Native American Sacred Stones and Holy Places described by Col. A. B. Welch

Chapter I, Wakantonka, The Great Mystery –  

Chapter II, Sacred Stones –  

Chapter III, The Standing Rock – 

Chapter IV, Mandan Legends –  

Chapter V, Medicine of the Plains Indians –  

Chapter VI, The Sacred Object of the Mandans –  

Chapter VII, The Blue Cloud Stone and Dream Stories –  

Chapter VIII, Ancient Religious Beliefs of The Sioux –  

Chapter IX, Circles of Stone –  

Chapter X, Gros Ventre Graves near Shell –  

Chapter XI, Children’s Funeral Tree at Fort Berthold –  

Chapter XII, Mayan Statuette Found near Mouth of Heart River –  

Chapter XIII, Winter Counts –  

Chapter XIV, White Spirit Woman’s Story –  

Chapter I, Wakantonka, The Great Mystery

     Invocations, Prayers and Songs   

A noted man has said “Men show by what they worship what they are.”  The old time Plains Indian was a person of great intensity of religious ideas.  The Sioux worshipped Wakantonka, which is well interpreted “The Great Mystery.”

His prayers and songs for good hunting and long life, for bodily strength and mental and moral courage, not only for himself but for his friends and relatives, or the tribe in general, and his invocations for favorable weather and success in the chase, or raids against his enemies, were all addressed to Wakantonka.

His vows were always taken in His name and his thanks were made to Him in every case; previously promised sacrifices were tendered to Wakantonka, in answer to prayer or supplication and, even in the Sun Dance, of which no more barbaric or painful sacrifice was ever made by aboriginals – the Great Mystery was addressed in song and prayer by the principal.

     Sacrifices and Vows            

His call to God was a personal one, distressingly abrupt, brutally direct, even as he would address a friend for a favor of assistance.  A vow of sacrifice generally followed, the greatest of which was a promise to take part in the Sun Dance and to “bleed for Wakantonka.”  Vows were declared publicly.

Failure to perform the promises, made in connection therewith, subjected the maker of the vow to personal ridicule and, instances are known, even to the loss of influential tribal position and honor.

     Heraldric Devices & Penalties for Cheating

Generally the principal was given the right to proclaim the execution of a vow by a drawing upon his lodge or by the wearing of a feather or other heraldic device, and these were readily known and read by the people.

For one to wear such an article of heraldry or to paint upon his tipi or horse or robe or shield a pictographic history of such vow, not actually performed or fulfilled, subjected the owner to sneers and, sometimes, even to severe penalty, which might be extended to the loss of his property or expulsion from the camp in the case of more serious lapses of honor, into the wilderness for a certain period of time.

During this time no one would call him friend or notice him in any manner, although his relatives might be permitted to carry food to a place where the exile might find it.

     Incorporating the Forces of Nature         

So we find that the Indian was a religious person and, quite naturally then, to these children of the plains and bad lands and wooded valleys of the Mighty Missouri, the forces of nature became the visible agencies of the power and work of Wakantonka.  The elements were his servants, yes, even a part of him.

Around these visible elements and forces of nature he fabricated his mythological history.  The sun became the mother of the earth which, in turn, was the mother of men, through the power of her radiating kindness and displeasure.

     The Holy Earth Place           

In certain ceremonies a spot in the earth was dug up and the ground was pulverized and cleared of all foreign substances, such as roots and rough stones.

This spot was a square with the sides corresponding to the principal points of the compass and the four angles were sharply extended toward the intermediate points.  Two forked sticks were set into this soft earth and a cross-piece rested in the forks.

Upon this “Holy Earth Place” fresh wild sage and sweet grass were scattered.  A buffalo skull, denoting plenty, was placed upon the sweet-scented sage and, against the cross-piece, leaned the stem of the ceremonial red stone pipe, with its significance, when used as a pledge, in conferences, of peace or war, or as between two or more individuals, of harmony or discord.

Thus was the bosom of Mother Earth prepared as a shrine in order that the primal vibrations and influences of the Earth might permeate the buffalo head, the source of their supplies, and the pipe, which was the visible and ceremonial agency of their peace and happiness, without disturbance or interference from any impure earthly agencies or unkindly spiritual mischief makers.

In the vicinity of this shrine no discordant subject was broached.  The people rested in harmonious accord with each other and calm, dignified demeanor was manifested, even as with ‘more enlightened’ peoples in other sacred places in the presence of Deity.

Photo of Sioux Sun Dance Altar at last Sun Dance, 1937


     Solitary Meditation      

The souls of some of our most highly respected men and women have been profoundly moved when alone upon the mountain summit, as that of Moses of old; in the dark depths of the forests, as the naturalist, Muir; or when standing alone upon the plain, as did Father De Smidt, beyond the treacherous Missouri.

These men, and countless others, have received inspiration and spiritual strength when confronted by savage nature in her most terrible needs and awful grandeur; the sublimity of the “Force” gripped them and their souls as they, with downcast eyes, whispered the words of the ancient poet, “What is Man, that Thou are mindful of him?”  These words find a corresponding echo in the heart of the Indian.

He who was not enlightened, but with the soul of a psalmist, sought solitude upon the summit of the western butte where, after much preparation and with fasting and prayer, he struggled to understand the Infinite, the “Mystery” of the Indian.

At these times of prayer, his soul was moved with wonder and spiritual yearning, even as more favored souls of this earth have been when in the same receptive mood.  As the pleading tones of a cathedral organ influence the waiting worshippers, so did the roar of the storm when the world was held in the icy fingers of the frost, or the scarcely heard, but audible, voices of nature in the  hush of a soft summer’s night, gripped the recipient soul of the Indian, and he cried out to Wakantonka, “I am weak and Thou art mighty.  Make me strong and let me live.”


     Objects of Veneration

In keeping with that strange and almost universal custom which prevails among all people and, more especially, those who have not received the written word of God, the Indian selected some physical object which, in a manner, was the expression of Wakantonka toward him and which became, as it were, the medium of understanding between the spirit world and mortal beings.

This object was generally revealed to the Indian in a dream and often was an animal.  Turtles, bears, hawks, wolves and other creatures of the same habitat as the Indian are examples.  The skin, teeth or claws, horns or hoofs or other part of the animal was carried closely with the person or hung up in the lodge and, in many cases, the eating of the flesh or killing of that particular animal became “taboo” to its owner.  Stones of various sizes were also a common medium of religious sentiment.

In the medicine bags of the notorious “Medicine Man,” Sitting Bull, are two stones.  One is a petrified shell and the other is a small, black, smooth pebble.  They were part of his medicine, or charms, through which he worked his power and influence.

Larger stones might be mentioned, such as the famous Standing Rock (Iyanboshodata) at Fort Yates, N.D., the “Oracle Stone” mentioned by Lewis and Clark, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Cannon Ball River, the “Two Faced Stone” of the Mandan Village of the Crying Hill at Mandan, N.D., the Dead Grass Lodge Stone of the old Federated Villages at Fort Berthold and several others which are known to the writer.

     The Medicine of the Indian

These horns, hoofs, shells, stones and other objects became known to the early trappers, traders and frontiersmen as “Medicine,” and it became the custom of the wild, white trappers and explorers of the old days to wear “Medicine” just the same as did the Indian.

The charm was consulted by its owner when in the presence of imminent danger or when contemplating the performance of any great, important undertaking.  Feasts and presents were made to the medicine and it was supposed that the spirit was either displeased or satisfied according as the adventure failed or ended successfully.

The larger stones, which have been addressed and appealed to and which were subjects of veneration and respect by the people of the tribes in general, all are located in the present Indian country.  No doubt there were many others, the identities of which have been lost during the lifetime of the present generation.

In the olden times, when a tribe made a general migration, or exodus, it was the custom to take them along if it could be done.  As the teachings of the missionaries were better known and understood, and the people slowly became converts to Christian forms and ceremonies, these stones were more neglected until, in recent years, the sticks with their fluttering pieces of calico, which formerly were so commonly seen near the stones, are to be seen no more.  The white skulls of buffalo, splashed with red paint and the horns wound with cloth, which were also common in the immediate vicinity of these holy stones, are to be found in but one place known to this writer.

The old practice of railing and singing by Indians has almost stopped and it is doubtful if any individual, with the possible exception of some very old men who still cling to the old ways, ever goes to them to read their destiny in the shades and shadows of the glacial scratches upon their surfaces.

     Decline of Medicine’s Power

In the gradual transition period, during which the majority of the Indians neglected and departed from the so-called heathen rites and accepted Christian religious customs, the numerous altar stones, while still held in reverence by the older people, became nothing to the younger generation but objects of awe and they talk freely about them with none of the fear or reluctance apparent in their fathers, regarding “talking about holy things without the right.”

As many of these sacred objects present no different appearance from hundreds of other stones, and as the younger generation is not seriously interested about preserving them or even sufficiently concerned to know their locations, it is quite evident that they will soon be lost or their locations become unknown.  In fact, one such stone, which was in the Mandan Indian country, close to the present city of Mandan, is known to have been shattered by dynamite and used to build the foundation of a residence, while others have been removed by farmers and road builders.

     White Man’s First Encounter with the Indians.

The first white man who is positively known to have come into the country west of the Missouri River in the Mandan, Arikara or Sioux territories was the Chevalier Francois de la Verendrye, the twenty-three year old heir of an old French military family which had settled upon the St. Lawrence river at Three Rivers.

In 1738 this youthful adventurer explored the country from a  Lake Winnipeg base and penetrated as far as the Mandan villages in the vicinity of the Heart River.  There he planted the flag of France and took possession of the country drained by the Missouri River in the name of the French King, Louis XV.

One of the six Mandan villages at which he called was the Village of the Crying Hill, and while the ruins of many of the permanent lodges of this fortified village are still to be seen, others have been leveled and given place to residences in the present city of Mandan, N.D.

Verendrye had spent his entire lifetime among Indian tribes and, on account of the fact that things seen every day become common and of no especial interest, it is unfortunate that the young adventurer failed to reduce to writing many of the things he most certainly must have seen.  In fact, his journals and letters were not sufficiently clear as to preclude argument in even such an important exploration as that in which he discovered “The Shining Mountains,” now supposed to be the Big Horn Range.

     Lord of Life & First Man 

In the year 1742 he spent a considerable time at the five Mandan villages on the west, or right, banks of the Missouri River, in the district drained by the stream called by the Mandans, the Heart River.  So named because it flowed out of the “country of the middle hole” and was the place where the Lord of Life and First Man created the earth and all vegetation and animal life.

While several of these “Talking Stones” must have been observed by him, his only reference was to “two bits of stone,” which he had received from the “Christineaux Indians,” who attributed to them great medicinal powers, having taken them from a mountain somewhere from which flames issued with a great noise.



Chapter II, Sacred Stones

     The Painted Rock (Idol of the Holy Stone)     

Many stories and legends are told among the old people of the North Dakota tribes and frequent allusions are made in these legends to a large rock, sometimes called “The Painted Rock,” situated in the country deserted by the Mandans and Arikara as the Sioux pressed northward, upon the North Fork of the Cannon Ball river, not far from Brisbane in Grant County, N.D.

This probably was the most revered object of all the stationary medicine, or holy, stones of the tribes which have held the country, including the Cheyenne and Sioux, during the last one-hundred and twenty-five or more years, and has been frequently consulted by many tribesmen who are still living.  It is known to the Sioux as the Iyan Wakan Gapi (Idol of the Holy Stone) and they call the river upon which it is situated Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpa (River of the Idol of the Holy Stone).  This stream is marked upon maps as the Cannon Ball and Le Raye mentions it by that name in 1801.


     Reclining Bear’s Story of the Holy Idol Stone     

Reclining Bear, an old time Hunkpapa Teton speaks as follows of the stone itself:

“I have been there.  Many people went there often.  The Palani went there too.”

Palani, or Padani, is a Sioux word properly applied to the Arikara.  While the Dakotah, or Sioux, have separate names for the Mandans and Hidatsa, or Gros Ventre, the term Palani is commonly used when speaking of these three northern tribes as a separate federated body.  When speaking of any of these tribes as a separate people, they use the name Mowahtani for the Mandans, Hewaktokta for the Gros Ventre and Palani for the Arikara.

Reclining Bear used the term in the general sense meaning the people of those three tribes.  Continuing, he said:

“This stone is a big one.  It is a little distance from the water of the Cannon Ball.  It is as big as a log house, where it stands.  It has many marks upon it.  The marks are made by the spirits.  When we came near to it, we sung songs and acted very respectfully then.  We camped on the water and not too near it.

Then when we were ready, some old man carried a pipe to it.  He carried the stem in both hands in front of his body.  He extended it toward the sky and toward the holy stone then.  There he sat down and smoked with four draws through it.  He placed the pipe there.  He poured out some tobacco there.  He sung a good song then.  He wanted plenty of buffalo and he wanted the people to live a long time.  He sung that way.  He went away from there.

The next day he went again.  When he went again there were other marks upon the stone.  Some good men would tell what they meant to the people.  Some times there was paint marks upon it.  The marks were made by spirits.

They were never the same marks like they were before.  It told us what to do.  It said when to strike the enemy.  It told where the buffalo had gone to.  If the people did like it said, they were all right.

One time it sung a song with words.  We saw an old woman walk into it one time.  She went right in it.  She was gone.  It is very holy.  It was there when we came across the Missouri.  I think it had been an Arikara stone.  I think they found it first.  The put things there, too.  No one would strike an enemy around that place.  Every one was safe there.  There were always many presents there.  There were weapons and things to eat and valuable cloth on sticks.  There were buffalo heads there, too, for meat to come around.  It is very holy.  It is there yet.  I do not want to talk much about it.”


     Offerings to Stones      

The custom of placing offerings before certain stones was noticed by many of the early explorers.  There can be little doubt that Lewis and Clark, in 1804-05, while wintering with the Mandans at a point a few miles above the present city of Mandan, N.D., referred in their journals to this identical stone mentioned by old Reclining Bear.  Many of the traditions told today by members of the three Federated Tribes relate to this stone.  It is often mentioned as a sort of “Zero Milestone” when they endeavor to locate some point in the country, by saying that “It is a day’s journey by wagon from the Painted Stone on the Cannon Ball.”

     Holy Idol Stone Mentioned in Lewis & Clark Journals.   

In the “Expeditions of Lewis and Clark” – Hosmare, Vol.I, p. 175, the Journal is quoted:

“Thursday, 21st (February, 1805).  We had a continuation of the same pleasant weather.  Cheenaw and Shahaka came down to see us, and mentioned that several of their countrymen had gone to consult their medicine stone as to the prospects of the following year.  This medicine stone is the great oracle of the Mandans, and whatever it announces is believed with implicit confidence.  Every spring, and on some occasions during the summer, a deputation visits the sacred spot, where there is a thick porous stone twenty feet in  circumference, with a smooth surface.  Having reached the spot, the ceremony of smoking to it is performed by the deputies, who alternately take a whiff themselves and then present the pipe to the stone; after this they retire to an adjoining wood for the night, during which it may safely be presumed that all do not sleep; and in the morning they read the destinies of the nation in the white marks on the stone, which those who made them are at no loss to decipher.  The Minnitares (Hidatsa) have a stone of a similar kind, which has the same qualities and the same influence over the nation.  Captain Lewis returned from his excursion in pursuit of the Indians…”


     The Minnitari Stone             

The “Medicine Stone – sacred oracle” mentioned by Lewis and Clark is none other than the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Sioux on the Cannon Ball River.  The “Minnitari” stone spoken of, according to information given to the writer by living members of the Mandan and Hidatsa people, was a large, detached, granite boulder – – – which was in the Valley of the Middle Hole country, and a little ways from the river which flows there.  The Crying Hill Village people went there.  It was north of the water on a hill side.  It is gone now.  Some white man put powder in it and built a house with it.  It was a holy stone.  It belonged to the Hidatsa.  It had marks upon it like the one on the Cannon Ball.

They were marks of buffalo, birds and wolve’s feet.  They were different every time.  The old people knew how to read these marks.  It told them all about everything.  It is too bad that it is spoiled.

There was the other one in the Sioux country.  It was bigger than this Minnitari (Hidatsa) stone.  When we passed by there we smoked.  While we were close there, we were not attacked by anyone.  It was dangerous around there after we left the stone.  It was in the Sioux country.  When we left there we always rode clear to the Heart River before we stopped.   They could steal our horses then.  But between the Heart and the Cannon Ball it was dangerous country.  We were safe at the stone.  On the Heart we could keep watch and they could steal our horses if they were brave enough to come after them there.”


     Stone Idol Creek Journey     

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Arikara villages on the Grand River in the early part of October, 1804, and those people desired that one of their chiefs would be permitted to accompany the boats to the Mandans for the purpose of concluding a peace parley.  Accordingly, the Chief of the upper village, by the name of Ahketahnasha (“Chief of the Village”) went aboard.  On the trip up river to the Mandan villages north of Mandan, N.D. much information was obtained from him regarding the names of the creeks and rivers flowing into the Missouri.  It is observed that in nearly every instance where he gave the name of deserted village sites, he called them Mandan villages.

The expedition, in following up the Missouri River from the Arikara villages in the vicinity of the Grand River, came to a small creek coming in from the east, or left, bank, on Saturday, October the 13th.  This creek now bears the name of “Morphrodite Creek” and is in Campbell county, S.D., near the North Dakota line.  To this creek they gave the name of Stone Idol Creek, and their journal contains these remarks about it:

“…At ten and a half miles we reached the mouth of a small creek on the north, which takes its rise in some ponds a short distance to the northeast; to this stream we gave the name of Stone Idol Creek, for after passing a willow and sand island just above its mouth, we discovered that a few miles back from the Missouri there are two stones resembling human figures, and a third like a dog, all of which are objects of great veneration among the Ricaras.  Their history would adorn the metamorphoses of Ovid.  A young man was deeply enamored with a girl whose parents refused their consent to their marriage.  The youth went out into the fields to mourn his misfortunes; a sympathy of feeling led the lad to go to the same spot, and a faithful dog would not cease to follow his master.

After wandering together and having nothing but grapes to subsist upon, they were at last converted into stone, which beginning at the feet, gradually invaded the nobler parts, leaving nothing unchanged but a bunch of grapes which the female holds in her hands to this day.  Whenever the Ricaras pass these sacred stones they stop to make some offering of dress to propitiate these deities.  Such is the account given by the Ricara chief, which we had no mode of examining except that we found one part of the story very agreeable confirmed, for on the river where the event is said to have occurred we found a greater abundance of fine grapes than we had yet seen…”

By Sunday, October 21st, the same expedition had ascended the great waterway to “a creek on the south called Chisahetaw, about thirty yards wide and with a considerable quantity of water.”  This is the famous Heart River of the Mandan Indians and is so called to this day.  Continuing, the journal states:

“Our Ricara tells us that at some distance up this river is situated a large rock which is held in great veneration and visited by parties who go to consult it as to their own or their nations destinies, all of which they discern in some sort of figures or paintings with which it is covered.  About two miles off from the mouth of the river the party on shore saw another of the objects of Ricara superstition; it is a large oak tree standing alone in the open prairie, and as it alone had withstood the fire which has consumed everything around it, the Indians naturally ascribe to it extraordinary powers.  One of their ceremonies is to make a hole in the skin of their necks through which a string is passed and the other end tied to the body of the tree, and after remaining in this way for some time they thing they become braver…”

The stone mentioned in the foregoing paragraph by the old chief of the Ricaras, as being situated “at some distance up this river,” is the Minnitari Stone, and was drilled and split up for building stone by the white settlers in Mandan, and the basement of Mr. G.W.Renden’s residence is built of the fragments of this holy stone of the inhabitants of the Village of the Crying Hill of one hundred and fifty years or more ago.


     Maximilion Visits the Painted Rock

In the records of the German scientist, naturalist and explorer, Maximilion, Prince of Weid, who spent some time with the Mandan Indians in the winter of 1833-34, we also find reference to the sacred stone of the Cannon Ball River, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Dakotah.

Speaking of a Holy Stone, Maximilion says:

“Another curiosity of a similar nature is the Medicine Stone, which is mentioned by Lewis and Clark and which the Minnitaries likewise reverence.  This stone is between two and three days journey from the villages on Cannon Ball River, and about 100 paces from its banks.  I was assured that it was on a tolerably high hill, and in the form of a flat slab, probably of sand stone.  The stone is described as being marked with impressions of the footsteps of men, and animals of various descriptions, also sledges with dogs.  The Indians use this stone as an oracle, and make offerings of value to it, such as kettles, blankets, cloth, guns, knives, hatchets, medicine pipes, etc., which are found deposited close to it.  The war parties of both nations, when they take the field, generally go to this place, and consult the oracle as to the issue of their enterprise.  Lamenting and howling, they approach the hill, smoke their medicine pipes, and pass the night near the spot.  On the following morning they copy the figures on the stone upon a piece of parchment or skin, which they take to the village, where the old men give the interpretation.  New figures are undoubtedly drawn from time to time upon this stone, near to which the celebrated ark, in which part of the nation was saved from the deluge, formerly stood.”

This “Medicine Stone” of Maximilion is, without doubt, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Dakotah, and the description he gives to it is quite accurate.



     Four Swords Story

Four Swords, an aged Sioux, living today upon the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, when questioned regarding the stone, said:

“This stone.  I have seen it.  It is west of Shields.  It is about days’ travel from that place (via horses and wagon).  It is on the north branch of the Cannon Ball River.  It is near the water.  (He pointed across the street to a building about 150 feet distant).  It is that far.  This stone is not high.  It is flat and very large.  It is not red or black or white.  It is more like this color (here he pointed to a tan shade in the rug).  It is not on a high hill.  The ground is not high there.

It is Wakan, this stone.  People sat around it many times in the old days.  ‘Hekton’ – they smoked there.  Many things were placed there.  They placed sticks in the ground with red cloth on them.  They poured out tobacco in little piles there.  Many people sat together there.  The Palani came there too (here he used the term of the Federated Villagers).  We sat together there.  We did not fight then.

