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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Wind Is The Spirit Of The Great Plains

Tȟaté’káoškokpa (Canyon Made-By-Wind), or Wind Canyon, along the Heȟáka Tȟa Wakpá (River Of Elk; Little Missouri River) in Makȟóšíća (Badlands, N.D.; Theodore Roosevelt National Park). Photo by The First Scout
The Wind Is The Spirit Of The Great Plains
The Sky In Language: Spoken, Drawn, and Signed
THE GREAT PLAINS - The wind has been a constant presence on the open prairie since creation and has shaped the landscape. It races across the open sky with the summer and winter storms, and flows about the landscape playfully, fitfully, and angrily. It is the very essence of the Great Plains.

The Lakota have several words for the wind and its attributes such as tȟaté (air in motion), uyá (to blow leeward of the wind), kaȟwókA (to be carried along with the wind), ikápȟaŋyaŋ (to be beaten down by the wind, as with grass) or itáglaȟweya (with the wind). When a strong wind is present, or suddenly appears, during prayer or at a gathering, the wind might even be referred to as takú wakaŋ škaŋškaŋ (something with great energy is moving). A whirlwind is called tȟatéiyumni, which some regard as a sign that a spirit is present.

There is only one word to describe a windless day, ablákela (calm or quiet).

When the wind blows cold, such as it does in the winter months, the Lakota refer to it as tȟatóšni. The cold winter wind had a story of its own. In the days of legend, before steamboats an trains, before soldiers and missionaries, when the camps moved across the prairie steppe in the fall to establish winter camps, they told the story of Wazíya, that which some call a giant, or the Power Of The North. Wazíya blew his cold breath across the world. 

They say as the summer wanes and turns to autumn, the wind changes with the weather. That change in the wind is the breath of North. The cold was and is deadly, never to be feared, but respected. The North spreads his robe across the sleeping land. The North makes hunting game easier to track. In fact, the Lakota used to dance in snowshoes in the blanket of the first snowfall. They rejoiced in the weather and embraced the deep cold. 

In the spring, the wind signals another change. The Lakȟóta call this wind Niyá Awičhableze, The Enlightening Breath. This is the first spring wind upon which the meadowlarks return. It’s the time of year in which the Lakota carefully watch for the ice to break on the Mníšoše, the Water-Astir (Missouri River), the geese return, and when the bison bear their calves. 

Read the original complete article The Wind Is The Spirit Of The Great Plains at The First Scout.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Winter Counts on the Northern Great Plains

By Aaron L. Barth
Reposted from here.

Chapter 4 of The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter
Counts at the Smithsonian
In the last couple days, Dakota Goodhouse (his blog linked here) and I have been hanging out in downtown Fargo, as he's here to expand on the Native tradition of winter counts. He crashed at my place for a couple nights, and last night we had dinner here after his talk at the Spirit Room (this collaboratively organized and funded by the Fargo-West Fargo Public Schools Indian Education Program and the North Dakota Humanities Council). Dakota and I chatted about winter counts, and about future prospects of scholarly interest and inquiry.

I'm thinking that winter counts, and the history of them, have become popular enough that I don't really need to explain them. But just in case, a winter count is an annual pictograph painted onto the larger medium of buffalo or elk hides. In the latter part of the 19th century, they were painted onto canvas. These counts provided the owner or memory group with a traceable past, the pictograph often representative of a successful high-point of that year. Dakota Goodhouse continues pushing this tradition in new directions today, in 2013.

While Dakota explained the winter counts to the group at the Spirit Room last night, he pointed to one of his buffalo hides while expanding on how he saw something different in that particular account between today and a couple years ago. Impressionistically, this account is a symmetrical series of triangles running around the circumferences of a couple circles. Some years ago, Dakota said he used to see this as a Native headdress that was laid out on the floor. Today, though, he said he perceives of it as the plains indigene narrative attached to what we call "sun dogs." He said in the Lakota tradition, "sun dogs" are thought of more as camp fires next to the sun. 

Dakota explains the stories reflected by and attached to the pictographs on the bison hide.
These stories got me thinking of something historians deal with every now and then, and that's one-dimensional thinkers who sometimes polemically say, "Well, cultures with oral traditions don't have a history, or if they do it's impossible to trace." This is always a fun question to respond to. Last night I was thinking more-so of how a person who reads a novel, or a good piece of history, is likely to walk away with different perceptions about the same text within the span of two or more readings.

A photo of Dakota Goodhouse being
This is similar to the winter count. Dakota explained the difference in how one individual, when looking at the bison robe laid out, might see a native headdress while another might see sun dogs, parhelia, or what the Dakota call wi'aceti, this roughly translated and defined as "when the sun makes fires." Dakota added that the winters on the northern Great Plains are often cold enough to induce the sun to make camp fires to keep it warm.

This story, in turn, induced me to abandon the sun dog phrase and replace it with wi'aceti (pronounced "we-ah-che-tee"). If anyone wants to join me on the northern Great Plains in this effort, by all means. If we hear someone say "sun dog," we can add to that wi'aceti, and with explanation.

One more note: Dakota contributed heavily to a piece of winter count scholarship that you might be interested in, chapter 4 of Candace Greene and Russell Thornton, The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007). Check it out at the link here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

For The Love Of North Dakota, A Review

For the Love of North Dakota and Other Essays: Sundays With Clay in the Bismarck Tribune.
By Clay Jenkinson. (Washburn, North Dakota: The Dakota Institute Press, 2012) 364 pages. A review by Aaron L. Barth. 

