vows previously made, beside those of the sun dance.

At other times this gathering took place in the fall when the leaves were different colors, but not often at this season as it might interfere with the winter camps and fall hunting times.

One reason why the people gathered as they did was that the entire tribe might be told of some or any disturbance or trouble with any other tribes; they talked over their war parties, celebrated victories, and talked about any fortune or misfortune which had come to any of the bands as they were scattered about in the west of the Missouri country.

They also made some laws or regulations for the people to follow.  In this way they protected their hunting country and territory and kept posted.  From these gatherings the bands would scatter to winter locations or to hunting territory.

Chief Grass talks to Welch, May 1917:

Ot-ce-ti-sa-ko-win was the name for the “Council of the Seven Fires” or “Seven Fireplaces” or “Seven Fires Council.”  Grass says that the Teton did not take part in this Council.

Seven Fires Places … Welch letter dated March 16th, 1920:



Seven Fires Council—Flag:




Hair Styles

Gros Ventres and Arikaras Pompadour Style, Welch notes, undated:

“….a number of Rees (sic, Arikara) were present.  I could tell them from the Sioux by the pompadour hair they wore, in a great wave, sweeping back from their foreheads.

The Gros Ventre were all dressed in their best regalia.  Their hair was in stiff pompadour in front, the back hair was decorated with black, red and yellow-painted sticks about six inches long in the braids.”

Arikara names means “Living Head,”  Paul Fast Horse talks, July 2nd, 1929:

“These Rees, they were separated from the Pawnee people a long time ago, and they came north then.  The Yankton Sioux call them Pani, but we northern Sioux call them the Pa-la-ni.  It is the same word, but we put that da (the) in the middle of the word.  The word means Pa (head), Ni (live), so the word is “live-head.”  Or better is it to call it, “Living Head,”  because they wore their hair up and it was like their heads were alive, when the hair waved about.”

Differentiating Crow & Mandan Pompadour Styles, Welch notes, undated:

“…The picture of the Indian’s head is that of a Mandan.  The pompadour alone would indicate a Crow Indian, but with the colored sticks or clay in his braids, it means a Mandan, as they wore their hair that way…”




Treating a headache, Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, undated:

“One time I had a headache.  It was very bad.  Goose came to cure me.  He pounded my head with a large stone.  It did not seem to help any.  Then we put on some of the tea.  It was made from the ‘sharp-pointed stalk’ root I asked you to get.  That stopped the ache.”

Goose, early 1880’sbiog139-goose-photo

Welch Note:  In an issue by the Historical Society of North Dakota, entitled “The State Park System of North Dakota,” Libby, Secy., and Gilmore, Curator, page 264, this plant is described thus:  Yucca Glauca. Spanish Bayonet.  Clumps of bayonet-like blades surround the tall flower stalk.  The flowers are large and creamy-white.  Desirable for its beauty and interesting for several points of usefulness in aboriginal domestic economy.  One use is that of the root for washing, in the manner of soap, especially in shampooing the hair.”

Relating to the above, Welch notes:

On May 31st, 1921 I went to Fort Yates to see Mother Grass.  She showed me, with considerable pride, that her hair had been cut off the top of her head in a round patch about 3 inches in diameter.  In this circle were several knife cuts, where some Dakota Medicine Man had stuck in the end of a pen knife and slashed the scalp for headache.  She said it did not ache any more.  She also had some of the root of the Spanish Bayonet mixed with some seeds of the red squash and soaked in hot water.  This she was using to keep her head from aching.

Small Pox background, Welch notes, undated:

There is a tradition of a terrible small pox sickness which swept from the upper Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean, north to Great Slave Lake and east to Lake Superior in 1781-1782.  Another swept up from the Rio Grande in 1801-1802 and again in 1818.

Blue Thunder’s winter count has this record for 1837:  “Had big small pox.  No one die.”  This count is the record of the Hunkpapa and Sihasapa and several other closely allied bands and gens.


It is a historical fact that this terrible scourge took off nearly fifty per cent of the northern plains Indians.  The Sioux tell me that “some villages of the Mandans and Rees were evacuated by those well enough to get away.  So many died that they could not bury them.  Children and old people were left behind and died alone.  Some men were so scared that they jumped off the high cliffs and so killed themselves.  But the Sioux in the Cannon Ball, Heart and Grand River country escaped …. (page following is lost).




Coup Rules. Welch notes undated:

Coup is a word from the French meaning ‘blow’ or ‘strike.’  Borrowed from the early French traders and hunters among the Dakotah.  Various manners of ‘counting coup’ were in vogue among the Dakotah, to designate a token of victory.  To strike a live enemy; to kill an enemy; to take prisoner; to shake hands with your enemy; were all regular coups among most of the plains tribes, but especially among the Dakotah.

A man, having made a coup was entitled to the honors of a warrior and to wear the emblem in the dance or carry a coup stick.  A man was able to count several coups upon the same enemy and to recount these deeds in public and draw them upon his tipi.  Generally but one coup was made upon the body of one enemy, although the successful warrior could count the blow upon a live enemy; the kill and the scalp or horses and war accoutrement of the dead foe.

Striking an enemy was accepted as the greatest coup as it indicated that the man was in close touch in battle.  This coup must be substantiated by an eye witness.  However, this ‘strike coup’ could be counted either upon the body of a live enemy or a dead one, even though the man who might count coup upon a dead enemy was not the one who killed him.  For some other warrior might have reached the fallen foe first and claimed the first blow upon him.

In order of honor the coups are counted thus:

First coup, to the one who first struck the enemy, dead or alive.

Second coup, to the one who struck the enemy next.

Third coup, to the one who struck the enemy third.

Fourth coup to the one who was the fourth to strike the enemy.

These men were all entitled to coup honors because they manifestly were close to the fighting or arrived there among the first, if the fight were single combat.

