Homer: How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?
I've just checked DeMallie: Short Man was known as Short Bull #2 - presumably Short Bull the Ghost Dancer was #1?! However, I do 't know if this is the same count Linea Sundstrum refers to on the Beuchel site, or indeed, if it's the man you're interested in!
New Techniques Show That Several Historians Produced Lakota Winter Count
A painted muslin winter count with pictures representing Lakota history from 1752 to 1887 seemingly includes contributions from a series of different Lakota historians, according to a recent technical analysis of the overlapping painted fibers conducted by Ellen Pearlstein of UCLA. Her analysis of the Rosebud Winter Count involved methods ranging from visual inspection to X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF).
One goal of the analysis was to identify stages in the production of the winter count by determining whether the media and style of application were consistent or varied throughout the piece. An analysis of the materials and their overlapping established four distinct applications of media. A second goal was to date the production of the winter count, which includes media such as graphite, chrome yellow and vermilion that were available since the 18th century. But Perlstein also identified one color, Prussian blue, that was applied to the winter count in a form that was not available until the late 19th century, allowing her to establish an "earliest possible date" for production of the winter count as a whole. Pearlstein's physical analysis complements recent studies of the history and iconography of the Rosebud winter count such as those that appear in The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (Greene and Thornton, eds. University of Nebraska Press, 2007).
Perlstein's work was performed in the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute, directly above the National Anthropological Archives, which allowed this extensive analysis of the winter count to be conducted on-site. A few pigment samples were further tested by Raman microspectoscopy, using samples that Pearlstein submitted to a colleague at the Getty Museum Scientific Lab. Ms. Pearlstein is Academic Coordinator and Adjunct Assistant Professor for UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Ethnographic and Archaeological Materials, which provides graduate education and training in conservation practice and related materials analysis.
Pictographic communication was an important aspect of traditional Plains Indian culture. The various Plains tribes developed highly efficient means of conveying messages through the medium of pictures. While picture-writing apparently was not as pervasive as the better-known Plains Indian sign language (e.g. Clark 1881), it was just as sophisticated in its ability to convey detailed information quickly and accurately. The use of pictographic writing was abandoned only after the English learned in government and mission schools began to replace native tongues as the principal language of discourse among Native Americans.
Plains Indian pictography made use of several media. Studies of rock art suggest that picture-writing had its roots in a style of representational art related to the vision-quest ceremonial complex (Keyser 1979, 1987; Sundstrom 1990). This art--termed the Ceremonial style to distinguish it from a later Biographic style--comprised static representations of warriors with shields, each shield being decorated with those symbols and tokens dictated by the owner's vision. Ceremonial art gradually gave way to a more pictographic style of art--termed the Biographic style--as the equestrian Plains warrior complex developed in the wake of the introduction of the horse into native cultures in the region.
Biographic art was a means of depicting, and thereby validating and publicizing, the exploits of warriors in battle and horse-raiding. The shift from representations of visions to personal accomplishments required that Biographic art develop ways of showing actions, personal and tribal identity, and narrative, so that the event could be accurately reconstructed by anyone viewing the picture. This was the beginning of true pictography in Plains Indian culture. In the context of Biographic art, pictographic conventions were developed for showing personal and tribal identity, series of actions or events, and even an individual's social standing (D. Smith 1949; Keyser 1987; Mallery 1886, 1893; Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967; Vatter 1927).
While rock art provides the earliest evidence for a pictographic communication system among the Plains Indians, ethnographic materials provide evidence for the pervasive influence of pictography on northern Plains Indian culture. From pre-contact period painted animal hides to drawings on protohistoric trade cloth and reservation-period ledger books, pictography was integral to Plains Indian representational art. Such pictographic artworks served four main functions. The first, and most common, was the use of pictographs to record and publicize warriors' accomplishments in battle, hunting, and horse-raiding. The second was to transmit messages from individuals or groups to one another. A third function was record-keeping, including the calendrical and historic functions of the winter counts and the census function of the tribal rosters. Finally, during the reservation period, pictographic drawings of the old life were produced for nostalgic and commercial reasons (i.e. for sale to non-Indians) (Heidenreich 1983; Dunn 1969; Peterson 1968, 1971; Ritzenthaler 1961).
Nowhere was Plains Indian picture-writing more highly developed than among the Lakota and their Middle Dakota allies, the Yanktonai. Garrick Mallery's nineteenth century tomes on the pictography of native North America devote special attention to Lakota and Middle Dakota materials, including picture messages, band rosters, and winter counts (Mallery 1877, 1886, 1893).
The term Dakota refers to a confederacy of seven tribes or macrobands ("council fires"), all speaking dialects of Dakota, a Siouan language (Howard 1980; DeMallie 1982). The confederacy has traditionally been broken into three groups, reflecting linguistic divisions. The easternmost division is known as the Santee (or Isanti), comprising the Sisseton, Mdewakanton, Wapekute, and Wahpeton. These groups employ the eastern or Dakota dialect of the Dakota language. The middle Dakota division includes the Nakota-speaking Yankton and Yanktonai. The Lakotas or Tetons make up the western division, and speak the Lakota dialect. The Lakotas traditionally were thought to include seven bands or subtribes including the Oglala, Minneconjou, Oohenonpa (Two Kettles), Itazipco (Sans Arcs), Sicangu (Brule), Hunkpapa, and Sihasapa (Blackfoot) bands.
In reality, the organization of the Dakota confederacy and the Lakota council fire was more flexible and irregular than this implies. Each of the seven Lakota bands comprised several sub- bands or camps, and at this level in particular social structure was quite fluid. New camps or bands could splinter off any time; similarly, two or more camps or bands could join for protection or convenience.
In the following discussion, Dakota is used to refer to the Sioux confederacy (but usually exclusive of the eastern, or Santee division, which in the period under discussion had little in common with the prairie-dwelling Middle Dakota and Lakota). The term Lakota, by contrast, refers to the western division of the Dakota. At the time of Euroamerican contact, the territory of the Lakota extended from east of the Missouri River in South Dakota to the Bighorn Mountains of central Wyoming and Montana, and from central North Dakota south to the Platte River in Nebraska. Hunting expeditions occasionally took the Lakota even farther west and south. The Middle Dakota Yankton and Yanktonai occupied portions of what is now eastern North and South Dakota, east of the Missouri River.
Dakota Winter Counts
Winter counts can be thought of as pictographic representations of chronology (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967). James Howard (1960:28) described the Plains Indian winter count as follows:
A typical winter count consisted of a tanned bison hide on the flesh side of which a pictograph of a single important or unusual event was drawn or painted to record each passing year. These records were kept by native historians who memorized a short text for each of the pictographs explaining their meaning. The pictographs thus served as mnemonic aids. The term 'winter-count' derives from the Indian custom of reckoning time by means of 'winters' rather than calendar years in the European sense.
The earliest known Dakota winter counts took the form of pictographs painted on tanned hides. Each pictograph represented an event chosen to represent a particular "winter" or year. This event served as the name used to refer to that year--for example "smallpox used them up" year. One could determine the passage of time by counting back on the pictographs from the current year to the year in question. For example, a person's age could be determined by counting back to the pictograph representing his birth year. The pictographs thus served as a mnemonic device for recalling the year names. Year names, in turn, stood for events of significance to the band or individual, and thus served to codify and preserve band history.
Winter counts from the post-contact period initially took the form of pictographs on cloth or paper. These were copied from earlier versions painted on animal hides. Later, these were reduced to written lists of year names in Lakota or English translation. When a winter count began to wear out, it would be copied onto a new hide or piece of cloth. Counts could also be copied for the use of others or for sale to interested parties. Many of the known counts thus are copies of others. The earliest winter counts in existence today do not extend back further than the middle of the eighteenth century (ca. 1759). It appears that there was no compelling interest to maintain year names indefinitely. As time passed and the persons referred to in events were no longer living and the events themselves no longer of great relevance to the people, the earlier year names would be dropped off, or perhaps simply forgotten.
