Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Australians Discover Native America

Travel Writer Tim Richards visited North Dakota some time back, and I had a chance to briefly visit with him and his group. Tim was researching a piece about Native America, and North Dakota Tourism arranged a visit between he and I. 

I met Tim at the On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village located within Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park and though he didn't have much time to dedicate to our site, it was a good visit.  We had to squeeze in as much information about the history, culture, language, archaeology, and humor as we could.   

Here's a link to Tim's article as it appeared on the website  Check it out Tim's story:

Thank you to North Dakota Tourism, Tim Richards and for this! 

Watchman's Village, A Mandan Indian Village

On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village is located within Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.  The state park is located about seven miles south of Mandan, ND on HWY 1806. 
Watchman's Village, A Mandan Indian Village
On-A-Slant Village Known By Other Name
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - The Mandan Indians refer to themselves as Nu’Eta, which means “The People.”  They became known as Mandan after the arrival of Pierre de la Sieur de la Verendrye in 1738.  Verendrye was guided by Assiniboine Sioux Indians to the Nu’Eta, and when he reached the earthlodge people, he asked the Assiniboine what to call the Nu’Eta.  The Assiniboine and other bands of the Dakota and Lakota people refer to the Nu’Eta as “Miwatani,” a name in reference to the water and boats the Nu’Eta employed on the Missouri River.  Of course, Verendrye wasn’t familiar with this new word and wrote in his journal not Miwatani, but Mantannes. 

The English, like Dave Thompson, Pierre Dorian, and John Evans, pronounced “Mantannes” as it looked: Man Tans.  The English were trading in the Heart River-Knife River region in the 1790s.  When Americans ascended the Missouri River in 1804 as part of the Corps of Discovery Expedition they pronounced Man Tans as “Mandan,” which doesn’t mean anything. 

The On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village is referred to in the Nu’Eta language as “Miti bah-wah-esh,” the village slanting.  But that’s not what the Nu’Eta who lived there referred to it as either.  The Nu’Eta, like Shehek Shote, or White Wolf, who were from that village, knew it as Watchman’s Village, and if I could write it or pronounce it I’d share it here. 

The Nu’Eta who lived at Watchman’s Village, or On-A-Slant Village, lived there from about 1550 until 1781 when a smallpox epidemic struck them.  The survivors moved north to Knife River and settled in the vicinity of the Mnitarri Indians (Hidatsa), which is where the English and Americans traded with them.  While they resided at Watchman’s Village, the Nu’Eta lived in about eighty-six earthlodges. 

The Nu’Eta refer to earthlodges as mah’AHG oh-dee (I’m writing it phonetically as best I can, for I’ve seen it written three different ways).  The earthlodge in the background is treated as a ceremonial lodge.  The Nu’Eta might have ceremonies or other communal get-togethers there.  The ceremonial lodge is Tixopinic and is pronounced somewhat like Tih ĤO pih nik with a guttural sound on the “Ĥ.”  It literally means, “Medicine Lodge.” 

The Nu’Eta refer to the structure in the foreground which might resemble a stockade as Mni Mih Douxx, or the Lone Man’s Shrine.  Literally, it means “The Water’s Middle Mark.”  Inside the structure of the stockade is a red cedar post which the Nu’Eta refer to as Numak Maxana, The Lone Man.  One might pronounce it: Nū MAHK MAĤ-ehna, with a guttural sound on the “Ĥ.”

The entire Lone Man’s Shrine represents the Nu’Eta flood story. 

A look inside the council lodge or medicine lodge.  This lodge actually didn’t exist here at this particular village site.  According to Stan Ahler’s archaeological report, there were only eighty-six earthlodges period.  The council lodge wasn’t built until the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the guidance of Scattered Corn, a Nu’Eta Corn priestess.  Even then, the council lodge constructed by the CCC was about ninety feet in diameter, this reconstruction is about sixty-five feet across. 

Here’s a picture of the boss, Scattered Corn.  She has a face like a fist and probably had a voice like a whip to go with it.  Scattered Corn was taught how to construct an earthlodge at the age of thirteen, for in the Nu’Eta tradition women build the earthlodges, not the men (but men did help in that they gathered the materials and prepared the timbers for construction).  Nu’Eta women could complete an earthlodge in as little as seven to ten days, but generally ten to fourteen days. 

From this perspective we can see the Lone Man Shrine is about in the middle of an open plaza.  The Nu’Eta would have public celebrations in the plaza.  In addition to the lodges being picked clean of grass and weeds, the plaza wouldn’t have any either.  The Nu’Eta were known for keeping clean villages, no grass, no weeds, and no refuse blowing around the village.  According to Stan Ahler’s archaeological report, where the council lodge is built is where a public midden-mound used to be. 

A view inside the museum.  Ranger Diane tried to duck under the desk as I took this picture.  The interior was wonderfully redesigned by the late Mark Kenneweg, who opened the museum up and showcased the expansive interior. 