The scalp and war gear was generally claimed by the killer.  However, a warrior could give away a coup honor and it was thereafter not his property and not his privilege to tell about the coup or claim any honor for it.  The one receiving the coup was at liberty to claim it as his very own act.  The spirit of the vanquished foe became attached to the new owner.

Red Fish once told me that he had made the blow coup upon live enemy in battle.  He said that he had become very much excited and run his horse into the midst of the enemy.

It was often the case that a lone warrior would ride back and forth along the front of a line of soldiers or close to his Indian enemies and sing his battle song and invite and dare the enemy to ride out and fight him to the death.

Many tales are told of miraculous escapes of many of the old Dakotah during this crazy display of bravery, from volleys of fire from the Infantry.  Chief Grass has told me of having done this thing.  He said it made his men brave to see their head soldiers doing it.  Red Tomahawk once escaped a volley while close in to the Infantry at Fort Rice.  Dog Man rode close to the Mandan village south of the city of Mandan, N.D., on the Heart river, and dared the villagers to send out three good men on horse to fight him. A coup was counted after such a display of bravery and deliberate action, was thought to be highly honorable and entitled the warrior to extra consideration and honor in the ceremonies.

Mrs. James McLaughlin advises: A man who entered a tipi or rode up to a tipi and counted coup was entitled to display the design of the affair upon his tipi and even to change the pattern of his tipi to show the count.  A man who made peace with his enemy was said to be entitled to wear a scalp for it, provided he had made the enemy captive before the peace.

Some Dakotah women have been awarded coup.  These women wore war head dresses and carried hoops like a barrel hoop covered with fur and having en eagle’s feather attached.  I asked what deed these women had done to count coup and was told that they had captured some prisoners.  These women took part in the adoption ceremonies of A. B. Welch.

From conversations with many old Dakotah: A coup is generally designated by an eagle feather whose quill is bound with red flannel and tied to the instrument with which the coup was made.  A gun; quirt; arrow; knife; club; or other instrument of arm used in making coup,  if decorated with this feather showed one coup. If decorated with more than one, it denoted that as many coups had been made as there were feathers.  A red feather showed that the owner had been wounded.

Circling Hawk’s swordcustoms127-sword-of-circling-hawk

Crow Man explains the “coup” to me, 1921:

“There are four coup honors.  This is to strike the enemy.

The first man to strike an enemy man is entitled to first coup and can wear a white feather straight up in his hair.

Foolish Bear, in back with single white feather upright in haircustoms128-single-eagle-feather

The second man to strike him has second coup honors and can wear the feather leaning to one side for that.

The third man to strike him has third coup honors and can wear the feather crosswise.

The fourth to strike him gets fourth coup honors and can wear the feather hanging down.”

“If you are wounded you can wear a feather, a red one, in your head for that thing.  It is shaved and looks like a flower.  Maybe you call that ‘split’ feather.  All the people can read these coup honors or wounded feathers and no one wear them who is not entitled to them, for all the people then would make fun of him.”

Coups of A. B. Welch:

In Paco District, Manila, P.I., in February 1899, while a member of Company “D,”  1st Washington Vol. Inf., in the service of the U.S.A., he counted coup upon a Major of Filipino forces, first by capture and blow and second by killing (his diary is at the left).

Welch diary page recording coups, 1898customs123-welch-diary-page

In Morong Province, same island and service, he made coup upon a native soldier while out scouting, by killing the soldier.

In Cavite Province, vicinity of Colambo, same island and service, he counted coup by capture and shaking hands with mortal enemy.  This enemy was a Lieutenant in the Insurgent Army who was captured together with his men.  The office was permitted to escape and go to Manila on parole, under his promise not to engage in arms and any more against the U.S.A.  Welch attended his wedding before the uprising, in the city of Manila.

Coup Stick:

There are many forms of the coup stick or clubs or other things which indicate a coup.  In ceremonials and parades it is generally a tall staff about eight feet long, and the upper end turns back in a large crook.

Crows Heart and Black Chest holding coup sticks, 1924 cusroms130-coup-sticks-crows-heart-black-chest The entire staff is very often entirely wound with fur of some sort.  The lower end is pointed to stick into the ground.


In the old times a chief or war leader sometimes stuck his stick into the ground, in the presence of the enemy, and would not leave the vicinity until some one of his own band took it up and carried it away.  This would be in fulfillment of a vow taken.  In this vow he often promised to die there or obtain a victory.  The coup stick in this case would be a rallying point for his party and dishonor belonged to the chief if he took it away before the fight was finished.


If the coup stick is carried by a man in ceremonials or parade, it is decorated at certain intervals with as many eagle’s feathers as the owner had counted coups.  No Indian would think of wearing a feather or claiming a coup if he was not entitled to it.


Hoops are often carried in the dances both by the men and women.  When carried by the women it is said that some of their relatives had been made a prisoner of an enemy.  When in pictographs, hoops are read as emblems of the wearer having taken prisoners.   These hoops are often covered with fur and carry feathers the same as the coup staff.  Other hoops are sometimes carried in the dance, but without feathers upon them.  The men who carry these are mirth-makers and do funny steps and act clownish in a very solemn way, but the women are often convulsed with laughter over their actions.

Other Forms of Coups carried in Dances:

I one noticed an old man with a very odd form of square made of twigs tied together.  This was a four-sided affair and the bark was on the sticks.  I asked High Eagle what it meant and he said that the old man who carried it, Circling Bear, was entitled to carry that because in the old time he had shown great bravery.  Some Arikara had stolen many horses from the Sioux.  They had successfully taken them to the east bank of the Missouri river on the ice.  When this theft was discovered and the trail picked up, the ice was already breaking up under the spring raise and it was thought to be impossible to cross the river.  In any event it was danger of the gravest sort to venture out among the swiftly flowing, grinding, pitching ice floes.  But Mato Canhdeska rode his horse into the river and gained the opposite side in safety.  He then followed the horse thieves and succeeded in getting all the horses back to their owners.  This story about him is still often told and the old fellow has a safe niche in Dakotah history.  For that brave deed he is allowed to carry something which represents a raft  – which at once bring to mind his deed.  Other men often carry things which show brave deeds and not necessarily coups.