I never saw any Wicasa Kangi (Crows) there.  Some might have been there.  They visited the Minnitari (Hewaktokta – the Gros Ventre).  I do not know.  When nighttime came, we went to our camp down by the water.  In the morning there were new tracks on the stone.  There were buffalo tracks there, those of the yearling cows.  That meant good meat.  There were bird tracks and tracks of the wolf, too.  In the grass were tracks of the buffalo and elk.  The spirits had been there.  This stone is there today.  Some old people might go there today, but we have better spirits now.  We go to church.”

The town of Shields is on the left bank of the North Fork of the Cannon Ball, on the New England branch of the Milwaukee and St. Paul Rwy., and in Grant County.  A sub-agency of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, also called Shields, is located in the same vicinity, but on the right bank and in Sioux County.  Four Swords location would place the stone almost south of Brisbane and in the valley of the Cannon Ball, and agrees with Maximilion, that “This stone is between two and three days journey from the villages on the Cannon Ball River and about 100 paces from its banks.”


     A Mysterious Incident at the Painted Rock

Emeron ‘White,’ an educated Teton Sioux, told me this story as he passed through Mandan after a visit with the Mandans, Arikara and Gros Ventre upon the Fort Berthold Reservation.  As it relates to the “Iyan Wakan Gapi” of the Cannon Ball River, it is given here, verbatim:

“The people up north told me this story while I was with the Arikara: They said that they sent some men out to look for a place to build a village.  There were four of these men and they went out along the valley of the Missouri to find a good, flat place with high bluffs over the water.”

“They came at last to a single earth lodge like they lived in then.  They had never seen this lodge before and they were very much surprised to find it there.  They approached it carefully and there was an old woman standing there all alone.  There were no men around that they could see.  They all ran toward her to strike her for honors.  She did not run, but she did not speak either, but just turned and looked around all the time.  They were afraid to strike her then.  They tried the sign language, but she did not answer them in that either.  She just looked around all the time.  They were afraid of her because she did not speak to them.  Finally they all went away from that place.  They went to their own camp and reported all they had seen and what had taken place.  So then the old men did not believe them at all, for they did not know about that stranger lodge either.”

“They decided to prove the story told by the hunters.  They all went there, guided by the four men.  The lodge was still there.  They finally looked within.  There was no old woman there at all.  There was nothing in the lodge except some branches where some one had slept.  There was no pottery or anything else.  But they found a mark outside which looked like some one had dragged a dead horse or deer or some heavy body through the bush and the grass.  The grass was trampled down all around the mysterious lodge.”

“They followed the sign of the dragged thing and, at last, the trail ended, but a buffalo cow’s track led away from the end of the dragged trail.  These tracks are smaller and more slender than a bull’s track.  They followed these tracks for a long time.  They followed them to the Cannon Ball River and picked them up on the other side.  The tracks led straight to the Iyan Wakan Gapi, where the drawings were, and went inside the rock there.  This is the reason why this Cannon Ball stone was sacred to the Arikara, because this spirit woman went inside the stone.  This was during the time of “Red Man’ or “Red Bear” who was killed by the stone by the road by the Sioux, at Fort Abraham Lincoln.”

This “Red Man” was Arikara, and was born among the Pawnees, cousins of the Arikara people, in 1793.  He was killed while scouting for the soldiers at Lincoln in 1872.  His son was called “Pretty Elk,” whose mother was “White Corn Woman.”  After his father’s death he took the sun dance and his father’s name.  He also was a scout and was present at the “Testimonial Ceremony” at Mandan, July 4th, 1924.



Chapter III, The Standing Rock

     The Standing Rock (1924)  

The most important and largest Indian reservation in North Dakota is in the southern part and extending west from the Missouri for a great distance and reaches from the Cannon Ball River to the Grand River in South Dakota.  It is the home of several thousand Sioux and is named Standing Rock Reservation.  The seat of the Indian Department is at Fort Yates and, here, the Superintendent and his corps of assistants live and the work of the Indian Department is carried on from there.

Directly in front of the Executive Offices, which face the river, stands a tall flagstaff, from which the Government flag flies as at any other government establishment.  In the shadow of this flag is a brick monument built seven or eight feet high.

Photo of The Standing Rock, 1924customs14-the-standing-rock

On the top of this monument stands a black stone.  This stone is not over three feet tall and there is nothing to distinguish it from many other stones which lie scattered about over the prairies and hills where they have been left by the last glacial flow.  But this particular stone is different, for it has a name and history, for this is the famous Standing Rock of the inhabitants of the plains, and is known to the Indians of many states and reservations.


     First Location of the Standing Rock 

It has not always stood upon its present base, for before the whites came into the country, and long afterward, it stood upon a low, gently-sloping hillside, several miles north of the location at Fort Yates and about a mile south of the Porcupine river.  At the point where the Porcupine flows into the Missouri bottoms, that stream appears to have broken through a high range of hills which extend in a north and south direction for many miles, and to have dug out a passage which today forms a valley a half mile wide.  The range of hills ends abruptly a mile south of the Porcupine and the sloping south end turns east toward the wide wooded bottoms of the Missouri.

It is at this end where the Standing rock stood when first observed by the white people, and at a point nearly down to the lowlands.  The old military trail from Mandan and Fort Abraham passed closely to it, winding around the hills, reaching for Fort Yates. Deep ruts, 100 feet wide in places, are still to be seen and are still traveled by Indian wagons and riders and loose cattle and horses.  The auto prefers the graded highway, which now follows the straight section lines.

Major James McLaughlin (b.1842 d.1923), who was Indian Agent at the Standing Rock for many years during those stirring times which followed the Battle of the Little Big Horn and who was in charge when the order came from the Department to “get Sitting Bull,” was a great friend of the Indian and knew their customs and traditions and respected their beliefs.  He removed this stone from its age-long resting-place and bringing it to Fort Yates caused it to be erected upon a stone pedestal.  This was later changed to a brick base, upon which it still remains.

Mrs. John Grass talks about the Standing Rock, April 28, 1921:

“The first I saw it was 49 years ago (1872).  It was north of the hill at Fort Yates.  It was a Wiceyelo Stone.  They were the people who lived north of where Fort Yates is now.  It was not a stone of the Teton people.  I saw it many times after that.  The people prayed to it.  It was holy.  There were red blankets there by that stone.  There was cloth there and food to eat.  If a man was sick he prayed to get well.  If he got well he tied some tobacco in a bag and hung it there on a stick.  Sometimes the Tetons would steal what was around the stone.  It did not hurt them any.  Then after that some agent carried the stone to Fort Yates and put it up where it is now.  It was an old woman turned to stone.”


     A Woman Turned to Stone

There are many stories regarding the stone.  Some of them tend to show that this particular stone was an object of reverence to that tribe which opposed the coming-in of the Sioux to the territory west of the river, the Arikara.  It is quite probable that this is correct.  The stories all agree in one thing, that an Indian woman was changed into stone.  The reasons for this change vary with the different storytellers.  Some narratives say that jealousy was the reason.

Others say that the woman was a spirit on earth and took this form of returning to the spirit land.  It is not thought that the traditions and stories are any more important, or truthful, than those told about other sacred stones of the Indians.  But from the fact that this stone has been preserved and that a certain territory bears its name, it becomes the medium through which much publicity is given to it and to the traditions regarding it.

The general story is that a Sioux woman, through reasons of rage or jealousy, went away into the country to be alone, as was the custom of Indian women when in disgrace or even lack of public sympathy or when under the hysteria of bereavement.  After a time her friends became anxious on account of her prolonged absence and, fearing that she might have injured herself, started out to hunt her and bring her back into the camp.  When found and talked to with loving phrases, she refused to return and claimed that her lower limbs had turned to stone.  Much alarmed, the friends returned in haste to the camp and told about finding her and what had happened.  Then her parents went to see her but she told them that she could not go back for she was now stone clear to her body.

At this point in the story there are two different ideas advanced.  One is that she had a babe with her and another is that a little pet dog of hers crept into her arms.  In any event, when the people came in a body, with the medicine man with his sacred pipe, they found the woman with her baby, or her dog, in her arms, with her blanket over her head, completely turned into stone.


Arikara Version of the Standing Rock    

Permission has been obtained to publish the following story as told by the Arikara to Dr. A. McG. Beede, and his is the authority for the authenticity of it, for the writer does not know the storyteller.  Dr. Beede says:

“The rock, known as the Standing Rock to the Sioux and which is now at Fort Yates, N.D., formerly stood in an Arikara village in the vicinity of the old town of Winona, directly across the river from Fort Yates.  It was the Sacred Stone of that village and the story, as the Rees have it, is as follows:”

“The head man of this village had a beautiful daughter.  She was much sought after by the young men of the tribes to wed.  She refused them all.  It was her custom to spend much time among the growing corn in the fields of the village.  She cultivated the plants with the shoulder-blade hoe and talked to the corn and sung songs to the pumpkins in the fields, for the Rees were corn raisers.  She was very different from the other young women of the village and there was not a word of scandal regarding her.  In fact, she was thought to be very pure and holy.  She refused many men who were good hunters and brave warriors, and her parents, at last, became displeased with her actions in this matter.  At such times she would say that it was not intended that she should marry and that it would displease the spirits.”

“But at last a noble young man appeared from a great distance and played upon his eagle-bone flute outside her father’s lodge, or rather, earth lodge.  She persisted in refusing to marry and her father said, ‘It is always good for Indian women to show respect toward their parent’s desires in such matters; that she was not displaying the proper filial obedience and that they were displeased with her.  This time she must marry whether she wanted to or not.'”

“The young chief brought a great pile of furs and other presents for the parents of the young woman and laid them at the door of the lodge.  He presented his horses to the father.  At last the young woman was married to the young chief from far away.  But she still contended that it was the wrong thing for her to do; that she was not intended for marriage and that it was all a big mistake.  A great feast was given and, after many days of merry-making, the two young married people started upon the long journey toward the west where dwelt the people of the young chieftain.”

“Some time afterward there staggered into the village of the Arikara this same young woman, tired and weary with hunger.  She had made the long, dangerous journey alone, she said.  Her anxious mother asked her what the trouble had been, if her husband has abused her, if she did not have enough to eat, if she had not been well cared-for and many other questions, such as a mother would ask her daughter.”

“But the daughter said that she had been well-treated by her husband, that he gave her the softest skins to rest upon, that she was well fed and that her husband was the perfect man in all things.  But, she said, ‘I told you that it was not intended that I should wed, and new see the ruin you have caused by compelling me to marry.'”

“She then displayed her private parts to her mother.  Behold – what had formerly been shaped like the beautiful flower of the pumpkin blossom were now faded and drooped.  Her parents comforted her as well as they knew how, but that night she disappeared and, after a long search, was found upon the top of the hill to the northeast of the village, but she refused to return to her parent’s lodge.”

“Then her father went to speak with her but she still refused.  Her mother next talked to her but she told her that she was slowly turning to stone and could not go.  She was stone to the knees.”

“Terribly alarmed, her parents urged the medicine man and all the people to go with them to the hill and have her return.  They went, but it was, indeed, true, she was turning to stone and could not move.  Her little, faithful dog climbed up into her lap and would not be disturbed.  Soon she had turned to stone to her private parts, then to her breasts and, finally, her entire body and that of the little dog were turned to stone.”

“Then a terrible storm came up, spirits rushed through the air, the people were scared and terrified.  When the storm had passed over, the daughter was still there, but stone, as you see her, today.  So this stone was sacred ever after and was put up in the sacred enclosure in the middle of the village.”

If this story is the true one it is not a Sioux stone but originated with the Arikara.  Assuming that it was an Arikara stone, the story evidently became known to the Sioux women who carried it across the river after the Arikara had been driven out of that country and established it upon the slope of the hills south of the Porcupine.  The Sioux stories were gradually woven about the stone, as the Sioux women would quite naturally take good care of it as a holy object, even though of Arikara origin, as the story connected with it was about a woman.


     A Sioux Version of the Standing Rock 

Thomas Ashley and Andrew Iron Roads, both well-educated Sioux of middle age, and who know the stories of their people, also give it as of Mandan ownership.  Ashley said:

“This is not a Sioux stone.  I have heard the old people tell about it this way: Once this woman-stone was a human woman.  She had some trouble with this man.  He whipped her, I believe.  Then she went out alone into this hollow and cried out loud a long time.  When they went to look for her she had turned into this stone.  It belonged to the Mandans and they had a village out there on the Fort Yates side of the Missouri River.  When the Sioux came they drove them up north where they are in a village beyond the Heart River.  Now they live at Berthold and Elbowoods.  They left this stone and the Dakotah women took it and kept it because it was a spirit stone.”


    Iron Roads Comments on the Standing Rock    

Iron Roads had the following to say regarding it:

“Yes, that black stone used to be a woman.  She was a Ree.  I remember when the stone was on that flat slope north of Fort Yates.  I passed it often and saw many good things there.  Good presents from the Sioux people.  They thought it was a Holy Stone.  So they placed many presents around it – blankets, beads, and things to eat, and grass and cloth on sticks which had been peeled of the bark.  Then they took it and put it on that Fort Yates hill and after that Major McLaughlin took it and placed it upon that brick place where it is now.  That hump on its back is a little dog.  I heard that she got mad at something and, went away and when they found her, she would not go back and so she was turned to stone then.”

“There are other holy stones, too.  Some of them have different signs on them, too.  The old people used to go there and see if what they wanted to do was good for them.  I think there are some of these stones left around.  There is one in the churchyard at Cannon Ball Episcopal Church.”


     Cross Offers His Comments on the Standing Rock 

Cross, another Sioux of about forty years, said:

“I heard it used to be a woman. I don’t know. Maybe so. The old folks will tell you.”


     Walking On The Shell Woman Comments on the Rock

Campeska Imanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman), who is quoted elsewhere in this paper, is an old woman of the proud Teton people and gave the ownership to the Wiceyelo.  The Teton are inclined to look with considerable disdain upon certain other divisions of the Dakotah nation and this old woman called the people who belonged to the Santee Division “Wiceyelo,” which might be freely translated as meaning “whitemanized.”  When asked to tell what she knew about the Standing Rock, she said:

Photo of Walking on the Shell Woman, 1921customs29-walking-on-the-shell-woman

“This rock we Tetons call Iyanboslaha, but the Yanktons call it Iyanposdata.  We like our name the best.  The first time I saw it was 49 years ago (1872).  It was north of the hill at Fort Yates.  It was a Wiceyelo stone.  They were those Yanktons and a lot of those Isante people north of where Fort Yates is.  It was not a stone of the Teton.  I saw it many times after that.  The people prayed there.  It was Holy.  There were red and blue blankets there by that stone.  There was cloth there and food to eat.  If a Wiceyelo was sick he went there and prayed to get well.  If he got well he tied some tobacco in a bag and hung it there on a stick.  Sometimes, the Tetons would take what was left there.  It did not hurt them any.  Then, after that, some Agent carried the stone to Fort Yates and put it up where it is now.  It was an old woman turned to stone, they say.”

Walking on the Shell Woman.  Her father was White Swan, a great chief of the Minniconjou, one of the seven tribes of the Tetonawanna.  Born 1852, died 1920.  This is the woman known to Col. A.B.Welch as “Ina” (Mother) – she was a pleasant soul and known to the Dakota as the greatest woman historian among them.  This is the woman who stood in the Dakota winter winds and cold so that the Colonel might be warm, who hungered in order that he might be satisfied with food; who forced herself to sleepless nights that he might have sleep and rest while he was in the World War.

     Another Sioux Story of the Standing Rock

Another story, told to the writer years ago, by an old Hunkpapa warrior in the presence of several other old men of that people, is the one, which is most common among the Sioux:

“A long time ago, a young Hunkpapa warrior went to war with a small party against the Kange Wicasa (Crows).  Just before he went away he got a woman of the Sihasapa Dakotah for a wife.  She brought out his horse for him and gave him several new pairs of moccasins and some wasna (dried meat with marrow and wild cherries ground together) for the journey, and he rode off with his party toward the west.  He hoped to steal some Crow horses and gain some war honors.  After they had traveled into the Crow country, they got a lot of enemy horses and started for the Missouri after they had struck the enemy many times.”

“But the winter was awful bad and they stopped for a winter camp in a good place and stayed until spring came.  Then they started again and crossed the badlands and came on into the country of their own people.  They came into camp.  The people all came out to meet them.  The young man was looking for his woman.  He saw her.  She had a baby on her back.  He beat her then and drove her out of the camp.  The people told him that he was wrong but he would not listen to them.  The woman was gone.”

“Then, after a while, some women went out to look for her and get her to return to camp.  When they found her they told her that it was all right and to come back to her lodge.  But she would not go back.  She told them that she was turning into stone and that her feet were already stone.  The women ran back to camp and told the warrior about it.  He went out and begged for her to return.  But she told him that she had turned to stone as far as her body and could not go back now.  Greatly alarmed, the young husband sought out the parents of the woman and they went to her there and tried to get her to return.  But she had turned to stone as far as her breasts and the parents fled to camp and went to the medicine man.  He carried his pipe before him and the whole camp followed, singing and wailing.  When they arrived at the place she, and her babe on her back, had turned completely into black stone.  That is the stone which we have always been good to since that time.  It is at Fort Yates now on a pile of bricks.”

     Sitting Crow’s Story About the Standing Rock 

The head chief of the Arikara tribe, Sitting Crow (b. 1868 – d. 1936), gave the writer the following story regarding the same stone.  The village he mentioned is also spoken of by Lewis and Clark, who were told by their Arikara chief, who was a passenger with them, that the village was a Cheyenne village.  Sitting Crow said:

Photo of Sitting Crow, 1935, last Mandan Chiefbiog306-sitting-crow

“A long time ago there was a village of Arikara down where Fort Yates is now.  Close by there a woman lived there who was not married.  Many Indians came to marry her, but she refused them all.  Her parents got mad at her for that thing.  They said, ‘Now you must do as you please, for you will not obey us.’  Then, for a year or two, many other good hunters and brave men came to marry her.  She refused them all.  Then she went away.  She had a light pack with her and a little dog.  In the morning her uncles went among the people and asked if she had stayed with any of them the night before.  But she was not to be found.  Then they looked all over.  They found her north of that big hill there on the flat country.  They said, ‘Come home with us now.’  But she said, ‘No, I cannot move.’  She had the dog and little workbag on her back.  Other people came and told her to go home but she said that she could not move.  Then the old man came with the holy pipe and the bundle with it.  He pointed the pipe toward her. It is not good to be cross with the pipe.  It is not lucky.  So he placed the pipe again but she said she could not move.  He put the pipe back in the bundle and went back to the village.  When they went again she said that she could not move but that, if any man, while on the war trail or out hunting, gave her food or a sacrifice she would help them all she could after that.  The next time anyone saw her, she was stone.  She had the little dog by her and the light pack on her back.  It is an Arikara stone and is not Sioux.  My father went by it several times and always prayed there and sung a song.  The Sioux people have it now.”

“When my father passed the Standing Rock, one time, he went on a long ways.  At last, about twenty miles or more below where Fort Yates is now, they crossed the Missouri River to get away from some Sioux who were after them.  They were going some place and they did not want to stop to fight the Sioux.  They found an old deserted Arikara village.  The people have forgotten when the people lived there.  There were four Medicine Lodges there.  The village was a large one, mostly along the bank of the river.  My father handed an arrow to the other man with him and he shot it seven times and, after that, a short shot.  Where it fell that was the end of the village.  All the doorways opened into a street, but no one lived there then.  They stayed there some time but then went on as it was not a good place to stay.  Maybe there were spirits there around looking at them, there.  So they went away.  We Arikara people call that old village ‘Four Medicine Lodge Village.'”

Sitting Crow, born 1861, died 1936 as First Chief of the Mandans; a man of great leadership ability.

At a 1928 interview he said that there were only 4 full blood Mandans still alive…Sitting Crow, Bull Head (Bill Benson), White Calf and Little Owl.



Chapter IV, Mandan Legends

They Fight the Eagle Nation Story

La Verendrye related the Mandan tradition of two young men who entered a cavern and were taken by giants, which they found in the country beyond the caves, to hunt buffalo.  The giants killed the animals by throwing huge stones, but the Mandan youths killed them with arrows.  This delighted the giants, who then pitted them against the Eagle Nation, with whom they were at that time engaged in war.  The Mandan hunters killed a great many of the huge birds and when they were finally liberated by the giants, they were permitted to carry away with them many of the valuable tail feathers of the Eagles as a reward.


Snake Monster of Devil’s Lake Story

Returning the way they had entered, the two Mandans discovered the mouth of the cave to be guarded by a huge serpent, but they succeeded in burning the monster with fire and made their escape from the caves.  One of the warriors tasted the flesh and, finding it palatable, partook of the meat without fear.

His head, however, soon grew to enormous proportions and quickly thereafter he was turned into a great snake.  His companion led him to the Missouri River, which was a three days journey, but the snake was not satisfied with the river and desired to be taken to the Long Water Lake, which is called Histoppa Numangka (“Place of the Tattooed Face People”).  This lake is not positively identified today but might well be Mini Wakan (Devils Lake), while the cave is quite likely to have reference to the bottomless hole in the Killdeer Mountains.

Upon arrival at the lake, the snake decided to remain, but would not be satisfied until his companion had vowed to accomplish several things:  He was to produce a white wolf, a skunk, pounded corn and some eagle’s feathers.  After that he was to go to war four times and kill an enemy each time.  Accordingly this was done, and the snake told the young man that he would always remain in this lake and be medicine to the Mandans and, as Maximilion wrote:

“When the Mandans desired anything, they might come hither in penance, or make offerings, that is to say, hang robes, eagle’s tails and other articles of value on poles on the banks of the lake, which the Indians sometimes do, even to this day.”

Many white people who live in the vicinity of Devils Lake tell strange stories of some great snake monster in the depths of the lake.  Some people even claim to have seen it and others assert that they have lost pigs and other livestock through its depredations.  If ignorant whites of today believe that the waters of this strange lake, which has no outlet, and whose waters ebb and flow with the seasons, is inhabited by such creatures we can hardly censure the Indians of one hundred years ago for the fear which they all had for the lake and its immediate vicinity, nor blame them for their offerings of food and cloth.



