Seven Fires (Dakotah History, 1823, Planning toward a Teton Sioux Nation capable of forever resisting encroachment by the whites) written by COL. A. B. WELCH

A special thanks to readers for their positive comments on all these posts of Welch’s efforts of long ago


The Seven Fires

(Dakotah History)



1823, in the Northern Great Plains.  The Dakotah enjoy their ancient, nomadic, free life.

However, wise men realize, that without a consolidation of their scattered tribes, they may soon lose their all their lands to the onrushing hordes of whites.

An attempt is made to convince their relatives, the Isante (living in Minnesota and in contact with the whites), to move to the west bank of the Missouri and join with the Teton Sioux in a land abundant in wild game.  There to become a formidable force to forever resist the white man.

This in-depth depiction of their “1823 lifestyle” (endorsed by Edmund Heye and other influential historians of the 1920’s) is developed from interviews, conducted from early 1900’s through 1924, with his adoptive father, John Grass, and old men and women whose “fathers” and “grandfathers” were the participants in these adventures.

While Welch maintains the “1823” theme he introduces several of his old warrior friends as the principals in events which are related to the lifetimes of their fathers and grandfathers


The Seven Fires …  TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction:       The old chief tells his grandfather’s story of 1823

Chapter One:        The Teton’s message to the Isante  – “Let us form an impregnable Dakotah Nation west of the Missouri River”

Chapter Two:       Charging Bear visits Fort Snelling

Chapter Three:    Charging Bear’s Tetons return to the Missouri, striking the enemy (an Arikara hunting party) enroute

Chapter Four:     Charging Bear reaches his camp

Chapter Five:      The Dead Village

Chapter Six:        The Spirit Bear Story of the Dead Village

Chapter SevenSome Ceremonies of the Sioux

Chapter Eight:   Charging Bear undergoes the ordeal of the Sun Dance of the Sioux

Chapter Nine:    The wooing of Many Thank You Woman and the duties of a wife

Chapter Ten:      The wedding of Charging Bear and Many Thank You Woman

Chapter Eleven: Charging Bear crosses the Missouri and heads for the Grove of Tall Oaks and a meeting with Little Crow

Chapter Twelve: The Grove of Tall Oaks and the meeting of the Dakotah tribes

Chapter Thirteen:Treachery of the Arikara against traders will present the Sioux at Grove of Tall Oaks an opportunity for revenge

Chapter Fourteen: The “Preliminaries” at start of the gathering of the Dakotah Nation at the Grove of Tall Oaks

Chapter Fifteen: The Council of the Seven Fires  – Charging Bear’s great plan is rejected

Chapter Sixteen: Review of the Isante decision not to move to a “Teton Stronghold” and preparation for War against the Arikara

Chapter Seventeen: Leavenworth’s Expedition approaches the heavily-fortified Arikara Village

Chapter Eighteen: The Battle with the Arikara

Chapter Nineteen: The Sioux acquire the country


No.1:    Alphabetical list of Indian names

No.2:   Explanatory notes on Persons mentioned

No.3:   Historical notes on Tribes mentioned

No.4:   Biography of A.B.Welch

No.5:   Background and endorsements supporting this book

No.6:   Homelands of Indian Tribes in the Dakotas after the Fight of 1823

No.7:   Map of Arikara Villages…Leavenworth Expedition…July & August 1823


Introduction:      The old chief tells his grandfather’s story of 1823


We sat before the chief’s lodge one evening in 1915, while across the camp circle lights of small cooking fires gleamed and shadows passed before them.  The sound of throbbing drums and the high tones of the singing women in the dance came to us occasionally upon the wings of the soft summer night wind.  The dance was at the Bull Head Camp.  We sat in silence, smoking.  At last the dignified old Chief spoke:


“My son, I want to say a few words.  I have seen a picture.  Gives the Flag Man showed it to me.  It is a good picture but a sad one for me to look at.  It shows an Indian upon a gray hill and the sky beyond.  Below is a river flowing by and the land reaches far away to the eastward.”

“The Indian is a Dakotah.  I know by the way he wears his hair.  He is proud as he stands there, but there is a look of no hope upon his face.  He is sad.  He understands.  He knows that the old, happy, free days are gone.  The great Dakotah Nation will soon be no more.  The orators and statesmen will soon be gone.  Our great soldiers and their warriors are dead or are very old men now.  The big hunting parties no more go to the Black Hills or into the Big Horn or along the Yellowstone.  We hoped it would be different.”

“We had great men among us men with good hearts and big brains.  We never fought the white people until they struck the first blow.  We were brave, but we did not know how to make gunpowder.  So we were driven away, as a horse tied to a picket rope, from one place to another.  Now we are here.  We were happy in the old times and they who say we were miserable then do not know.”

“I have always been a friend to the whites and tried to lead my people in the best road.  It has often been hard, but I have done what my heart told me was right.  I have signed many treaties.  My people tried to live by them.  When we broke them we were punished.  When the whites did not want to live by them they came with more soldiers and other treaties for us to sign.”

“My name is Mato Watakpe.  I can count many grandfathers and they all bore this name.  It is a famous name among the people.  It is an honorable name.  I have tried to live and not bring disgrace to this myself.  Now I am old.  I have given my name to you.  My days of doing great deeds are nearly gone.  My people will soon bear my broken body to the Holy Ground.  I will go to join by fathers where they are.  I think they will be glad to see me and will welcome me.”


“While I am yet here, I want to tell you this story as my father told it to me.  Listen well and write it in your book, so all the people will know that Mato Watakpe, the Sihasapa Tintonwan, is a man of honor and history.”

Editor’s note:  Chief John Grass was born in 1845 and died 1918 at Fort Yates, N.D.  His ‘warrior’ name was Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear) which he gave to A. B. Welch, his adopted son, in 1913. 



Chapter One:     The Teton’s message to the Isante  – “Let us form an impregnable Dakotah Nation west of the Missouri River”


In the days when the Mdewakanton Sioux lived by the big river (the Mississippi), a party of about twenty armed men came warily down to a ford which led across the main channel of the Minisota Wakpe (Minnesota River).1  For some time the men carefully watched the timber and the skyline of the other side of the valley and then made the crossing, silently, and disappeared within the depths of the bottom woodland.

For a time they followed along the game trails which led along the foot of the bluffs, moving silently but swiftly.  Every man was alert and cautious and no time was lost where trails crossed or old camping places were to be seen.

After an hour’s steady travel the leader, a young man of about twenty seasons, and already wearing the red-quilled tail feather of an eagle in his hair,2  suddenly stopped short and sniffed the air.  He sensed a taint of smoke which drifted lazily through the woods and the party obeyed his signal and turned abruptly to the right and ascended to the highlands through a steep, wood-covered gully.  Upon reaching the level country they left the river valley and, without confusion or argument, struck off in another direction, apparently certain of their destination.

Through park-like uplands the going was good and the party made rapid progress.  Late that night, in the close, tangled wilds of an evergreen thicket, a small cooking fire was made and a hearty meal of roasted venison and parched corn was prepared.  The venison had been secured that day but the corn they carried had been taken from the dirt lodges of the Mandans, in a village to the north of the Talking Stone (Cannon Ball River).3

The fire was extinguished after the meal; all signs of a stopping-place were obliterated and, without further rest, the party once more punched on under the clouded moon.  The country became more open as they advanced into the east and within a short time the clouds drifted away and flooded the entire land with bright light.

The leader considered it safer to travel by day than to trust the deceptive moonlight and, consequently, another stop was made, with two sentinels posted to keep close lookout for any chance night-traveling enemies, the tired warriors waited the day.

As the east became rosy with the dawn the journey was resumed.  A great impatience seemed to possess the young leader as he urged his companions to hasten and landmark after landmark was passed with a steady, swift pace and with few stops.

At the time of the high sun of the new day the bluffs of the Haha Wakpe (Mississippi River)4 were in view. Early in the afternoon the party stood upon the cliffs where the great men of the past had been buried (site of Indian Mounds Park).5  Far below these ancient holy mounds the wide river washed the rocky cliffs.  To the right, and across the river, the smoke from the white man’s village arose, white and straight.  At the left the cliffs bore away from the water and there, upon the level bottom-land below the Indian Mounds, lay the village of thirty or more scattered lodges of the their relative, Little Crow, the Mdewakanton Sioux.

Great excitement was evident in the village.  For a short time before the party appeared upon

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the Holy Mounds Hill, a runner had brought the information of the approach of the strange party.  Men were running through the camp and the heralds were shouting instructions and, presently, a group of men, plumed and armed, started up the steep slopes towards the scared mounds where the visitors stood waiting patiently.

As Little Crow’s warriors came within bow-shot the leader stepped forward to the edge of the cliff and held up his right hand high above his head, palm to the front, indicating that they came in peace.  The approaching warriors stopped short  – “The Peace Sign. They are friends.”  The party formed into a procession and a low chant arose as they went forward.

The two leaders advanced, clasped hands and uttered a guttural “Hao.”  Each warrior of the new arrivals crossed over and solemnly shook hands with the head men of the villagers, after  which they all rested themselves upon the grass in a circle.

For some time no one spoke.  The leader of the Mdewakantons waited for the strange chief to declare his intentions; the stranger sat in studied indifference.  High in the air an eagle circled and screamed.  The eyes of the stranger lifted and searched the sky to catch the wheeling speck.  The omen was evidently pleasing to him.  He arose to his feet at once and addressed himself to the leader of the villagers:

“I am of the Tintonwanna. These others are my brothers.  The great men who have sent me will say certain things through my mouth to your Chief, Little Crow.”

A low, murmured “Hao” was the response from the villagers and the stranger sat down.  From a buckskin pouch, decorated with porcupine quillwork, the leader of the villagers produced a redstone pipe,6 fitted into it a long, flat stem of ashwood, carefully filled the bowl with kinnikinick7 which was also taken from the pouch and, with steel and flint, soon caused the white smoke to curl upward from the bowl.  With the aid of a pipestick, the kinnikinick was packed and he then took a few deep puffs of the smoke and exhaled it through his lips with a peculiar, hissing sound.  He then arose and, crossing the circle, handed the pipe, stem first, to the dignified stranger who took it and also drew two or three strong puffs and, as silently, returned it to him.

At this point in the ceremonies two young men left the circle, descended the bluffs, entered the village and soon appeared before the lodge of the Chief.  A full report was made to him and they were sent back with the message that the strangers would be welcome when the shadows touched the tall tree upon the shore.  After this word had been delivered to the visitors, pipes were passed freely although few words were spoken.

In the village preparations were commenced for a feast.  Quantities of meat were put upon the fires to broil, wild rice was prepared with the sweet meat of wildfowl and coffee, from the store of the trader, Joseph Renville, was ground between two, flat stones.  The warriors dressed themselves in their finest buckskins and the women repainted the red streak at the parting of their raven hair.

All was in readiness when the party upon the hill of the sacred mounds started down toward the river village.  As the strangers approached with their escort they were met by numbers of warriors who joined the parade in the rear.  The escort chanted a song as they entered the village:

“I am Tintonwan.  I speak words from them who sent me.”

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Drums were being beaten within the ceremonial enclosure and the song was taken up at the entrance of the booth by four women who wore war bonnets8 and carried hoops covered with fur.  The procession circled the village and finally entered the enclosure at the only open space, which was in the exact eastern point of the rough circle.

This enclosure was made of boughs stuck into the ground and held upright by being intertwined with willow switches and was the place of ceremonies, being about sixty by eighty feet.  Many warriors were already inside and grouped about their Chief, Little Crow, who sat upon the ground across the circle from the entrance and facing it.

The strangers were motioned to seats upon the ground to the left of the Chief while the village warriors seated themselves around the sides of the enclosure.  A herald then walked around the circle shouting that strangers were in the camp and that everybody should honor them and listen to what they had to say.  A murmur of approval was given by those who sat in the great circle, followed by a deep silence throughout the village.

Finally the young leader of the strangers arose and walked slowly to the center of the group.  Tall and straight, and with head held high, he turned and slowly surveyed the seated warriors.  His features were more finely molded than those of the villagers.  His lips were thin, his large mouth was straight and firm, and every feature denoted strength of purpose. He was darker, perhaps, and, although a young man, deep lines had appeared around his keen eyes.  His moccasins were covered with porcupine quillwork, done in geometrical designs of black, yellow and red.  His loincloth was of soft, white elk-skin, a string of handmade sapphire beads and a large silver medal hung about his neck.  A single red-quilled eagle feather was fastened in his black hair which was dressed in two heavy braids intertwined with otter fur and hung over his ears and in front of either shoulder.9  Facing the Chief, he slowly raised his right arm above his head to its full height and spoke:

“I am Mato Watakpe, a Sihasapa of the Tintonwanna.  These others with me are Tintonwanna and are our brothers.  The lodges of my band, the Blackfoot, are in the valleys which lie to the westward in the path of the setting sun.  For many winters the great men of the Seven Fires have advocated a closer federation of the different divisions of the Seven Tribes.  We people of the prairie have taken part in the Council of the Seven Fires and believe the advice given there is good.10

“My people who live in the west held a council when the last snows melted.  At the place of the three high hills where the Talking Stones are.11  There, many wise men sat down together.  My father (ed note: Sicola), whose name is known to you, was there and I sat beside him.  They have sent me to you and others have gone to the Keoza where the Wahpekute live.  Six days ago we swam the Minishoshe and new we are here.  I speak these words to you: (see map of direct line route from the Talking Stones Hills to the Falls of St. Anthony on page 10)

You people are of us and what I say affects you directly.  When Little Crow and Wapasha of the Mdewakanton, Red Thunder and his son, Waaneta, the the Yanktonaise, Spirit Walker and Smutty Bear, the Yankton, and other chief men of our people led their men into the country of the Ohio to fight with the British against the Long Knives, whose government is at Washington, 12 the British gave my father this medal which I wear and promised up like this:

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“No more St. Louis whites should come among us.  The lands we occupy should be ours forever, to live in and hunt in.”

“But what has actually happened?  Listen well.  Many white people are now upon the waterways of the west;  LcConte, Chose and LaFramboise, white men, have built houses of dry timber there; traders and trappers of fur use our river water for easy paths to the north and west country13 and fireboats have been up the great river almost to our hunting grounds.14  If one white man comes this winter, two more appear when the hills grow in the springtime.  The Long Knife, Henry,15 even now has a strong place at the mouth of the Big Horn and men of the Spaniard, Liza, go about among the village people of the upper Minisose.16  Only a few days travel to the east of you, in the country of the great water, the whites have made houses and have brought trouble to the Potawatomi, the Fire People, the Winnebago of the Stinking Water and the Sacs and Foxes.  Their soldiers have built a strong place of stone yonder on the edge of the high cliff17 and other white men have established a village below this place.  You many see their smoke from their dry wood lodges.”18

“It is true that they have many things which we like.  But our head councilors see in that thing our danger.  Our men have followed the Missouri to the big village where Captain Clark lives with the white people, and even to the Big Waters (Gulf of Mexico) where live our cousins, the Beloxi.”

“They tell strange things when they return from these travels.  They say that there are as many whites as there are needles upon your pine trees; that they are as blades of grass upon the hills of our western country.  We believe this thing they say.  They are pouring into the Ohio and Illinois country as water flows down to the sea.  The British have deceived us and the papers we signed at Portage les Sioux mean nothing to us.19  The white people are strong.  They are wise.  They know how to make gunpowder and they grow things to eat out of the ground.20  We fear them if they come among us in great numbers.  They already talk and act as rulers over us.  Now listen to what I say:

“The Dakotah are a great people.  We have many wise men among us.  Our warriors are brave and strong.  But our people are too widely scattered over the earth.  You people are here.  My own people live far to the west upon the Missouri;  I left there six days ago, traveling as fast as a horse, day and night;  it is far.21  From my to the country of the Kangi Toke (Crows), who are our enemies on the west along the Hehaka Wakpe, it is still another six days fast travel.”22

“If the whites come into your country in great numbers we fear that they will do the same in the country of our Prairie People.  We believe they will drive you from your river country here.  Their evil ways and their Miniwakan23 will come with their soldiers.  Your children will be in trouble with them then.”

“Let us leave this country here.  Let us gather together in the land of the Missouri, in the country of the Tintonwan  – so say our wise men.  It is a good country.  There is much buffalo and elk and other game there.  The lakes are covered with fat birds.  There is much meat.  There is fruit along the valleys of the streams.  We have many horses.  Our winter camps are warm.  We are happy and

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have much joy. Our warriors bring to their lodges many honors of war from the Crows, the Pawnee and Shoshoni.  I, myself, have obtained honors and coups from the Mowatani, the Padani and the Hewaktokta in their great villages on the Grand River and along the waters called the Chante, and I may wear many feathers.”24

These enemy people grow much corn. They keep it in big pots which they make of clay and burn in the fire.  This corn is good winter feed and we take all we need from them.  Since the Holy Woman in White25 gave old Chante Peta seed our brothers, the Minneconjou, also grow much corn in the ground along the waterways.  Our people eat buffalo met and are strong.  Hao.  I say the words of my father, Charging Bear, the Blackfoot, Sitting Bear, the Oglala, Swan of the Oohenopa, Lame Deer, the Minneconjou, Broken Leg, the Itazepcho, and many others.”

“They say we shall form a nation of our tribes; we will call it ‘Dakotah’  – the Friendly People.26  We shall own the land between the Tchan San San Wakpe and the waters of the Yellowstone, from the river of the Heart to the Niobrara and the Hill of the Hide.27  We shall drive our enemies from that land and protect our homes with honor and wisdom.  When the great warriors and wise men have been called to the spirit country by Wakantonka,28 other great men will appear from among our children and we shall become a strong and happy people, making rules which shall be for the good of all, living at peace with the whites because we shall be united and strong and our orators will not speak for one man alone, but for many.”  (see map of the proposed ‘Dakotah Nation’ on page 11)

“Ho.  A council is called; there will be feasting and many presents.  It will meet in the country of the Sissetonwanna and Ehanktonaise at the Grove of the Tall Oaks Place toward the Missouri,29 at the time the young ducks swim.30  Ho. I have spoken.”

The young chief, Charging Bear, returned to his seat.

At this point an old man arose and announced that meat would be brought in and everybody would eat.  Accordingly, from nearby fires, many women carried in the feast upon braided mats of newly-peeled willows.  Young men assisted the women in carrying around the venison, cut in small chunks, and each man helped himself to a liberal portion, laying it upon a square of birch-bark before him.  The precious coffee, which up to this time was unknown to the Teton warriors, was handed around in large, wooden bowls, one bowl serving several men.  Cakes made from pounded flour of the tipsina,31 fried in fat, were given to all, and wild rice, cooked with the breast of wild fowl, was carried around by young men.

To the visitors who had traveled afoot over four hundred miles in six days, passing over prairies and through forest, crossing rivers and swampy places, the feast was very welcome.  When all had eaten and the red-stone pipes had been lighted, Little Crow stood up and addressed them as follows:

“I want to say a few words.  I have listened to what the wise men of the People of the Prairies have said with the lips of the young chief, Charging Bear.  The Tetons have

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much wisdom.  What they say is good.  Their country is a good place to live in.  I have hunted there as a young man.  Now I am old.  I have been as far as the Little Muddy Waters,32 where the smoke comes out of the ground.  It is where the giant men lived once  – we found their bones there.  I have also seen that country black with buffalo.  Another time our party destroyed a village of the Sheyheyala, those people who speak a strange language, where it was upon their river.  We pursued them and they crossed the Missouri at the place where flows the river ‘where the rocks are round.’  You have traveled very fast; it is a story which the women will tell to their children for a long time.”

“I am chief here at Kapoja.  The Wahpekute live in this river country with us.  Together we are the Isante.  This is the country of the Minisota.  It is rich.  There is much game here.  There is plenty of wood.  We are at peace with the white people here.  They talk much friendship and trade us things we want for our furs and hides.  We have guns which shoot a long distance and now our enemies cannot drive us.  Our old men visit the battle places here, where we made war upon the Hahatonwan in the past.  Our young men secure much honor when they fight them now.  We cannot see clearly why we should give these things up and leave them to the Chippewas and the whites.  If we go to live by the Missouri do we not lose all this region east of the James River, which flows south though the country of the Salo Otonwe?33  These hills and lakes, these prairies and valleys are ours.  Our stories and songs are about them.  Our fathers lived here.  Our children had birth here and the sacred places hold the bodies of our dead.  We would grieve to leave them and our hearts would not have joy away from them.  We shall think much of this thing you tell us.  We shall talk about it with our brothers, the Wahpekute.  We will be at the Council of the Seven Fires, at the Grove of Tall Oaks Place, before the leaves fall.  You will tell these things we say to your chiefs.  Ho.  Little Crow has spoken.”

As he sat down a great ‘Hao’ was shouted by the villagers and, to this approval, Charging Bear responded.  The drums were beaten and several old, honored men sung songs praising the strength, endurance and bravery of the Tetons.  Presents of trader’s knives, thimbles and personal ornaments, as well as black plug tobacco and tea, were made to them.  The men of Charging Bear’s party then arose one by one and walked across the circle and piled at the feet of Little Crow the presents each carried from their own division of the Teton Sioux; a red-stone pipe, a pair of quill-worked moccasins, a small bag of corn, a metal bracelet, decorated leggings, earrings of shell and, lastly, a good medicine bag containing a chip of cedar wood taken from the Hill of the Standing Rock34 were piled before him. The action was slow and deliberate and ceremonious, and with no spoken word except a simple ’Hao.’

During the exchange of presents, a young woman of pleasing appearance and a voice of particular beauty, arose from her place and sung of the glorious future of the young leader of the strangers, the Teton Chief, Charging Bear.  The singer was also a visitor to the village, a woman whose people lived in the Bad River Country, west of the Missouri.35  She belonged to the Oohenopa division of the Tetons and Charging Bear was joyous to hear her sing, although he gave no sign, not even by a glance in the direction of the singer, Wawapilakiyewin (Many Thank You Woman).  Other women joined in the song and the chant of praise soon changed to a joy song; the slow pound of the drums increased to the rolling, rhythmic beat which accompanies the dance, and the warriors and the women all circled in a ring in a slow Welcome Dance;

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the women extending bunches of sweet grass and will branches at arm’s length towards the visitors in token of welcome and happy thoughts.

Far up the river, the sentry upon the top of the stone wall at the edge of the cliff at Fort Snelling listened intently as the far away throb reached his ears.  His senses searched the miles of river-bottom lands until, at last, evidently satisfied that the sounds of the drums came from the direction of Little Crow’s village.  He resumed his slow, monotonous pace in the hot summer haze.  But when the sentinel reached the stone tower the Officer of the Guard was notified and the officers of the garrison, in small groups, conferred in subdued, anxious voices as they watched the evening shadows darken the wooded valley of the Minnesota and the soft, rushing sound of the swift waters of the Mississippi arose from the dark depth of the rocky gorges.

Reference notes for Chapter One

1. Minisota Wakpe.  “Smoky Water River”  Sioux name for the present Minnesota River, emptying into the Mississippi from the southwest, between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

2. Red-Quilled Feather.  An heraldric device, common among the prairie tribes.  One feather, modestly worn, denotes that the wearer is entitled to war honors.  This feather might be so notched or colored as to show more than one ‘coup.’

3. River of the Talking Stone.  An old Dakotah name sometimes used when speaking of the present Cannon Ball river, which empties into the Missouri from the west, about thirty miles south of the present Mandan, N.D.

4. Haha Wakpe.  The Sioux name for the Mississippi River.  Mississippi is not a Dakotah word, but is the name given the river by the Illinois Indians.  From ‘Messi’ (great) and ‘Sepi’ (river).

5. Artificial mounds, prehistoric.  Now within the confines of Indian Mounds Park, St. Paul, Minnesota.

6. Red-stone Pipe.  This is red Catlinite, found only at Pipestone, Minnesota.  Most highly, prized stone for Indian pipe bowls.

7. Kinnikinick. The dried inner bard of a certain red willow, and mixed with native tobacco.  In recent years much southern-grown natural leaf is used.

8. War bonnets.  Generally a headdress for warriors, only.  Women are sometimes seen wearing them at a dance or other social gathering.  In which case they are to be given as gifts during the ceremony.

9. Sioux men parted their hair in the middle and did not wear pompadour like the Crows, Gros Ventre, Mandan and Arikara tribes.

10. Seven Fires Council.  An almost legendary council in which all tribes of the Dakotah participated.  The Isante maintained it after the Teton tribes had withdrawn.  So-called from the seven fireplaces, or camps, represented.  This council was not always attended by the seven tribes of the Teton.  It might have been ‘seven fires’ at a time before the federation of all the Isante and Teton tribes.  It was held upon the James River, in territory which is now embraced in the present Spink County, S.D, and the location was known to the Sioux as ‘The Grove of the Tall Oaks.’ (see pg. 11)

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11. Three Hills of the Talking Stone.  The twin buttes and holy hill in the vicinity of the mouth of the Cannon Ball River which drains southwestern North Dakota.

12. The War of 1812.

13. LaFramboise, Conte and Chose.  Early free-traders among the Sioux before organized fur companies operated extensively along the upper Missouri.

14. Fire Boats.  Name used for steamboats to distinguish them from keel boats with oars and cordelle.

15. This is Major Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

16. Minisose.  Pronounced Mini-sho-she…the ‘Roily Water River’ of the Sioux….the Missouri River.

17. Fort Snelling.  Work upon this outpost was commenced by Col. Leavenworth in 1819.  Located upon the high bluffs of the Mississippi between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

18. Saint Paul, Minnesota.

19. The Treaty of Portage les Sioux in 1815.

20. An exact quotation from a conversation with the last, great Chief of the Sioux, John Grass, regarding their subjection.

21. This journey is still the subject of many interesting Sioux stories.

22. Hehaka Wakpe.  “Elk River”  Old Sioux name for the present Yellowstone River.

23. Miniwakan.  “Spirit Water”   Intoxication liquors.

24. Grand River.  The first important stream south of the North Dakota line.  Empties into the Missouri from the west.  About six miles north of the mouth of this stream the Arikaras maintained a fortified village, often called the ‘Fortified Double Ditch Village,’ on account of the town hav­ing been built on both sides of a deep gully.  That part upon the north side contained 71 earth lodges and there were 70 lodges south of the draw.  It was well-protected from Indian enemies by a palisade of logs and a deep ditch on the inside of the wall.  Lewis and Clark found the Arikara there in the fall of 1804.  In 1823 this village was the principal stronghold of those Indians and it was so well-placed that the inhabitants could easily prevent any expedition from passing the place along the river.  The Arikara raised corn, hardy vegetables and tobacco and were probably the first of the plains tribes to obtain horses.  Chante is a Dakotah word meaning Heart and designated for the important stream which heads up close up by the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri at Mandan, N.D.  It is hardly doubted that the Frenchman, Verendrye, visited the five Mandan villages in the vicinity of its mouth in 1738, and again in 1742 and 1743, and claimed all the territory drained by the waters of the Missouri in the name of the French King, Louis XIV.  According to the legends of the Mandan, the separation of the land from the water took place there, and it is also the scene of those legends which relate to the flood.

25. Holy Woman in White.  In the Winter Count of No Two Horns the year 1772 is indicated by a pictograph denoting a visit of a Spirit Woman.  This spirit brought the Dakotah through a starving winter and revisited them later, bringing to them the red stone pipe and

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teaching them its symbolic uses and ceremonies.  About this Woman in White have been woven many stories and legends.  It is this spirit which is supposed to have given the ancestors of Fire Heart the seed of the corn and taught them how to grow it.

26. Dakotah.  This is the name by which these people call themselves.  It means the ‘Brothers’ of the ‘Federation.’  When this federation of tribes was accomplished is not known.  However, upon the first contact of the whites with Indian tribes west of the Great Lakes, there were at least thirteen tribes belong to this ‘Nation.

27. Tchan San San.  Red Wood…The Dakotah name for a stream which heads in Wells County, N.D., flows south and empties into the Missouri river a few miles east of Yankton, S.D.  The Yanktonaise frequently call it Itazapa Baksa (Cut Bowls).  In many old journals it is called Revaire Jacque and the English translation is the present name, James river.  The country of its upper course was claimed by the Yanktonaise and was called by them ‘The Earth Dish of Waaneta.

28. Wakantonka.  The great mystery..God.  The Wakantonka of the old times was the same god we worship today (Chief Grass).

29. Grove of Tall Oaks.  See note Number 10 –  Council of Seven Fires.

30. June.  The month when young ducks appear.

31. Tipsina.  The wild turnip of the prairies.  It is dug with a pointed stick and, after being braided together by its stems, is hung up in a string to dry.  Its meat is very white and dry and is often boiled with meat.

32. Muddy Waters.  The Little Missouri river in North Dakota which flows through deep-cut gorges and eroded valleys.  These valleys are miles wide at places, making the district called the Bad Lands.  The Sioux speak of it as ‘The Place of Good Horse Pasture.’  President Theodore Roosevelt’s ranches, the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn, were located upon this river.   At several Places in the Bad Lands coal beds have been afire for many years.  The entire district is rich in fossils of the bones of prehistoric creatures.

33. Salo Otonwe.  The Dakotah name for that district in the vicinity of present Yankton, S.D. and the mouth of the James river.

34. Hill of the Standing Rock.  About three miles north of the present Fort Yates, N.D. where the administrative offices of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation are located.  In early times the Holy Stone of the Sioux, the Standing Rock, stood at the eastern extremity of this hill.  There are fine springs close by.  It is claimed that, after Major McLaughlin removed the stone to Fort Yates and placed it upon a pedestal, these splendid springs dried up and refused to run.

35. Wakpe Sica (Bad river).  This river is still called Bad river and enters the Missouri from the west, about the middle part of South Dakota.  The vicinity of its mouth is, perhaps, the most historical place in that entire state on account of the several fur trading posts which have been maintained there from early times.  Old journals of traders and explorers often call the stream the Teton river of the Lit­tle Missouri.  The capital city of the state, Pierre, is located there.  It formerly was in the ancient habitat of the Oohenopa (or Two Kettle Sioux), a Teton tribe.

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Chapter Two:     Charging Bear visits Fort Snelling


At an early hour of the morning following the feasting and dancing at Little Crow’s village in honor of the visit of Charging Bear and his band of Teton braves, four birch­bark canoes, well-filled with men dressed in the uniform of Tunkasilapi, the Great Father in Washington, sped noise­lessly down the broad river toward the Indian village of Kapoja.  The young officer in charge, Lieut. P. R. Green, Post Adjutant at Fort Snelling, noted every part of the shorelines carefully and watched the village as they approached.  The frail canoes soon grated upon the pebbly shore at the usual landing place and the Lieutenant leaped ashore followed by his detail of men.  The canoes were quickly drawn up safely beyond the reach of the strong current by the women of the village who had gathered at the landing.  A guard was left at the canoes and the officer, together with a swarthy-faced young half-breed interpreter and the rest of the small force, walked toward the lodge of the Chief.

Little Crow had already been notified of the land­ing of the canoe. When the Lieutenant brushed aside the matting which hung over the entrance to his lodge and came in, Little Crow did not rise to meet him and gave no sign of greeting, but sat in surly silence.  Two of the Lieutenant’s men had not entered the lodge under the pretense of watching some old women scraping a green hide which was pegged out upon the ground.  Two others remained near the entrance as Lieutenant Green advanced directly toward Little Crow and extended his hand in the customary greeting.  The Chief shook hands without rising and resumed his silent smoking.

Little Crow had always been very friendly and the visits of the officers from the new post at Fort Snelling had been the occasion of much ceremony and speech-making.  He had always treated them in a gravely polite manner and had appeared to be pleased to have the soldiers build the fort and occupy it.  Now Lieutenant Green was troubled and somewhat embarrassed by such a lack of courtesy and surveyed the situation swiftly but without showing apparent alarm.

The lodge of the Chief was built of pole framework covered with bark and was about thirty feet wide and fifty feet long.  In the center was a fireplace of flat stones and sleeping furs and other property lay about upon the earthen floor at the farther end and around the sides.

Two women sat upon the floor near the entrance picking berries from a pile of boughs before them and a circle of about thirty men sat about a second fire of small twigs and knots near the farther end.

In this group, facing the entrance, sat Little Crow.  Not one of the group besides the Chief had made a move or spoken a word.  The Lieutenant noticed the peculiar decorations of the warriors and quickly decided that several of them must be important visitors from the west country and, with the intuition of the trained soldier of those troublesome times, decided upon his course of action.  He spoke at once:

“I have something to say to you, Little Crow, and to your visitors from far away.  The Soldier Chief at the stone house on the cliff is the mouth of your Grandfather at Wash­ington and I speak his words.  Listen well to what he says to you.  This country here is

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in the land of the Chief at Washington.  He is much interested in you and your people.  You fought against his people and government ten winters ago.36  He was greatly displeased then but now he sees that it was not your fault.  You brought trouble upon yourself because you put your trust in the British King and listened to one he sent who had no right to talk.  The advice given to you by Tapa Luta,37 the Red-headed One, was bad but you did not know.  We have sent this man, Robert Dickson, out of this country because he lied to you.  He will not come back because he is not an American like you are.  There is another thing – the President is not pleased when you fight and kill each other.  Your ancient enemies, the Chippewas, have been armed with guns by the English traders and last year they killed some of your young warriors in battle and some women, also, when they were gathering plums near the falling waters of Minihaha.38  A short time ago your young men killed two Chippewas in canoes with arrows.”

‘The Great Father’s heart is troubled because his children kill each other.  Your villages are filled with songs of sorrow of those who mourn.  And now the soldiers have built a strong place to live in.  It is between you and the Chippewa country.  We are here to live with you in this place and to protect you from bad Indians who fight you and kill your people.”

“We are friends of yours for you have said so many times.  We believe your heart is good.  we want you to make peace with the Chippewa people.  Last Night some Chippewa made camp at the Fort.  Their chief man is Flat Mouth.  You know him.  He wishes to speak with you.  Our Soldier Chief will be there also.  He will speak with you there.  He will show you the inside of the fort and fire the big guns for you.  He will make you a present of tobacco if he feels like doing so.  He will watch to see you return with me.  We are ready to go back now.  That is all.”

The Lieutenant had much experience with Indians during his service in the posts at Prairie du Chien and Fort Snelling and knew many of their peculiar traits.  He noticed a slight trace of curiosity evidenced by Charging Bear when he had spoken of the big guns and brought his talk to an abrupt close.

The two women at the entrance had noiselessly left the lodge when the Lieutenant began to talk but, otherwise, not a movement had been made and it was evident that every word from the interpreter, a son of Tamaha, The Moose, had been carefully listened to by the circle about the low fire.

