Drags Wolf, Head Chief of the Hidatsa (Gros Ventre)…….(Col. A. B. Welch interviews with his ‘Old Friend’)

Photo taken at Fargo, N.D., Feb. 10th, 1934.  Head Chief of the Hidatsa (Gros Ventre).  Lives at the Shell Village on the Missouri river, south of Van Hook, N.D.  About 65 years of age.  His father was Crow Flies High, who selected the site of the village.


Drags Wolf talks to Welch, Feb. 10, 1934

Present:  Chief Drags Wolf, Hidatsa Chief (Head), Chief Bears Arm, Hidatsa Chief (Second), Good Bird, Interpreter.

His Story of “Scorched Village”

“This village was close to Washburn, on a little creek there.  That was a long time ago. It was a Gros Ventre Village.  It got its name this way.  One time an arrow came from the sky.  It fell inside the village.  It went into the ground very deep.  A little of it stuck up through the earth.  That part of it looked like it had been burned.  It had come so fast.  Well, the Creator took off the stone head of an arrow and came down to us as the ead of the arrow.  He lived with us there for a considerable length of time.  He was very wise.  He taught us many things.  Among those things, he brought us the red pipe and taught us how to use it.  There are certain men who may go through that ceremony.  He taught us to use it both for war and peace.  We always used the pipe with reverence.  After he had taught us those things, he went away the same way  – up in the air.”

His story of the “Massacre of the inhabitants of Sperry Village”

“A Mandan village stood on a flat place, where a creek came out of the hills.  It was on the east banks of the Missouri.  It is the first one above the site you call “The Double Ditch.”  There is a ranch there now.  The people who lived there were the Ruptar.  The Mandans had two large bands.  These were the Ruptar(e).  They had not lived there but a life time.  The Hidatsa lived north of them and on the opposite side of the river.  We heard one time that a large war party of Sioux were cleaning them out and killing them.  We got ready then.  We went down there to save those people.  When we arrived there, the Sioux were gone away.  They had taken many prisoners with them  – women and children.  Many dead men were lying all about the village place.  We pursued the enemy trail south to where they crossed the river to the west.  Our scouts could not fine them.  We returned to the village then.  There were only about thirty or forty people saved from death.  It was very sad and we mourned with them there.  We say many young men dead and some old people too.  The Mandans always had the Sacred Corral after the flood.  The Hidatsa were saved at the same time.  They had one just like it too.  But the Mandans saved theirs.  It is very holy.  It was kept at this village where the Ruptar(e) were annihilated.  It stood down close to the timber lands.  It had the red cedar post in it yet.  We found it there.  It had not been disturbed.  The Dakota were afraid to harm that.  Then in another part of the village we found the four sacred turtles of the Mandans.  We kept them all and gave them back to the Mandan people.  They have them all yet.  It is a good thing that the Dakotas did not harm that ting.  They would all have met accidental deaths then.  No one should be unkind to it.  But place sacrifices there.  All the people know this.  So after that the Ruprar went across to the other side of the river.  They have lived there every since that time.”

His story of  “Travels of the Gros Ventre (Hidatsa)”

“When we left the Devils Lake to travel (note: the tribe arose from the depths of this lake), we went south and finally settled for several years at a lake which is now called ‘Spirit Wood Lake.’ We lived there until the game was all gone away and then moved on.  We went toward the Missouri river then.  Our scouts had discovered that river.  When we got to the east bank of that river we discovered the Mandan Indians living at a village.  That was at the east foot of a great hill.  This hill has always been known to us at ‘The Birds Bill, or Beak, Hill.’ (Note: this is the village I always call the south village.  Lewis and Clark do not mention  it as they perhaps did not see it, the river not flowing close to that bank then).  So we finally made friends with them.  We crossed over the river and were the first to build the village you call ‘Leaning Lodges.’  Sometimes we call it ‘Slant Village.’ It was on sloping ground.  We call Bismarck that name yet, for it is also on sloping ground.  Some think that it was a Mandan village.  But it was Hidatsa.  We lived there many generations of children.  At last we moved north because Good Fur Robe told us to do so.  He was not a Mandan but a Hidatsa.  A very wise man.  There were only five villages at the mouth of the Heart river.  Leaning Lodges was one of them.  It was the first one we built.  We had other villages which we erected every fall, down in the timber places.  We would live there in the winter times.  Then the spring floods would destroy them.”