Winter counts were maintained by individuals, who voluntarily filled the semi-official position of band historian. As a rule, there was one winter count per band or camp, although anyone was free to start his own winter count or to receive an existing count from another. Count-keepers often filled the role of band story-teller, as well, and each usually trained a younger member of the band or family in the maintenance of the count and the recitation of the year names and related narratives.
Year names were decided on by the individual count-keeper, with or without the consultation of the ruling elders of the group. Year events were chosen for their importance to the camp or band or simply for their memorability, and were not necessarily intended to be narrative (Mallery 1886; Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967). In other words, both historical significance and entertainment value were considered in selecting year names. The most common categories of events represented by year names include battles and casualties, contacts with non-natives, severe winter and famine, ceremonies and dances, abundance of food, astronomical events, domestic violence, camps, and epidemics, in roughly that order of frequency (cf. Cheney 1979).
The Thin Elk Winter Count
The winter count referred to herein as the Thin Elk winter count is a pictographic record covering the years 1821 through 1877. It takes the form of a square of unbleached muslin, on which pictographs are drawn in ink and paint (Figure 1). The pictures are arranged in a squared spiral fashion starting at the upper left hand corner of the cloth and ending in the center. The count was formerly on display at the Beuchel Memorial Lakota Museum at the St. Francis Indian Mission, St. Francis, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. While on display the count bore the following label: "This winter count was made and kept by 'Wata Peta' (Steamboat). Old Man Thin Elk received it from him long ago." At the time this paper was first written (1992), I was unable to obtain any additional information on the count from the staff of the Lakota Museum.
At that time, it appeared that no accompanying text or explanation of the Thin Elk count was in existence. As a purely pictographic record, the Thin Elk count was an ideal subject for exploring Lakota pictography as a communication vehicle. The Thin Elk count posed several research questions. First, could the count be identified as to its individual keeper, band affiliation, or relation to other winter counts? Second, could the year names comprising the original winter count text be reconstructed from the pictographs alone? Third, how do the pictographs convey this information? Specifically, can certain symbols and arrangements of symbols be directly understood as texts, in the same way that spoken or written utterances are understood? If so, it should be possible to produce a "lexicon" of symbols and a "grammar" of their arrangement that can serve as a key to interpreting this and possibly other pictographic winter counts (cf. Keyser 1987).
My study of the Thin Elk winter count first entailed a reading of available works on Plains Indian pictography (Mallery 1886, 1893; D. Smith 1949; Vatter 1927; Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967; Dunn 1969; Ewers 1939; Heidenreich 1983; Keyser 1987; Peterson 1968,1971; Ritzenthaler 1961; Rodee 1965). This was done to supply a basis for interpreting the pictographs, independent of comparative texts from other winter counts, which obviously would affect my reading of the pictographs. Some of the pictographic devices expected in Dakota winter counts, based on these sources are: (1) the use of small symbols to represent the name or personal identity of the subject of the pictograph, (2) the use of hairstyle, costume, and signs to indicate tribal identity, (3) the use of drawings of sign language gestures to convey certain concepts, and (4) position of the elements of the pictograph indicating the subject and object of the action depicted.
Next, a year name was suggested to correspond to each pictograph on the Thin Elk count. These were based solely on information contained in the pictures themselves, as well as a general understanding of Lakota social organization and world view.
Finally, a list of pictographic devices used in the Thin Elk count was compiled and conclusions were drawn concerning the use of pictographs to convey information in this winter count.
Much later (2003), staff at the Buechel Museum found and provided me with a textual interpretation of the winter count made at the time of its acquisition by Father Buechel. This is written in Lakota in blue ink on five sheets of unlined paper. A few additions were made in graphite pencil. This document is cataloged as follows: STEAMBOAT (WATA PETA) COUNT, winters of 1821-1822 to 1877-1878. Lakota, handwritten on unlined paper, blue ink with additions in graphite pencil. 5 pages from 3 folded sheets shard with Big Missouri Count (8). Another transcription of the Steamboat winter count covers the years 1821/22 to 1931. Apparently, Thin Elk continued Steamboat’s count after the latter’s death.
A note at the top of the Lakota transcript reads: “Wata peta’s (Steamboat’s) winter-count. [The word Steam is lined out and replaced with Fire.] He was a Mnikonwoju (Mnikonju). He wrote (painted) our copy at St. Francis and gave it to (old man) Thin Elk when he was in [illegible] country ([illegible]). Thin Elk left that place in 1876; but Wata peta had died as an old man before this time. (Information & the following from old man Thin Elk.)”
It appears that Steamboat (or possibly Thin Elk) made two copies of the pictographic winter count acquired by Father Buechel. These are essentially the same, except that the first copy is marred by an ink spill. It was this first copy that was photographed and used for my original study. The second copy probably was made after the first was damaged by the ink spill. Both are in the collections of the Buechel Museum. Although this later information clarifies that the pictographic winter count that ends in 1877-1878 was Thin Elk’s copy of Steamboat’s winter count, I began the study by referring to it as the Thin Elk winter count, and I have chosen to retain that designation here.
The appearance of the list of Lakota year-names that corresponds with the winter-count has proven useful in checking the interpretations I made using the pictographs alone. Altogether, the results clearly demonstrated the narrative nature of Lakota pictography as used in winter-counts. As a person separated from the author of the winter-count both culturally and temporally, I nevertheless was able to interpret—not to say read—the pictographs with a high degree of accuracy.
Note: the symbol ħ is used here in place of the dotted-h standard in the Lakota orthography used when the winter-count text was written. This substitution is necessitated by the lack of the dotted-h in standard MS Word® computer fonts.
Comparison of the Thin Elk Count with Other Winter Counts
In this comparison, the first text given (in italics) is my initial interpretation of the year-name represented by a given pictograph, based on a reading of Mallery and other publications on Plains Indian pictography. Where appropriate, this is followed by a second year-name arrived at after comparing the Thin Elk pictographs with other winter count texts and pictographs. Below these appear the Lakota text provided by Thin Elk and an English translation of it. The year given before the year-name is the estimated calendar year represented by the pictograph, based on the comparisons with other, dated texts and pictographs.
For lack of a good English equivalent, the Lakota word wasicu is used throughout to refer to non-Indians.
1821 Meteor. Meteor.
Wicaħpi wan hoton hiyaye. A star passed by crying out.
The first pictograph on the Thin Elk count is a large red star on a blue background. The blue background indicates a night sky and the large star could only be a meteor or comet of unusual size, brilliance, appearance, or proximity. Many of the Lakota winter counts for this year record the appearance of a meteor that made a singing or whistling noise as it passed overhead before falling to earth.
1822 Leg [name element or event?]; Wasicu house. Peeler froze his leg; Joseph built a log house.
Tahúnska tanka titanka kage. Big Leggings built a large house.
This year comprises two pictographs, not apparently related to the same event. The first is a disembodied leg; the second a Euroamerican style house (as indicated by the rectangular shape and pitched roof). In this instance, the pictographs alone do not contain sufficient information to reconstruct the year name completely. Two sets of year names from other counts indicate that two separate events are indicated by the 1822 pictographs. The first refers to a wasicu called Peeler (a nickname apparently referring to his habit of whittling) having frozen his leg or legs. In Lakota, the same word is used to mean both froze and burned (in the context of bodily injury), the proper translation depending on the context; therefore, some of the counts translate this event as "Peeler burned his leg."
Other winter counts refer to the building of a log [or rotten-wood] house or trading post by a wasicu named Joseph, "Choze," or Jose, near the mouth of the Little Missouri or Bad River near Ft. Pierre, on Sioux land. As far as the winter counts indicate, Joseph and Peeler were two different men; perhaps both events were included in Thin Elk to indicate an influx of non-Indians into the area that year.