When writers describe a place, they explain their surroundings while they intentionally or inadvertently explain themselves. Clay Jenkinson’s For the Love of North Dakota is a sounding board for this, as a collection of his Bismarck Tribune essays are now accessible from The Dakota Institute Press, this from the northern Great Plains in Washburn, North Dakota. Jenkinson covers the deep culture of the state-wide political spectrum, including an acute and thoughtful post-mortem on North Dakota Governor Art Link, and ruminations on the sense of place at Theodore Roosevelt’s national park. This is all the more pressing considering how North Dakota is experiencing a global industrial petroleum boom (as of 2013, North Dakota is the #2 producer of petroleum in the United States, this just behind Texas).

In light of this, Jenkinson also showcases artists who literally come from the North Dakota soil. Chuck Suchy is one, a farmer and rancher with roots from Bohemia and on the upper Missouri River (not too far south of Mandan, North Dakota, to be exact). As Jenkinson describes Chuck, “He’s a working farmer, which means that… He so clearly loves this place, its history, heritage, its people, its quirkiness, its muted west-[Missouri-]river landscape beauty, that he can really be called the voice of North Dakota.” Of Chuck Suchy and his family of musicians, this is true. It is Bohemia on the northern Great Plains, something that Willa Cather alluded to in her novels, and this is why Garrison Keillor continuously calls upon Chuck’s talent when The Prairie Home Companion radio show enters North Dakota.

Another story of individual North Dakotan nature comes in the form of a slightly anonymous “Mr. R” who secured staples for his family during the famous blizzard of 1966. Jenkinson is at one of his literary peaks here, remembering how Mr. R. “bundled up in all the coats, mittens, and scarves he owned,” and “silently knelt down to buckle up his overshoes” before heading out into the blizzard abyss. Quite a while went by before Mr. R. returned to his family, and when he did he revealed his cache: “a loaf of bread, a case of Hamms beer, and two cartons of cigarettes.” Jenkinson says, “It took many years for Mr. R. to live down that story.” These otherwise humorous and anecdotal tales feel honest, and Jenkinson and other public historians are increasingly turning their attention to these local stories, memoirs and histories. (See, for example, Tammy S. Gordon’s, Private History in Public: Exhibition and the Settings of Everyday Life, AltiMira Press, 2010).

A review would not be fair without critique, though. While reading Jenkinson’s essays, a reader hopes for but never gets more than a couple of essays on Great Plains Native America — they were, after all, the first North Dakotans. In addition to this, he suggests that everything non-North Dakotan is somehow inferior to North Dakota. This is odd, especially when contextualized with his love for original non-North Dakotans such as Thomas Jefferson, C.S. Lewis, Theodore Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, George Frideric
Handel, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). These figures are central in the culture and history of the Atlantic World, the stuff that Wallace Stegner grew up with in the first half of the 20th century. Jenkinson’s ruminations on them show intellect, but they do not speak to genuine and authentic touchstones of North Dakota culture and history, or the people who have a genealogical connection with the land.

Perhaps, though, this is the theme throughout the book: Jenkinson is a North Dakota nationalist with advanced training in Western Civilization. He is a patriotic Euro-American booster for the geo-political abstraction that is North Dakota. And this is how it has to be — a love for the abstraction — since it would be logistically impossible for him to meet and love every individual North Dakotan. This, no doubt, makes a reader eager for Jenkinson and The Dakota Press to fill in the gaps with a follow-up to For the Love of North Dakota. Considering how the booming Petroleum Industrial Complex is altering the culture of North Dakota in the second decade of the 21st century, writers such as Jenkinson are all the more important. There is an infinite amount of North Dakotans and New North Dakotans throughout the state that have individual stories worth telling, and Jenkinson has the pen and vocabulary for it.

Involved in historic preservation and cultural resource management since 2002, Aaron L. Barth is a PhD candidate in history with North Dakota State University, Fargo. His focus is on Great Plains, Public, and World History. In addition to this, he is a board member with the North Dakota Humanities Council. Barth’s blogspot can be found at The Edge Of The Village.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

General Sibley's Conflict With the Sioux At Apple Creek

A view of the Missouri River bottomlands below present-day University of Mary. Taken from Sibley Park, Bismarck, ND. 
The Dakota Conflict In Dakota Territory
The Apple Creek Conflict 150 Years Later
By Dakota Wind, The First Scout
Bismarck, N.D. – The Mníšoše, Missouri River, moves determinedly along the ancient valley it has carved over thousands of years. The river flows in the very heart of the Great Plains, in fact, aside from the wind, it’s a defining feature of the prairie steppe. Its Lakȟóta name means “The Water A-stir” in reference to its muddy stirred up appearance in historic times. Commercial traffic on the river in the nineteenth century came to call it “The Big Muddy.”

Tȟaspáŋla Wakpála, Apple Creek, meanders along its own course from a field north and east of present-day Bismarck, N.D. The Menoken Indian Village rests along the quiet creek, a silent witness to trade in what archaeologists call the Late Woodlands period. The creek’s name refers to the tree that bears the tiny edible thorn apple.

Where the Tȟaspáŋla Wakpála converges with Mníšoše is Mayá Itówapi, Pictured Bluff. There, along the bluff are caves where the sediment is layered in colors. A testament to the changing climate throughout the ages of the world to the geologist, but to the Lakȟóta, it was a place to gather natural yellow and red pigments to create paint.

There was a conflict between the Pȟadáni (Arikara) and the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (Yanktonai) in the 1830’s. According to the John K. Bear winter count the year is recorded as Čhaŋnóna na Pȟadáni ob thi apá kičhízapi, The Wood-Hitters (a band of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna) fought with the Arikara. 

The Blue Thunder Winter Count, variant III.

