Massacre On The Great Plains
Hill, N.D. The wind blew in gusts across the vast open plains.
The Dakota and Lakota people who have lived here for millennia are
people of the stars, and some of them say too that they are people
of the wind. The wind isn't just the defining characteristic of
prairie life, but a part of the indigenous culture.
The Dakota say that the patterns on ones' fingertips
indicate which direction the wind was blowing on the day of one's
birth. The swirling pattern on one's crown was taken to mean not
just the living presence of one's spirit, but the wind that brings
that spirit. Sometimes, a very powerful wind was even referred to
as Taku Wakhan Skanskan, Something With-Energy Is Moving About.
Indeed, a Dakhota elder visiting from Crow Creek, SD declared that
the strength of the wind was an indication that the spirits were
there at Whitestone Hill.
On Saturday, August 24, 2013, over 300 people from across North
Dakota and the Great Plains gathered at Whitestone Hill near Kulm,
ND to remember the bloodiest massacre of Dakota Indians following
the largest mass execution in the history of the United States,
which involved thirty-eight of the Dakota Indians in Mankato, MN,
Dec. 26, 1862.
On this day, someone from Lake Traverse, the Sisseton-Wahpeton
Oyate, brought a beautifully painted thipí rendered in warm
earth tones of red, orange, and brown with constellation patterns
embellishing the outside of the lodge. A call went out for assistance
to erect the lodge on that windy day and volunteers rushed to assist.
They say in the days of memory, that women could erect a lodge
in as little as ten minutes. Their nomadic life way demanded a lifetime
of practice, but on this day Dakhota women supervise a handful of
non-native men, there's even a Chippewa in the mix helping to get
the lodge up.
Renowned and eminent flute-player and hoop dancer, and enrolled
member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Kevin Locke, was called
forward to begin the day with a prayer. At the end of the afternoon's
lectures and reflections, Locke would share the message of vision
and unity of the human spirit with the hoop dance, traditional stories,
and flute songs.
Locke, known among the Dakhota and Lakhota as Thokeya Inazin,
The First To Arise, is also a descendant of TaOyate Duta, His Red
Nation, who is more widely known by the name Little Crow. Locke
doesn't make a public issue about his great-grandfather, probably
because TaOyate Duta was not at Whitestone Hill, but had died of
a gunshot wound in a field near Hutchinson, MN in a fight with a
One of TaOyate Duta's sons, Mokahnihya, had fled west to the
Hunkpapha and was among them in the running battle from Big Mound
to Apple Creek. Mokahnihya survived the Apple Creek conflict in
late July by cutting a reed, grabbing a rock, and jumping into the
Missouri River. There he waited until it was safe for him to cross.
But this wasn't a story that Locke shared at Whitestone Hill, it
was a story shared with this writer in Locke's home. Locke's message
this day was instead based on the ideal of what Dakhota is, as ally,
as friend, and as peace.
Richard Rothaus, owner and director of Trefoil Natural and Cultural
out of Minnesota, was invited to present about the causes of the
1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict, and expertly tied the Dakota Conflicts
in Minnesota and Dakota Territory to the American Civil War which
was being waged concurrently in the south.
Aaron Barth, a historian and archaeologist from North Dakota
State University, offered his thoughts about the Whitestone Hill
massacre as an agent of genocide in American history. Barth facetiously
suggested attaching cables to the current monument atop Whitestone
Hill and pulling it down, but in seriousness suggested a memorial
be erected on site honoring the Dakhota and Lakhota.
A local city band gathered together over the lunch hour and
played music themes from popular movies and other pieces. The music,
while rendered in the spirit of peace, seemed decidedly out of place.
At one point the band played the theme made popular in the Rocky
movies. A visitor from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate observed that
the music was very nice but out of place and jovially said during
the Rocky theme, "That makes me feel like running to the top of
the hill and raise my fists and shout, 'We're still here!'"
A panel discussion made up of members from the Sisseton-Wahpeton
Oyate and the Standing Rock Sioux shared observations regarding
the history and conflict of Whitestone Hill. LaDonna Brave Bull-Allard
shared her grandmother's story of survival when her people, the
Ihankthunwanna Pabáska, the Cuthead Yanktonai, came under
sudden and unexpected fire.
