Thursday, February 23, 2012

Traditional Lakota Courtship

Saint Valentine recieves a rosary from the Virgin Mary.
Traditional Lakota Courtship
Lakota Demonstrations Of Affection

By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - Valentine’s Day is a day most associated with romantic love, often celebrated with affectionate cards, fresh flowers, or gifting of sweets to loved ones. Its my understanding that celebrating Valentine’s Day as it is celebrated today wasn’t always so, that it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the saint’s day became associated with courtly love.

Amongst the Lakota there is a courting practice, an old tradition seldom performed today, but reaching back nearly a thousand years, and it starts with serenading one’s object of affection with the haunting sound of flute music.

Like many ancient world traditions, the Lakota used to arrange marriages for their daughters. This practice, along with polygamous marriages (when a man took more than one wife), have not been put into practice in well over a century.

The origin of the flute on the Northern Plains has many stories, about as many stories as there are tribes with variations among the bands or clans of those tribes.

Kevin Locke from his Makoche album "Open Circle." Artistically speaking, it is Kevin's best piece of work. Gratify yourself and get a copy on Amazon or buy it through Makoche in Bismarck, ND.

Traditional flute-players Bryan Akipa and Kevin Locke tell the story of a young man who fell in love with a young woman a long time ago. The young man became so smitten around the woman of his affections, that he found he could not talk to her. Motivated by his silence of melancholy, the young man removed himself from the village.

They say this young man came to the river and followed it. He eventually came to rest under the shade of a tree; some say it was a cedar tree. He fell asleep, or as he was drifting off to sleep, he heard the wind passing through the branches of the tree. In the branches of the tree were holes that a woodpecker had drilled, probably looking for termites or bore beetles. As the wind passed over the holes of the branch, a melody was produced.

Some say that it was the personification of elk who came to visit the young man and gifted him with the flute because they were moved by his inability to articulate his feelings to the young woman of his affections. Some say he merely reached up and carefully removed the branch and the birds taught him how to sing with it.

Englishman Paul Goble renders the first flute story in his book "Love Flute" which is published by Aladdin Paperbacks. The look and feel of the book is based on pictographs of the Plains Indians.

However he came to possess the flute, he learned its art. Then he returned to his village. He played his flute from the outskirts of the encampment, perhaps from the top of a hill or perhaps upwind so that his music could carry.

The young woman with whom he was in love with knew immediately that the music was for her. She returned his affections and they became a couple.

I have always been interested in when something happened. Like the flute story. When did the flute appear on the Northern Plains? I like to ask flute-players when they think the flute came to be, but the answer is almost always a resounding “a long time.” Then one day I asked Keith Bear, a Mandan-Hidatsa flute-player when the flute came to be. He quietly reflected that when he was young he had asked a grandfather that same question who in turn told him that when he was young, had asked the same question of a grandfather and was told, “They [the flutes] have been around for the span of ten grandfather’s lives.”

Keith Bear poses regally in a traditional quilled war shirt and carried a beautiful crane flute. He, like Kevin Locke, recorded at Makoche in Bismarck.

It was a puzzle to figure out, the span of ten grandfather’s lives. Keith ruminated that a grandfather’s life could be anywhere from forty to 100. Who knew the answer? I turned to renowned Plains Indian archaeologist Dr. Ray Wood and asked him how long the whistle has been on the northern plains, for in Lakota, one word for whistle is the same as flute, while flute also has another name for it.

As I was waiting for Dr. Wood’s response to my query, I came across the Brown Hat Winter Count in which the span of a grandfather’s life is measured at about seventy-five winters (years). I took this as a good sign, for the Mandan and Hidatsa are long ago relatives of the Lakota. Being that Keith is a grandfather himself, and he had asked a grandfather too, we could easily today say that the flute has been on the Northern Plains for the span of twelve grandfathers. Twelve times seventy-five equals 900. Now subtract 900 from the year I asked, which was back in 2000, we arrive at the year AD 1100.

Here's one of Dr. Wood's many works about the archaeology and history on the Northern Plains. Dr. Wood might not have had the excitement of Indiana Jones, but at one point fifty some years ago, he and several other archaeologists worked feverishly to salvage what they could when the dams were built by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the 1950s.