The Waŋkíya Ťho, Blue Thunder, winter count correlates this event at a Dakota winter camp located below Čhaŋté Wakpá, Heart River. According to Blue Thunder, the assailants are variously identified as Arikara, Mandan, or Assiniboine. The Mandan Indians have the Foolish Woman winter count, and they record that they destroyed fifty lodges. The Tȟatȟaŋka Ska, White Bull, winter count has that winter as Wičhíyela waníyetu wičhákasotapi, the Yanktonai were almost wiped out that winter.

The John K. Bear winter count also mentions the Dakota Conflict in its 1863 entry: Isáŋyatí wašíčuŋ ob okȟíčize, the Santee warred with the whites. The Minnesota Dakota conflict is also reflected in the Red Horse Owner, Roan Bear, and Wind winter counts.

Clell Gannon, a depression era artist, painted this scene of General Sibley's command in pursuit of the Sioux. The painting can be found in the south vestibule of the Burleigh County Courthouse, Bismarck, ND.

The fight between the two tribes paled in comparison when in 1863, General Sibley and his command of about four thousand soldiers engaged the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta people in a running battle lasting two weeks, from Big Mound (near present-day Tappen, N.D.) to Pictured Bluff.

Sitting Bull counts coup on one of Sibley's men and steals a mule at the Big Mound Conflict. The image was Sitting Bull's own account, from "Sitting Bull's Heiroglyphic Autobiography" which appears in Stanley Vestal's "Sitting Bull: Champion Of The Sioux."

In Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake’s, Sitting Bull’s, own pictographic account, he placed himself at Big Mound where he rode into Sibley’s camp, stole a mule, and counted coup. It is almost entirely certain that if this great leader was at the beginning of the running battle, he was there to the end at Pictured Bluff.

The running battle began as a masterful retreat on July 24, 1863, across hilly terrain in a sinuous line back and forth across streams. This constant crossing, in effect, caused Sibley to lag behind enough for the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta to gain enough lead time that the women, children, and elders could navigate their crossing waŋna hiyóȟpayA Tȟaspáŋla Wakpála hená Mníšoše, where the Apple Creek converges with the Missouri River.

That critical crossing came on July 29, 1863. The oyáte, people, abandoned their thiíkčeka, lodges, on the broad flood plain of the Mníšoše. A thousand lodges encircled two little lakes, sloughs in later years. They crossed the Mníšoše in as many as five places below Pictured Bluff. The warriors rallied together, perhaps under the leadership of Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake or Phizí (Gall), and took the high ground a-top Pictured Bluff.

The women, children, and elders who made a successful crossing signaled the warriors with flashes of sunlight using trade mirrors. The warriors in turn, signaled back to their loved ones then they turned their attention to Sibley’s command. There is no exact number of warriors, but if there were a thousand lodges, then there was at least one able-bodied man or warrior per lodge. Using this projection, the warriors were outnumbered four-to-one.

Sibley and his men arrived on the scene, July 29, 1863, to witness flashes of light in communiqué to those in safety across the river. The general struck camp and named it “Camp Slaughter” after a doctor in his command. Over the course of the next few days, Sibley could not take the hill and some of his men were ambushed in the middle of the night. The morale of his soldiers suffered and on July 31, withdrew his men from the field when the enemy seemingly disappeared.

The Apple Creek Conflict is the only fight in the Punitive Campaigns of 1863 & 1864 in which the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta chose the battlefield, met their aggressor, and held them off until they withdrew. This clear victory became entirely overshadowed by the tragedies of Iŋyáŋsaŋ (Whitestone Hill) and Tȟáȟča Wakútepi (Killdeer), and the victory of Pȟežísluta, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

An unknown, or perhaps forgotten, artist pictographed this scene which was originally identified by Mike Cowdrey as "The Battle Of Whitestone Hill," but is quite possibly a Yanktonai account of the Apple Creek Conflict.

Susan Kelly Power, an esteemed uŋčí (grandmother) of the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna Dakȟóta and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and great-granddaughter of Chief Two Bear, has the oral tradition that places three warriors there at the Apple Creek Conflict: Callous Leg, Little Soldier, and Has Tricks. There must certainly be more warriors and oral traditions amongst the Iŋyáŋ Wosláta Oyáŋke, the community of Standing Rock, and others.

Today, a park named for General Sibley rests virtually where his Camp Slaughter once stood, where some of the Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta made their crossing. Bismarck has turned a battlefield into a place of recreation. There is no signage explaining the name of the park, nor of the conflict.

The landscape has been appropriated and development has erased the battlefield; Dakȟóta and Lakȟóta oral tradition recalls that the soldiers chased the people into the river. 

On July 29, 2013, 150 years after Sibley’s command withdrew entirely from the Apple Creek Conflict, the anniversary passed in silence. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

General Custer And The Frontier That Was

President Abraham Lincoln met with General George McClellan at Antietam following the battle there. General Custer is featured in this photo at the far right. 

General Custer And The Frontier That Was
Understanding Indians
By Steven Alexander, George Custer

“The Frontier that was,” lasted little more than six decades.  But to the American Spirit, "The Old West" has epitomized our nature and eclipsed most periods of our recorded history.