After a long pause Little Crow passed his long-stemmed pipe to Charging Bear, arose, crossed over, extended his hand to Lieutenant Green and resumed his seat.  Charging Bear, likewise, shook hands with him and went back to his position upon the mat.  At last Little Crow spoke:

“The Great Father at Washington is wise in council and strong in war.  Robert Dickson lied to the Dakotah and gave us medals.  He told us that the Long Knives would tremble and become as women when they saw us and heard our war cries.  He said that they would run away and go to the country south of the Ohio forever.  When it was time for them to run they did not.  Red Thunder and his son, The Rushing Man, received much honor there in that War.  Then the English took The Rushing Man across the Mini Wanca39 to see the English King.  The others of us came back to our homes here and

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suffered much sorrow then.  While we were away with many of our fighting men the Chippewas and Omaha and others went through our country.40  They passed as a flame and left our villages in ashes.  Many of our young men and old warriors were killed and some women were carried away.”

“Our tears were many and our hate was fierce.  Many made promise then for revenge. For every one we lost we will take two lives of the enemy.  I have told the Chippewa this thing.  I also have made this promise.  I will not talk to the Chippewa at your fort.  They are cowards to camp there.  They are afraid to come on this side of the Minisota.  A few of my warriors would chase them like rabbits.  Some of my young men may speak to them if they care to do so.  We will go talk with the Akicita Itancan (the Soldier Chief).  This man by my side is a chief.  He will go with you now.  We shall follow soon in our own canoes.  You have heard it all.  Little Crow has spoken.”

Lieutenant Green left the lodge at once and the canoes were pushed into the water.  Almost immediately, Charging Bear and two warriors joined him and the little flotilla started upon the return to the fort.  The canoes kept close to the shore to escape the strong current of the great stream and the soldier canoemen plied their paddles with a swift, noiseless drive which soon shot them into the slower waters at the fort landing.

The footpath led up the steep, wooded banks to the top of the high cliff and Charging Bear expressed neither surprise nor curiosity as the party came into the street in front of the quarters.  Groups of soldiers paid but little attention to the Indians, but the sharp eyes of a long-haired, buckskin-shirted half-breed caught and recognized the unusual designs of the quillwork upon the dress of the three Indians and, thus, addressed himself to a grizzled, old hunter:

“Now Pierre, by Gar, wat you tink?  You see ’em.  You know ’em, dese fellahs, eh?  Hes people Hunkpapa or Blackfoot, I tink.  Maybe so.  Wot for hes come dese fort, eh?  Des blackfoot people day live on Revaire Minisose.  Gar, des Blackfoot Indian is look tres fantastique.  You see’em, Pierre?  You see hes feet?  You know des skin moccasins, eh?  Hunkpapa, you tink, Pierre, maybe Hunkpapa.  Maybe Blackfoot, huh?41 Me, I tink I been know dese fellahs, where from.  Las winter me, I go Big Bend countrie.42  Zat long route, zat tam I go.  Take me long tam, you bet.  Zat great countrie, Pierre.  Plentie ze furs aussi.  Bevaire, ottair, ze mink skin.  By Gar, me, I know how ketch des skin.  I sell ’em zat place by Bad Revaire.  Hes Frenchman, zat la Framboise.  He got zat trader store zere.  Des Indan fellah, hes zere all roun.  Mais oui, hem Blackfoot I tink, all right, Pierre?”

“Des Blackfoot fellah dey chase me long tam one tam.  I laugh at des Indan, me.  My dogs, dey laugh some more.  Zat tam we have ze fine snow for sleigh.  Zat night I ketch ’em little antelope in snow.  I feed des dogs, you bet.  Nex day by Gar, des Indan jump me some more.  Oui, but I go fas’.  Zat leader dog, shes get ver seck and bimeby I stop.  Zat leader dog, shes dies, pouf, lak zat, shes die.  Me, I cry very much zat tam too.  Shes good dog, ver fas’.  Shes Cree dog.  I get ’em Fort Garry, Hudson Bay man.  Bimeby I get ver mad, me.  Shes good dog, zat Annette dog.  But oui, des Indan come some more.  I go leave zat Annette dog zer in snow.  Shes dead.”

“I go nort all tam.  Zat night tam too, I go.  I no stop.  I go long distance zat tam nex morning.  I ver tire, ver hungrie.  I go from des place to beg hill for look.  By gar, I was

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big surprise.  Dese Blackfoot fellah Indan, I can not see.  Zey been gone maybe.  I do not know.  Pretty soon I see other Indan peoples, wise ze women too.  I ver glad, me.”

“I know dese people now.  Zey fight, des Blackfoot Indan, all tam.  I go right soon in des village where live des Indan in ze beg roun house of dirt, and eat ze buffalo meat and go sleep for long tam, me.  Des house, zey very warm place.  Zat chief has name Grey Eyes, I tink.  Zey have ze beg house, zat place, maybe hunder fifty house and ze many people.  Zese people zey is what you call ze Pani, I tink.  Zey have corn, oh, plentie, ze sweet squash, ze bean and buffalo meat.  I stay long tam, zat place.  Zat Grande Revaire place.”

“In ze spring tam, I cam here.  Oui, des Indan, hes Blackfoot certinment, Pierre.  You watch zese In­dan.  Maybe zey look for trouble, I do not know.  Maybe so.  Zey chase me long tam once, me, zese Blackfoot In­dan.”

And the sharp features of the French Courier de Boise glowed with an intense hatred as he walked away, muttering about his dead dog, Annette, to his Arikara woman who followed obediently at his heels with the pack on her shoulders.

Charging Bear was taken to the headquarters of the Post Commander, Colonel Josiah Snelling of the Fifth Infantry, and while waiting for the arrival of Little Crow, he stood stolidly near the door and displayed no interest in the coming and going to the officers or in the sights and sounds which must have been entirely new to him.

Little Crow and several men came into the office in a short time and the entire party was escorted about the new fort by the officers.  It was explained to them that it had been built to protect the Dakotah from bad white men and as a dividing line between them and the Chippewa.  One of the small brass cannon was fired for their entertainment and this interested them immensely.

When they returned to the Colonel’s office each Indian was presented with a twist of black tobacco and, in addition, a small American flag was given to Charging Bear.  After a few complimentary remarks had been exchanged, in the course of which Charging Bear very adroitly refrained from giving any information concerning himself or his followers, the Indian party quickly disappeared down the river trail and, entering their canoes, were soon seen from the post as they proceeded down the Mississippi.

A group of soldiers discussed the visit as they lounged on the edge of the cliff above the river and saw a second party of about twenty warriors afoot, silently slip into the water and swim across the Minisota and enter the timber, going in the direction of Kapoja

“Them fellers is crafty all right,” an old sergeant ventured, “I’ll bet that old rascal Little Crow had a bunch of his men close enough to yell to ’em if anything happened.  They don’t trust us, these fellers, any mor’n we trust them.  Did you notice that young feller’s eyes?  He seen everything, you bet, and the whole bunch of ’em know this position better’n we do now.  If I was the old man here, I wouldn’t never let a dam one o’ ’em up on this point.  Colonel Snelling had better look out you bet.  They’ll get so as they aint afeard o’ us.  They’s suspicious of us and hate us already cause we executed a few of ’em for killin’ them Chippewas last month.  I know ’em.  I’m from Ohio and these very same fellers caused a heap o’ sorrow back there a few years ago.”

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Reference notes for Chapter Two

36. 1813, during the war of 1812

37. Robert Dickson.  See other notes.

38. The Falls of Minihaha.  Probably taken from ‘Ha Ha’ (Curling or moving) or might even be used as it is in the Sioux name for the Chippewas (Waterfall People).  Perhaps ‘Happy Waters’ would be a good translation.  Longfellow translates it ‘Laughing Waters,’ which would be within literary license.  A waterfall between Saint Paul and Minneapolis made famous in Longfellow’s poem ‘Hiawatha.’

39. Mini Wanca.  The ocean.

40. The Chippewas of the north and east, and the Omaha to the south of them, were the traditional enemies of the Sioux.  Their raids were frequent and pitiless.

41. The decorative and symbolic designs upon the shirts and moccasins and robes of the Sioux tribes were mostly geometric figures.  The Yanktonais and, perhaps, other tribes of the Isante, did make use of designs of flowers and leaves.  The Teton tribes all differed much in their designs from those of the Chippewa and Yanktonaise.

42. Big Bend Country.  That district lying between the Bad and White rivers in South Dakota.  So called by the big bend made by the channel of the Missouri.

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Chapter Three:  Charging Bear’s Tetons return to the Missouri, striking the enemy (an Arikara hunting party) enroute


The return of Charging Bear to the wide, grassy plains west of the Missouri river was made in a leisurely manner totally unlike his eager journey eastward.  On that trip the average distance covered daily had been nearly sixty miles.  Straight as the flight of a homing pigeon, he had held to the eastward.  With unerring and almost uncanny instinct he had avoided any serious conflict with enemies abroad in the disputed country north of the Minisota river and, with consummate skill, he had at last reached the village of Little Crow and had delivered the message from the Tetons and was now returning with what he considered a favorable reply.

He came of a noble family — Red Thunder, the famous orator, and his equally famous son, Waaneta (The Rushing Man), were distant relatives.  He was the son of a Chief and had been entrusted with this important message to the Isante on account of his own oratorical ability and prowess in battle.  A chief, in fact, of a branch of the Hunkpapa division of the Teton Dakotah, he carried the words of the old, wise men to Little Crow of the Isante and had done it in a manner which covered him with glory for a hundred years.

However, with the Indian sense of leadership, he held his own council during the return trip and, with the spirit of an explorer, held farther and farther to the north and west and, at last, he led his band of warriors into the valley of the James river at a point two days travel west of the big bend of the Sheyenne where the ruined villages of the Algonquin lay.

A heavy bank of dust hung low to the west of the James indicating the certain movements of large bodies of buffalo.  Charging Bear reasoned that a slowly moving herd would not create such a disturbance and shrewdly guessed that the herd must be trailed by a band of hunters.

After the party had passed several old, exiled bulls, far on the outskirts of the herd, the Indians halted in a plum thicket in a deep draw for a council.  Charging Bear promised them that they should ride good horses and take home war honors as well as presents from Little Crow.  They planned to locate the hunters’ camp, surprise them in a fight among the lodges, and during the confusion, to stam­pede the horses, thereby leaving the hunters afoot, and es­cape with the herd.

The men started off at once, acting under orders to locate the hunters’ camp and return.  The young men honored with this mission were Wasu Luta (Red Hail) and Sinta Maza (Iron Tail).  These two men were soon lost to view in the red, dusty sunset haze.  They learned that the herd was lazily drifting to the southwest and, to the experienced eyes of the two scouts, this indicated that the hunt that day had taken place at some distance toward the north.  There they would find the camp of the hunting party.

The moon was riding high and the scouts had travelled far before they discovered the hundred fires of the camp.  The horse herd of perhaps two hundred and fifty head was on the south side of the camp, attended by several young men.  The tired animals were feeding close by a small stream flowing eastward.

Red Hail and Iron Tail circled the camp carefully and, after reaching the stream, followed it

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until the danger of blundering into any night outpost was past.  Then they took to the high, rolling prairie and, bearing more to the south, soon came into the vicinity of Charging Bear and the waiting band.  Iron Tail gave the quavering cry of the coyote and, guided by an answering cry, soon the two scouts entered the thicket and reported the situation to Charging Bear.

A council of war was held and it was decided that Charging Bear was in command and, according to Indian custom, his every word was law and must be obeyed.

He laid his plans carefully.  The party should proceed together until close in to the camp which the two scouts declared to be made up of Arikara.  As several of the men had previously made vows to obtain first coups43 in some village of that tribe, it was decided that the party should then divide.  Most of the men were to circle the camp and approach the herd of horses from the north and there await Charging Bear and three others who would enter the camp boldly, make their strike swiftly and, in the confusion, escape toward the east, going directly to the designated point on the north banks of the stream.  When the entire party was once again united, the horses would be stampeded southward.

The party was divided when the village was approached.  Charging Bear, Fire Heart, Iron White Man and Strikes the Earth crawling closer to the village and the remainder of the men, under the leadership of Brown Blanket, started a wide detour to gain the position upon the stream.

As Sinya Giyena (Brown Blanket) came near to the place of rendezvous, his party discovered a small herd of hobbled horses which had strayed away from the circle.  These were, no doubt, the fast, well-trained buffalo horses to be used by the hunters in the next day’s hunt.  They had no difficulty in securing enough of them to mount the entire party and the rest were released from their hobbles and soon splashed across the shallow stream and fed slowly toward the main herd.

When Charging Bear and his three companions had arrived within a short distance of the circle of tipis each made known his point of attack.  Charging Bear selected a large decorated tipi which was bright with a fire within and the shadows of men were thrown upon the walls.  At the entrance, tied by a short rope to a tipi pin, stood a large, fine horse.

Several people were still walking about but, going boldly within the circle of tipis, Charging Bear and each of the other men, untied horses from before the lodges and stood by them ready to mount at a signal.  Maga Opoppe (Strikes the Earth) had some difficulty with his horse and, in the excitement, it reared and snorted with fright.  Someone shouted from within the lodge and stepped out into the bright moonlight.  His yell of alarm was cut short by a blow from a stone-headed club and, as he fell to the ground, Strikes the Earth knelt upon his body and, with a swift cut and wrench, secured the coveted trophy of black hair, decorated with yellow sticks and many red buttons which denoted the Arikara.  He then turned to secure his mount but the horse had pulled the pin and thundered away.

Strikes the Earth turned and ran toward the tipi where Charging Bear had just cut the rawhide rope which tied a large horse to the lodge.  As he yelled to his Chief a man leaped out of the lodge but was struck by a club in the hands of Charging Bear and stumbled to the ground.

Calling to Iron White Man and Fire Heart to follow and holding his foot to permit Strikes the Earth to mount up be­hind him, the brave leader with his small force dashed away among the lodges.

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By this time the entire camp was in an uproar.  Men were pouring out of the lodges and hastily mounting or running after their ponies.  Women were screaming and children were crying.  Chiefs were calling out orders in loud voices and many riderless horses charged among the tipis.

In this confusion Charging Bear and his men succeeded in breaking through and rode rapidly down the north bank of the little stream toward the rendezvous, where they found the entire party already mounted and with led horses to spare.  Hastily fording the stream, the party spread out in a broad line and, uttering shrill cries, dashed down upon the herd of half-wild horses.  Surprised and terrified, the herd turned and fled southward, away from the village.  As they had succeeded in stampeding most of the horses, Charging Bear did not believe a long, serious pursuit possible but the herd was kept pounding southward until dawn.

The horses were then allowed to stop and graze in a narrow valley surrounded by high, flat-topped buttes.  A stream flowed through the valley and plum thickets and cottonwood timber grew in clumps along the banks, while great oaks and elm grew in the steep, wind-sheltered gullies.  The tired horses fed knee deep in luscious grass.  Two men remained at a high place on the butte to watch for any possible pursuers and two others scouted to the south and west to prevent driving into any other camp of the enemy which might be in those directions.

A bit of strategy was resorted to at this camping place.  Many fires were built and other signs left which would indicate a large force of Sioux warriors on the move.  As the horses fed they were kept headed toward the south and moved slowly down the valley.  Charging Bear sent a man to the high buttes toward the west and, after a careful study of the country ahead, he reported that the stream evidently turned east and flowed into the James river.

Judging from this indication that they might be on the headwaters of a creek where there might be Arikara, and that they were bearing too far to the south, the herd was turned away from the stream and the scouts were signalled to return.  The sun had dropped behind the grey, western hills before the run was resumed but, once started, the herd was kept steadily on the move until dawn when it was decided to stop and feed and permit the cloud of dust to settle.  Several horses, lamed or exhausted, were left behind that night and the second morning found the party, tired and gaunt, in another valley with its clear water and abundant feed far to the west of the last camping place and apparently safe from pursuit.

The exhausted warriors caught up new riding horses and hobbled them and, with a watch of but two men, settled down and slept for several hours.  The tired horses were not inclined to stray far and, in the evening, they were rounded up and once more started on the move westward.  The country was now familiar to the men and they sung of their deeds as they followed the captured herd.

Toward morning they again headed westward and soon came to the long slopes leading to the banks of the Missouri.  Here they rested the tired horses before swimming them across the great river.  As the sun tipped the western bluffs the herd was driven through the timber of the low­lands and urged into the water.  Each man slipped from his horse and made the crossing by holding onto the animal’s tail.  A few of the loose horses became panicky and drowned but most of them safely reached the western shore.

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South of the crossing place, but a short distance, they halted and, as they were now safely in their own country, remained in a pleasant place during the balance of the day.  A couple of the party close-herded the horses during the following night.  Then, entirely refreshed by the long rest and jubilant over the success of their exploit, they started on the last stage of their famous journey.  Toward mid-day they were joined by some young riders of their own people who, after they had heard a part of the story, galloped off in a great haste to inform the Sioux camp of the approach of Charging Bear and his men with their rich prize.

Reference notes for Chapter Three

(Ed. Note) Charging Bear’s shield design at the top of page 17 was described to Welch in 1941 by a cousin of John Grass.

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

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

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

In order of honor the coups are counted thus:

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

Second coup to the one who struck the enemy next.

Third coup to the one who struck the enemy third.

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

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

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

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Chapter Four:    Charging Bear reaches his camp


As the horses followed the deep buffalo trails, which in this district were many and well-defined, the party of elated warriors dismounted and made preparations to enter camp.  Each man painted his face in his own particular manner and streaked his body with the various heraldic patterns to which he was entitled.  Charging Bear and Strikes the Earth each placed an additional eagle feather with the quill painted red in their hair to denote that they had made ‘first coup’ by striking the enemy before death.  In addition Strikes the Earth carried a coup stick from the end of which hung the fresh scalp of the Arikara buffalo hunter who had been killed in the camp of the hunters.  This coup stick was about ten feet long and wound with the fur taken from an otter which one of the men had caught some distance from the water in the lowlands along the Missouri.  The gory scalp was stretched with rawhide thongs from the sides of a willow hoop which hung at the end of the staff.44

All the other members of the party wore their best ornaments and marks of honor.  The party made a striking picture as it once more took up the trail toward the lodges of their own people.  They sung a new song,45  which they had learned while at the village of Little Crow, as they trailed the herd and gradually worked themselves into a state of frenzied enthusiasm.

In the Sioux camp great excitement was manifested when the young riders arrived with news of the approach of Charging Bear.  The couriers rode through the village at terrific speed straight to a group of old men seated before the ceremonial tipi of the elder Chief Grass (Pezhi) and shouted the news.  Men came running and women hovered around as close as custom permitted.

When Chief Grass had listened to the excited riders he spoke to an old man herald who painfully gained his feet and started to yell the news at the top of his voice:

“Ho he-e ho-e. Charging Bear comes.

Brave men went with him.  They all return.

Ho he-he.  They have fought the enemy.

They have many horses.  Ho he-he-e-e.

Ho hee-e.  There will be a dance.

The women will prepare a feast.

Forget your sorrows.  We will have joy and dancing.

Charging Bear Ho-he-e. Charging Bear Ho-he-e-e.”46

The old man hobbled away on his long staff on his noisy visit to every part of the camping circle.

Women stood in front of their tipis and voiced the tremulous song of joy.  Several small groups of men were already dancing and singing a song of the return of Charging Bear.  Horses were being caught up and saddled.  Women were taking out their trappings and paint cases from their red, yellow and green par-fleche boxes.48

The old Chief Grass sat a long time alone and in silence.  His days were almost done.  His son, to whom he had already given his warrior’s name of Charging Bear, was now a leader and a

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warrior.  He would surrender the chieftainship to him.  Yes, after his son had fulfilled his vow to take the Sun Dance if he returned with honor and no losses of men.  His grand, old face lighted up with joy and pride as he slowly entered his tipi to prepare to receive his son.49

It was late in the hot afternoon when Charging Bear’s herd of captured horses came over the low range of hills and started down the long slope toward camp.  The party was soon surrounded by a yelling crowd of young boys who took possession of the herd and urged them into a wild run.  Charging Bear and his men, splendidly mounted, came on in a slow trot and met a body of horsemen at the foot of the hills where a parade was formed.

Ahead, rode the old herald.  Behind came four or five singers and then Charging Bear and his party riding in column of twos.  Closely behind them came the other riders who had met them.  A song was sung as they advanced into the circle of tipis and started to ride around the camp.  Women stood and sounded the call of joy and triumph; mounted men joined the parade in the rear and, when it had passed the lodge of Chief Grass, nearly every man in camp was taking some part in the great spectacle.

The march ended at the ceremonial ‘booth’ in the center of the camp.  The horsemen dismounted and seated themselves about the circle of young trees set into the earth which described the dancing grounds.  Many pipes were lighted and the warriors silently smoked, awaiting the arrival of Chief Grass.50  When he came slowly into the circle the drums were beaten rapidly and many men shouted “Hao.”  He wore a chief’s coat of white mountain-sheep hide, softly tanned, and long, slashed fringes hung from the sleeves and over the shoulders and down the sleeves was a broad band of red, blue and yellow porcupine work done in a peculiar braided fashion three fingers wide.  Upon his breast hung a three-cornered decoration of similar quill-work.  In his right hand he carried a fan made of the wing of an eagle.  Across his left arm reposed a redstone pipe with it’s decorated flat, ash stem.  The fringes of his tobacco bag reached to his ankles.  Upon his head was a dress of eagle tail-feathers which hung down his back and dragged upon the ground.  Leggins and moccasins which bore the same decorations as his coat, and a grizzly-bear claw necklace about his neck, completed his attire.

He went across and shook hands with Charging Bear and each of the band, and then sat down.  The old herald announced that they were there to do honor to Charging Bear and his band; that, when men spoke, everyone should listen.  That great deeds had been done and much honor had been taken from the Arikara; that when Chief Grass was ready to speak, he would do so, and that the dance would commence now.

“Ho. Waste” (Good).

While the old herald was making these announcements the singers, who sat in the middle of the circle, were gently pounding the flat tambourine-shaped tom-toms and singing softly.  As the old man concluded, the music changed to the wild strains of an old war song which spoke of strong-hearted warriors returned from the war path, of the strength and skill of the leader, the furious bravery of his men and the honors of the fighting done – a song rejoicing to Wakan­tonka, the Great Mysterious One.

As the drums settled into the rhythmic pulse of the Grass Dance, many warriors sprang to their feet and started to dance furiously.  Around the drums and singers they circled, each man moving contrary to the movement of the sun, with stamping feet and swaying of painted bodies.

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Old men of many winters and young braves, who had but lately attained the right to take a part in public ceremonies, vied with each other in showing respect to the returned warriors.51

It was an act showing great honor, to dance until perspiration ran freely, carrying streams of paint down the gleaming bodies.  Many people, too aged or infirm to join the frenzied dancers, arose where they sat and followed the pounding music with swaying of their bodies as they leaned upon their tall diamond-willow staffs.

At the outer edge of the shifting crowd of dancers, and moving both to the right and to the left, a strange figure danced.  His face was painted black and yellow, no eagle feathers decorated him and no weapons were carried in his hands.  His movements were awkward and he often ran in a shuffling manner to escape becoming caught in the close mass of excited dancers.  He carried two hoops of willow, wound with fur, and, as often as he attempted to crawl through them, he showed embarrassment and always failed in the attempt.  His antics caused much merriment among the women and they followed his movements with screams of laughter.  This man was the Witkotka, the Clown of the Dakotah Grass Dance.52

Another man danced on the extreme outskirts.  He was an old, honored man of note among the people and renowned for his skill in war and his wisdom in the councils of the tribes.  As he danced he often shaded his eyes with his palm and his gaze was directed to the hills and faraway places.  He also closely watched the sky and, at times, glared fiercely at the blinding sun.  He was the Wosnakaga, the Holy Man, and his duty was to guard the dancers from the ap­proach of earthly foes or ‘ghostly mischief makers.’53

For a quarter of an hour the dance continued without intermission until irregular drum beats signaled the close.  The dancers returned to their places upon the grass except for a few who turned back for the customary music of the encore (‘sinte’ – the tail).  This was very rapid in movement and none except the very agile and supple dancers could hope to keep time to it’s wild, short pound.  At the last beat these few dancers straightened their bodies erect, threw their heads high and, holding their weapons aloft, gave voice to the indrawn, shrieking whoop – the cry of war and fighting men; the chilling yell which has been heard on every Dakotah battlefield from the time when ‘they fought near the bitter waters where the mountains are’ in pre-historic time to the terrible slaughter of the Sioux at ‘Shot in the Knee Water Place,’ in 1891.54

Following this dance the old chief arose.  The singing and drumming instantly stopped and swiftly, racing horses were reined in sharply by their boy riders.  Women crowded close in to the shade of the woven boughs which surrounded the ceremonial place.  The talking of the men as they sat in groups was hushed and everyone waited to hear what the honored, old chief had to say.

“I wish to say a few words.  I shall not talk long for I know that you all wish to dance.  I am Chief here.  A wolf lies down in the sun and enjoys watching her whelps play.  So do I have much joy to see you dance today.  It is a good thing to enjoy yourselves while you are yet young and to pay proper respect to old people, and it is an honorable thing to treat other young people with respect when they are entitled to it.”

  “I was born close to the Minitonka (Niobrara) fifteen winter camps after ‘The Tetons saw a White Man Winter.’55  I have been a warrior for a long time.  When the Kange Wisaste (Crow Indians) came and destroyed the Sheyennes they carried the Sacred

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Arrow away with them.  I followed the Crows and got it back and returned it to the Sheyennes, our adopted brothers.56  Charging Bear has carried the words of the wise men of our people to The Little Crow and he will give us the answer sent by Little Crow tomorrow in council.  He returns with many horses of the Arikara and much honor.  This is a greater deed than returning the Sacred Arrow of the Sheyennes.”

“My work is almost done and, by a dream, I know that I shall soon go to Wakantonka.  Many old men have gone before me and we all remember them with feelings of respect.  Do not weep nor cut yourselves when this comes to pass.  Let your hearts continue strong.  I leave a brave son who has a good brain and a big heart.  I am glad that this is so.”57

“The women will give us something to eat now and then you will dance and Charging Bear and these others will tell you about their horses.  When you are disposing of your gifts do not forget about those who have but little, and the old people.  Let everyone enjoy himself while he is young and has health.  Let meat be brought and we will eat. Ho.”

A great quantity of cooked meat of the buffalo, deer and antelope was brought into the enclosure by many women and placed upon skins, where the fatty portions were cut into smaller pieces, after which it was carried around the circle and everyone enjoyed the food.  The dancing continued during the feasting.

Very few iron pots or kettles were in their possession and the meat had been boiled in the old-time manner.  Holes were first dug in the ground eighteen inches deep and twelve inches wide.  Over each of these holes was pegged the stomach of a buffalo by stakes ten inches long.  A heavy stone was placed in the membrane, to make it sag in the center, and water was then poured in the depression.  Fires were built at each cooking place and stones as large as two fists were placed therein to heat.  When then stones were very hot they were picked up on a willow racket and dropped into the water in the paunch.  This caused the water to boil violently, almost immediately, and when they were cooled somewhat, they were lifted out and other hot stones dropped in.

The lean meat was cut into long strips about in inch thick and placed into the water.  The fat was cut into much larger chunks.  The intense heat caused the outside of the meat to cook rapidly, sealing up the natural juices within.  After enough meat had been prepared at these primitive cooking places many old men and women sat around them and put the larger buffalo bones into the water.  When these bones were heated through they were taken out and cracked with stone hammers and the marrow extracted with the aid of sticks and long slivers of bone.  The water, heavy with grease, seasoned often with wild herbs and thickened with the white flour of the tipsina (wild turnip of the prairies), made very palatable soup and was scooped up in large spoons of horn or wood.  Even the paunch was eaten after it had served its use.  It was considered a delicacy.

Many piles of such stones and bones are to be found in the prairie country west of the Missouri and, although the cooking holes have been filled with drifting soil, the cracked bones and fire- split stones distinctly mark the camp place of some roving band of the Sioux.  The extent and population of these camps may easily be estimated from the number of stones and bones in these debris piles.

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The feasting and dancing in honor of Charging Bear and his braves continued far into the early morning.  The young men recounted the story of their wonderful trip and were given honors.  Some of them received new names, generally that of a brave and well-known ancestor, while others were named as some great warrior suggested.  Many presents were given away by those who had the honor of naming one of the young heroes, and the young men also gave away many horses and other valuable articles.  The share of Charging Bear was twenty horses, the choice of the captured herd, and he made presents of several of them to his father, the Chief, and to other head men of the camp.

At the first sign of dawn over the Missouri the pound of the tom-toms ceased and the dancers left the ceremonial enclosure.  The women gathered their blankets over their heads and started across the prairie toward their lodges, leaving the grounds to the packs of half wild dogs of the village.

Reference notes for Chapter Four


(Ed. note) Old Chief Grass’ shield design. Described to Welch in 1941 by a cousin of John Grass.

44. Scalps.  A piece of the scalp of a defeated enemy was taken as a proof of a coup by the plains Indians.  This was generally stretched within a small willow hoop and presented to the warrior’s woman.  The scalp was ‘danced’ by the woman in honor of the man who secured the trophy.  The hair was often used to decorate the warrior’s coat.

45. It was considered a fine thing to bring a new song back to the home camp after a visit to other tribes.  It was taught to the people amidst much joy and mirth.  During the World War (World War I) certain tribes purchased the right to dance a new dance and sing the new songs thereto from another tribe.  This is the ‘Gahomni’ dance and is a sort of two-step, borrowed from the whites — a whirling dance.

46. This is an actual translation of a song in honor of the writer.  It was sung during ceremonies attendant upon his return from the Mexican Campaign in 1917.  The translation was made by Hon. A. McG. Beede of Fort Yates, N.D., who has spent many years among the Indians of North Dakota and speaks their language fluently.

48.  Par Fleche Cases.  Trunk-like affairs made out of rawhide and which generally gaudily painted with yellow, red, green and other primary colors.  Were used to contain clothing or food.

49.  Grass gives his name away.  An Indian has the right to present his name to another party.  After this is done he loses the right to use the name again.  At a ceremony at Bismarck, N.D., upon the occasion of the visit of Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allies of the West (in World War I), a Sioux presented his warrior name to the Marashall.  The name was ‘Wahkiya Watakpe’ (Charging Thunder).  This was followed by another ceremony among the Indians at which time ‘ex-Charging Thunder’ was given a new name by the Sioux.

50.  These booths or enclosures are generally constructed by using boughs with one end stuck into the earth and the tops bent over and intertwined together, forming a sort of frame or fence inside of which are the drummers, singers and others taking part in the ceremonies.

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Other boughs are often used to make sunshades at the sides under which spectators may sit.  Some of these enclosures are quite large, one in mind having been 75 by 150 feet, with the entrance facing east.

51.  Mention is made of songs in which the name of the person it is desired to honor is spoken.  Speeches made during the progress of a dance are generally accompanied by the presentation of a horse or other valuable thing.  Dancing until exhausted.  All are methods of showing honor.  One woman habitually wears red paint, in today’s dances, in honor of the writer having ‘obtained honor in battle.’

52.  Witkotka.  This person generally dances with a black hoop in his hands and often is entirely covered with black paint or in black clothing.  He twists and crawls through the hoop and makes amusement for the spectators.

53.  Wosnakaga.  The Holy Man of the Sioux dances.  His apparent duties are to see that no harm comes to the dances from any quarter.  It is quite an honor to be selected for this duty.  He must be a good man as well as a warrior of note among the people.

54 – Shot in the Knee Water Place.  Battle of Wounded Knee.  After the death of Sitting Bull, December 15, 1890 (upon a point on the Grand River a few miles below Fort Yates, N.D., in a battle between 150 Ghost Dancers and 39 reliable Indian Policemen and 4 volunteers from among the non-hostile element), the crazed, fanatical followers of the disturber, Sitting Bull, fled to the wilds of the Bad Lands along the Little Missouri river and down into the Black Hills country under the leadership of Sitonka (Big Foot).  Most of the survivors of the Grand River fight, together with many other hostiles of the Sioux, were finally rounded up in southern South Dakota in the vicinity of Brennan and, while surrendering and coming in to give up their arms to the military authorities, a fight was precipitated, presumably by a nervous soldier, and many Indians were killed and others left to die upon the battlefield in weather which was very severe.  It is true that there were officers and soldiers killed in the fight, but the affair does not shed particular credit upon the honor of the United States arms and the less said about it the better.

55. The Tetons saw a White Man Winter.  This is one of the pictographs upon a Sioux winter count.

56. The Sheyennes were of Algonquin origin.  Having crossed the Missouri near the mouth of the Cannon Ball and, endeavoring to obtain a foothold upon the western shores, they were so harassed by the Sioux that they were at last compelled to either make peace with them or be exterminated.  They chose the former course and became close allies of their former enemies.  They took part in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 as well as other war expeditions

57. Indians have sometimes foretold the time and nature of their death.  Beede is authority for the statement that Sitting Bull foretold the time of his death and that he would die by the hands of his own people.  This was indeed so.  There appears to have been no bad blood between the members of the Indian Police force and Sitting Bull.  The Police acted under orders to bring him in to the Fort.  It is noteworthy that the Indian Policeman generally carried out his orders very impersonally and without any favoritism.

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Chapter Five:   The Dead Village


A few days after the return of Charging Bear and his victorious band, a scouting party of four Blackfoot Sioux, who had been far away to the north along the west shores of the Missouri, rode into camp.  They made their way directly to the large, painted tipi in the middle of the camp where sat the Wambli Hunka59 (the Wise Men or Eagle Parents) and to them made their report of the trip.

They told a strange tale of their wanderings.  They said that they had been away for many days and had ventured as far north as the Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpe (the ‘River of the Holy Idol Stone,’ now called the Cannon Ball river).  This river was beyond the country of their enemies, the Arikara, and was claimed by those northern village Indians, the Hidatsa (Gros Ventre) and their allies, the Mowatani (Mandans).  They had met with many adventures and they had several narrow escapes from their foes, the Arikara, who wandered at will over the great game country.  They had crawled to the tops of high hills and watched the villages of earth and logs where those people lived.  They had even ridden out into the open before those lodges and shouted defiance to the villagers, but none had dared to come forth and meet them in combat.  They had heaped abuse upon those women-hearted people and had ridden away with much disgust in their hearts.  They had intended to return and destroy the village when they got ready but a terrific storm had come up out of the east and the noise of the Thunder Bird60 and it’s terrible lightning had been the worst they had ever heard or seen.  They decided that this was a warning to them to permit the villagers to live a while longer, so they had ridden away during the storm without killing the people there.