I eventually received a reply from Dr. Wood. He graciously and swiftly responded (in two weeks) and sent me images of the whistles he personally recovered from a few sites along the Upper Missouri River. He dated them to the year AD 1100.

In contrast of the flute story where the young man courts the affections of the woman and wins her heart is the story of the Homely Girl.

A long time ago, as these stories go, a young girl was relentlessly teased about her looks. She wasn’t regarded in any way beautiful. In the version I heard, she lived with her grandmother, and she was in love with the chief’s son. The grandmother was in a way, the fairy god-mother of this story.

A day came when the chief wanted to arrange the marriage of his son and he made an announcement to the people. The chief’s son was considered by many to be not just brave in battle but quite handsome in appearance. All the single young women of the village wanted to be the wife of the chief’s son. The chief proclaimed that a test would determine who would be his son’s wife.

I haven't heard the story of the Homely Girl since I was little, but the story of the "Rough-Face Girl" by Rafe Martin and David Shannon is close. Buy yourself a copy of this beautiful story.

Perhaps it was a year that passed as the women prepared for the test, perhaps a summer only, I don’t recollect that detail, but they prepared. When the young women heard that the homely girl wanted to participate, they scoffed and openly mocked her efforts.

The test consisted of a demonstration of domestic life, which at that time meant food preparation, building a fire, and a host of other skills like tanning and making moccasins.

The homely girl’s grandmother took her granddaughter out in the summer field and showed her which turnips to pick to make soup with, and they plaited them together into one long braid. The grandmother took her granddaughter into the woods and showed her which wood to pick for starting a fire and which wood to pick to burn the longest. The grandmother showed her granddaughter how best to set up the tipi and take it down in wind and rain, in the heat and cold.

The time of the test arrived, and the chief and his son visited all the families who had suitors. They visited the beautiful and the daughters of other chiefs, many who rushed to prepare food, who couldn’t maintain a fire, whose impatience showed in their beadwork or quillwork, or who couldn’t assemble or disassemble a tipi swiftly enough to satisfy the chief.

They came at last to the homely girl’s demonstration. She made simple moccasins with hard soles and modest accents of quillwork. She built a fire and it lasted through the night. For much of their time, the chief and his son quietly watched the homely girl in her demonstrations.

The test came to an end. The beautiful women were confident one of them would be chosen. The daughters of other chiefs were confident were confident one of them would chosen. At the end of the day, though, it was the homely girl who was chosen for her quality of character was revealed in her craft and preparation. She was not haughty, she was not impatient, and she did not spite any of her rivals.

In the first story, the lesson men should take is patience, and to find one’s voice. A natural lesson is to be learned from it too is that in nature it is the male who must prove his worth to the female.

In the second story, the virtues that Lakota women should practice are humility and patience. Virtue wins out in the end.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Attacks On Fort Abraham Lincoln

An aerial view of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, 1963.
Attacks On Fort Abraham Lincoln
Fort Faces Gunfire And Skirmishes
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - The following is an excerpt from the article “Embracing a relation of the history of the state from the earliest times down to the present day, including the biographies of the Builders of the Commonwealth” which was published by the Bismarck Tribune in 1910 in the “History of North Dakota.” This article features the skirmishes surrounding Fort Abraham Lincoln. It should be noted that the Fort Abraham Lincoln military reservation itself was about twenty-three square miles, which is about 15,000 acres. The Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park today encompasses only 1,100 acres.

These were the ominous figures on the northern line of Sioux unceded land through which the Northern Pacific was to pass. The survey had been carried on to the Missouri river without serious interference from the Indians, and it as much menaced until the Hunkpapa leaders had gathered about them a very considerable force, composed of the fiercest and most bitter of the Sioux nation. There is not doubt that up to the summer of 1872 the work of the leaders was directed to getting the spirit of the Indians aroused. And they succeeded in drawing the Cheyennes into their quarrel. August 14, 1872, a column of the Second cavalry was attacked in Montana by Black Moon a the head of a considerable body of Sioux and Cheyennes. Two whites were killed and a number of Indians killed and wounded. The Indians might have pursued the advantage they had, and inflicted more injury on the soldiers, but for a strange policy they pursued of quitting when a battle was well night [sic] won.