The Joseph referred to was probably Joseph Renville, a Columbia Fur Company trader who was among the first to build a trading post on the Missouri (Robinson 1956). He was half Dakota. Alternatively, the trader Joseph Juitt (or Jewitt) may be referred to (Hyde 1961:25); the better-known Joseph Bissonette was a trader in Dakota country at a later time (Hyde 1961).
The Lakota text gives a single year-name. The disembodied leg is not a separate reference, but a pictograph for the Lakota name or nickname of the trader. I do not know which, if any, of the above men was called Big Leggings in Lakota. This nickname was applied much later to Johnny Brughière, a mixed-blood who fought with Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa warriors in 1876 and served as Sitting Bull’s interpreter in negotiations with Colonel Nelson Miles (Vestal 1932:195-202).
1823 [Wasicu hat, bow and arrow; wasicu house.] Lakotas joined Leavenworth in an attack on the Ree.
Iťazipco waśicun ob atakpe ai. The Sans Arc went with the wacisus to attack.
As with the previous year, the pictographs alone do not indicate a complete year name. It is unclear whether the three items depicted all refer to one event, or to two separate events.
Comparison with other winter counts reveals what at first appear to be two themes connected to this year: corn and a U.S. Army campaign against the Arikara (or Ree) villages along the Missouri River. In fact, both refer to the same event: a U.S. military campaign against the Arikara in August of 1823, in which 700-800 Dakota warriors (mostly Yanktons) were recruited to join in the attack. During the siege of the two Arikara villages under attack, the Dakotas took (or were given by the U.S. soldiers) dried corn from the Arikara fields and winter stores. Although the wasicu hat and house shown in the pictograph might be conjectured to refer to the building of a house or trading post (see preceding year), in the Thin Elk winter count the bow and arrow clearly refer to intertribal conflict, as will be seen in succeeding year names.
For some reason, the meaning of many of the year names in the counts used for comparison has been lost or garbled. In some instances a year name has obviously been manufactured to match a pictograph for which the original meaning was lost. For example, several year names refer to corn, indicating that a corn ear or stalk was the pictograph used for the year. Some, such as "plenty of dried corn," do not contradict the Lakota-U.S. attack on the Ree, but others, such as "wasicu taught the Dakotas to plant corn," are hardly credible as actual events. (It should be noted, however, that Hyde  accepted the latter event as factual and cited it as the origin of the name of the Corn Band of the Brule.)
Two possible explanations can be offered regarding the confusion over this year name. First, it may be that the corn was received second-hand from bands that participated in the military campaign, as Yy-BT would indicate; thus, its source may not have been clearly known to those receiving it. Secondly, as the U.S. military threat to native sovereignty became increasingly severe, and tribes became more united in their opposition to the U.S. military, it may have been unacceptable to admit to having aided the common enemy in such a campaign and tribal lore may have been altered accordingly.
The site of this event is known to archaeologists as the Leavenworth village. Following the attack, the Arikaras temporarily sought refuge with Mandans upriver. They soon returned to their own village, remaining there until 1832. Over the next three decades, they relocated several times, including stays with the Skidi Pawnee on the Loup River in Nebraska and two villages on the Missouri. In 1862, they joined the remnant Mandan and Hidatsa villagers at Like-a-Fishhook, the last earthlodge village on the Missouri (Wedel 1961:207-208).
1824 Lakota killed [or wounded] a horse or horses in peacetime. Swan had all his horses killed by his fellows.
Maga ska śunk áťeyapi. They destroyed Swan’s horses.
The pictograph shows a man holding the reins of a horse "killed" or wounded in the neck. The lack of specific tribal identifiers (such as hairstyle or costume) identifies the man as Lakota and his braided hairstyle signifies that the killing of the horse or horses was not an act of battle or horse-raiding. (The Lakotas traditionally wore the hair in two braids while in camp and on peaceful pursuits and unbound while on hostile pursuits such as battle or horse-raiding.)
A few winter counts seem to refer to the same event and provide the textual detail that Swan, a Minneconjou, had a large number of horses killed by others of his own band. Although spite or jealousy is given as a motive, another possible explanation is that the horses were killed as a punishment for some breach of tribal law. Both the band chief and the akicita or camp marshals had authority to administer punishments to the person or property of miscreants. These punishments included confiscating and destroying personal property, horses and dogs. Also, the members of a band could kill the horses of their chief if they agreed that he had abused his power (DeMallie 1982). Since social status in equestrian Plains Indian society was closely tied to horse ownership (Mallery 1886), this was a punishment of considerable severity.
1825 Lakotas drowned. Many Lakotas drowned in a spring flood.
Mniwicáťa. People died in a flood.
The pictograph shows two people half-submerged in water, with their arms raised (not in swimming posture). Lack of evidence to the contrary identifies them as Lakotas.
This is a year name found on many of the Lakota winter counts. It apparently refers to an entire Yanktonai camp of 30 lodges having been drowned in a spring flood at Swan Lake Creek in Horsehead Bottom. This was on the Missouri, 15 miles south of Ft. Rice (Mallery 1886).
1826 They were starving [or ___________ starved]. Famine [among Oglalas] due to deep snow; a hunting party died after eating a spoiled bison carcass.
Jo gliťapi. One who whistles died upon returning home.
The pictograph shows a man with prominent ribs, a convention for indicating starvation. He is identified as Lakota due to lack of other tribal identifiers. The man has no hands, which usually would signify captivity or death at the hands of captors (cf. Eastman 1849). In this instance, the significance of the missing hands is not clear, unless it somehow indicates that the individual was part of a war-party or was a captive of a Lakota war-party.
Two possibly related themes show up in the other Lakota winter counts. The first simply refers to deep snow and famine related to deep snow. For example, "they boiled rushes [to eat]" and "deep snow, wore snowshoes to hunt." The other theme refers to a particular event in which six hunters or warriors died from eating spoiled meat. One named Kaiwa or Kaiwayo [or a Kiowa?] made it back to the camp to tell the tale and either survived or died later. Some of the counts supply the detail that they "died whistling"--that is, with gasses escaping from their bodies. Others are translated as "Kaiwa returned whistling" because he bore news of ghosts; this refers to the same event. Presumably, such an event would only occur during times of extreme famine. Thus, both groups of year names in the larger sense refer to famine. That famine and the deaths of the six men are most frequently mentioned and described in greatest detail in the Oglala winter counts may indicate that that band was the most directly affected by the winter famine.
Perhaps the man named Kaiwa was in fact a captive raised as a member of the Lakota band; this would explain both his unusual name and his lack of hand in the pictograph.
1827 Bandolier [name] or Wounded Arm was wounded in battle. Dead Arm was wounded in battle.
Istóksa t‛iktépi. Broken Arm was murdered.
A man with a band or sling across his shoulder and chest and wounded in the stomach is shown in this pictograph. He can be identified as Lakota for lack of indicators to the contrary. The inclusion of the bandolier or sling suggests either a name element or a tribal identifier. I could, however, find no use of this particular element as a tribal "tag"; comparison with other winter counts confirms that the individual's name is indicated. Although the more conventional method of indicating names is with a smaller pictograph connected to the head by a line (for example see the last entry, 1877), the name element was included as part of the main figure if this did not obscure the meaning of the overall pictograph.
The man is depicted with no hands, indicating that his wound was sustained in captivity or battle. In this winter count, fatal wounding and death in battle are shown by blood at the scalpline and on the chest of the individual; thus, a non-fatal wound is indicated. The actual wound may have been in the arm and not the chest, as the Thin Elk artist seems to use the bloody chest as a pictographic convention for all battle wounds.
Comparison with other winter counts provides the added detail that a Minneconjou named Dead Arm or Lame Shoulder was stabbed by a Gros Ventre or Mandan. The nickname Dead Arm may refer to this injury. All but one of these agree with the Thin Elk pictographer that the wound was not fatal.
1851 Lakota and other Indians made peace with each other. Treaty with Crows at Ft. Laramie.
Wakpamni tanka. The big issue [of annunities].