They had gone from there toward a place where there was a high hill all alone upon a flat prairie by the waters of the Missouri.  Here they had seen a black stone to the north of the high hill.  It was a Holy Stone61 for there were many prayer offerings placed there by the people who lived around.  They had not dared to disturb the offerings of meat and clothing, but had traveled on and, at last, had arrived at the base of a high range of hills where a sharp ‘Peak’ was, close by the shores of the river.62

From that place they had seen another village of earth lodges63and they had drawn close to it.  It was strangely quiet and they had feared to either go on or retire.  Long had they lain there in hiding and watched the village until evening.  No lights showed and no one walked about, no horses were to be seen and coyotes snarled among the lodges.

After much talk they had decided to go into the seemingly deserted place and, at last, they came to two mounds which they thought must be sacred places.64  Here they had waited until the moon came up.  The village lay just ahead of them across a little stream which flowed down from the ‘Peak.’  It seemed as though the village had come closer to them while it was dark.  All was apparently quiet and seem­ingly empty.

This must be the Dead village of the old women’s stories, they thought.  The coyotes were still wrangling there, but they had stronger hearts than coyotes so they started in.  They climbed the

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steep bluffs on the other side of the little stream and stood among the lodges.  There were many of these earth lodges – they could not remember how many.  Many of them were of great size and some others had been burned and the roofs had fallen in.  The grass was growing high in the spaces between them and the paths leading to the water had been washed deep by the wind and the rain.  Great piles of cracked buffalo bones lay on the dumps at the foot of the cliff and much pottery was scattered about.  They went into the center of the village, even to the open space in front of a great lodge which must have been the Medicine Lodge of those people.  An upright stone was there with markings upon it.65  It was a fearful place to be in and they were afraid of spirits.

From the grass they had picked up some wonderful blue beads.  There were bones of people in the grass, too.  So they had hastily gathered a few beads and ornaments of shell to prove their story and had gone away as swiftly and silently as possible.  They were not afraid to be where those dead people were, but they had considered it important that the wise men should know about his thing as soon as possible, so they had ridden hard and had come straight and now they were here…and here were the beads and shell.

The story of the scouts was listened to with much interest that evening.  The men who had taken part in the strange adventure telling it to many as the people sat around the small fires.  They could scarcely believe that these men had actually entered a village where dead people lay, but here were the beads and shell ornaments and pottery as proof.  In spite of their great fear of spirits and uncanny influences and strange happenings, they must have done so.

A short time before that a very brave man had lived in a small tipi all winter at a place where there had been a battle and people had been killed.  This man had lived and had told about it afterward.  The spirits had not harmed him.  For, perhaps, the same reason, these men, who had been in the Dead Village, had lived to return to camp.  It was very mystifying.  “At any rate,” said they who listened to the story, “they were very brave men.”66

Charging Bear listened closely and said little.  The scouts described the place so well that he believed he could find it if it were there.  It was but one day’s travel with a fast horse to the place along the river.  After talking with his best friends that night it was announced that he would lead a party to the deserted village and the four scouts were selected to be members of the expedition.

At daylight they started.  There was no singing, but some of the old men gave them much advice how to act and what to do if certain signs were discovered or mysterious noises were heard.67  The exploring party led out along the river trails under the orders of Charging Bear to stay in a compact body, while on the move, and to keep together at all times when resting.  No one should ride far to the flanks except the two scouts he had appointed for that duty.  Another rode to the front but no rear guard was put out.  They were not to fight any enemies but must evade them.  Their mission was to proceed to the center of the village.  The old women had told stories about it for a long time, but no one alive among them had seen it, except the four scouts.  If they had lied they would be punished like camp dogs.

As they proceeded the scouts once more told the story of the ruined village and pointed out the signs of their trail of the day before.  One of them had dropped a piece of pottery along the trail and now the horsemen saw it as they passed along.  This, at least, was tangible and they were encouraged.

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Toward midday they halted upon the banks of a small stream flowing northeast and rested their horses and allowed them to graze.  Here they found the fording place of the scouts and no hostile signs had been made since they had crossed.  During the afternoon of the second day they proceeded with no mishap, finally coming to the summit of a low range of rolling hills.

Below them the trail of the trampled grass made by the horses of the scouts, which they were following, led straight down the slope and as far as the eye could follow into the extensive, flat, circular, grassy plain.  The curving range of hills formed the south, west and north boundary of this far-reaching benchland.  The muddy waters of the wide Missouri and the dark, bottom timber lay to the east.  Far toward the north the “Peak,” of which the scouts had talked, reached up as a forbidding barrier and the river swirled at its base.

From the top of the hills the scouts pointed out the location of the village and the deep green of the ash trees along the small stream was easily distinguishable.  A council was held and it was decided that they should keep to the crest of the hills, which circled to the west and north, until they should arrive as a point close under the Peak, from which place they would be able to observe every part of the village except that part which could only been seen from the river bottoms.  They would spend the night in the vicinity of the Peak and go into the village the next day.  It would be night by the time they had circled the benchland and they would camp in the hills a short ride from the deserted vil­lage.

The advance scout, who had ridden ahead to the Peak to look over the country, came back with the information that he had not been able to see any smoke or other signs of people.  And that he had stayed until dark and had not discovered any lights in any direction.  He said that he could see as far as a single hill away toward the northwest, perhaps a day’s ride.  This was the Hill of the Standing Rock where the offerings were, so said the four scouts.

They made camp in a grove of low ash trees at a spring halfway up the hill from the benchland.  Here they hobbled their horses and turned them loose to graze.  They built no fires which might attract the attention of any observer.  They ate their sun-cured meat and fresh juneberries and smoked a pipe in silence as the evening shadows crept across the grassy flatland below them.68

They sat and watched the dark mounds of the earth lodges and listened to the sounds of the nighttime.  Nothing stirred in the desolate village and the noises about them were the usual ones of the night prowlers and their own hobbled horses feeding along the stream.

Early in the morning Charging Bear sent one man around the Peak with instructions to enter the timber and approach the village from the bottomland which stretched beyond the cliff and the river.  Another would remain with the horses under cover of the trees where they had spent the night.  The rest of the party would proceed carefully as far as the two sacred mounds on the north side of the little stream.  They would remain there until the man who had been sent through the bottoms returned to them and reported what he had seen or heard.  They would decide what to do after that.  If it were advisable to retire from the place for any reason, they would all get together at the place where the horses were held.

Consequently, the horses were herded into the deep shadows of the thick, scrubby trees, where they were held by their ropes, ready to be led out and mounted quickly.  The scout started on his roundabout way to get into the timber and, after waiting a while, Charging Bear, with the rest of the party, proceeded down the creek to get in the vicinity of the mounds.

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By daylight the main party was in position, crouching behind the two mounds, awaiting the report of the scout.  These two mounds were plainly the work of human hands and were within a long bow shot north of the stream and situated upon a prominent, flat-topped bluff which jutted out into the bottomland timber.  The larger one was about sixty feet long and forty feet wide.  The small one was forty feet long and thirty feet wide, and both of them were ten feet high.  They stood close together and were covered with grass like the other places of the prairie.

The meaning of the mounds and their uses were unknown to the Teton warriors.  They associated them with the unknown, or Wakan, and it was with some fear that they remained there until the scout joined them with the information that he had gone through the woods to the foot of the bluff on the river side of the village where he had found a great thicket of wild cherry and plum trees and piles of the bones of game animals.  He had stayed there a short time and then had climbed carefully to the top of the bluff from which point he had watched for any signs of the people or anything alive.  All he had seen had been a coyote sneaking into a tumbled lodge.  It looked like all the people were dead and he thought that they had better go away from the place while they, themselves, still lived.

But Charging Bear decided that, as they had come for the purpose of going into the village, they should do so.  He climbed to the top of the larger mound for a better view.

From the new point of observation he could see plainly into the village which had been built upon a bluff-like emi­nence which formed the south bank of the little stream.  This bluff rose forty feet from the water which flowed at its base.  Two fine, grassy meadows lay in the curves of the bluff and paths led down the steep banks to the waterside.  The Missouri had washed the western side of the cliff in the past but now a lower level extended from the old bank to the water which was some distance to the east.  This low land was timbered with trees of no great age, indicating that the course of the river had changed within a few seasons.

To these prairie Tetons the ruins of the village must have been a great sight.  They had never lived in earth or log houses.  Their people had always used the skin tipi since they had left the shores of the Great Water in the northeast, perhaps one hundred years before, and had pushed out into the great game country west of the Missouri.  It is true that Crow Feather of the Itazepchos (Sans Arc) of the Tetons had built an earth lodge four seasons before but had not lived in it much after the first winter season.69

The site of the village had been well selected by it’s founders, both as regarding the conveniences of their few demands and as defense from their roving enemies.  They had built upon a high, gently-sloping and sandy plateau.  The steep bank on the north side dropping into the small steam which emptied into the Missouri at a point which had formed the northeast corner of the village.  The Missouri, of course, was impassible on the east side, while it’s waters provided plenty of wood which could easily be drawn up out of the current.  A wide, grassy plain extended southward and a high line of hills to the west and north, which ended in the Peak, protected the villagers from the terrific winds of the long, cold winters.  Along the south and west sides of the site the original inhabitants had set a palisade of cedar logs, forming a protective barrier against any enemy which might come from these two directions.  These logs were set in an upright position, close together, with twelve feet above the ground.  Upon this plateau, and between the palisade and the bluffs were the large, solidly-built earth lodges of the villagers.

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Proceeding with much caution, the small force of Teton crept up a steep path to the level and stood within the enclosure.  There were probably two hundred and fifty lodges all now in a more or less ruined condition.  They appeared to have been placed without any idea of regularity and hardy prairie grass grew in the open spaces between them.  At several places the gravel and clay had been beaten so hard by dancing feet that the surface still remained free from grass.  A few scrubby groves of hardy cherry and plum trees were gaining a foothold.  In every direction many of the lodges had fallen in on their rotted roof timbers and the white, dry logs which formed the uprights and held up the heavy clay of the roof, which had been put over matting of willow and brush, stuck up in awkward positions from the sod and clay of which the sides and roofs had been made.

Some of the better-made lodges had withstood the ravages of prairie fires and season’s storms and the damage done by the wild things which dug and the buffalo which hooked and remained perfectly entire.

In wonderment the warriors peered into the dark interior of one of the largest lodges and, at last, ventured within.  The central fireplace of flat sandstone slabs set on edge was still covered with ashes and butts of burnt wood and the sleeping platform was still hung with the remnants of a hide curtain.  At one side, close to the sod wall, a covered earthen pot of crude workmanship still contained red and purple grains of parched corn and another one held pumpkin seeds and beans.  From the forks of an upright support hung a robe of buffalo hide, brittle and stiff from age.  The colors of the porcupine quill decorations upon it were bright.  Stone hammers and mortars and other implements of household use were strewn about upon the earth floor and, as the eyes of the explorers became more accustomed to the semi-darkness, they discovered among the things lying about the bones of people long dead.

They went out hurriedly and wandered together through the village.  Everywhere was the broken pottery and corn mortars and bones of men and animals.  In the central place, where the sacred rock with markings of an owl pitted upon it’s surface was still standing in front of the large, ceremonial lodge, they came upon the remains of many people who had apparently died in that place.  Their bones had been dragged around by the wild beasts and were scattered over the entire space.  Little grass grew here as the dirt had been trampled as hard as rock in this dancing space.  Here the warriors picked up many handmade sapphire beads70 and shell ornaments with holes in them for thongs, and arrow points and knives or flinty stones, and club heads of smoothly worked granite and red and green stones.  These articles appeared to have been worn or carried by the people who had died there.

In a large lodge they discovered a hide stretched over a frame and, upon its white surface, an unfinished pictograph drawn with brilliant colors.  The pots of dried paint and the horsehair brushes of the artist still rested upon the ground at the foot of the frame as though they had been dropped hurriedly.  A sheaf of arrows hung from one of the large center supports and a long lance leaned against the pole where the horses had been tied, just as it’s owner had left it.71

It was evident that his had once been a populous village of the Mandans or the Sheyennes which had been stricken in some mysterious manner with sudden death.  The fireplaces were as though they had been left with fire in them.  The pottery was strewn about as though it had been in use but yesterday.  The bones of men and animals were scattered in every direction and it was evident that the people had not been buried or placed upon scaffolds.  The party reasoned

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that the inhabitants had not met death by attack of their enemies for nothing had been disturbed.  The bones of many horses lay where the animals had starved to death while tied to the hitching poles within the lodges.  Robes still hung from their places and human skulls showed no markings except from the teeth of the prairie animals.  The people had not migrated for the holy stone remained in it’s place.

What people these were and what sudden and terrible misfortune had overtaken them in their well-fortified village, the Teton explorers did not stop to argue, but they hastily gathered together a horse-load of unbroken pottery, a quantity of corn, a few bundles of bone awls and hide scrapers, some stone hammers and various things of ornamental value, and fearfully threaded their way through the village toward the western side.

After passing through the rotting palisade they walked in grass of a reddish color which had come up in the abandoned fields where corn had been raised.  Tangled grass grew over the broad bone farming implements made from the shoulder blades of the buffalo and elk, where the women had dropped them.72

As they followed the stream toward the hills they came across another, but smaller, village of about twenty lodges built outside the palisade.  Here they saw more bones of man and animals and broken pottery and scattered articles of village life.  They hurried on and, mounting, rode silently away from the place where mysterious death had claimed an entire village for it’s own.

Reference notes for Chapter Five

(Ed Note) Arikara Medicine Lodge with sacred stone and mother cedar tree, 1872

59. Wambli Hunka (Eagle Parents).  It is a term applied to the members of the Chief’s councilors’ lodge.  These men are supposed to always have been men of good reputation and character and keen perception.  Their decision in any matter relating to law and order was supposed to be final and, when so given to the Riders of the White Horse Soldier Lodge, or other Soldier’s Society, was carried out by these soldiers without fear or favor of reward.


60. Thunder Bird.  Wonderful displays of nature during storms were supposed to be caused by a mythical spirit of the air, the Thunder Bird.  There are many legends regarding this creature and it’s continual contests with other fabulous earth, or water, beings.  To dream of it carries certain obligations and ceremonies to be performed.

61. This holy stone was the famous Standing Rock.  It was probably a Mandan stone, originally, but, being of too great a weight, it was not removed by that people when they immigrated north to the mouth of the Heart river.  It is also claimed by the Arikara, who came after the Mandans, but remained in it’s original position until placed upon a pedestal at Fort Yates, N.D. by the


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Indian Agent, Major James McLaughlin.  Offerings of food, arms, sticks with fluttering cloth, bundles of wild sage and tobacco were often deposited at it’s base by prairie wanderers.  When the Sioux finally secured the country where this stone stood they held it in reverence, owing to the fact that they accepted it as Wakan or Holy.  The reservation of the Standing Rock is so called from this stone.  It is the ‘Iyan bo sla ha’ of the Teton and the ‘Iyan bo sda ta’ of the Isante Sioux — the perpendicular stone.  It is supposed to be the petrified remains of an Indian woman and child and there are many stories concerning it.  It does not bear any resemblance to a woman; it is simply a black, glacial boulder of granite about two and a half feet tall.

62. A prominent landmark about eighteen miles south and east of Fort Yates, N.D., upon the right bank of the Missouri.  Manuel Liza, the Spanish trader from St. Louis, built a trading post in that vicinity in 1807 or 1808.


63. The earth lodges of the upper Missouri river Indians have been quite fully described by Catlin, Maximilion and other early writers, as being substantially similar to those of the Pawnee or Kansas.  The writer knows of but one which remains standing at this time.  It belongs to Crow’s Heart, the Mandan, and stands in the vicinity of the mouth of the Little Missouri river.  This is mostly fallen-in and the white logs of the upright framework are still in place.  This Indian is half Mandan and Hidatsa, so the lodge would naturally follow the ancient line of construction of those people.  The remains of one upon the site of the Village of the Crying Hill, at Mandan, N.D., which was one of the five original Mandan villages in the vicinity of the mouth of Heart river, is nearly seventy feet in diameter.  Another ruin, probably that of the ceremonial lodge, is about ninety feet in diameter.  The ordinary ones, however, were from twenty to forty feet across.

64. There are two mounds, apparently of human construction, at a certain point upon the banks of the Missouri river in North Dakota.  The large one is 60 x 40 feet and the smaller one measures 40 x 30 feet, both being about eight feet in height.  They lie upon a level plain, or benchland, and are heavily grassed-over, showing no trace of erosion such as are to be so frequently seen in Bad Lands formations and the axis are parallel.  In the immediate vicinity are the indi­cations of many earth lodges.

65. There is such a stone, marked with the pitted tracing of an owl, in the collections of the North Dakota Historical Society at Bismarck, N.D.  This stone was found upon one

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of the ancient village sites of the upper Missouri river, at Dead Grass dance hall of the Arikara upon the Fort Berthold Reservation.  A stone is now standing which was an Arikara stone brought with them from their village of Hidatsaati when they immigrated to the Federated Villages in 1861 or 1862.  When Hidatsaati was abandoned this stone mysteriously disappeared and its location was not known except, perhaps, to certain Arikara men until it as mysteriously appeared when the Dead Grass dance hall was opened with ceremony sev­eral years ago.  The Sacred Object of the Mandans is a structure which represents the Ark of the Flood traditions.  The Arikara always had a sacred stone standing before their ceremonial lodge.

66. This event is shown upon the Winter Count of the Blackfoot Sioux.  The fact that Mato Witko (Fool Bear) stayed all winter in a deserted dance hall was of such importance that it became the story by which that year is called.  Fool Bear was not disturbed by spirits during the winter.

67. In the olden times it was the custom of the old men to give much advice to the younger men who were determined to go out of camp in search of adventure.  Quite often this ad­vice carried warnings concerning the mischievous and often deadly pranks of Inktomi (the Spider).  This spirit was the wisest of all spirits and could assume the form of any bird, beast or other creature at will.  It was the cause of much sorrow and grief among the people.  Arrow points and spear heads, petrifications and, in fact, almost any such thing not easily explained by the Indians, are all ascribed to the work of Inktomi.  This spirit was malevolent and often deadly and was shunned and feared.

68. The “Wasna” of the Dakotah.  Meat cut into strips or sheets without regard to the grain of the flesh; hung across poles where, in this atmosphere, it quickly cured in the sun and might be kept for future use.  It is pounded with stone hammers until finely ground and then mixed with pounded wild cherries, or other fruit, and quantities of the marrow from the heavy bones of the larger animals.  Bone marrow does not spoil like other fats and the preparation may be kept for a long time and still remain palatable and nourishing food.

69. Crow Feather, of the Sans Arcs Sioux, built the first earth lodge among them.  He remained in it over one winter.  This is the only earth lodge built among the Sioux according to the information given the writer by them.

70. The writer is in possession of hand-fashioned and drilled sapphire beads taken from several ant hills upon the site of the Dead Village mentioned in note #61.  These old beads are quite small and were gathered by some old Sioux women after they heard that the writer would like to have some.

71. The Mandans, Gros Ventre and Arikara used spears quite extensively and most of Bodmer’s paintings of those people (1833-34) show them carried as an arm of defense.  The spear was an arm with which the Sioux were not so well-acquainted or, at least, did not favor.  The Sioux relied more upon the bow and arrows.  Many flint spearheads are found in old Mandan village site debris piles.

72. Different growths of grass to the west of the village site, at the present time, clearly indicate the “gone back” ground where the inhabitants cultivated their corn and other food plants.  At the foot of the hills are twenty lodge sites, plainly marked, where a separate community evidently lived for an indefinite time.

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Chapter Six:       The Spirit Bear Story of the Dead Village


The party rode rapidly westward for an hour before turning south to the more hilly country through which they followed the draws until they came to the same stream which they had forded the day before.  By this time it was mid-afternoon.  The young leader made an early camp that night in a deep, rocky draw where water dripped from the sandstone ledges which outcropped at many places.  As they neared their own camp the next afternoon they were trailed for a short distance by a mounted scout of their own people.  When he had established their identity, he turned back to the attention of his coming night’s duty.

The sky was clear and the full moon was shining brightly as they entered the camp.  Dogs snapped at their horse’s heels and skulked among the tipis.  A few women, who were gathered together at one place, recognized Charging Bear and his party and placed their hands over their mouths and made a peculiar moaning sound, an expression of admiration, wonder and surprise.

The small cavalcade trotted to the young chief’s lodge and laid their booty upon the ground.  Taking the rawhide ropes from the horses’ under-jaws, they slapped them upon their flanks, running them off in the direction of the night herd.

A crowd of people began to gather about the tipi to hear the story of the warriors’ journey.  Young boys rode up close and men came walking from various directions. Women sat down a short distance away.  The men sat down upon the ground and waited.

Finally, Charging Bear told of the trip to the “Dead Village” and displayed the beads and other things which they had brought back with them.  No one interrupted him while he was talking.  The women had formed a ring around his lodge and were softly singing as they circled to the left in the side-step dance.  Charging Bear told of the ruined lodges, the unfinished drawing upon the white hide, of the piles of game bones and broken pottery, the holy stone and the number of human bones there, of the field implements of the women in the grass-grown corn fields, the second village outside the walls, which he thought had been built by some of the people who had escaped and, returning, had been destroyed even as those others had been.  He displayed the blue beads and the small disks of shell with holes in them and the women examined the corn, the beans and the smoke-blackened pottery.

The most prized thing they had brought with them was a small, blue stone, thin, and shaped like the blade of an axe, with a hole provided for a thong at the small end.73  They knew this stone for they had seen a Mandan woman, who had been taken captive along the waters of the Chantecilla Wakpe (Little Heart river), which is beyond the river of the Inyan Wakan Gapi, and they remembered that this woman had worn a similar one upon her forehead.  She still lived among them and still retained the blue stone, wrapped in a buck­skin bag which she wore about her neck.  So the Mandan woman, whose name was Otter Woman, was brought forward to look at the stone.

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When questioned regarding it, she told them that these blue stones were very rare and worn only by the women or girls of a greatly-honored man, like a chief or a well-known warrior.  That they were made by a woman of the Mandans and that she was the only woman among them who knew how to make it or where to find it.  When this woman became old and ready to die she would tell another woman the secret, so it would live.  It was a holy stone, she said, and at a certain time the woman who held the secret would purify herself both in mind and body by fasting and washing and singing.  She must be a woman without sin with men.

When she was purified she would go away alone into the timbered places for several days.  When she returned she would be in possession of one of these blue stones which she would give to the woman or daughter of some noted man; and this person had the right to wear it upon her forehead after that.

No one knew how the woman made the stone and many thought that the spirits brought it to her when she was alone in the wooded places.  So the men sitting around decided that the people who once lived in the village where the stone had been found were Mandan Indians, and they named the ruined, old village Iyan Mahkpiyato (Blue Sky).

Iron White Man, a warrior of Charging Bear’s band, then said that his mother, who was an Arikara woman who had been taken prisoner by the Tetons and had lived the greater part of her life among the Sioux and had married a Hunkpapa brave,74 knew a story of that village and she would tell it to them now.  The woman came into the circle and everyone waited to hear her story.  After a long silence, she spoke:75

“In the old times there were many people who lived in this village of earth lodges.  It was a good place for a village for there was always plenty of water in the creek and the current of the great river floated much good timber to the shore.  They built a wall of dry logs around the place to keep their enemies from burning the village and killing the people.  They, who lived there, were very happy because they had good, warm lodges to live in during the winters and in summer they could sit upon the roofs in the wind.”

“Their men were skillful hunters and they had all the meat they wanted to eat.  There were many cherries, plums and grapes in the timber along the banks.  Besides these things, the women planted corn in the ground and they had a way of taking the shoulder blade of an elk or a buffalo and, after they stirred the dirt around in the corn field, the corn would grow very fast and many ears of good corn would come there.  The women knew how to take some clay and some pounded rock in their hands and mix it with some water and place it in the fire.  Then they took it out of the fire it would be a good pot like those to be seen on the ground be­fore them now.  They would sit along the edge of the bluff and eat the fat out of the buffalo bones which they cracked with stone hammers like those we use now.  And they would put corn between rocks and grind it into fine meal.  This was good eating.”

“After they had lived there for many seasons a young man grew up into a mighty hunter.  He had a woman who was the best looking woman among them and was also the best cook.  She always cooked his meat just the way he liked it and also took care of a good garden of corn and squashes.  Besides that she could dress skins better than any other woman of the village.  The man was very proud of her and often told the other men how good she could cook meat, but he was also very jealous and did not like for her to talk to any other man.”

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“One day she was in her garden down by the river, stirring about with the bone hoe among the corn.  The man waited a long time for her to return and cook his meat.  He became very hungry and, at last, very mad at her and he thought that she must be talking with some other man down in the garden by the water.  He walked to the place and saw her working among the corn.  ‘I am very hungry,’ he said, ‘I want you to come to the lodge and cook my meat.  Do not forget after this to do this thing, and never talk to another man, either.’  So she went back to the lodge and prepared his meat the way he liked it best.”

“The next day she worked again in her garden and the hunter sat and talked to some other men as they sat on top of the lodge.  There came a time when he was hungry and the woman was not there to cook his meat for him.  This time he was very certain that she was talk­ing to some other man and that she was not a good woman.”

“So, he became very angry and went into the lodge and took his strong bow of ash wood and his best arrows and went toward the garden by the creek.  When he came into the woman’s corn he heard her talking and he became more angry all the time.  So he crept along the ground and, when he saw the woman, she was talking to a grey bear.  The man thought that there was some mystery in this thing and that the man had changed himself into a bear, so he said, ‘Now show me this man you have been talking to.’  ‘But I was not talking to any man,’ said his woman, ‘I was talking to the Spirit Bear.  He tells me the things I want to know.  He told me about the big storm which came, and he talks good to me all the time, and what he says comes true.  He is a Spirit Bear and you must not hurt him or we will have bad things among us and the people will be hungry in the winter time.'”

“But the man was very angry and he shot the bear with a red arrow, a yellow arrow and a green arrow, so that the blood ran out upon the ground.  The bear rushed through the corn and swam across the Missouri and went over the hills out of sight.”

“The man was still angry with the woman and drove her to the lodge and told all the people that she was not a good woman and had not been faithful to him.  So they were going to cut off her nose for that thing, but she told them about the Spirit Bear and they were then afraid to do so.”

“Then she told the people that they would not be successful in hunting; that they would all become hungry and that bad times would surely come to them, because her man had shot the good Spirit Bear.  She told them to all prepare much food for bad times and to have a man on top of one of the lodges at all times, to look for trouble when it should come.  And they did those things and also made a little medicine lodge where they made a great many arrows to use when misfortune should come.”

“After many days this woman was in her garden, crying, and the watching man shouted that there were many buffalos on the other side of the Missouri and that it looked like they were going to swim across.  So all the hunters went to the edge of the water and hid there on the banks in the timber, waiting for the buffalos.”

“The hills across the river became black with them and then they came to the river and

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started to swim across.  The hunters waited to shoot them as they should crawl up on the banks, but they all turned into grey bears when they came out of the water, and the hunters became afraid because of this thing.  But the skillful ones killed a great many of them there, but more came all the time and, at last, the people were pushed back into the village and among the lodges.  The bears ate many of the people and everyone was fighting bears.”

“Finally the man who had shot the Spirit Bear with the painted arrows cried out to the people: ‘I was the man who wounded the bear which was a spirit.  It is I they want.  Perhaps if I sacrifice myself to them, they will be satisfied and will go away.  I will fight for all the people now.  Let everyone go to his own lodge and wait.'”

“So then the man painted his body with red, yellow and green paint, put on his best ornaments and took his weapons in his hands and stood there and sang his death song.  Then he rushed out among the bears to where there was one much larger than the others, and he fought him for a long time.”

“He killed many bears.  As he fought, the storm came with a great wind and it became black all around there; spirits were seen in the air by many people; there was a terrible noise and fire came up out of the ground.  Some of the lodges were shaken down and there was much hail and rain over the whole earth.  All of the people were afraid and ran through the village and among the lodges, crying, and at last they all fell down like they were dead.”

“After a long time the storm went over them and when they looked, the big bear had killed the man, and all the bears were going back across the river, where they disappeared over the hills as buffalos.”

Many of the people who heard this story thought that the bears of the old woman’s story had returned and destroyed the villagers, and other remembered a story about a scourge of red and green snakes which had appeared at some place and had caused the death of many people, but the old Chief Grass told them of the time when a terrible sickness had raged over all the world.  That had been forty-one or forty-two seasons before.  Again, only twenty seasons after that, this same form of sickness had come swiftly and had visited every camp.  They called that time ‘When everyone was sick Winter.’  The warriors of Grass’ band, a few of whom were still living, had fallen upon a moving body of Arikara as they had left some stricken village then, and had destroyed them.  Many people among the Teton Sioux had died during this sickness, and all the people of entire villages of Mandans and of the Arikara had been wiped out.

The Teton Sioux changed their camping every day during that reign of terror, in order that Inktomi76 could not find them to bring the sickness out of the ground or through the air.  Chief Grass said that the people of the earth lodges died so rapidly that there was not time to bury them and that they lay where they had fallen, so quickly did death strike them.  There were not people enough to take care of the dead or the sick and the villagers did not have time to hunt for meat and so many people died for want of food.  At last those who were well had placed the sick ones in the lodges with what food there was and, picking up their weapons, had left and fled across the prairie in terror, or leaped into the river to drown, leaving those other people to die alone.  It had been a terrible time in all the Sioux camps as well.  Their hearts were sick within them with fear, and no man was so brave as to say that he would be alive the next day.

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The wailing of women for the dead had been heard in every camp and many people carried the marks of its fury upon their faces ever after that.

The old Chief thought that this sickness must have appeared very suddenly in this village and, because the people ate from bowls and lived together in earth lodges which they hesitated to leave, it gained headway and raged with terrible speed, until at last most of the inhabitants had gathered together in the place there by the holy stone and stayed there until death took them and they laid where they had died.  Some, perhaps, had fled to the hills and returned af­terwards and built the small village of twenty lodges out­side the walls.  Here the sickness had probably claimed them upon their return, for there had been two seasons when it had gone through the world.

The people of the future would wander over the site of the village; they would be able to trace it’s lodges with accuracy and they would speculate upon the fate of it’s inhabitants; they might even pick up some blue beads or broken pottery, but the mystery of the deserted ‘Dead Village’ would always remain.

Reference notes for Chapter Five


73. The Mahkpiya (or Blue Sky Stone) of the Sioux.  Made by the earlier Mandan women.  The process of manufacture being rather carelessly outlined by Catlin in 1833.

74.  The descendants of this man and his Arikara wife are still living upon the Standing Rock Reservation  (1923).


75. This story of the Dead Village was told to the writer by Kangi Wanagi (Crow Ghost), who was the grandson of Iron White Man.

76.  The Spirit Bear.  This feared spirit of the Sioux made meat spoil and water turn green with poison.  Among the other bad effects produced by this spirit was that of certain sicknesses to human beings.

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Chapter Seven:  Some Ceremonies of the Sioux


The Tetons, or Sioux, of the Prairies, like all other nomadic peoples, have many ceremonies.  In fact, nearly every undertaking of any importance was, and still is, attended with ceremonies more or less complicated.  Those forms frequently bore deep religious significance, while others simply gave expression to enthusiasm or individual emotion.

Ceremony attended the giving of a name to an infant and also, when the infant had grown to young manhood he was honored by another name — called his warrior’s name.  In the first instance the ceremony was the usual customary manner of naming a child and was of minor importance.  Often the child not being named for years after birth.  But the naming of a young man was another matter, and the usual rites attending the ceremony became a demonstration of honor toward the young warrior for bravery displayed during some specific, special and well-authenticated affair of the war trail.

When a young man was permitted to put on paint for the first time the ceremony carried with it the privilege for the young man to make presents of horses or other valued articles.  Every heraldic device which a man might wear bore an accepted significance; every feather, or other article of such nature, was selected with care and ceremony, and the wearer’s record was readily known by the meaning of the decoration.  A man seldom attempted to display a feather or other heraldic mark of honor if he were not entitled to it’s display.  If he did so, he was laughed at and scoffed and ridiculed and might even be struck by the camp soldiers, at the direction of the chief.

However, the right to wear a mark of honor was not to be questioned by everyone.  A horse’s tail tied beneath a horse’s bridle bit signified that the rider had made first coup upon an enemy.  A red hand painted upon the horse’s flank indicated that the rider had struck a hostile horseman or had shaken hands with his enemy.  No one had the right to question the rider regarding these honor marks, unless he, himself, was entitled to wear similar decorations.

The important ceremonies of the Sioux are, with few exceptions, accompanied by the dance, and these dances are performed with due respect to ancient and honorable customs.  The dances all bear significance – the various forms of the Grass Dance, the Buffalo Dance, Ghost Dance, Bear Dance, Scalp Dance, Dance of Welcome, and many others, all refer to certain events which have an influence upon the daily lives of the Indian, either in an economical, social or religious and spiritual sense.

No dance practiced by the Dakotah had any deeper religious sentiment, or carried with it any more influence of a social nature, than the so-called Sun Dance.  This is the Wawaci Wakan, the Holy Dance.  It was not practiced by the Hill Villagers of the south, the people of the eastern woods, the Flat Heads by the great waters in the west, nor those tribes which live in the north lands.  It is a Dakotah dance, but was sometimes practiced by other tribes of the plains, who had borrowed it from the Dakotah.

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In most instances, one who took part in this important ceremony, did so as the fulfillment of a vow, previously made in public.  Such a vow generally took the form of a public declaration, or promise, made by a man just before starting out on an expedition against some other enemy tribe, to carry out vengeance for the violent death of a relative or  friend who had fallen at their hands.

Often, such retaliatory measures were taken alone and single-handed, under the command of a recognized leader or First Soldier.77  In either case, it was the common custom for individual warriors to make a solemn public declaration to the effect that, if he returned with honor, he would participate in this Holy Dance and, by way of showing thanks to Wakantonka, would cut himself and bleed in this ceremony.

It was not an unusual custom for a warrior, who for some good reason was not able to be a member of the war party, to make a similar promise on behalf of some friend who did go.  Many men have gone through the violent tortures of this dance several times, thereby raising themselves to high social prominence and honor and, in some instances, even to important tribal prominence.

Reference notes for Chapter Seven

 (Ed Note)  The Red Hand of Sioux Heraldry.  Taken from Welch’s notes

77.  Concerning the making of vows.   One man is know to the writer who took a vow to travel alone in a certain direction for four days without turning aside for any reason.  He did not deviate from his direct line of travel, even to pass around a short, high hill or to find a suitable ford of swamps or rivers.  When he returned from his great adventure he was given a new name on account of this exploit.  The story is told that, at one time the members of a Soldier’s Lodge, or Society, called the Fool Soldiers, on account of the nature of their vows, plunged into a broad, ice fissure which opened across their path while crossing the Missouri during the early spring.  Several of them perished in the icy waters rather than break their vows by deviating a short distance to go around the ice crack.