Mountain Men, Davy Crockett, the Nomadic Tribes (sometimes referred to as Native Americans) and the Festive Cowboy all bare world renown.  To the enthusiastic immigrant, the image of America is sometimes steeped by the romantic portrayal of the West as first introduced by Buffalo Bill Cody, and later finely tuned by Pappy Ford and John Wayne in the cinema.
Early on it was immortalized in paint on sweeping canvas by Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, then later molded in bronze by Frederic Remington.  Still,  for some the “End of the Trail” has yet to be reached.  And to those 21st Century Travelers who bravely venture outside their urban subdivisions, they  are only but an arm’s length from legend and the allure of Louis L’Amour in their local grocery stores.
As technology micro sizes and maximizes your MP3 Players, isn’t it comforting to know that just over the next bluff on your cable channel, Rowdy Yates and Wish Bone are trailing long horns to Kansas while Matt and Kitty are holding down law and order in Dodge City.  And somewhere on the internet  the iconic Iron Eyes Cody stands vigil on a pollution free America?  Before all this the “Frontier that Was” held a special place in the World’s imagination when art and history blended together and was reflected in the hour glass of life and shifting sands on the painted desert of the West.
My own journey into the “Frontier that Was,” began when my Great Grandparents, Harry and Kate Boley traveled west in a prairie schooner across North Dakota and homesteaded the High Plains of Montana at the turn of the 19th Century.  As a young boy I listened to their incredible stories intently;  Ward Bond was still Wagon Master and Fess Parker had not retired his coonskin cap. Through the pages of “True West” and “Frontier Times” I cut my teeth on adventures that later saw me riding buffalo trails across Nebraska and smoking prayer pipes in the Lodge of the Medicine Arrow Keeper. Along the way this writer might have fared but little better than the bleached bones beside the wagon ruts worn in the Bozeman Trail, and like the character I portray, if I had not grasp the importance of "Understanding Indians."
The word "Indian" today is readily accepted, but in fact, was a misnomer as the first Europeans had designated the inhabitants as Indians, thinking they had landed in the Far East unaware an entire continent lay between what they thought was a short cut to the Eastern Trade Routes.

For George Armstrong Custer, Civil War Hero, the west was like a tonic, he had the heart of an Indian and during the decade he served on the frontier a large portion was understanding Indians. "Neither a luxury nor a necessary of life.  He can hunt, roam, and camp when and where so ever he pleases, provided always that in so doing he does not run contrary to the requirements of civilization in its advancing tread.  When the soil which he has claimed and hunted over for so long a time is demanded by this to him insatiable monster, there is no appeal; he must yield, or, like the car of a juggernaut, it will roll mercilessly over him, destroying as it advances.  Destiny seems to have so willed it, and the world looks on and nods its approval."1
More than 14,000 years ago the First Americans came to this continent from Asia via the Bering Straits.  While in pursuit of game,2 each tribal division settled in places they eventually adapted to. From the Canadian Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi across the Salt Flats to the Pacific Shores this at one time, was all Indian Country.  Over 2.5 Million square miles of wild uncharted prairie inhabited by 270,000 Indians of 125 distinct tribes, most friendly, but a few who would  eventually be driven to hostility.    

President Thomas Jefferson
In 1803 President Jefferson authorized the Corps of Discovery to map out and explore the West. Unexpectedly revealed were those myriad of Indian tribes and the vast Buffalo herds that were to all  the tribes their mainstay food source.  As late as 1832 this area was viewed as permanent Indian territory where the American Aborigines could pursue their ancestral way of life without interference.  During the 1840s the tribes became familiar with the white man, chiefly the French  who adopted the Indian ways.  As traders and trappers, they integrated into the lifestyle of the various tribes, often times marrying Indian women and having children. In May of 1841 the first immigrant wagon train passed westward along the Oregon Trail known to the Indian as "The Great Medicine Road."     With them came the Missionaries who wanted to save their heathen souls, while the English tried to civilize them.   Years earlier Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, had traveled to England.  She shed her leathers for fine lace and took tea in the court of King James.3   Wampanoag warriors Samoset and Squanto,  cultivated a friendship with the Pilgrims and “directed them how to set their corne, where to take fish and procure other commodities…”  Those experiences conjure images of our traditional Thanksgiving.  But yet, through the better part of Indian-White relations a familiar scenario seemed to run, “First the Indians would share their food with the newcomers.  Then the supply ships would be delayed and the settlers, having made no attempt to grow a crop, would become demanding.  The Indians, with their stores depleted, would refuse aid.  Then would come bad feeling, even open hostility.”  This proved to be the true clash of values for which Europeans, framed by traditions, failed to grasp in their study of the complexities of the Indian beliefs.4   For the Indian, his “integrity of spirit was deeper than conscious reasoning;”  his love of homeland and founded fears of the Whiteman’s encroachment, which the Indian likened to “the horror of  dismemberment."

While early colonists to America saw them as pagans, almost animalistic in nature, they failed to see their deeply religious nature, their artistic nature and their love of beauty.  All of these attributes were expressed in the Indians' everyday life, with strong family ties and a deep commitment to their  tribe. These values sustained him as he was pushed westward in an excuse called manifest destiny.  Even with these values, their ties to the land ran deeper.  Lakota Mystical Warrior Crazy Horse once stated, "One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk."7   And Tecumseh, a military strategist, who united his people and when asked to sell his lands replied, “Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great sea…?”