Chapter V, Medicine of the Plains Indians

     Mandan Medicine

The Plains Indians were much accustomed to keeping “Medicine,” or charms, and the early writers frequently mention different forms of this.  Maximilion, in his Journals, says:

“The Mandans have many other medicine establishments in the vicinity of their villages, all of which are dedicated to the higher powers.  Mr. Bodmer (The Swiss artist accompanying Maximilion) has made some very accurate drawings of these near Mihtuttahangkush (The present Fort Clark, north of Mandan, N.D.) one of which consists of four poles placed in the form of a square; the two foremost have a heap of earth and green turf thrown up around them, and four buffalo skulls laid in a line between them, while twenty-six human skulls are placed in a row from one of the stakes at the back to the other; some of these skulls are painted with a red streak.  Behind the whole a couple of knives are stuck into the ground, and a bundle of twigs is fastened at the top of the poles with a kind of comb or the teeth of a rake painted red.  The Indians repair to such places when they desire to make offerings or put up petitions; they howl, lament and make loud entreaties, often for many days together, which the French Canadians call weeping, though no tears are shed.  A similar medicine establishment is represented, where a couple of human figures, very clumsily made of skins, were fixed upon poles, representing, as we are told, the sun and moon, probably the ‘Lord of Life’ and ‘The old Woman who never dies.’ – – – Even the whites who live among them are infected with this belief in dreams, and other superstitions.  They frequently promise, on undertaking anything, the joint of a finger, which they cut off at once – –  This is also done at the time of the Okippe, in May or June.  Almost all the Mandans and Minnitarees have lost one or two joints of the fingers and several them, more.”

“There are numerous ideas and superstitions and prejudices among these Indians:

Thus they believe that a person to whom they desire ill, must die, if they make a figure of wood or clay, substituting for the heart, a needle, and awl, or a porcupine quill, and bury the image at the foot of one of their medicine poles.

When a child is born, the father must not bridle a horse, that is to say, he is not to fasten the halter to the lower jaw, otherwise the child will die in convulsions.

Many consider it a bad omen when a woman, while several Mandans are smoking together passes between them. – –

The medicine of another consists in making a snow ball, which he rolls for a long time between his hands, so that it at length becomes hard, and is converted into a white stone, which, when struck, emits fire. – –

The same man pretends that, during a dance, he plucked white feathers from a certain small bird, and formed of them, in a short time, a similar stone.

Sometimes an Indian takes it into his head to make his gun medicine – – – With this view he generally makes a yearly feast in the spring. – – –

A great many Mandans and Minnitaries believe that they have wild animals in their bodies; one, for instance, affirmed that he had a buffalo calf, the kicking of which he often felt; other said that they had tortoises, frogs, lizards, birds, and so forth. – – – The people consider owls as medicine birds, and pretend to hold conversations with them – – – They frequently look upon eagles as medicine.

Many instruments used by the whites, especially mathematical, are a great medicine or charm in their eyes – – the women are frequently embarrassed when we look at them through a telescope because they believe that we have the power to penetrate their inmost thoughts, and of discovering their past and future actions.”


     Sioux Medicine

An old Chief of the Sioux once told the writer that he had terrific headaches when he was a young man, but that “Goose,” a well-known medicine man of his people, sucked a place upon his scalp where he had made an incision with a knife, and drew out a whole mouth full of worms, after which the headaches were felt no more for years.  But, he said, the man, Goose, must have not gotten all of them, for now that he was an old man he was once more troubled with the same kind of aches and could feel the worms working just under his scalp “where then crawl around like they do under the bark of a tree.”

Photo of Goose, 1880’sbiog139-goose-photo


Old Sioux Chief Red Fish (Hogan Luta)(b.1850’s d.1928) wore a tail of a turtle upon his head, because he had dreamed of that animal when a young man, and it had been his medicine all through his life time.

Photo of Red Fish, 1915biog253-red-fish-photo


Another Sioux, Crow Ghost (Kangi Wanagi)(b.1851 d.1927), had once pointed at the rainbow and, as a consequence of this irreligious action, his fingers had swollen up.  He, therefore, hunted up a toad and, after signing to it, the toad had taken the swollen member in his mouth and sucked it.  After a very short time, the swelling had subsided, and the toad became an object of considerable attention and veneration to this man and he had treated them very well from that time on.  When this man was shown a chipped flint in the form of a turtle, with the head, tail and legs perfectly formed and which the writer had found in the debris piles of Burnt Village, a mile south of Sanger, N.D., he said that it was the “medicine” of a Mandan Indian and would handle it with great care.

Photo of Crow Ghost, 1925biog71-crow-ghost-photo

Nearly every Indian of these tribes carries, today, a little buckskin bag in which is deposited, and carefully preserved, some object such as described, which they believe is “Medicine” or good luck.


     Mandan Circle of Skulls

George Catlin, the painter, who visited the Mandans and other upper river Indians in 1832, while not the most reliable authority, perhaps, in such matters, mentions the circles of skulls which were also mentioned by Maximilion.  Catlin called them “Golgotha Circles,” and thus described them:

“Then the scaffolds upon which the bodies rest, decay and fall to the ground, the nearest relatives having buried the rest of the bones, take the skulls, which are perfect bleached and purified, and place them in circles of a hundred or more upon the prairie – placed at equal distances apart (some eight or nine inches from each other) with the faces all looking toward the center; where they are religiously protected and preserved in their precise positions, from year to year, as objects of religious and affectionate veneration.”

“There are several of these Golgothas, or circles, of twenty or thirty feet in diameter, and in the center of each ring, or circle, is a little mound of three feet high on which uniformly rest two buffalo skulls, (a male and a female).  In the center of the little mound is erected a “Medicine pole” about twenty feet high, supporting many curious articles of mystery and superstition, which they suppose have the power of guarding the protecting this sacred arrangement. – – – Each one of these skulls is placed upon a bunch of wild sage – – – as soon as it is discovered that the sage upon which the skull rests is beginning to decay, the woman cuts a fresh bunch, and places the skull carefully upon it, removing that which was under it. – – – The great variety of shapes and characters exhibited in these groups of crania, render them a very interesting study for the craniologist; but I apprehend that it would be a matter of great difficulty (if not of impossibility) to procure them at this time, for the use and benefit of the scientific world.”


     1801/02 Journal of Captive White Man

Another interesting journal was maintained by Charles Le Raye who, in 1801, was captured by a hostile band of Sicangu (or Brules) which is one of the seven separate tribes of the Teton Dakotah (Sioux).  This man was the son of the Frenchman James Le Raye, Count of Chaumont, who served upon the Staff of General Lafayette, as Aide de Camp, during the War of the Revolution, and who, after the war, remained in America and settled at the head of Lake Ontario.

Charles Le Raye left Canada, via the Great lakes and Illinois River, with goods to trade among the Indians of the Missouri River and while upon the Osage River, which flows into the Missouri a short distance below Jefferson City, Missouri, was taken prisoner and did not escape from his captors until three and a half years has passed, during which time Le Raye traveled up the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers into the Big Horn country, and to the French trading posts upon the Assiniboine and into American territory in the vicinity of the Falls of Saint Anthony, where Saint Paul and Minneapolis are now situated.  He finally secured a canoe, while again upon the Missouri in the habitat of the Dakotah Indians, and escaped, arriving at Saint Johns, the first settlement, after ten days water travel.

The party of Sicangu, which carried Le Raye prisoner, arrived at the villages of the Arikaras at the mouth of the Teton (Bad River) in the latter part of March, 1802.  The journal kept by the single prisoner contains this reference to a “Holy Place” of the Indians of the country, perhaps both the Sioux and the Arikaras, which last-named he called Ricaras or Rees:

“Above the Sioux River, and between that and the River Sacque, is a small hill, destitute of timber, which the natives say is inhabited by spirits, in shape of human beings, of a very diminutive size, not being, according to their description, more than six or eight inches high.”

The river “Sacque” he mentions is that stream now know as the Vermilion River, Clay County, S.D.  The Sioux River is the first important stream east of the Vermillion and forms the boundary line between Iowa and South Dakota.

The mysterious hill spoken of by Le Raye lies between these two rivers.  Continuing, he says:


     Le Ray Writes of Wakons

“Respecting these bodily spirits they have a number of ridiculous fancies.  An old chief told me with much gravity, that the occasion of their coming and living on this hell was, because the Indians, a great many winters ago, were so wicked and foolish, as to strive to kill all the animals made for their use.  The Great Spirit saw them from above and was so angry with them that he sent these little spirits, which the Indians call Wakons, to drive all the animals out of the country, which they did, and many of the Indians starved for want of food.  But after much entreaty and many sacrifices, the anger of the Great Spirit was appeased and he permitted the animals to return.  He directed the Wakons to reside on this hill, to watch the conduct of the Indians and, should they again be so wicked, they are to drive all the animals off, never again to return.  This impression has had an excellent effect on the natives as it prevents causeless waste of what is so necessary for their subsistence.  They pretend to often see these little beings on and above the hill as they are passing, but no consideration would induce an Indian to set foot on this holy ground.”

This story has been told to the writer by Sioux people still living, but rather in the nature of a tradition than as a matter of fact, and the hill was said to be the high, detached elevation in a wide plain, which was named ‘Proposal Hill’ by the soldiers who served at the early Fort Yates, N.D., which was built upon the southern approach to the hill.


     Le Ray Writes of a Peaceable Pipe Ceremony

Le Raye also described a ceremonial gathering of various Indian tribes, which gave the appearance of their present ‘religious convocations.’  There were probably people at this gathering at the villages of the ‘Ricaras or Russ’ (Arikara), from the tribes of the ‘Chien or Dog'(Cheyennes), ‘Gens di Rach or Gens de Valch’ (a small division of the Arikara), ‘Kales’ (Crows, a separate division of the Gros Ventre or Hidatsa), ‘Dotame’ (another small division of some unknown tribe), ‘Mahas or Omahas,’ ‘Poncars’ (the Poncas, living in Nebraska, probably in company with the ‘Dotames’), ‘Kataka,’ (a band allied with the Kiowa), ‘Ottoes’ and camps of the various Teton Dakotah or Sioux.  The ceremonies in the latter part of May were probably the first of the important Arikara Corn Ceremonies of that year.  After describing the dress of the various tribes present, he continues:

“After all had assembled, the head chief of the village addressed the company in an impressive speech, in which he informed them, that it had been a practice, time immemorial, to celebrate the return of the spring, but a feast to the Great Spirit.  He recommended to them peaceable and friendly behavior, and told them, that as the Great Spirit had given them an unclouded sky, he was well pleased with their intention, and that each one should be careful not to offend him by improper conduct.  After the address, the company were seated, and the head chief opened his medicine bag, from which he drew the sacred stem (or pipe).  This he placed on the forked sticks set in the ground before him for the purpose.  Fire was then brought, and he lighted the pipe, and blowed the smoke to the east, south, west and north; after which he handed the pipe to the chief next to him on the right, who smoked two or three whiffs and passed it to the next, and so on until it had gone around the company. – – – Although the company consisted of not less than a thousand people, of different nations, and some of who were mortal enemies of others, there was not the least confusion heard during the day or night.”

This record indicates that, in the presence of the ‘Sacred Earth Place,’ which is prepared for the pipe rack, even enemies sit down together and smoke in peace and harmony.  Further study of his record indicates that Le Raye traveled many hundreds of miles through enemy territory and met many parties and entered camps of enemy tribes without combat.


     Peace Was Possible on the Plains

he idea which is so common among the whites, that Indians of unfriendly tribes always engaged in pitched battles whenever and wherever they met, is not true.  It happened frequently, that strong parties of two or more warring tribes met in close proximity to the traders’ posts, pitched their camps adjacent to each other, traded horses and furs, gambled and feasted together and comported themselves in a reasonable manner toward each other.

While it is true that it often needed but the slightest excuse for them to rush at each other, it is also true that the Dakotah often visited the villages of the Mandans, Arikara and Hidatsa and traded for corn and feather-work in a peaceful manner.  The Canadian Assiniboines and Blackfeet of Montana sometimes came into the immediate vicinity of the North Dakota Missouri River trading posts and camped within sight of the camps of much weaker people, who were their traditional enemies, without fighting.

In support of this assertion, instances are known to the writer when very strong parties of Sioux pitched camp just outside the palisades of the villages, staying several days, their men walking about the dirt lodges unmolested.  These visits usually took place at the time of the eating of young corn and during the visit they would be feasted on corn and meat by the inhabitants.

On several occasions, however, it is stated that, on account of some woman of the village having been molested by the visitors, or because some man was either killed or wounded in a private fight, or by reason of war parties returning at the time and reporting losses caused by people of the same tribe as the visitors, serious fighting broke out.  Upon one visit of a band of Mandans to a Dakotah camp the horses of the hosts were carried away during the night by the visitors, who then organized a war party and destroyed the Mandan where the villagers lived before they had returned to their lodges.  This was the village on Burnt Creek, Burleigh County, N.D.


     Coffee’s Medicine (Gros Ventre Medicine)

This is the genuine “medicine” or protective charm of ‘Coffee,’ a Gros Ventre Indian, who died on the Elbowoods Reservation, N.D., October 8th, 1926.  This had been carried by Coffee for many years and he seldom allowed it to be seen, even by other Indians.  It is made of clear bone and suspended by a separate piece of bone.  It is a representation of a snake.  A hole has been drilled for the mouth and black beads have been put into the eye holes, with glue.  The head is slightly larger than any other part of the body and the end of the tail is carved into a very graceful curve, similar to the end of a buffalo horn.  Old ‘Coffee’ was a great friend of mine and before he died he exacted a promise from his relatives that they would give the medicine to me.  Thomas Rogers (Charges Alone) brought it to me and seemed to be much relieved when he handed it to me.  Charges Alone married the Gros Ventre-Mandan daughter of Coffee, and is himself a full blooded Arikara Indian living on the same reservation where the Arikara came in 1862.  This medicine is very smooth and has no markings of any sort upon it.  No doubt the old Indian has offered many a feast to this object as the representative of the Spirits, and asked for its protection in life and success in the hunt and health for himself and relatives.  It is a very rare specimen of medicine, as I know of very few such objects having been passed to other hands then the ‘owners.’  I consider it to be one of the most valuable objects in my collection.  Received by me on the 18th of October, 1926.  Rogers says,

“Coffee was a regular medicine man years ago.  He did many strange things.  He could walk around a man and look at him and then tell him the day he would die.  He would take live hot coals from the fire and chew them in his mouth without bad results.  He said that it felt just like eating ice.”

Photo of Coffee, 1924, and his Snake Medicinebiog56-coffee-and-medicine

Welch writes concerning Coffee’s snake medicine, 1926.  Welch’s typing.customs28-coffee-article


Chapter VI, The Sacred Object of the Mandans

     Okippe – Sacred Object of the Mandans

But the strangest memorial of all those among the tribes was that shrine which was in the center of every separate Mandan village, the ceremonies which have been so graphically described by Catlin (1833) in a publication called “North American Indian,” Vol. I, printed in 1842, by Tilt and Bogue, London, England.

The writer is told by living Mandans that these strange objects of veneration have been in the center of every Mandan village since the time when the “Second Flood” covered a great part of the earth’s surface.

It is certain that there have been three of them, for one was taken from the Village of the Lop-Sided Lodges when the Mandans definitely deserted that village in the Heart River country, and set up at their new home below the Knife River.

This is the Okippe, seen and described by Catlin, Maximilion and other adventurers, after 1800.  When the Mandans removed from that site to the Federated Village of the three tribes at the trading post of Fort Berthold, another was erected there, but whether or not it was a newly-made one or the original one which they had taken from the Lop-Sided Village, which later became the location of Fort Abraham Lincoln, is not known.  When the Federated Village was evacuated another, and the last one, was erected at the village of the Mandans at Crow’s Heart Village, below the mouth of the Little Missouri.   This one has stood there for about fifty years and is the one seen and described by the author of this paper in 1923.

Photo of the Sacred Object of the Mandans as drawn by Welch, 1923.customs34-mandan-shrine-created-by-welch

Before Catlin’s time we know that there were at least five extensive villages of the Mandans in the immediate vicinity of the Heart River, and on the west banks of the Missouri; the northernmost one being four miles north of the present city of Mandan and the one furthest to the south being eight miles from Bird’s Bill Hill.   When Catlin, Lewis and Clark and Maximilion visited them in the early years of 1800, they had left these villages and were located in the two villages a few miles below the mouth of the Knife River.  The principal village being Mihtuttahangkush, just north of the present railroad town of Fort Clark, and the second village, Ruptare, being a mile or two beyond that.  These were the last separate Mandan villages, for soon after Maximilion’s visit they removed to the Federated Village at Berthold.


     Memorial to the Flood

Catlin described this sacred object and called it “The Big Canoe,” but this translation is not a good one we are told by interpreters.  It more properly is called “The Fortification against the Flood,” and, in speaking, they frequently call it “Memorial of the Flood.”  The last Memorial is still standing at Crows Heart’s village and is treated with respect and considerable veneration by the aged people and with wonder and awe by the younger.

The writer visited these people at their village in May 1923, and his notes contain the following regarding the Memorial, which he was permitted to examine closely and to sketch:

Place, Crows Heart’s Camp, south of mouth of Little Missouri.

Date, May 31st, 1923.

Interpreters, “Hawk,” an educated Mandan-Gros Ventre,

Joseph Packineau, Gros Ventre-Mandan Interpreter.

I was looking for this sacred object as I entered the village, but did not at first locate it.  My idea was that it was a barrel-like object of about forty gallon capacity.  I finally saw it to the southwest of the village and not in the center as I always thought it to be.  Upon inquiry, I learned that it had been removed from the center of the village and placed where it now is.  It is on a slightly sloping low hill at the foot of a high butte, inside a pasture fence.  A few rods away is a waterway in which there are many nice trees of wild varieties.  I could not learn the reason for its removal to that spot, as the Indians all pretended to not understand me when I spoke regarding the object.  I rather think that it was placed there before the village was well established and so was not in the usual position.

Two old dirt eight-sided lodges still remain in a more or less dilapidated condition, but with the poles still up, showing the framework as they were originally erected.  Instead of the sacred stone, or other objects such as the Sioux and Arikara have, the Mandans have this object, which represents the Ark of the Flood.  Some writers say that the Gros Ventre, having lived with the Mandans for so long a time, also set up a similar thing, but we believe this to be in error.  “Ark” is not a good translation, and shows the modern biblical idea too strongly.  The interpreters said that “Fortification against the Flood” was a better translation.

Photo of Crows Heart, 1925biog81-crows-heart-photo

I asked the Second Chief, Crows Heart (Sitting Crow is First Chief), if he could tell me the ceremonies attendant thereto.  He said that he was very sorry to disappoint their guest of honor, but that he did not have the right to talk about it.


     Chase’s Story of the Sacred Object

I also asked ‘Chase’ (b.1848 d.1928) about it and he gave me the same answer.  But Chase said that he would tell me as much as he dared to.

A tent had been erected for my convenience, close to that of Chase and Hawk’s camp, and, when I retired there to rest and refresh myself in the middle of the afternoon, Chase, who had spent some hours in dressing himself for the dance, came in and sat down.  After smoking for some time, he said:

“You see where it is.  It was placed there over forty years ago, when this village site was selected.  There is an old woman here who has the right to talk about it.  She is the only one.  The Custodian used to be a man.  His name was ‘Holding Eagle.’  When he died, this woman was the only relative he had left.  She took the right to hold this thing then.  When she dies a man will be selected for that thing.

It will be all right for you to walk around it, for you have been asked to come here and this is your tent.  The people all respect you.  They know you understand and will not think that is funny.  I would not pick up anything there if I were you.  Someone might not like it very well.  When you go there, you should walk slowly and pass it and then come back to it.  It is made of boards and logs.  The water brings them in the river.  There are no nails or iron in it.  When a log rots out she puts another one in its place.  It is there in the morning.

We have had it a long time.  There have been two different floods.  The first one covered all the earth places.  First Man (Numchkmucknah) was in the first one.  The second one did not go over the highest points.”

“First Man told four men among the Mandans how to build it.  I do not know where we were or when the first flood came.  When the second one came we lived at the village of Lop-Sided Lodges.  There were some other villages close by, too, but this was the principal one.  We set up the Fortification against the Flood on the hill we call Birds Bill Hill, south of that village.

These four men were men just like any one.  They were called The East Buffalo, The South Buffalo, The West Buffalo and The North Buffalo.  The East Buffalo was summer, The South Buffalo was spring, The West Buffalo was fall and The North Buffalo was winter.  They had one mother and her name was Corn Woman.  These men were very good men.  They were there and told everyone to get inside.  We got in then.  The water came up nearly to the top, but did not flow in.

The holy men said that they knew how to make the logs grow longer; they tied some switches around the top.  The water stopped when it got to those willows.  So all those people who got in were saved from the flood.  Those who did not were lost then.

When those four men died, we cut off their heads.  We have them with us now.  They are in the Holy Bundles.  The only one who can tell you more about it is a woman.  She has the right to talk about it.  She is the only one who performs the ceremonies.  She is the mother of Holding Eagle.  She has known you for a long time.  She will tell you, I think.”

Chase acted as though he were frightened and slipped away.


     Welch Describes the Sacred Object

I went over to examine it alone, late in the afternoon.  It is built of a few logs, set up on end, and many boards, which appear to have been rescued from the waters of the nearby Missouri River.  It is circular, six feet in diameter, with straight sides and about seven feet high.

Chase told me that it had a mark around it at the place reached by the water of the second flood.

I could find no indication of this mark, and later was told that the sapling hoop, with which it was held together near the top, was the place where the water reached.

This hoop was a double one, made with two saplings, one on the inside and one on the outside, each about an inch and a half in diameter, held together with rawhide thongs, passing through

the cracks in the object.  These thongs and hoops were the means of holding the structure together.  No nails or wooden pegs were to be seen.