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Chapter Eight:   Charging Bear undergoes the ordeal of the Sun Dance of the Sioux


As the sun appeared over the tops of the high, rough hills on the eastern banks of the Missouri, it touched, with a finger of fiery light, a tall, flat-topped butte which stood like a solitary sentinel some distance back from the dark river on the western shore.  A shadowy figure slowly arose from beside a granite boulder which lay upon the flat top of the sun-kissed butte, and painfully straightened itself erect.

There was a look of great interest upon the face of this old Indian as he turned and looked down upon the sleeping camp of Chief Grass, which was still in the shadows of the early dawn.

He had been in the presence of the Iyan Wakan (Holy Stone) since early the evening before and, though the sounds of singing women, the cries of wildly excited warriors and the throb of the drums had come to his ears during the night, he had listened more intently to the spirit voices which came from the stone.  At times he had chanted a low song to Wakantonka, and finally the sounds of the camp had ceased in his ears; the blazing stars of the glorious western skies had died before his staring eyes and, finally, completely en rapport with the influences which surrounded him, he lay inert by the side of the Holy Talking Stone.

This stone was a mass of dark reddish granite, smoothed by the action of glacial ice and flood, and was a geological stranger above the clays and sandstones of that region.  Narrow seams of white quartz crisscrossed upon it’s surface and, to the imaginative mind of the plains Indians, these seams assumed strange and fantastic shapes and picture signs.  In the ever varying conditions of light and shadows no one ever saw the same symbols there twice alike.  Sometimes they took form as the tracks of birds, at other times the hoof marks of buffalo or elk were seen.  A tipi, an arrow, an eagle, and, in these strange tracings, the old Medicine Men and old wise men of the tribes believed that they could foretell the future events of their people or of individuals.

Especially was this true when strange whisperings and soft, bell-like tones, sharp reports and sibilant hissing came from the holy stone to the expectant senses of the anxious listener, until words of his own tongue were heard and messages came to him in the ‘voices of dead people,’ and often the self-hypnotized Indian, a natural mystic, remained in a semi-conscious state for a long space of time.78

This trance-like condition was developed to an extraordinary degree in many of the old time Dakotah, and the mind of the aged Nagi Hnaskinyan (Mad Soul), the Oglala, was full of the wonderful dreams and visions which had come to him during the night from the Talking Stone.79

It seemed to him that a cousin had appeared to him while he lay unconscious by the Iyan Wakan; a cousin who had met death by drowning while crossing the river at the time of the spring running of ice.  This cousin had shown him a pleasant place in a valley where a great pole was erected, ready for the Sun Dance.  He had told him that there was the place where Charging Bear and others should suffer the ordeal of the dance.  So the old mystic fastened a much

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prized piece of red cloth to a willow wand and, after sticking the cane into the ground by the rock as an offering to Wakantonka, he slowly and painfully descended to the foot of the butte and on to the awakening camp beyond.

Wambli Wakuwa (Chasing Eagle), nicknamed Wahkia To (Blue Thunder), the Herald, was loudly calling out the program for the day through the camp and the night herd guards were riding into the hocoka (the space surrounded by the camp lodges) as Mad Soul passed into the circle of tipis and went directly to the ceremonial lodge of Chief Grass.

It was the custom of the older men to gather there during the forenoon and sit in small groups outside in the warm, bright sunshine.  They listened to Mad Soul as he related his experiences of the night before while at the Holy Stone place.

It was decided that he and four others should go to the place revealed to Mad Soul in his vision and make the necessary arrangements for the dance.

Consequently, these men caught up their hobbled horses and leisurely rode away through the summer heat, toward the south.  That night they camped under a steep bank near a water place and by noon of the next day they struck a wide stream with a few scattered trees growing in the gullies which opened into the narrow valley.

They followed this stream for some distance and at a shallow place where a grassy, level meadowland sloped gently to the waters’ edge Mad Soul stopped and indicated that this was the place shown to him in his vision.

The horses were hobbled out and the men cut long, slim poles and branches and carried them to a spot selected by Mad Soul.  Here the saplings were stuck into the ground in a circle, bent over in the middle and tied together, forming the framework of a small house.  Over this round frame leafy boughs and branches were arranged as a protection from the sun.  Here the old men sat during the balance of the day, silently smoking.  But as the shadows of evening settled down, they once more mounted and turned their horses’ heads toward the north and the home camp.

They reached the village late in the evening of the next day and, after talking with the Chief Grass, the Herald was once more sent around the camp circle of tipis, calling out that the wise men had decided that the camp would move the next morning, telling the people to take everything with them and to not forget any children nor leave any old people.  They would travel together without any straggling for one day and then they would all camp and sleep in a good place by water and wood.  The next day they would finish the journey.

Following these instructions, camp was broken early the next morning and moved out toward the south in the manner in which camps had always taken the trail in times past.  Ahead of the column, spread out in a fan-shaped advance, rode a few warriors and the young fighting men.  Behind them, but following closely and riding in a compact body as support, under the leadership of the First Soldiers, came the great majority of the balance of the warriors.  Then came the camp, packed on travois drawn by both horses and dogs, and attended by the women.  Small children and the sick and very old people rode upon the travois or upon gentle horses, while warriors, far past their prime, mingled with the marching column.

Following at some distance in the rear was another body, formed of the younger fighting men.  Scouts, mounted upon fleet horses, coursed far to either side and rear as well as to the front of

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the entire column.  These scouts made known their observations to the oncoming camp by ‘riding signals’ so that the march proceeded without halt or undue fear.

Indeed, there was always much discipline observed during these moves and an offender was liable to punishment for breaking any of the rules of the march.  Disciplinary measures sometimes took the form of severe punishment and the appointed camp officer might even break the collar bone or the forearm of a great offender, or slash his lodge or burn his robes and other property.  If any party came to blows over orders given by authority they could even be killed by the soldiers.

The progress of the moving camp was necessarily slow and a long rest was taken at midday and meat was prepared and eaten.  The scouts did not come into camp during this resting period, but remained in observation at various positions of vantage.  This was thought to be expedient that day, as the party was not far from the outer hunting grounds of their enemies on the north, the Arikara.

The Arikara had a large strong village at the mouth of the Palani Wakpe (Arikara river, now called the Grand river) and this large body of Tetons on the move, perhaps by reason of their strength, had nothing to fear and felt perfectly secure, still they had no desire to bring on an engagement at this time, as they were in pursuit of other matters which claimed their attention.

Consequently, the moving camp bore more and more to the westward during the afternoon tramp, and that evening they were comfortably located in a narrow valley with scattering cottonwood timber along a small stream  which finally emptied into the Grand river some distance to the southeast.

Food was prepared but the fires were extinguished as darkness settled down; dogs were tied up and the horse herd was kept well bunched and close to the lodges.  There were no sounds of the drums or the dance ring and the old herald did not shout his orders loudly but walked among the closely packed lodges and temporary shelters, and gave his instructions to several small groups as they sat and smoked in the darkness and told tales of the battle fields and hunting parties.

Their rest was not disturbed during the night and when the camp guard returned in the early morning from their night’s vigil, the people were already astir and soon led out for the south on the last day’s march.

The day was hot, and when the information that they were approaching the camping place was signalled back to them, it was received with joy.  The scouts had passed across the valley and were scouring the country far ahead for any possible danger, when at last the tired people came within sight of the place which had been selected by Mad Soul, the Oglala.

The herd of driven horses splashed into the stream below the fording place and buried their muzzles in the cool water.80  The pack horses were relieved of their travois and packs by the women, without delay, and turned loose.  Tipis were erected, young men brought wood and a hundred fires were alight within a short time.  Food was prepared and by early evening the camp had settled down to routine of every­day conditions.

This was the valley of the Grand River in which they were camped.  It was a splendid location for a large camp, with plenty of wood and water as well as grassy pastures for the grazing of the horses.  The hunters secured several deer and elk in the valley above the camp and brought in

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the meat across their horses’ backs.  The scouts told of antelope in plenty.  Signs of a small buffalo herd in the close vicinity made it certain that meat would be had in abundance.  So, everyone was happy as night closed in and the noises of the camp ceased early that night, for the people were tired.

In this atmosphere meat cured rapidly in the open air and, thus prepared, it became the famous jerked meat of the Teton people.  This was packed away in cases of par fleche and used as their main article of diet.  Great quantities  were laid by for winter time by good hunters as the buffalo usually migrated from that region late in the fall.  Much suffering was sometimes brought about by a scarcity of meat in the winter time when freshly killed game was difficult to obtain.

The useful par fleche cases were made from the scraped hides of the buffalo, the hair having been removed by sharp flint or iron scrapers, fastened to the pronged section of an elk’s horn.  One buffalo hide was sufficient to furnish one large case or two smaller ones.  The cases were cut from the hides in one piece and the edges were then sewed to­gether at the corners with sinew, thus forming a trunk-like affair with a top which folded over.  A large case might hold as much as a bushel of meat.  When the raw hide cases became dry they were like sheet-iron in strength, and were then painted on the outside in designs of geometrical pattern and in brilliant colors.

A few days after this camp on the Grand River had been established the mother of Charging Bear selected a spot among some young thick-growing willows and commenced the erection of a sweat lodge.  The lithe, slim trees were bent over and tied together about four feet above the ground, thus making a low, round framework.  A hole was dug in the center and plastered with clay; hides were then thrown over the frame-work and closely drawn together and the sweat lodge was complete.

The sobered Charging Bear entered and removed his clothing.  Water was handed to him and he poured it into the hole in the center of the lodge.  The women built a small fire just outside and, upon this fire, they placed small rocks to be used when they became heated, for the purpose of generating steam for the bath.  These rocks were passed inside and when placed in the water caused steam to arise in clouds.

There was much religious and ceremonial significance and symbolism observed in the construction of a sweat lodge, as well as it’s use, and all these things had been carefully observed in the preparation of this lodge by the mother of Charging Bear, as this was a step toward taking the Sun Dance.  Some women would have used other methods of producing steam for the bath but, in this case, it was preferred that it come straight from the bosom of Mother Earth with no possibility of contamination.

Charging Bear remained in the bath for several hours, no food or drink being given to him, until, believing himself to be pure and clean both in body and mind, the young man left the lodge and went directly to a high hill nearby, where he sung and prayed to Wakantonka throughout the night.  Thus did the ordeal of the Sun Dance begin.

Several other young candidates were also weakening themselves by the sweat lodge process and abstinence from food and drink.  The Mad Soul and a few other Holy Men were preparing the knives and ropes which were to be used in the coming religious rite, as they sat in a tipi apart and they also observed all the ceremonial customs.

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Meanwhile, another important ceremony connected with the dance was being enacted by Chief Grass who was carefully selecting the pole to be used in the dance.  This he finally discovered some distance from the camp and nearly the entire population of the village went with him to bring it to the dancing place.  It was a great honor to be the man selected to attend to this pole and bring it to the place of torture and no one but a very good man, honored by the people, ever was granted that privilege.

When they had arrived at the foot of the tree selected, four young daughters of very honorable men were chosen to cut it down.  They were handed axes and each one, after holding the axe up to the east, west, south and north, struck the tree and, at last, caused it to fall.

It was then cut into a length of about nine paces with a branch at the top sticking out, thus forming a rude cross.  Everyone gave a great shout when the tree fell. The pole was trimmed and the people rolled the log upon four other poles for carrying without, however, touching it with their hands.  The carrying poles were then hoisted to the shoulders of many people and the march to the camp was commenced.

A song was sung as they advanced and those who followed in the rear waved leafy branches and bunches of sweet grass and wild sage.  Many horsemen rode around them, yelling loudly.  When the bearers became tired the pole was care­fully placed upon the ground, while the people made a great noise and all waved their branches and the horsemen circled madly.

The pole was finally deposited upon the ground near the hole which was to receive it.  This hole had been made by a very honorable man and, during the labor of setting the pole, the people danced about it and sung songs, all the time waving their branches and extending the sweet grasses toward it at arm’s length.

This pole was about ten inches through and twenty-six feet long.  Near the top was tied a bundle of sweet grass and an effigy of the buffalo as a petition to Wakantonka for plenty of meat.  Below this was hung a doll-like figure of buckskin representing Man.  At the place where the limb projected a strong cross-piece of wood was placed and securely tied.  The base of the pole was splashed with red paint, the tribal color of honor, while the balance of the wood re­ceived a coat of yellow, with wavy lines of blue, representing the split lightning and the cloudless day.  From the piece above several rawhide ropes furnished by the Holy Men dangled to the ground.

The hole which received the pole was in the center of a circular boundary, made by placing young willows into the ground and lacing them together, thus forming an enclosure.  The entrance was in the east, while at the north of this entrance, was a sun shelter for the drummers, and the south and west sides were also covered with boughs to protect the spectators from the hot sun.

During the evening and night Charging Bear, and the other young men who were making themselves candidates to receive the honor of the ceremony, heard the dance songs of the women and watched the flickering of the fires in the camp below.

Much excitement was caused in the early morning when a considerable number of friendly kinsfolk belonging to the Oohenopa (Two Kettle) tribe of the Teton division, under the leadership of Wahukuza Hanska (Long Lance), a famous chief,81 came into the camp from the south.  In some unaccountable manner they had learned of the dance to be given and had come to take part in the festivities, having travelled all night.

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With the first indication of day the old Herald walked through the camp and called out the order of the day.  Men soon appeared among the lodges in all the finery of their heraldic ornaments; women hurriedly prepared the morning meal and then assisted each other in painting the scalp at the parting of their hair with red paint.  The best raiment was put on by the younger class and the older people busied themselves around the fires, cooking meat and tipsina for the great feast which would follow the dance.  Boys rode back and forth through the camp; warriors sat together in small groups, here and there, and conversed in low tones.  A few young men squatted about a drum and sung old tribal songs and a handsome woman from among the newcomers shot glances toward the hill where the figure of Charging Bear was to be seen against the sky.

When the sun was one quarter high, the Holy Men came from their Lodge of Mystery and slowly walked to the ceremo­nial circle and sat down, silently, at the north side of the enclosure —  And the people looked upon them with fear and awe.

As these silent Wasnakaga took seats under the sun shade Charging Bear gave a shout and started down the hill toward the dancing place, running rapidly.  He soon presented himself before the Holy Men.  He stood tall and straight and with a look of great determination upon his bronzed face.  At his shout the people of the camp also ran toward the dance grounds and the warriors and men of the council entered the enclosure and seated themselves in the shade at the south side, while the women and children excitedly crowded closer to the green, woven walls.  Some men came singing and four War Women82 stood apart and sung of the brave young men who were to prove their right to be called warriors.  Standing alone, and some distance to the east of the entrance, the handsome woman stranger uttered the high, tremulous cry of encouragement and praise.

Charging Bear thrilled as he recognized the voice of the strange woman who had interested him while in the camp of Little Crow.  He held his head high and did not flinch as the Holy Men advanced and threw him down upon the ground, roughly pulled the flesh of his breasts out and thrust a knife blade through them, making deep, cruel cuts, two on each side, through which they passed a thick rawhide rope and tied them, soaked with his blood.83  And now, after the other young men had been prepared in a similar manner, the Sun Dance began.

Surging back against the ropes, the young braves endeavored to break loose the flesh which held them.  Their faces were distorted with the terrible pain and some even called to their friends to help them pull lose and, in his first frenzy, Charging Bear broke one of the ropes in a terrific leap backward, and then demanded that he be suspended clear of the ground.  The ropes were shortened and retied until his toes barely touched the earth, and throughout the long, hot day he hung suspended, surrounded by a frenzied crowd of dancers.  Some of these friends even hung upon his limbs and swung him around the pole in a great circle, but his flesh still refused to tear apart and the strong thongs held.

All the others had long since broken loose from the ropes and roughly tender hands were administrating to their needs, but Charging Bear hung and refused to permit the ropes to be cut; it must break or the flesh give way.  Blood steamed from the cuts in his arms and he continually blew upon an eagle bone whistle and glared defiantly at the sun.

Once during the terrible ordeal it seemed to him that he must cry out like a woman, but at that moment his bloodshot eyes seemed to catch a vision of the ‘Handsome Woman’ afar off as she

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extended him a handful of sage, a token of friendship, and in his ears rung the clear notes of her song of joy and praise.

Her own heart was sick as she watched his muscles quiver and his face distort with agony, but she was proud of his wonderful determination and bravery as he fulfilled the vow he had taken.

As the descending sun dropped below the line of western hills the Holy Men approached Charging Bear and slashed the tendons of his breasts and, as he fell in a heap at the foot of the pole, he quickly gained his feet, staggering with weakness and pain, to stand erect.  Holding up his arms toward the south, he uttered the blood-chilling, indrawn cry of the Dakotah warrior and left the enclosure, proudly passing through the crowd which made way for him.  No more a youth but a warrior entitled to all the rights and privileges of a man and to a place in the council circle.84

Reference notes for Chapter Eight

78. Iyan Wakan (Holy Stone) — such a stone is located ‘a day’s ride west of Shields, N.D.’  This particular stone was a holy stone to most of the upper Missouri river tribes.  It is located upon the north fork of the Cannon Ball river in Township 132, Range 86, Grant County.  This is the identical stone mentioned by Lewis and Clark (1804-05), Maximilion, Prince of Wied (1834), George Catlin (1833) and other travellers as an ‘Indian Oracle.’

79. It is said that the Indians placed live coals upon the bare flesh of the noted Medicine Leader, Sitting Bull, and cut him with knives when he was in a state of trance in order to prove him.  While in this condition the old medicine man ‘spoke in the voices of people long dead.’

80. It was irreligious for an Indian to pollute a stream or the campground within a hundred paces of the lodges.

81. Long Lance was a famous chief of the Oohenopa tribe of the Teton Sioux and was the father of the Indian wife of Honore Picotte, a noted French trader of the Pierre and upper Missouri river country.  Upon the rather mysterious disappearance of Picotte, the widow, who was a very influential person among the Dakotah, and whose name was Wambliautapewin (Eagle Woman who all look at), married another trader, Major Galpin.  Her descendants are still well-known and highly respected in North Dakota (1923).

82. Certain Indian women have been granted the right to wear heraldic devices showing that they have ‘made coup’ upon the enemy.  Four such Sioux women were present at the adoption ceremonies of the writer when he was taken into the Sioux Nation as the son of Chief John Grass in 1912.

83. Crow Ghost, the grandson of Iron White Man, showed the scars of the Sun Dance to the writer.  The cuts had not been made by a knife.  The young warrior had insisted that a splintered stick be used to be twisted and punched through the flesh of his breasts to make the holes through which the ropes were finally tied.

84.  The Sun Dance has been witnessed by many people who are still living (1923).  It was stopped by the Government and it has been years since the real Sun Dance was held.  An interesting account of the Mandan Sun Dance ceremonies has been written by George Catlin, as seen in 1833.  He called it the ‘Ceremonies of the Okippe.’

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Chapter Nine:    The wooing of Many Thank You Woman and the duties of a wife


A few days after the rites of the Sun Dance had been participated in by Charging Bear and the men of his party. a number of old men and warriors sat together in council.  The talk was long and everyone said what he wanted to say with­out fear, as is his right at such times.

It was decided that the camp should move by easy stages toward ‘The Grove of Tall Oaks’ and be in that vicinity when Little Crow and the other Isante tribes should arrive for the Council of the Seven Fires.  Thereafter the camp was moved day by day, remaining in one place only as long as there was easy hunting and good grazing.

As they were camped at a place along the Mini Luta Wake,85 at a time past the middle of the summer ‘when the cherries are ripe,’ they were joined by a large band of Hunkpapa under the leadership of Red Tomahawk, whose son, Strikes the Earth, was a member of the band of Charging Bear.  They were coming in from the western game country.  The two parties made a large camp and thereafter moved more slowly.  Much meat was secured and the women were kept busy drying it and scraping the hides. Tallow from the young buffalo cows was dried out and marrow was taken from the heavier bones and poured into the paunches for future use.  The meat was first cut up into thin sheets and then placed across drying poles and hung in the sun.  The hides were pegged out upon the ground and fleshed and made ready for tanning, in which process the brains of the animals were used.  Par fleche cases of many different shapes and sizes were made from the rawhide with the hair scraped off and gaily painted with red and yellow and blue paints.  Sinew for sewing was secured and the old women busied themselves by making moccasins and tobacco bags and decorating them with colored porcupine quills.  The warriors whittled out pipe stems of ash and fashioned bowls which came from the red-stone quarries in the country near the Big Sioux river in the land of the Yankton Dakotah.  A few men actually chipped arrow heads by holding a piece of bone in the palm of the hand and pressing with a swift dexterous movement upon flinty stones.86

The young men ranged far away in search of game or possible adventure with any chance enemy passing through the country.  Boys, old enough to sit upon a horse, were taught the art of shooting by practicing with bow and arrows, under the instructions of their fathers, while circling at full speed.  Stick games and shinny and many forms of guessing games were indulged in by old and young.

While the terrible wounds upon the breasts and arms of Charging Bear were healing the young warrior was the object of much honor and attention.  He rode through the camp or walked among the lodges with a feeling of much importance.

One evening Charging Bear walked across the camp circle to a lodge of the Two Kettles where he sat down by the tipi of the singing woman whom he had seen at the village of Little Crow and on the outskirts of the crowd at the Sun Dance.  His blanket was thrown over his head as he sat there.  Men and women passed him by in the semi-darkness without speaking to him.  Presently he produced a flute made from the wing bone of some large bird which he had

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secured from an Isante Sioux and, standing by the door flap, he started to play the love song of the Dakotah.  When he had finished he stalked away without as much as a glance at the lodge where dwelt the handsome woman stranger with the beautiful voice.

The next night he went again and this time he was leading several horses.  One was loaded with the meat of the buffalo and antelope and another with presents of furs, tanned hides and various things from the store of La Framboise, at the mouth of the Teton river.  A string of beads, a kettle of iron, a yellow, red and blue three-point blanket, an elk-horn scraper with a broad piece of iron set into the cutting edge and, the most highly prized of all, some red cloth, the first he had ever seen.  The presents were piled at the entrance of the lodge and the horses were picketed close by and, once more, Charging Bear walked away without a word.

Within the lodge sat Wawapilakiyewin (Many Thank You Woman) and her parents.  Her father soon went out and examined the presents and passed his hands down the horses’ legs.  When he returned he was carrying the smaller presents which he placed in a pile at one side of the lodge.  He sat for some time in silence, then he spoke:

“My daughter,Winona (First Born – if a daughter), it is a good thing for a woman to select a mate.  She should try to have an honorable man to provide for her needs.  She should raise many children, for that is honorable.  She should make him a good woman and prepare his meat and attend to those things which she will find to do about the camp.  She should be neat and industrious and should not talk too much while in the presence of her man, but be serious-minded and not interfere when he has visitors.  If he is a warrior, she should be ready to lead him his horses when he goes toward the enemy.  She should sing the joy songs when he returns with honor.  By doing these things she will cause him to feel pride in his own household.”

“This young man is the son of a great chief and is, himself, a brave warrior and a good hunter.  He has many horses and much influence.  I think that he will become a great chief like his father is now.”

“It is a good thing for young women to attend to what their parents have to say to them, and it is not good when they do not wish to do as they are told to do.  Other young men have tied horses to the entrance and your parents have favored them.  But because you were not willing to become a wife, these horses have been turned loose to wander back to their owner’s herd.  Now it is time for you to take a mate.  We are older than you and should be wiser, and so we tell you these things.  You shall become the wife of Charging Bear.”

Many Thank You Woman did not answer but, drawing her new red and blue blanket around her shoulders and over her hair, she left the lodge and walked down to the edge of the water upon which the camp had been made.  She was glad and wanted to be alone.

The wild things of the night that came and went, watched the silent and immovable figure for a few moments and then passed along.  A night bird hovered above her on noiseless wings.  An otter slipped into the water and, from a thick tangle of rushes, watched her for a few minutes and then crawled out upon the opposite bank without fear.  The countless and indistinguishable sounds of the wide places, the sweep of the wind across the prairie grass and through the low branches of the trees upon the banks of the stream were as the tones of a wonderful organ

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played by sure, invisible fingers and a spirit of adoration and worshipful peace came to Many Thank You Woman.  Over her a spell was cast as the mysterious stillness of the wild places seemed to settle over the earth.  Thoughts of the mystery of the universe and the mighty power of Wakantonka possessed her when, at last, she slowly turned toward the lodge of her father.

The small fire within the lodge was nothing but a bed of glowing coals.  The discordant noises of the camp were hushed.  The last drummer had laid down his sticks and the singers had walked away into the darkness.  Nothing was heard but the low, serene and scarcely audible murmur of nature.

It was wonderful peace and secret joy to her.  It was all a part of a great omen of good and the small round pebble, which she had picked up by the waterside and still carried, was carefully and thoughtfully tied up in a small buckskin bag and thereafter always carried by her as a good luck stone (good medicine).

 Reference notes for Chapter Nine

85.  Mini Luta Wakpe (Red Water Creek).

86. Flint arrow heads were not generally made by the Sioux or other tribes of the upper Missouri country.  Those Indians picked them up from the ground and used them as they had been made by some people who antedated the present tribes.  The Sioux ascribed them to nature or the work of Inktomi, the Spider.

Reference to Red Tomahawk in story line:


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Chapter Ten:      The wedding of Charging Bear and Many Thank You Woman


Sunrise the next morning found Charging Bear and a few other men far away to the west in a rough and hilly country with an occasional high, flat-topped butte reaching higher than the other hills in that vicinity.  Upon the slopes of one of these isolated peaks several objects were to be seen, moving slowly among the piled up masses of sandstone.  These were the wonderful big-horned mountain sheep, much prized by the Tetons for their hides which, when properly tanned, made clothing which did not become hard and stiff after having been wet and then dried.  The huge horns were made into spoons and other articles for everyday use.

These animals were extremely shy and cautious and, at the first indication of danger, would climb to inaccessible and rough heights.  The Indian hunter did not often endeavor to follow the swiftly moving and sure-footed animals.

The big horn generally kept the strictest watch upon the country spread beneath them and the Indian hunter learned to take advantage of this habit and, in it’s head­long flight, the animal often rushed to it’s destruction as it passed a hunter posted above it in the rocks.

On this particular morning Charging Bear and Chante Peta (Fire Heart), the Blackfoot, climbed the butte from the western side and crossed the flat-top without making any noise and posted themselves near the edge on the east slope, behind a tumbled mass of red sandstone.  The balance of the party passed through the hills and rode into the open country to the east of the butte and within plain sight of the old sentinel and his herd.

When the horsemen came within sight of the animals, the cautious big horns took flight instantly and started up the rocky slopes.  When they neared the top they turned into a trail leading around the butte on an easier slope.  This would take them past the hiding place of Charging Bear and Fire Heart and within easy range.

With their best arrows upon the strings, the two hunters awaited the fleeing animals.  They permitted several to pass but, as the old sentinel came bounding along the rocky trail, Charging Bear gave a whistle and he stopped short with his head held high.

The strong ash bows delivered their shafts and a fine animal dropped with Fire Heart’s arrow through her body just behind the shoulders.  The old sentinel, however, with a startled snort of pain and surprise, bounded away and out of sight before Charging Bear could string another arrow.

The hunters found him, however, within a short bow shot distance and, after retrieving his arrow, which had passed clean through the buck and had skidded down along the rocks, they proceeded to skin the splendid animals and carry them, together with the head of the buck, down the steep rocky slopes to the waiting horses.  Here they packed the pelts and most of the meat on lead horses and started back to camp.

The party secured several Tatokadan (pronghorn antelope) on the way back and, when they arrived at camp in the afternoon, were well-provided with meat.  The immense horns of the ram

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which Charging Bear had brought down created much interest among the people and the other hunters squatted around and told interesting tales of other hunts in which much larger and better horns figured.87

Charging Bear unloaded his kill at his own lodge and gave all the meat, except that of one antelope, to the people of poor families who had no one to hunt for them.  This was his custom and, at the dances, the women often sung about his generosity and honor toward the poor and aged.88

The band of Two Kettles, who had joined the camp during the Sun Dance, gave a dance that evening and a special invitation was made to Charging Bear to be present.  This was sent by the father of Many Thank You Woman who, himself, was a famous hunter and warrior.  The black invitation stick was stuck into the ground at the entrance of the lodge and the messenger returned without a word.89

Charging Bear spent much time upon his dress that evening.  He braided his hair and interlaced the heavy braids with otter fur, tying into them the two small looking glasses which had been given to him by Little Crow at Kapoja.  His breech cloth was of softest white doeskin and his moccasins were new and covered with the traditional design in porcupine quillwork.  About his neck hung the silver medal which had been given to his father by the false-hearted Englishman, Robert Dixon.  The stone club he carried was decorated with one eagle feather with the quill bound in red cloth in token of his coup made upon the Arikara buffalo hunter who he had struck at the hunting camp.  Upon his head he modestly wore a single notched eagle feather.  Disks of rainbow-hued abalone shell from the Pacific coast, which he had received from a friendly Shoshoni, hung from his ears.  His face and limbs were painted with red, yellow and black paints.  The fresh scars upon his breasts were circled with red from which ran zigzag lines, indicating the holy nature of the wounds.90  A decorated buffalo robe completed his at­tire.

Late in the afternoon the Two Kettle herald went through the camp, shouting that:

“There would be a dance at the camp of Long Lance; that the women had prepared a kici­copa (feast); that all people who were honorable were invited and that others should stay away; that there were good singers; it was a good night and there would be much joy.  Heca.  When the drums first beat, they should come to where the fire was, at the Chief’s lodge.  Ho.”

At the Two Kettle camp a circular fence (or lattice work) had been constructed, enclosing a dancing space, extending from a large ceremonial tipi which was decorated with the marks of the Two Kettle Chief and leaving an en­trance about twenty feet across. This dance enclosure occupied a level, grassy place near by the wooded water course, and directly across the camp from the Blackfoot lodges of Chief Grass.

When it became dark groups of singers and drummers gathered about the two drums in the middle of the space set aside for dancing.  The drums were held up from the ground by hanging them upon the low forks of four sticks set into the ground.  These drum supports were gaily decorated with porcupine quillwork and curved outward from the top of the drum.  Upon the ends of the sticks were the soft underwing feathers of the white owl.

The drums were two and a half feet in diameter and had but one head, the underside being open.

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The head of colt skin was stretched tightly across a circular body of thin wood about eighteen inches deep.  Notches were cut in the lower side of the body and rawhide thongs were passed through holes cut in the hide and down to the notches.  These thongs served to tighten the head.

Each musician brought his own sticks upon which much time and work had been spent.  These sticks were fifteen inches long and were also decorated with colored porcupine quillwork in geometrical designs.  An egg-shaped ball of buckskin, packed with hair and loosely bound to one end of the stick, was the striking part.

The musicians sat around the drum and pounded softly as they sung a few songs in low voices.  Finally the chief singer started a dance song and the drumming became more spirited.  A few Two Kettles started to dance and from across the camp circle many people walked toward the dance ring, as they heard the pounding of the drums which announced the beginning of the festivities.

Women came together singly and grouped upon the grass just outside of the circle of boughs.  Gaily decorated and painted warriors and younger men trouped across the moonlit spaces and, stalking proudly into the ring, sat down upon their robes.  As the dancing progressed the singers and dancers became more excited and interested and, within a short time, everyone entitled to dance was enjoying himself to the full extent.

Many of the younger men and women held their robes or blankets closely around their faces and took great delight in this style of masquerade.

Charging Bear was a skillful dancer and moved gracefully when the warriors danced alone.  He watched with eager eyes as the women circled in the slow movements of the Grass Dance.  He could not locate Many Thank You Woman, but occasionally heard her voice rising high and clear in the response songs of the women.

As the dance progressed several men and women slipped away from the crowd within the red glare of the fire and walked slowly into the surrounding darkness, where they stood alone.  The figure of a tall man approached a woman outside the light thrown by the campfire; all the man could see was the woman’s eyes, and he looked at her keenly.  She drew her blanket still closer about her face and turned her head away from his gaze.  It was Many Thank You Woman.  Charging Bear recognized the gift blanket of red and yellow as the one he had laid at the entrance of her father’s lodge the night before.

He walked straight to her and, withdrawing the blanket from her head and shoulders, looked into her eyes.  Then he drew his own robe over her shoulders and they walked away from the dance circle and disappeared in the darkness.91

Old Chief Grass and his woman had left the dance early in the evening and sat in their own lodge, alone.  The woman was braiding strings of freshly dug tipsina, ready for drying in the sun; the old chief was smoking silently.  A dog outside barked joyfully; the flap over the entrance was brushed aside and Charging Bear and Many Thank You Woman entered and, after shaking hands with the Chief and his wife, sat down together.

The old chief spoke to them, calling them his ‘Son and Daughter,’ then he reached over and took up a willow stick which had been peeled of it’s bark, with the exception of a few rings, and the peeled parts were painted red.  He stuck the stick straight up in the ground between his feet.

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In this position it meant that the visitors were free and welcome to stay in that lodge and eat and sleep as long as they desired.92

Finally Charging Bear spoke:

“My father, this woman is Many Thank You Woman of the Oohenopa.  I have given her father presents and we have talked together.  This blanket she wears is mine.  I have my own lodge but there is no woman in it.  I cook my own food as I need it and give the rest of my kill to the unfortunate people and to you.  No one tans the skins I catch; no one sings of me when I am away on a journey; no one in particular is glad when I return except my own blood folks.  I have no son to give my name to when I grow old.  We have talked together and we have decided that we will make a home lodge of our own.  We want to stand in the smoke of the sweet grass and let the people know about it.  We came to tell you.  That is all.”

The kindly eyes of the old man turned toward the young people:

“I am glad because of this thing.  Everything in nature tells us that we should have a mate.  All the animals have mates.  Some do not stay long together.  You should not be like that, but should live together until one of you is gone to the Spirit Country.  My son in honorable.  My daughter must also be honorable.  She should be industrious, neat and clean and have much virtue.  I believe that my daughter is all of these things.  We parents do not have anything to say when the young people decide to make a lodge for themselves, for that is right, but we may give much advice.  I do not say much but for you to be honest in deeds toward each other.  In that way you will keep friendly with yourselves and with each other.  This lodge of mine is another home for you always.  We will burn the sweet-grass now.”

From a supply in a little bundle under a buffalo robe the wife of the old chief gave him a quantity of the grass and handed him a burning stick from the fire.  With this, the grass was lighted.  As the white, sweet-smelling smoke ascended, the two young people stood in it, side by side.  When the smoke had faded away into the air, Chief Grass filled a flat, plate-like dish of Arikara earthenware with water and, from a small hole in the dish, the water was permitted to drip over the heads of Charging Bear and Many Thank You Woman.  The ceremony was complete and the herald would make the announcement the following day.93

The young people left the lodge at once and went out into the starlight together.  Charging Bear pointed to his dark tipi and they turned that way.  When they approached the lodge Many Thank You Woman picked up several pieces of dry wood and then opened the flap and entered.  Soon the white smoke of a new home drifted lazily through the center poles and then Charging Bear also entered and sat down across the fire from his mate.