The Cuthead Yanktonai band had been proponents of the United
States since 1818 when their chieftain, Wanaata, The Charger, was
released from an internment at Fort Snelling. The Charger led the
Yanktonai in a siege under the command of Colonel Leavenworth against
the Arikara in 1823. The Yanktonai had no reason to fear their American
allies until General Sully brought the wrath of the soldiers on
them at Whitestone Hill, Sept. 3-5, 1863.
A tribal elder from Crow Creek, and a descendant of Thoka Khute,
Shoots The Enemy, who was captured at Whitestone Hill and imprisoned
at Fort Thompson, Dakota Territory (present-day South Dakota), articulated
a short explanation of the site before he departed from Whitestone
Hill that afternoon. In the Ihanktowana dialect, Wicheyena, Whitestone
Hill was never called or recognized as Whitestone Hill. They called
it Pa Ipuza Nape Wakpana, Dry Bone [as in "Very Thirsty] Hill Creek.
"They never called it 'Whitestone Hill,'" insists Corbin Shoots
Shoots The Enemy shared the story that few young men were in
the village as most were out hunting. Men who were past their warrior
days stayed behind with elders and youth in the village. Among the
chiefs who led thiyópaye, an extended family, at Whitestone
Hill that day are: Nasúna Thanka (Big Head), Tahca Ska (White
Deer), Sunkaha Napí? (Wolf Necklace), MahtoWakantuya (High
Bear), Hothanke (Big Voice, Winnebago), Mahto Nunpa (Two Bear),
Wága (Cottonwood), Hogan Duta (Red Fish), Mahto Knaskinyan
(Mad Bear), Awaska (White With Snow), Wanbdí Wanapheya (Eagle
That Scares), Wanbdí Maní (Walking Eagle), Waonzogi
(With Pants, or Pantaloons), Chan Icu(Takes The Wood), Wanbdí
Ska (White Eagle), Thoka Khute (Shoots The Enemy), and Zintkala
Maní (Walking Bird).
These Ithanchan, chiefs, led tens to hundreds in their thiyospaye.
There were easily at least a thousand Ihanktowana at Whitestone
Hill. Several tons of food were destroyed following the massacre,
thousands of dogs were killed, and as many as three hundred Dakhota
people lost their lives, and over a hundred were taken prisoner,
most of whom were women and children.
Lakhota language instructor, Earl Bull Head, and an enrolled
member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was called upon to share
a song and story. A storyteller, Bull Head opened with a few jokes
about his travels to Europe and his experiences with the world before
sharing a story and song he originally composed for a friend who
lost his son. Bull Head's friend was caught up in misery and heartbreak.
The song came to Bull Head to inspire his friend to live a good
life; it was a call to redemption and forgiveness.
A local landowner invited this writer to his land nearby to
view some of the features not found at the Whitestone Hill State
Historic Site. On top of a rolling hill were several stone circles,
several about five feet across and one measured about fifty feet
in diameter, and a few great heavy anvil stones bore evidence of
shaping tools over thousands of years, which reminded this visitor
once again that people were coming here millennia before the conflict.
The day ended with a buffalo feed. A long lingering line gradually
worked itself through the hundreds of visitors present. Plates were
piled with great cuts of lean bison meat, hot steaming potatoes,
warmed beans, and handmade biscuits. Conversation ebbed and flowed
as the line shrunk. The wind gradually calmed to a breeze, which
in the great shade a cottonwood, actually cooled the waiting hungry
My plate was piled high and heavy with food. I took a cup of
lemonade and downed it before I made it back to my car. I was hungry
and the smell of roasted meat nearly made me break my fast, but
I couldn't eat. I felt the impression of my grandmother, after all
these years sometimes it seems like I can smell her or sense her
I drove off down the dusty gravel road, over the rolling grassy
hills, and out of sight from the crowd. It may seem like waste to
some, but it wasn't to me. I pulled over onto the grass, took my
plate, and carried it to the side of the road. I said no prayer
or benediction. I didn't call out or cry. I could not eat there
when long ago my relatives were forced to go without. It is the
custom of the Dakhota and Lakhota people to take food to our relatives
who've taken their journey.