Around the outside of it, and tied to the outside hoop in places, were many pieces of gingham and other cloth.  A buffalo skull also lay there, it being splashed across the forehead with freshly applied red paint and it’s horns wound with faded cloth.  A pile of tobacco lay upon the ground in one place, it having been there for some time, as the rains had weathered it considerably.  Two old-time rifles were laying upon the ground, perhaps a hundred feet away, near the trees – the barrels were very rusty – the stock of one had entirely rotted away, while the other stock was much rotted but still held together by it’s screws and metal parts.  There was much brass about these old rifles and I could not make out the names of the makers without handling them, which I did not care to do.  They both had the action of a repeating Winchester carbine and had evidently lay there for many years without having been disturbed.

Inside the structure, as I could see by looking through the wide cracks in places, was a cedar post about six inches in diameter, painted almost entirely in red paint, and directly in the middle of the object.  There were also several bits of bright cloth lying on the ground inside, and another buffalo head splashed with red paint.  An antelope’s skull was also to be seen half-hidden in the rank grass within.  I saw neither arrows nor anything more ancient than the old rifles and skulls.  There were quite a number of artificial flowers on sticks and some cloth on wands stuck into the ground within twenty-five feet of the object, but I saw no oranges or bright crackerjack boxes, like those with which the Sioux so often decorate their graves or sacred places.


     Chase Talks Some More

Chase also told me that the red cedar post was to represent a pipe.  That when First Man had told their wise men how to make it, he also gave them their first pipe of red stone.  He told them to use a cedar pole and to bend it into the shape of a pipe.  This should be painted red and stuck in the center of the ark, as a remembrance of the pipe, which he had given the people.  Consequently, there has always been that cedar post within the enclosure.

This thing has been the sacred object of the Mandans, and cannot be confused with any bible story received after the year 1738, the year when the Chevalier De la Verendrye (the first white man visited them into that country).

Later in the day I was told by Crows Heart that the woman who was the Custodian of the Sacred Object was named ‘Little Owl,’ and that a man by the name of ‘Bull Head’ had purchased the right to talk about it, by having a great feast the year before.


Welch visits the ‘Ark’ in 1929

The Shrine of the Mandans, taken by me, 9/20/’29.  The Red Cedar Post is plainly to be seen.  They said it could not be repaired until spring.  It had been blown down.

Photo of the Shrine of the Mandans, 1929customs36-ark-1929


     Catlin’s Description of the Ceremony

Catlin mentions a similar Okippe several times and gives an interesting account of the ceremonies, which took place in its immediate vicinity at the time of the spring rites, which he

calls “The Annual Religious Ceremony.”  The Sun Dance of the Mandans is easily recognized in his somewhat garbled description of ceremonies, but he made the mistake of believing that the several successive ceremonies which he witnessed were all one, although he does divide them up into three heads:

(1) Those relating to the traditions of the flood,

(2) Those dances which have to do with their food supply, and prosperity and happiness in general, and

(3) Those extremely severe rites connected with the Sun Dance.

The recital is, however, worthy of considerable study and we quote as some length from this early eye-witness those ceremonies in which the “Sacred Object,” the Okippe, formerly served a purpose.  Catlin writes as follows:

“In the center of the village is an open space, or public area, of 150 feet in diameter and circular in form, which is used for all public games and festivals, shows and exhibitions, and also for their annual religious ceremonies, which are soon to take place, and of which I shall hereafter give some account.  The lodges around this open space front in, with their doors toward the center; and in the middle of this circle stands an object of great religious veneration, as I am told, on account of the importance it has in the conduction of those annual religious rites.”

“This object is in the form of a large hogshead, some eight or ten feet high, made of planks and hoops, containing within it some of their choicest medicines or mysteries, and religiously preserved, unbacked or scratched, as a symbol of the ‘Big Canoe,’ as they call it.”

“One of the lodges fronting on circular area, and facing this strange object of their superstition, is called ‘The Medicine Lodge,’ or council house.  It is in this sacred building that these wonderful ceremonies, in commemoration of the flood, take place.  I am told by the traders that the cruelties of these scenes are frightful and abhorrent in the extreme; and this huge wigwam, which is now closed, has been built exclusively for this grand celebration.  I am every day reminded of the near approach of the season for this grand affair, and as I have not yet seen anything of it, I cannot describe it; I know it only from the revelations of the traders who have witnessed parts of it; and their descriptions are of so extraordinary a character, that I would not be willing to describe until I can see for myself – which will, in all probability, be in a few days.”

“In ranging my eye over the village where I am writing, there is presented to the view the strangest mixture and medley of unintelligible trash (independent of the living beings that are in motion), that can possibly be imagined.  On the roofs of the lodges, besides the groups of living, are buffalo skins, skin canoes, pots and pottery; sleds and sledges – and suspended on poles, erected some twenty feet above the doors of their wigwams, are displayed, on a pleasant day, the scalps of warriors preserved as trophies, and thus

proudly exposed as evidence of their warlike deeds.  In other parts are raised on poles the warriors pure and whitened shields and quivers, with medicine bags attached; and here and there a sacrifice or red cloth, or other costly stuff, offered up to the Great Spirit – – – in humble gratitude for the blessing which he is enjoying.”


     Arikara Version of the Sacred Object

Catlin is here describing the medicine lodge of the Mandans, in front of which stood the sacred object, which he called the “The Big Canoe.”  A photo in the possession of the author, taken by Captain William Badger, U.S.A., of a Medicine Lodge of the Arikaras at the Federated Village at Fort Berthold in 1873, does not show this object, but does plainly indicate in the center of the circle, the Holy Stone and the Grandmother Cedar Tree.  This stone now stands in front of the Dead Grass Hall at a point a short distance from old Fort Berthold.  The Arikara never have erected this “Big Canoe” of Catlin’s journal in their villages, but always used the stone and tree.

Photo by Badger of the Medicine Lodge, Holy Stone and the Grandmother Cedar Tree.customs37-cedar-tree


     Disposal of the Sacred Cedar Tree

This cedar tree is disposed of every year as follows:

In the spring, at the time of the breaking-up of the river and the running of ice through the channel of the Missouri, the tree is taken down from the hole in which it has been secured, with appropriate ceremonies, and carried, by the men selected, to the banks of the river.  Then appear women who have lost children during the time since the previous ceremony, bringing all the little, worn-out moccasins, which had been used by them.

With much wailing and singing, these momentos of their loved children are tied to the branches of the tree, together with many ribbons and paper flowers, and the tree is then taken up by an old man, who wades into the icy river and carefully deposits the tree, with it’s burden of pitifully gay, but worn, childhood apparel upon the rushing water, which snatches away this touching message of this strange people, and bears it far toward the southlands, from whence they originally came.  Carrying with it, the hope of the people, that someone of the parent tribe will secure it and, thus, know by the designs of the decorations that this people, the Arikara, still survive and bear children.

The Mandan Medicine Lodge was similar in construction to that which is shown in the Arikara photograph, but instead of the Arikara Grandmother Tree and the Sacred Stone, the Mandan Okippe, or Sacred Object in commemoration of the Flood, stands in the open space in front of the lodge.


     Gros Ventre Version

The Hidatsa, or Gros Ventre, have lived with the Mandans for so great a period of time that they also have set up a similar memorial of the flood in many villages, according to several writers.  This statement is not accepted by the author, for we have never yet been able to obtain a statement from any living Gros Ventre.

At their single, present-day village, “Shell,” there is no such evidence; neither does a photo by Captain Badger, taken in 1872, of the Medicine Lodge of the Gros Ventre, show the Okippe.  Furthermore, we have not been able to find positive mention of their having such in the journals of early observers, either at the Knife River villages or at Fish Hook Village at old Fort Berthold.   But rather they all speak of the medicine poles and sacrifices of cloth, blankets, arms, etc. in front of the lodge of the Gros Ventre.  While it is true that the members of this tribe took active part in the ceremonies of the Mandans, we are of the opinion that the Okippe belongs strictly to the Mandans and was not erected by any other tribes.

     Catlin Describes a Mandan Village

Catlin’s description of the Mandan village is worthy of mention.  He says:

” I have this morning, perched myself upon the top of one of these earth-covered lodges, which I have before described, and having the whole village beneath and about me, with it’s sachems – it’s warriors – it’s dogs – and it’s horses in motion – it’s medicines (or mysteries) and scalp poles waiving over my head – it’s piquets – it’s green fields and prairies, and rivers in full view, with the din bustle of the thrilling panorama that is about me.  I shall be able I hope, to give some sketches more to the life than I could have done from any effort of recollection.”

“I said that the wigwams or lodges were covered with earth – were forty or sixty feet in diameter, and so closely grouped that there was but just enough room to walk and ride between them – that they had a door by which to enter them, and a hole in the top for the admission of light, and for the smoke to escape – that the inmates were at times grouped upon their tops in conversations and other amusements, etc., and yet you know not exactly how they look, nor what is the precise appearance of the strange world that is about me.  There is really a newness and rudeness in everything that is to be seen.  There are several hundred houses or dwellings about me, and they are purely unique – they are all covered with dirt – the people are all red, and yet distinct from all other red folk I have seen.  The horses are wild – every dog is a wolf – the whole moving mass are strangers to me; the living, in everything, carry an air of intractable wildness about them, and the dead are not buried, but dried upon scaffolds.”

“The groups of lodges around me present a very curious and pleasing appearance, resembling in shape (more nearly than anything else I can compare them) to so many potash kettles inverted.  On the tops of these are to be seen groups standing and reclining, whose wild and picturesque appearance would be difficult to describe.  Stern warriors, like statues, standing in dignified groups, wrapped in their painted robes, with their heads decked and plumed with the quills of the war eagle, extending their long arms to the east or west, the scenes of their battles, which they are recounting over to each other.  In another direction, the wooing lover softens the heart of his fair taih-nah-tai-a with the notes of his simple lute.  On other lodges, and beyond these, groups are engaged in games of the ‘moccasin’ or the’ platter.’  Some are seen manufacturing robes and dresses, and others, fatigued with amusements or occupations, have stretched their limbs to enjoy sleep, whilst basking in the sun.  With all this wild an varied medley of living beings are mixed their dogs, which seen to be so near an Indian’s heart, as almost to constitute a material link of his existence.”

     Catlin Comments on Mandan Burial Rites

As the ceremonies of the burial of the dead have always been a distinctive rite of all peoples, and indicate to a great degree the belief of a race in a Supreme Being or Force, we quote Catlin’s description of Mandan burial rites and customs:

“These people never bury the dead, but placed the bodies on a slight scaffold just above the reach of human hands, and out of the way of wolves and dogs; and they are there left to molder and decay.  This cemetery, or place of deposit for the dead, is just back of the village, on a level prairie, and with all it’s appearances, history, forms, ceremonies, etc., is one of the strangest and most interesting to be described in the vicinity of this peculiar race.”

“Whenever a person dies in the Mandan village, and the customary honors and condolences are paid to his remains, and the body dressed in it’s best attire, painted, oiled, feasted, and supplied with bow and quiver, shield, pipe and tobacco – knife, flint and steel, and provisions enough to last him a few days on the journey which he is to perform, a fresh buffalo’s skin, just taken from the animal’s back, is wrapped around the body, and tightly bound and wound with thongs of rawhide from head to foot.  Then other robes are soaked in water, till they are quite soft and pliable, which are also bandaged around the body in the same manner, and tied fast with thongs, which are wound with great care and exactness, so as to exclude the action of the air from all parts of the body.”

“There is then a separate scaffold erected for it, constructed of four upright poles, a little higher than human hands can reach; and the tops of these, are small poles passing around from one post to another; across which a number of willow rods, just strong enough to support the body, which is laid upon them on it’s back, with it’s feet carefully presented towards the rising sun.”

“There are a great number of these bodies resting exactly in a similar way; excepting in some instances where a chief, or medicine man, may be seen with a few yards of scarlet or blue cloth spread over his remains, as a mark of public respect and esteem.  Some hundreds of these bodies may be seen reposing in this manner in this curious place, which the Indians call ‘the village of the dead’ and the traveler, who visits this country to study and learn will not only be struck with the novel appearance of the scene, but if he will give attention to the respect and devotions that are paid to this sacred place, he will draw many a moral deduction that will last him through life.”

“There is not a day the in which one may not see in this place, evidences of this fact, that will wring tears from his eyes, and kindle in his bosom a spark of respect and sympathy for the poor Indian, if he never felt it before.  Fathers, mothers, wives and children, may be seen lying under these scaffolds, prostrated upon the ground, with their faces in the dirt, howling forth incessantly the most piteous and heart broken cries and lamentations for the misfortunes of their kindred; tearing their hair – cutting their flesh with their knives and doing other penance to appease the spirits of the dead, whose misfortunes they attribute to some sin or omission of their own, for which they sometimes inflict the excruciating self torture.”


     Buffalo Dance

Another note is made by Catlin, in his description of the “Dancing for Buffalo” ceremony, which he says:

“The place where this strange operation is carried on is in the public arena in the center of the village and in front of the great medicine or mystery lodge” which supports the assertion that practically all ceremonies pertaining to an appeal to the Great Mystery, were held around the Okippe.”

In speaking of religious customs, he states that:

“Feasting and fasting are important customs observed by the Mandans, as well as by most other tribes, at stated times and for particular purposes.  Sacrificing is also a religious custom with these people and is performed in many different modes and numerous occasions.  Of this custom, I shall speak more fully, hereafter, merely noticing at present some few of the hundred modes in which these offerings are made to the good and evil spirits.  Human sacrifices have never been made by the Mandans, nor by any of the northwestern tribes (so far as I can learn) excepting the Pawnees of the Platte, who have, undoubtedly, observed such an inhuman practice in the former times, though they have relinquished it of late.

The Mandans sacrificed their fingers to the Great Spirit, and of their worldly goods, the best and most costly.  If a horse or a dog, it must be the favorite one; if it is an arrow from their quiver they will select the most perfect one as the most effective gift; if it is meat, it is the choicest pieces cut from the buffalo or other animal; if it is anything from the stores of the traders, it is the most costly – it is blue or scarlet cloth, which costs them in this country, an enormous price, and is chiefly used for the purpose of hanging over their wigwams to decay, or to cover the scaffolds where rest the bones of their departed relations.”

“Of these kinds of sacrifices there are three of an interesting nature, erected over the great medicine lodge in the center of the village – they consist of ten or fifteen yards of blue and black cloth each, purchased from the fur company at fifteen or twenty dollars per yard, which are folded up so as to resemble human beings, with quills in their heads and masks on their faces.  These singular looking figures, like scarecrows, are erected on poles about thirty feet high, over the door of the mystery lodges, and there are left to decay.  There hangs now by the side of them another, which was added to the number a few days since, of the skin of the white buffalo, which will remain there until it decays and falls to pieces. – – A white buffalo robe is a great curiosity, even in the country of buffaloes, and will always command an almost incredible price, from it’s supreme scarcity; and then, from it’s being the most costly article of traffic in these regions, it is usually converted into a sacrifice, being offered to the Great Spirit, as the most acceptable gift that can be procured.  Amongst the vast herds of buffalo which graze in these boundless prairies, there is not one in a hundred thousand, perhaps, that is white, and when such a one is obtained, it is considered great medicine or mystery.”


     Mandan Rites at Annual Religious Ceremony

The “Annual Religious Ceremony” of the Mandans, as Catlin called certain dances and tribal rites which he witnessed in the village of Mihtuttahangkush, north of the present city of Mandan, in 1833, provided a splendid opportunity for him to write the record of a first hand observer.  He was permitted to enter into the Medicine Lodge and to take part in a manner, though to a limited extent, in the festivities.

On account of his having painted the portraits of several of the principal men of the Nation, and having been accepted as a peculiar friend by Mato Topa (Four Bears), the Second Chief of the tribe, and being vouched for by the Master of Ceremonies, himself, he was allowed to come and go among them almost at will.  It was only after he had attempted to too closely examine some mysterious symbol of their ceremonial use, that he was gently told to keep his place.

These series of ceremonies lasted four days and Catlin, together with Mr. Kipp, Agent of the American Fur Company, which maintained a trading establishment near this village, and who had taken a wife from among the women of the Mandans – as well as two clerks from the post, watched the proceedings every day from sunrise to sunset.  Catlin was permitted to make sketches on the spot and to keep written notes of the information he obtained through the interpreter and, with a week thereafter, had transferred his studies to painted canvas, of which he made four, representing the transactions of each of the four days.  Perhaps no better opportunity for such observation had been afforded to a student up to that time and, while he may have allowed his excitement to run riot with his imagination to a certain extent, we believe his recital to be truthful in the main and his report of the affair to be worthy of repetition:

“Oh. Horrible Visu et Mirabile Dictu.” Such is his introduction.  “Thank God, it is over, that I have seen it, and am able to tell it to the world.”

“The annual religious ceremony, of which I have so often spoken, and which I have so long been wishing to see, has at last been enacted in this village; – – Well and truly has it been said that the Mandans are a strange and peculiar people; and most correctly had I been informed, that this was an important and interesting scene, by those who had, on former occasions, witnessed such parts of it as are transacted out of doors, and in front of the medicine lodge.”

“I shudder at the revelation, or even at the thought of those barbarous and cruel scenes, and am almost ready to shrink from the task of reciting them as I have so long promised some account of them.  I entered the medicine house of these scenes, as I would have entered a church, and expected to see something extraordinary and strange, but yet in the form of worship or devotion; but alas.  Little did I expect to see the interior of their holy temple turned into a slaughterhouse, and its floor strewed with the blood of its fanatic devotees.  Little did I think that I was entering a house of God, where His blinded worshippers were to pollute its sacred interior with their blood and propitiatory suffering and tortures – surpassing, if possible, the cruelty of the rack or the inquisition; but such scene has been, and as such I will endeavor to describe it.”

“All of the Indian tribes, – – are religious – are worshipful – and many of them go to almost incredible lengths in worshipping the Great Spirit; denying and humbling themselves before Him – – – ”

“The Mandans believe in the existence of a Great (or Good) Spirit, and also of an Evil Spirit, who, they say, existed long before the Good Spirit, and is far superior in power.  They all believe in a future state of existence, and a future administration of rewards and punishments, and (so do all other tribes that I have visited) they believe these punishments are not external, but commensurate with their sins.”

“These people, living in a climate where they suffer from cold in the severity of their winters, have very naturally reversed our ideas of Heaven and Hell.  The latter they describe to be a country very far to the north, of barren and hideous aspect, and covered with eternal snows and ice.  The torments of this freezing place they describe as most excruciating; whilst Heaven they suppose to be in a warmer and delightful latitude, where nothing is felt but the keenest enjoyment, and where the country abounds in buffaloes and other luxuries of life.  The Great (or Good) Spirit they believe dwells in the former place for the purpose of their meeting those who have offended him; increasing the agony of their sufferings, by being present himself, administrating the penalties.  The Bad (or Evil) Spirit they, at the same time, suppose to reside in Paradise, still tempting the happy; and those who have gone to the regions of punishment they believe to be tortured for a time proportioned to the amount of their transgressions, and that they are then to be transferred to the land of the happy, where they are again liable to the temptation of the Evil Spirit, and answerable again at a future period for their new offenses.”

“Such is the religious creed of the Mandans and for the purpose of appeasing the Good and Evil Spirits, and to secure their entrance into those ‘fields Elysian,’ or beautiful hunting grounds, do the young men subject themselves to the horrid and sickening cruelties to be described in the following pages.”

“There are three distinct objects for which these religious ceremonies are held, which are as follows:  The Flood.  First, they are held annually as a celebration of the event of the subsiding of the flood, which they call Mee-nee-ka-ha-sha (Sinking down or settling of the waters).”

“Secondly, for the purpose of dancing what they call Bel-lohck-na-pic (the Bull Dance), to the strict observance of which they attribute the coming of buffaloes to supply them with food during the season;”


     Horrible Ordeal of Mandan Manhood Ceremony

“And Thirdly, and lastly, for the purpose of conducting all the young men of the tribe, as they annually arrive at the age of manhood, through an ordeal of privation and torture which, while it is supposed to harden their muscles and prepare them for extreme endurance, enables the chiefs, who are spectators to the scene, to decide upon their comparative bodily strength and ability to endure the extreme privations and sufferings which often fall to the lot of Indian warriors.  Thus they may decide who is the most hardy and best able to lead a war party in case of extreme exigency.”

“This part of the ceremony, as I have just witnessed it, is truly shocking to behold and will almost stagger the belief of the world when they read of it.  The scene is too terrible and revolting to be seen or to be told were it not an essential part of the whole, which will be new to the civilized world, and therefore worth their knowing.”

“The Bull Dance, and many other parts of these ceremonies, are exceedingly grotesque and amusing.  That part of them which has a relation to the Deluge is harmless and full of interest.”


“In the center of the Mandan village is an open, circular arena of 150 feet in diameter, kept always clear, as a public ground, for the display of all their public feasts, parades, etc., and around it are wigwams placed as near to each other as they can well stand with their doors facing the center of this public arena.”


“In the middle of this ground, which is trodden like a hard pavement, is a curb (somewhat like a large hogshead standing on its end) made of planks (and bound with hoops) some eight or nine feet high, which they religiously preserve and protect from year to year, free from mark or scratch, and which they call the ‘big canoe.’   It is undoubtedly a symbolic representation of a part of their traditional history of the flood which, it is very evident from this and other features of this grand ceremony, that they have, in some way or other, received and are here endeavoring to perpetuate by vividly impressing it on the minds of the whole nation.  This object of superstition, from its position as the very center of the village, is the rallying point of the whole nation.  To it their devotions are paid on various occasions of feasts and religious exercises during the year.  In this extraordinary scene it was often the nucleus of their mystery and cruelties, as I shall shortly describe them, and becomes an object worth bearing in mind, and worthy of being understood.”

Catlin them tells the story of the “returning bird,” which he says was the turtle dove, and intimates that the Mandans had the same tradition of sending out a bird from the Ark that the Bible mentions.  The writer has never been able to corroborate this, so will pass it.  He described the coming of First Man into the village and the ceremony of cleaning the Sacred Lodge by him, and the arrangement of the buffalo and human skulls within the lodge.  He relates how First Man went to every lodge and received a present of some edged-tool, which he deposited with the lodge and, on the last day of the ceremonies, were thrown into the waters of the Missouri as “sacrifices to the Spirit of the Water.”