A painted bison robe can be found inside the museum.  The hide was brain-tanned, the traditional method, where the tanner uses the brain matter to tan the animal’s own hide.  Hides that are tanned this traditional way are generally soft and creamy in color.  Some tribes, and some of the old world tanners, used urine to tan a hide, which would smell like urine when/if the hide got wet.  I’m happy to say that the brain-tanned method smells naturally clean.  The paints used on this hide are natural pigments.  Green comes from copper rust, red from burnished red clay, yellow from an animal’s gall bladder, and black from spent firewood.  The natural pigments are usually dried to a powder for storage, then mixed with a smidgeon of animal fat or grease and/or water to apply it. 

In the center of the airy space of the museum is a beautifully executed diorama of the Nu’Eta village showing how it may have looked like.  It is skillfully rendered and truly an artist’s conception, not a historical or archaeological one.  There should be no medicine lodge in the village, and there should be no grass in the village.  What’s missing is the midden-mound, drying stages (two to three for every earthlodge), some of the lodges would have had effigy poles standing upright outside the entrances as well, and paths into the ravine and down to the river.  And there should be eighty-six earthlodges. 

Some say that Mattie Grinnell was the last Nu’Eta.  She died in the 1970s and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights era out in Washington DC.  One can see the warmth of her personality in her smile, and sadness in her eyes too.  It is said that she was about one hundred years old.  Grinnell isn’t the last of the Nu’Eta.  They can still be found on and off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.  The very descendants of Shehek Shote, White Wolf, the Nu’Eta civil chief who journeyed east to meet with President Thomas Jefferson can be found right in Bismarck and Mandan today.  There are still full-blooded Nu’Eta today, though it would be impolite to ask a Nu’Eta to see his or her enrollment card. Take their word they’re still with us, they gave no lie to the Corps of Discovery, President Jefferson, Catlin or Bodmer. 

Mr. Gillette, a representative of the Arikara (Sahnish), Hidatsa, and Mandan (Nu’Eta) is moved to tears in this famous picture of the forceful taking of traditional lands.  Secretary of the Interior Mr. William Chaplis signs the order to take more land in 1948 for the eventual construction of Garrison Dam, and the flooding of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where the three tribes are located.  This image can be found in the museum. 

The Corps of Discovery camped about a half-mile north of Watchman’s village in October 1804.  This painting can be found in the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park museum.  There is a terrible irony with the marked presence of the Corps of Discovery.  The captains walked along the western bank of the Missouri River here where seventy years later was constructed Fort Abraham Lincoln, the last command of General Custer.  William Clark fathered at least one son with a Nez Perce woman.  That son and his son were taken captive by Colonel Nelson Miles at the Battle of Bearpaw Mountain in present-day Montana, about twenty miles south of the Medicine Line, the boundary between Canada and the US.  Those captives were taken to Bismarck, with the official internment listing as being at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  Captain William Clark's son and grandson were imprisoned where he once tread in the spirit of peace and discovery. 

Then the Nez Perce were shipped off to Oklahoma

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bear Butte, A View From Afar

Bear Butte in the far distance.  It resembles a bear lying down.  Bear Butte is only about six miles north easterly of the Black Hills, but that little distance was enough to hide any view of the Black Hills, until we got a little closer. 
Bear Butte, A View From Afar
Sacred Site From A Distance
By Dakota Wind
BEAR BUTTE, S.D. - Bear Butte is one of the most sacred places in American Indian traditions on the Northern Great Plains. There are over twenty tribes today that revere the Black Hills and Bear Butte, but there are only six late historic tribes that have left archaeological trace evidence of their pilgrimages to the Black Hills: the Lakota, Cheyenne, Comanche, Shoshone, Kiowa, and Crow. Despite that only six tribes have physical evidence proving their cultural and historic ties to the Black Hills and Bear Butte, a continuous cultural occupation dates back 10,000 years. Perhaps hundreds of different tribes journeyed to the Black Hills over thousands of years, the long ago ancestors of the six tribes mentioned above.

The Lakota call the Black Hills Paha Sapa or Hėsapa, meaning simply “The Black Hills.”  The Lakota have the tradition that “we’ve always been here.” 

 The Rosebud Winter Count, also called the Anderson Winter Count, entry for 1755 depicts a man holding aloft what is supposed to represent the Lodge Pole Pine.  This pine is long and slender.  The tree itself is harvested and shaved to make tipi poles. 

The Rosebud winter count has an entry for 1755 marking the Lakota’s entrance into the Black Hills with the pictograph of an evergreen, the Lodge Pole Pine.  My uncle Cedric interprets the Lakota entrance thusly, “We held those Hills as sacred and because we respected them, we defied our own entry to them.  We always knew about them, but skirted the edges of the Hills, keeping them only in sight but didn’t enter them until recent history.”  