Two Indians are shown shaking hands with a calumet between them in this pictograph. The single eagle feather and rather plain hairstyle of one apparently are intended to indicate Lakota warrior identity. The head of the other figure is obscured by an ink stain, such that his tribal affiliation cannot be determined. The pipe, handshake, and braided hair all indicate peaceful intentions.
Comparisons with other counts confirm that a treaty council took place this year at Ft. Laramie. Most of the counts mention the issuing of annuities in reference to this council; however, a few, like Thin Elk, mention the establishment of peaceful relations with the Crow instead. The Lakota and Crow had been bitter enemies to that point and hostilities between them were not ended with this treaty, as will be seen from subsequent year names.
1852 Lakota stayed in lodge [because of deep snow?]. Deep snow; or Nez Perces came to Lone Horn's lodge at midnight.
P‛óge ħlóka t‛iop‛a. Nez Perce [lit. hollow nose] was within the house.
The pictograph shows a man inside a tipi. Both the man's hairstyle and the tipi can be identified as Lakota. The other Lakota winter counts mention two separate events that may relate to this pictograph. The first involves a midnight visit of a Nez Perce chief to the lodge of Lone Horn. Lone Horn was a Minneconjou chief in the Powder River country. He was the father of Touch-the-Clouds and Flying By and uncle of Crazy Horse. As one of the winter-count texts explains, the enemies entered his ghost-keeping lodge, in which no discord or conflict was allowed. This spared them from being attacked by the Lakotas. The second event was a winter of exceptionally deep snow.
Although the former would be a plausible interpretation of the Thin Elk pictograph in that it shows a man inside a tipi, there is no indication that the man inside is non-Lakota. In Lakota pictography, both Crow and Nez Perce are shown with a distinctive hairstyle of short hair at the front of the head made to stand up straight ("roached"). (Crow identity may be further indicated by long hair dressed with clay or gathered in a net at the back of the head.) If the Nez Perce incident were intended, the pictograph should contain some sign of non-Lakota identity in the subject of the pictograph. Also, the individual inside the tipi is not identified as Lone Horn--that is, with a horn on or near his head. Thus, the second explanation--that deep snow forced the Lakotas to keep to their lodges--is probably correct.
1853 Wasicu brought or issued Navajo blankets at or from a mountainous area. Navajo blankets were first brought from over the mountains.
Ħe ók‛iksa he el “Jola” [Little Joe] śina glegléga wiyapeya. Little Joe introduced patterned blankets from [beyond] the mountains.
A man with a Euroamerican style hat and what may be a Mexican vest is shown between two pine trees and above a Navajo-style blanket in this pictograph. The man's distinctive dress probably indicated not only his wasicu identity, but his personal identity as well. In Lakota pictography, pine trees are used as a sign for mountains or mountainous regions. The blanket is sufficiently detailed to be recognized as a Navajo weaving.
Several other winter counts confirm the initial interpretation of this pictograph and supply the additional detail that the man was a trader named "Joe" or "Jar." Navajo (or "Spanish") blankets were to become a favorite item of Lakota apparel, as evidenced by photographs taken of Lakotas during the early reservation period (Howard 1980; see also Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:309). The Lakota term for Navajo translates to "make- figured-robes [striped blankets] (DeMallie 1982). "Joe" and "Jar" apparently are corruptions of the name of the trader Charles Jordan. (There us a photograph of this man with the Brule chief Swift Bear in Hyde 1974, p. 220.)
The “la” suffix in the Lakota text can serve as a definitive article (“the”) or as a diminutive (“Joey”).
1854 Bear Paw [? name] was killed in hostilities. Brave Bear was killed by the enemy; or Conquering Bear was killed [by whites in a misunderstanding over a calf; 30 U.S. soldiers also were killed].
A man with chest wound and no hands is shown in this pictograph. A Lakota is intended, as no other tribal identifiers are present. Moreover, the man's name is provided, in the form of a bear paw glyph above his head. The red mark and lack of hands shown that the man was killed at the hands of enemies.
Three different events could be intended by this pictograph. The first is the death by freezing on a hunt of one Cross Bear or Mean Bear. The second is the death at the hands of Crow or Blackfeet warriors of Bear Heart or Brave Bear. The third is the infamous "Mormon cow" incident in which the Brule warrior Conquering Bear (or Brave Bear) and 30 U.S. cavalrymen lost their lives because of a misunderstanding over the theft of an emigrant's cow (Hyde 1937, 1961:56-62). (This also became known as the Grattan Massacre.) A fourth year name, "a bear stole a virgin," apparently is intended somewhat facetiously. According to Ella Deloria (cited in DeMallie 1982), a bear entering a camp was said to be like an unscrupulous young man looking for maidens. Such an occurrence is also a part of Lakota mythology (and semi-allegorical cautionary tales told to girls), but is not likely to have actually taken place. One count suggests an alternate explanation, that a person named Bear raped a virgin; however, this is not supported by evidence from the other winter counts.
It is not possible to determine which of these year names is correct for the Thin Elk winter count. The second, referring to the death in battle of Brave Bear, is most likely to be correct. The subject's lack of hands--indicating death or capture by the enemy--would not be included in the pictograph if the man had perished on the hunt rather than in conflict with the enemy. The Mormon cow incident had sweeping consequences for the Lakota (Sandoz 1942; see also entry for 1855) and would be a likely candidate for a year name. One would expect, however, some additional information on the nature of the conflict to have been included in the pictograph in this case--specifically, a picture of either a cow or a U.S. soldier. Brave Bear was shot in his own village, point blank, in front of a large party of warriors. Thus, "Brave Bear was killed by the enemy" is the most plausible interpretation. The American Horse winter count shows both a bear paw and a complete bear as name indicators for Conquering Bear.
1855 General Harney holds a [or the] Lakota captured in a battle. General Harney detained captured Lakotas.
Put‛inska (putehinska) (General) waakśijapi. White Beard [Harney] retained them.
The pictograph shows a man with a Euroamerican style hat and a white beard holding onto the arm of an Indian. The Indian can be identified as Lakota, as no tribal indicators to the contrary are present. A single feather on the Lakota's head apparently identifies him as a warrior. The white man is readily identified as General William S. Harney, whose Lakota nickname was Putin ska or White Beard. The lack of hands on the Lakota man indicates that he is a captive and his unbound hair indicates that he is ready for battle.
Comparison with other winter counts and a knowledge of the history of the Sioux Wars both confirm the interpretation based on the pictograph alone--that is, that General Harney held hostage Lakota warriors and women and children captured in a battle. The so-called Mormon cow incident (see entry for the previous year) was followed by a punitive raid on Little Thunder's Brules by General Harney at Ash Hollow in Nebraska, in which 86 Lakotas were killed and 70 men, women, and children were taken prisoner. Although the Brules captured by Harney had not been involved in the Grattan Massacre (some were women and children and most were from a different band), he nevertheless retained them as prisoners or hostages at Ft. Kearny in an attempt to force the surrender of those involved in the massacre and an attack on the U.S. Mail train at Horse Creek, and to coerce a treaty settlement favorable to the U.S. government (Hyde 1961:71-82). Harney demanded the surrender of the warriors involved in the attack on the mail train; the men who surrendered were kept at Fort Leavenworth for a year and then held several more weeks at Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory. Among the hostages were Spotted Tail and one of his wives and daughters.
While the most basic interpretation of the pictograph--interaction of some sort between whites and Indians--would be obvious to almost anyone, it is the details that tell the story. The Lakota man's lack of hands (captivity) and unbound hair (readiness to fight) convey the Lakota side of the story with remarkable efficiency and coherence.
Some of the year names refer to Hornet or Wasp rather than Harney--this is obviously a corruption of his name and adaptation of the corrupted form as a nickname, so that Harney becomes Hornet and Hornet becomes Wasp. (A similar incidence is recorded by Mallery  in which the nickname Many Deer, and a picture of two deer, is substituted for the name of General Maynadier.) One winter count gives the text "Wasp refuses to let them go," which the owner of the count interpreted as a poor Indian, Wasp, attempting to keep the Sundance encampment intact longer than usual. This is clearly an instance of inventing an interpretation to fit the text, just as it was seen earlier that interpretations were sometimes fabricated to fit pictographs whose original significance had been lost.