“On the second day of the ceremonies, First Man again made his appearance in the village and entered the lodge of mysteries and, with him, followed about fifty young men of the Mandans who were novices proposed for the ordeal.  After No-mohk-muck-a-nah (First Man) had smoked the medicine pipe he addressed the novices, encouraging them to trust in the Great Spirit during the ordeal through which they were to pass.  He then appointed an old man to be master of ceremonies (O-kee-pah Ka-se-kah) and passed to him the power to act, then taking his way out of the village and disappearing over the hills to the west.  This old man, appointed by First man, happened to be a medicine man whom Catlin had painted a few days before and, as the painter was standing in front of the lodge, he came out and took him by the arm and led him within where he and the trader, Kipp, were seated on seats prepared for them in full view of the ceremonies for the next four days.”

During the first three days many ceremonies and dances take place, always around the “Curb, or Big Canoe,” as he calls it, in the center of the open dancing place in front of the Medicine Lodge.  Then follows a description of the Evil Spirit coming into the village and being subdued by the good influences of the Medicine Pipe and of his expulsion from the village by the women, after which preparations were made for the chief part of the ceremonies, that of the Sun Dance.  This took place upon the fourth day and, as it differed in many ways from that dance among the Sioux, we will quote the remainder of his letter, which has to do with this cruel ceremonial.

“Two men, having taken their positions near the middle of the lodge for the purpose of inflicting the tortures – the one with the scalping knife and the other with a bunch of splints in his hand;  one at a time the young fellows, already emaciated with fasting and thirsting, and waking, for nearly four days and nights, advanced from the side of the lodge, and placed himself on his hands and knees, or otherwise, as best suited for the performance of the operation, where he submitted to the cruelties in the following manner:  An inch or more of the flesh on each shoulder or breast was taken up between the thumb and finger of the man who held the knife in his right hand; and the knife which had been ground sharp on both edges, and then hacked and notched with the blade of another, to make it produce as much pain as possible, was forced through the flesh below the fingers, and being withdrawn, was followed with a splint or skewer, from the other, who held a bunch of such in his left hand, and was ready to force them through the wound.  There were then two cords lowered down from the top of the lodge (by men who were placed on the lodge outside for the purpose), which were fastened to these splints or skewers, and they instantly began to haul him up;  as he was thus raised until his body was suspended from the ground where he rested, until the knife and a splint were passed through the flesh or integuments in a similar manner on each arm below the shoulder, below the elbow, on the thighs and below the knees.”

“In some instances they remained in a reclining position on the ground until this painful operation was finished, which was performed in all instances, exactly on the same parts of the body and limbs; and which in its progress, occupied some five or six minutes.”

“Each one was then instantly raised by the cords, until the weight of his body was suspended by them, and then while the blood was steaming down their limbs, the bystanders hung upon the splints of each man’s appropriate shield, bow and quivers, etc., and in some instances, the skull of a buffalo with the horns still on it, was attached to each lower arm and each lower leg, for the purpose probably, of preventing by their great weight the struggling which might otherwise have taken place whilst they were hung up.”

“When these things were all adjusted, each one was raised higher by the cords, until these weights all swung clear from the ground, leaving his feet in most cases, some six or eight feet above the ground.  In this plight that at once became appalling and frightful to look upon – the flesh to support with weight of their bodies, with the additional weights which were attached to them, was raised six or eight inches by the skewers; and their heads sank forward on their breasts, or thrown backward, in a much more frightful condition, according to the way in which they were hung up.”

“The unflinching fortitude with which every one of them bore this part of the torture surpassed credulity; each one as the knife was passed through his flesh sustained an unchangeable countenance; and several of them, seeing me making sketches, beckoned me to look at their faces, which I watched through all this horrid operation, without being able to detect anything by the pleasantest smiles as they looked me in the eye, while I could hear the knife rip through the flesh, and feel enough of it myself to start involuntary and uncontrollable tears over my cheeks.”

“When raised in the condition above described, and completely suspended by the cords, the sanguinary hands through which he just passed, turned back to perform a similar operation on another who was ready, and each one in his turn passed into the charge of another, who instantly introduced him to a new and improved stage of their refinements in cruelty.”

“Surrounded by imps and demons as they appear, a dozen or more who seemed to be concerting and devising means for his exquisite agony, gather around him, when one of the number advances toward him in a sneering manner, and commences turning him around with a pole which he brings in his hands for the purpose.  This is done in a gentle manner at first; but gradually increased, when the brave fellow, whose proud spirit can control its agony no longer, bursts forth in the most lamentable and heartrending cries that the human voice is capable of producing, crying forth to the Great Spirit to support and protect him in his dreadful trial; and continually repeating his confidence in his protection.  In this condition he is continued to be turned, fast and faster – and there is no hope of escape from it, nor chance for the slightest relief, until by fainting, his voice falters, and his struggling ceases, and he hangs apparently, a still and lifeless corpse.  When he is, by turning, gradually brought to this condition which is generally done within ten or fifteen minutes, there is a close scrutiny passed upon him, among his tormentors, who are checking and holding each other back as long as the least struggling or tremor can be discovered, lest he should be removed before he is (as they term it) ‘entirely dead.'”

“When brought to this alarming and most frightful condition, and the turning has gradually ceased, as his voice and his strength have given out, leaving him hanging entirely still, and apparently lifeless; when his tongue is distended from his mouth, and his medicine bag, which he has affectionately and superstitiously clung to with his left hand, has dropped to the ground; the signal is given to the men on top of the lodge, by gently striking the cord with the pole below, when they very gradually and carefully lower him to the ground.”

“In this helpless condition he lies, like a loathsome corpse to look at, though in keeping (as they call it) of the Great Spirit, whom he trusts will protect him, and enable him to get up and walk away.  As soon as he is lowered to the ground thus, one of the bystanders advances, and pulls out the two splints or skewers, from the breasts and shoulders, thereby disengaging him from the cords by which he has been hung up; but leaving all the other with their weights, etc., hanging to his flesh.”

“In this condition he lies for six or eight minutes, until he gets strength to rise and move himself, for no one is allowed to assist or offer him aid, as he is here enjoying the most valued privilege which a Mandan can boast of, that of trusting his life to the keeping of the Great Spirit, in this time of extreme peril.”

“As soon as he is seen to get strength enough to rise on his hands and feet, and drag his body around the lodge, he crawls with the weights still hanging to his body, to another part of the lodge, where there is another Indian sitting with a hatchet in his hands, and a dried buffalo skull before; and here in the most humble and earnest manner, by holding up the little finger of his left hand to the Great Spirit, he expresses to him, in a speech of a few words, his willingness to give it as a sacrifice; when he lays it on the dried buffalo skull, where the other chops it off near the hand, with a blow of the hatchet.”

“Nearly all the young men whom I saw passing this horrid ordeal gave, in the above manner, the little finger of the left hand; and I saw also several, who immediately afterwards (and apparently with very little emotion or concern), with a similar speech, tender, in the same way, the forefinger of the same hand, and that, too, was struck off, leaving on the left hand only the middle fingers and the thumb; all of which they deem absolutely necessary for holding the bow, the only weapon for the left hand.”

“One would think that this mutilation had thus been carried quite far enough; but I have since examined several of the head chiefs and dignitaries of the tribe, who have also given, in this manner, the little finger of the right hand, which is considered by them to be a much greater sacrifice than both of the others; – – – ”

“During the whole of the time of this cruel part of these most extraordinary inflictions, the chiefs and dignitaries of the tribe are looking on to decide who are the hardiest and ‘stoutest hearted’ – who can hang the longest by his flesh before he faints, and who will be soonest up after he had been down; that they may know whom to appoint to lead a war party, or to place at the most honorable or desperate post. – – – ”

“As soon as six or eight had passed the ordeal as above described, they were led out of the lodge, with their weights handing to their flesh, and dragging on the ground, to undergo another, and still more appalling mode of suffering in the center of the village, and in the presence of the whole nation, in the manner as follows:”

“The signal for the commencement of this part of the cruelties was given by the old master of ceremonies, who again ran out as in the buffalo dance, and leaning against the big canoe, with his medicine pipe in his hand, began to cry.  This was done several times in the afternoon, as often as there were six or eight who had passed the ordeal just described within the lodge, who were then taken out in the open area in the presence of the whole village, with the buffalo skulls and other weights attached to their flesh and dragging on the ground.  There were then in readiness and prepared for the purpose, about twenty young men selected of equal height and equal age; with their bodies chiefly naked, with beautiful (and similar) head dresses of war eagles’ quills, on their heads, and a wreath made of willow boughs held in the hands between them, connecting them in a chain or circle in which they run around the big canoe, with all possible speed, raising their voices in screams and yelps to the highest pitch which was possible, and keeping the curb or big canoe in the center, as their nucleus.”

“Then were led forward the young men who were further to suffer, and being placed at equal distances apart and outside of the ring just described, each was taken in charge of two athletic young men, fresh and strong, who stepped up to him, one on each side, and by wrapping a strong leather strap around his wrists, without tying it, grasped it firm underneath the hand, and stood prepared for what they call Eh-ke-nah-ka-nah-pick (the last race).  This the spectator looking on would suppose was most correctly named, for he would think it was the last race he could possibly run in this world.”

“In this condition they stand, pale and ghastly, from abstinence and loss of blood, until all are prepared, and the word is given, than all start and run around, outside the other ring; and each poor fellow, with his weights dragging on the ground, and his furious conductors by his side, who hurry him forward by the wrists, struggles in the desperate emulation to run longer without ‘dying’ (as they call it) than his comrades, who are fainting around him and sinking down, like himself, where their bodies are dragged with all possible speed, and often with their faces in the dirt.  In the commencement of this dance, or race, they all start at a moderate pace, and their speed being gradually increased, the pain becomes so excruciating that their languid and exhausted frames give out, and they are dragged by their wrists, until they are disengaged from the weights that are attached to their flesh, and this must be done with such violent force that it tears the flesh out with the splint, which (as they say) can never be pulled out endways, without greatly offending the Great Spirit and defeating the object for which they have thus far suffered.  The splints which are put through the breasts and shoulders, take up a part of the pectoral or trapezium muscle, which is necessary for the support of the great weight of their bodies, and which as I have before mentioned, are withdrawn as soon as he is lowered down – but all the others, on the legs and arms, seem to be very ingeniously placed through the flesh and integuments without taking up the muscle, and even those to be broken out, require so strong and so violent a force that most of the poor fellows fainted under the operation, and when they were freed from the last of the buffalo skulls and other weights, (which was often done by some of the bystanders throwing the weight of their bodies on them as they were dragged along the ground) they were in every instance dropped by the persons who dragged them, and their bodies were left, appearing like nothing but a mangled and loathsome corpse.  At this strange and frightful juncture, the two men who had dragged them, fled through the crowd and away upon the prairie, as if they were guilty of some enormous crime, and were fleeing from summary vengeance.”

“In this ‘last race,’ which was the struggle which finally closed their sufferings, each one was dragged until he fainted, and was thus left, looking more like the dead than the living; and thus each one laid until, by the aid of the Great Spirit, he was in a few minutes seen to rise, and at last reeling and staggering like a drunken man, through the crowd (which made way for him) to his wigwam, where his friends and relatives stood ready to take him in hand and restore him.”

“In this frightful scene, as in the buffalo dance, the whole nation was assembled as witnesses, and all raised the most piercing and violent yells and screams they could possibly produce, to drown the cries of the suffering ones, that no heart could even be touched for sympathy for them.  I have mentioned before that six or eight of the young men were brought from the medicine lodge at a time, and when they were thus passed through this shocking ordeal, the medicine man and the chiefs returned to the interior, where as many more were soon prepared, and underwent a similar treatment, and after that another batch, and another, and so on, until the whole number, some forty five or fifty had run in this sickening circle, and by leaving their weights, had opened their flesh for honorable scars.  I said all, but there was one poor fellow though (and I shudder to tell it -) who had dragged around and around the circle, with the skull of an elk hanging to the flesh of one of his legs.   Several had jumped upon it, but to no effect, for the splint was under the sinew, which could not be broken.  The dragging became every instant more and more furious, and the apprehensions for the poor fellow’s life, apparent by the piteous howl which was set up for him by the multitude around; and at last the medicine man ran, with his medicine pipe in his hand and held them, in check, when the body was dropped, and left upon the ground, with the skull yet hanging to it.  The boy, who was an extremely interesting and fine looking youth, soon recovered his senses and his strength, looking deliberately at his torn and bleeding limbs; and also with the most pleasant smile of defiance, upon the misfortune which had now fallen to his particular lot, crawled through the crowd (instead of walking, which they are never again at liberty to do until the flesh is torn out, and the article is left) to the prairie, and over which, for the distance of half a mile, to a sequestered spot, without any attendant, where he lay three days and three nights, yet longer, without food, and praying to the Great Spirit, until suppuration took place in the wound, and by the decaying of the flesh the weight was dropped and the splint, also, which he dare not extricate in another way.  At the end of this, he crawled back to the village on his hands and knees, being too much emaciated to walk, and begged for something to eat, which was at once given to him, and he was soon restored to health.”

“These extreme and difficult cases often occur, and I learn that in such instances the youth has it at his option to get rid of the weight in such way as he may choose, and some of these modes are far more extraordinary that the one which I have just named.  Several of the traders, who have been for a number of years in the habit of seeing this part of the ceremony, have told me that two years since, when they were looking on, there was one whose flesh on the arms was so strong that the weights could not be left, and he dragged them to the river with his body, where he set a stake on the top of the bank, and fastened cords to it, he let himself halfway down a perpendicular wall of rock, of twenty five or thirty feet, where the weight of his body was suspended by the two cords attached to the flesh of his arms.  In this awful condition he hung for several days, equidistant from the top of the rock and the water below, into which he at last dropped and saved himself by swimming ashore.”

“I need record no more of these shocking and disgusting instances, of which I have already given enough to convince the world of the correctness of the established fact of the Indian’s superior stoicism and power of endurance, although some recent writers have, from motives of envy, from ignorance, or something else, taken great pain to cut the poor Indian short in everything, and in this, even as if it were a virtue.”

“I am ready to accord them in this particular, the palm; the credit of outdoing anything and everybody, and of enduring more than civilized man ever aspired to or even thought of.  My heart was sickened also with disgust for so abominable and ignorant a custom, and still I stand ready with all my heart, to excuse and forgive them for adhering to an ancient celebration, founded in superstition and mysteries, of which they know not the origin, and constituting a material and part and feature in the code and forms of their religion.”

“Reader, I will return with you for a moment to the medicine lodge, which is just to be closed, and then we will indulge in some general reflections upon what has passed, and in what, and for what purposes this strange batch of mysteries has been instituted and perpetuated.”

“After these young men, who had for the last four days occupied the medicine lodge, had been operated upon, in the manner above describes, and taken out of it, the old medicine man, the master of ceremonies, returned (still crying to the Great Spirit) sole tenant of that sacred place, and brought out the ‘edged tools,’ which I have before said had been collected at the door of every man’s wigwam, to be given as a sacrifice to the water, and leaving the lodge securely fastened, he approached the bank of the river, when all the medicine men attended him, and all the nation were spectators; and in their presence he threw them from a high bank into very deep water, from which they cannot be recovered, and where they are, correctly speaking, made a sacrifice to the water.  This part of the affair took place just exactly at sundown, and closed the scene, being the end or finale of the Mandan Religious Ceremony.”

This letter was strengthened by the affidavits of those white people, who were present at these ceremonies with him, which is published herewith:

“The reader will forgive me for here inserting the certificate which I have just received from Mr. Kipp, of the city of New York and two others, who were with me; which I offer for the satisfaction of the world, who read the above account.”

“We hereby certify, that we witnessed, in company with Mr. Catlin, in the Mandan village, the ceremonies represented in the four painting, and described in his notes, to which this certificate refers; and that he has therein faithfully represented those scenes as we saw them transacted, without any addition or exaggeration.”

“J. Kipp, Agent Amer. Fur Company.

L. Crawford, Clerk.

Abraham Bogard.”

“Mandan village, July 20, 1833”


     Instructions by First Man

He relates the tradition of the flood as given to him by the Mandans, and as this tradition and the Sacred Object are so closely connected, it is interesting of note, particularly as to the instructions given to them by First Man:

“This Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah (first or only man) is undoubtedly some mystery or medicine man of the tribe, who has gone out on the prairie on the evening previous, and having dressed and decorated himself for the occasion, comes into the village in the morning, endeavoring to keep up the semblance of reality; for their tradition says, that at a very ancient period such a man did actually come from the west – that his body was of a white color, as this man’s body represented – that he wore a robe of four white wolf skins – his head dress was made of two raven’s skins – and in his left hand was a high pipe.

He said ‘he was at one time the only man – he told them of the destruction of everything on the earth’s surface by water – that he stopped in his big canoe on a high mountain in the west, where he landed and was saved. That the Mandans and all other people were bound to make yearly sacrifices of some edged tools to the water, for of such things the big canoe was made.’  Then he instructed the Mandans how to build their medicine lodge, and taught them also the forms of these annual ceremonies, and told them that as long as they made these sacrifices, and preformed these rites to the full letter, they might be assured of the fact, that they would be the favorite people of the Almighty, and they would always have enough to eat and drink; and that so soon as they should depart one title from these forms, they might be assured that their race would decrease, and finally run out; and that they might date their nation’s calamity to that omission of neglect.”

This tradition does not materially vary from the more modern story as told to the writer, in interpretation.  In both instances, the First Man told them to prepare for the flood and instructed four men in the ceremonies.  The story tellers of today mention two separate times of flood, which might be accounted for by the flood from which First Man escaped and the one which later on developed the world of the Mandans and from which a portion of the Nation escaped in the ‘Ark’ or ‘Tower’ or ‘Big Canoe,’ as it has been called by others, and which they had, under the directions of the four men instructed by First Man or the son of Corn Woman, built upon the peak of Birds Bill Hill, which is identified by old living Mandan Indians, as the southeasterly end of the range of high hills, which lie upon the west banks of the Missouri between the rivers of the Heart and Little Heart, in Morton County, N.D., and but a few miles from the present city of Mandan

     Maximilion Writes About the Mandans (1833):

Another scientist-traveler, Maximilion, the Prince of Wied, who arrived among the Mandans at the village of Mihtuttahangkush in the fall of 1833, also gave much valuable information regarding that people and their strange “Memorial” or Sacred Object.  In describing their villages, he says:

          Their Villages

of planks, about four or five feet high, fixed in the ground, and bound with climbing plants or pliable boughs, to hold them together.  At the north end of this circular space is the medicine lodge, in which festivities are celebrated, and certain customs are practiced, which are connected with the religious notions of this strange people.  At the top of a high pole, a figure is here placed, made of skins, with a wooden head, the face painted black, and wearing a fur cap and feathers, which is intended to represent the Evil Spirit (Ochkih Hadda, corresponding with the devil) or a wicked man as they affirm, who once appeared among them, had neither wife or child, and vanished, and whom they now stand greatly in dread of.  Other grotesque figures mde of skins and bundles of twigs, we saw hanging on high poles, most of them being offerings to the deity.”


          Memorial to the Flood

After telling traditions of certain mysterious white men and boats moving without visible power, he refers to the Memorial of the Flood in the following:

“At the time that the First Man had incensed the whites by his voracity, the latter made the water rise so high that all the land was overflowed.  On this, the first man advised the ancestors of the Numagkake to build a wooden tower or fort upon an eminence, assuring them that the water would not ride higher than that point.  They followed his advice and built the ark on the lower side of the Heart river on a large scale, and a part of the nation was preserved in this building, while the remainder perished in the waves.  In remembrance of the kind care of the first man, they place in each of their villages a miniature model of this ark, one of which still stands in the village of Mihtuttahangkush.  The waters afterward subsided and they still celebrate the festival of the Okippe in honor of this ark – – – .”

(Note – The name by which the Mandans frequently called themselves, meaning ‘Man’ and to which they sometimes add the name of their village or Chief.  Thus, ‘Shehukhun Numakaka,’ or The Man of Chief Sitting Crow.  It is this custom which confused Catlin, when he accepted the name of a Mandan called ‘The Man of the Pheasant’ as the name of the nation itself, and endeavored to prove by that that the people came originally from Ohio.  Many of the early travelers were thus confused and gave the name of a band as the name of a separate tribe.  It was often the case that, when the chief or leader of a band died and the people came under the leadership of another chief and, therefore, changed the name of the band, the band became lost and can not now be identified, either as a band or clan and also as to what nation they belonged. W.)


          Okippe Ceremony

Continuing, he writes:

“The Mandans have several of the medicine festivals, of which the Okippe, or the penitential ceremony of the ark, is by far the most remarkable.”

Then follows a description of the ceremonies as given by Catlin, an eyewitness.  Mato Topa (Four Bears) was chosen in 1834, to be Master of Ceremonies.  In speaking of the ceremonies of the First Day of the Okippe, Maximilion says:

Photo of painting of Four Bears by Catlin, 1834biog119-four-bears-painting

“On the first days of the feat they go four times, wrapped as before described, and dance around the ark, which stands in the center of the open space.  The Kani Sachka (Note – this is the Master of Ceremonies. W.) remains during all this time moaning and leaning against the ark.’

Again, he mentions the ark, telling of the dances of the second day:

“In this manner they dance up to the ark, where they divide, four going to the left and four

to the right ‘round the space.  They again join opposite the medicine lodge and then return again to the ark, where they continue to dance.  When they are opposite to each other they stand upright and imitate the roaring of the buffalo.  As soon as this dance begins, the six tortoise beaters bring their instrument from the center of the lodge, and place it near the ark in an easterly direction, striking it, and singing a certain song which is said to be a prayer.  The Kani Sachka stands, with his head bowed, leaning on the ark, directly opposite the tortoise, and moans without ceasing.”

On the third day, he tells of the initiates of the Sun Dance, coming from the Medicine Lodge, where:

“The lie down upon their bellies, in a circle ‘round the ark, at some distance from it; the masks dance among them and over them, to the sound of the schischikue (rattle).  Some already being to suffer the tortures; they give a gun, a blanket, or some other article of value, to an eminent person, to inflict the tortures upon.  During this time the Kani Sachka has been moaning and leaning upon the ark.”