Wearing Feathers:

Any man who has counted coup is entitled to wear an eagle’s feather attached to the weapon used.  I have often seen feathers tied to a gun, war clubs, bow and arrows and spears.  This feather is from the tail of the eagle and is tied with rawhide and the quill is wound with red flannel.  It often has a tip of a few colored hairs, from a horse’s tail or mane,  attached to its tip with glue.  This is simply ‘for pretty’ as they say.  There is also the ‘Red Feather,’ which is dyed red and worn only by a man who has been wounded in battle.

Feather Pictograph:

A man entitled to wear the red feather is also allowed to draw the same feather upon his tipi or make it in beads or quills upon his leather coat or leggings.

The Right to Question the wearer of a coup:

When a man has some long hair tied to the bridle under his horse’s chin, it indicates that he has made ‘first coup,’ viz: struck the enemy before the kill.  If a man who wears this has not the right to do it, the spirits will bring him bad luck.  No man may question another about it unless he also has the right to wear it or has as many or more coups honors than the other man.

At Fort Yates on Sept. 9, 1915, several men in a procession wore these coup signs.  There were twenty men and seven women in costume and one warrior was a visitor from Fort Peck, Montana.  A Cannon Ball Dakotah questioned him about his decoration and the visitor said, “First, show me your right to ask questions of me.”  All the Indians laughed at the Cannon Ball and he walked away.

Children ‘counting coup’ as told by John Cadotte, Sr.:


“….The very next day there were visitors come (1883 or 1884).  They were old enemy Mandans, Gros Ventre and Arikara.  They came in John Grass’ lodge.  They sat down.  They expected to eat.  Then we built a dance circle of boughs, for dance.  Ina (Mrs. Grass) had no pot to cook meat in.  Then she took a metal tub for that.  She cut up much meat.  She cooked.

John Grass and the enemy visitors smoked then.  He grabbed a coup stick.  He struck each of the visitors.  He made coup.  Ina sang a brave song for him then.  She was glad. The enemy were mad.  Ina gave them moccasins for that.  It was all right.  He told me that he had struck the enemy.

I went into the lodge (Cadotte was a child at that time).  I grabbed the same coup stick.  I made coup, too.  Then my mother (John Grass’s sister, Aunty Cross) went to them and sang a song.  She gave them moccasins, too.  It was good.  We boys were brave to do that thing.  The presents and meat made it all right, too.”

Giving Away a Coup as told by Fool Bear (Foolish Bear):

“Once I was in a war party.  Chief John Grass was the head soldier.  We attacked the Crows where they camped.  We rode very fast among the tipis of the village.  They came out to meet us.  I was terribly excited and made a great shout.  I reached for my war club which hung at my saddle.  It was not there.  I was excited and struck a man with my hand.  Then I killed him with this quirt stick.  It is a good coup.  I like it myself.  So, I am giving it to you.  You can now tell about it.  When a man gives a horse away it is no longer his.  When a warrior gives a coup away, it belongs to the other man.  It is now yours.  I am happy today.  It is good to make a present to a friend.”

Scalps and Scalping, undated note:

Many men have lost their scalp and still lived for many years, dying of other causes.  Strikes the Ree was scalped and lived.  When taken into the Catholic Church, he refused to remove a fur cap, which he always wore.

Blue Thunder scalps a Bald Man, 1915 conversation:

“….We did not lose any of our people as we crossed the river (Battle of Big Mound).  We watched in the woods.  A lot of soldiers came to get water, I guess, and we killed three of them.  One was an officer with no hair on his head.  He had hair on his chin, so they scalped that….”

 Origin of Indian’s Scalping, undated notes:

The name of a portion of skin from the head with hair attached, taken from the head of an enemy and carried for trophy.  This practice has been known in many nations and in many lands.  In the time of Heroditis, the Scythian, it was their custom.  It was not common custom to all American Tribes, but its advent is within historical times among the western plains Indians.

In some parts of the North American region north of the Rio Grande, the entire head was taken as a trophy, and one of the divisions of the Sioux received its name from that custom (Pabaska, or Cut Heads).

The spread of the practice of scalping was the direct result of the offering of bounties to the Indians for the scalps of American Colonists by the British.  It was usually a small patch of skin from directly behind the forehead, circular in shape, though, if time permitted, the entire hairy portion of the scalp was taken and afterward divided up into smaller ornaments for leggings, head dresses and coat ornaments and small pieces were sometimes tied to the horse’s bridles.

The custom was not an old one. Often it was not taken by the man who did the killing, but was always evidence of a coup.  It was not always preserved by the owner but sacrificed to the sun, water, earth or, after the Scalp Dance, which was danced by the women, it was sometimes disposed of by leaving it hidden in some secluded spot.

Scalps on a Hoop, undated notes:

Drawing of scalp on hoopcustoms67-scalps-on-a-ring

The scalp was generally stretched within a circular twig hoop about six inches in diameter, and the hide side was painted red.  A scalp was sometimes left upon the field of battle or where the man from whom it was taken was.  Left there by the taker as a propitiatory offering.  As long as the scalp was preserved by the owner, it was the belief that the spirit of the victim was near.  It was generally destroyed after the Great Death Feast was held, thus releasing the spirit of the victim.