Civilization also brought small pox and almost as infamous,  “Fire Water” which today is as threatening to the Redman as it was a century ago. "He is in danger of becoming a drunkard before he has learned to restrain his appetites, and of being tricked out of his property before he is able to appreciate its value."5   Over 24,000 Creeks diminished in number to 13,537 after their real estate became coveted and they were forced to move to Oklahoma on The Trail of Tears.   Indian resentment  increased,  "As the white frontier advanced tribe after tribe fell before new diseases to which they had developed no resistance.”   The outbreak of Asiatic cholera, introduced to North America from Europe in 1832 spread like wild fire across the plains.6

While at their peak the Apache numbered 8,000 individuals distributed between the Chiricahua, Mescalero, and Tonto Apache tribes all considered " gentle people, not cruel, and faithful in their friendships."  That is until the Spanish came to conquer, “leaving a trail of  death and destruction."  Although never confronting them in battle Custer visited their villages and had interviews with their prominent chiefs during the Hancock Expedition of 1867.1
That campaign began what would saddle our military with the thankless job of policing the territories with a total troop force of 27,000 soldiers to pacify and keep peace between the Indian and non-Indian.   An unlikely task of surrounding ten Indians with one soldier while enforcing policies set in Washington and changing when those policies soon became obsolete.  Initiation into the west causing one to learn quickly and adapt skills and knowledge in dealing with a society so diametrically opposite to modern European tactics.   And quickly it became apparent that, "no one was going to pin a medal on you for killing Indians and stealing their land."

With the re-introduction of the horse by Spaniards, Indians were able to embrace a new hunting culture, dominating a larger portion of warfare on the Plains and became more mobile.  "Indians mounted their ponies, first having fixed their toilets in war paint, and adorned their head and hair with feathers.  Also the mane and tail of their ponies, and those having white ponies (which are very plenty amongst them) they daub red paint on so as to look as though they had been wounded."8   Horses were a measure of wealth and prowess.  Warriors gained honors for the theft and capture of enemy horses.  The Comanche, thought by many to be the greatest horsemen in the world, were often compared to mythical centaurs; horse and rider appearing as one.9   Streaking wildly bareback across the western plains, they would drop their bodies on either side of their ponies' back, screening themselves from their enemies' weapons and cut loose with arrow or firearm at a full gallop.10
"They shall hold the bow and the lance:  they are cruel, and will not shew mercy:  their voice shall roar like the sea, and they shall ride upon horses, every one put in array, like a man to the battle, against thee..."11

Indians Hunting The Bison by Karl Bodmer
Preferring the three and a half-foot or four- foot bow, the Sioux and Crow were known to make the best bows.  Their arrowheads, fashioned from metal barrel hoops and fastened to the shaft of the arrow by sinew.  Arrow wounds were especially dangerous to humans because bodily fluids would effuse around the point of penetration, which then softened the "tendon wrapping," holding the arrowhead.  Thus when the shaft was pulled from the body, the loosened head always remained.  If the head could not  be removed by surgery, such wounds would always prove mortal.12
The Warrior was most esteemed above all others who could throw the greatest number of arrows in the sky before the first one fell to the ground.  Two Lance, a Brule could shoot an arrow clear through a running buffalo as evidenced during Custer's hunt with the Grand Duke Alexis at Red Willow Creek, Nebraska in the winter of '72.  The Grand Duke was given this arrow as a trophy and took it back home with him to Russia.

Petroglyph of a mammoth hunt in Florida.
"To me, Indian life, with its attendant ceremonies, mysteries, and forms, is a book of unceasing interest.  Grant that some of its pages are frightful, and, if possible, to be avoided, yet the attraction is none the weaker.  Study him, fight him, civilize him if you can, he remains still the object of your curiosity, a type of man peculiar and undefined, subjecting himself to no known law of civilization, contending determinedly against all efforts to win him from his chosen mode of life."13  Custer felt theirs' was a system based on courage, yet plagued by duplicity and falsehood.   Although one might appreciate their wit and humor and admire their color and pageantry, their passionate fondness of dancing;  one must also recognize their brutal side.  Almost like children, but don't be fooled, these were survivors of the stone age-savages 20,000 years behind modern civilization.  Young boys of the tribe were raised with warrior ethics in a warrior society.  Raiding for them was not only a rite of passage, but also necessary training to build self-esteem.   A Blackfoot song expressed a common Plains sentiment, "It is bad to live to be old, Better to die young fighting bravely in battle."82   Indian culture was based  upon permanent war with their neighbors as evidenced by the Chippewa who were successful in driving the Sioux whose sign was "cut throat" the Chippewa word for "enemy" from Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.14    In 1851,the Uncpapa stubbornly refused to make peace with the Crow.

Mountain Chief demonstrates the Plains Indian Sign and Gesture language.
Some tribes though peaceful by nature, never considered peace, but immediately attacked the Spanish or other tribes they deemed trespassing on their hunting grounds.  Although they shared a common way of life, they belonged to a dozen or more different  tribes speaking languages of a half-dozen totally unrelated groups.  So it was for them to communicate through the use of sign language which became the universal talk of the plain tribes.15   Through smoke signals, mirrors, drums or the water telegraph they communicated through the ages.  Basic paints,  colored beads,  and use of items from Mother Earth told stories, gave warnings or guided those who would seek a trail.  To the Indian all things were interconnected.  All objects had life.  And life continued,  even when this one they knew ended,  in the Happy Hunting Ground.  Wakan Tanka the Everywhere Spirit was with you and all around you.  Your medicine was either good or your judgment indelibly tainted by your impureness of heart.
Nomadic by nature and driven by the pursuit of food sources, the Indian adapted to the land and it was from the land he found his means.    As the prairies grew lush grasses, thus it allowed the Indians  to pursue their main source of food-the Bison. Reliant on the Buffalo for subsistence the warriors could successfully hunt and kill 12 buffalo thus supplying a band of  a hundred 12,000 lbs of meat.  A similar requirement would be of 120 deer to feed the same band for a month.  Besides the hides used in the clothing and homes, the Indian utilized the skin from the buffalo neck to make his war shields.  The skin was soaked and hardened with the glue extracted from boiling the bison hooves and when finished allowed a surface impenetrable by arrow and curved sufficiently to deflect the path of a bullet.12