1856 Four-Horns sponsored a ceremony. Four-Horns sponsored a ceremony.
He tópa waálowan. Four Horns’s alowanipi.
A man with four horns on his head and holding a ceremonial feather lance is the subject of this pictograph. The man is presumed to be Lakota, since no other tribal indicators are present. The object he holds is used in ceremonies. Comparisons with other winter counts confirms the initial interpretation of the pictograph. The two counts referring to buffalo medicine do not refer to the same event; however, two of the counts specify that the ceremony performed was the alowanpi, or honoring and adoption, ceremony (Brown 1953). This is probably the same Four Horns who was a Hunkpapa chief in 1876 (Hyde 1961:266, 1937). During the alowanpi ceremony, the person so honored is "sung over" and a horse-tail or feather wand is waved over him or her. Alowanpi was one of four ceremonies that a man must have performed in order to become one of the band chiefs.
1857 Ten Crows were killed. Ten Crows were killed.
Kangi wicaśa wikcemna wicaktepi. Ten Crows were killed.
A figure with a typical Crow roached hairstyle and the conventional battle wounds at scalpline and on chest is shown in this pictograph. Above the figure are nine or ten tally marks, used in Lakota pictography to indicate a count. Comparison with other winter counts confirm the interpretation based on the pictograph alone. A loss of ten men would represent a major defeat in the context of Plains equestrian combat.
This refers to a battle at Captive Butte, near the head of the Moreau River in 1856-57, depicted in the Bad Heart Bull manuscript (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:117). A force of Oglalas and Minneconjous surrounded a party of Crows, killing ten, with no losses of their own.
1858 Yellow [or Yellow-Robe] was killed in battle. Yellow Blanket was killed.
Kangi wicaśa taśina gi [zi] eciyapi ca ktepi. Crows killed the one called Yellow Robe.
This pictograph shows the usual Lakota warrior with missing hands and conventional battle wounds on chest and head. The entire figure is painted yellow. As this is the only use of the color in the Thin Elk winter count, a name element is suggested.
Comparison with other counts revealed a year name, occurring only on Oglala counts, that matches the pictograph, referring to the death of Yellow Blanket. A Hunkpapa count lists the death of a Yellow Sun; however, this probably was a different individual, as no sun is shown in this pictograph.
The death of the Crow warrior Yellow Robe and his young son in 1858 is depicted in the Bad Heart Bull manuscript (Bad Heart Bull and Blish 1967:118-120). This event may have taken place in the context of a Hunkpapa attack on a party of Crows; the Bad Heart Bull manuscript is self-contradictory in this regard. Since the event is recorded on Oglala winter-counts and was referred to by Oglala informants in giving their ages (DeMallie 1984:102) it probably took place during an Oglala, rather than Hunkpapa, engagement with the Crows. According to John Neihardt's Lakota informants, Yellow Robe was a scout for a Crow war-party (DeMallie 1984:102); however, this version contradicts the Bad Heart Bull manuscript. In any case, it is clear that Yellow Robe or Yellow Blanket was a Crow warrior, killed in battle. It is unusual for an enemy warrior to be named in a winter-count; apparently the Lakotas were impressed by Yellow Robe's bravery in trying to stave off their attack.
1859 Big Crow [name] was killed in battle. Big Crow was killed in battle.
Kangi tanka ktepi. Big Crow was killed.
This pictograph is identical to others for "Lakota was killed in battle"--missing hands, scalped and wounded in the chest. A picture of a large crow above the man's head supplies his name. Big Crow was a Minneconjou chief, who took his name as a young man from having killed a Crow of large stature. He was the son of Black Shield, who subsequently raised a large war- party to revenge his son's death (Hyde 1937).
1860 Spotted Horse [?] or Elk prayed with a buffalo skull or robe or was taken captive. Elk-That-Announces-Itself-Walking sponspored a white buffalo robe ceremony; or Spotted Horse was killed.
Unp‛án hótaninyan mani pte san ha unyan. Elk that Calls Out Walking made an offering of a white buffalo hide.
This pictograph shows a man with no hands, indicating captivity, and a name designator with the element "horse" or "elk." The man can be identified as Lakota, as no other tribal indicators are present. A small bison skull is depicted near the bottom of the pictograph, touching the man's arm. A bison skull would general indicate a ceremony, as buffalo skull are used as ritual objects in the context of several Lakota ceremonies.
The meaning of this pictograph is ambiguous. Two events seem to be involved: the capture of Spotted Horse or Spotted Elk and the ceremonial use of a buffalo skull. If the two events were somehow related, the pictograph does not indicate how.
Comparisons with other winter counts do little to clear up this ambiguity. Two apparently separate events are reflected in the year names. The first is the killing of Spotted Horse, identified as a Crow in two of the counts. A battle took place in 1858, in which the Crow chief Spotted Horse and thirty warriors were slain (Hyde 1937). This year name occurs in the Brule and Oglala counts. The other event is a ceremony using a white buffalo robe, sponsored by Elk That Announces Itself Walking. This occurs in the Minneconjou, Sans Arc/Two Kettle, and one unspecified Northern Lakota winter-counts. None of the year names suggests that the two events were related. It may be that the Thin Elk pictograph is intended to represent both events as significant for the year. Since Thin Elk seems to be an Oglala member of the Minneconjou Lone Dog winter count cycle, the inclusion of both year names for the year is not entirely surprising. A similar pictograph appears on the Short Bull winter count; however, no text accompanies the count to clarify its meaning.
I would speculate that the northern Lakota chief Four Horns sponsored this ceremony on behalf of Noisy Walking Elk, who thereby became his adopted son and might one day succeed him as chief (Vestal 1932:85). A man who wished to attain a position of prominence was required to sponsor a formalized set of four ceremonies, each ending with a give-away. These included Singing Over the First Menses (of his daughter), the Hunka or Alowanpi for his own or an adopted son or daughter, spirit keeping, and the White Buffalo ceremony (Hassrick 1964:297-309; Brown 1953). If so, this was the second remarkable ritual adoption Four Horns had undertaken in less than five years (see entry for 1856), which would have reflected his prominence
1861 Plenty of meat. Bison came up to the lodges. Bison were so plentiful their tracks came up to the lodges.
Kúwa awicanpi tanka. (Killed many Crow Indians.)
A tipi with two bison tracks below it is the subject of this pictograph. A black parallelogram is shown near the top of the tipi; its significance is not known. It is a designator of the personal or band identity of the lodge or camp, or may represent a meat-pack.
The Minneconjou counts agree with the interpretation of this pictograph as indicating plenty of bison. Since the year name does not occur in other winter counts, it would appear that only the Minneconjou camps enjoyed such bounty that winter.
1862 Red Feather [name] was killed in battle. Red Feather was killed in battle.
Kangi wicaśa wiyaka luta eciyapi ca ktepi. Crows killed the one called Red Feather.
A man with red marks on his chest and scalpline and no hands--signifying death at the hands of an enemy--is shown in this pictograph. A red feather is shown above his head, as a name designator. The Minneconjou winter counts agree with this interpretation, variously identifying Red Feather as a Minneconjou or an Assiniboine. This event is also given in one Oglala and a San Arc/Two Kettle count.
Some of the winter counts that mention a battle around 1862 record a battle with the Hohe ( Assiniboine) in which a man named Red Feather was killed. (He is not to be confused with the Lakota warrior Red Weasel or Tracks Weasel, also named in winter-counts for this year.) According to White Bull, Red Feather was an Assiniboine who fought bravely, but was killed after his gun accidentally discharged, leaving him unable to fire his weapon (Vestal 1934:267). Since the pictograph shows a Lakota, rather than enemy warrior, the death of the Assiniboine Red Feather does not seem to be represented.