Mr. & Mrs. Little Sioux count coup on Welch’s German Shepherd dog (the enemy), April 1920, Ree, N.D., in the Little Missouri country:

Mrs. Little Sioux talks … “I am glad to shake hands with you.  I have often heard about you but I never expected to see you.  Your soldier who lost his leg in the war, was a relative of mine. (She means Young Hawk).  The others who went away with you are also relatives.  We sing many songs about you taking the guns away from the Germans.  I will tell them that I know you now.”

On seeing my German Police dog, “Lobo von Schloss Beresheim,” she said she would like to strike it, but it she did so she would have to give a dinner to the rest of the Indians, for striking the enemy.

Welch and Lobo von Schloss Beresheim, at billet in Germany, 1919

“My man’s name is Little Sioux.  His father was a Sioux who came to live with the Rees and took a Ree woman for his wife, so they named the boy “Little Sioux” for he was not all Ree.  He was a scout for Custer at Fort Lincoln before there was any houses here in Mandan, and the railroad was built.    The Sioux were very troublesome and he had several fights with them. They used to keep us watching for them all the time and, once when I was a little girl, they scared us pretty bad.  They rode all around us and were on every side and they made a great noise and rode fast.  They looked very strong.  Finally they were in the village and we gave them things to eat and presents and they walked among us.  The old men sat down on buffalo robes and talked and then there was no fighting and I think they made a peace that time  there.’

(Note:  These Dakotah probably extorted a lot of horses and robes from the Rees, as they were always at war until stopped by the Government … Welch)

Little Sioux, afterward, came in and said he was willing to strike the enemy (the dog) even if he did have to give a feast to the people.  And they both struck the dog with the edge of their hands.

He was a scout with Custer’s command on the march from Fort Abraham Lincoln to the Yellowstone, but I do not know how he got away from the fight on the Little Big Horn, probably was up at the mouth of the Big Horn with General Terry.

The Red Hand and The Red Cane:


Heraldric Devices, August 26th, 1928:

Today, a group of four old men were talking to me of old fights with the enemy.  In the conversation they mentioned that:

Young Bear was a very brave man; that he made seven coups in one fight in one day.

Elk, in front, with heraldic devices on his clothescustoms133-elk-good-bird-drags-wolf


Then Elk, who wears buckskin clothes with heraldric devices upon them, told of having rescued four of a war party who had been put afoot, their horses having either been killed or run away, and pointed with pride to ‘marks’ done in beads upon his leggings and coat, which he said represented to all Sioux, the fact that he had done that.   Each mark was a pair of crossed sticks, he said.  Made of red beads upon buckskin which had been yellowed by wild sage, during the tanning process.

Feathers, Elk talks to Welch, September 12, 1922:

“…The man, Crow, whose picture you show me, wears these things in his hair.

Crow, early 1880’sbiog64-crow-photo

They are stripped feathers.  He was shot by two arrows once.  He pulled them both through.  He did not break them off.  So he can wear the quill of the eagle feathers for each one.”

Meaning of Feathers, Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, November 13, 1919:

“…The white feather says that you have been to war.  The red feather means that you were wounded.”

Placement of feathers, Densmore, Bul 61, p 359, Bur of Amer Eth;

“If a man killed an enemy without injury to himself, he wore an eagle’s feather erect at the back of his head.  If he killed more than one in the same battle he could wear as many feathers as he killed enemies.  If he struck an enemy before killing him, he could wear the feather in a horizontal position.”

Horse’s Tail, Welch attending the South Side Antelope Society, May 31, 1923:


Crow’s Heart wore a tail of a horse on a stick in his belt, at the rear.  The tail was worn straight up, falling down in a graceful sweep.  He told me that one time some enemy shot an killed his horse while on the war path and that he, therefore, had the right to wear this tail to represent that event of his horse being killed.

Leggins Markings


Notes on Feathers


More Notes on Feathers



Magpie tied to Shoulder;

During a visit to Governor Nestos, of three Yantonaise, with myself, Shoot Holy, the spokesman, wore a skin of the Magpie tied to his right shoulder on his buckskin coat.  When asked about it, he said, “When a man goes to war in the winter time and kills an enemy he can wear a magpie’s plumage upon his, like I have.  They all know it that way.”

Red Cloth decorations, Sept. 1928 notes:

Fine Weather is a full blood brother to Mrs. John Grass, and lives on the Cheyenne Reservation, S.D.  He is now quite old and is the father of the wife of Frances Bull Head, son of Lieut. Bull Head, killed by Sitting Bull’s ghost dancers in Dec., 1890.  Fine Weather was the one who wore a red cloth about his foot where he had been shot with an arrow by some northern enemy and left to die by his band.

This day and old Sioux by the name of Wahmniyamni Hota (Grey Whirlwind) gave me his shield and explained its pictographic significance.  The star in the middle is the “Day Sun,” which is our mother, the red moon is our father, the blue circle all around is what comes to us from those parents of ours.  It is surrounded by a full circle of the lesser feathers of the eagle. Holy Horse told me, today, that Grey Whirlwind was a great warrior against the Crows and Padani in his youth and was a very brave man.  Frequently he went against the enemy and crawled into his village and cut loose horses and one time came back with nine fine ones.  He said that he once went a great distance to fight the Pierced Noses (Nez Perce) and came back with honor from that war trail.

Decorations on stem of Pipe


Grey Whirlwind gave me his Shield, September 7, 1927:

This day and old Sioux by the name of Wahmniyamni Hota (Grey Whirlwind) gave me his shield and explained its pictographic significance.  The star in the middle is the “Day Sun,” which is our mother, the red moon is our father, the blue circle all around is what comes to us from those parents of ours.  It is surrounded by a full circle of the lesser feathers of the eagle. Holy Horse told me, today, that Grey Whirlwind was a great warrior against the Crows and Padani in his youth and was a very brave man.  Frequently he went against the enemy and crawled into his village and cut loose horses and one time came back with nine fine ones.  He said that he once went a great distance to fight the Pierced Noses (Nez Perce) and came back with honor from that war trail.