Sitting Bull wears a hat with a monarch butterfly affixed to it.

This affair started the entire hostile element into activity. Twelve days later a war party attacked a detail of the Sixth Infantry from Fort Abraham Lincoln. The soldiers with some ‘Ree scouts were making a reconnoisance [sic] about twelve miles west of Bismarck when attacked. Two of the ‘Rees were killed. The affair indicated that Sitting Bull had influenced his people nearer at home to make trouble close to the settlements and Bismarck was threatened by many alarms. October 2, about four hundred Sioux attacked Fort Lincoln itself, but were repulsed by the troops after they had killed three ‘Rees -- who seem to have born the brunt of the battle in these skirmishes. There was fighting on the White River about the first of October and on the 14th a big party made a demonstration against Fort Lincoln. A company of the Sixth and body of scouts were sent out against the marauders and drove them off, with the loss of two men. The Indians suffered again, losing at least three men. These affairs took place right on the threshold of civilization for by this time the white man had advanced to the Missouri with the determination to stay.

A picture of General Custer, after the Civil War and during his Indian fighting days. He was actually a Lieutenant Colonel at the time of his death, but out of respect for the rank he once held during the Civil War, he was called "General."

An attempt was made to negotiate another treaty with the Indians to open the way for the surveyors, but it was ineffective and while it was going on, in the spring of 1873, three distincts attacks were made on Fort Lincoln. Lt. Col. Carlin was in command and he drove the Indians off on each occasion with some loss, but the eyes of the authority were opened to the reality of the menace of these attacks and Lt. Col. Geo. A. Custer, with the Seventh Cavalry, was sent to establish headquarters at Fort Lincoln and clear the hostiles out of the country, which marked the beginning of the end of Custer and the dashing organization he brought with him. The coming of Custer assembled in North Dakota and the adjacent territory the elements which entered into the playing out of the tragedy of the Indian and the breaking of the power of the Sioux nation.

It was the perspective of the Hunkpapa Lakota that Forts Rice and Lincoln represented the arrival of the US military and signaled that settlers were here to stay. The Ihanktowana (Yanktonai) were already pushed west across the Missouri after the punitive campaigns of Generals Sibley and Sully after the Dakota Conflict in Minnesota of 1862. The Cheyenne at one time dwelled on the west bank of the Missouri River, and viewed the river as a boundary line themselves. It was easy for the Hunkpapa Lakota to pique the Cheyenne by rousing their need for self-preservation.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 stated the boundaries of the Great Sioux Nation, and that no surveyors, minors, nor settlers could enter those lands. The Hunkpapa had every right to believe they were defending their lands, especially after Fort McKeen and Fort Abraham Lincoln were built at the convergence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers, one of the boundary markers of the Great Sioux Nation, and the site of the Battle of Heart River in 1803 that determined Lakota territory.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Treaty of Fort Abraham Lincoln, or The Treaty of 1875

Soldiers practice on the parade ground of Fort Abraham Lincoln. The Commissary sits in the background (left) and Captain Tom Custer's bachelor officer's quarters (background, right).
The Treaty of Fort Abraham Lincoln
The Treaty of 1875
By Dakota Wind
FORT ABRAHAM LINCOLN, D.T. (MANDAN, N.D.) - In May, 1875, Fort Abraham Lincoln served a purpose much the same as the United States serves in the Middle East in recent times, that of intermediary between two warring nations. It worked then about as much as it works today.

Fort Abraham Lincoln was built partly on the remains of the Mandan Indian village site, On-A-Slant, located on the west bank of the Missouri River, across from Bismarck, Dakota Territory. Fort Abraham Lincoln is also built at the convergence of the Heart River and Missouri River, where in 1803, a battle between the Ihanktowana Dakota and the previous claimants to this locale was fought, it ended in victory for the Dakota and the contested land became part of “Sioux” territory.

After the treaty was signed, a great celebration at Fort Abraham Lincoln ensued lasting several days. There was feasting and dancing, but after the parties returned to their respective agencies, conflict resumed.

