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The Sioux

Source: Legends Of The Kaw

Although Minnesota has been called the "Land of the Dakotas," the Sioux,
as well as the Pawnees, roamed over the entire Mississippi Basin,
previous to its settlement; and were found, at different times, in
Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. They are now located principally in
South Dakota.

The word "Sioux" is of French origin. The tribes to whom it was applied
called themselves "Dakotas" meaning "allied," or "joined together." The
Indians in general, alluded to them as "cut-throats," drawing the hand
across the throat in pantomime reference.

There were three great divisions of the nation; the I-san-ya'-ti,
I-hank-ton'-wan, or Yankton, and the Ti-ton'-wan. Each division had its

Among these Arabs of America, the chiefs were not possessed of undue
power. They might suggest, but seldom enforced; and usually depended
for influence upon popularity with the people. The Indian is by far the
most ardent advocate of liberty.

If a Dakota died, his nearest friend killed an enemy. The dead were laid
upon scaffolds and allowed to remain a certain length of time, after
which burial took place. The grief and devotion of a savage wife are
brought out in the old legend of Eagle Eye and Scarlet Dove.

Eagle Eye was the son of a famous war prophet who lived many years ago.
The young brave was a bitter foe, a warm friend and a wise counsellor.
Scarlet Dove, whom he chose as a wife, was distinguished for goodness as
well as for beauty; and in the eyes of her father, was worth the finest
of horses and blankets. Eagle Eye did not hesitate to pay the required
price; and, according to custom, prepared a lodge for his bride. Only a
few moons after the marriage they joined a hunting party passing down
the Mississippi River.

One day as the husband, watching for deer, crouched behind some bushes,
a comrade accidentally shot an arrow into his heart. The lamentations of
Scarlet Dove could be heard from afar. She cut and lacerated her flesh
in a terrible manner; and wrapping the body of her loved one in skins,
put it upon a temporary scaffold and sat beneath. The hunting party
moved. She carried the dead upon her back, and at every camp erected a
scaffold. At length they reached home, the sorrowing bride still bearing
her precious burden. She procured forks and poles and built a strong
scaffold. Hanging from this, was discovered a few days later, the body
of Scarlet Dove.

Mirrors, when first introduced among the Dakotas, were regarded as
sacred; and women were denied the privilege of gazing therein. As a
consequence, the young men of the nation became the more remarkable for
vanity, decking themselves out to an unusual degree with savage finery.
An eagle feather, with a red spot, denoted the killing of an enemy. A
notch cut in the edges of a feather painted red indicated that the
throat of an enemy had been cut. One who had seen a fight, even though
he might not have participated, was allowed to mount a feather. Horses'
tails, beads, wampum and a variety of paints were also used by way of

The women were hard-working and submissive. Plural marriages being
fertile sources of discontent, suicides were not infrequent.

Anepetusa was an unfortunate wife, whose sad story has become a part of
the traditional history of Minnesota. When young and beautiful she
became the bride of a Dakota hunter. For a time all was peace and
contentment in the lodge. Anepetusa was a happy wife, and her joy was
increased by the birth of a child. The boy grew strong and handsome, as
the years passed by; but, at length, a deep shadow fell across the
threshold of the forest home. A second wife was purchased, and came to
share the humble habitation. All the world seemed dark to the
now-neglected woman. The child was her sole remaining comfort. An
expression of deep sorrow settled upon the once beautiful features, yet
no murmur escaped her lips. Grieving in silence, she followed her lord
and master upon a hunting expedition. He appeared utterly indifferent to
this devotion. They approached the Falls of St. Anthony. Taking the
child by the hand, Anepetusa walked out into rapid water and entered a
canoe. As they pushed into the swift current she chanted an unearthly
dirge. A moment afterward the astonished husband saw her go over the
falls. His heart was stricken with terror by the wild ringing of a death
song that could be plainly distinguished above the roaring of the

From that time forth, so the Dakotas said, the spirit of an Indian wife,
with a child clinging around her neck, might be seen darting into the
spray; and her death song was heard in the moaning of the winds and the
raging of the waters.

Each Dakota was supposed to have four souls. At the extinction of
physical life, one remained in or near the body, another was lodged in a
bundle containing hair and clothes of the deceased, kept by relatives
and thrown into the enemy's country, the third passed into the spirit
land, and the fourth entered the body of a child, plant or animal.