Shield of Grey Whirlwindcustoms141-grey-whirlwind-shield

Andrew Iron Roads talks about shields, 1915:

“…When a man has a shield it is a good medicine for war, and he will not get killed any time.”

 Shields of John Grass and his father Uses Him as a Shield, Welch conversation with Leo Cadotte, May 5-6, 1941:

Question:  We would like to know how the shields of John Grass, Uses Him as a Shield and Sicola were decorated, if you are permitted to tell us.  Sicola was the grandfather of John Grass.

Answer:  The first shields were plain.  Later they were painted and decorated.  Only two birds are used on shields; the eagle and the hawk.  Sometimes the tail of a black-tailed deer is fastened to the lower bunch of medicine.  In that case a spider web is placed in the center of the shield instead of the eagle or hawk.  Sometimes the moon and stars are used (the stars above the moon).  They go together.  Sometimes the eagle is used alone; no other symbol.

The shield of John Grass was yellow.  The hawk was pictured in the middle.  The “great swallow” was in four places around the edge, inside the four bunches of medicine tied with eagle feathers (for the four winds or directions).  Black lightning was there.  The hawk was dark blue with lightning (influence radiations) in his mouth.  Red Beak and red on the wings.  White breast.  The great swallows were blue.

An eagle riding a deer was on the shield of Grass’ father. For that is the way he looked when he was riding in battle on his “medicine horse.”  The tail of a black-tailed deer hung from the lower bunch of medicine, there were four bunches of medicine and three eagle feathers, one from each bunch of medicine except the lower one.  The spider web was in the center of the shield.  The moon and stars were also pictured on the upper part of the shield.  Deloria’s father made the medicine that went on this shield.  One might ask three different people for their medicine and could put the symbols on his own shield.

We were extremely anxious to know more about the shields of Uses Him as a Shield and that of Chief John Grass and approached the subject with some trepidation as the subject of ‘medicine’ is almost taboo.  However, the old men were very courteous and said that I was the adopted son of Grass, although a white man, it would be all right to tell me what the medicine was, if they knew.  However, they did not know and explained that medicine was selected by the party, himself, according to some dream or vision; that the matter was not talked about much; that the women folks did not ever know a thing about it; that it was tied in little sacks and tied to the shield or about the owner’s horse’s neck  – as protection in war.  It might be a small stone; a shell; a feather; a bone and was generally either buried with him at his death or destroyed.  However, they did tell us about his shield as follows:

“Shield of Uses Him as a Shield:”  When he was a young man he was with a war party.  They discovered the enemy and made contact at once.  He rode a ‘Medicine Horse’ which had been trained by his father, Sicola.  This horse was very swift and had never been punished with a whip or quirt. It was said of him that if anyone ever struck him he would be killed (Note: this actually happened to a man who did so  – ABW).  This day in this battle Uses Him as a Shield was riding this horse.  He was very brave and rode the entire length of the enemy line alone, calling upon them to shoot.  But, to their consternation, all that they could see looked like a black-tail deer with an eagle upon its back.  Thereafter, Uses Him as a Shield always carried a shield with four medicine bags, one deer tail and three eagle’s feathers  – one each to every medicine bag, except the bottom one, to which was tied the deer tail; his shield was yellow; in the middle was a drawing of an eagle, above which was an inverted quarter moon, while over that were two stars  – five-pointed to indicate the five members of man  – the arms, legs and head.  The moon and stars were blue.  Around the perimeter were ten black dots with represented small stones.”

Shield of Uses Him as a Shield, father of John Grasscustoms147-uses-as-a-shields-shield

Shield of John Grass:  All shields at first (early times  – W) were plain hide affairs of the neck hide of the buffalo, shrunken by holding over a fire, which contracted the raw hide. Then people began to decorate the shields with pictographs representing some vision or dream.  This might be a spider’s web in the middle or a dream horse or other animal or bird.  The eagle was the principal bird ruler of the upper air and was often used but no man was supposed to have pictographs or more than one vision on any one shield.  John Grass’ shield was all yellow; it had four buckskin medicine bags tied to the outside, one at both top and bottom and one on each side, to which he always had a large eagle feather tied by a thong so it would flutter as he rode.  Around the circle was black lightning; in the middle was an eagle pictograph ‘with power,’ below that was the ‘great swallow,’ which was very dark blue, with a forked tail, long, narrow wings; the bill was that of a hawk.  Red showed at the fleshy base of the bill and also in the under part of the wing pinions; the breast was said to have been ‘very white.’  this shield was generally hung before his own lodge on a tall pole.  What the medicine was in the bags is not known to anyone now.  The eagle and the ‘great swallow’ must have been in the same vision he had.  The old men said that this great swallow was always very high in the air and was not often seen by man; that it was very swift, strong and rapacious.  White Cloud said that he had once seen a bird of this variety strike a jack rabbit and throw him over and over four times.  (I thought at first that they were describing some legendary bird which might be a variety of Thunderbird, but was convinced that they were talking of some member of the Falcon family  – W).

Shield of Chief John Grasscustoms147-john-grass-shield

Welch notes  – Angela Boleyn’s notes say that there were four of these birds upon the shield, and no eagle, and she may be correct, for she was very careful in taking her notes  – while I may have been influenced by the Dakotah language before it was translated, for I understood much of the native conversation.  There was the usual deviation from the original during the translation.

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932:

“My brother, you asked me to get you a shield or two.  From the old men who wanted them.  Here they are now.  There are stories for each one.  Those old men, they know these stories.  They will tell them to you.  When you come, they will tell you about that thing.  When you can sit and listen, then will they say it.”