That makes sense to me.  It is indisputable that indigenous people have been here for thousands of years and had those years to learn about Unċi Maka, Makoċė, Grand Mother Earth, or Turtle Island as many of our native people refer to the North American continent as. 

 This image of Bear Butte was taken a few miles north of Newell, SD.  Bear Butte is about twenty-five miles south from this point. 

The Elk winter count recalls a rendezvous of sorts at Bear Butte in the 1750s.  There and then, the Lakota took up arms against the Kiowa, smashing the head of one of them and starting a conflict to hold the ‘Hills. 

In 1857, the Lakota held a council at Bear Butte to determine what to do about the growing presence of white settlers, notably miners, in the Black Hills. 

In 1874, General Custer led the Black Hills Expedition from Fort Abraham Lincoln.  His command was guided by a detachment of Arikara Indian scouts and a detachment of Dakota scouts from Santee, NB.  It was the Arikara scouts who discovered gold first, Bloody Knife, General Custer’s favorite scout, recognized the stone for what it was and immediately notified the General.  The Black Hills Expedition was in complete violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.  General Custer immediately informed the people of the United States that his expedition confirmed the presence of gold in the Black Hills which set off a gold rush. 

 About ten miles north and westerly of Bear Butte.  A few miles south from where I took this are recently contructed biker bars and campgrounds.  Its distressing to the native community who go to pray at this site to have to see and hear loud music and rumbling motorcycles. 

The Lakota believe that none could own the land, especially the Black Hills.  And it came that during the settlement era of Dakota Territory or South Dakota, that Mr. Ezra Bovee and his family came to settle on the southern slope of the butte and were the landowners by World War II.  The Northern Cheyene sought permission from Bovee and journeyed to Bear Butte on religious pilgrimage to pray for the end of World War II. 

The Bovee family accepted the native pilgrims unto their land and graciously encouraged the continuation of native religious practices. 

The Bovee family lobbied for national park status, to protect the sacred site.  Not attaining National Park Service status, the state of South Dakota brought Bear Butte into its own park system officially designating it Bear Butte State Park in 1961.  Bear Butte became a National Historic Site in 1965. 

A forest fire, or plains grass fire, in 1996 destroyed many of the trees growing on Bear Butte.

A panoramic view of Bear Butte from the south looking north.  One trail winds east and around back again to the Bear Butte proper, another more direct trail takes hikers to the summit.  Medicine ties, or prayer ties, are attached onto various trees along the side of the trails, even on the side of the road in Bear Butte State Park.  For a larger image, visit:

Every August for two weeks is the Sturgis Bike Rally.  Bear Butte is located six miles north and east of Sturgis, SD.  There are several businesses catering to the motorcycle interest groups that are going up outside Sturgis city limits near Bear Butte. 

In 2007, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds announced a proposal to purchase land easements around Bear Butte to better preserve the ambience of Bear Butte.  Depending on who you are, it was too little, too late for the easement proposal. 

In 2011, Bear Butte became one of eleven sites to be designated that year a “most endangered site” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crow Buttes, A Site of Two Battles

A panoramic view of Crow Buttes.  For an image of higher resolution, and to see a few other images, visit:
Crow Buttes, South Dakota
A Site of Two Battles
By Dakota Wind
CROW BUTTES, S.D. - In 1822, the Lakota and the Crow engaged in an outright battle here at this site, now called Crow Buttes.  According to the research conducted by the Butte County Historical Society and the Game, Fish, and Parks Commission, a Lakota war party came upon a Crow camp and utterly ravaged it and violated the women. 

The Crow wanted revenge, and left what was left of their village (elders, women, and children) north of the buttes at Sand Creek.  The Crow war party ascended the larger butte for a better vantage of the broad landscape.  It was a hastily recruited war party and they brought only weapons, no water. 

The Crow war party was surrounded at the butte, pinned there by the Lakota war party.  The weather on the plains being as it is, semi-arid, no rainfall to relieve the Crow war party was in sight, and they perished from lack of water.

According to the research party mentioned in the first paragraph, a nearby canyon to the northwest of the buttes was littered with the skulls of the Lakota who "died like flies after contracting a fever from the Crows." 

I disagree Butte County Historical Society and Game, Fish, and Parks Commission. 

According to the Blue Thunder winter count (amongst several other winter counts) the Hunkpapa Lakota engaged in a battle with the Crow at Crow Buttes in 1858.  Using the same strategy thirty years before, the Lakota waited out the battle letting the Crow again perish of thirst at the buttes.  According to the Blue Thunder winter count, the Hunkpapa Lakota war party climbed the butte and executed the Crow war party - there were nine Crow warriors, all shot in the head.

After the execution, the Crow war party, all nine of them, were beheaded, their bodies left for scavengers. 

Today Crow Buttes, sits in Harding County, north of Belle Fourche, SD.  It is a lonely and serene sight despite the terrible events which occurred there.