His Hidatsa “Story of the Flood”

“There were always more of the Hidatsa than of the Mandans.  We were stronger than they were.  A long time ago, a Hidatsa woman lived way up north.  She had five sons.  One was named Magpie.  One was the East Wind, one the South Wind, one the West Wind and one the North Wind.  The last four were buffalo people.  Once while away looking around, the Creator informed Magpie that a water would go all over the ground everywhere.  So he told his mother.  She warned them all and sent magpie down to tell the Mandans.  Her other four sons started to swim when the water came.  They swam and swam.  They kept drowning until just one was left.  This was the South Wind Buffalo.  They had tied the old woman in his mane when they started so they would not get separated.  When South Wind reached land, it was Birds Bill Hill. He was exhausted.  But he lived.  When they untied the old woman, she had turned into an ear of red corn spotted with yellow.  Then what Hidatsa were there and what Mandans wanted to, went into the Medicine Corral, and the Creator saved those people. The others perished miserably.  The Mandans always kept that Sacred Object every since.  That is how the Hidatsa received corn. They always raised it after that time.  Also they gave tobacco to the white people.  Now it is smoked all over the world and among all people.”

His Story of “Twin Buttes”

“When the Creator made the Heart River and the world, he had two handsfull of mud left.  So he made these two hills west of Mandan.  We call them ‘Twin Buttes.’

“A buffalo hunt had been arranged by our head men.  The scouts told us of a great herd across by Washburn.  We were living at that time at Fish Hook village (Fort Berthold).  So we started.  We found the herd.  We arranged the way to run them.  I was not hungry just then.  I did not want to kill cows.  I wanted a big bull.  Great hunters kill bulls.  It is dangerous hunting.  I rode along.  I saw a splendid big fellow.  I had a good trained buffalo horse.  He began to follow this one bull.  I rode along his side.  On the right side I rode.  Always kill buffalo bulls from that side.  You can shoot arrows better.  I picked out the spot to sink my arrow.  I shot.  I made the hit I wanted, but the arrow did not reach his heart.  The buffalo made a very quick turn.  He caught my horse and three him into the air.  While he was tearing his guts out, I got away afoot.  I was among the animals.  They were scared and running fast.  The dust was thick.  The roar of the feet was terrible. No one could reach me. I grabbed a cow by the hair of her neck.  I ran along by her side.  She was afraid of me and soon she was outside the main herd.  I go away then.  I did not kill her because she had been good to me.  I lost my horse.  The old bull did not run far.  He was shot in the heart and was bleeding bad from his nose and mouth now.  He stood apart alone, and died standing up.  I got the biggest hide then.  That is a hunting story.”

 Drags Wolf goes to his first battle

“The old men were going n a war party.  I was 12 years old.  I wanted to go.  I kept still and followed them.  When they were a long time from the village, I showed myself.  They were angry with me.  I said ‘I want to fight too.’  So they let me go along and soon got a horse for me.  This was in the summer time.  We rode then.  In the winter we go afoot.  Whenever we camped in some draw or trees, I got the water for them.  If they were thirsty, I always went for water.  That’s what I did all the time we were away.  Finally some enemy were discovered.  We watched them and knew what they intended to do.  So the fight was planned.  I rode into it with the rest of the men that time.  Several enemy were killed.  They were the Piegans (Montana Blackfeet).  I helped to round up the enemy horses and struck several of the dead men.  I rode an enemy horse when we entered the village upon our return.  I was young but that was my first fight.”