“I made this one.  It is a good story.  My woman’s father carried one like that.  He was an Arikara.  He lived among the Sioux.  He knew so much that the Agent asked for him.  So he came and lived there.  He taught them to farm and raise gardens.  His Indian name was Yellow Ree (Pailina Ghe).  He was a great man.  He had the right to wear the Thunder bird on his shield.”


Welch comments:  The yellow over the Thunder Bird is the day time.  The black represents the clouds.  The two spots indicate a certain length of time, but I do not know how long.  The orange center means the ‘moon’ and the green generally represents the ‘Earth.’  So the spots mean a moon (time) and the green (which Welch may have placed immediately under the yellow of day time, but overshot when he painted the black clouds) might mean the entire time during which the grass was green and so we might almost say that the two spots represent two summers.  The Thunder Bird is quite crudely drawn and is the ‘spirit tail’ form, denoting great speed.  Yellow also means the ‘Holy Color.’  Decorated with five eagle feathers, evidently taken from a war bonnet, and the eagle was perhaps six years of age.  A very good shield and drawing.  Iron Road would not tell me the story, if he knew it, and said he did not have the right to talk about it.

(Research note: Hairy Chin is the father of Crow Ghost, a long-time friend of Welch)

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932…Shield No. 2:

Welch comments:  This shield was made by Sunka Hanska (Long dog), a Hunkpapa Sioux.  It also carries the split-tail Thunder Bird.  There is much reference to ‘time’ in this drawing and two ‘Holy Sky Moons.’  The ‘Lightning’ issuing from the mouth of the Thunder Bird, refers to the fact that often lightning comes, rather, always comes from the Thunder bird.  Blue, relates to the sky in general, and the forked arc is ‘lightning in the sky.’  The yellow lightning might mean ‘Holy Power.’  Decorated with six young eagle feathers.


Long Dog, the famous Arikara Chief, was a full brother of Hairy Chin, who was the father of Mrs. Iron Roads of Cannon Ball.  Long Dog married a Sioux woman, sister of Red Fox, whom I knew.  His name in Sioux is Toka Luta.

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932…Shield No. 3:


Welch Comments:  Here is a mystery shield.  Made by Four Swords (Mini Topa), a Yanktonaise Sioux.  Day and night are indicated at the top.  Red is the ‘Honor Color.’  Yellow is ‘Holy.’  Blue is the ‘sky.’ The four-cornered square with elongated corners, represents the ‘Holy Mellow Ground’ place of the Sioux, and the four corners of the earth.  My interpretation is that Four Swords traveled everywhere and made many trails here and there and was protected during both the day and night time, and he started anytime at day time or night time and was always ‘looked after’ by holy surroundings, and always brought back honor from any direction.  Five young eagle feathers.

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932…Shield No. 4:


Welch comments:  A mystery shield.  Buffalo Boy Red Fish made this one.  He is a Yanktonaise Sioux about 70 years of age.  This is a ‘dream’ shield.  I interpret it thus:  A yellow (holy) horse with buffalo horns came to him in a vision or dream; a green Thunder Bird plunged directly down upon the horned horse, from an honor (red) and holy (yellow) sky (blue).  The horned horse had a very heavy mane and tail; this influence was the cause of Buffalo Boy Red Fish accumulating a great herd of horses.  Six young eagle feathers decoration.  Shield is a fine one and a chapter of revelations might be written about it.

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932…Shield No. 5:


Welch comments:  This is a buffalo shield.  The animal is in running position with tongue hanging from mouth, as they always did on a stampede or when warmed up from a run.  A fine example of Sioux buffalo drawing.  Lightning covers the animal and the entire shield is in the holy (yellow) color.  Decorated with six eagle feathers from a young bird not over 3 years old.  Do not know the name of the maker, and rather believe that Iron Road could not remember who made it, for the reason that it might have been drawn by a man who never carried it and really ‘belonged’ to another man.

Iron Roads brings five shields to Welch, January 3, 1932…Welch sells them for $10 each including postage::


Welch sells the six Sioux shields to Clara Endicott Sears for $10 each including postage:


Welch sells the six Sioux shields to Clara Endicott Sears for $10 each including postage, shields 1 and 2:


Welch sells the six Sioux shields to Clara Endicott Sears for $10 each including postage, shields 3 and 4:


Welch sells the six Sioux shields to Clara Endicott Sears for $10 each including postage, shields 5 and 6:


 Chief John Grass’ tobacco Bag:


Catlinite Pipe and Tobacco Bag Presentation:





Hermaphrodites, Welch notes, undated

In the ‘Winter Count’ of American Horse, an Oglala Dakotah, the year 1848-1849 is known as the year when American Horse’s father captured a Crow Indian, dressed in woman’s clothes and found out that the prisoner was a hermaphrodite and killed the poor creature.

In the records kept so well by Maximillion, Prince of Wied, who wintered with the Mandans at Mih-Tutta-Hang-Kush (now Fort Clark) during 1833-34—mention is made of these unfortunate ones among the Mandans.  He said that there were several at that village, who dressed mostly in women’s clothes and took a woman’s part in the life of the Mandans.

William Badger of Mandan, who accompanied Custer’s Expedition to the Black Hills in 1874, told me that he saw one of these people, but did not know whether or not she was a Sioux, but thinks she was.  This party was dressed as a woman, and carried the water and wood for the camp, and made herself generally useful to everybody.  He did not know whether or not she was a hermaphrodite but was of the opinion that the wearing of woman’s clothes and doing menial work, was a punishment for some crime committed, and that the party was really a man.