The following petition, translated by a United States interpreter, was a
typical prayer of these primitive people:

"Spirits, or ghosts, have mercy on me; and show me where I can find a

All unusual occurrences were regarded as good or evil omens. In crossing
a lake or other body of water, the Dakotas filled their pipes and
invoked the winds to be calm. According to Schoolcraft, they did not
believe in the transmigration of souls. Worship was in a natural state.
There were no images of wood. A stone was picked up, placed a few rods
from the lodge, an offering of tobacco or feathers was made, and an
entreaty for protection from some threatened evil.

O-an-tay'-hee, the supreme god, was regarded with the utmost reverence.
His name, like that of Jehovah of the Israelites, was seldom spoken. He
created the earth. Assembling the aquatic tribes, he commanded them to
bring up dirt from beneath the water, at the same time proclaiming death
to the disobedient. This would indicate that the Indian, as well as the
modern scientist, realized the fact that the earth was in a liquid state
at one period. The beaver and other animals forfeited their lives. At
last the muskrat went down and, after a long delay, returned with some
dirt, from which the earth was formed.

Taking one of his own offspring, O-an-tay'-hee ground him to powder and
sprinkled it upon the earth; many worms came forth; they were collected
and scattered again and matured into infants; these, having been
collected and scattered, became full-grown Dakotas. The bones of the
mastodon were assumed to be those of O-an-tay'-hee; and in some
medicine bags, small portions were preserved among the sacred articles.

Hay-o-kah was a powerful deity, who could kill anything he looked upon,
with his piercing eyes. There were four persons in this godhead. The
first was tall and slender, with two faces. In his hands were a bow
streaked with red lightning and a rattle of deer claws. The second, a
little old man with a cocked hat and large ears, held a yellow bow. The
third had a flute suspended from his neck; and the fourth, invisible and
mysterious, was the gentle breeze which "swayed the grass and rippled
the water."

Taku-shkan-shkan, unseen but ever present, was a revengeful,
dissimulating, wicked searcher of hearts. His favorite resorts were the
four winds.

Wah-keen-yan, a god in the form of a huge bird whose flapping wings made
thunder, lived in a tepee on a mound rising from a mountain-top in the
far West. His tepee, guarded by sentinels clothed in red down, had four
openings. A butterfly was stationed at the east, a bear at the west, a
fawn at the south and a reindeer at the north. He fashioned the first
spear and tomahawk and attempted to kill the offspring of O-an-tay'-hee,
his bitter enemy. When lightning struck, it was supposed that the latter
was near the surface of the earth and Wah-keen-yan had fired a hot
thunderbolt at him.

Captain Eastman writes of Unk-ta-he, the God of Water, and
Chah-o-ter'-dah, the Forest God, who lived in a tree on a high eminence.
His house was situated at its base. By a strange power of attraction, he
drew birds, who performed the duties of guards.

Chah-o-ter'-dah was the relentless foe of the Thunder God. Indian fancy
has pictured many a spirited battle between the two. It was said that
the God of Thunder often came racing along, hurling lightning at a tree,
to kill the Forest God, who, having been warned, had taken refuge in the
water. Then Chah-o-ter'-dah ascended a tree and hurled his lightning at
his adversary to bring him down to submission. The Forest God possessed
a crooked gun, with which it was possible to shoot in any direction
around the earth.

The God of the Grass, Whitte-kah-gah, was formed from a weed,
pa-jee-ko-tah, which had the power of causing men to have fits, as
well as to give success in hunting.

Wa-hun-de-dan (Aurora Borealis, or Old Woman) was the goddess of war.

The Dakotas believed in numerous fairies of the land and water, in the
shape of animals, with ability to perform various services for mankind;
and in frightful giants, in whose honor were established many feasts and
dances. There was a clan called the "Giant's Party." Men only
participated in the ceremonies of this organization. On stated
occasions, they went hopping and singing around the fire, over which
kettles of meat were boiling. Every few moments, one would put in a hand
and pull out a piece of meat, which he ate, scalding hot. After it was
all eaten, the dancers splashed hot water on one another's backs, crying
out "Oh, how cold it is!"

The impression among the people was that the god would not permit his
clan to be injured by these rites.

In some feasts of the Dakotas, everything was sacred. Not a morsel of
meat was permitted to fall to the ground, otherwise the spirits would be
displeased and some calamity might befall. Bones were gathered up and
burned, or thrown into the water, out of reach of the dogs and so they
could not be trampled on by the women. Sometimes a present was bestowed
upon the one who ate his dishful first. This caused much haste, as soon
as eating began, accompanied by a great blowing, stirring and grunting.