Reference notes for Chapter Ten

87.  It is said of Chief John Grass (Welch’s adopted father) that he once sent an arrow clean through a running buffalo and mortally wounded another one which was running by it’s side.  The bow with which this shot was made is in the collections of the writer (1923).  The wood is not identified but has the appearance of old hickory.

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The curves of this bow are most interesting to a modern bow maker and indicate profound knowledge of applied force as given to an arrow.

88.- It was this virtue of giving his kill to the old people of the camp which made the Medicine Leader, Sitting Bull, so popular with the women of the Sioux.

89.- Invitation sticks in possession of the writer (1923) are 24 inches long.  They are all nicely peeled and painted in alternate bands of black and are pointed at one end in order to be easily stuck into the earth.

90.  In the paintings of the Dakotah, lines which are wavy or with sharp edges indicate strength or mysterious influences.  An examination of the census of Red Cloud will disclose several of these pictographic names such as ‘Crazy Hawk,’ ‘Holy Bird,’ ‘Spirit Bear,’ etc.  When a scar upon the flesh is circled with these lines in red paint it indicates that the wearer was wounded while in the performance of a vow or brave deed.

91.  A common love-making custom.

92.  An old custom still to be seen in the lodges of the older Sioux (1923).  If, for any reason, it is not desired that a visitor stay, this stick is laid flat upon the ground.  If planted in the earth in an upright position, it is then known that the visitor is welcome to stay and eat and sleep as long as they may desire.  It is no insult to place the stick flat upon the ground for it may be that the camp is about to move, that there is not sufficient food for all, or it might also mean that the visitor is not welcome for personal reasons.  In any event the position of the stick is readily understood by the visitor and he acts accordingly.

93. In the olden times the general custom of procuring a wife was by making an arrangement with the father of the girl, during which presents were made to him.  Chief Grass (Welch’s adopted father) married two sisters of the same family and followed the custom of plural wives.  For one he gave seven horses and two revolvers.  For the other he made a present of seven horses, a rifle and a revolver.  It was considered a very fine thing to take all the sisters of a family for wives.

Reference to Fire Heart in the story line:  He told Welch, 1915, that his mother was a sister of the Charging Bear in this story line and that his grandfather, also a Fire Heart, was in the Arikara War of 1823.

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Chapter Eleven: Charging Bear crosses the Missouri and heads for the Grove of Tall Oaks and a meeting with Little Crow


The range of the Blackfoot Sioux had been in the vicinity of the Grand river for many seasons.  The Hunkpapa Sioux claimed the region south of that river and the Itazepcos (Sans Arc) were their friendly neighbors south of them.  Next came their adopted cousins, the Sheyennes, who were a lost branch of the Algonquin.

Although the camp of the Blackfoot was now out of their own territory and was moving through the district of the Hunkpapa, no alarm was felt because the three divisions men­tioned were very closely allied.  In fact the entire body of Teton Dakotah apparently always maintained a closer relationship in a political and social way than did the Isante division, composed of tribes which lived east of the Mis­souri.

While difficulties of a serious nature sometimes did occur between the bands of the Tetons, they were generally brought about by the impulsive actions of hot-headed young men.  The older chiefs and head men of the bands counseled lasting peace between them; reparation was made by the party or parties responsible for any trouble and friendly rela­tions were not allowed to be seriously impaired for any great length of time.

The Blackfoot and Hunkpapa were a particularly strong force of warriors.  They became acquainted with the prairie country west of the Missouri about one hundred and sixty years before this time and, with the other divisions of Oglala, Miniconjou, Oohenopa, Sicangu and Itazepcos, became known as the Tintonwan or ‘The Dwellers of the Prairie.’  Together with the six different divisions of the Isante, who lived least of the Missouri river, they became known to the early white explorers by the Chippewa word ‘Nadeoussioux,’94 but their true name was ‘Dakotah’ or Friendly People or Allies.

The Teton (a corruption of the Sioux word ‘Tintonwanna’) came into contact with the Arikara, who lived upon the Missouri river north of the mouth of the Mini Tonka (Niobrara river), about 1750.  These people  were known to the Teton as the Padana or Pani.  They had first been seen by white explorers when Alvarado, the Spaniard, a Lieutenant of Cortez, found them in the valley of the Platte river in 1541.  The Arikara built villages of earth lodges and formed permanent village communities, in the vicinity of which they raised much corn and other vegetables.

The Tetons were rovers and lived by the chase and it was inevitable that differences should arise between the indolent villagers and the bold, migratory Teton warriors.  Unimportant difficulties soon brought hostilities and open war carried on between them for forty years.  The dashing Dakotah warriors harried the Padani continually and drove that unhappy people from one village to another, until, at the time of this history, their most southerly village out­post was a short distance above the mouth of the river called Padani Wakpe by the Teton, and Grand river by the white hunters and fur men.

At this place the Arikara had built a village of great strength.  It consisted of about 150 lodges,

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located at a point of important strategical value, upon the western bank of the Missouri, and surrounded on the land side by a strong palisade of heavy logs set into the ground on end.95

But strong as the Arikara’s position was, they lived a life of continual warfare and danger. The warlike Ihankton­wanna (Yanktonaise), a division of the Isante Dakotah living across the river, threatened them, and their old time enemies, the Blackfoot and Hunkpapa Tetons, west of the river, raided them at every opportunity.  The Blackfoot under the leadership of the elder Charging Bear, were particularly active in this war of conquest, and every young man among that tribe was ambitious to wear a coup emblem acquired from those people.

The Blackfoot, together with the Oglalas and Hunkpapa, had acquired horses as early as 1770 and soon became expert horsemen.  They followed the buffalo, hanging upon the flanks of the great herds and riding to the hunt.  An adven­turesome band of Teton had even gone far to the west and discovered the Pahasapa (Black Hills) in 1775.  Thereafter their war parties appeared upon the Hehaka Wakpa (Elk river, now called Yellowstone), and along the Tongue and Powder river, riding against the Kange Wicasa (Crows).  They pressed hard after the worried Arikara along the Missouri and harassed them at every opportunity.

Consequently this division, under their famous war leader Charging Bear, often called by the family name of Pezhi (Grass), had forged more and more to the north and west, keeping in close battle-touch with the Arikara and, as mentioned before, were now in possession of the entire Grand river country with the exception of the Arikara village and it’s immediate surrounding district.


Now the moving camp was upon the north watershed of the Moreau river and well to the south of the Grand river and it’s famous hunting fields.  The people were well-provided with meat for food and hides for clothing, so the trail was turned from pleasant valleys toward the southeast, in order to approach the Missouri river at a well-known and frequently-used crossing place.  A high, peculiarly-marked and colored butte, which could be seen for a long distance from any direction, was the guide for this fording place.  This butte was called the Hill of the Patched Hide on account of the many bare places and colored spots upon it’s slopes.  It was an easy day’s journey north of the point where they were to cross the treacherous stream.  It would take several days to make to crossing safely for they had many horses and much camp equipage.

The camp passed over the high land after leaving the Moreau and, at last, reached the headwaters of a small stream which flowed into the Missouri

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not far from the crossing place.  This stream they followed to it’s mouth where they were to camp.

At this place they found a camp of several hundred tipis already established.  These lodges belonged to the Miniconjou and Sicangu (called Brules by the French and meaning Burnt Thighs in the Sioux language) with a few Oglala and Two Kettles.  These people had been coming in from various points for several days.  The Miniconjou had traveled far, having come from south of the Black Hills where they ranged along the Niobrara.  The Two Kettles and Burnt Thighs had joined them somewhere many days travel to the southwest along the Sheyenne.  The Oglala had been up in the country of the Sans Arcs for a visit with those rela­tives of theirs and intended to return by way of the buffalo country for their fall supply of meat.

All of these tribes had been notified by couriers that a council would be held in the middle of the summer month at the Grove of Tall Oaks and they had hurried to the crossing place and waited for the other bands.

The camp was now composed of at least 1,000 lodges and stretched out along the banks of the Missouri for several miles.  Each tribe had its own camp and pasture but the people came and went freely throughout the encampment.  It was not the custom for young people of the same band to marry.  So it happened that many women of the different camps belonged by ties of blood to other people and there was great rejoicing for several days as they hunted up their friends and relatives.  The young people played games of various sorts and raced horses.  The old men sat together and talked and the sound of the tom-toms at the dancing rings was heard night and day.

The feasting and dancing continued for several days and then it was announced that preparations for crossing the river should be made.  First of all, boats should be built and those who knew how to make them should teach the others, for the Dakotah were not boat makers or canoe builders.  The custom had been borrowed from the Mandans and the Hidatsa, two tribes which were villagers and river people and who lived beyond the Heart.

As this was a crossing place frequently used by the roving Tetons, there were many frame works of boats which, after having been constructed and used, had been carefully carried up beyond danger of high water.  Now these skeleton frames of stout saplings were gathered together and the work of the woman in preparing them to be used was started.

The framework was first covered with a wet, green hide which was stretched tight and secured with thongs of rawhide.  When finished by having been dried in the sun, the boat was round like a soup plate and very unstable and un­wieldy but was capable of carrying a considerable quantity of camp plunder.  The usual method of the Dakotah was that of a log raft as it was safer and the materials for it’s construction were always available.

Dry drift logs of light cottonwood, which had been left by the high waters of ‘Wipazukasapa’ (When The Berries Are Black Month – June)96 were collected upon the shore.  These were sorted out into piles of the same length and size and the actual building of the rafts was started.  The logs were laid side-by-side in the shallow water along the shore and strong lengths of green saplings were placed upon the upper surface and securely bound to the logs by tough ropes of rawhide.  Some were then covered with brush and grass and the rafts were completed and tied to the shore ready to be loaded.

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The Dakotah were not particularly good swimmers but, in spite of this handicap, accidents were seldom when crossing streams when upon the trail.

Forty three years later General Sibley, a volunteer officer of Minnesota, forced a large body of friendly Sissetonwan (Sisseton Sioux) and Wahpetonwan (Wapetons) and a few hostile Yanktonaise under the leadership of Inkapaduta97 to cross the Missouri river at a point where Fort Abraham Lincoln was established, years afterward.98  The Indians crossed under the guns of General Sibley and, although harassed continually by the volunteer soldiers, not a single person and very little camp plunder was lost, although it took three days to cross the people, swim the horses and transport the large amount of meat and robes and heavy skin tipis, to the west shores.

When all was ready and several rafts and skin boats had been placed in the water, the loading was commenced.  The hide boats were filled with meats and other foodstuffs, while the heavy skin tipis and poles were piled together upon the rafts.  A few men with long poles shoved off from the shore and into the sluggish water of the river which was wide at this point.

Many young men swam behind the rafts and assisted in propelling them as they could.  The skin boats were tied to the floating rafts and, as they did not draw much water, did not become much of a drag.  The first raft and bull boat landed safely upon the eastern shore but a short distance below the starting place.  These were unloaded and returned for another load and the women who had come across began at once the work of setting up the camp.

The task of crossing continued during the entire day and for three days thereafter until the entire camp and outfits had been safely landed upon the eastern shores.  The swimming of the half-wild horses created much interest and, as they were urged with loud whoops and cries into the water beyond their depth, there was much laughter and advice was shouted by the people upon the banks.  The riders slid off when they reached the deep water and guided the horses by holding their tails.  The rafts and boats were tied up to the shore to be used when the people should return and the camp was soon attending to the routine of everyday life.

The intention of the leaders was to strike the James river at a point almost directly east of where the camp was now located, but the matter of water for so large a number of people and animals was to be considered.  There was a running stream which could be reached at the end of the first day’s journey; the next day they could camp at a small lake with a spring which contained enough water to take care of them if it were guarded and well conserved; the third stopping place would be at a similar spring; the fourth day’s camp could be made after a long journey at another small stream of running water; the evening of the fifth day they would arrive at a good camping place upon the banks of the James river.

After much talk the wise men decided that the camp would be broken very early on the second day following and load out as the different bands were ready.  There would not be any hard rules to govern them but each camp should move together and follow the trail as indicated by the leading element, until they reached the place selected for camping.  It would be a hard day’s journey and they should not hasten, but keep on the move constantly, and those who decided to carry water in skins might do so.  Children and old people and any who were sick should ride upon the travois.

Following these instructions, made clear to the people by the camp criers, the women packed many of their lodge belongings the evening before and tied them in bundles ready to be placed

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upon the travois.  The young men selected the horses to be used for the travois and packs and tied them near the lodges and all was bustle and excitement.  But the warriors sat in groups during the afternoon and danced most of the night.  They told tales of hunting and fighting and conferred regarding the matters to be talked about during the coming council.

On the day of moving the encampment was awakened at an early hour by the heralds, and in a short time every tipi was down, rolled and packed; women were busy loading the travois; horsemen were riding through the village and the head men were shouting directions and orders.  By sunrise the leading unit was far out across the prairie, but other bands who had trouble with their horses were just leaving the camp site.

The moving camp reached out for a distance of five miles or more in bodies and groups and, as the sun mounted higher, those in the rear could see the horsemen riding to one side of the column, raised high in the air by the wavy lines of the heat mirage.

The grass was long and rank and walking was not easy.  Long before the middle of the day the heat became so intense that the babies carried upon their mother’s back were actually suffering and the old men and women who rode upon the travois, or upon gentle horses, were in distress for water and rest.

In the early afternoon the leading unit halted for a short rest but the travois were not removed; sun shelters were not erected; the driven herds were kept slowly upon the move but permitted to graze; and those bands in the rear were given time to get closer to the head of the column.

After a welcome rest the column once more started to move forward and, with frequent, short periods of rest, kept on the move until late in the evening when they arrived at a running stream where tipis were set up and comfortable camp fires were made.  The horses were driven to water below the camp place by the camp officers, but only at designated watering places.  Fires for cooking were started with dry wood brought from the river bank and, the people having eaten and rested, the hardships of the day’s bitter march across the hot, grassy plain were readily forgotten and accepted simply as a part of the hard life they habitually led.

That day’s march across the dusty grass country covered at least twenty two miles and would have done credit to any column of the same number of seasoned soldiers.  It is possible that a column of soldiers (in 1923) under the strict discipline of a military organization, while upon the move with their carefully-timed rest periods and care taken to avoid loss of road space, with canteens full of water, and assurance that the ambulances were in the rear, would not have made the trip with less sickness or weariness.

The lodge of Charging Bear was set up as rapidly as any other.  Many Thank You Woman was not unduly fatigued as a horse had been provided for her to ride during the tiresome journey.  She cooked the young warrior’s meat to suit him and, when some friends came to his lodge to smoke and talk that evening, she placed food before them, set the pipe and kinnikinik by the side of Charging Bear, and silently withdrew.

Reference notes for Chapter Eleven

94. See other notes on the Nadeoussioux.

95. See writings of Verendrye, Catlin and Maximilion.

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96. In June the waters of the Missouri river rise very high and carry great quantities of driftwood and uprooted trees in it’s treacherous current.

97. Following the troubles of the Isante Sioux and the Whites in Minnesota in the 1860’s General Sibley, with a strong force of soldiers, struck a large camp of friendly buffalo hunters in the vicinity of Dawson and Steele, N.D.  These Indians had not taken part in the uprising in Minnesota but had spent the winter at Devil’s Lake for the express purpose of keeping out of that bloody affair.  There was, however, a renegade Sioux by the name of Inkpaduta (Scarlet Point) and a few men with him who had joined the buffalo camp a few days before.  They had not been welcomed and had been ordered to leave the camp by the Indian Soldier’s Society.  General Sibley forced a running battle with these Indians.  They finally slipped through his grasp and made a safe crossing of the Missouri at a point a few miles below Bismarck-Mandan.  The hostile, Inkpaduta, escaped around the General’s flank while still on the east side of the river and went into the Devil’s Lake country, out of reach.


Many of the other Indians joined forces with Mato Nopa (Two Bears), on account of having been forced into the fighting by Sibley, and took part in the battles against General Sully who was coming in from the south and east.  Most of the Indians, however, crossed back to the east banks of the Missouri and followed Sibley as far as the James river where their old homes were.  There were many Teton Sioux with these Devil’s Lake Yanktonaise whose warriors General Sibley fought and, as the Tetons had never been identified with the hostile Minnesota Sioux, and had actually declined to assist in that bloody border war, they never fully recovered from a feeling of antagonism around by Sibley’s attack upon them.

98. Fort Abraham Lincoln was established upon the crest of a high hill upon the right bank, or western shores, of the Missouri river in 1872.  This was four miles below Mandan, N.D.  Finding that cavalry was necessary for use against the well-mounted Teton Sioux, the Seventh Cavalry was ordered to that station and arrived in 1873 with renowned Lt. Col. George A. Custer (Brevet Brigadier General) in command.  A cavalry post was then built upon the flat benchland in the immediate neighborhood to the southeast of the infantry post on the hill.  In 1874 Custer explored the country lying between that post and the Black Hills, bringing back a report of gold in the Black Hills.  This caused a stampede across treaty-protected lands and a long war with the Sioux under their great War Chief, Mahpiya Luta (Red Cloud), resulted.  It was from this post that Custer and his gallant Seventh marched forth upon what was to be his last campaign .. for he died upon the bloody slopes of the Little Big Horn in June 1876.

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Chapter Twelve: The Grove of Tall Oaks and the meeting of the Dakotah tribes


The camp was broken up early the next morning and proceeded without mishap to the area selected for the second night’s bivouac.  This proved to be along the banks of a shallow lake whose edges were grown up with a close tangle of bullrushes and other water plants extending far out and leaving but a limited area of clear water in the middle of the lake.  Here it was literally covered with water fowl of many species.  The air was filled with noisy, flying gulls.  At many cooking fires that night young ducks and the eggs of the wild birds were eaten.

It was announced that as they were now in the country of their relatives, the Yanktonaise, it would not be necessary to observe any strict method of moving and that the bands could travel as they desired from that place to the Grove of Tall Oaks upon the James river to be present at the Council of the Seven Fires.  Many different bands made their own arrangements for the balance of the journey, depending upon the physical condition of their animals and the sick and old members.

The band of Charging Bear, known as the Sihasapa Hinca (Real Blackfoot) so named to distinguish them from four other gens of the same tribe,99 pushed on without delay and during the evening of the second day arrived at the great camp of the Isante Dakotah, which had gathered from all the districts of the Minisota and Mississippi river country and was waiting the arrival of the Teton tribes from west of the Missouri.

Several hundred Hunkpapas had arrived before them and their camping place designated the locations where the other tribes would pitch their lodges.  For, according to ancient custom, the Hunkpapas were always the first in the circle at the south of the wide entrance which opened toward the east – and the name, itself, indicates this old custom.  Sweeping to the south and west the various tribes had regular places and always pitched their tipis in these undisputed posi­tions.  This arrangement was well known and acknowledged.  When the camp was finally arranged the Hunkpati, who were probably a division of the Yanktons, occupied the place in the circle to the north of the entrance.  This custom of placing the different tribes prevented any misunderstanding or trouble arising between any bands of the Dakotah which might arise on account of choice of camping places.  It also made the task of locating any particular tribe in a large camp an easy matter.

For many years it had been the custom of the Dakotah to gather together at this place and at this season for the purpose of counseling regarding any matters which concerned the people.  This gathering was called the Council of the Seven Fires and referred to the seven principal tribes of the Dakotah League or Nation.  However, after the great Teton Division in company with the Yanktons came into contact with the western country about the year 1660 the fire­places of this warlike and roving member of the nation, which in itself comprised seven tribes, were often dark until at last the Tetons failed to attend or take part for­mally in the deliberations of the league, unless some matter of especial importance to themselves was to be taken up in council

Any Dakotah tribe, however, might go to the great gathering of the Isantes, who still continued the council, take part in the games and festivities and present any mat­ter of interest pertaining to the entire Dakotah Nation.

The marriage relations of the Dakotah were very strict and were closely observed by all.  It was not permitted a man and woman of the same band to marry.  At the camping of the tribes at the Grove of Tall Oaks a splendid opportunity was presented for those who desired to establish a new lodge to do so.

The ceremonies attending marriage were nearly always very simple and the common practice was to make an announcement that a certain woman was now the wife of a certain man.  Many older men had more than one wife and, in fact, it was a commendable thing for a good hunter and provider to take all the sisters of his first wife.  In this way he showed honor to the entire family.

The serious business of the council was not to be reached for several days.  Meanwhile the people visited with each other and there was much feasting, racing, dancing and gift giving.  The sound of the drums was heard at all times and an air of rejoicing and happiness pervaded throughout the camp.

Chetan Wakan Mani (Holy Walking Hawk, otherwise known as Little Crow) had arrived from Kapoja among the first.  His camp of Mdewakanton Isante was already established when the various tribes of the Teton were reported by his scouts as being but one day’s journey toward the west.  With Little Crow were his chief men from all the tribes of the Isante –

Waaneta, the famous “Charging Man” of the Pabaska (Cut Head) Band of the Yanktonaise, who had fought against the American colonists with the British in the War of 1812;

Ista Sapa (Black Eyes) and Tatonka Naji (Standing Buffalo) and Wakanto (Yellow Holy), all principal men of the Sisseton.

Wise old Smutty Bear and the rising young Struck-by-the-Ree of the Yanktons;

Wakan Mani and Anpetu Tokeca (Holy Walking and Other Day) of the Wahpetons;

Wamblisapa (Black Eagle) of the Wakpekute;

Shapope (Six), Wapasha (The Red Leaf) and Mazagota (Grey Iron) were leaders and influential men of the Mdewakanton.

Tamaha (Rising Moose), called by the white traders “La Borgne” or One Eye, also arrived in the camp with the half-caste trader and interpreter of the Columbia Fur Company, Joseph Renville, who had been on a journey to the villages of the Mandans and Manitari (another name for the Hidatsa) in the vicinity of the Tawakpe (Knife River), where he had made many presents in the hopes of firmly establishing the influence of the company he represented and thereby extending his already flourishing fur trade among these people.

Reference notes for Chapter Twelve

99. The Sihasapa were divided into five gens, or bands, according to Chief John Grass.


Chapter Thirteen: Treachery of the Arikara against traders will present the Sioux at Grove of Tall Oaks an opportunity for revenge


White Trader, Joseph Renville, had left the northern Mandan river villages100 before the wild berries were ripe and had experienced no difficulty as he drifted down the full current of the Missouri in his round, heavy boats. The expedition had visited some of the villages along the route and had stopped for several days at the large and important village of the Arikara, just north of the mouth of the Knife river.

Here he had been received in a very sullen and disrespectful manner and, during the short stop there, the members of his command had been very near to combat at different times with a few of the young men of the village.  The trader noticed many new articles of trade apparel and per­sonal adornment being worn these insulting young fellows, and by judicious conversation with the villagers, soon ascertained that a large number of white men, members of an expedition from St. Louis, whose purpose had been to proceed up the Grand river valley to the Yellowstone with an overland party, as well as to send their boats on up the river, had been entertained by the false hospitality of the Arikaras and, while the expedition was divided with half on land and the others in the boats, had been attacked by the villagers and many of the white company had been killed and wounded.

He also learned that the leader of this ill-fated expedition was the American General Ashley, officer of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company who, with 120 men had been so severely handled that he had been compelled to abandon his supplies, which were now being worn by the young warriors of the Arikara Chief, Grey Eyes.  About all the information Renville could obtain as to the fate of the men, was that they had returned down the river.

Renville cautiously sent word to his men and trappers who were visiting in the village, to make their way to the boat landing by nightfall and, that evening without more delay or ceremony, the Columbia Fur Company men set off down the swollen stream and succeeded in leaving the village of false hospitality without serious trouble.

The half-caste trader was much troubled over the attack upon the expedition of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, because the river was the great natural highway to the far west and north and he could see that the Arikara would be inclined to make a similar attack upon any other company of white men who laboriously worked up the river toward the faraway trading posts.  Then again, the news of the vast amount of plunder taken from the defeated expedition would soon spread to the Mandans and to the Manitari villages along the shores toward the north, and this would serve to close, or at last make very dangerous, the open road to the upper river country by way of the natural waterway.

Therefore Renville lost no time after leaving the Arikara double village, and worked his way down the river toward his own fortified post, Fort Tecumseh, which stood one hundred miles or more to the south, and near the mouth of Bad river (which was known to the Sioux as Wakpesica).

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The keen-minded trader believed that General Ashley would stop there and reorganize his expedition, or at least leave some of the sick and wounded men there, from whom he might obtain first hand information and reliable news of the attack and the losses sustained by the white trading party.

It was with considerable interest that Renville saw several boats tied up to the landing as his own party drew near to Fort Tecumseh.  These proved to belong to General Ashley who had dropped down the Missouri in them to Tecumseh with what men and goods he had saved from the affair with the Arikara.  The two leaders were soon in consultation.

The story told by General Ashley clearly showed the subtlety and treachery of the Arikara.  It appeared that the General and Major Henry had organized the Rocky Mountain Fur Company at St. Louis the year before and during the summer had taken the expedition to the mountain country by following the river route along the Missouri.  At the mouth of the Yellowstone they had established headquarters for the winter and Major Henry and a strong force of trappers and hunters had remained there with a large amount of property, while General Ashley returned to St. Louis for trading and supplies and more young men for hunters, trappers, clerks and workmen for the new post which they had decided to establish on the Yellowstone river.

At St. Louis Ashley made up a party of ninety young men and, with a large stock of goods, set out to rejoin Henry in the spring of 1823.  In passing up the river the year before, the General had become acquainted with the people of the Arikara at their village six miles north of the mouth of the Grand river.  He had been much impressed with their actions and the hospitality they had shown toward the members of his party.  It was therefore with a feeling of relief that his second expedition reached the stockaded town of Grey Eyes.  The trip upstream had been a hard one and the men of his command had welcomed the few days of rest which he had promised them there.

It was May when they reached the village and here their plans were modified somewhat, and it was decided that they should purchase horses at the village and dispatch a part of the expedition across the country, following the Grand river as much as possible, with the purpose of discovering an overland route to the Yellowstone.  By the first of June they had all the horses they wanted and preparations for the trip were completed.  Both the land party and those going by the Missouri with boats were ready to start the next day.

While early morning preparations were being made for departure the river party had already started to pole up the stream, the land party was suddenly attacked by a large force of Arikara, who rode in among the loaded horses, shooting and yelling and waving dry hides.  They succeeded in scattering them in every direction and, in the desperate fight which followed, the Indians killed thirteen of the white men and wounded ten others.

The river party was also attacked at the same time but General Ashley succeeded in returning to the shore and, after a hard fight, reached the hard-pressed land party.  Together they held off the Indians until he had a full report of the affair. Finding that his party was badly cut up and that the horses had been lost in the stampede and the trade goods were in the hands of the Indians, the General decided to abandon the enterprise, board his keel boat (“The Yellowstone”) and drop down the river to safety in the country of the Dakotahs.

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This movement was successfully made and Jebediah S. Smith was elected to be an express to carry the news to Major Henry on the Yellowstone river.  Another body with an armed guard, was sent on the large boat to Colonel Leavenworth, commanding officer of the Sixth Cavalry at Fort Atkinson, which was the nearest military post.  This military station was located upon the Missouri a few miles north of the small settlement of Omaha, several hundred miles by river route from the village of the murderous Arikara.  If the request of General Ashley were granted it would mean a hazardous military undertaking into that little known country.

The Rocky Mountain Fur Party remaining after these messengers had been sent away was small, numbering but twenty-three effectives.  In addition to this small force, hunters and trappers, numbering perhaps eighty men, were scattered through the Dakotah country.  Runners were sent out after them with orders that they should come into the river and await the punitive expedition, which Ashley felt certain would be sent from Fort Atkinson.  While this number of fighting men would no doubt be of great assistance to the small number of soldiers which was all the General could expect to receive, he hoped to be able to secure a strong war party of Dakotah allies whom he believed would welcome the opportunity to go against the Arikara, with whom they had been at war for many years.

With this object in view Ashley appealed to Joshua Pilcher, acting partner and head of the Missouri Fur Company.  This company operated in the Dakotah country, and he represented the government in the capacity of Special Agent for the Sioux.  Mr. Pilcher had misgivings in regard to assisting a rival fur company regain their stolen property.  His own organization had coveted the territory of the Grand river but had hesitated to establish a post on that stream and trading with the Arikara, fearing that his own company might lose their large trade and influence among the Sioux trappers and hunters.

After consulting with Mr. McDonald, one of his partners, and a man named Gordon, their chief clerk, the situation cleared up and they came to the conclusion that if Pilcher called out a Dakotah war party against their ancient enemies, the Arikara, and personally held command, it would elevate him in the estimation of the Dakotah, upon whom they relied for furs, and more firmly establish his influence among those people.

The crafty partners reasoned that they would be working for their own benefit if this could be accomplished.  They decided that, after the village had been destroyed and the Arikara scattered or killed, the Missouri Fur Company would lose no time in placing a trading post at the mouth of the Grand and invite their friends and allies, the Sioux, to hold the Country and trap the rich fur meadows of the Missouri river and other streams of the watershed which, owing to the frequent clashes between the two peoples, had not been systematically hunted for many seasons.  It was a prize worthy of great endeavor and the partners quickly decided that they would employ all means to raise the Dakotah allies to assist the Leavenworth military force, when it should arrive upon the upper Missouri.

It was deemed advisable for Mr. Pilcher, himself, to take the trip to the Grove of Tall Oaks on the James and use his official influence as Special Indian Agent, to raise a strong war party from among the tribes which were known to be gathered there at that time.  It was true that there were Indians who had fought with the English at the American forts along the Ohio in 1812, but those very Indians were now anxious to please the Americans, for they had lost faith

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in the English Government on account of deceit and unfaithfulness practiced toward Red Thunder and his band of Yanktonaise braves who had been induced to go against the colonists along the Ohio by Robert Dickson, the Agent for the English among the Sioux.

General Ashley dispatched another messenger to Fort Atkinson as soon as he had been advised of the decision of Agent Pilcher, informing the Commanding Officer there that he would be able to supply a mixed force of trappers and Indians, of perhaps eight hundred men, to reinforce his military strength and that this force would join him at a point upon the Missouri river somewhere above American Island.

Mr. Pilcher outfitted and left early the next morning for the Indian camp at Tall Oaks, where he arrived the same day upon which Charging Bear and his band pitched camp in the great circle.

Reference notes for Chapter Twelve

100.  In 1823, the Mandan Indians were living in two villages about thirty five miles northwest of the present Mandan, N.D., and upon the shores of the Missouri river.  The principle village was called Mih-tutta-hang-kush and the next village was called Ruptare.  These villages were well known to the early trappers and traders as the “Upper Mandan Villages.”  Their close allies, the Hidatsa (or Gros Ventre and some­times called Manitari) also lived close by in three other separate villages.  From south to north these were called Anahawny, Hidatsa and Hidatsaati.  The last named was the largest and was situated upon the north, or left, bank of the Knife river.

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Chapter Fourteen: The “Preliminaries” at start of the gathering of the Dakotah Nation at the Grove of Tall Oaks


When the different tribes of the Sioux were finally camped at the Grove of Tall Oaks in this, the last great gathering of all divisions of the Dakotah Nation, the spectacle presented by the daily life of the people was savagely magnificent.  Probably never before and certainly never since, has the western country seen such a mighty host of Indians gathered together in one camp.

It is estimated that three thousand lodges were erected and thirty thousand people were present at this great Council.  Of that number, six thousand Dakotah warriors, the stalwart, hard-fighting men of the forests of the Minisota and the prairies of the buffalo country west of the Missouri, were gathered together, forming the strongest force of Indians ever seen since the Intertribal Council, held by Captain Clark at Prairie les Sioux, eight years before.101

Every division of the Dakotah Nation, and practically every band, was represented.  Many of these smaller bands were called by the name of their chief, or leader, and were destined to become unknown within a few years after, either on account of the death of their leader or the assimilation of the members of the band by other groups.  Some of them did join the ranks of numerically stronger bands or others who were more advantageously situated in regard to hunting range or hostile neighbors.

All the people spoke the same general tongue, though there were at least three dialects.  The Sheyenne, however, still clung to their parent Algonquin in conversation among themselves but they could understand and spoke the language of the Dakotah when they mingled with their adopted brothers:

Mdewakanton and Wakpekute from the forests and lakes of the Minisota country feasted with their close relatives, the Sissetowan and Wahpetonwanna from the park-like stretches of the River of the Red.

The alert, well-formed Miniconjou from that almost fabled district to the south of the Black Hills mingled with their brothers, the fiery Hunkpapa from far in the north (just south of the Grand river).

Thin faced, keen-eyed men of the Itazepchos walked among the tall skin lodges of the quarrelsome Oglala, which were decorated with the pictographic history of their owners.

The daring, warlike Sihasapa, superb horsemen from the big game grass country west of the Missouri, ran horse races and gambled with their adopted brothers, the Sheyenne of the Algonquin.

The wandering Sicangu and Oohenopa, close neighbors to each other, their hunting grounds lying between the ranges of the Itazepchos and the Oglala, along those rivers

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which headed high up in the Black Hills and flowed eastward into the Missouri, smoked and feasted with their eastern kinsmen, the Yanktonaise.

Charging Bear camped with his own division, the Blackfoot, and his lodge was set up to the left of the tipi of his aged father, Chief Grass.  One hundred feet in front of this group of lodges was the ceremonial lodge of the old chief.102

This was the largest tipi among the Dakotah, being of eighteen poles and made of eighteen buffalo hides and having two separate entrances opposite each other.  Upon the tipi were pictographs which represented the honors of the members of the soldier’s society of The Riders of the White Horse,103 while about it were staked the horses of those of the society who were not on their regular duty of preserving the harmony and discipline of the Blackfoot camp.  At the entrance which faced the center of the circle were two high poles, from one hung the war bonnet of Chief Grass, and from the other the insignia of the White Horse Riders.  Over all the black tail of an especially well-trained and favorite horse of Grass, which had been killed in a battle with the Crows, swung in the wind from the center of the lodge poles.104

The serious nature of the Council was indicated when the Chiefs of the tribes gathered together at the ceremonial lodge of Chief Grass.  Dressed in their finest raiment and with ornaments showing a touch of the trader’s wares, the Isante chiefs trooped across the open space toward the immense tipi.  Each was accompanied by sub-chiefs and head men and many warriors and musicians who drummed and sang as they advanced afoot.  As they neared the lodge they shot their flintlock, muzzle-loading guns in the air to indicate that they were now unarmed.  The Chiefs of the Teton tribes all came to the affair upon splendid horses.  They circled and swept back at great speed to a place some distance from the lodge where they dismounted and awaited developments.