A rumor which may be said to be well authenticated, is often talked about among the old soldiers of Fort Abraham Lincoln, and the old settlers of the country around here, of a man who dressed as a woman, at Fort Lincoln.  She was married to a man there and was well known among the officers and garrison.  It is said that she was a wonderful dancer and was quite popular among the people of the Fort and Bismarck.  “She” died and the secret was out.  She was a man who had paraded as a woman for many years.  If any knew the secret before “her” death, it was well kept.  Her husband disappeared.  She was buried at Fort Lincoln.  In the book of Capt. Grant Marsh, “The conquest of the Missouri,” this incident is referred to as a fact.  Whether or not she was a hermaphrodite is not shown.

It was not an uncommon thing for these people to be found among the Indians and especially so among the Arikaras and Gros Ventres and Mandans. Close intermarriage was not looked upon with favor,  particularly among the Dakotah…and it remains to be determined why this condition came about.

An old Indian, Ista Sapa (Iron Eyes, a Bull Head Dakotah) told me that he remembered one such a man dressed in woman’s clothes.  “It was on account of a dream he had.  He was a Man.  He dreamed that he had a different heart from men.  He had a heart like a woman.  So he could not do the things men did after that and dressed like a woman.  Maybe he had a coward heart.  I do not know.  He did women’s work then.  The men let him alone They would not talk to him much.”

Three Crows seen in Mandan were spoken of by Crow Ghost and others in 1923.  He said, “He is half man and half woman.  There used to be many among the Crows and Hidatsa, especially.  He is neither a man nor a woman, but some of each.  So he wears the dress of a woman.  I have seen many in the old times.  No, they are not castrated men.  They are not complete either way.  A Sioux Chief took a Crow one prisoner one time.  When he found out about that, he gave her to his young men.  They killed her.  She is not Wakan.  She is not made right.  I don’t know but I thing Inktomi played a joke on him someway.  Inktomi is always doing something like that.  She is like a lame horse  – no good at all.




Welch conversation with Mrs. Van Solen, undated:

“….If you get an Indian to say he will do a thing, he will do it.  But, it is hard to get them to say ‘Yes,’ sometimes.  They are very honorable in this matter.

No Two Hornsbiog206-no-two-horns-1939

“Once someone gave old No Two Horns a letter for us and asked him to take it right to us.  So he did so.  It was in the middle of winter and very cold.  We were in bed and someone knocked on the front door about two o’clock in the morning.  Lucille looked out.  Someone was shouting in Teton tongue that it was he and that he was cold.  We were scared, but he said ‘Cousins, I am cold.  I have something for you.  Let me in.’  So we let him in and he gave us this letter.  After he got warm he went away again.  He traveled at least three miles each way to fulfill his promise in the dead of winter and when it was bitter cold.”

Visit to Fort Berthold, October 1921 … notes on Honor Custom:

At different times when the Arikara were singing for me, all the Sioux danced where they stood to show honor, while the Indian hosts entered the enclosure and danced a war dance.  And whenever any member of the Dead Grass Society was danced or sung about, those who desired to honor him, either danced with him or ‘helped him’ by dancing where they rose from their seats.





Housing, p. 2


Housing, page 3




Sioux Hunting Customs


Hunting, page 2


Buffalo Hunting, Red Tomahawk talks to Welch, 1915



Bear’s Arm, Second Chief of the Hidatsa, tells about an exciting buffalo hunt, February 10, 1934, Good Bird, interpreter;

A buffalo hunt had been arranged by our head men.  The scouts told us of a great herd across by Washburn.  We were living at that time at Fish Hook Village (Fort Berthold).  So we started.  We found the herd.  We arranged the way to run them.  I was not hungry just then.  I did not want to kill cows.  I wanted a big bull.  Great hunters kill bulls.  It is dangerous hunting.  I rode along.  I saw a splendid big fellow.  I had a good trained buffalo horse.

Chief Bears Arm, 1936biog8-bears-arm-photo

He began to follow this one bull.  I rode along his side.  On the right side I rode.  Always kill buffalo bulls from that side.  You can shoot arrows better.  I picked out the spot to sink my arrow.  I shot.  I made the hit I wanted, but the arrow did not reach his heart.  The buffalo made a very quick turn.  He caught my horse and threw him into the air.  While he was tearing his guts out, I got away afoot.  I was among the animals.  They were scared and running fast.  The dust was thick.  The roar of the feet was terrible.  No one could reach me now.  I grabbed a cow by the hair of her neck.  I ran along by her side.  She was afraid of me and soon she was outside the main her.  I got away then.  I did not kill her because she had been good to me.  I lost my horse.  The old bull did not run far.  He was shot in the lungs and was bleeding bad from his nose and mouth now.  He stood apart alone, and died standing up.  I got the biggest hide there.  That is a hunting story.

John Cadotte and Stone Man talk to Welch, November 1939, about John Grass’ hunting stories.  Mrs. John Cadotte and Auntie Cross were also present … Stone Man speaks:

“It was a long time ago.  We lived here on Oak Creek then.  I could talk some English.  Siowipi (Grass) went to the Agency and got permission to go hunting with a party.  He also asked that I go with them as an interpreter.  There were white people in the country.  We took wagons.  They were the first we had issued to us.  We took horses.  Each man took three.  We went out west.  It was at the Magazu Paha (Rainy Buttes).  We killed deer and elk only.  One man killed forty; another 50; Siowipi killed fifty that time.  We had the wagons all full of meat and hides.  The women went along to cut the meat and dry it in the air.  We didn’t get many elk that time.  Just a few hides for winter.  Deer meat is better than elk, so we got deer meat, plenty.  I remember that hunt that time.  Some white hunters and cattlemen came to camp.  I talked English with them.  I was very proud of that.  I could talk their language some.  I was interpreter.”

John Cadotte speaks about a ‘cold camp:’

“John Grass took out a hunting party in the winter time.  We needed meat.  The party went afoot.  The snow was deep.  It was very cold.  They carried their robes with them.  John Grass carried a muzzle-loading rifle.  It had a rod to load with.  The party traveled far from camp that time.