The Medicine Dance, instituted by O-an-tay'-hee, was conducted as the
proceedings of a secret society. War prophets and medicine men, waw
keen, were revered as demi-gods. They were believed to have led
spiritual existences, enclosed in seeds, something like those of the
thistle, which were wafted to the abode of the gods, with whom the waw
keen sustained confidential relations. They received instruction in
the magic of the spirit-land and went out to study all nations; then,
selecting a location, were born into the world.

When, at the proper time, a person signified his desire to join the
priesthood, he was initiated by the Medicine Dance. First, the candidate
must take a hot bath, four days in succession; then he was taught the
uses of medicine and its mysteries by the old men of the society; after
which, he was provided with a dish and spoon. On one side of the dish
was carved the head of some animal, in which lived the spirit of Eeyah,
the Glutton God. The owner always thereafter carried the dish to the
Medicine Dance. He was taught the use of paints and must always appear
in the dance, decorated in the same manner. The paint was supposed to
have supernatural virtue and caused an object to become invisible or
invulnerable. In battle, it was regarded as a life preserver.

Before beginning the dance of initiation, ten or twenty prominent
members spent the night dancing and feasting. In the morning, the tent
was opened. The candidate, painted and nude, with the exception of
breech-cloth and moccasins, was seated on a pile of blankets, an elder
being stationed in the rear. The master of ceremonies, bag in hand,
approached, ejaculating, "Heen, heen, heen!" and raising the bag to a
painted spot upon the breast of the novice. Suddenly the latter was
pushed forward and covered with blankets. The dancers collected around
him. The leader, throwing off the covering, chewed a piece of the bone
of O-an-tay'-hee and sprinkled it over him. Dancing around the
candidate, the members patted his breast until he heaved up a shell,
which had been placed in his throat. Life was now fully restored; and
the shell was passed from hand to hand for examination. Ceremonies
closed with more dancing, continued until four sets of singers, with
gourds, drums and rattles, had been exhausted.

War parties were made up by anyone injured. The head of the party was a
great medicine man or prophet, or one distinguished in some way. The
war chief made a dance every three or four nights, before the party
marched. All who chose might join, and anyone was at liberty to return,
should he so desire, after the party started. War paint was red and
black in color, and the dance was executed by men.

Women performed the Scalp Dance, in which scalps, mounted upon poles,
were carried. The Sun Dance was another popular festivity, and has been
said to be the cause of the weak eyes, noticeable among the devotees.

When the Sioux were in a complete state of barbarism, strange as it may
seem, they maintained a high standard of morality. Violation of the code
was invariably followed by complete loss of rights in the tribe. At
certain celebrations, maidens proclaimed their purity by joining in the
dance. Coming in contact with the white race, the Indians first adopted
their vices, then, as civilization advanced and the younger members of
the tribes returned from schools and colleges, they began to emulate
the virtues of their conquerors.

Taking the Degree of Manhood was a savage custom adhered to by the
Dakotas until a recent date. When youths had attained proper age, they
proved a right to the degree by torturing themselves in different ways.
Sometimes a skewer was driven through the arm and heavy articles hung
upon the projecting ends. The flesh was cut and bruised. If an aspirant
bore the pain without flinching, he was deemed worthy of all privileges
accorded to men. These practices have been discontinued by order of the
United States Government.

(Sitting Bull.)]

Travelers in the Sioux country are frequently entertained with recitals


Sitting Bull, the famous commander at the Custer massacre, was, during
his prosperous years, the chief of chiefs, or supreme head of the
nation. He first inherited the office, and was able to retain it
because of mental superiority and by reason of the fact that, until the
last hope was gone, he assumed an uncompromising position in regard to
the encroachment of the whites. Then, too, Ta-ton-ka-I-yo-ton-ka was a
medicine man, capable of arousing religious fervor. That he was cruel
toward the enemies of his people cannot be denied; but, according to the
red man's philosophy, that was simple bravery and loyalty.

The authority of a leader was seldom questioned, although a petty chief
was privileged to disregard orders, should he so desire.

Sitting Bull left an autobiography in pictograph. It contained a
description of conflicts in which the hero had counted coup on
numerous enemies, both white and Indian, and secured their scalps. There
were also records of horse-stealing. The signature consisted of the
picture of a buffalo in a sitting posture. Little is known of the early
history of the chief; his own accounts vary; he seemed to be well
educated, and could converse fluently in French and English, as well as
in the different Indian languages.