It is clearly to be seen from these descriptions of the early explorers, that this “Ark” performs a great part in the religious activities of the Mandans.  Dr. Washington Matthews, Assistant Surgeon of the U.S.Army, who was stationed in the upper Missouri Rive country for a time, was a frequent visitor to the Federated Village of the Mandans-Gros Ventre and Arikara at Fort Berthold, in the late sixties and early seventies, and had unusual opportunities of studying the people of those tribes.  In his “Ethnology and Philology of the Hidatsa Indian,” published by the Government in 1877, he ascribed to the Medicine Lodge and its attendant “Sacred Object,” religious influence, and remarked that the severity of the tortures had somewhat subsided.  Quoting him, he says:

“There are in the village, two open spaces, which, although of irregular shape, may be called squares; one of these is in the Mandan, the other in the Aricaree quarter.  Besides each square stands a large round ‘medicine lodge,’ or temple, built as described — which is used for purposes that, in a general way, are called religious.”

“In the center of the Mandan square is a small circular palisade, about six feet high and four feet in diameter, made of neatly hewn puncheons set closely together.  It has somewhat the appearance of a large barrel, and is emblematic of the ark in which, according to Mandan mythology, the sole survivor of the deluge was saved.  The square, the medicine lodge, with its four poles in front surmounted by sacrificial effigies, and the ark, as they may be seen at Fort Berthold today, seem to be the almost exact counterparts of those which were seen in the old Mandan village at Fort Clarke, in 1832 and 1833, by George Catlin and the Prince of New-Wied, if we are to judge by the drawings which they have given us.  Within the temple and around the ark, the Mandans still perform the ceremony of the Okeepa, which Catlin so accurately describes.  The awful severity’s of the rites have, however, been somewhat mitigated since his day.”


          Sacred Object Unchanged from Ancient Times

From the study of these authorities it is quite clearly to be seen, we believe, that the Big Canoe of Catlin and the Ark of Maximilion and Matthews, and the Memorial of the Flood of the present day interpreters, maintained a great part in the religious affairs and ceremonies of the ancient Mandans.

It is quite evident, too, that the object is practically unchanged today from that as seen by Catlin, and continues to be an object of reverence to the old people of that tribe, for while the tortures of the Sun Dance have been proscribed by the Government and are no longer practiced, the offerings of red cloth and gingham, buffalo skulls and rifles, the piles of tobacco and bundles of sage and sweet grass, which are to be seen there today, is proof that some members, at least, of the fast-dying Mandan Nation secretly, or openly, offer sacrifices to the spirits which it recalls to them.

Sacred Bundles

The Arikara have their sacred bundles, holding dried hawks and other birds, the sacred pipes and other articles, which those people have preserved for generations to the present day.

Similar ones have been described by fortunate observers among the Pawnee, with whom the Arikara lived in 1541 along the Kansas and Nebraska Rivers as observed by Coronado, the first white man to penetrate to that region.  The Sioux had sacred places and certain stones to which they offered sacrifices and otherwise treated as shrines of religious import.


Chapter VII, The Blue Cloud Stone and Dream Stories

A number of early whites among the Mandan and Gros Ventre Indians have written considerable of the practice of those Indians of making beads.  They describe the process of making a central core of clay which served as the hole when the bead was finished, and of the laborious work of building up the bead of melted obsidian around this central core and of tracing in the irregular marks of other colors, which appear in those old beads.  One of these old beads is in the collection of A.B.Welch, Mandan, North Dakota. (Note:  Bead is missing at this writing in 2003)

We know that those Indians received colored beads from various traders as early as 1795 and, it is quite probable, even before that time, and it is our belief that the real “Mandan Bead” was made by grinding trade beads of the desired color into a fine powder; melting it in a Mandan furnace (similar to an Igorotte blast furnace), and fashioning the large bead from this melted glass.  This was a secret process and known to but few of the tribe.

The writer, in 1913, told some old Sioux women that he would be glad to have some of these “blue stones” or “Mandan Beads,” and it became quite generally known among the people that he wanted them.  Many old beads came to light after that inquiry.  Some are plainly old time trading beads while others are specimens, more rare.  Among the number are about a hundred, rough, hand-drilled, sapphire beads, which were found upon the any hills of an old village site, ascribed by Lewis and Clark to the Cheyennes, which lies between the Grand river and the Porcupine.  Others are beads of a half-inch diameter, with streaks and irregular lines of different colors, running through them.

But the most prized specimen was picked up by Campeska Imanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman) (b.1852 d.1920), the Sihasapa-Minniconjou wife of Chief John Grass, who found the object at the so-called “Dead Village” of the Sioux.  This village is supposed to have first been Mandan and, upon its evacuation by that people, to have been occupied by the Cheyenne.

This object is not a bead, as generally thought of, but is a flat ornament of Mandan-glass make.  The exact size and shape is shown upon the attached sketch.  It is plainly of igneous origin and the backside is flat and had fine sand attached, indicating that it had been made in a sand mold or depression.  The top does not show any sand, but several small bubbles appear, which were made while the pouring was being done.  Near the top is a small hole to run a thong through.  The wide bottom part is slightly rounded and comes to a dull edge.


Creation of the Blue Cloud Stone

The Sioux told the writer at that time, that the secret of melting the materials which went into the making of this rare stone was known to but one old woman of the Mandans.  When it was decided to make such a stone, the woman went away by herself and fasted and sung songs, took baths and became very holy and clean both in spirit and body.  After the bath she went away into the timber along the river and, in a day or two, came out with this new stone.

Welch drawing of the  Blue Cloud Stonecustoms57-blue-stone

It was a holy stone and could not be worn by any one but a sinless woman.  When asked what constituted a sinless woman he was told that it was one who had not been sinful with men; that a woman does not sin with her husband.  There was but one such stone made during a year’s time.  The woman selected to possess it wore it upon her forehead and it indicated a great honor.

There are very few of these stones and he was told that no one knows how to make them now.  It might also be given to the daughter of some great man among the people, provided that she was very good and honorable.  The sand on the back of it was very good, for the Earth is the Mother of Men and so it is good if parts of the earth stay upon anything.

The stone has not been polished, chipped or otherwise worked, but is smooth as melted glass, upon the upper surface.  It is believed that the method of manufacture is as follows: Glass or obsidian of the desired color (blue) is powdered and then melted in an improvised furnace, after which it is then run into a mold or depression in the sand.  The Sioux call them “Mahkpiya to” (Blue Cloud Stone).


     Conversations about the Blue Cloud Stone

Mrs. McLaughlin (b.1842), who is a splendid French-Dakotah and the wife of the late Major McLaughlin, Inspector of Indian Affairs and the hero of the Sitting Bull Expedition when that hostile was killed by the Indian Police, has the following to say regarding the stone:

“It is a very sacred stone among the Mandans, and the Sioux also think so.  Just one old woman knew how to make them, and made but one each year.  It might be worn by the daughter or sister of a great man who had done some wonderful and well-authenticated deed in war or council.  It showed that the wearer was from a noble and honored family.  They were honored also, who wore it.  The sinless woman, in the case, must be the woman who made the stone, but not necessarily the one who wore it.  The maker of the stone would go away by herself and become holy before she made it.”

Photo of Chief John Grass, 1917customs58-john-grass

Chief John Grass (b.1837 d.1918) said:

“That sacred blue stone they used to wear upon their foreheads was made of melted glass beads, I think.  I have heard that a man saw her blowing on them through a hollow stick, when she made the stone.”  (This would indicate a blowpipe of some sort).


     Sioux Adopted Mandan & Arikara Stones

Concerning Holy Stones, Thomas Ashley, a full blood Sioux, told the writer:

“There are some stones up on the edge of hills which go into the water of the rivers.  They are Wakan (Holy); they talk to people.  The old people go up to them in the early mornings and they tell them what is going to happen then.  The young people do not care very much about them now.  These stones have the marks of animal’s feet upon them.  Every day these marks are different.  Sometimes there are the marks of the buffalo; then sometimes there are the marks of a deer’s feet or antelope or elk; sometimes coyote and other tracks too.  I have seen these things myself.  I have seen these different tracks on the same stone on different mornings.  They are very sacred stones.  They are all Mandan or Arikara stones.  They left them when they went away from those places.  We Dakotah like for them to stay where they are.  They talk to the old people.”


Heyoka – a Contrary Spirit

Reference to the “Wakan Hill” of Le Raye, where the little spirits live, is made by Ocanku Takan Tawa (His Holy Road), an old time Yanktonaise Sioux, still living on the Standing Rock Reservation.  When asked to describe the word “Heyoka,” he said:

“This was the name of a Dakotah mythical character, a sort of strange-acting spirit. He is exactly opposite to the regular natural order of things.  He wears a heavy buffalo robe in the summer time and goes entirely naked in the wintertime.  When people cry with sorrow, he laughs with glee.  He mourns when people are happy.  He is a small man and lives in a hill called ‘Heyokati’ (Heyoka Lodge), away down in the Yankton country.  There are other hills just like that, where other little spirits live too.”

Photo of Shoot Holy (left) and His road, 1928biog161-his-road-photo


     Stone Medicine Dream

Campeska Imanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman), who died in 1922, was considered one of the best historians among the Sioux people and her remarks were always accepted by the writer as being as nearly correct as tradition or recollection could be.  In the presence of the writer a Sioux once told of a dream, which he had, which is given in full, as it relates to a “Stone Medicine.”  The dream was as follows:

“I had a dream.  I was somewhere.  I was among the trees.  There were high hills there, too.  I heard a voice.  It said ‘Come with me.’  I looked.  A white colored bear was there.  It had a white face.  I followed it them.  It went among the trees.  It went very fast.  It nearly flew.  I went too.  Where the bear went, I went also.  We finally came to the top of the mountain.  We came out on a great step of stone.  Down below it looked like the birds see things.  It was very deep.  There was a bird flying there.  It came and sat on a stone shelf.  It had long wings and a tail like a swallow.  Then a Fox came and sat down there.  The Bear said, ‘I am the strongest one of you.’  The Fox said, ‘ I have the finest tail of any thing.’  The Bird said, ‘I can fly the fastest and have the finest wings.’  The Bear saw the Man get out his pipe for a smoke.  He asked for it.  The Man had only one smoke but he gave it to the Bear.  The he said that the Man was the best because he was charitable and gave away all he had. Then I talked to the animal nations there and finally I went to sleep.  When I woke up I found a little black stone in my mouth.  The animals were all gone.  This little black stone was a holy stone.”

Walking on the Shell Woman gave the following interpretation of the dream:

“This was a good dream.  The spirits come to people in their dreams.  To dream of a bear is always the best kind.  They are the strongest and bravest of all the animal nations.  If that man had kept the smooth black stone he could have conquered the whole world with it.  If the man was in danger the bear would always have kept him safe and made him brave to meet things.  It is always good to dream of talking animals.  The spirit of the bear would keep him.  Many people have had such dreams and made songs about it.  Sometimes the dreams have the songs in them.  That was very good.  That man could wear something of the bear on his clothing then.  Everybody would know then that the Bear was his good medicine.”


     Two Face Stone Dream

A full-blood Arikara, named Eli Perkins, told the writer the following dream story:

“One time the men of the Two Face Village (His name for the village where Mandan is situated) wanted to kill meat for winter.  They sent out hunters, and when they came back, the party traveled toward the northwest country.  Out along the Knife, or by the big hill out west (Young Man’s Butte, near Richardson, N.D.).  There was a young man went along.  He was only sixteen or seventeen years old.  When they got away out there, they saw a magpie bird sitting on a fresh buffalo head and eating it there.  The boy’s name was ‘Two Birds’ (His first name, evidently, as his name later was ‘Good Fur Robe’).  The magpie said to him, ‘You are going to be a great man among the people.  You must do as I tell you to do.  I will go with you all the way.’  So he thought that God was talking to him so he said, ‘All Right.’  So he did what the magpie bird told him to do and tied twelve buffalo heads to his flesh and started to follow the bird.  He traveled for forty days dragging along the heads through the grass and brush.  He suffered terribly.  At last he came to those hills now called Blue Buttes, up by the Missouri River, north of here.  When he got there, there came another bird.  It was a ‘Packing Bird’ (the writer does not know any other name and can not identify the bird).  It said to him, ‘You come now with me.  Everything is prepared for you.’  So he went to the top of a flat-topped butte there, and all the birds and animals were gathered there, waiting for him.  Those animal and bird nations told him that he had been selected for a long time to be a great man among his own people at Two Face Village.  They had a great council then.  They gave him all the laws, which were to be used to govern the Arikara.  He went back to his village and became the best man the people ever had and very wise, too.  He was their chief for a long time.  At last he died, after he had lived for 139 years, and his people were very strong and great hunters and were very happy together.  Because the Magpie and the animals gave him the laws.”

This Good Fur Robe is claimed by the Mandans and Gros Ventre Indians as well as by the Arikara, and all these tribes have traditions to prove that he belonged to their own particular people.  He is said, by the Mandans, to have been the Chief when the Gros Ventre came to the east banks of the Missouri and asked to come across to join the Mandans at the Village of the Lop-Sided Lodges, at Fort Abraham Lincoln site.

Photo of Eli Perkins (Bear Robe), 1924biog13-eli-perkins


     Thunderbird Dream

Most dreams were highly regarded by Indians and carefully interpreted.  Here is a dream of 1918 as given by Dr. A.McG.Beede of Fort Yates, N.D.:

“In September 1918, an aged woman related to me the following dream:  ‘I saw big bird coming from the west.  I was afraid and I prayed to Wakantonka.  Have mercy upon me (Wakantonka or Ossimada).  Soon the storm clouds were over me and Mrs. ________ and Mrs. ________ were with me.  The black clouds were near the earth and in the dark clouds there was a black object.  Mrs. ________ said, It is the Thunderbird, I will catch him.  I said, No. The Thunderbird is holy, do not touch him.  But she reached up with her hand and grabbed the Thunderbird by the foot and she pulled him down from the cloud.  Immediately Red Tomahawk was with us and Mrs. ________ said to him, Here you take the Thunderbird.  And she gave him the Thunderbird.”

Photo of Red Tomahawk, 1916biog265-red-tomahawk

“Indians considered this to be a good dream and with remarkable predictions, although one seldom dreams of the Thunderbird and more seldom of seeing or catching him, and such a dream may indicate good things or bad things.  In this case the bird submitted to being caught willingly, which indicated that the Great God was ready and willing to do something important.  It was a woman, who caught the Thunderbird, so it was deemed important concerning women as well as men.  She gave the Thunderbird to a prominent man, which indicated that the thing would be accomplished through prominent men.  Dreaming of catching the bird pertains to war victory.  It was the general opinion that this prophetic dream meant that Americans and the Indians in the Great War would be victorious, and the victory would, in some way, relate or result in benefit to women.  It was the opinion of the Sioux that dreams are clearly predictions of future events, and I took this dream down with a good interpretation, two days after the dream was told.”

Drawing of The Thunderbird by Red Fish, 1915ustoms60-thunderbird

Photo of Welch and A.McG.Beede, 1932customs59-mcbeede-photo




Chapter VIII, Ancient Religious Beliefs of The Sioux

Their Conception of God

In many conversations with the noted Indian woman, Walking on the Shell Woman (Mrs. John Grass), I gained the following impressions of the ancient religious beliefs of the Sioux:

The old time Dakotah prayed to Wakantonka, which certainly was their conception of God.  This old time Wakantonka was the same God they pray to at the present time.  They believed that water, trees, animals, certain living things, and many inanimate objects, such as certain rocks and hills and abstract invisible elements, such as wind and cold, had spirits.

These spirits were often in evidence to certain individuals who were especially favored, and these persons were honored among the people.  This manifestation was often oral as well as visual.  There were good and bad spirits and the Sioux never heard or conceived of a Devil, of Chief of evil spirits, until the coming of the missionary.  Spirits often took up their abode in water, stones or certain wooded places of hills.

Examples are the lake, which they call Minni Wakan (mistranslated into “Devils Lake”) and the sacred stone called Iyan Wakan Gapi (“Holy Idol Stone”), on the Cannon Ball River.  Spirits knew their friends and enemies after they departed this life.  They made friends with humans, and often with those who were strangers to them in life.  They influenced them for good or bad, or as the living one allowed them to.  They often protected them in war and made them wise or foolish as they pleased.

The Indians made offerings of valuable cloth, clothing, robes, tobacco, etc., to Wakantonka, either in petition for favors or in answer to prayer.  They prayed for success in war and in the hunt, for long life, health and honesty, or for the recovery of the health of relatives or friends or themselves.

Photo of Welch and Walking on the Shell Woman, in hospice, 1921customs63-mrs-grass-as-old-lady



In speaking of Holy Stones, this woman once said:

“The Tetons had holy stones.  They had marks upon them.  Sometimes there were small pits upon them.  The people thought that the spirits made these marks.  I still believe that.  When a man prayed to get well and did recover his health, he fulfilled any vow he had made for that to Wakantonka.  He would take some tobacco, or good cloth, and place it on the end of a nice stick on the top of a high hill somewhere.

He was thanking God for being alive.  If he vowed to take the Sun Dance, he always did that thing.  I was born a Minniconjou (1852).  We lived south of the Black Hills.  We passed a high, steep place one time when I was a girl.  The camp was made near it.  The people all went up on the flat top of that rocky hill and made prayers there.  They left many valuable things there.  It was a Minniconjou Sacred Place.  There were twisted trees on the slopes of this high hill.  When I became a woman, we passed it again, but I was with the Sihasapa and they did not stop there.  They did not know that it was a sacred place of the Minniconjou, and kept on after the buffalo herds which were on the move then.”


Bear Hill of the Minniconjou

Mrs. Grass continues: “Then there was another place.  The Minniconjou were on the Minni Duza (“Swift Water” – Niobrara river).  This was close to the Black Hills.  We were going after tipi poles then.  There was a high butte.  We called it Bear Hill.  It was high and was built of slabs of stone like steps.

There were cedar trees there.  All the Minniconjou climbed the hill to the top to pray.  They prayed to Wakantonka.  They wanted to live a long time.  They wanted their children to live, too.  Down below it looked like birds.  We placed much red cloth on sticks.  The old men tied tobacco in bags and hung them on peeled willows.  No one could steal from there.  It was dangerous.  I went there two times.  When I was ten years (1862) and when I was fourteen years (1866).  That was a Minniconjou holy place.”


Crawler’s Sacred Stone

“Crawler” was a Blackfeet (Sihasapa) Sioux, born in 1830 on the Moreau River in South Dakota.  He was from the family of a chief and he attained to some prominence among the Tetons.  He was alive, but frail, in 1908 and lived then at Laughing Woods on the Grand river, some eight or ten miles above Bull Head Sub-Agency on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Photo of Crawler, 1908



The place where he lived was the exact spot where Mrs. Frances Wiggins (Fanny) Kelly was bought from the Hunkpapas in 1862.  A man named “Brings Plenty” owned her at the time.  This man, Crawler, was the man who went into the lodge and offered the horses for her.  The Blackfeet Sioux got this white woman captive at that time and finally turned her over to the whites at Fort Sully in the fall of 1854.

Crawler had a sacred stone for his medicine.  It was nothing but a small iron stone oxidation, flat and about six inches in diameter.  He ascribed wonderful powers and qualities to this stone.  It was Big Medicine.  His own story is that it had been in the possession of his family for over three hundred years and that it was a great power for long life and robust health to its possessor.  He kept this stone wrapped in many coverings of cast-off hair of the buffalo (which drops off the buffalo in large sheets, like felt).  The inside of this stone (convex side), as it is almost saucer-shape, is covered with pictographic symbols.  His story is that it came down out of the sky to an ancestor of his who was singing upon a high hilltop.


Sioux Adopted Stones in Conquered Areas

The idea of Holy Stones was a common among the villager Indians as it was with the Sioux or, it may be, more so.  It is possible that the Sioux were influenced somewhat in this respect by the evidences they saw of Holy Stones during the time when they were obtaining a firm foothold upon the western shores of the Missouri river, which took many years.  They, no doubt, saw many such stones on their forays against the Mandans and Arikara during this somewhat uncertain period.  After these tribes had been expelled, or their hunting regions had become too dangerous on account of the increasing number of Sioux bands, the Sioux, no doubt, held these objects in awe and reverence and continued the practice of sacrifices and prayer in the vicinity and gradually came to claim the sacred stones as their own.


Arikara Hide Their Sacred Stone from the Sioux

“Enemy Heart,” an old Arikara, told the writer in 1922, about a holy Arikara stone which had been left behind when the Arikara left the country south of the Porcupine river in N.D.  The stone was in the vicinity of the Standing Rock in the country a short distance north of where Fort Yates was afterward established.  The story indicates that the Arikara were jealous of their sacred stones and did not appreciate the idea of having the Sioux take possession of them.  The story of Enemy Heart is taken from the writer’s notes as follows:

“For a long time after the Dakotah helped the soldiers burn our villages at the mouth of the Grand river (1823) we used to fight them in that country.  We often went as far as where Fort Yates is now.  I was there one time with a war party.”

“We found a spring of water which flowed out of a hill.  It was a high hill all alone there.  Fort Yates is built upon the south side of it now.  We looked into this water and could see far down in it.  We could see our faces there.  We all looked in it.  It might scare the Dakotah after that.  We placed some food there and some nice arrows by that spring.”

“Near this place there was a stone.  It was about that big around (he held his arms in a circle about 18 inches around).  It was a two-face stone like the one at Crying Hill place.  We sat there and called this stone Grandfather.  Then a big man said, ‘Grandfather, I want to lift you up.  If you let me lift you up, I will make you a promise.  I will take many horses from the Dakotah today.  I will do something very brave.  Let me live a long time.’  Then he took hold of the stone and tried to lift it.  It was very heavy then.  He could not move it.”

“Then a very small young man said, ‘Grandfather, I am a small man.  These other men are stronger than I am.  I am not even a great warrior.  But this is not my fault.  I want to be just as brave as any of the others.  I want you to show them.  I will lift you now.’  So he reached down and lifted the stone very easily.  He carried it all around the circle of men sitting there.  It was not heavy for him then.  No, I do not know why.  It was so as I say.  He then placed it back carefully and left some things he liked there on the ground.  We went away from that place.”