When the groups appeared to have all arrived, White Horse Rider aides of Chief Grass walked toward each separate group and spread a robe upon the ground and the Chief of that tribe advanced alone and seated himself by the side of the aide.  A pipe was smoked between them and then the aide walked back to his Chief, after which the Chief of the visiting tribes picked up the present of the gaily decorated robe and followed, entering the lodge immediately and taking a seat among those present in the same relative position which his own camp occupied with respect to the other tribes.  His following, however, did not come in closer but remained where they sat.

This was a visit of state between the Chiefs of the Nation and nothing was said regarding the matters which would be taken up in Council.  These men were all acquainted with one another, either personally or by tribal reputation.

Introductions were not made but Little Crow took his place at the left of Chief Grass who sat facing the west and directly across from the entrance which was used, the other one being closed.  In front of the Chief was a space of ground which had been dug up and from which all grass roots and other foreign substances had been removed.  This space was square with the sides facing the cardinal points.  At each corner were small triangular places where the ground was also exposed.  This was the Holy Mellow Ground of the Dakotah who believed that, as the

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sun was the mother of the earth and the earth was the mother of men and all upon it, offerings should be placed upon the naked earth in order that all good influences of Mother Earth might be easily absorbed by those present in such a place.  Two strong forked sticks were stuck into this ground and a cross-piece was placed thereon. Resting upon this cross-piece reposed the pipe, it’s redstone bowl upon the ground where several bundles of wild sage and the white bleached skull of a buffalo lay  After a long silence Grass arose and took the pipe in his hands carefully and reverently.  He lighted the already filled bowl of kinnikinik and, after the mixture of bark and native tobacco had become fairly alight, he pointed the stem, with a strong, swift movement, to the ground – then held it pointed to the west and to the east – then to the south and to the north – and to the heavens and Wakantonka, the Great Mysterious One.105  After this ceremony he returned to his seat and, with the aid of a pipestick, packed the smoking tobacco and drew several deep draughts of the smoke which he exhaled with a peculiar hissing sound.  He then passed the pipe, stem first, to Little Crow who accepted it and, after smoking, gave the pipe with much dignity to another chief who, in turn, handed it to another.  The ceremony was conducted until every one present had smoked.

This was all done with great deliberation and very ceremoniously, as had always been done by the Dakotah ever since the “Spirit Woman in White” had taught them it’s use as an instrument of peace many generations before.

Conversation became general after the smoking of the ceremonial pipe.  Little Crow told of the death of Taponca at Fort Snelling and the venerable old Chief Grass related the story of the wonderful things he had seen at the white man’s city of Saint Louis, where he had gone for a visit after the Council with Captain Clark at Portage les Sioux a few years before.

Soon after Little Crow arose, shook hands with Grass and drew his hands across the Chief’s face and down his arms without touching him at any place.  This was the old time movement which meant to convey thanks for favors received and obligations of friendship imposed.  This brought the visit of the chiefs to a close.  They all returned to their waiting escorts and the different groups sung songs in honor of their chiefs as they went their way to their camp.

In the evening the Chiefs and headmen of the seven tribes, composing the Teton Division of the Dakotah, gathered at the great lodge for the purpose of naming a man to speak for them and to present their desires in all matters which be brought before the Council of the Seven Fires.

Many great men of the Teton sat down together in a large circle which was formed in front of the eastern entrance to the tipi.

Within the tipi sat Grass and his councilors:

Mato Chicalla (Little Bear), Chante Peta (Fire Heart) and Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear) all of the Blackfoot;

Nope Kahpa (Strikes Two), Wahukusa Nopa (Two Spears), Tahca Huste (Lame Deer), Maga ska (White Swan) and He Wanjina (Eagle Parent) all of the Miniconjou;

Tatonka Inyanki (Running Antelope), Tasinahota Guyena (Brown Blanket), Wasicu Maza (Iron White Man – often called Tall Horse), Hehaka Howaste (Good Voice

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Elk), Ista Sapa (Black Eye), Supe (Dried Entrails) and Maka Yapapi (Strikes the Earth) prominent men of the Hunkpapa;

Wahukuza Hanska (Long Lance) and Maga (Swan) were of the Oohenopa.

Kangi Yatapika (Crow Feather) of the Itazepchos and Howagahena (Broken Leg) of the Sicangu, well-known men and leaders of their tribes, were there.

Mato Sabekia (Smutty Bear), the Yankton, acting independently of the other Isante tribes, also sat down with them.

In the selection of their representative, it was explained that it was necessary for them to choose a man who stood high in the estimation of the members of the Council and who was honorable among the people – a man who could control himself in anger, yet present the desires of the Teton people with firmness and eloquence.  A young man by the name of Tatonka Inyanki (Running Antelope) was the choice of the council.  When the gathering had eaten and gradually dispersed he remained with the elder men to receive instructions pertaining to the same subject which Charging Bear had presented to the Isante at Kapoja, the village on the Mississippi.

The day following the ceremonial visit of the Chiefs the Isante sent a herald through the camp with the announcement that they would give a big feast at Little Crow’s camp to their brothers, the Teton.  By the time of the high sun a great crowd had gathered in that vicinity and sat in a deep, wide circle around the pipe and food and presents which had been collected in front of Little Crow’s lodge.  Several drums were surrounded by excited dancers and men were making speeches to the people at the feast circle.  One of them announced that this feast was given by the Isante in honor of their chief leader, Little Crow; that everyone should eat and enjoy themselves; that some presents would be given away and everyone should dance after the feast.

Many women assisted in carrying around the meat and soup which was presented to everyone in the circle.  They had coffee also, that precious beverage which they obtained from the trade at the white man’s town near Kapoja, but the article which was most highly prized by the wild hunters of the west was the hard, white bread which came in round cakes.  This was carefully preserved by the feasting people after they had tasted it.

Presents of trader’s calico and red cloth, highly prized glass beads for necklaces, brass rings and buttons for ornaments for the hair, small mirrors for the clothing, thread and needles, coffee and sugar, steel butcher knives and twists of tobacco were made.  Nearly all of these arti­cles were of white man’s make and were new to many of the western tribesmen from the grassy plains west of the Missouri.  Little Crow personally made presents of several guns, together with balls and powder, to the principal Chiefs of the Tetons, who walked slowly around the circle in front of the people and sung of the bravery and hospitality of the men of the Isante.

After the feasting and gift-giving, the men gathered at the dance rings and the women sat in the shade of the bough shelters and watched the people come and go, or went to their own lodges to attend to the numerous duties which fell to them as keepers of the household.

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Reference notes for Chapter Fourteen


101. The Intertribal Council held at Portage les Sioux in 1815 between Governor Clark and the nations of the Mississippi valley.

102.  In any well-established camp there will be several large lodges erected within the circle and at some little distance toward the center of the circle.  These are ceremonial tipis where visits and important councils are held.

103.  A Sioux soldier society whose members are sworn to obey the orders of the Chief and Eagle Parents as well as to watch out for the welfare of the old people and those who have no one to hunt for them.  The ceremonies of this society were allowed to be discontinued for many years, as the reasons for their existence became less with the advance of civi­lization, but a reorganization took place when the Sioux soldiers of the World War (note: World War I) returned and it is an active and efficient organization at this time (1924).

104.  This Great Horse’s Tail trophy is in the collection of the writer (1924).




105.  The significance of the pipe ceremony is as follows:  According to Chief Grass the pointing of the stem to the earth is intended as a re­buke toward any malicious earth spirits, toward the west it calls upon the spirits of those who have gone before, toward the south and north and east it is an invitation to all living people to witness the cere­monies and deliberations which are about the take place.  Pointed toward the heavens it indicates application to Wakantonka (God) for protection and blessing.


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Chapter Fifteen: The Council of the Seven Fires  – Charging Bear’s great plan is rejected



The Grove of Tall Oaks where this great Sioux camp was assembled was in the country of the Isante and, by virtue of this fact, the actual ceremony of the calling of the Council was claimed by them as their own right.  This privilege was not disputed by the Teton who observed the preparations being made with dignified interest.

In the center of the camp a large rectangular ceremonial enclosure of boughs was erected by the Isante.  Long leafy saplings were placed in the ground, bent over and laced together, forming a shady sort of fence which had a large entrance facing east.  Along both sides and across the end opposite the entrance poles were placed in the ground and coverings of boughs placed across them, thus making a green roof which extended out from the inside of the fence for perhaps ten feet.  In the center of the enclosure poles were also set and a covering made to protect the singers and drummers from the sun during the dancing.  In front of the west wall and facing the entrance a “Holy Ground” was prepared, by digging up the ground and removing all the grass roots in order that nothing should interfere with or obstruct the radiations of the good influences of the Mother Earth.  Upon this altar were placed some wild sage, sweet grass and a sun-bleached buffalo skull, emblems of spiritual and physical plenty.  The framework upon which the pipe was to rest was set into the holy ground and the mouthpiece of the pipe was pointed toward the south as an appeal to Wakantonka.  In the southwest corner of the enclosure three small fires burned continually at the points of a five foot triangle.106  Several lodges were also erected in the vicinity of the enclosure, and in these lived the men who had been selected to preserve order during the Council, and the old honorable men who had been chosen to supervise the preparation of the “Holy” ceremonial objects and places.

One morning there appeared a hunting party of buffalo runners who had been out to procure meat for the feast of the Council.  These Isante hunters had been to the northwest, along the stream called the Snake, where they had discovered and made a successful surround of a herd of fat cows and had returned with their horses laden with fresh buffalo meat.

The morning following the return of the buffalo hunters a party of Isante chiefs and many mounted warriors, led by Little Crow, left the chief’s lodge and started to ride slowly around the camp circle.  Many singers accompanied the party and, as they moved slowly along in front of the lodges, their songs were of the Council now being called for the following day.  This gaily bedecked band of Isante stopped before each ceremonial lodge and sung of the honors of the principal Chief of that tribe.  After the song, during the singing of which no one had appeared at the entrance of the lodge, an old man advanced from among the Isante and carefully planted a stick at the entrance.

This was a visiting stick of peeled willow and was painted red and black in alternate bands, representing the number of wars engaged in and wounds received by Little Crow, the head chief of the Isante, who was calling the Council.  The stick was placed in the ground in an upright

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position and the party proceeded to the next lodge where similar ceremonies were carried through until every tribe in the camp had received one of the painted wands.  A verbal message was sent to Joshua Pilcher and his band of white hunters who had camped apart.  Joseph Renville, the half-caste Sisseton trader of the Columbia Fur Company, received an invitation from his own tribe.  The sticks were not removed during the day and, by nightfall, high piles of meat, gay dancing clothes, buffalo robes decorated with quill work or painted lines and many other articles which were intended as gifts at the Council were stacked around these symbols of invitation.107

The time was now near the middle of Onjinjantkan Wi (Rose Bud Month of the Isante) and Wipozoka-waste-Wi (The Berries Are Good Month of the Teton).  June, the most beautiful season of the year in the Dakotah country.  The air was soft and laden with the perfume of the grassy plains and the wooded valleys and, as the sun descended and the deep purples of the mysterious shadows of the hills crept across the vast camping ground, a thousand campfires gleamed where the women prepared food for the feast of the Council.  The heralds of the tribes loudly called out the announcement of the Council for the following day and groups of dancers stamped and circled in the Grass Dance at the various camp divisions.

But the older men sat long together that night and smoked in silence or listened with respect to some low-voiced councilor of wisdom and experience in the proceedings of other Councils.

The Teton camp was astir early the next morning, having been awakened by the loud songs of old men and the shrill voices of a few women who were dancing around the ceremonial lodge of the Blackfoot, as the rising sun bathed the valley with warm light.  The horses were taken out to feed by the youngsters and men gathered in groups during the early morning hours.  A feeling of suspense and grave expectancy seemed to prevail as the work of the lodges was hurriedly finished.  Men walked about or sat in small separate circles, and often their gaze was directed toward the camp of the Mdewakanton, where the large lodge of Little Crow was situated.  By the middle of the day young men began to appear dressed in their most splendid dancing regalia and the older men disappeared within their tipis and began the long and careful preparation of dressing for the ceremonies of the Council.

Shortly after the sun had passed the high point of the day the tribes, headed by their principal chiefs with their headmen and warriors following in an irregular group and the women, bringing up the rear at a respectful distance, slowly and deliberately trooped across the open spaces toward the ceremonial enclosure.  Some of those bands chanted softly as they went along and often some warrior uttered a whoop as the name of some well-known partisan was called in the song.  These moving parties appeared to have left their camping places at the same time and soon thousands of people were converging toward the central place where the Council was to be held.

As the Tetons neared the spot and the different tribes became mingled together, a halt was made and the old, important men deliberately sat down upon the grass and indulged in a quiet smoke.  This was done to show honor to the Chiefs and also served the purpose of quieting excitement which was rapidly nearing the frenzied mark.

The stop was not long and when, at last, the Teton chiefs appeared at the entrance, the dancing

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was already going on.  They entered and took their seats at the west end, to the left of Little Crow and under the sun shade of boughs.  The younger men of the party found places together around the dancing space and the women hurriedly sought places of vantage, crouching around the side of the willow fence, to listen to the proceedings.

Quite contrary to the general custom observed by the Dakotah at times of council, this meeting proceeded to the important business for which it had been called without delay, except that the pipe ceremony was observed.  The pipe was reverently approached by the man whom the Isante had selected to be pipe-lighter.  This old man lifted the pipe from rack against which it leaned, carefully filled the red­stone bowl with kinnikinik and then applied a glowing stick taken from one of the fires of the triangle.  When the white smoke came freely the pipe lighter stood erect, presented the stem to the earth, the west, east, south and north and finally to the sky, in the same manner that had been observed during the visit of the Chiefs at the Teton camp a few days before.  This ceremony literally meant that the evil spirits of the earth received a rebuke; the people of the four quarters of the earth were called upon to witness the proceedings and the spiritual influences of the world were importuned to unite with Wakantonka in blessing the Dakotah with food, health, honor and other virtues.

Little Crow then accepted the pipe from the old man and, after smoking it, handed it to Chief Grass, who smoked and passed it on to another chief and he, in turn, to another, until every important chief in the Council had smoked it.  It was then taken by the pipe lighter who spilled the ashes out upon the Holy Ground, after which he replaced the stem against the rack and seated himself beside it.

After this ceremony a herald of the Isante walked around the circle in front of the assembled warriors and cried out that the Council was called to consider matters of importance; that everyone should listen carefully and respectfully to the orators who were to speak; that no one should show anger or interrupt the speakers; that wise men were to talk and that what they decided to do would govern the people in the future.

Little Crow then arose and, with no preliminary remarks, stood where he had sat and addressed the Chiefs, headmen and orators as follows:

“I believe that you Teton people are too strong for the Long Knives (Americans).  You always were.  When I called you to go with me against them ten winters ago, you did not come.  But some brave men of the Isante and Yanktonaise and Sisseton did go.  They won much honor there.  After that, our English father made a peace with the Americans.  In that paper they spoke only of those things which interested the whites.  They told me that they purposely did not mention any of the Indian questions so that they might take those things up in separate conventions.  When these things are all settled they will be to our advantage.  The English have said so.  You listened to that fur trader, Liza, too much during that war.  His advice to you was not good.  We people of the Minisota like the English trade things better than those which the American traders bring.  Since the father of Mazakola (Iron Friend), the Sisseton, was held prisoner by the Americans at Fort Snelling we do not care for American things.108 We obtain more from the English traders for our furs and pay for our traps when we deliver the furs

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You are pitiful toward the Americans because they covered the dead body of Tatonka Sapa (Black Buffalo) with gifts at Portage les Sioux.109  I was there but I refused to sign the paper.  Wapasha (Red Leaf) was there and did not sign.  The Long Knives executed one of his men once.  It made Red Leaf mad then, but I think even he leans towards them now.  Paha Luta (Red Head – Robert Dickson) is my friend.  He is a powerful chief of the English and he will help us out.”

“The English traders bring us goods and Miniwakan (whiskey) from the north.  We are able to drive the Hahatonwan (Chippewa) now that we have guns.  The Long Knives will never be able to go far up the Missouri.  Wakpe Sica (Bad river – Pierre, S.D.) is the farthest north they will be able to maintain trader’s posts.  If they get by that place the Palani (Arikara) will not let them pass the Wetako (Grand river).  So then they will find another way to reach the Crows, Piegans (Blackfeet of Montana) and the Hohe (Assiniboine).  Then they will withdraw from your Missouri river.  You will be left alone then.  You will beg goods of us who will have much.  You are brave, but your enemies will be armed with guns, for there will be no traders to sell them to you.  How can you fight successfully against guns with your bows and arrows and clubs.  They will drive you into the river then.  The Crows and the Blackfeet on the west of you, the Kansas and Pawni on the south, the Arikaras and Mandans and Hidatsa and Chippewas on the north will all press in on you.  They will run your buffalo on your prairies.  Then your only friends will be my people on the east.  You will turn to us for protection.  But there will be many whites on the Mississippi and, if you can break through them, you will come.  Then we shall look to the English.  We shall show them how many of us there are.  They will hasten to smoke with us then.  They will try to be our strong friends.  We shall receive many presents and finally we shall sign a strong paper with them.”

“I am Isante.  I speak for the Mdewakanton and Wakpekute.  Together we are the Isante Hinca (Real or True Isante).  Waaneta (Charging Man), the Yanktonaise, believes that he can force the Arikara to furnish him with corn and robes in payment for his friendship.  Tatonka Wakan (Holy Buffalo), Ista Wanjina (One Eye or Rising Moose), Hepadan and Wapasha, the Wakpekute who lives at Keoxa (Winona, Minn.) do not agree with me in this.  Those others of the Yankton, Sisseton, Wahpeton and Yanktonaise can do as they like.  The Isante will not leave the Minisota.  We will not desert the places where our dead are buried and go to live in strange places.  We are determined to stay where we are living now.”

“Your young Chief, Charging Bear, drew a splendid picture for us at Kapoja, but it was as colored earth upon a lodge standing in the rain.  It is gone now but our lodges still remain.  Those lodges are at Kapoja.  We will go back there when this camp is broken and the dream of you Teton people will disappear as a mist in the morning sun.  Little Crow talks like a man, and a man has spoken to you.”

Little Crow was an orator of great power and persuasive ability and the Indians were, in a general manner, disappointed by the cold arrogance in which he had presented the desires of the Isante to the Chiefs of the Council.  It was apparent that he had not recovered from the fierce

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resentment which he had displayed toward the American people during the War of 1812 and that his sympathies were still with the English.

His blunt naming of Holy Buffalo, Rising Moose, The Charging Man, Red Leaf and Hepadan was an encroachment upon the courtesy and dignity of the Council and his remarks concerning these men were unnecessary and flung as a challenge.  Holy Buffalo was a Teton and his position was known and therefore it was not necessary to mention his name.  Rising Moose was especially known among them all as a partisan of the Americans.  Red Leaf was a real Isante Chief and to speak of him in that manner was, at the least, undiplomatic and would tend to estrange him.  Hepadan was a man who was not widely known.  To connect him with the really great men of the Nation indicated an antagonistic motive.

The situation seemed to be charged with a feeling of uncertainty.  Not a single Isante had given voice to approval or enthusiasm as Little Crow sat down.  The only nervous movement made was by some woman who sat on the outskirts of the crowd without the enclosure, who drew her blanket closer over her head and bent forward and plucked at the blades of grass.  Not a man in the circle moved or changed the expression of his face.

After a short, tense period a man arose at the west end of the crowd of warriors.  His loose, quilled buffalo robe fell at his feet and a magnificent, six-foot specimen of savage manhood, in moccasins and breechcloth, stood before the Council.  This was Running Antelope, the Hunkpapa, the chosen orator for the Teton.  He walked directly toward Little Crow and, when a few paces of the old Chief, stopped in front of and facing him:

“I stand here speaking for all of the Teton.  We carry no quarrel to our Brothers, the Isante.  Any unkind words of the Isante Chief are already forgotten and will lie where they have fallen.”

An audible gasp of relaxation and relief swept over the thousands as they heard this clear and well-modulated declaration and noted the calm and dignified behavior of the speaker.  Many of the Teton warriors made a sound of approval and encouragement.

“The Teton believe that the advice of the Chiefs and headmen of the Isante is not good.  We believe that the Isante will live to regret the decision as given to this Council by their Chief, Little Crow.”

“I can see far ahead of today and into the beyond.  I see, within the short span of a man’s life in the future, great changes coming to all of us and with this vision comes dread.  For these changes are not all good.”

“There will be many white people along the Minisota waterways.  As the white geese suddenly appear in the spring to cover the lakes – they will come.  But their claws will be sharp as those of the eagle and they will have teeth like the black buffalo wolf.  They shall be quick to anger as a rattlesnake and they will hunt trouble like a bull elk in season.  They will become many and strong along the Miniduza Wakpe (Red River of the North)110 and the trails from Kapoja to the Lake of the Crees111 in the English country will be packed hard by many feet.  You will have trouble with these wild white men.

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Their soldiers will follow and, at last, they will drive your scattered children across the Missouri.”

“You would be welcomed with much ceremony today to come and live among us.  It may not be so great a welcome if you wait until you are pursued and bring your troubles to us, even as a deer sometimes comes among the lodges of a camp when starved white wolves run in the winter hunt.  We would share your troubles today.  Tomorrow we may not be so eager to do so.”

“Always there is change.  Even our great hills never appear twice alike.  The moving shadows of the clouds when the sun is high, the wavy, trembling heat lines of a hot, still day, the white, mysterious shroud of moonlight, the shifting colors upon the waters, the glory of the setting sun followed by the dark blanket of night – all these things bring changes, which we can see, to our hills and valleys.  As a cool mist changes to a brilliant day, as a young man lives to be old, as the green hills of summertime turn white in the icy fingers of the frost, as the bones of our dead upon the scaffolds finally fall to earth – so changes come constantly to us.  It is the law of Wakantonka.  We cannot change things which follow this law.”

“But Wakantonka has given it within our power to sometimes prevent changes which we can see coming and which would work harm among us.  He gave to us a brain and the will to act as we desire.  The wise men of the Councils of the Teton believed they could see many difficulties on account of the conditions which may easily be brought about among the people of the Seven Fires by reason of their being so widely separated.  By the mouth of the young chief, Charging Bear, we presented this thought to you at Kapoja.  We hoped that at this Council you would agree with us.  We wanted you to live with us here.  Together we could easily prevent those changes which we can clearly see will work ruin among our nation – even as the wind-driven flames bring disaster to the creatures of your forests or of our grassy plains country.”

“We were not happy as we listened to your talk and our hearts are weak now when you refuse our offer to divide our country with you.  We do not believe that people living so far apart, and under such different conditions, can hold many ideas in harmony.  A fish can live in the water but a bear cannot.  The fish cannot understand why the bear lives on the dry ground and the bear can see much trouble for the fish because he is in the water all of the time.”

“You say that you will not leave your smoky water country to live with us, who are the people of the prairie.  By this decision we can plainly see that our ideas are different.  The dark flood of our Missouri joins the big water away toward the south.  The current of your Red River of the North sweeps into the unknown north.  It is well for us to see clearly and understand well.  That is the best way to keep friendly with each other.  We still are relatives and friends but our minds run in opposite directions – even as the waters of the Missouri and Red rivers which never flow together or even in the same direction.”

“This is our talk and we speak plainly in this Council as our fathers always did and as

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we have the right to do so.  The Teton will never again sit in the Council of the Seven Fires.  Our fires shall always be dark from this day at the Grove of the Tall Oaks.  We shall go back to our prairies.  We shall watch the future with anxiety and fight our battles alone.  Ho.  The Teton talk is ended.”

When Running Antelope finished speaking a loud cry of approbation arose from the Teton people, and when he walked to Little Crow, and extended his hand, it was with no indi­cation of weakness or apology but done according to custom.  He turned and walked across the circle and, passing through the group, started toward his own camp.  Most of the Teton Chiefs and warriors followed him amid the songs and yells of the men.  The Isante, too, arose from their places upon the ground.  The ceremony of gift-giving was neglected and the hope of many, that a closer federation of the thirteen tribes of the Dakotah would be consummated, was lost.  It is true that a considerable number of dancers remained at the Council place and commenced their merry-making but the chiefs and headmen walked thoughtfully away toward their various lodges, apparently nonplussed by the sudden turn of events at the Council.

Reference notes for Chapter Fifteen

106. These three fires, placed in a triangular position within the enclosure, were striking examples of an ancient and honorable custom during the adoption ceremonies of the writer.  After the fires had died down the ashes were carefully gathered and tied into small medicine bags which were worn about the necks of the women.

107. It is customary when an invited guest is not able to be present for him to return the stick to the master of ceremonies, together with a present of meat or other valuable articles.  Often, when a man has received such a stick, his friends who have not received an invitation, will bring articles for presents, which they pile around the stick for him to use as he may deem necessary or expedient.

108. South Dakota Historical Collections, Vol. 11, p. 139.

109. South Dakota Historical Collections, Vol. 11, p. 97.

110. Miniduza meaning Swift Water in Sioux language.

111. Lake Winnipeg.

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Ed Note:  Holy Ground preparation (witnessed by Welch in 1937) similar to that described on page 75 of this chapter:


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Chapter Sixteen: Review of the Isante decision not to move to a “Teton Stronghold” and preparation for War against the Arikara


Many of the Isante did not agree with their chiefs in the refusal of the offer of the Tetons to divide their country with the eastern tribes.  Especially was this true of the Yankton and the Yanktonaise people who lived in prairie country east of the Missouri river.  In after years various bands of these tribes, under the leadership of their chiefs, did actually cross the river and became closer affiliated with the Tetons of the buffalo ranges to the westward.

In the light of consequent events, the words of Running Antelope appeared to be almost prophetic – for the trails along the Red River of the North did actually ‘become hard by many feet; and long trains of Red River carts, loaded with trade goods and furs, crawled across the country from Kapoja to the Lake of the Crees; wild men of the whites were followed by soldiers; troubles arose between the Isante tribes and the whites who were quick to strike as a rat­tlesnake and hunted trouble like a bull elk in the season.’

Within forty years hundreds of white people and Indians were killed in the Minnesota Indian wars and the Isante were scattered far and wide – even as Running Antelope had said it would be.  Columns of white soldiers forced both friendly and hostile Isante bands across the Missouri river and even pursued them as far as they dared into the dangerous country of the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri river and the dark fastness of the Killdeer Mountains,112 and at last the scat­tered children of the Isante furtively sought the shelter of their kinsmen, the Tetons, ‘even as deer run among the lodges of a camp when starved white wolves run in the winter hunt’ – and there they were received without enthusiasm.

Closely following the earlier military expeditions forts were erected along the Missouri.  Ambitious generals, athirst for fame and hard soldiers of the frontier type, to whom all Sioux, both Teton and Isante, looked alike, hunted the red men without a scintilla of pity and killed them without remorse.  They forced the friendly and well-meaning, but touchy, Teton into a series of wars which lasted for many years and in which unknown numbers of whites and reds were killed and untold atrocities were perpetrated by both sides.  It all culminated in the death of the dashing, audacious Custer and his horsemen on the Little Big Horn, followed years later by the death of the bitter medicine leader of the Tetons, Sitting Bull, on the Standing Rock Reserva­tion and the shameful affair at Wounded Knee.

As the groups of Isante walked slowly toward their sections of the camp, after the departure of the Tetons from the Council, a number of horsemen swung toward them and advanced with speed.  As they came closer the men afoot stopped and waited to learn the cause of the excitement.  One of the horsemen leaped from the back of his swiftly-running mount and ran toward them, calling for Waaneta, the Yanktonaise.  This young well-known chief pressed toward the man who, without a movement of his countenance, listened to the messenger’s tale.

It was learned that the messenger had only that moment arrived at the Grove of Tall Oaks, having come from the vicinity of the trading post of the Englishman, Robert Dickson, far to the northeast upon the Red River of the North.  He brought word of the death of Red Thunder (often called Shappa, the Beaver, who was the father of Waaneta) at the hands of their old enemies, the Chippewa.

Red Thunder and his son, Waaneta, were both famous men among the Yanktonaise Sioux.

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During the war of 1812 Red Thunder had headed a band of Yanktonaise, who served with the British against the colonists in the advanced white settlements in the valleys of the Ohio, carrying the terrors of Indian warfare to those scattered and weak home builders under the promise of Robert Dickson, the English Agent among the Sioux, that all the Americans would be pushed to the south of the Ohio and to the east of the Mississippi, and that territory thus acquired would revert to the Indians and belong to them forever.  The seventeen year old son of Red Thunder, whose name previous to this expedition is unknown, especially covered himself with glory in the campaign in Indiana and Ohio and won a warrior’s name of Waaneta (The Rushing Man), but only after he had been wounded and had killed seven or eight white settlers.

For these acts of bravery, and with the hope that the action would firmly cement the wavering friendship of the Isante and the British, Waaneta was granted a Captain’s commission in the King’s Army and taken to England where he was presented at court with great ceremony.  The procedure was not successful for the Indian bands gradually dwindled away until, before Detroit, the majority of the Sioux deserted the English cause and returned to their old habitat in the west, Waaneta going to his place upon the Warricone (the present Beaver Creek, N.D.).113  After the settlement of this border warfare, Robert Dickson, who had taken a sister of Red Thunder for his wife, was ordered from American territory by the United States Government and removed to a position in disputed territory along the Red River of the North.  Here he built a trading fort and carried on trade with both the Sioux and Chippewa as well as other Indians who occasionally ventured that far from their usual haunts.

In order to permit free access to his trading station by the Chippewa and Sioux, who were hereditary enemies, Dickson attempted to bring about a peace arrangement between those warring tribes a few years after the War of 1812.  He prevailed upon Red Thunder, who had taken a captive women of the Chippewa as his wife, to send the woman back to her own people bearing a message of goodwill and to express the desire of the Sioux for a parley with the Chippewas.  Through this plan peace was finally brought about but it was quickly broken by Red Thunder who killed two cousins of Flat Mouth, the Chippewa Chief.  This Chief never had much confidence in the arrangements between the two tribes.

Flat Mouth immediately raised a large war party to obtain revenge against the Sioux.  But before he had fairly entered the Sioux country there came another message from Red Thunder inviting Flat Mouth to meet him at the trading post of Robert Dickson, where they could talk over terms of ‘covering the bodies’ of the two murdered Chippewa and smoke a permanent peace between the tribes.

Flat Mouth accepted the invitation and craftily appeared at the post with thirty or more of his best warriors.  Red Thunder arrived the next day with a very small force and, Dickson being absent from the post, the Sioux found themselves at the mercy of the Chippewa who treated them with great haughtiness and Red Thunder realized that his end had come.

The messenger told Waaneta how his brave father had dressed himself in his most splendid raiment with the silver medal of the English King George III hanging from his breast (note: this medal was in the Welch collection in 1924) and how, chanting the death song of the Yanktonaise, he had rushed out from the fort during a terrific storm into the midst of his enemies where he had died under the rush of superior numbers of the Chippewa.  His head was even now being carried around the enemy camp by the warriors of Flat Mouth.

Waaneta was furious at the death of his father and, in the sight of the people, he took a solemn

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vow to take revenge against the Chippewa.  He went to his lodge at once, secured his pipe and coup stick and visited every lodge of his tribe and succeeded in raising a war party to proceed without delay.  The next day, at sunrise, this party of nearly five-hundred warriors and their women started toward the northeast with the intention of entering the territory of the Chippewa and carrying death and terror among those red inhabitants of the lakes and rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin towards the Falls of Saint Anthony.

The excitement incident to the raising and departure of the war party of Waaneta, in conjunction with the intense feeling brought about by the action of the Council the day before, raised the war spirit of the tribes to a flaming point.  Serious conflicts between young men of the Isante and the Teton were averted with difficulty by the more level-headed men of the tribes.  No great community dance was held but smaller groups sung and danced throughout the night.  A feeling of suppressed anger was evident and the wise men of the Teton gathered before the tipi of the old Chief Grass, early the second day after the Council, to talk over events and consider the question of breaking camp and their plans thereafter.  They decided to begin the movement toward the Missouri at once and, when across the river, the various Teton tribes would use their own pleasure as to purpose and movements, the great assembly dispersing to their various hunting grounds and following their own desires.

During this lengthy discussion Joshua Pilcher, the white Agent and part-owner of the Missouri Fur Company, who held the important position of Special Agent among the Sioux, appeared at the circle.  The Indians knew Pilcher and had much confidence in him.  A place was quickly made for him among those of the Council of the Tetons and he sat and listened attentively to their deliberations.  Pilcher was well-satisfied with the results of the Council of the Dakotah.  He reasoned that, in all probability, the Tetons would return to the west side of the river and it was quite plain that the Isante would not leave their own country along the Mississippi.  On account of his standing with the Sioux the trade of his organization was flourishing.  He was pleased that the Isante had refused to remove to the west side of the Missouri for then the traders with whom they had dealings would, in his mind, have moved with them and he would have new opposition in his territory.  He was content with the Teton trade.  He naturally did not want any more competition than he already had.

The idea of clearing the Grand river country of the Arikara was uppermost in his mind.  If that plan could be accomplished, under his leadership, and the wonderful fur country of that stream placed under the control of his friends, the Blackfoot and Hunkpapa Sioux, he felt certain that he would reap the rewards of such a sagacious move.  He was pleased to hear that Renville, of the Columbia Fur Com­pany, had decided to accompany the war party of Waaneta as far as a convenient point where he would leave the hostiles and proceed to his post on the Mississippi.  He waited for an opportunity to address the Teton Council and accepted gladly when invited by Chief Grass to say a few words.  He knew the Indian character and spoke through the Indian in­terpreter whom he had brought with him from Bad river.  The Indians were already somewhat excited and in due form for brave deeds.  He lost no time in generalities or compliments but began his talk bluntly and stated his facts clearly.

“My Brothers.  Your advice to the Isante and your invitation to them to come and live with you have been refused by them.  It is not honorable among you to refuse a gift.  When that is done the one who would give is insulted.  Your gift to your kinsmen has been refused and your hearts are not glad on that account.  Listen to me.” “The Arikara of the Grand river had acted rashly.  They have attacked a party of white traders at their villages and have stolen the goods of the land party which was going up the Grand

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river to the Yellowstone.  They have killed thirteen white men and wounded many others.  This happened but a few short days ago.  These white men who were not killed floated down the Missouri and passed the Ford of the Patched Hide Hill a day or two after you crossed there.  They are now at my Fort Minihanska (Fort Recovery).114  The white leader has sent word to the post of the white soldiers down by the Council Bluffs and these soldiers will come to punish the Arikara.  They will come quickly, I think.  They will not permit these trouble-making Arikara to prevent white traders from bringing guns and powder to you.  They will chase those enemies of yours out of the Grand river country.  That country, with it’s good furs, belongs to you.  I have already sent word to the white soldier chief asking him to permit the Teton warriors to help him fight the Arikara.  There will be enough honor for all of us.  You will wear new feathers and notches and your robes will carry new stories upon them.  In doing this you will forget the sorrow which the chiefs of the Isante have caused you.  They will hear of your brave deeds and the sorrow will be their’s then.  I will go with you and look after you, for I am the Agent of the Great Father at Washington.  The white soldiers are on the way now.  They are coming fast.  When you are ready we will take as many as are not afraid to fight the Arikara.  We will meet the soldier chief when he comes to the Crossing of the Three Rivers115 north of Maka Tipi (Chamberlain, S.D.).116   That is my talk.  You are brave men and I ask you to show the Great Father that you are not cowards.  Select your First Soldier and make up your party while you are all here.  Do it now.  I will wait for you.”