A blizzard came quickly.  It was a bad one.  The party tried to find shelter somewhere.  They had to make a ‘cold camp’ (without shelter).  John grass stuck his rod into the earth.  He put his robe over that.  It made a small tipi.  The men took turns in going in it.  They kept warm that way.  The others would talk around the little lodge.  The storm lasted five days that time.  John Grass brought them all back to camp safely.  They got meat on the way back.  They did not die.”

John Cadotte speaks about a ‘melted hand:’

“Another time John Grass took a hunting party from camp.  It was cold.  John Grass was carrying his bow.  The one you have hanging in your house.  He carried his arrow carrier in front that time.  His left hand was frozen tight about the bow.  They could not open his fingers.  They found a buffalo then.  They cut it open along the belly.  They shoved his arm and bow inside.  His hand was melted then.  That was very bad thing that time.”

Witko (Fool Bear) talks to Welch, July 4th, 1922, about a Buffalo Hunt:


“I was 17 years old when I took my first buffalo hunt with a regular party.  We went out to the west along the upper waters of the Cannon Ball river.  I was with the right wing of the party and my friend was riding close by me.  We were on edge of the herd.  It was moving rapidly.  There was great clouds of dust.  Many animals rushed out of the dust cloud.  My horse stepped into a badger hole and broke his leg.  I was on foot.  A cow gored my horse.  They were all around me.  They snorted and plunged.  I ran fast, but could not get out of the press.  My friend could not reach me with his horse.  I ran between two animals, a young bull and an old cow.  I grabbed them both by the hair of their shoulders.  I held them together.  I drew out my knife and watched the work of their foreshoulders.  When the place was open I killed the cow with my knife in her heart.  I did the same with the ten year old bull.  I jumped on the backs of the herd and ran to the outside then.  My friend was there.  I got up behind him.  We worked our way to the outside of the press.  I gave him the right to paint this upon his tipi.  I was brave.  I was young then and active.”

War Story from Mrs. Grass, May 8th, 1921;


How to Trap Eagles, from Iron road, September 26th, 1932;


Fish Catching … Shoot Holy, a Yanktonaise, March 20th, 1928;

“I can make a place in the water where you can catch a hundred fish. I find a place where the water is about three feet deep.  Then I take willows and place them in the ground under the water, I make a fence there, with an entrance as big as a man.  In the middle of the fence I place a cottonwood branch.  I tie the lungs of an animal.  These lungs are spoiled and thrown away.  I take them.  The fish all go in there then.  When the place is full of fish they shake those leaves on the bough which sticks up.  I go in there then with a basket of willows.  I pitch them out on the ground.  Large ones as long as a man, I hook with a stick in the gills.”


Shoot Holy, 1928customs173-shoot-holy-1928

A Bear Story by Shoot Holy;

“One time I had a bear close to me.  He had his front arms about me and clawed me on the head.  I took him by the mouth with one hand.  My butcher knife was around on my back.  I could not reach it easily.  But I got it.  I killed the bear then.  All the time the bear was trying to kick me.  After some time I got my knife and cut him bad.  He run away then.  His blood showed that he would be dead.  So I found him.  I never could understand why he did not bite my hand off.  Wakantonka helped me that time.”

A Beaver Story by Shoot Holy;

“I took some horses to the running water to drink.  It was night time, before daylight.  I saw the nose of something swimming along, it was a beaver.  I waited for it and killed it with a club.  I took it up on the bank and waited.  Because just at sunrise the little beavers all swim about.  They cry ‘Ina Ina’ then.  So I waited for the sun.  Then I heard three of them out in the water.  They were crying ‘Ina, Ina’ (Mother, Mother).  They came to the bank and followed the trail of blood.  I had a good club.  I was about the best runner among the people, too.  So I thought that I would not have any trouble in killing these beavers.  They have short legs and can’t go fast.  So I went after one.  He ran like a cat then.  Very fast he went.  I could not catch him.  When he run his tail would disappear.  I saw it doubled up under his body.  Every time he would run he would push himself with this tail.  He made great jumps too.  Then they all came to the bank and jumped in with their tails.  They got away from me.  I think they were spirit beavers.  Ever since then I have not killed a beaver.  I do not eat them.  I do not wear their fur on me any place.”



 Hunting, The Last Buffalo Hunts, 1882, 1883

Letter relating to the ‘Great Buffalo Hunt’ of June 1882, described by McLaughlin in his book , ‘My Friend the Indian”  This material was donated to National Archives, Nov. 2005.

“…But if I would tell the tale of great hunters I must enumerate the head men of the Sioux Nation.  They were all in that hunt and at peace on the banks of the Hidden Wood Creek that night.  Years after, in the trying times of the ghost-dancing, when Sitting Bull sought to arouse his people against the whites there was bitterness, enmity, and death;  but that night Hunkpapas, Blackfeet, Upper and Lower Yanktonais, and whites were friends in feasting as they are friends to-day, and I never visit my old home at Standing Rock but that some of them gather at my door and go over the story of the great buffalo hunt of 1882.”

page 1


page 2



Mrs. John Grass’ participation in one of the last buffalo hunts – 1882


Letter relating to the ‘Great Buffalo Hunt’ of September 1883, described by McLaughlin in his book , ‘My Friend the Indian”  This material was donated to National Archives, Nov. 2005.

page 1


page 2


Letter from John McLaughlin’s widow to A. B. Welch … showing their close relationship and why he probably obtained these particular letters.  Her son, Charles, also gave Welch several original letters and copybooks of McLaughlin’s in 1926



Running Antelope, appointed Leader of the 1883 Huntcustoms173-running-antelope-photo

Back of Running Antelope photo, Welch notescustoms173-running-antelope-back-of-photo

Mandan Pioneer News, 1883customs173-letter-no-6-authorizing-1883-buffalo-hunt