“After that when our warriors were there, they would go to this rock, but no one could ever again lift it alone.  One time when we were down there after Dakotah horses, this little man rode out in front of the Sioux camp.  He called for any man to come out on the level prairie and see who was the bravest.  No one came then.  This man was very brave.  He then went into the enemy camp and untied some horses and the people did not do anything to him.  When our men went back north they stopped at this stone.  Once more the small man carried the Grandfather rock all around.  Then he told the men to take up the stone on sticks.  They did this.  He said, ‘Take it where I go.’  When they got to the spring, which runs out of the high hill, he said, ‘Throw it in the spring.’  They did this thing.  It went down out of sight there.  The Dakotah could not get it now.  It is there yet.”

The spring mentioned in this account still runs out of the hill on the north side.  That is the hill afterward known as “Proposal Hill” at Fort Yates, and who knows but that the Holy Grandfather Stone of the Arikara warrior is still in the bottom of the deep hole from which the spring gushes and, as they said, “hidden from the eyes of their enemies, the Sioux.”


More About the Two Face Stone

The “Two Faced Stone” mentioned by Enemy Heart in the foregoing story, as being at the Village of the Crying Hill, is still in its old time resting place on the hill just east of the Morton County Court House, Mandan, N.D.  Eli Perkins, an Armstrong Arikara, gives an interesting account of it as follows:

“My grandfather told me about that village of Tattoo Face (this is the name sometimes used for the village of Crying Hill).  It was situated all around the end of the hill just east of Mandan where your new school house is now (1921), and it even spread out into the timber of the lowlands there.  It was a large place and the people were strong as there were about three thousand of them there.  But you have the name of it wrong.  It is not Tattoo Face village but the Two Face Village.  I will tell you how it got its name as my grandfather told it to me long ago.  It was this way that name.  Up on the hill close by, was a rock.  It was a holy rock for the people.  It acted very funny, that rock.  Sometimes all the people were gathered there by that stone on the hilltop.  They sat around and smoked.  Then some man would say, ‘Well, I will carry around the stone now.’  So he would go there and all the people would watch him as he picked it up.  It was easy that first time he carried it around.  It was not heavy  bit.  He would carry it around a certain distance and walk around the village with it and up the hills.  Then he would take it back and place it in the same place again.

Then again the people would be there, smoking and having a good time.  Again the same man would come and go to this stone.  He would say, ‘Grandfather; now I am going to carry you around again.  You make as heavy as you can do.”  He bent over to pick up the stone.  It was very heavy now.  He tried to pick it up.  He could not.  It was too much heavy.  He could not move it now, this time.  It was like that all the time.  The first time a man could carry it easily.  The next time, he could not move it at all.  It was a holy rock.

It was a two face stone.  Because of this two-time acting, the people said, ‘It is two-faced,’ and so they called this village, near by, the ‘Two Faced Village,’ for this stone, which was on thing one time and another thing the next time.”


Flying Stones

Seated one hot August day in front of a Sioux lodge, under a shade of boughs, old Ista Maza (“Iron Eyes”), a Sihasapa-Dakotah, told the writer the following story of stones and their uses.  He said:

“In the old times some men could kill things a long distance away from them with a little stone.  They would throw it.  No one could see it go.  After it killed the man or animal it would come back to him.  It would go into his lodge.  The man would put a bowl of water there in front of his tipi.  The little stone would come back and fall into the water.  Then he would wash it and take good care of it and place it in his medicine bag among the buffalo hair.  If he did not treat it well and take good care of it and make it a feast, it would kill him, too.  If you tried to look at it and looked into the tipi where it was, it would


Memorial to Brave Mandans

Close by the cemetery of the old scouts on the site of the old trading post of Fort Berthold, is a strange monument to the memory of a brave fight and the death of a well-known warrior of the Mandans.  The white people erect monuments of stone, dedicate great memorial avenues and arches and bridges and other buildings, commemorate important events in the affairs of nations or display individuals in oil paints or tablets of bronze, but this true monument is the strangest of all.  The following story was told by Young Hawk, Red Fox and Wild, all Arikara, while standing upon the ruins of the old Federated Village of “Fish Hook,” at Berthold:

“The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived together in friendship at the Fish Hook village for a long time.  They built their separate places in the village.  They stayed together to be better prepared to resist the continual harassment of their enemies, more especially, the Sioux.  Sometimes the Chippewa came in, too, to fight us.  But we feared the Sioux and our women used their names to still the children, as everyone feared these brave riders.  They were so bold that they sometimes came right into the village.  Sometimes the enemy would come from the hills to the north and follow down the little creek we call ‘Two Bears creek,’ and get close before we were prepared.  Once there was a great fight in that coulee and the Sioux got clear to the walls of the post there and built fires against the palisade.  One white man killed seven Sioux that day (note – this was the French trader, F. F. Gerard, the uncle of Mrs. Wild, one of the story tellers.  He afterward became the official interpreter for General Custer on his last expedition, but escaped from the destruction with Young Hawk.  He laid out the first plat of the City of Mandan).”

“About sixty five years ago the Sioux made such a raid upon that village there.  In the fighting very close to the walls, right where the cemetery is now, two Mandans were cut off from the village and it looked like they would die there.  The Sioux were very close to them.  One of these warriors was called Left Hand and the other one was Red Leaf.  They had lost their horses and were afoot.  They had a brother who saw them that way.  His name was White Crow and he went out afoot to help them.  Left Hand had been killed when he got there and Red Leaf was trying to keep the enemy from taking his scalp.  The Sioux horseman came along, lying low over his horse’s neck, shooting from under his neck.  When he got within ten feet White Crow killed and him and he fell off his horse there, upon the ground by Left Hand, Red Leaf and White Crow.  The two brothers then carried Left Hand back to the village with his scalp safe on his head.  It was a very brave thing for White Crow to do and Red Leaf had made a good fight,too, alone.  To always remember this thing these three men had done the people decided to draw the pictograph of the fight upon the ground.  This they did and took out the sod so it would always remain that way.  They are there.  I will show you.”

We then walked to the place where this monument is.  There were six gigantic tracks of a horse  coming from the southeast.  These tracks are about two feet across the heel and the track is made by cutting out the sod six inches deep and the same wide.  From the direction of the village were foot tracks, each a foot long and six inches deep and wide.  There were sixteen of these great footprints.  At the closest point of approach to the horse’s trail (10 feet) there were two foot prints set side by side and three feet apart.  This denotes the place where the brother, Red Leaf, was standing over the body of Left Hand and also denotes the place where the reckless Sioux warrior met his death.  A broken iron kettle, a stick with some faded artificial flowers upon it, and another stick with a rag of red cloth, were at this place, denoting prayers and songs.  A hole in the ground also marks the spot where the shot fired at White Crow by the advancing Sioux hit the ground.  These marks commemorate the entire action, which took place in 1853.  They are plainly marked and, when filled with wind blown sand or grass growth, they are carefully renewed by the Arikara, in order to preserve this story of the brave Mandan ally and the death of the reckless, hard-riding Sioux.


Sacred Place of the Dog’s Trail

At another place in the Mandan country on the right bank of the Missouri, at a point almost opposite that of the Federated Villages, is another somewhat similar monument, insofar as the preparation of the ground is concerned.  The story is a strange one and partakes of the nature of Wakan things and occurrences, and it is given just as told to the writer by an old Arikara, “Boy Chief,” who died in 1922:

“There is a hill place east of Ree.  We all know the place.  It is a deep trail in the hill there.  There was a good travois trail coming down to the river at that place one time.  It goes around in a different place now.  A long time ago there was a big man among the people.  He had strong medicine.  He had a dog, which went into a pile of meat and tore it up.  The man drove him out for that.  The dog went out onto the prairie.  He felt bad and very sorry about that man driving him out of camp.  He went out and lay down in the grass.  For four days he laid there.  He did not have any meat or water.  The young men tried to get him to go back to camp.  He would not go.  The young women went and coaxed him to go back.  He would not go.  He lay there.  The man then went out but he would not come back for him, either.  The man got out his medicine pipe.  He went out to this dog.  He held the pipe before the dog, but he would not go.  Finally the dog got up and started to walk.  The man held the pipe in front of HIM.  The dog walked around him.  The man held the pipe in front of him again.  The dog went around him.  Again and again the man stood in front of him with the pipe, but the dog walked around him every time.  And so the dog walked away and was not seen any more.”

“Then, someone passed that way again.  There was a new trail there.  It was about a foot wide and a foot deep, there.  It was crooked in big bends.  Some of the people said that a big snake had gone along that way.  But that was not it.  It was where the dog had walked along.  Everywhere he had gone around the man with the pipe, the trail showed.  It is there yet.  It crossed that trail of the travois, and so the people made a new trail to get down to the river.  They could not cross that dog trail.  If anyone stepped in it, he could not get his feet out of it again.  Something held him there.  He had to go to the end of the trail before he could take his feet away.  So the people had to change the travois trail for that reason.  No one ever stepped over it or in it.  It is very strange.  It is that way today.  If you get in it, you cannot  get out except at the ends of the trail.”


Sacred Stone Near Berthold

“Strikes Two” (b.1844 d.1922), an old Arikara Scout for the Army in the early days, tells a short story of another rock in the Berthold country, which bears some resemblance to the “Sacred Place of the Dog’s Trail” and to the stories of the Standing Rock, also.  He said:

“A long time ago a man got mad about the way the people treated him.  I don’t know what he got mad about.  He got mad.  He went out alone and on foot into the prairie.  Someone went to him where he was.  He was half-stone then.  The people made a procession and took the Medicine Pipe and placed it by his side.  He told them to take it away.  He would not talk to it.  He turned all to stone.  People were afraid of that rock after that.  It is over by the soldier’s place at Berthold.”

The ‘Soldier’s Place’ referred to is old Fort Stevenson, which was a few miles to the east of the trading post called Fort Berthold, but on the same side (or left banks) of the Missouri river.


Finding Stones

One warm night in 1920, the writer sat in a circle of old buffalo-day Sioux, the pipe was passed freely and, as the men were satisfied with plenty of freshly-killed beef, and there was no untoward or negative sign or occurrence, old Chante Peta (Fire Heart)(b.1850 d.1926/7), a Sihasapa-Dakotah, soon began to clear his throat and make other preparations which denoted a speech.  The time was soon after the author had returned from the European War and Fire Heart spoke of that at once.  He said:

“The President made a big mistake.  He took all young men to war.  He should have taken Chasing Fly (b.1848, d.1928) and myself along with him.  We would have ended the war very soon.  We know of some stones.  They are small ones but very strong.  We have had them a long time.  They are Wakan.  In the old days we would build a sweat lodge and cover it to make it dark there.  Then we would go in with the stones and place them upon the ground where it had been fixed nice and the sticks and stones taken away.  Then if we wanted to know where the enemy was, or if any had lost a horse, or a child had strayed away and been lost, we could find them.  We would go to sleep inside the lodge there.  The little stones moved around inside and swung back and for the lodge.  There was buffalo noises there then.  If anyone looked inside to see the stones, they would strike them on the head.  After a while the stones would go away.  Sometimes they went a long distance.  They looked around for the enemy, the horses or the lost child.  Then after a while they would come back and tell us where the lost things were.  They always were right.”

“Sometimes they would bring the thing they were hunting back with them.  One time a man was lost and when the stones returned and the people looked inside the lodge, there was the lost man with the other man.  The stones would not tell everyone, but only us.  Other men had some of them, too.  They would tell only their owners.  Then we would tell the people what the stones said.  We think the Government should have had us with these stones, in the war, and then they could have captured the enemy and killed the Kaiser pretty quick.”

These so-called “Finding Stones” are often talked about among the Sioux, and Dr. A. McGuffy Beede of Fort Yates, a missionary for many years among them, is authority for saying that he had seen some of them move.  He had also seen the wooden medicine bowl swing around the lodge in a circle, three feet above the ground, and unsupported by any human agency.  He says that the Sioux have some of these small stones, still, safely hidden away in some place known only to the two men with whom the author talked.

Photo of Welch and Chasing Fly, Solen, N.D., July 4, 1920ce28chasingfly


Talking Stone of Holy Hill

There is a high hill on the west banks of the Missouri about a half-mile from the U.S. Sub-Agency of the Cannon Ball District.  This is known to the Sioux as Paha Wakan (Holy Hill).  It is there that the last Sun Dance (Wiwanyan wachi) took place and the old pole, to which were tied the rawhide ropes used in the dance, is still lying there upon the ground.  The ridge of the hill runs nearly northwest southeast.  Upon this ridge, in a perfectly straight line, is a line of boulders, thirty-three of them, all evenly spaced.  At the southeast end of the string of boulders formerly was a stone of much larger size than the others in the figure.  No tribal or other sign stones or figure has been discovered near it.  We are told that this figure was there when the Sioux first came into the country, and that the rocks were even there at that time, nearly covered with dust and grass.  It certainly is not of Sioux building, but is held in considerable reverence by them, nevertheless.


Dr. Beede Moves the Talking Stone

Several years ago, Dr. Beede decided to remove the head stone to his churchyard, a mile or more to the southeast of the hill.  Consequently, he applied to the Sioux for assistance but they all declined to have anything to do with the affair.  Finally, however, he persuaded several Arikara and Mandan visitors to assist him.  They proceeded to cut saplings and make a sort of hammock in which they hoped to carry the stone to its new location.  The Indians were very careful not to touch the stone with their hands, but finally succeeded in rolling it upon the platform of saplings, with wooden sticks and bars.  The procession started down the hill and reached the churchyard.  This yard was enclosed with a wooden fence and a swinging gate served as the entrance way.  When the stone was directly in this entrance, a voice was heard, coming from the stone.  The Indians stopped abruptly.  Again, sounds of sighing voices came from the stone.  The Indians dropped the burden and walked away with great dignity and no consideration was strong enough to get them to again take up the stone.  And so it lies there today, and the good missionary, Dr. Beede, was forced to make another entrance to his churchyard.  He is our authority for saying that he heard the voices himself, and that he could not explain the matter satisfactorily.


John Brown’s Story of the Talking Stone

Concerning this same stone, which is lying in its newly-found bed in the churchyard gate of the little Episcopal Mission at Cannon Ball, John Brown, a mixed-blood Sioux, mentioned it in a conversation with the writer in 1917.  He said:

“There used to be a holy stone (Tuncan) by the hill at the Cannon Ball River, but Mr. Beede took it and it is now by his churchyard there.  From that hill where that rock used to be, one may see the two peaks of the Twin Buttes, and the old people say that there was formerly a holy stone there also.  They used to make presents there and you may find them there now, by a little digging around, for these things were left there and became covered with dust.  No one ever took any presents away from such a place, as that would be very bad luck to them.  Looking through the ‘sight’ of this Twin Butte there is another large butte to the west on the Cannon Ball.  The people used to signal with looking glasses from these buttes, to far away, by flashes of light.  There is a stone near this western butte and it is a large one.  It is the Holy Idol Stone and it is called ‘Iyan Wakan Gapi’ and the Sioux call the Cannon Ball, the Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpe.  This stone has paintings upon it.  New ones any time any saw it.  If there were buffalo tracks upon it coming toward you, it meant plenty of meat; but if they were pointed west, it meant that we would be hungry.  There were other signs, which meant success or failure in the hunt or in battle.  The old men knew what these signs meant and could read them.  The story among the older people is that a spirit lived in the stone.  No one ever saw any one paint the stone, but these mysterious paintings were always there.”


A Sacred Stone Recalled by White Man

Mr. Robert Welsh of Mandan, N.D., now connected with the Northern Pacific Railway Company, came, when a boy, to live at old Fort Abraham Lincoln.  He remembers incidents, which occurred, and the arrangements of the Fort very distinctly and, while yet a youth, herded cattle over the hills along the Heart and Missouri rivers.  The country immediately west of the old hill fort site, drains north and east, through a small waterway leading down between the hills, to a point some three miles south of the city of Mandan, at which place it is spanned by a small bridge on the Mandan-Fort Lincoln-Fort Rice highway.  Within a stone’s throw of where that bridge is now located, he remembers a stone around which the Indians were in the habit of planting sticks and wands with colored cloth attached to them.  He describes this stone as an ordinary granite boulder, similar to thousands of the glacial boulders with which the prairies in this vicinity are dotted.  But for some unknown reason, the Indians were to be seen by this one frequently and sacrifices and presents of cloth, tobacco and other things were left around it.  He is not now able to recognize that stone from several others which are lying beside the roadway at that point.  Without doubt this was another of the Sacred Stones of the Indian tribes and commonly known to the four tribes in the Mandan country.


A Talking Stone on the Cannon Ball

On the north side of the mouth of the Cannon Ball river in Morton County, N.D. and about two miles east of the ranch buildings on the historical Parkins Ranch, upon the west end of a rounded spur which juts out from the plateau into the valley toward the west with a commanding view of the entire lower Cannon Ball and Chantepeta, there is another “Talking Stone.”

It also is a granite boulder of a rounded shape and is rapidly being covered with accumulation of grass and wind-blown dirt.  Indications are that most of the stone is now covered but the part, which is to be seen, about two feet by four, is covered with “marks.”  These are full-sized and deeply “pecked” indentation and no doubt have been made by human hands.  Life size tracks of the young cow buffalo, wolves, etc., and other animals and birds may be deciphered upon its surface.

Upon inquiry, which has extended over a period of many years, the writer is given to understand that this Sacred Stone was formerly a Mandan stone.  This is probable, as a very old village site is located within a pistol shot of the stone, and upon the high plateau, which abruptly descends into the Missouri north of the mouth of the Cannon Ball.  This village is, perhaps, Mandan, for we are inclined to believe that practically all such ancient sites north of the Grand River were first occupied by that people.  Some old Sioux have thought that it belonged to the Cheyennes, giving as their reason the fact that the Cheyennes crossed the Missouri from the east after they had deserted their villages on the Sheyenne river in Ransom County, N.D. in that immediate locality and obtained a precarious foothold upon the prairies west of the Missouri and along the Cannon Ball.

There can be little doubt, however, that the village sites at the points where such rivers as the Cannon Ball and the Heart emptied into the Missouri have been occupied by others than the original builders, as those points were the places where many trails converged, coming in from the west and southwest and, as well as being on the well-worn trails which paralleled the great barrier of the Missouri in a north and south direction.  The Sioux do not claim ownership to this rock but in early days treated it with respect and reverence as a Sacred Object of some other people which had fallen to their care.


Buffalo Stone Near Cannon Ball River

Three Sioux, Red Tomahawk (b.1850 d.1931) (the Indian Sergeant of Police who killed Sitting Bull on the Grand River), All Yellow and Kill Spotted once called upon the writer to talk.  During that conversation All Yellow said:

“You asked me a long time ago about some sacred stones around.  I have got some of them.  They are not far from where I live in the wintertime.  When you come we will see them.  One of these stones was a buffalo once.  It is rock now.  It lies there upon the ground.  The head is off.  I cannot find that head.  But it was a buffalo one time.  It is a big stone.  You can have it now if you want it.  It is not far from the Cannon Ball River.  There are several other Tuncan around there.  They have drawings upon them.  The people made presents and feasts for them in the old times.  They put tobacco there and cloth on straight, peeled sticks.”


Man Stone Near Pierre

No opportunity has presented itself for an examination of these stones that All Yellow mentioned.  Continuing, All Yellow referred to the objects which were seen and described by the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition on “Idol Stone Creek,” just south of the present North and South Dakota boundary and on the left shores of the Missouri.  He said:

“Down on the hills toward where Pierre is, is another stone.  It was a man one time.  There is another stone there, too.  It is by the feet of the stone man.  It is a dog.  Something got them there and turned them to stone for something, I think.  I do not know.  It is very wakan.”


The Dead Grass Stone of the Arikara 

The Arikaras have a stone, which they call the “Dead Grass Stone,” which appears to have been in their possession for a great many years.  Old men have told the writer that it was brought with them from the Grand river country after they had made a peace treaty with the Mandans and had finally removed from the South Dakota regions to live close to the Mandans and the Gros Ventre, the better to protect themselves from their enemies, the Sioux.

This removal was sometime after the Leavenworth punitive expedition (1823) had destroyed their villages above the mouth of the Grand River.  After that fight, in which the U.S.Army troops were assisted by Major Pilcher with some 700 Sioux as allies, many of the Arikara fled to their relatives, the Pawnee of Nebraska, and remained with those people for several years.

The final and complete removal into Mandan territory probably took place in 1830, at which time it is said that the stone had been recovered from the ruins of their burned villages and brought to the Knife river country where it was once more erected in the ceremonial dancing grounds in the center of their village, south of the Medicine Lodge.  Here it remained until the Arikaras fled across the Missouri and once again asked for protection from their long-suffering friends, the Mandans.

At the new village of Fort Berthold the stone was set up again in the Arikara quarter of the village, where it remained until the desertion of that village upon the occasion of the allotment of lands, when it mysteriously disappeared.

Nothing more was heard of the sacred stone until 1921, when it appeared as mysteriously as it had been lost.  The occasion of its reappearance was the dedication of an Indian dance hall upon the river bank about three miles from the old villages at Berthold.  This hall is eight or twelve sided, built of logs in much the same form as the old traditional lodges of the Arikara, with the exception that the walls were entirely of logs and the roof is of shingles.  The writer was invited guest at that ceremony.

Upon the morning of the festivities the sacred rock was found standing at the south of the lodge and there was great rejoicing among the people.  The rock is a granite boulder about 24 inches tall, ten inches wide and about 6 inches thick.  It shows no “marks” as far as it was seen, for it was covered with cloth from about the middle part to the ground.  It stands upon its largest end and has a line of red paint around it, parallel to the ground, just above the middle part.  The writer was told that a medicine man had secretly gone back to the Fort Berthold village, after its desertion, and had taken the stone away from that place and secreted it near his own lodge, where it remained for many years until a suitable place had been found for it.

A photograph in our possession, taken by Capt. Wm. Badger of the U.S.Army in 1873 at Fort Berthold, shows this stone standing before the Medicine Lodge of the Arikara in their section of the Federated Village there.