The Custer massacre took place in 1877. After the Sioux war had ended
and the savages had surrendered, placing themselves under the protection
of the Government, they were retained as prisoners at Fort Randall,
South Dakota. The commandant caused a stockade to be erected, but
Sitting Bull refused to enter it, selecting, in preference, a strip of
bottom land close to the river, for winter quarters, in order that there
might be plenty of fire-wood near at hand. In summer, a pleasant
location about three hundred yards from the garrison, was chosen, where
a guard, composed of one non-commissioned officer and nine men, was
stationed. At that time a majority of the prisoners had not learned
cleanliness, and for the purpose of improving sanitary conditions, the
quarters were inspected daily by the post surgeon and the officer of the
day. Every one was compelled to wash each morning. A soldier asserts
that some of the Indians appeared heart-broken and became sick and
died. Might it not be more just to explain that daily baths in the
river, in a cold climate, were the causes of mortality?

A death was followed by the customary rites. On every hill in the
vicinity of the camp a woman might be seen and heard, mourning and
howling, in the hope that the departed would return to make an
assignment of his effects, which were few, inasmuch as the most valuable
articles had been lowered into the grave. Among them were usually placed
a knife, tin cup, moccasins, blanket and piece of buckskin. The ancient
rule of laying the dead upon a scaffold was not permitted to be put into

Burials took place in the day, and at night grand dances were held.
Indians on the opposite side of the river were invited to participate.
Tin cans, which had been collected and taken to the tepees, served as
musical instruments. The noise and confusion were sometimes deafening,
dances being kept up almost continuously. Both men and women spent much
time in making arrow tips from old iron hoops.

While at Fort Randall, Sitting Bull received an order from the
quartermaster for three sacks of hay. Accompanied by a slave wife and a
favorite, he presented the order. The large army bed sacks were calmly
handed to the man in charge, who refused to fill them, telling the
Indian to attend to that himself. The Sioux then turned to the slave
wife, commanding her to perform the menial office. She did so with most
abject humility, tying the bundle with a piece of rawhide; then the poor
creature crawled beneath the huge mass, pushing her head under it first
and gradually forcing the burden upon her back. This accomplished, she
rose slowly upon hands and knees and at last regained her feet. Being
asked, indignantly, why he did not assist the woman, the great chief
answered with an expressive grunt.

An army officer, Major McLaughlin, secured several autographs of the
celebrated leader, but found it impossible to induce him to sit for a
photograph, until he had obtained twenty-five dollars and a white shirt.
The shirt proved too small, but the chief fastened it at the back of the
neck with a buckskin string. Despite these weaknesses, he was dignified
in behavior and apparently unmoved by curiosity, although the room of
the officer contained many objects new and strange to him.

During a severe storm, lightning struck a tree near the Indian camp,
forty or fifty yards from the tent of Ta-ton-ka-I-yo-ton-ka. He
immediately broke camp and removed to summer quarters, saying the evil
spirit was after his people. Nothing could convince him that the Great
Spirit was not angry with him for leaving Canada, when he crossed to the
American side and surrendered, after the Custer massacre, at the Little
Big Horn. He said that all the water in the Missouri River could not
wash out the white man's stains of crime.

Spotted Tail and Red Cloud were also dangerous to the peace of the
northwestern country. Spotted Tail had two attractive daughters, one of
whom died on the way to Fort Laramie, while the Indians were going in to
surrender. Thomas Dorion, the man who went out as a messenger of peace,
desired to marry the girl and she expressed a willingness to become his
wife. It was largely due to her influence with her father, that he and
Red Cloud consented to accompany the emissary to Fort Laramie to hold
council and make a treaty. Her sad life and premature death, which was,
no doubt, the result of exposure and the vicissitudes of war, aroused
great sympathy. The other daughter, Water Carrier, was much admired by
the army officers and received many valuable presents. One of her
relatives asserts that the officers seemed infatuated, but that she
never manifested any reciprocity. Water Carrier was deeply attached to
her father's people and became the wife of Lone Elk. They live at the
Rosebud Agency, South Dakota.

The Sioux, like all tribes, are rapidly discarding their ancient
beliefs. Government schools have done effective work; and while the
number of "squaw men," or those who marry into the nation, is less than
in the tribes of the Indian Territory, there is yet a liberal infusion
of white blood. The dances, in a revised form, are, of recent years,
indulged in by way of recreation or for the amusement of spectators.

Next: The Kaws And Osages

Previous: The Pawnees

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