 Drags Wolf does the Sun Dance

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

Drag’s Wolf performs the Pipe Ceremony, Feb. 10, 1934;

I asked Drags Wolf, First Hidatsa Chief, if he would perform the pipe ceremony in place of the usual invocation at the Agricultural College at Fargo, N.D., upon the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the found of the Little Theatre Movement. He said, “Everyone can not do this thing.  It is a sacred ceremony.  But I am the only one here who may do this. I will do that for you.  I have the right.”  So I gave my pipe into his keeping and that evening, before several hundred people in the Little Theatre, he performed the rite.  After my introduction of the old Chief, he stepped forward and …….

Holding the unlighted pipe in both hands, the left toward the mouthpiece  – his right grasping the red stone bowl, he held it pointed up at an angle of about 45 degrees, toward the south, then this motion and elevation of the pipe was made toward the west; then the same movement to the northern sky and also toward the east, with his hands reversed in the last motion toward the east.

Then he faced the north (where the audience sat) and held it up to the Great Mystery for a second or two, and then pointed the stem toward the earth.

He then held the pipe across his body with the stem pointed across his left shoulder, and with closed eyes, he chanted the sacred song which accompanies the ceremony.

All this was done slowly and deliberately, with a pronounced reverential expression, and the entire rite was very dignified and impressive.

He explained to me that he called upon all the people and good influences in each part of the world to witness the action, when he held the pipe to the four quarters of the world; that he presented the pipe with all his prayers to God; that the motion toward the earth was meant to call upon all the good influences of Mother Earth to be present, and that, if there had been earth there instead of a wooden floor, he would have washed his hands in earth before the ceremony began; that the song was an ancient one which he always sung when he performed the ceremony and that there were no words in the song.

The Hidatsa interpreter, Good Bird, told me that he had never seen the ceremony performed before that time, and that he was 24 years old.  However, he understood that it was a common rite among his people, as it is among the other plains tribes, and that it was a sacred thing to do.

Knife River Villages

Drags Wolf and Bears Arm, both Hidatsa, told me that there were five villages in that vicinity.  Three were Hidatsa and two were Mandan.  One was north of the Knife; and on the ridge where Stanton, N.D., now is situated, and one south of that.  The Mandan villages were between that place and the present Fort Clark.  The one where Stanton now is was called Awahaway because it looked like a picture in the sky, as it was higher than the immediate surrounding terrain.  Any other village sites found there now were winter quarters as they moved into the timber in the winter time.  Awahaway means ‘Sharp Earth.’”

Grave of Sakakawea

Both Chiefs claimed to me that they knew exactly where Sakakawea was buried; that she was killed by enemies in Montana; that it was close to a trader’s place on a creek in Montana, and that the name of the trader was Culbertson. (Note  – I did not prompt them as to this name.  We know that this man was out along the Yellowstone and Missouri in early days, and he is a well-known character of that time).  They say that they will take me to the spot next summer, and that Bulls Eye’s story is correct.  He is the son of Otter Woman, a daughter of Sakakawea.


October 26, 1936 interview with Chief Drags Wolf:

Present:  A.B.Welch and Foolish Bear and his woman

He helps capture ten tipis of hostile Sioux

“There were four of us  – Chiefs and sons of Chiefs.  My father, Crow Fly High, myself (a young man then), Black Crow and Lean Bull.  Some hunters told us that there was a band of Sioux coming north, on the south (right bank) of the Missiouri.. My father got us together and we raised forty Gros Ventre soldiers and went out to fight them.  There was one Mandan with us  – Lean Bull.  We crossed the river and waited for them in a good place to fight.  They put up their camp.  There were ten tipis of them.  We rode in on them.  We killed several of them.  We tore down their tipis.  We secured their horses.  Some of the enemy got away from us.  They got back to their home camp as soon as they could.  We chased some of them as far as the Heart River that time.  We all got much honor.  We captured their lodges and killed their Chief Leader, whose name was Hejute Sapa (Black Medicine).  This was a good fight.  All the people know about it.”