Photo of the Medicine Lodge of the Arikara, showing Sacred Stone and Mother Cedar Tree, 1872customs76-mother-cedar-tree-and-sacred-stone

Today the sacred stone stands before the lodge of the Dead Grass Society and the significant ceremonies of the Arikara are still performed in its presence, and it is treated with respect and reverence by that people.  It is believed to be the original stone which has stood in the ceremonial space of their principal village since the time when they first occupied the Grand river sites over 125 years ago (1790’s).


 A Sacred Stone of the Sioux, Record of an October 1932 Visit

Photo of Welch drawings and typed details of location of  a Sacred Stone of the Sioux, October 1932customs74-sacred-sioux-stone




Chapter IX, Circles of Stone

     Circles of Stone

All through the Missouri river country and, more especially, that part which lies between the Cannon Ball and the Knife on the west shores and between Beaver Creek and the Lake of the Painted Woods on the east, may be found certain systemically formed “Stone Rings or Circles.”  These round patterns, or mosaics, are formed by stones placed side by side, describing a more or less well-formed circle.

They are of various diameters, the largest which we have measured being forty feet across and the smallest twelve feet across.  Some of these circles are formed with a single line of stones, others have two well-defined circles, one within the other, and a few have been found with three or more lines of stone laid closely together, forming a “circle” which was wide like a paved walk.

The commonly accepted version of the farmers upon whose lands these are to be found is that they are rocks which have been used to hold the bottom of the lodges from being flapped by the wind.

This idea, however, is discarded for the rings, or circles, are to be found where lodges would not have been erected, in all probability.  An examination of those upon the east half of section eighteen, township 137, range 81, as well as many others, confirms us in the belief that they are ceremonial places.  The position of those on section eighteen is the highest part of the country in that locality, being but little lower than the Little Heart Butte, which bears to the southeast.  From this rocky ridge a splendid view is to be had of the country in practically all directions, especially to the north, east and south.  The elevation is a plateau of not great extent, and along the east side of this level prairie, and on the ridge in which it terminates on the south, sixteen well-defined “rings” were found.

The majority is about six paces in diameter; one was thirty feet, one forty and another was twenty-four feet across.  Most of these are made of two or more lines of stone set closely together.  The stones are quite regular in size, about as large as a peck measure or larger.  The regularity of the position of the stones indicates that they were not used as weights for tipi edges, for stones used for that purpose would have been rolled out of line when breaking camp, and they are too heavy for that purpose.

Lodges would certainly not have been put up in that place during the winter time and, if they were there during the summer, the complete circumference of the lodge would not have been weighted down, but would have been left free to open to the side from which the cool winds blew.  No half circles have been found.  There is no wood at that place, neither is there water, but  within a half mile, flows a small creek of sweet water where a camp would have had all the necessities of water, wood, shelter and grazing.

Down in this valley of the springfed watercourse, which is fully one hundred feet deep and very ancient, are many other similar rings, some of them being on level ground and others being on decided slopes.  They are not of glacial formation, as the great number of them and their regularity as to shape and entrance clearly indicates the work of human hands.  This entrance is a space of some two or three feet across, entirely free from stone, and in most cases is in the direct eastern part of the circle, or nearly so, and shows a positive purpose or design.  In the center of the circles a larger stone is almost always to be found, which also indicates a definite purpose.


     Inktomi, the Spider, Made Them

The stones of the circles are, in many cases, almost covered with the accumulation of wind-blown dust and sand.  A few have been seen, where no stones were seen at all, the only indication of the formation being by the grass-free spot over the rocks.  The supposition is that they are of great age and the Indians claim that they were here when they came into the country.

Conversations with the Sioux regarding them nearly always end with the remark that “Inktomi made them.”  Among the Sioux, Inktomi, or the Spider, was the wisest creature and possessed of wonderful powers of changing himself into any other form he desired.  Great feats of strength are also ascribed to him.  Any peculiar form of petrification, or rock, is supposed to have been made by Inktomi and even the flint arrowheads were made by him, for the Sioux were not arrow point makers to any extent.


     Stone Circles Predate Known History

The Mandans, Hidatsa and Arikara do not claim to have built these rings and, in fact, say that they did not construct them but that they were made by some people who were here before any of their people came into this country.  The entrances all being toward the east, the fact that they appear to have been constructed both on high hills and low vales, the appearance of a stone altar in the middle of so many of them – are significant and of interest to all students of “ancient mysteries” and “land marks.”


     Then Again, There May Be a Simple Explanation

Observations by Dr. Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), born 1858, recorded in Bismarck, N.D., January 25, 1925:

This well-known Sioux was on a mission to definitely locate the grave of Sakakawea, the Indian woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the mouth of the Columbia and return, 1805-06, and phoned me to meet him at the McKenzie Hotel.  I met him there and gave him my story of “Bull’s Eye,” the Gros Ventre.  This man is the grandson of Sakakawea, who claims that Sakakawea was a full-bred Gros Ventre and was killed during an attack upon a wagon train in the vicinity of Glasgow, Montana, in 1869.  The story, as given to me in council, with all the old men present, is told in another volume of my notes.

When asked about these stone rings, and how he explained their existence, he said:

“I believe that they are stones which were used to place around the tipi bottoms.  We did not always camp in a low place.  It was just according to the circumstances.  We did not care to camp where there was wood, necessarily, for we used buffalo chips for fuel.  If the weather was very hot, we might camp upon the tops of the hills to get what air was stirring.  We often lost or became without tent sticks of wood, and then we used stones to hold the tipi when there was a storm or bad winds.  When we broke camp the stones were simply rolled off the tipi flaps and naturally were in circular form when we left them.  After that they became covered with grass and finally might even be completely covered with sand and soil by the winds.  I am sure that they were tipi circles.”

This observation cannot be taken lightly, for this man spent his early life with the wandering Sioux, travelling as far north as Lake Winnipeg, along the Souris (Mouse) river and into the country north of the present Fort Peck and along the tributaries of the Yellowstone.  He remembers the death of Tatonka Najin (Standing Bull) of the Yanktonaise and many other events.

He left on Jan. 26th for the Gros Ventre camps in the vicinity of Shell creek to hear my Gros Ventre story from the Gros Ventres themselves and will probably go into the Ft. Peck country to inquire of the old men there, if they remember any wagon attack in the Glasgow country in 1869.  (I do not believe the Sioux made this attack, as the train was probably made up of Gros Ventre and it was in the Stony Gros Ventre (Assiniboine) country more than the Sioux, and they were enemies of the Missouri river Gros Ventre).


     Black Bear’s (The Rainmaker) Shrine      

While I was on a visit to the Gros Ventre at their village of “Shell” it was the intention of the writer to visit a certain “Holy Place” of which we had heard much.  This was a pagan altar, or shrine, of a certain Gros Ventre medicine man named Black Bear.  Upon judicious inquiry it was learned that this shrine was at the edge of a great butte overlooking the valley and the river, that old Black Bear had maintained it at that spot for many years and that it was supposed to be very strong medicine.

Black Bear was first visited at his log house in the hope that he would accompany the writer to the place where his actions, while in the presence of his medicine, might be observed.  Upon learning that his visitor would be glad to make him a present of tobacco and, at the same time, leave some articles at the medicine place, he said that the medicine had been removed the fall before.  He said that he had taken that land where he had kept his medicine for a long time before and, after clearing off all the rough stones and grass, he had placed the holy articles upon the ground at the edge of a bluff.  He was a Rain Maker and called the rain to come when it was desired for growing crops of corn, beans, tobacco and other vegetables.  However, he had seen several white people up in that locality and this had frightened him.  He had gone there and taken the sacred articles away from that place for fear that the whites might “walk over it,” or otherwise desecrate the sacred place.  It is now on the top of his house.

The old man’s house was of logs with dirt floor and many strange medicine things hung upon the walls from wooden pegs.  There were also several eagle feather headdresses and other dance gear.  The roof of the place was also of earth and some grass was growing along the ragged edges.  Upon this nearly flat roof were two bleached, paint-streaked buffalo skulls with the horns in, around which had been wound red cloth.  Seven white skulls of horses were lying in a row.  A piece of weather-beaten gingham was pegged out in front of them.  Before the cloth, an old octagonal, barreled rifle and a bow and three arrows lay and, among them, were several sticks stuck into the dirt roof with cloth fluttering from them.  The old medicine man danced and sung while the examination was being made, care being taken not touch any of the articles.

The old, nearly blind Indian said:

“Cousin, I will tell you about these things.  But not now.  There are white people around here somewhere.  A long time ago I had a dream.  I dreamed of these animal people you see up there.  It was a good dream.  I went with the animals.  They told me what to sing after that.  Now, when I sing to them, they bring the rain.  I am a very important man here among these people.  There are not many people that the spirits will talk to.  I am one of them.  I am the last one.  That is why they send the rain here – when I pray and smoke to them.  That is why I am the most important person here.”

The Rain Maker Medicine Man was an important personage in the old days because the Gros Ventre, and other villagers, raised much corn.  La Verendrye received corn as gifts upon his first visit to the villages upon the Heart River in 1738.  This crop formed an important article of their diet and the custom of cultivating placed these villagers in a different class from the nomadic hunters of the other plains Indians.  Failure of their vegetables and corn was a calamity to them and rain was as eagerly looked for then as it is now.

It was to be expected, then, that some individual would produce some medicine for producing the rain, even as they danced for buffalo, which meant meat for them.  Old Black Bear is the last one living of these old medicine men among the Gros Ventre.  For a description of another rain maker see the letters and journals of George Catlin relating to the actions of a medicine man of the Mandans whose name was Wakadahehee (Hair of the White Buffalo) and who, through the power of his medicine, caused the rain to come to that village.


Chapter X, Gros Ventre Graves near Shell

In the spring of 1923 the writer visited the Gros Ventre village of “Shell,” north of Elbowoods.  After certain ceremonies had ended we drove to the high hills toward the west of the village in the bend of the Missouri.  The summits of these hills are about 250 feet above the valley of the Shell and Missouri rivers and we were compelled to leave the auto at the foot of the range.  We climbed the steep grass-grown slopes to the top.  This proved to be a narrow, knife-like ridge jutting out into the valley.  At intervals outcroppings of sandstone appeared.  These strata were broken and weathered into many shallow caves and overhanging ledges.

There were many Indian graves of the Gros Ventre along the ridge, which we followed for perhaps a half-mile.  We counted over fifty graves where shallow excavations had been made to receive the bodies of the dead, and where the remains could be seen wrapped in blankets or duck tenting cloth.  These graves were not filled with earth, but rude roofs of poles and grass had been constructed after the body had been laid in the grave.  These roofs had fallen in after a season or two and made a rather gruesome burial place on the hilltops.  The older graves were filled in and covered with loosely thrown stones in some instances.

There appeared to have been no selection of location, as they were placed closely together in some places and then far apart in others, and most of the burials indicated an east and west grave, with the head placed at the west.  In some of the shallow caverns in the sandstone ledges two or more bodies lay, and the low and narrow entrances were blocked in a rough manner with stones to keep out night animals.  Human bones and pieces of blankets and rotted clothing lay scattered around over the ground.  I saw no indication of the usual offerings of cloth or paint, tobacco, arms, artificial flowers or fruits in any place.

Twenty-seven bodies, presumably of children, were in cheap trunks placed simply upon the surface of the ground or wedged into rocky places with stones for weights upon the lids to keep the strong winds from blowing the trunk or its contents down into the valley below the cliffs.

We lifted the lids of several (some were locked) and found the bodies in them to be wrapped roughly with old blankets or shawls.  At the extreme point of our investigations there were many graves, one recently made.  Upon later inquiry it was learned that the burial had been made that day and to have been a nephew of old Black Bear, the Rain Maker of the Gros Ventre.

Many other surface burials could be seen from this point, as practically all the high points in the vicinity were utilized in that manner.  Apparently little concern is shown in the careless disposal of the Gros Ventre dead and the absence of any well-defined trails leading to the high places indicated few visitors.  One body, upon which a few stones had been thrown at burial, had not been re-covered by those who must has passed in the Black Bear party, but lay scattered around by the wolves in a very gruesome way.


These Gros Ventre formerly buried in trees or upon scaffolds and the Government has been trying to stop that custom.  But in this out of the way burial place is evidence that little progress is being made along this line and the customs of ancient times still continue along the banks of the Missouri in the country of the Gros Ventre.


Chapter XI, Children’s Funeral Tree at Fort Berthold

Children’s Funeral Tree At Old Fort Berthold

As to the tree burial of the villagers (with the exception of the Arikara, who buried in the ground) H. A. Larned of Lansing, Michigan told the writer of a “Funeral Tree” at old Fort Berthold.  This gentleman was a member of the ill-fated Capt. Fiske wagon expedition which wound out from Fort Rice in the early 60’s, bound for the gold fields of Montana.  When they reached the edge of the Bad Lands in southwestern North Dakota, they were attacked by a strong party of Hunkpapa and Sihasapa Sioux, which had just left the battlefield at the Kill Deer Mountains, where they had engaged Gen. Sully.  Later on, Larned became a clerk for the post trader at Fort Rice, a Mr. Galpin, who was the husband of the famous Indian woman, Wambdiautapewin (Eagle Woman which all Look At).  While at Ft. Rice, he was sent up to Fort Berthold to assist Durfee and Peck, traders, in their accounting system.  He said:

Indian burial treescustoms82-burial-tree

“I think their stockade was about 200 feet square with a bastion at the southeast and northwest corners.  These bastions were of two story construction; the second story being built crosswise of the first.  The stockade was about twelve feet high of logs set firmly in the earth.  Our place was pretty close to the riverbank at this point and the space between the river and us was clear of Indian lodges, clear to the river.  There was a large tree at the top of this bank at our northwest corner and, in this tree; we counted over 500 little bundles, each of which contained the body of an infant, hung there by the Indians.  Some of these were Mandans, but most of them were Gros Ventre, I believe.  The Arikaras buried in the ground, out at the bottoms of the cliffs of the range of hills to the northeast of our position, but sometimes along the edge of the top of the cliffs.”

The Arikara claim that they had been instructed by some holy person to always bury in the ground as they came from the earth and must return to the earth after death.  The Sioux, Mandans and Gros Ventre used trees or scaffolds.


Chapter XII, Mayan Statuette Found near Mouth of Heart River

In the spring of 1921, two boys were following a plow, which was at work on the farm of Mrs. Matilda Welsh about three miles south of Mandan, on the Mandan-Fort Abraham Lincoln-Fort Rice Highway, and from the turned-up dirt picked up a strange object which they sold for a dime to a Mr. Allen, Taxidermist, in Mandan.  Later it came into the possession of the writer.  The object was in the semblance of a human being and evidently made of adobe clay.  It is very grotesque, with a large ear and neck ornaments, very crudely fashioned fingers, bracelets upon the writs, scratches for toes, the body being very foreshortened, and has a wide, smooth place between the legs.  It had been broken by the plow when unearthed and the top of the head from above the eyes has not been found.  It is 3 1/4 inches across at the elbows, 1 1/4 inches at the greatest thickness and 6 inches high from the broken forehead to the base.

Many theories have been advanced regarding the figure.  But the most acceptable and probable one is from the experts of the Field Museum of Natural History at Chicago.  These gentlemen have examined the statue and unhesitatingly pronounce it to be of Mayan origin, but would advance no theory as to how it came to be in North Dakota, thousands of miles from the place where it was made.

According to these men the method of making was simple.  An original shell was generally made in gold and was hollow at the back.  Clay was pressed into this hollow and, becoming hard, was then removed and the cast was complete.  The image has been shown to many Sioux and they all say that it was the first one they had ever seen.  The Arikara, however, and the Gros Ventre said that it might have been made by some old woman of their people, but did not think it had been.  Crow’s Heart, Second Chief of the Mandans, when shown the image, said:

“The Mandans used to have some figures of clay.  They were not spoken of by everyone.  They were medicine and belonged to someone.  A spirit showed the old people how to make such things in clay.  That was down at the mouth of the river (Mississippi).  Those things were strong medicine.  They were used only in the ceremony of ‘Man and Woman.'”   Black Shield is the last Mandan who performed this ceremony.  He did it when we lived at the Knife River villages a long time ago.  He made the medicine a great feast.  After a feast he carried it out on a flat place there.  He buried it in the ground then.  That was the last one.  I think the one you have is one of these things.  I never saw one myself, but I have heard of that one Black Shield had.  I would tell you about the ceremony, but I don’t know much about it.”

Based upon the opinion of the authorities of the Field Museum, it is quite probable that this image, the only one of the human form except of twigs, hide and wood, which we have ever seen in this plains country, originated in the Mayan country south of Mexico City and, in some manner, either a foray or finding or trading, it came into the possession of the Mesa Dwellers or Arizona and New Mexico, and has been passed along the same manner until it came into the hands of the Arikara or Mandans who brought it with them when they came into the upper Missouri river country.  The place where it was found was the mouth of the Heart river 120 years ago and is known to have been the point where many trails converged from the west and

southwest, and midway between two of the principal settlements of the Mandans of the Heart river Villages at the time of La Verendrye’s visit in 1738.  It probably became the strong medicine of some Mandan Medicine man who might have lost it or buried it in ceremony along the old trails which followed the west banks of the Missouri long before white invasion of this upper river territory.

Upon presentation to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, it was identified as a “Second Copy” from the original mold of gold and their experts pronounced it to be “Mayan” make.

Photo of Newspaper article concerning the Mayan Statuettecustoms82-mayan-statuette-article


Chapter XIII, Winter Counts

The Sioux have kept their tribal histories in a painting which they call “Winter Counts.”  Upon two such counts, now in the possession of the writer, this history begins in 1772.  One of these is a Sihasapa count and the other is Hunkpapa – both Sioux.  These interesting counts of the winters, or years, show pictographs of the principal events of the several years, which took place among the people of the tribes.  The older members refer to certain events when telling their age or referring to some historical incident.  For instance, Chief John Grass, when asked when he was born, said been born four winters after the “Stars Changed Place Winter.”  It is well known, of course, that in the year 1833 the world passed through a swarm of asteroids.  The Indians were observers of that phenomenon and the pictograph for that year shows the stars and is described as “Stars Changed Places.”  So Grass was born in 1837.  Others are known as “We killed a White Buffalo Winter,” “Four Horns was Killed Winter,” “Snowshoe Winter,” “Sitting Bull was Killed Winter,” etc.

Photo of No Two Horns Winter Count – Welch’s Basement Wall, c.1934customs85-winter-counts


The count is read from the upper right hand corner of the canvas, reading from right to left and around the edge to place of beginning and then following the roughly indicated circle of pictogrlaphs to the end.

First year is 1784-85 (“Some Dakotah saw a white woman dressed in white, near the mouth of the Missouri river near the ocean”).

Last Year is 1912-1913 (“The year when the soldier was adopted winter.” – referring to the adoption of Welch).


Although this ‘painting’ is missing and the photo  is very poorly preserved, this article helps to better understand the meanings in this Winter Count:

Photo of Newspaper print of Winter Countcustoms86-winter-count-article

20     1804-05     Many Horses Tails Camping Winter.  They sing with them, too.

21     1805-06     The Sioux killed eight of the enemy.

22     1806-07     A Scout on the hill in winter time.  When we got there he was dead.

23 1807-08 “One Eyed” was killed then.

24 1808-09 First to get brass rings for his hair ornaments.

25 1809-10 We found many blue feathers that winter time.

26 1810-11 Sioux and an enemy both shot through with arrows fighting.

27 1811-12 A man got a white horse with iron shoes on.

88 1872-73 “Standing Buffalo” killed by someone unknown. Up north on a creek place.

89 1873-74 The whites killed “Bad Bird” winter.

90 1874-75 “Rain in the Face” was a prisoner at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

91 1875-76 Found a barrel of whiskey.  Had a good time winter.

92 1876-77 “Long Hair” (Custer) killed by the Sioux.

93 1877-78 “Poor Bear” died then.

94 1878-79 “Two Bears,” a chief, dies winter.

95 1879-80 “Crazy Bear” was carried back on a blanket, then.

96 1880-81 “Cracks his Head” gives a big feast winter time.


Chapter XIV, White Spirit Woman’s Story

The year 1772 is called “White Spirit Woman Winter” and the story as told by Blue Thunder, Sioux historian born in 1836, is as follows:

“Then the chief built a very large tipi.  He placed the best sleeping furs there.  There was wood there and water all the time.  It was ready for the spirit woman and the people all watched for her to come then.  She came one time.  She came walking across the prairie toward them.  They met her and took her in.  They gave her the best tipi and the finest and softest sleeping furs, then.  She told all the people many things.  She gave the redstone pipe to them and taught them its uses.  She gave them new songs and ceremonies.  They treated her very well.  Then she was gone.  This is the story of the Spirit Woman in White Winter.  What she taught them is another story, too.”

It is said by both the Mandans and the Sioux that this spirit woman appeared to both of these tribes on the same day.  To the Sioux she gave the arrow and meat and the promise of a return visit.  To the Mandans she gave a turtle shell drum, which they still have in their possession today.  Crow’s Heart says that “First Man” gave them the drum, but others of the tribe claim that it was the Spirit Woman.  Crow’s Heart says:


She Gave Them the Turtle Shell Drum

“This turtle shell drum is about 20 inches across.  I have seen it, but not all of it.  It is very sacred.  The drum has been kept by 34 priests (Medicine Men).  When one priest died, another took it.  The last priest was my grandfather and his name was Moves Slowly.  He was 85 years old when he died.  He was the last one of 34 generations of priests.  When my grandfather died my mother kept the drum he had and Ben Benson, a full Mandan, took the other two and they have them yet.  My mother is now 65 years old.  Her name is ‘Scatter (the writer thinks this is ‘Scatter Corn,’ who is also the ‘keeper’ for the Mandan Memorial of the Flood).  I heard that the story says there is a little buffalo inside that drum.  Sometimes they open the drum and take out the hair which this buffalo sheds.  I never saw that buffalo.  A woman is not supposed to keep the drum, but my mother was Moves Slowly’s daughter and she got it that way.”

The hill where this spirit woman first visited the young Sioux hunters is called by them Paha Wakan (Holy Hill).