1863 Eight Lakotas were killed in battle. Eight Lakotas were killed by the enemy.
Itazipco śagloglan ahiwi caktepi. Eight Sans Arcs were killed together.
This pictograph shows a man with no hands and wounds on his chest and scalp, indicating death in battle. Above his head are eight tally marks, indicating a count--that is, eight were killed. These apparently were Lakotas, as no other tribal indicators are present in the pictograph.
Many of the other winter counts mention the loss of eight Lakotas at the hands of the Crows (although some reverse the Crow and Lakota roles). The loss of eight warriors would have represented a major loss in the context of equestrian Plains culture. Although a great deal of emphasis was placed on military pursuits, casualties ordinarily were very limited in the kind of ritualized fighting undertaken by Plains Indian warriors.
This year-name probably refers to the first Arrow Creek Fight, in which five Oglalas and five Cheyennes were killed during an attack on a Crow village (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:126-133).
1864 Four enemies were killed on horseback or by horsemen or while stealing horses. Four Crows caught stealing Lakota horses were killed.
Kangi wicaśa tob śunkmanon wicaktepi. Four Crow horse raiders were killed.
This pictograph shows a man with a Crow hairstyle, no hands, and wounds on the chest and scalpline. Four tally marks are shown above his head and three horse tracks are drawn at the bottom of the figure. The death of four Crow warriors is clearly indicated; the meaning of the horse tracks is more ambiguous and could mean either that the warriors were mounted or that they were engaged in horse-raiding.
Comparisons with the other Lakota winter counts indicates that, indeed, four Crows were killed by the Lakotas this year. Two of the counts specify that the Crows had been caught stealing Lakota horses. After the event of the preceding year, hostilities between the two tribes were probably especially inflamed; the event implies a spirit of extreme bravery on the part of the Crow horse-raiders and a spirit of revenge on the part of the Lakota warriors. Torture was rare to the point being practically unknown among the Lakotas (Clark 1881:106, 311; Grinnell 1915; Driver 1969). In contrast to the winter-counts, Bad Heart Bull provides a detailed rendering of this event, with no torture indicated (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:134-141).
1865 Horses died. Deep snow; horses died.
Blehanska wólakota na śunk sotapi. Long Lake peace; horses were used up by the cold.
Two dead or dying horses are shown in this pictograph. The other Lakota winter counts note that many horses were lost due to deep snow.
1866 Nine U.S. soldiers were killed. Ninety U.S. soldiers were killed at Ft. Phil Kearny.
Wicaśa opawiage wicaktepi. They killed 100 men.
This pictograph shows a man with a Euroamerican style hat and blue jacket. Red marks indicate wounds on his chest and scalpline and his hands are missing. Above his head are nine tally marks. The hat identifies the man as wasicu and the blue jacket indicates the uniform of the U.S. Cavalry. The lack of hands and wounds denote death in battle. The tally mark is a count indicating how many U.S. cavalrymen were killed.
Most of the Minneconjou and Oglala winter counts have the same name for this year, "100 white men were killed." This is a reference to the Fetterman fight near Ft. Phil Kearney, Wyoming Territory, in which 82 U.S. cavalrymen on a supply mission, ignoring orders not to leave the trail, were ambushed and annihilated at the hands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. This led to the temporary abandonment of the outpost and represented a major victory in the struggle to keep the wasicu out of Indian territory. The tally of nine in the Thin Elk winter count apparently is intended to mean ninety. Since the pictographs are simply mnemonic devices, nine tally marks will serve as well as ninety, once the correct year name has been learned. At least two other such instances are reported by Mallery (1886, 1893). It is interesting that is this instance, the pictographic count is more accurate than the written texts, as it was 82, not 100, killed in the fight.
1867 Treaty [?]. Treaty and issue at Ft. Laramie.
Wowapi mak’ókawinħ ahiyayapi.
The flag was taken all over.
A note on the Lakota transcript reads: Tokala nige (Fox Paunch), Opigli’s [Wounded Returning’s] father, and winyan nawinh yanka [his wife, Sits on Feet*]—these two carried the U.S flag all over the Indian country.
A U.S. flag is used to represent this year name. The interpretation, "treaty," is just one possible guess; certainly some sort of peaceful interaction with the U.S. government is intended, as hostile interactions would be represented by reference to Lakota or enemies killed or captured, and not by a flag alone.
A number of possibly related year names were found in the other winter counts. Most of these appear to refer in some way to the 1868 Ft. Laramie treaty, in which all of western South Dakota, including the Black Hills, was set aside for the possession and use of the Lakota in perpetuity. The Lakota had been struggling to keep the wasicu out of their sacred Black Hills for over a decade at the time the treaty was signed. It contained provisions for closing the roads used by whites for access to the area and provided for the education and economic security of the Lakota for several generations. The treaty council was the last in which the Lakota and Cheyenne were negotiating from a position of real strength and the treaty was the last signed that was advantageous to the Lakota. It would be revoked in its entirety by the U.S. government in 1876.
The Lakota text indicates that a flag was brought around to the various camps.
1868 Red Fish [? name] _________. Long Fish was killed.
T‛oka ptewániyanpi yutapi. They ate cattle.
Hogan taicu t‛a. Fish’s wife died.
(A note reads: Common beef for the first time.)
The pictograph for shows a name designator consisting of a single red fish. Above this is the skull of a domesticated cow. Three winter counts mention the death of a Long Fish and possibly his wife and others. No details are given as to the circumstances of the deaths.
1869 Solar eclipse. Solar eclipse.
Anpawi t‛a. The sun died.
A black circle with two stars at its edge makes up this pictograph. An eclipse of the sun is obviously intended. Interestingly, only a few other winter counts, most from the Minneconjou, mention this occurrence. This would seem to indicate two things: first, that solar eclipses were not particularly noteworthy to the Lakota, and, second, that life was relatively uneventful for the Minneconjou that year.
1870 _____ was killed in battle. (Indeterminate.)
Cank‛ahu wanketuya ahiktepi. High Backbone was killed in battle.
This and the following pictographs are virtually identical, each consisting of a man with missing hands and the standards wounds on the chest and scalpline, indicating death in battle. Although Lakotas apparently are intended, as no other tribal identifiers are present, no name indicators are given. Because the names are not indicated, it is impossible to determine which of the various possible year names is correct for each. The Minneconjou chief High-Back-Bone was killed by Shoshones in 1870 (Hyde 1937:192-93; DeMallie 1984:158); he was Crazy Horse's friend and mentor (Kadlecek and Kadlecek 1981:127; Sandoz 1942:261-263). He was also known as Hump and Big Breast.
1871 _____ was killed in battle. (Indeterminate.)
Kangi wiyaka t‛a. Crow Feather died.
See comments for 1870. It is puzzling that no name indicator is given in this or the previous pictograph.
1872 Cloud or Smoke was killed in battle. Fire-Cloud was killed in battle.
Sóta kaga ahiktepi. Makes Smoke was killed in battle.
Unlike the previous two pictures, this casualty of battle has a name glyph above his head. This consists of a smudge of blue or gray, apparently representing a cloud or smoke.
This event appears in other winter counts as the death of Anus-on-Both-Sides or Fire-Cloud. Anus-on-Both-Sides is the nickname of Fire-Cloud or Fire Thunder. His name has also been translated as Double-Ass (DeMallie 1982:147); however, the word Butt Head is probably a better translation, as the winter-counts suggest. This is obviously a vulgar nickname bestowed on Fire-Cloud in infancy by a winkte. Such names were thought to be lucky and were usually kept secret. Despite his unflattering nickname, this man greatly impressed his Oglala compatriots by counting first coup on two Crows in one year (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:381).
1873 A Pawnee was killed in battle. A Pawnee warrior was killed.
Scili ota wicaktepi. Many [Skiri] Pawnees were killed.