Before the coming of the white man the buffalo numbered some 600 million, thundering across the grasslands and wooded forests of the mid-west.   Although buffalo commonly traveled in small bands of 5 to 50 head, it was not uncommon for a herd to hold up a train for several days while that same herd continually passed that particular spot.  Estimates ranging up to 60 million bison were calculated in the 1860's with 100,000 hides processed annually since the early 1840’s. Buffalo hides, highly prized were shipped eastward to tanneries that accepted them as alternative sources of commercial leather.  Buffalo tongues, considered a delicacy by Indian and Non-Indian alike, were pickled and canned while whole carcasses were left to rot on the Plains.
But it was the .50 calibre Sharps alone that had such a devastating effect on the Bison herds.  A single hunter armed with a Sharps Rifle could bag 150 bison per day keeping 15 skinners busy full time.  Hides selling from $2.75 went on to hit an all time high of $5.00.  Once the Overland route was established, the Indian felt the White man had maliciously achieved the undesired consequence of  driving away the buffalo.6  By 1867 the westward progress of the Union Pacific Railroad had in fact,  driven a wedge through the great bison herds.   Indians’ superstitious beliefs foretold,  that once the buffalo scented the white man,  the bison would not return to that part of the prairie.

General Phil Sheridan
“Destroying the Indian’s commissary,” commented General Sheridan, “ for the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until they have exterminated the buffalo.  Then your prairies will be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy.”   So destroying the Bison became the overall strategy and mission for subjugating the tribes.  And was entirely successful when it was estimated that only a total of 800 Bison was all that remained in the continental United States by 1890.
Sioux tribes who once had formerly lived and hunted on the Platte until gold was discovered in Colorado, now turned to the elders of the Nations.  Resistance to this insurgence took a variety of forms. At first alliances, then movements seeking solutions based on native experiences and ideologies.  Oglala councilors, composed of older and respected community leaders, sometimes called “The Big Bellies” adopted various strategies in response to the challenge of incessant encroachment on their lands; treaty diplomacy, or merely leading their bands away from American settlements.  These men who sat in councils were basically legislators sometimes called chiefs who evidentially called for outright warfare. 

The  Dog Soldiers, between the ages of  17-37 generally led in battle followed by the Fox Men, Those With Headed Lances, Red Shield Owners and the Foolish Dogs mostly made up of younger warriors not yet proven in battle. They made up part of the ten clans of the Cheyenne headed by forty- four chiefs who when it came time for council would send out forty-four painted sticks to all the villages.16   Entrance into such societies was accomplished by obtaining coups against an enemy.  Evidence was sometimes exhibited by weapons wrenched from an enemy’s hands in battle, possessions,  captured women or horses.    When groups approached each other, the initial actions consisted of attempts to frighten the other side, and to show bravery.  Chanting war songs or “Wolf Songs” they went into battle with the object of insulting the enemy, rather than killing him.  Counting coups or touching the enemy brought  greater honors than taking of a life.  This touch was performed by either hand or short weapon at close quarters.  A coups might be made with a quirt or a special coups stick varying in length but almost always adorned with paint, feathers and scalps of enemies.  Sometimes curved at the end it was similar to looking like a whiteman's cane, but longer and often displayed in front of the warrior's lodge where all the tribe could know of his achievements in battle.  The highest honor fell to the first touch, with three consecutive honors awarded for those who touched the enemy next.  Other warriors might rush up to each touch the enemy up to four times.  After the fourth touch no more points were accumulated.  Many warriors felt that to touch a live enemy or one who had been felled in combat was equally honorable.  Many times the enemy might feign death only to deliver a fatal blow to an opposing warrior attempting to count coups on him.  Another example might be to spare the life of an enemy in battle, touching him in a humiliating way that would steal his honor.  The act of killing under any circumstance was never rated as credit to a warrior.   When an actual death occurred in combat each warrior who had killed some enemy followed such an act with a death wail many times misconstrued as a “Yell of Triumph.”   When in fact it was a wail of utter sadness at the taking of a human life and prayer for forgiveness to the Everywhere Spirit.  Most ceremonies before or after a battle consisted of the death wail for those who may be killed and those who actually were.  But since Indians were unwilling to accept even a few casualties, under most circumstances they simply withdrew.   The feeling of awe at taking life was also felt-probably to a lesser degree-when animals were killed.  To the American Indian everything possessed a living soul.  Therefore every part of an animal which when killed was either consumed or utilized for clothing or tools, insuring it had not died in vain.  Indians unlike non-Indians, never hunted for sport.   The sorrow one might endure at killing of an enemy could last up to 30 days in which time the warrior blackened his face, his hair flowed loose and his general appearance was neglected and unkempt.  Such is the shame that in most battles if one or two participants are killed on either side the whole conflict might be called "quits" as both sides would retreat from the field.
Most myths recounting the warrior’s lust for torture were greatly exaggerated as the act of torture was performed in a symbolic gesture of purification and bravery.  Those on the receiving end may have thought differently as "...they persisted in the hellish work until every inch of the bodies of the unhappy men was haggled, and hacked and sacrificed, and covered with clotted blood."17 