The Indian Scout standing on the porch wearing a military blanket is often misidentied as Bloody Knife, an Arikara Indian and General Custer's favorite scout. Bloody Knife stood about 5'7". The Indian in this picture is most probably the Hunkpapa Lakota Indian Scout Long Soldier who stood at 7' (observe his height in relation to the front door). Long Soldier served at Fort Abraham Lincoln. A leader of his band of Hunkpapa, he signed the treaty of Fort Abraham Lincoln.

Fort Abraham Lincoln served as host to the Hunkpapa Lakota, the Sihasapa Lakota, the Ihanktowana Dakota (Yanktonai), the Sahnish (Arikara), the Hidatsa (Gros Ventres), and the Nu’Eta (Mandan). Here follows the text of the Treaty of Fort Abraham Lincoln:


May 29, 1875

Whereas war has prevailed for many years between the Sioux Indians on one side and the Arickaree, Mandan, and Gros Ventres on the other, and whereas, it is now the desire of the Yanctonnais, Uncpapa and Blackfeet bands of the Sioux Nations and of the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres to put an end to such hostilities forever:--

We, the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the tribes and people above named do solemnly and in good faith promise—


That we the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the Sioux Nations and the people we here represent will from this day forward live in peace and friendship with the chiefs and headmen of the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres and the people they here represent, and that we will exert all our power and influence over our people to prevent them or any of them from committing any unfriendly or hostile acts against the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres.


That we the understood chiefs and headmen of the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres tribes of Indians and the people we here represent will from this day forward live in peace and friendship with the chiefs and headmen of the Yanctonnais, Uncpapa and Blackfeet bands of the Sioux Nation and the people they here represent, and that we will exert all our power and influence over our people to prevent them or any of them from committing unfriendly or hostile against the people of individuals of the tribe of Sioux represented in this council.


That we the chiefs and headmen of the Yanctonnais, Uncpapa and Blackfeet tribes of Sioux will use all our power and influence toward preventing Sioux of the Cheyenne River Agency from committing hostile or unfriendly acts against the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres.


That we the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the Arickaree, Mandan and Gros Ventres of Indians will use all our power and influence towards preventing hostile or unfriendly acts on the parts of the people we represent against the Sioux of the Cheyenne River Agency.


That if any of the chiefs and headmen who have signed this treaty shall learn that their young men are engaged in organizing expeditions or war parties intended to or likely to violate this treaty, they will forthwith inform their Agents in order that he may take such measure as will prevent any violation of the treaty made and entered into this day.

Done at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, this 29th day of May, A.D. 1875, in presence of

                                                                        W.P. Carlin

                                                                        Lieut. Colonel 17th Infantry

                                                                        Commdg Fort A. Lincoln D.T.

L.B. Sperry                                                      John Burke

U.S. Indian Agent for the Arickarees,      U.S. Indian Agent for the Sioux Tribes

Gros Ventres, and Mandan Indians.

Arickaree      Son of the Stars        [x]        Lower             Two Bears                  [x]

                        White Shield              [x]        Yanctonnais  Mad Bear                  [x]

Gros Ventres Crow Breast              [x]                                Bulls Ghost                 [x]

                        Lean Wolf                  [x]        Uncpapa       Running Antelope   [x]

Mandans       Bad Gun                    [x]                                Thunder Hawk          [x]

                        Flag Lance                [x]                                Bear’s Rib                  [x]

                                                                                                Slave                          [x]

                                                                                                Long Soldier              [x]

                                                                                                Bears Eye                   [x]

                                                                        Blackfeet       The Grass                   [x]

                                                                                                Fire Heart                   [x]

                                                                                                Sitting Crow              [x]

                                                                        Upper             Wolf Necklace         [x]

                                                                        Yanctonnais  Black Eye                   [x]

Signed in Quadruplicate

one copy given to Sioux Agent John Burke

one copy given to Ree, Mandan and Gros Ventres Agent L.B. Sperry

one copy forwarded to Headqrs, Dept. Of Dakota

one copy retained at Post headquarters

                                                                        James Calhoun

                                                                        1st Lieut 7th Cavalry