The pictograph for this year is the standard sign for a warrior's death in battle--lack of hands, red marks on chest and scalpline. The individual has an unusual head covering, consisting of two long streamers or ribbons extending from the crown of the head out to one side. This appears to represent the trade cloth turban favored by some prominent Pawnee men during this period.
Comparisons with other winter counts list four events to which the pictograph may refer. The first is the killing of a Crow Indian riding on a white horse. A second reference to the killing of a Crow may or may not refer to the same event; in this instance, the individual is described as fat, rather than as mounted on a white horse. The third event refers to killing many Pawnees or Omahas. The forth event refers to the killing of a single Pawnee, which apparently took place the year before one hundred Pawnees were killed. The latter event fits the pictograph exactly as the Pawnee hairstyle and a single casualty are shown. Whether this Pawnee was the enemy Turning Bear dispatched is not clear.
In 1873, the Spotted Tail and Little Wound bands of (Brules and Oglalas) went to hunt bison on the Republican River. On August 5, they attacked a small Pawnee hunting camp, killing 39 women, 10 children, and more than 50 men (Hyde 1951:244-47, 1961:206-208).
1874 Six Lakotas were killed in battle. Six or seven Loafers were killed.
P‛aláni śakpe wicaktepi. Six Arikaras were killed.
The pictograph consists of a man with the usual wounds on the chest and scalpline and missing hands, indicating death in battle. No name indicator is provided, but a tally above the figure indicates that six people were killed. These apparently were Lakota, as no indicators to the contrary are present.
A few Oglala winter counts give the year name "seven Loafers were killed." One supplies the further detail that they died at the hands of the Crow. ("Loafers" refers to a Lakota sub-band formed of the Lakota wives of U.S. cavalrymen and others who were permanently camped at Fort Laramie.) A party of eight young Lakota men ventured into Crow territory in Montana and were attacked. All but one, Young Iron, who was scouting, were killed in the surprise attack. The seven killed were Not Afraid of Enemy, Black Moccasin, Takes the Gun Away, Bear Hoop, Kills in Timber, High Eagle, and Last Dog (Blish and Bad Heart Bull 396- 400).
The Lakota text, however, suggests that the picture refers to the slaying of six Arikaras in battle.
1875 Lakota warrior and wasicu made a treaty about the Black Hills. Lakotas signed over the Black Hills.
Ħe sapa iwoglakapi. They negotiated about the Black Hills.
This intriguing pictograph shows a Lakota man, with a single eagle feather in his unbound hair facing a man in Euroamerican dress. Between them is a device consisting of four short vertical lines connected at the base by a horizontal line. This sign undoubtedly is the key to the correct interpretation of the pictograph. Although its meaning could not be conclusively determined from the picture alone, it appears to reflect the common Lakota and Cheyenne view of the Black Hills as containing four pillars or peaks that hold up the sky. These included Bear Butte and the Bear Lodge Butte (now called Devils Tower), and were among the holiest of Lakota places. Hostility or a dispute between the two parties is clearly implied by the loose hair of the Lakota, signaling his readiness for battle. The unidentified object would have to represent the subject of their dispute. The single feather could be a tribal or personal identifier (see entry for 1877) but most likely is intended to indicate that the person so attired was a warrior.
Comparisons with other winter counts suggest several possible interpretations. One of these, the confiscation of the horses of Red Cloud's people, cannot be correct, as this event followed that given to represent the following year (1876). Another, the issuance of stock cattle to the Lakota, also does not seem likely, since the pictograph clearly indicates hostile, not friendly, relations between the Lakota and wasicu, and contains no sign for cattle or annuities. Another possibility can also be eliminated, because it followed the event shown in the 1876 pictograph. This was the conference between Sitting Bull and Canadian officials concerning the return of Sitting Bull's band to the United States. The group had gone to Canada for refuge from the U.S. Army.
The other possibility is a treaty council concerning the Black Hills. The U.S. government was pressuring the Lakota to relinquish their claims to the area, because gold had been discovered in 1874, triggering gold rushes the next two years. When the Black Hills Commission came to Red Cloud Agency in 1875 to coerce the Lakotas into selling the Black Hills to the U.S. government, a battle nearly ensued (Hyde 1961). A delegation of Lakota leaders was also brought to Washington in 1875 in hopes of inducing tem to sell the Black Hills. This is very likely the event referred to by this pictograph; the symbol between the men probably symbolizing the Black Hills. This was one of many on- going conflicts between the U.S. government and the Lakotas. Other points of contention centered on rations, censuses, and the erection of a flagpole at Red Cloud Agency.
1876 General Custer was killed. General Custer was killed.
P‛ehin hanska ktepi. Long Hair [Custer] was killed.
The pictograph shows a man in a Euroamerican style hat and the blue jacket of the U.S. Cavalry, holding a rifle. The man has extremely long hair and is shown in the standard "killed in battle" manner--that is, with red marks on the chest and scalpline. The subject of this pictograph is General George A. Custer. His Lakota nickname was Long Hair and only he would have been shown in wasicu soldier garb and long hair; thus, the long hair in the picture is a personal identity marker.
Several other winter counts give the battle with Custer as the year name for 1876. In addition to those listed below, the Mandan winter count belonging to Butterfly lists "Long Hair was killed by the Sioux." Interestingly, however, most of the Lakota counts do not make mention of what was a banner story in virtually every U.S. newspaper. At the time of the battle, the Lakota considered it an important victory, and a satisfying revenge against the hated Custer, but they could not have realized that it would generate a public outcry against them that would spell the end of their days as a free people.
1877 A Lakota warrior, _______ Horse [name], was killed by the enemy. Crazy Horse was killed.
Taśunka witko ktepi. Crazy Horse was killed.
The final pictograph of the Thin Elk winter count shows a man with a single eagle feather in his hair, with the standard "killed in battle" signifiers--wounds on the head and chest and lacking hands. A name indicator, in the form of a horse, is depicted above the figure. The horse is used to designate the identity of Crazy Horse, the great Oglala war chief. The feather indicates his warrior status.
Most of the Oglala and a fair number of other Lakota winter counts mention the death of Crazy Horse. Having defeated Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn the previous year, Crazy Horse, whose imperviousness to wasicu bullets was legendary, met an ignominious death at the hands of a U.S. Cavalry guard while in captivity at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Just as Crazy Horse had represented the most admired aspects of Lakota warrior society, his death represented the inevitable end of the old ways in the face of increasing Euroamerican conquest. A collection of Lakota versions of the death of Crazy Horse has been compiled (Kadlecek and Kadlecek 1981; see also Blish and Bad Heart Bull 1967:401- 402).
Results and Conclusions
Using only information contained in the pictographs, year names could be reconstructed at least partially for all of the 57 years (58 pictographs) covered by the Thin Elk winter count. Of these, 7 years names were partially reconstructed and 51 were completely reconstructed. A year name was considered completely reconstructed if the subject, object (if any), and action were correctly identified. If part of a name element was correctly identified, the subject of the pictograph to which the names refers was considered correctly identified. A year name was considered partially reconstructed if only the action or the subject, but not both, was correctly identified, as determined by comparisons with texts from other winter counts.
It was immediately clear that the Thin Elk winter count is not a variant of the Minneconjou White Bull count (see Howard's White Bull Count and Vestal's White Bull Count) nor is it a member of the White Bull Cycle. The Thin Elk has about a 56 and 60 percent correspondence with the two White Bull counts, respectively. (This was calculated using the chronology given in Vestal's version of the White Bull count [Vestal 1934] and not the revised chronology used by Howard in his version of the count [Howard 1968]. Howard's revised chronology yielded only about a 45 percent correspondence with the Thin Elk count; thus, the unrevised version was thought to be more accurate for those years that overlap the Thin Elk count. The year names listed here are from the original, unrevised versions of the count.)