Sitting Bull's pictographic account of stealing a mule and counting coup at the Battle of Big Mound.
When a full-blown battle occurred and half of the opposing forces sustained mortal causalities the victors allowed the defeated to surrender.  The survivors were then treated to a big feast and released “on parole” owing  their lives to the victorious band.  The survivors from that moment on were honor bound never to attack or make war upon those who had spared them. If they ever should, they ran the risk of capture and ultimate torture from the band that had befriended them.  If a warrior undergoing torture could display fortitude and bravery defying his tormentors to do their worst and survive, in most cases he was nursed back to good health, praised by his torturers, released or persuaded to become a permanent member of their tribe.   Custer stated  "...the Indian forfeits his claim to the appellation of the noble red man.  We see him as he is, and, so far as all knowledge goes, as he has been, a savage in every sense of the word; not worse, perhaps, than his white brother would be, similarly born and bred, but one whose cruel and ferocious nature far exceeds that of any wild beast of  the desert."13
The ambush remained their favorite tactic, and was used both offensively and for defense.  War parties relied on swift attacks.  First, there was little time available during a raid to engage in a shot for shot contest.  The purpose of a raid was to strike fast and leave.  Second, the loss of a single warrior took a lifetime to replace.  Indians during a raid on a settlement were cold, cruel and heinous.  Their best weapon was fear and terror.  The brutal and hideous mutilations of their victims created an unsightly horror when dismembered beyond recognition.  Once human,  they could only be discerned by the smallest bit of flesh still clinging to clothing of the unfortunate soul.

When warriors rode off to war, they usually dressed in their finest clothes and painted themselves not to frighten their enemy, but to impress the Everywhere Spirit should they be killed.  The purpose of the paint was to prepare for their burial and to radiate a handsome and respectable appearance in the afterlife.   "Indians are very fond of bright and gaudy colors, and if they see any trinket which they like they will have it regardless of cost, if they have the price of it in their possession.   And jewelry they all wear.  Of course, it's nothing but brass or German silver.  Some of them will have a cord around their necks filled with all kinds of stuff just so it shines.  I have seen some with rings on all their fingers-not only one on a finger, but 3 or 4 on each.  And for earrings, it's awful.  They will be from 2 to 2 1/2 inches across and from 3 to 4 in each ear, one above the other.  And the holes in the outer edge of their ears are as large as an eyelet in a shoe."8      

Streaming in the wind their large headdresses sometimes referred to as "War Bonnets, " made from buckskin turbans or the crowns of traded or captured slouch hats affixed with eagle, hawk or turkey feathers, often earned or given in allegiance from other warriors in the tribe.  Sometimes the standing feathers would encircle the crown and flow at length to a long train that reached in some cases to the ground.  They were never without their Hudson Bay trade blanket even in warm weather when they draped it over their arm or wore it like a cloak.  Their legs were covered by their long breach cloths and leggings often fashioned from trade blankets or animal skins with beads and fringe at the seams.  Their feet covered by soft tanned buckskin moccasins with intricate bead work or quills in various shades or colors, the soles being made of tough durable buffalo leather.  By the 1800's the traditional buckskin shirt became replaced by trader's cloth and cotton fabric shirts manufactured by the white man.  While only the Warrior Societies continued the tradition of the "War Shirt" made from hides and decorated with beads, scalps and feathers all honors earned in combat.

Primary to a raid was to steal horses and mules.  If homes were burned, settlers killed and scalped; women and children taken captive, then the raid was considered a success.   In 1862 the eastern or Santee Sioux under Little Crow perpetrated the Minnesota Massacres.6 "Since 1862 at least 800 men, women,  and children have been murdered within the limits of my present command, in the most fiendish manner; the men usually scalped and mutilated, their private parts cut off and placed in their mouth; women ravished sometimes fifty and sixty times in succession, then killed and scalped, sticks stuck in their persons, before and after death."  And in a few cases an enemy’s scalp would actually be removed before or after death.  Although this practice has been attributed to the Indian’s barbaric nature, the true act of scalping was introduced to the American Indian by his sophisticated European counters, the French and the English and dates back to the Middle East in Biblical times.

In November of 1864 Colonel John Chivington and his Colorado Volunteers deliberately stirred up the Cheyenne hostility resulting in the  Sand Creek or Chivington Massacre.  Many warriors in the village had been on the warpath and fresh scalps of white women and children were found by troops in the village. For those carried off it is certain torture at the hands of these unmerciful savages.  If spared, they were usually in for a long hideous night of misery.14   When a white woman fell into Indian hands she could expect to be forced into the brutal lust of her captor. Indians tended to gamble almost day and night. An Indian smoked incessantly while he gambled.  He would gamble all that he owned including his wife.  More often than not it was a captured woman from another tribe or a captive white woman who upon tiring of her would gamble or barter her away to another Indian for two horses or such then traded to another before being traded on once again.   Should she try to escape her bare feet were placed into a campfire until every portion of the cuticle was burned away preventing her from running away.18           
Custer's  standing order remained, that should the column come under attack and there was fear of maintaining his wife's safety,  the escort was directed to put a bullet in her brain.  Furthermore the old frontiersman adage had always been, "Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself."

Therefore the Military’s task was to secure the release of these captives as soon as possible, and hopefully return them home unharmed.  During the summer of 1866 twenty-eight women and children were captured and carried off by Dog Soldier raiding parties. In the winter of '68-'69 Custer led the Seventh Cavalry in a successful retaliatory campaign against the Southern Cheyenne.  Although the Regiments causalities included Officers Hamilton, Elliott and 19 enlisted men; over 103 warriors were killed,  Fifty- three Indian Women and Children were secured and captured.  Eight Hundred and seventy five ponies put to death.  One thousand one Hundred buffalo robes, 500 lbs of powder, 1,000 lbs of lead and 4,000 arrows destroyed.  This was regarded as the first substantial US. victory in the Southern Plains War, thus effectively crippling and helping to force a significant portion of the Southern Cheyenne onto a U.S. appointed reservation.19
Custer was credited with negotiating with numerous tribes and securing the release of two white women,  Sarah White and Annabelle Morgan captured six months before on the Kansas border.  The result of these actions during that same long winter campaign  saw the Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Kiowa  eventually come into the reservations.  It would be, not for the number of Indian lives that were lost during the Staked Plains  Campaign, but for those who were spared that Custer became known as the Foremost Indian Fighter on the Plains.