The announcement made by Pilcher caused a great commotion.  Made at a time when the Tetons were excited and in council – when they expected to break camp and start toward the west – so soon after their program of federation with the Isante had failed (and which refusal they felt so keenly) – offering them an opportunity to assist the soldiers and perhaps to receive arms and ammunition – the prospects of having permanent posts established at the Grand river – and the certainty of that territory becoming Teton – the chiefs were anxious to take part in the expedition.

But perhaps the greatest reason was the fact that the Teton, especially the Blackfoot and Hunkpapa tribes who were closest to the Arikara, had carried on a war with them for many years and had driven them to this last strong place from which they had not been able to dislodge them.  The Blackfoot, under the old Chief Grass, had been especially active against them in this intertribal warfare and had harried them continually.  But they had sharply felt the unjust sympathy extended to them by Red Thunder of the Cut Head band of the Yanktonaise and his famous son Waaneta who had taken up their range upon the Beaver creek.  This creek was but a short distance to the north, but on the opposite side of the river from the Arikara villages.  These Cut Heads had arrived at a tentative agreement promising protection to the Arikara from the Teton raiders.  For this protective influence they were to receive a tribute of corn and horses as well as certain other supplies.

The Indians at the Council did not argue at any great length.  No one of key power or influence opposed the plan of assisting the soldiers.  This was an opportunity for which they had never even hoped – to have aid of such great strength assist them in driving their old enemies out of the Grand river territory.  It was also decided that Grass should be First Soldier as his tribe had always been the chief aggressors against the Arikara and his people would also be expected to

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hold the territory, when once in their possession, by pushing northward across the Grand and on to the Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpe (Holy Idol Stone river – the present Cannon Ball river).  When it had been definitely decided that the Teton would cooperate with Pilcher and the soldiers the Council broke up.  Each chief hurried to his own camp where they were to call the fighting men of their band together and complete preparations to start for the Missouri, where they would await the approach of the white soldiers.

When the news of the proposed expedition became known through the camp several chiefs of the Yankton Isante came to Grass and requested that they and their warriors should be allowed to form part of the party.  These Yanktons lived far down the James river and upon the east side of the Missouri and, in many ways, they were in full sympathy with the Tetons.  Their hunting parties frequently went west of the river for meat and hides, hunting together with the Sheyenne and the Miniconjou divisions of the Dakotah.

The speeches made that night at the various dancing gatherings related mostly to the proposed war party and it became a very popular move.  Young men who had not yet been on a war expedition were permitted to make preparations.  The older men of the Tetons, and many Yanktons and individuals of other branches of the Isante, did not hesitate to join the forces of Chief Grass.  Before noon of the next day many women were leading gaily decorated horses of their men folks around the camp, singing the praises of their warriors.  Wasna was being prepared and spare moccasins were being made by the women and men were retying arrow heads and straightening shafts.  Many young men made public vows to bleed for Wakantonka if they attained to honor during the coming battles and, by night time, Pilcher was informed by Chief Grass that he would be able to furnish at least seven-hundred men by the time they were ready to move.

The plan at last agreed upon contemplated that the warriors would concentrate upon the Missouri in the neighborhood of the Ford of the Three Rivers, several days journey to the southwest and to the north of Maka Tipi.  Each camp would take it’s own course to this place, in order to obtain better hunting on the way, but maintain the general direction during their daily hunts.  After they were there, a short hunt for meat would be made across the river.  But, until the order was given, no one should cross the Missouri and disturb the game which might be within reasonable distance there.  The soldier’s Society of the White Horse Riders and the Fool Soldier Band would be at the ford to maintain this discipline.  Punishment for disobedience would come swift and be severe.  The camp should be settled on the sixth day after the people broke camp at the Grove of Tall Oaks and the game scouts would be sent out across the Missouri to locate the buffalo herds.  It was also decided that the women and children, the old people and the sick, would stay in camp at the Three Rivers while the main body of warriors were riding against the Arikara.  Meat would be provided for all who were left behind by young men and warriors who, by custom of mourning or otherwise, remained in camp.  Bodies of scouts would ride far to the west to locate any wandering bands of Crows or other enemies.  Other parties of scouts would go down the river until they met the soldiers. Consequently, by the evening of the second day, nothing was left of this great camp of the Dakotah but the general debris of broken bones of game animals, scattered, worn-out moccasins and trimmings of hides, a few bare sweat lodge poles, sun shelters and ceremonial enclosures of bough, several bundles containing the bodies of those who had died during the gathering of the tribes tied in trees or fixed upon rough platforms of poles, trampled water banks and fords and closely-cropped pastures, the hard-packed dancing spaces and the cold ashes of a thousand cooking fires.  Upon the topmost hill a few weak horses, which had been abandoned, stood together facing the wind while the coyotes nervously sneaked across the deserted site of the last great camp of the Seven Fires Council at the Grove of Tall Oaks in the valley of the Cansansan.

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Reference notes for Chapter Sixteen


This sword (Chapter heading on page 83) entered the War Against the Arikara as a Soldier’s property.  Was carried by Circling Hawk in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, burned on his funeral pyre,  re-festooned and presented to Welch by his widow.

112. Expeditions of Generals Sibley and Sully.

113. Discovered and named by Lewis and Clark Expedition, October 16th, 1804.

114. Fort Recovery was a trading post of the Missouri Fur Company, located upon American Island, above the present Chamberlain, S.D.

115. This was a well-known Sioux fording place across the Missouri River.  It was mentioned by Lewis and Clark in 1804.  That expedition passed these three rivers, all flowing in from the east, on September 19, 1804, and called the vicinity ‘The Three Rivers Pass.’  In present Buffalo County.

116. Maka Tipi (Earth Lodges), an old Dakotah name for the vicinity of present Chamberlain


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Chapter Seventeen: Leavenworth’s Expedition approaches the heavily-fortified Arikara Village


The messengers who had been dispatched by General Ashley to reach Colonel Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson and inform him of the treachery of the Arikara Indians were borne rapidly down the Missouri which, at this season, was very high with the spring run-off of the mountain snows in the upper river, the Yellowstone country and the warm rains of the Dakotas.  The keelboat Yellowstone in which they travelled was a staunch craft built particularly for the Missouri.  It had no power except sweeps and poles, was compelled to rely upon the force of the current and, several times during the trip, it had narrow escapes from being wrecked by running upon submerged snags or being crushed by floating logs or trees.

Constant vigilance was maintained to avoid these perils of the wide waters of the river and the members of the party, five of whom were wounded in the battle with the Arikara, were much worn by the continual strain when, on the morning of the 18th of June, fourteen days after they left General Ashley, they ran the bow of the boat into the bank below Fort Atkinson.  They secured the craft and hastened to deliver their verbal messages to Colonel Atkinson, post com­mander.  They also presented a written report to Major O’Fallon who was the agent for the Government for the Missouri river Indians, with headquarters at that fort.  This message was as follows:

“On Board the Keel Boat Yellowstone

25 miles below the Auricara Towns, 4th June, 1823.

Dear Sir:  On the morning of the 2nd inst, I was attacked by Auricara Indians, which terminated with great loss on my part.  On my arrival there, the 30th of May, I was met very friendly by some of the chiefs, who expressed a great wish that I would stop and trade with them.  Wishing to purchase horses to take a party of men to the Yellowstone river, I agreed to comply with their request, and proposed that the chiefs of the two towns should meet me that afternoon on the sand beach, when the price of horses should be agreed upon.  After a long consultation among themselves, they made appearance at the place proposed.  I made them a small present and proposed to purchase 40 or 50 horses.  They appeared much pleased, and expressed much regret that a difference had taken place between some of their Nation and the Americans, alluding to the fray which recently took place with a part of their men and some of the Missouri Fur Company, which terminated in the loss of two Aricaras, one of whom was the son of the principal chief of one of the two villages.  They, however, said that all the angry feelings occasioned by that affray had vanished, and that they considered the Americans as friends, and would treat them as such; that the number of horses I wanted would be furnished me for the price offered.

The next morning we commenced trading, which continued until the evening of the 1st inst., when preparations were made for my departure early the next morning.  My party consisted of ninety men, forty of whom were selected to take charge of the horses, and cross the country by land, to the Yellowstone.  They were encamped on the bank, within forty rods of the boats.

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About half past three in the morning I was informed that one of my men had been killed and, in all probability, the boats would be immediately attacked.  The men were all under arms and so continued until sunrise, when the Indians commenced a heavy and well directed fire, from a line along the picketing of their towns, and some broken land adjoining, about 600 yards in length.  The shot were principally directed at the men on the beach, who were making use of the horses as a breastwork.  We returned the fire; but, from the advantageous situation of the Indians, done but little execution.  Finding their fire very destructive, I ordered the steersmen to weigh their anchors, and lay to shore for the purpose of embarking the men, but notwithstanding that I used every effort in my power to have the order executed.  I could not effect it.  Two skiffs, which would carry thirty men, were taken ashore, but in consequence of predetermination, on the part of the men on board, not to give way to the Indians as long as they could possibly do otherwise, they (with the exception of seven or eight) would not make use of the skiffs when they had the opportunity to do so.  In about fifteen minutes from the time the firing commenced, the surviving part of the men were embarked; nearly all the horses killed or wounded; one of the anchors had been weighed, the cable of the other cut, and the boats dropped down the stream.

The boatmen, with but few exceptions, were so panic struck that it was impossible to get them to expose themselves to the least danger, indeed, for some time, to move them from their seats.  I ordered the boat landed at the first timber, for the purpose of putting the men and boats in a better situation the pass the villages in safety.  When my intentions were made known, to my surprise and mortification, I was told by the men (with but few exceptions) that, under no circumstances, would they make a second attempt to pass, with a large reinforcement.  Finding that no arguments that I could use would cause them to change their resolution, I commenced making arrangements for the security of my property.  The men proposed that If I would descend the river to this place, fortify the boats or make any other defense for their safety, they would remain with me until I could receive aid from Major Henry, or from other quarter.  I was compelled to agree to the proposition.  On my arrival here, I found them as much determined to go lower.  A resolution had been formed by most of them to desert.  I called for volunteers to remain with me under any circumstances, until I should receive the expected aid.  Thirty only volunteered; among them were but few boatmen; consequently I am compelled to send one boat back.  After taking a part of her cargo on board of this boat, the balance will be stored at the first fort below.  My losses in killed and wounded was as follows:

Killed – John Matthews, Jno. Collins, Aaron Steevens (killed at night in the fort), James McDaniel, Westley Piper, George Flage, Bebj’n F. Sweed, James Penn, Jr., Jno Miller, Jno. S. Gardner, Ellis Ogle, David Howard.

Wounded – Reece Gibson (since dead), Joseph Monse, John Lawson, Abraham Ricketts, Robert Tucker, Joseph Thompson, Jacob Miller, Daniel McCalin, Hugh Glass, Au­gust Dufier, Willis (black man).

I do not conceive but two of the wounded in danger.  How many of the Indians were killed I am at a loss to say; I think not more than seven or eight; four or five men were seen to fall on the beach.  I thought proper to communicate this affair as early as an opportunity offered, believing that you will be disposed to make these people account to government for the outrage committed.  Should that be the case, and a force sent for that purpose in a short time, you will oblige me much if you will send me an express, at my own expense, if one can be procured, that I may meet and cooperate with you.  From the situation of the Indian towns, it will be difficult for a small force to oust them with­out a six-pounder.  The towns are newly picketed in with timber from six to eight inches thick, twelve to fifteen feet high, dirt in inside thrown up about eighteen inches.  They front the river and, immediately in front of them, is a large sand bar, forming nearly two

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thirds of a circle, at the head of which (where the river is very narrow) they have a breastwork, made of dry wood.  The ground on the opposite side of the river is high and commanding.  They have about six hundred warriors, I suppose, three fourths of them are armed with London fusile, others with bows and arrows, war axes, etc, etc.

I expect to hear from Major Henry (To whom I sent an express) in twelve or fifteen days.  During that time I shall remain between this place and the Aricara towns, not remaining any length of time in any one place, as my force is small, not more than twenty three effectives.

Your friend and obedient servant,

W. H. Ashley.

On board the boat that descends are five wounded men.  Any assistance that you can offer them, I will feel under obligations to you for.”

Major B. O’Fallon, Indian Agent, or

Commanding Officer, at Fort Atkinson.”

The headquarters of Colonel Leavenworth’s nearest immediate officer, Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, who commanded the right wing of the Western Department, was at St. Louis, but that officer was known to be in Louisville at that time, several hundred miles away in Kentucky by river and wooded trail.  Inasmuch as the time which would be required for a messenger to cover that distance and return with instructions from the Commanding General would render it entirely too late to be of any service to General Ashley, Colonel Leavenworth decided to act at once.  Following a discussion with Major O’Fallon and the messengers from General Ashley, he decided to assume all responsibility and proceed at once to the aid of General Ashley, by advancing a military force against the murderous Arikara at the Grand river.

The Colonel dispatched a communication to Louisville in which he advised the Commanding General that he would start with a force as soon as possible “to secure the lives and property of our citizens, and to chastise those who have committed outrages upon them.”  By the same messenger he forwarded a duplicate of his orders covering the movement.  His advice to General Atkinson was as follows:

“Fort Atkinson, 18th June, 1823.

Dear Sir:  I have just received a letter from General Ashley, giving information of an attack upon his party by the Auricara Indians, by which it appears that not only the survivors of his party, buy many other American citizens, are in the most imminent danger.  A copy of the General’s letter I herewith enclose, and, also, a copy of an order which I have issued on the subject.  I can only add, that we shall leave here for our destination as soon as possible, which I hope will be tomorrow or next day.  We shall take two six-pounders and small swivels, and, perhaps a howitzer.  My party will be about two hundred strong in rank and file.  If necessary, it is expected that we can raise a considerable auxiliary force amongst the Sioux.  We shall do all we can to support the honor of the regiment, and hope, with the blessings of Heaven, to meet the approbation of our superiors and of our country.  We go to secure the lives and property of our citizens, and to chastise and correct those who have committed outrages upon them.  It will be our endeavor to do this as peaceably as the nature of the circumstances which may occur will admit.

Your obedient servant,

H.Leavenworth, 6th Reg.

Brig. Gen. H. Atkinson,

Com’ng West’n Dept. Louisville, Ky.

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Later in the same day of the arrival of the express from General Ashley, the following orders from Headquarters of the Sixth Infantry were issued:

“Headquarters, 6th Infantry,

Fort Atkinson, 18th June, 1823.


The colonel commanding has to announce to his command, that the Aricara Indians have attacked a party of Americans under the command of Gen. Wm. Ashley, Lt. Governor of the State of Missouri, who had a regular license from the government of the United States, agreeable to the laws of Congress for regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians.  Fourteen men of General Ashley’s party have been killed and nine wounded.  The lives of more than one hundred American citizens, now in the Indian country, are in the most imminent danger.  Gen. Ashley, and about thirty men of his party, still bravely remain in the face of their savage enemy, and the general asks for assistance.  The colonel commanding deems it his duty to afford assistance to the survivors, and to chastise those Indians for the outrage which they have committed.  And on this subject there is the most perfect coincidence of opinion between the colonel commanding and Major Benjamine O’Fallon, the United States Agent for Indian affairs upon the Missouri.  The colonel commanding is sure of the zealous cooperation and efficient support of Major O’Fallon, and the officers generally of the regiment which he has the honor to command.

Companies A,B,D,E,F, and G will be prepared, as soon as possible, to march at a moments warning.  After the departure of the colonel commanding, the command of the residue of the regiment of the post will devolve upon Major Foster.  It is hoped and expected that the most zealous exertions will be made by every individual of the regiment, left here, to save the crops, and to preserve the public property.  In Major Foster’s zeal and efficiency, and those generally who will remain, the colonel commanding has the fullest confidence.  He is aware that their duties will be arduous, perhaps more so than those who ascend the river.  If any glory should be required, the regiment will share in it; if those who ascend the river are unfortunate, they must bear it alone.

The acting post quartermaster will immediately engage the keel boat called the Yellowstone Packet, and her patroon, and as many of the efficient men with her as practicable.  In case he succeeds in engaging the boat, her cargo will be immediately stored.  One of the public boats will be selected and immediately be put in good order to ascend the river.  A future order will be given on the subject of ammunition and subsistence.

H. Leavenworth, Colonel Commanding.”

The almost apologetic manner in which the command of the post, during the contemplated absence of the greater part of the troops, was turned over to Major Foster, indicated that the entire force was anxious to take part in the expedition.  While it is true that the Indians in the vicinity of Fort Atkinson were friendly with the white soldiers there it was, of course, necessary that a sufficient force for the protection of government property and the growing crops of the garrison should remain behind.

The keel boat “Yellowstone,” which had come down the river bearing several wounded men and the dispatches from General Ashley, was loaded with considerable freight belonging to the

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Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  This was unloaded and stored ashore and the boat was placed in condition to carry troops.  Two other river boats were secured and, by the 22nd of June, the Quartermaster announced that these three boats were in readiness and loaded with supplies and subsistence for the ascent of the river.

Accordingly, the six companies of the Sixth Infantry, which had been designated in orders, boarded the three boats and pushed out into the rushing flood of the swollen Missouri.  Each boat carried two companies, an average of about seventy men, and the subsistence and ammunition, together with two six-pounders, were distributed among the boats ac­cording to capacity.

Affairs upon the upper Missouri were now transpiring with amazing rapidity.  The mountaineers belonging to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the Missouri Fur Company were trooping toward the Missouri at the call of their chiefs.  The Teton tribesmen from the Seven Fires Council were gathering at points along the river in the vicinity of the Ford of the Three Rivers, and a band of warriors under the leadership of Fire Heart was on it’s way down the river, moving by land to meet the expected military expedition.  Agent Pilcher was on the lower river somewhere with furs and other merchandise for the south which he intended to unload and store at Fort Atkinson, provided the commanding officer desired to make use of his boats.  Jebediah Smith, the brave young messenger who had volunteered to carry the news of the massacre of Gen. Ashley’s to his partner, Major Henry, at the trading post at the mouth of the Yellowstone, had succeeded in his hazardous journey of several hundred miles.  The Major had immediately launched his boats and worked his way, by day and night, down the stream to join General Ashley.  When this party had arrived before the Arikara villages those treacherous Indians had invited him to land there but, knowing their insincerity, he had run by without stopping and succeeded in joining his partner at the mouth of the Sheyenne river.  Young Smith continued on for St. Louis with the winter’s catch of furs, stopping for a short time at Fort Atkinson on July 8th.  He arrived at St. Louis a few days later where he turned the furs over to the agents of the Company, delivered a message written by Col. Leavenworth to General Atkinson, and then started back to overtake the expedition on the river.

Hundreds of miles toward the west, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, another band of thirty trappers and hunters attached to the Missouri Fur Company had met disaster at the hands of the Piegans (Montana Blackfeet), in an ambush, while passing through difficult country on the Yellowstone.  The trappers, Michael Emmel and Robert Jones, and five mountain men had been killed in the fight.  All their horses and equipage lost and their traps and horses stolen by the Indians.  An express was sent to Mr. Pilcher to apprise him of his loss of valuable goods and loyal men, arriving safely at Fort Vanderburgh in the close vicinity of the upper Mandan and Hidatsa villages, about seventy five miles north of the mouth of the Heart river.

Here the messenger, a clerk of the Company by the name of Gordon, had been much distressed to discover the disposition of these Indians to be arrogant and rather hostile toward him.  This was owing to the success of the Arikara fight against General Ashley’s Rocky Mountain men, news of which had reached them.  Here he also learned of the death of four other white men attached to the Missouri Fur Company who had been killed by hostile Indians near the Falls of the Missouri.

Mr. Keemle, another young gentleman in the employ of the latter Company, arrived at Fort Vanderburgh soon after Gordon and dispatched a message dated July 10th, addressed to Pilcher (who had overtaken Col. Leavenworth’s command be­low Yankton on June 27th) who received it while at Fort Recovery, far down the Missouri a few days later.  Pilcher noted that:

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 “The present affair with the Ricaras is the sub­ject of daily conversation with the Gros Ventres and Mandans.  I am of the opinion, from many remarks made by the principal men of both nations, that much of the future welfare and interest of the persons engaged in the business of the Missouri, depends much upon the course of conduct pursued toward that band of savage villains, the Ricara.  A council was held by the Mandans on the 10th inst, in which they have determined to send for the Ricaras to enter their village in order to protect them, so they say, from the whites.”

As the bearers of this dispatch passed the Arikara towns they had been fired upon as long as they remained within range.

Pilcher, himself, knowing the Indians of the river as few other men did, considered the situation to be a very serious one and, in a letter to Major O’Fallon, the Indian Agent, dated at Fort Recovery July 23rd, after reviewing events which had recently been reported, indicated his views when he said:

“From these circumstances you may suppose that the future conduct and disposition of all those upper river tribes, even the Sioux, depend much on the steps taken in relation the Aricaras.  There are many opinions respecting the course the Aricaras will take.  My own impressions are that they will not abandon their villages but will await the arrival of the expedition and give us battle.  Many things induce a belief that they will not attempt to go to the Mandans for protection.”

Considering all the discouraging news which trickled in from the wide territory of the upper Missouri, extending to the crest of the Rockies and covering the entire watershed of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, it was quite evident to the leaders of the traders, who maintained stations at many points, that there was a growing uneasiness and sense of hostility toward the whites among practically every tribe in the country.  As the solitary mountaineers and trappers came in to join the forces of their Companies new stories of hostile acts and unpleasant encounters, with Indians who had always been friendly toward them before, came to the heads of the trade.

Traders at isolated places upon the smaller streams had been molested; their packs had been boldly lifted from the horses’ backs and made away with without any exchange of customary value.  Trappers had been relieved of their beaver traps and their catch of furs by members of wandering bands.  Indians who had been extended credit in the usual manner at the traders’ stores for their traps and ammunition had not appeared with the season’s catch.  Even the ‘Friendly Mandans’ and their close allies the Gros Ventre, or Hidatsa, who lived at the upper villages at Fort Vanderburgh and the Knife river practically at the water entrance to the rich Yellowstone districts, were disturbed and contemplating a break with the whites.  It had always been the boast of these Indians they had ‘never killed a white man carelessly’ and, as they occupied a very strategic position in relation to the American fur trade and their villages had always been a safe retreat and ‘home port’ for the keel boats ascending the river, it was almost a certainty that the immense trade of the upper river country would be lost to the Americans if the Mandan Nation harbored the Arikaras and openly espoused their cause, as they threatened to do.

Added to these rumors was the belief that the English Hudson’s Bay Company was fostering the growing discontent toward the American traders and exploiting the upper Missouri, and even the Columbia, to the direct disadvantage of the St. Louis firms.

The present friendly attitude of the Sioux of the lower river, from the Big Sioux river to the Grand river territory of the Arikara, was also quite likely to change at any time on account of

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the failure of the plan of a closer federation of their tribes as presented by the Teton orator, Running Antelope, at the late Council of the Seven Fires.  It was believed that, if these Sioux and the Mandan villagers were to lose faith in, or respect for, the power of the Americans, with the Arikara already under armed and open resistance, the trade would be ruined for a time and nothing short of considerable military activity, involving great expense and probably loss of men and property, would suffice to maintain the important and extensive trading establish­ments along the fifteen hundred miles or more of the Missouri river highway.  The attention of the entire Indian population in the west was riveted upon the forthcoming action of the advancing military expedition, under command of Colonel Leavenworth, which was now laboriously proceeding up the Missouri river under sail and cordelle and which, by July 3rd, had reached a point in the vicinity of the present Yankton, S.D.

It was there that this expedition met with their first serious accident.  One of the boats which carried two companies of soldiers, commanded by Lieutenants William N. Wickliff and William W. Morris, became unmanageable in the rough water and drifted upon a submerged log or snag where it broke in two and sunk.  In Col. Leavenworth’s final report to Brig. Gen. H. Atkinson dated Fort Atkinson, October 20th, 1823, this fatal accident is thus described:

“On the third day of July at about nine o’clock in the morning, Lt. Wickliff had the misfortune to lose the boat which had been committed to his charge.  The boats were progressing under sail near the right bank of the river, which was thickly covered with timber.  The wind was light, and owing to the timber, very unsteady.  Lieut. Wickliff wished to lay his boat further out into the stream for the purpose of obtaining a better wind, and his boat fell back upon a large tree which was under water, as the wind had been blowing against the current it had rendered the water so rough that the wake of this tree had not been discovered.

The consequence was instantly fatal to the boat. She sank and broke into two pieces.  Every possible exertion was made to save the lives of the crew.  Capt. Riley promptly put his boat about and followed the wreck, which was rapidly drifting down stream along a bend of the river which was full of similar obstructions to that which the boat of Lt. Wickliff had stove.  But he had the skill and good fortune to escape them all.  He twice threw his cordelle to those on the wreck and made it fast, but it was not sufficiently strong to hold the wreck and immediately broke.  Finding it impossible to land the wreck, he sent his best swimmers on shore to save the public property, in which they were very efficient and successful.  In the meantime Sergt. Drum and Private Thomas had been sent off with a small skiff to the assistance of the crew on the wreck.  They had nearly reached Sergt. Stackpole when he sank to rise no more.  The wreck drifted about two or three miles and then lodged against the shore.

When the boat sank, the small boat which we called the barge was some distance in advance.  We made signals to her, and she returned.  We landed her cargo and immedi­ately went in pursuit of the wreck.

We found it as above stated.  Took off the mast, sail and rigging and saved everything which was left in it.  the mast and yard we left on shore to be taken home on our return.  The public property which Capt. Riley had not taken into his boat was put into the barge and taken up to our remaining boats.

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We saved the greatest part of the flour and all the whiskey and lost all the pork which was in the boat.  There was no ordnance or ordnance stores in the boat, but we unfortunately lost fifty seven muskets and bayonets.  What was still worse, we found on mustering the crew that we had lost one sergeant and six men.  For their names and descriptions I beg leave to refer you to the Company reports, which I herewith have the honor to send you.

Mr. Pilcher was kind enough to take on board his boats eleven barrels of our provisions, the balance we distributed amongst our own boats and were under way again at five o’clock the next morning.  During the whole of this troublesome scene I was highly pleased with the efficiency and promptness both of the officers and men.  The kindness of Mr. Pilcher in taking some of our cargo was also highly appreciated.  As he was short of provisions for his men I let him have two barrels of pork and one barrel of beans.  He has never made any charge for transportation; neither has any been made of the pork.”

The difficulty of navigating the Missouri with heavy boats without mechanical power is shown by another report of an accident five days later in which the largest keel boat narrowly escaped being lost:

“On the night of the 8th of July we encamped on the right bank of a small slough.  We supposed that we had here found a very excellent harbor.  But at 10 o’clock at night we were suddenly struck by one of the most severe gales which any of us had every witnessed.  The roaring of the wind was heard but a moment before it struck us.  Our fasts on the largest boat (The Yellowstone Packet) were broken in an instant.  The patroon of the boat and several of the men were on board.  They immediately dropped their anchor but all in vain.  The anchor was dragged and the boat driven with great violence on a sand bar below us, at the mouth of the slough.  When she struck the bar, the mast and deck were carried overboard and broken in pieces.

Doctor Gale was the first officer to offer assistance.  He took charge of a small party of men and went immediately to the boat, and, although the wind was exceedingly severe and the swell or surf very high, he succeeded in landing a large part of the cargo.  The timely exertions of Dr. Gale at this critical moment probably saved us from the mortification of being compelled to return with the expedition.”

On the 19th of July a band of Sioux Indians signalled the boats and expressed their desire to accompany the party against the Arikaras.  They were told that they would be permitted to do so and they immediately set out along the banks to join their main camp in the vicinity of the Fort of the Three Sioux Rivers.  This camp was composed of about two hundred lodges of the Sioux who had arrived there agreeable to the understanding with Pilcher at the Seven Fires Council.  There were many more lodges scattered along the river, also there were several hunting parties across the river to the south and southwest.  These Sioux hunters had been very successful in obtaining meat and the Indians were in splendid humor.  There was much dancing and feasting and preparations were being completed for the great adventure against their old enemies, the Arikara.

Chief Fire Heart sent out runners to call in all hunt­ing parties.  Messengers rode to detached camps and slowly-travelling parties with instructions to them to move at once to the nearest point upon the river and await the arrival of the white soldiers.  Preparations were made for a great feast to be given when the soldiers’ boats came to the camp at the Three Sioux Rivers Fort and, when the flotilla did appear, the officers and men were all invited to go ashore and partake

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of dog meat.117  During the feasting Joshua Pilcher addressed the Indians in their own tongue, informing them of the purpose of the expedition.  It is surmised that he did not permit his importance to diminish in their estimation during these speeches, and it is even possible that they obtained the impression that he actually was the leader of the expedition.  In any event it is certain that the Indians cheerfully consented to the arrangements and appeared to be anxious to take an active share of the fighting.  They made a present to the soldiers of some two thousand pounds of sun-dried buffalo meat for which Colonel Leavenworth rewarded them by giving them a ten gallon keg of whiskey.

During the next few days the progress of the expedition was detained while the boats crossed the Indians to the west side of the river and awaited the arrival of several bands coming in from further points.  By the 8th of August the entire allied party, including General Ashley, whose party had been found at the mouth of the Sheyenne, had progressed to within twenty five miles of the Arikara villages.  It was deemed advisable to disembark all of the force, with the ex­ception of men enough to propel the boats upstream, to go the remaining distance by land.  A scouting party of Sioux was immediately sent a considerable distance to the front.

The force of Col. Leavenworth now consisted of two hundred or more regular troops and officers, one hundred and twenty, or more, mountaineers, trappers and boatmen and about seven hundred and fifty Sioux Indian warriors and, when this was organized, was styled “The Missouri Legion.”

The six regular companies were reformed into five companies, one of which was armed with rifles and termed the “Rifle Company.”  This was in command of Capt. Riley.  Lieut Morris was assigned to the artillery, of which there were three pieces.  The eighty men belonging to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company were formed into two companies.  Gen. Ashley assigning William Soublett to be Major commanding this force and Jebediah Smith and Hiram Scott to be Captains under him.  Hiram Allen and George C. Jackson to be Lieutenants and Charles Cunningham and Edward Rose to be Ensigns.  Thomas Fitzpatrick was to be Quartermaster and a man named Fleming to be surgeon.

Joshua Pilcher had one company of forty men of the Mis­souri Fur Company and named Henry Vanderburgh to command with Alexander Carson as Lieutenant.  Pilcher received the rank of Major and had command of the entire force of Indians with William Gordon as his Lieutenant.  All of these civilian nominations were received by Col. Leavenworth and confirmed by him in orders and the action had also the sanction of Gen. Ashley who, in addition to being the senior partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and held a commission as General in the Militia of that state, which embraced the country in which the expedition was operating.

Numbered among the Indian allies were the greatest warriors and leaders of the Teton Sioux and a few from those other divisions of the Nation, known as the Yanktons, Wahpetons, Sissetons and Yanktonaise.  Grass, of the Blackfoot Sioux, was the acknowledged “First Soldier”, and his son, Charging Bear, was placed at the head of that division of the warriors for the expected combat.

It was known to the Sioux that there were several members of their own tribes either visiting or living with the Arikara and, wishing to save them from perishing with the villagers, three men were dispatched by the chief of the advanced scouts section to get in touch with these people if possible and give them warning.  These three messengers accordingly proceeded without delay

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entered the village without mishap, and notified their tribesmen, who were supposed to be of the Yanktonaise, that the towns would soon be attacked.  These messengers found the villagers greatly excited.  Dancing was going on, hostile harangues were being made and preparations for a vigorous defense were being hurried.  The Arikara had been in scout touch with the progress of the expedition for several days but underestimated the number of Sioux auxiliaries and the soldiers by several hundred men.

Grey Eyes, the Chief of the Village, made an effort to induce the messengers to agree that the Sioux allies would desert the cause of the soldiers when a convenient opportunity presented itself during the battle and turn against them and assist the Arikara in wiping out the small band of soldiers.  However, none of the three messengers held any authority to make promises which would bind the Sioux and, during the excitement following their refusal to agree to the proposal, or even to carry such a message to their tribesmen, an hysterical war woman of the Arikaras rushed up and struck one of the Sioux scouts with a stick.  Instantly the entire village was in an uproar but, in the swift fight which took place against the scouts, the several other Sioux in the village joined their tribesmen and together they succeeded in reaching one of the entrances leading through the picket palisade.  At this place one of the Sioux received a blow from a long handled stone club in the hands of an Arikara warrior which killed him instantly.  His brave comrades dragged his body to the opening, held the position while catching their horses, and succeeded in riding away with the body of the scout carried between two horsemen.  Every Sioux had “counted coup” against the villagers in this swirling combat.  The two warriors, and even their children after them, who carried away the bloody body of their comrade and thus saved it from the indignities to which it would have been subjected, would thereafter be permitted to paint that most prized story of “Saved his friend on his horse” upon their buffalo robes and lodges.

It was night when the Sioux messengers passed through the lines of scouts and rejoined their comrades upon the left flank of the regular’s camp and, when they dropped the body of their slain brother upon the ground in their midst, the effect was to arouse the Indian warriors to a high pitch of hostility.  The men of the Missouri Fur Company, under Vanderburgh, were still in their own boats and had not yet caught up with the land party.  But as Mr. Pilcher had been given command of the entire Indian force, both himself and Lieutenant and his interpreter, McDonald, were with the Indian scouts upon the left flank of the main body and were witness to the excitement of the Sioux when the messengers told of the fight in the village.  He fostered this growing warlike hatred and revengeful spirit and urged the Sioux to take severe revenge when they should attack on the following day.

Thus coached, and with the remembrance of many years of warfare against these villager people, any secret idea which the leaders of the Sioux may have had of joining the Arikara in the case of the soldiers being defeated, and of that combined force attacking Fort Atkinson, was abandoned118 and the camp gave itself up to a wild exhibition of dancing and making of public vows by individuals as to the course they would pursue when they engaged in battle with their old enemies.