The winter count to which the Thin Elk count is most similar is the Lone Dog winter count, of Minneconjou affiliation. The Lone Dog and Thin Elk winter counts have 38 of their 50 overlapping year names in common, a 76 percent correspondence. Thin Elk has between 75 and 70 percent correspondence with the other members of the Lone Dog cycle (Flame, Bush, Mato Sapa, and Swan). This is not sufficient correspondence to consider Thin Elk a variant of Lone Dog (most researchers define variants as being "substantially the same" for those years that overlap); in other words, Thin Elk is not a version or variant of any known winter count. Most researchers would agree, however, that this degree of correspondence would place Thin Elk in the Lone Dog cycle of winter counts. Until the terms version, variant, cycle, and tradition are more exactly defined and standardized by winter count researchers, these conclusions will remain more intuitive than quantitative.
Thin Elk contains four or five year names that occur only on Minneconjou counts and an equal number that occur only on Oglala counts. Thus, either a Minneconjou or an Oglala affiliation is proposed for it. Perhaps the most reasonable suggestion is that Thin Elk is an Oglala member of the Minneconjou Lone Dog cycle, possibly resulting from an Oglala count keeper taking over the winter count from a Minneconjou owner, and changing some year names to more closely reflect events significant to the Oglala people. Several of the Thin Elk pictographs could not be conclusively tied to year names from any other winter count; these may represent events of significance only to the individual count keeper or his camp or sub-band.
It is not clear whether the Steamboat given on the museum label as the author of the Thin Elk count is the same as that listed by Howard as the owner of a winter counts from which Vestal's White Bull count was compiled. Since both the White Bull and the Lone Dog cycles are Minneconjou, it seems likely that the same Steamboat was associated with both winter counts. Other instances of a single individual owning and even maintaining more than one winter count have been recorded (Howard 1976; Higginbotham 1981). For now at least, the pictographs that go with the White bull winter count text are an unknown, just as no written text for the pictographic Thin Elk count is known to exist. The Thin Elk count covers the period from 1821 to 1877. The occurrence of "index" events, such as the Leonid meteor shower of 1833, and events of wide historic import, such as the defeat of General Custer in 1876, made the chronology of the Thin Elk count relatively easy to establish.
Interestingly, in some instances, the pictographs of the Thin Elk count serve to clarify the meaning of year name texts from other counts. For example, texts frequently disagree as to the respective roles of victor and vanquished in reports of battles. The Thin Elk pictographs are entirely unambiguous and consistent in their manner of indicating Lakota versus enemy subjects, and in the tribal identity of enemies depicted. The Thin Elk count clarifies, for example, that in 1863, eight Lakota were killed in battle with the Crow, and not vice versa.
Researchers on Lakota ethnohistory have noted that two of the major problems in using winter count data are, first, the lack of good translations from the original Lakota text into English, and, second, the progressive loss of information as winter counts evolved from pictographic versions to written Lakota text to English translations (McCoy 1983).
Additionally, Lakota can be an ambiguous or unspecific language. The meaning of a Lakota sentence depends heavily on its context, both textual and cultural. Speakers may use a pattern of discourse perplexing to English speakers: one starts with general statements and gradually fills in the details by repeating the previous statements, being a little more specific each time. This pattern meshes perfectly with the use of pictographs as mnemonics for year names, and year names, in turn, as mnemonics for historical texts and tales. While the year name itself may translate in English as "eight killed," further information is needed to specify whether the eight were friends or enemies, and how and by whom they were killed. The count keepers retained this additional information not in the year names, which were intended merely as mnemonics, but in their own memories. The loss of the older generation meant the inevitable loss of much of this secondary, but crucial, information. Undoubtedly the severe cultural disruption experienced by the Lakota in the latter half of the nineteenth century also contributed to the loss of understanding of the winter count texts. Blish and Bad Heart Bull (1967) noted the large degree of "elasticity and latitude in the matter of ideographic device." In other words, different people used different pictographs to convey the same ideas. Nevertheless, some symbols and pictographic conventions seem to have had a wide-spread, if not universal, currency among the Lakota and their Middle Dakota allies. The use of the small symbol connected by a line to the head of the subject of a pictograph to represent the individual's name, for example, seems to have been universal among the Dakota pictographers.
Aside from such universals, each winter count displays idiosyncrasies in how pictures are used to convey information. The value of these is that they are generally internally consistent, so that a winter count can be interpreted in terms of itself, as was done in the case of the Thin Elk count. One has only to look for patterns in the content and arrangement of pictographs and then to begin to examine each as representing a particular message.
Symbols and pictographic conventions used in the Thin Elk winter count, together with their interpretations, are listed in Appendix A. Taken as a whole, this lexicon and grammar, as it were, of the Thin Elk count pictography demonstrates the role of winter counts not just as collections of pictures, but as actual texts. By treating the pictographic counts as texts in their own right, we can begin to refine our understanding of their meaning and their use as media for communication. This in turn can contribute to a greater understanding of pictographic communication as an element of Plains Indian culture.
*I am not sure of this translation!
Blish, Helen H., and Amos Bad Heart Bull, 1967, A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux, University of Nebraska, Press, Lincoln.
Brown, Joseph Epes, editor, 1953, The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London.
Catlin, George, 1844, Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indian, (fourth edition), London.
Cheney, Roberta Carkeek. 1979 The Big Missouri Winter Count, Naturegraph, Happy Camp, California.
Clark, William P., 1881, The Indian Sign Language, L.R. Hammersly, Philadelphia.
Driver, Harold E., 1969, Indians of North America (second edition, revised), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Dunn, Dorothy, 1969, 1877: Plains Indian Sketch Books of Zo-Tom and Howling Wolf. Northland Press, Flagstaff.
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Higginbotham, N. A., 1981, The Wind-Roan Bear Winter Count, Plains Anthropologist 26:1-42.
1968, The Warrior Who Killed Custer: The Personal Narrative of Chief Joseph White Bull, translated and edited by James H. Howard, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
1980, The Dakota or Sioux Indians: A Study in Human Ecology, J&L Reprint, Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Kadlecek, Edward, and Mabell Kadlecek, 1981, To Kill an Eagle: Indian Views on the Last Days of Crazy Horse, Johnson Books, Boulder.
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Mallery, Garrick, 1877, A Calendar of the Dakota Nation , U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey Bulletins, 3(1).
1886, Pictographs of the North American Indians, Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Reports, 4:13-256.
1893, Picture Writing of the American Indian, Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Reports, 10: 3-807.
McCoy Ronald T., 1983, Winter Count: The Teton Chronicles to 1799, Ph.D. dissertation, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.
Peterson, Karen Daniels, 1968, Howling Wolf: A Cheyenne Warrior's Graphic Interpretation of His People, American West Publishing, Palo Alto, California. -----------------------, 1971, Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion, University of Oklahoma, Norman.
Ritzenthaler, Robert E., 1961 Sioux Indian Drawings (The Miller Collection), Milwaukee Public Museum Primitive Art Series, 1.
Robinson, Doane, 1956, A History of the Dakota or Sioux Indians (reprint of 1904 edition), Ross and Haines, Minneapolis.
Rodee, Howard D., 1965, The Stylistic Development of Plains Indian Painting and Its Relationship to Ledger Drawings, Plains Anthropologist 10(30):218-232.
Sandoz, Mari, 1942, Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
Smith, Decost, 1949, Red Indian Experiences, George Allen & Unwin, London.
Sundstrom, Linea, 1990, Rock Art of the Southern Black Hills: A Contextual Approach, Garland Publishing, New York.
Vatter, Ernst, 1927, Historienmalerie und Heraldische Bilderschrift der Nordamericanischen Prairiestamme, IPEK.
Vestal, Stanley, 1932, Sitting Bull: Champion of the Sioux, Houghton Mifflin, Boston and New York.
1934, Warpath, The True Story of the Fighting Sioux Told in a Biography of Chief White Bull, Houghton Mifflin, Boston and New York.
Walker, James, 1982, Lakota Society, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
Wedel, Waldo R., 1961, Prehistoric Man on the Great Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
"Be good, be kind, help each other." "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other." --Abe Conklin - Ponca/Osage, (1926-1995)