General Ely Parker served in General Grant's field command during the Civil War. After Grant was elected president, he appointed Parker as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In 1869, President Grant appointed a commission of nine men to examine all matters pertaining to Indian Affairs.  Their findings reported "The history of government connections with the Indians is a shameful record of broken treaties and unfilled promises."20  Driven by their lack of understanding Indians.  Custer had always believed peace would have lasted longer than the outbreak of '74, had diplomacy and proper treatment of the tribes been practiced over government duplicity.21

Cadet Custer at West Point before the Civil War broke out.
Even though written during Custer's time at West Point his thoughts on the Indian were reflected in his essay  "When we first beheld the Redman, we beheld him in his home, the home of peace and plenty, the home of nature.  Sorrows furrowed lines were unknown on his dauntless brow.  His manly limbs were not weakened by being forced to sleep in dreary caves and deep morasses, fireless, comfortless and coverless, through fear of the hunter's deadly rifle.  His heart did not quake with terror at every gust of the wind that sighed through the trees, but on the contrary.  They were the favored sons of nature, and she like a doting mother, had bestowed all her gifts on them.  They stood in the native strength and beauty, stamped with proud majesty of free born men, whose souls never knew fear, or whose eyes never quailed beneath the fierce glance of man.  But what are they now, those monarchs of the west?  They are like withered leaves of their own native forest, scattered in every direction by the fury of the tempest.  The Red Man is alone in his misery.  The earth is vast desert to him.  Once it had its charms to lull his mind to repose, but now the home of his youth, the familiar forests, under whose grateful shade, he and his ancestors stretched their weary limbs after the excitement of the chase, are swept away by the axe of the woodman.  The hunting grounds have vanished from his sight and in every object he beholds the hand of desolation.  We behold him now on the verge of extinction, standing on his last foothold, clutching his bloodstained rifle, resolved to die amidst the horrors of slaughter, and soon he will be talked of as a noble race who once existed but now have passed away."23
From 1866 to 1876 the cost to the United States Government for the Reservation System rose from an annual budget of $1Million to $20 Million per year.  Even though the prices went up the annuities promised to the Indians never arrived at the reservations.
Indian people on the reservations literally starved or sought relief by exiting the agencies.  A delegation from Standing Rock Agency arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln in the winter of '75 seeking council with General Custer.  Running Antelope the emissary from the Sioux exclaimed,  "The Great Father may choose only good men when they leave Washington, but by the time they get to us they are damned thieves..."22

Aware of this, Custer's own testimony before Congress in the Spring of 1876 about the corruption and inadequacies of the reservation system was punctuated by his own writings and was summed up by his own beliefs of understanding Indians, "If I were an Indian, I often think that I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who adhered  to the free open plains, rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of those blessed benefits of civilization, with its vices thrown in without stint or measure."13

Steven Alexander is the foremost Custer living Custer historian.

Footnotes, Bibliographies And Sources
1. Wild Life on the Plains and the Horrors of Indian Warfare, General George Armstrong Custer    
    Sun Publishing Co. St. Louis, MO 1883

2. Daily Life in a Plains Indian Village 1868, Michael Bad Hand Terry Clarion Books 1999
3. 500 Nations, Alvin Josephy Gramwercy Books, NY 1994
4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,  Dee Brown Holt, Rinehart & Winston NY 1970
5.The Indian Dilemma-Civilization or Extinction, Carl Schurz, Annals of America, Volume 10,
   1866-1883.  Reconstruction and Industrialization, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976

6. Custer's Luck, Edgar Stewart University of Oklahoma Press  Norman, OK 1983
7. Native American Indians:  Quotes and Thoughts, Steven Redhead

8. Frontier Soldier:  An Enlisted Man's Journal of the Sioux  and Nez Perce Campaigns, 1877,
   Private William Zimmer, edited by Jerome Green Montana Historical Society Press, Helena, MT

9. The Little Bighorn Campaign Wayne M. Sarf Combined Books Conshohocken, PA 1993
10. Indians and the Old West Anne Terry White Golden Press New York 1958
11. Book of Jeremiah (50:42) King James Bible/Old Testament
12. My Native Land James Cox Blair Publishing Co. Philadelphia 1903
13. My Life on the Plains G. A. Custer  The Galaxy, Vol. VII January 1872 to June 1872
14. The Custer Tragedy Fred Dustin Upton and Sons El Segundo, CA 1987
15. Indian Signals and Sign Language  George Fronval and Daniel Dubois Bonanza Books New
      York 1985
16. The Horsemen of the Plains Joseph Altsheler  Macmillan Co. NY 1966
17. Little Big Horn 1876 Robert Nightengale Far West Publishing Edina, MN 1996
18. The Plains Indians Jay Smith Research Review:  The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates
      Vol. 1 No. 2 December,  1987

19. Custer and the Cheyenne Louis Kraft Upton and Sons Publishers El Segundo,  CA 1995
20. The Indian and the White Man Helen Hunt Jackson A Century of Dishonor Boston 1887
21. Bugles, Banners and War Bonnets Ernest L. Reedstrom Bonanza Books New York 1986
22. Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars 1865-1890 Volume 4 Peter Cozzens Stack Pole Books 2001
23. The Redman George Armstrong Custer The Harrisonian Journal of the Harrison County, Ohio

      Historical Society Number 2 1989