Major Pilcher deemed it expedient to throw a heavy line of scouts completely around the village on the landward side, to prevent the Arikaras from leaving their village during the night.  Sioux scouts, like shadows, slipped along the river shore in front of the earth lodges and slashed the hides of many bull boats which had been pulled up on the sandy beach.  The Arikaras were now helpless to escape.119

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That night the regulars camped about fifteen miles to the south of the villages.  Captain Riley, with his riflemen, and Gen. Ashley, with two companies of Rocky Mountain trappers, held the advance and the regular troops made up the main body.

In the morning the entire force was early on the move.  Col. Leavenworth apparently was much disturbed by the many camp rumors and contradictory reports he heard from the Sioux who had been in the Arikara the day before.  They told him that the fortifications had been strengthened and would be difficult to capture, being a palisade of heavy logs set up on end and several feet into the ground.  So constructed that the defensive party might shoot through the spaces be­tween them while protected from the fire of the attack by a deep ditch on the inside.

Gen. Ashley confirmed this report and estimated the Arikara warriors to number six hundred.  He declared that about three fourths of them were armed with various cheap guns and the balance with bows and arrows, war axes and clubs, and other weapons of stone and wood.

From the fact that some of the Sioux had been in the village, Col. Leavenworth became suspicious that they intended to desert the cause and take sides with the Arikara.  He left the Sioux to look after themselves and lost the advantage he had by reason of such numerically superior force of auxiliaries.

At noon the regulars arrived at the Grand river, about six miles south of the Arikara towns.  They were halted there and the forces closed up.  The plan of attack contemplated sending forward the Sioux, who were to surround the villages and hold the enemy until the regular infantry, in conjunction with the artillery, should get within striking distance.  Upon having the plan of action interpreted to them, the Indians set out with a rush while the foot troops followed, anxiously hoping that the boats which carried the artillery would come up in time to engage at the opportune moment.

Reference notes for Chapter Seventeen

117- The flesh of the dog has always been used as a food by the Sioux.  It is not a common dish, but used more in the nature of a ceremonial food.  The offer of dog meat was an act of courtesy, but was often not so accepted by the whites.

118– There was, apparently, some little uneasiness among the officers of Col. Leavenworth’s force regarding the sincerity of the Sioux Allies.  However, their actions during the actual combat disproved any such intention upon their part.  It is true that they did become disgusted with the actions of the soldiers when their attack was withheld at a favorable time to undertake the action and when a treaty was made before material punishment had been inflicted upon the Arikara.  This disappointment of the Sioux was clearly reflected by their white commander, Major Pilcher, who refused to smoke with the Arikara and would not assist in preparing the written treaty at the request of Col. Leavenworth.  Pilcher knew the Indian so well and was aware that the important men of the Arikara had not signed the treaty, but had other men do so, in order that they might break the terms of the agreement when they deemed expedient, using the argument that the Chiefs and Head­men had not signed.  The Arikara were sparring for time, evidently intending to desert their villages when opportunity presented.


119 – Bull boats were the form of water transportation among the upper river Indians.  They were formed of strong saplings bent into a circular form and secured in that shape with thongs and other saplings.  Over this frame a single buffalo hide was stretched, mak­ing a bowl-shaped water craft.  After the hide became dry the boat was serviceable and would bear several hundred pounds with safety.  The oars were plied with a drawing motion.  Some of these crude boats are still in use (1924) among the people of the Mandan and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation

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Chapter Eighteen: The Battle with the Arikara


When the troops arrived within two or three miles of the villages intermittent firing was heard and they saw many captured horses being driven to the rear by the Sioux.  The rate of advance was quickened and, upon the advice of Major Pilcher, the rifle company, with Capt. Riley at their head, and the mountaineers under Gen. Ashley, were ordered to advance with all possible speed to support the Sioux warriors who had met the enemy outside of the village walls and had immediately attacked them and were now engaged in a desperate Indian battle.  In this fight the Sioux had killed ten or more of the enemy.

Upon seeing the advancing regulars and the mountaineers the Arikara broke cover from the ravines and attempted to reach the protection of their village picket defenses.  They were closely pursued by the Sioux who stopped within bow shot of the palisades.  The soldiers followed the Sioux and continued their advance until within three or four hundred yards of the village.  As the Sioux were between the troops and the enemy, the soldiers had not been able to deliver fire, and Col. Leavenworth’s men were halted at this position to await the arrival of the artillery.  Capt. Riley’s rifle company, however, advanced as far as the ragged Indian skirmish line and engaged the villagers in order to prevent a sortie, firing at the spaces between the logs of the defenses.

The boats, under Major Wooley, arrived and disembarked the artillery before sundown but it was not deemed advisable to commence action at that late hour and, consequently, the white forces were so stationed as to command the villages and prevent their evacuation by the enemy under cover of darkness.

However, a body of Arikara did actually escape to the opposite shore of the Missouri during the night, using the few remaining bull boats which the Sioux had not destroyed.  This small band was composed of a few old men and women and children, but their preparations for flight had been discovered by the Sioux.  A force of some fifty Teton then swam their horses across the river and, hiding in the brush, waited for the fleeing enemy to come to the bank.

The tragic death of every member of this band of Arikara on the shores of the Missouri is an instance when the Sioux fought at night,120which was not their general custom and indicates, to some extent, that the fears of the commanding officer regarding the loyalty of the Sioux were overdrawn.  While it is true that they had lost confidence in the soldiers by reason of the failure to consolidate the advantages gained by the Sioux in the Indian battle that day, this instance, and others which followed in the course of a few days, shows that the main efforts of the Sioux were solely and earnestly extended toward the extermination of their old enemies – and that they entertained no plan of making peace with the Arikara.

Early on the morning of the 10th Col. Leavenworth launched an attack upon the villages which he had completely invested upon the landward sides.  The inhabitants could not escape by the river without being subjected to an open fire and, in the absence of the bull boats, no considerable force would attempt it.  The object of the attack did not contemplate a charge against the defensive works of the enemy but was designed to so harass and reduce the hostiles, from points of vantage, that they would be humbled and extend peace.

The attack opened with a well-directed fire from the six pounder and a five and one-half inch

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brass howitzer, which were in position to the northwest, commanding both the upper and lower villages.  The first shots from these pieces brought down some of the Arikara Medicine Poles and killed the headman of the people, Chief Grey Eyes.  Major Ketchum advanced his infantry from the north to within a short distance of the lower village.  From this position the soldiers, unaccountably, delivered a high angle volley which did no damage, encouraging the enemy in believing that the soldiers were very poor marksmen.  A six pounder served by Sergeant Perkins, from an elevation at the northeast angle of the walls, changed position to the level plateau upon which the village stood, where it could be handled with better effect.  The official report contains the information that “a brisk fire was continued upon the towns until 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

At the commencement of the attack the Sioux allies had scattered in a wide arc in the rear of the attacking party and waited for the enemy to appear, their object being to intercept any force or detached party of the enemy which might be able to cut it’s way through and get in the rear of the line.  It soon became evident to the Indians that the attack was not being pressed with vigor and, as the hours passed with no assault being made, many of them entered the cultivated fields of the enemy and provided themselves and their horses with food, having been without meat for days.

The Sioux had been promised that they might take the horses and other plunder of the enemy, which they might obtain after the battle, and it was evident to Major Pilcher that his Indians were becoming disgusted by the failure of the soldiers to take the villages.  With his force of Sioux he waited for seven hours and watched the spiritless efforts of the white soldiers and mountaineers to reduce the fortifications and storm the villages.  They reasoned that the battle might be fought and complete success obtained within a short time if they were used to advantage and sent in with spirit and definite objectives.

Becoming convinced that the artillery would not be able to dislodge the enemy Col. Leavenworth, about three o’clock in the afternoon, ordered the troops to be withdrawn and concentrated below the lower village.  They were sent to gather corn, the same procedure which had attracted the official notice and criticism of the commanding officer when done by his allies earlier in the day.

The exultant enemy promptly followed the troops when this withdrawal was being accomplished and opened “a galling fire” upon them, but were soon forced to leave their cover by Major Ketchum’s men.  This audacious action by the enemy did not display much humiliation or humbleness upon their part.  Major Pilcher informed the commanding officer that nothing would now cause his Indians to act except some display of strength and purpose.  The fact that no assault had been attempted at a time when Gen. Ashley and his two companies of hard mountaineer hunters were firmly in possession of a gully with twenty paces of the lower village, and when other troops were under cover within one hundred yards of the picket palisade, was, no doubt, encouraging to the enemy and disheartening to the spirit of the Sioux.

The chiefs and headmen of the Blackfoot and Hunkpapa and other Sioux tribes did not intend to permit the affair to end so simply and, after consultation with Pilcher, they decided to withdraw to a distance and permit the soldiers to fight their own fight and go home, after which they would go against the Arikara, themselves.  They had sustained some few losses in the Indian

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fighting the day before and it, therefore, became necessary for them to renew the engagement in order not to lose their own self-respect, if for no other reason.  In accordance with the plan the Sioux began to withdraw to a certain known location behind the hills.

At this time a most unusual incident occurred.  An Arikara warrior came into the presence of Col. Leavenworth and proposed that he should have pity upon them and not fire upon them any more; that the bad men who were responsible for the trouble had all been killed and the people were in tears.  Coming from a people who never extended pity, to a foe within their power, it was most unique, but is so peculiarly Indian in strategy and language used that it can not be doubted that it did actually take place.

The kind-hearted Colonel agreed to this proposition and ten or twelve more Arikara came out to meet him, bearing a pipe extended toward him.  They agreed to permit five of their number to remain with soldiers as hostages while the others returned to the villages to gather all the guns and buffalo robes which had been taken from Gen. Ashley’s party in June.  At least “all which they could find.”  The good Colonel in his official report says, “I thought proper to accept the terms.”

The peace pipe was lighted with the Arikaras. But when it was presented to Major Pilcher he refused to take part in the affair and would not even shake hands with the wily villagers, some of whom were armed.  This ill-timed ceremony finally broke up when the Indians threw down a few buffalo robes upon the ground and started back to their waiting people.  Doctor Gale of the U.S.forces fired a revolver at the Indians, followed by similar action by Colin Campbell and Vanderburgh of the Missouri Fur Company, to which the Indians replied.  The official report says, rather tersely, that “we parted in a hurry.”  Thus ended the incident when a party who was in position to dictate “thought proper to accept the terms” of an enemy who could have been completely defeated within a short time, and at little cost, by an assault upon his works.  The troops entrenched their camp on the banks of the river where they remained during the night.

As negotiating and procrastinating appeared to be the desired object of the soldiers, Little Soldier, an Arikara Chief, came out of the village the next morning and demanded to know why the white people had fired upon his men so soon after smoking and making peace.  To this brazen speech the commanding officer made some excuses.  A frontier character, named Rose, who belonged to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, entered the villages during the day.  Surgeon Gale and Lieut. Morris also visited the Indians there and sat in council with them.  Dr. Gale made a written report of their findings121 which was to the effect of the complete subjuga­tion and melancholy appearance of the Indians and that the cannon of the soldiers had scared them very much indeed, and that they wanted to make a lasting peace with the soldiers.

Major Wooley investigated further and became satisfied that the Indians were acting with good faith, consequently, Col. Leavenworth decided upon another attempt at a treaty and appealed to Major Pilcher to assist him in drawing up a written agreement.  Pilcher declined to do so, as did also Gen. Ashley.  The colonel was obliged to it, himself, and, at last, the Arikara were ready to sign it in the presence of the officers.122

The substance of this treaty was that they would return the property belonging to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and not to interfere, thereafter, with those who navigated the Missouri, and passed to and fro upon it’s waters.  The Arikara actually then returned a paltry item of three

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rifles, sixteen hides and one horse.  Those who lived in the upper village refused to deliver any horses.  Such dishonest action, immediately after signing a treaty, was sufficient cause for the employment of strong measures, but the commanding officer, completely hoodwinked and believing that the Indians had been completely humbled and that “the blood of our countrymen had been avenged” permitted this affair to rest after the Little soldier had brought out a few more ragged robes.

The next morning it was discovered that the villages had been deserted during the night and all the hostile Arikara were gone with the exception of an old woman, whom they had either forgotten or left to die alone.  A message was dispatched to the fleeing Indians by a detachment, but this small force returned the next day without having been able to locate them.  The troops found thirty one new graves within the village walls.  The losses of the troops had been but two wounded men.

Placing the old woman in a lodge and leaving all the property of the hostile Arikara as it had been found, the troops embarked and started on their seven hundred mile return journey down the Missouri at 10 o’clock in the morning of August 15th.

Within a very short time, indeed, while the villages were still in view of those upon the boats, they were seen to be afire and the Sioux, who had been left to watch the villages and the soldiers, swarmed through the shot-torn lodges and claimed the belongings of the now homeless and embittered Arikara.123

Reference notes for Chapter Eighteen


This photo of the Arikara Medicine lodge at the Federated Village, Fort Berthold in 1872, taken from an old stereopticon slide, may give some hints to the appearance of the Arikara Village approached by the Leavenworth Expediton,

120  – The Plains Indians seldom fought at night.  Stampedes were rather common in the early morning or even at night. Instances are known where the Indians failed to take advantage of superior numbers and position, but drew off when night came on.  Notably:  Two Bears against General Sully and Crazy Horse against General Crook.

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121 – In Col. Leavenworth’s final and detailed report of the Expedition against the Arikara villages is found the written report of Dr. Gale, made after he had visited the tribesmen in their village:

“Fort Atkinson, October 20, 1823.

Camp near Aricara villages, August, 1823.

Sir: In compliance with your request Lt. Morris and myself, accompanied by an interpreter, have just visited the Aricara towns.  The Little soldier met us near the pickets and invited us to his lodges and treated us with much hospitability.  During our stay all the warriors of the village collected at the Lodge and seated themselves about us, they all appeared melancholy.  They had just finished burying their dead many of whom had laid exposed two days.  I enquired of the Chief why he did not go out with his principal men and shake hands with the American Chief; since he had begged for peace, and it had been granted to him.  He replied that ‘his men were like frightened deer, that they had been flogged with whips of which they heretofore had no knowledge, and such as they supposed the Great Spirit alone had power to punish them with.’  But since we soldiers had visited him, he shook us by the hand and said ‘he had understood that we were hungry and requested us to send some of our small boats opposite the village and he would have them loaded with articles as we required for our subsistence and that he would return with them in Company with some of his warriors to our camp.’

I am respectfully, Sir,

Your Obedient Servant,

John Gale, Surg. U.S.A.

Col. Leavenworth, Commg.”

122 – It is the opinion of old Indian fighters and others acquainted with the Indian manner of reasoning, that this action was unwise at this time.  It appeared as though the Commanding Officer was too anxious to bring about peace with no more bloodshed (American Fur Trade, Captain Chittenden’s criticism of Leavenworth).

123 – The burning of the Arikara villages was ascribed to Pilcher or one of his clerks, Colin Campbell, by Col. Leavenworth.  As the Col.’s expedition was afloat and at some distance from the villages when the fire was first discovered, it is clear that he could not have known definitely who had set the fires.  It is just as reasonable to suppose that the Sioux did it, and even more probable.  The Sioux always claimed that they set the fires.

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Chapter Nineteen: The Sioux acquire the country


The experiences of the Arikara during the two days of fighting had been terrifying to them and they had met with many losses which, however, did not materially lessen their fighting forces.  They had never seen cannon in operation before but very quickly adapted themselves to it’s fire by driving their horses inside the lodges, by which action they saved a great number of them.

These earth lodges appeared to be the safest refuge form the attack as they were built of mats of braided brush laid over the heavy log frames, and this covered with earth to a thickness of from one to three feet.  The artillery did very little damage to them.  During the action the warriors had lain flat upon the bottom of the inside ditches, just within the walls, and the women and children and old people remained within the strongest lodges.  Thus the villagers escaped with a loss of perhaps thirty five to fifty people.

However, the weak and apparently careless manner with which the whites had acceded to their requests for a cessation of hostilities and which action had been followed by firing upon the first peace delegates, did not impress the Arikara with a feeling that either the commander of the soldiers, or his officers, were sincere in their actions or even able to control the soldiers, and a feeling of foreboding and suspicion held them.  The refusal of Gen. Ashley and Major Pilcher, both of them well known to the Indians, to sign the peace treaty was an evidence of internal strife among the whites which they noticed and of which they took the most advantage.

When Major Pilcher had refused to shake hands with the members of the peace delegation, he had, with much agitation, said to them:  “That war chief has said that you shall be safe, and you shall be so today, but tomorrow I shall speak to you.”  They fully understood that remark to mean that he would loose his Sioux upon them when the Colonel had returned to his base.  And they were aware that Pilcher knew that these Arikara who had signed the treaty were not the principal chiefs among them and thus were without authority to act for the people.  And that the people would not be bound by the terms as made, provided they desired to break the agreements at any time thereafter.

Following this unsatisfactory peace agreement, a council of the headmen of the villagers decided that they would not give up many horses, but would keep them for use in their escape which would be attempted that very night.  They finally did lead out one horse, which they delivered to Colonel Leavenworth, with a weak excuse about not having any more to present to him.  Preparations were hastily made for the evacuation of their villages.

The soldiers had been withdrawn from around the villages, shortly after dark, to their fortified camp lower down the river.  The Arikara scouts brought in word that the main body of the Sioux were feasting on fresh corn and engaged in dancing some distance to the North.  With a few well-mounted scouts thrown out as a screen toward the Sioux camp, the old men, women and children of the villages were quietly led out and made their way without apparent discov­ery to a point some eight or nines miles due west, where they crossed the Grand river and went into camp in the timber along the bottom for the day.

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Not many Sioux were encountered during the next day’s flight.  Those warriors who were seen were evidently scouts from the main body.  The next night the Arikara made a hard, long journey into the rough Saddle Butte country and made camp some thirty five miles to the southwest of their old village home on the banks of the Missouri.  Their intentions were to remain there until it became safe to return to their villages.  Hunting parties brought in plenty of meat; a strong rear guard was maintained while scouts ranged far to the south, west and east.

There were about four hundred families in this section of the Arikara tribe at that time, totalling some three thousand or more people all told, of which about six hundred were able-bodied warriors.  They did not fear the Sioux at this time when all their fighting men were together, but were much disheartened with their scouts reported the destruction of their villages.

Their headmen quickly decided to visit their relatives, the Pawnees, far to the southward along the waters of the Platte and Kansas rivers.  This journey was negotiated by easy stages with no great hardship or unusual danger.  In the country from which they had come many years before the greater part of the people stayed for seven years.  Then the entire Nation took up the trail again and went to the Mandans, who had invited them to enter their villages at Fort Clark and at the Knife river and, with them, they entered into an agreement for mutual offense and defense against their common enemy, the Sioux.124

When the Sioux discovered the moving body of Arikara as they left their Grand river villagers, the decision of the council was that they should be allowed to leave without a concerted attack being made upon them.  The Sioux would destroy their lodges and pickets and divide the plunder and, after that pleasant task had been accomplished, they would make life miserable for them by attacking their smaller hunting parties and detached camps, wherever found, until those homeless wanderers were exterminated.

The great desire of the Sioux was now accomplished – that of driving the Arikara from their villages into the open country where the Sioux were, without doubt, their superiors.  The Grand river country was now within the possession of the Sioux.  The Blackfoot and Hunkpapa divisions very soon extended their territory as far north as the Cannon Ball river.  The Mandans and Hidatsa seldom came that far south after that, except when upon war parties or horse stealing expeditions against the Sioux.  The district which lay between the Heart and Cannon Ball rivers was a “No Man’s Land.”


The flat summit of Black Butte,125 a commanding, detached elevation, a hundred miles almost due west of the confluence of the Cannon Ball and the Missouri rivers, was covered with the sprawling growth of mountain cedar tenaciously maintaining life from the scanty soil; loose masses of fallen, grey sandstone were strewn about and lodged at places upon it’s steep slopes.  At it’s base, where the almost perpendicular walls gave way to easier slopes, the tall, rank prairie grass, which carpeted the undulating valley, rose and fell under the influence of the gentle wind.  Miles to the south, through the deeply eroded valley, the sparkling waters of the Cannon Ball flowed down between treeless banks.  Bands of antelope and deer were moving from the upland feeding grounds and a wide, black area, which showed upon the green prairie in the west, indicated the presence of a herd of buffalo.  In the far distance other buttes, similar to Black Butte, stood out like phantom hills, held up by the heat mirage of the hot day.

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Shielded from observation from the valley below by a screen of cedar which he held before his face, an Indian crept to the edge of the butte and, from that high position, studied the far-reaching prairie and the flow of the valley beneath him.  His manner of wearing his hair and the decorations upon his moccasins and leggins denoted that he belonged to the Crows, the time long enemies of the Sioux.

Throughout the long, hot afternoon, the Crow remained at his lookout station upon the butte and eagerly watched the camp of the Blackfoot Sioux which had been set up in the valley close to the running stream.  It was too far distant for him to count the moving persons or to distinguish any sounds, except an occasional shout or call of playing children, but there were many skin tipis and, toward evening, a body of men, evidently hunters, came in from the southwest and entered the camp.  Many horses were trooping downstream from the camp, feeding as they went, and attended by several mounted horsemen.

As the sun descended and the long shadows drifted across the valley, cooking fires gleamed at a hundred flickering points, and when the sunlighted summit of Black Butte became dimmed by the coming darkness the Crow silently withdrew, joined his comrade who held his horse among the tumbled rocks on the north side of the butte and, together, they slipped away into the deepening night, leaving the strong camp of the Sioux undisturbed.


Before the ceremonial lodge at the Sioux camp, in front of which stood two tall poles with a bonnet of eagle’s feathers hanging upon one and the insignia of the Riders of the White Horse upon the other, sat the Chief, smoking silently.  A woman of the Oohenopa, by the name of Many Thank You Woman, approached, placed a quantity of broiled meat and boiled roots before him and then withdrew to her own living lodge where she stood, alone, and, with a voice of particular beauty, sung of the glorious deeds of their great war chief, Charging Bear, the Sioux.


A.B.Welch Mandan, North Dakota,   1924.

 Reference notes for Chapter Nineteen

124 – There is some difference of opinion as to what became of the Arikara villagers after the battles at the Grand river.  According to many interviews, which the writer has had with the descendants of those people, there is little doubt that the main party went to the lodges of their rela­tives, the Pawnees, where they stayed for seven years.  Ar­rangements having been then made with the Mandans and Gros Ventre, they made the journey to Fort Clark and Knife river towns where they lived with the other two tribes named until the establishment of the so-called Federated Village at Fort Berthold.  This new village was built upon the left bank of the Missouri in what is now Township 147, Range 87, McLean County, N.D.  The Arikara were the last to make the move, going over in 1861.  The three tribes lived there until the Government allotment of land to the Indians when the people separated to live upon their own land selections upon the established reservation.

125 – One of the highest points in N.D., situated in the township line dividing Townships 135, Ranges 94 and 95, in the present Hettinger County, N.D.

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No.1:   Alphabetical list of Indian names


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No.2:  Explanatory notes on Persons mentioned


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No.3:  Historical notes on Tribes mentioned


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seven8-addenda-tribes-p2page 118


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No.4:  Biography of A.B.Welch

b. Sep. 26, 1874, Derbe, Iowa

d. June 30, 1945, Mandan, North Dakota

Served in Spanish-American War 1898-1899

Philippine Insurrection 1899-1900

Mexican War 1917

World War I (AEF) 1918

He was an adopted blood brother of the Sioux, adopted in 1913 as a son by Chief John Grass.  He was given Grass’ Indian name of Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear); Grass advising Welch that:

“I got this name by being one of the Chief Warriors in old times.  My grandfather was born somewhere in Nebraska.  The time those men fought the Rees with the soldiers about 91 years ago my grandfather was one of the leaders in that time.  I got my name by fighting the Rees when I was seventeen years old (about 1854).  My grandfather gave me his name with a big feast and the sun dance was made then.”

Welch had always been interested in Indian life and lore (5,000 closely typed pages of interviews and notes survive) and counted as his friends hundreds of members of various tribes (and over 200 biographies and vignettes also survive)

He befriended and talked with old Indians who “were hardly removed from the war trail.”  They treated him as an Indian, not as a white man….i.e. by telling as true a story as they could, not just following the questions of the interviewer and creating answers and tales to please or mislead that person.

One major enigma escaped him.  His Indian friends continued to be evasive on the Custer Fight up until Welch’s death… afraid of losing their pensions if they implicated anyone who was not already “on the record.”  But, in his 5,000 pages of information, Welch has left a collection of hints and directions to posterity pointing to his ‘father,’ John Grass, as “the brains behind that affair.”

Everett Cox (grandnephew),  Editor, 1992

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No.5:  Background and endorsements supporting this book



My dear Major Welch:

Your most interesting letter arrived in this morning’s mail and I wish to take this opportunity of thanking you for your kindly interest in my request.  After reading your account I am sure that I was not wrong in my first statement that you are the best qualified to give out information on those western peoples.  What a pity that there is not more inside information known and published on the Dakotas.  Since a small boy when I perched on my grandad’s knee and heard his tales of the old days at Ft. Laramie, Horse Creek, Rush Creek, etc., when he was a member of the 7th Iowa Cavalry during the ’60s, I have been interested in the Dakotas.


It is hoped that you will be able to get your notes and observations in print at some future date.  When such men as yourself and Mr. Beede have the material that no one else has, it seems a shame that it cannot be placed before students especially when there is a crying need for the truth of the inner life of a great nation, which nation has been judged only by the fanciful exterior painted by hysterical and superficial observers and in cold, official notes.  In my little “history” I am frank to confess that there is going to be many gaps.  I am not claiming it to be the last word on the subject, nor will I have the intimate details I need but I am going to do the best I can.  Necessarily of course the eastern bands will claim the most attention, because more is known about them but I wish to get all data possible on the western Dakota to give them a fair show.


June 24, 1924 – “I presume you think I am slow, and I guess I am; but I will be able to return your mss in a few days.  I have gone over it very carefully, and you will find my comments in the same package with the ms.  As I am responsible for the safe return of the ms within a reasonable time, I think it would probably be unwise to place it in the hands of a third party for his perusal.  As (Milford) Chandler is somewhat familiar with the ceremonials of several tribes, I allowed him to read it and you will find a few of his suggestions in the package.  I do not wish to say that any other party would deliberately retain the work, but many people are inclined to become careless and keep a ms or book for months.

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              You remember Miss Valentine Smith, the lady who had the papers which she thought would interest you.  She gave them to the Historical Society, and they were lost, but recently found and I inspected them, finding two or three documents which will probably interest you.  They allowed me to bring home and copy a report by an Indian Agent to the Governor of Dakota Territory in 1867, telling of Indian uprisings &c and they are having a photostat made of an 1867 map of Dakota Terriroty.  This with one or two other small articles constitutes the collection, which you will receive with the ms in a few days by registered mail.

I am looking forward to seeing you again when you come in answer to your invitation to address the society.  However, if you have an opportunity, come any time before that event, and we will always be glad to see you.”


 Undated letter, most likely some year as above –

“Concerning Mato Watakpe.  Dear Major Welch:-  Probably there is no other individual who has had the facilities to secure the data and who is as competent to write this important chapter in the history of the North West as you.  Furthermore, it contains interesting descriptions of ceremonials and Indian customs – information which, if not published will be lost to posterity.

The only suggestion it is possible for me to make pertains to clearness – that is in making the subject matter of easy comprehension to the average reader.

A large majority of your readers will know just about this much: A tribe of Indians called Sioux inhabited the Dakotas and Minnesota.  A comparatively few know that the so-called Sioux tribe is composed of various divisions and subdivisions.

It would be well to have a glossary: both pronouncing and descriptive of all the Indian names used in the book; also a historical introduction telling the part which the western Indians took in the War of 1812, who Robert Dickson was, etc., etc.

The word Mdewakanton would be formidable to the average reader.  I would omit it in the text, using the expression “Sacred or Mystery Lake People” or a similar one; then give the word in a marginal reference.  This will also apply to other names such as Tintonwan; although I should think that a word like Teton should be allowed to remain.  Mahpiyato is also a name that I think should be relegated to the margin; using Blue Sky in the text.

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There are several others such as Sissttowanna and Ehanktonwanna.  It is unnecessary to mention all of them                 If you will take a map of the district comprehended by your story, place a tissue paper over it and trace the rivers, mountains and boundaries of the states, and then write the names of the various Indian villages, place of the talking stone, etc., in their proper locations, and send the paper to me, I will have a map constructed for you; one which can be reproduced if you wish.”


April 1923 – A.McG.Beede, of Fort Yates, told me that he is confident that most of the Indian allies of Col. Leavenworth in the attack upon the Arikara villages six miles north of the mouth of the Grand river were Santees – in fact he placed the tribe as the Yanktons.  He said there were no Tetons with them.  But my conversations with old men indicate that there were many Tetons along, and I am inclined to believe my own information is more correct.


May 11, 1916 – “I have yours of the 9th asking for information pertaining to Ree villages between the Grand river towns and the state line.  I have not explored the region north of the two towns located in Sec. 24, Town 20n., Range 31 east, where Leavenworth fought the Rees in 1823.  You will find a map of these towns at page 200 of Vol. 1, of our collections.

I am most interested in your undertaking and shall be glad to help in any way.  I think if there are any village sites in South Dakota north of the one referred to you can secure information of it from Hon. J.J.Fenelon, of Pollock, S.D.  I hear alarming stories about the health of John Grass and am glad to have your assurance that he is not in a critical condition at present.  I know him very well and admire him greatly.

Faithfully, Doane Robinson, Sec’y & Supt.”

May 10, 1917 – “I have yours of the 8th.  So far as I know the only posts visited by Leavenworth upon his expedition to the Arickaras were Recovery, located on American Island at Chamberlain, known to the Yankton Sioux as Minihanska; Fort Kiowa, on the west side of the river eight miles above American Island.  I do not know the Sioux name of this post; Fort Tecumseh at Fort Pierre known to the Sioux as Wakpasica.  Fort Lookout may have been established at that time.  Kiowa was the American Fur company post and Kiowa and Tecumseh were Columbia Fur Company establishments.  Joseph Renville was connected with Columbia (Vol 1, S.D.Collections, p.326).

The only individuals among the Sioux who accompanied Leavenworth, of whom I have knowledge, were Smutty Bear, the Yankton, and Fireheart, chief of the Hunkpapa.

I think Pilcher’s men (The Missouri Fur Company) returned down the river to the posts in central South Dakota as soon as the trouble with the Arickaras was over but Ashley’s men (the Rocky Mountain Company) were gathered up my Maj. Andrew Henry and started at once up the Grand river enroute to the Yellowstone.  See Chittenden’s History of the Fur Trade, p. 699.

I think most of the Rees after the fight went to the Platte where Hugh Glass found them the next year (Chittenden, p. 703).  Later they resumed their residence upon the Missouri at the old towns.

Faithfully, Doane Robinson

P.S. Am glad to hear of John Grass’ improved health.”

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Welch notes, undated – Robinson, “History of the Sioux Indians”‘ S.D.Historical Society, Vol. 2, p 141, says that Leavenworth had 220 men in his force of soldiers and 750 Oohenopa, Hunkpapa and Sihasapa.


Welch notes, undated – This speech has been carefully preserved by the Tintonwan as it was made at a time when the Tetons had invited the Santee Division to come to the Missouri river country and live with them, the better to preserve the country from their enemies.  They were willing to give up a part of the country they claimed in order to be closer allied and, consequently, stronger.  From information by Chief Grass, Fire Heart and others, he was speaking for the entire Tintonwan Dakotah.


About Iron White Man – “…he was a chief and my father, Hairy Chin, was too.  Iron White Man was my grandfather and he was in that Ree War in that time when the soldiers came to the Grand river villagers.  Most of those Arikara got away by swimming the river.  But the Dakotah killed some of them and got lots of horses and corn at those villages there before the white man with the Dakotah had the village burned up.”

Welch Notes – He told me that he had another grandfather, Tall Horse, by name, and that he was a head man in 1823, being also a member of Col. Leavenworth’s force against the Grand river Arikara in that year.  Tall Horse was given a flag with thirteen stripes and twenty four stars.

1915 – Crow Ghost told me the story of the war with the Arikaras in 1823, in which his grandfather was a member of the Teton allies of Leavenworth.  We made a flag like the U.S. flag of that date, with thirteen stripes and 25 stars, 5 x 8 feet, and gave it to him on Sept. 8th, 1915.  A young woman was the interpreter.  His wife brought out the “holy cross” given to his grandfather, either by Pilcher or Leavenworth, after the destruction of the defense of the Rees at Grand river in 1823.  It was a coppery colored crucifix about one and one half inches high and showed much wear as the arms were almost worn away.  It appears to be authentic.  He said:

“The flag is the same thing as my grandfather got.  Pedomi (thanks).  That was a great fight there.  The grandfathers of your father, Chief Grass, Fireheart and myself were all there and each chief got a flag and a holy cross.  The flags have all been lost.  This cross was my grandfather’s cross.  The Dakotah burned the Palani villages this side of the mouth of the Grand river.  We attacked first and it became dark.  The Palani villages had walls around them of trees standing in the ground.  The Rees went away and cross the Minisosa Wakpe.  The Dakotah went after them and killed forty of them there.  Then they came back.  The big guns of the soldiers killed some more, my grandfather said.  The Dakotah got plenty of horses and much corn from the Rees there.  They were afraid of the soldiers taking the horses and corn they had gathered together so they went away into the hills where they found some more Palani.  After the soldiers went away in boats, we went back and burned the villages because the white man with us told us to.  We got a lot of things there first and found an old woman there.  After that we kept the Arikara out of the Grand river country and lived there ourselves.”

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1915 – “My grandfather, Fire Heart, was in the Arikara War of 1823.”


1925 – He is an old man.  His uncle, a Hunkpapa, named Wizi Ogalo (Yellow Coat), was at the battle with the Arikara with Leavenworth, in 1823, and often told him that the Yanktonaise (Wiceyelo) set the village afire.  Leavenworth says that Gordon did this.


About 1915 – His father, Maki Yapapi (Earth Strikes, Strikes the Earth) was present at the fight in 1823.


Welch notes, undated – Chittenden says that before the attack, “350 more Indians came, making about 1100 all told with Leavenworth.  The Arikara had 600 to 800 warriors and between 3000 and 4000 people all told, men, women and children.”

The Arikara left their village after this fight and went to the Platte river country (south of the Niobrara river) for nine years, returning via the Little Missouri river to live with the Hidatsa and Mandans

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No.6:  Homelands of Indian Tribes in the Dakotas after the Fight of 1823


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No.7:  Map of Arikara Villages…Leavenworth Expedition…July & August 1823


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