PLAINS There were two kinds of scouts on the Great Plains
in the nineteenth century. One kind consisted of Indians who enlisted
in the US military as members of the US Scouts, an official branch
of the US military. The Indian Scouts were charged with four basic
responsibilities which included scouting the landscape for military
expeditions, translating, running down deserters, and delivering
US mail between military forts.
The other kind of scout served the native people by going out
ahead of the main camp and watching for enemies, guiding the camp
to the best campsites, and searched for game. The essential qualifications
of the scout included truthfulness, courage, intuition, and a thorough
knowledge of the landscape.
Native men who enlisted as US Scouts did so for a variety of
reasons. Some enlisted as a means to avenge themselves on an enemy
tribe, but others did so out of the desperate need to feed their
Native men, so far as Lakhóta men are concerned, were
selected by council and gathered by the headmen for council. At
the council, they would pray, smoke, and talk about the importance
of the occasion. The chief and council spoke about the benefits
for the entire camp upon success, and dire consequence upon defeat.
The scouts were told to be wise as well as brave, to look not only
to the front but behind, up as well much as to the ground, to watch
for movement among the animals, to listen to the wind, to be mindful
when crossing streams, to not disturb any animals, and to swiftly
return to the people with any information.
Lakhóta scouts, werent selected for their fighting
prowess, nor were they necessarily warriors. The scout party was
selected for each mans keen eyesight and a mans reputation
for shrewd cunning and quick vigilance.
The Lakhóta have sayings for mindfulness or awareness.
In an online discourse with Vaughn T. Three Legs, Inyán Hokíla
(Stone Boy), enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and
radio personality on KLND 89.5 FM, and his chiyé (older brother)
Chuck Benson, they shared the phrase Ablésya máni
yo, which means, Be observant as you go, but observation
also implies understanding.
Goodhouse, a respected elder and enrolled member of the Standing
Rock Sioux Tribe, offered Ha kíta máni yo, which means,
Observe everything as you go. He also put before this
writer the phrase Awánglake ománi, or Watch
yourself as you go around. Lastly, Cedric shared the philosophy
Tanyán wíyukcan ománi, Think good things
as you go around.
The late Albert White Hat, a respected elder, teacher, and enrolled
member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, often shared the phrase Naké
nulá waún, Always prepared, or Prepared
for anything, but this preparedness also reflects a readiness
in spirit to meet the Creator too.
Each of these sayings were things practiced daily in camp and
on the trail, then and today.
Before starting out, the scouts relatives, or the camps
medicine people offer prayers of protection, for the sun and moon
to light the way, for the rain to fall sparingly, for the rivers
and streams to offer safe passage, for the bluffs to offer unimpeded
views, and for gentle winds. All of nature is petitioned to assist
the scout to the peoples benefit.
When the scouts set out, only two were permitted to go in the
same direction. A larger scout party could see and report no more
information than two. A larger party would certainly be discovered
more easily by the enemy.
scout, whether he was a US Indian Scout or a Lakhóta scout,
would take with him a small mirror or field glass, invaluable tools
made available in the early fur trade days. A scout would signal
with his mirror a pre-determined set of flashes for the main camp
to interpret and prepare long before his return. A tremulous series
of flashes might indicate that the enemy was seen.
As the scout approached the main camp, near enough for vocal
communication, he might let loose a wolf howl, again, to indicate
that the enemy was seen and/or approaching.
Upon viewing the flashes and certainly upon hearing the wolf
howl, the main camp war chief, headmen, and warriors would gather
in a circle broken by an opening towards the approaching scout.
The scout or scouts entered the broken circle and completed it,
where they shared the news.
Captain William Philo Clark, a graduate of the US Military School,
and military scout under General Crook, observed firsthand or heard
from native authorities of a ceremonial ritual upon the scout or
scouts return. Clark served in Dakota Territory from 1868 to 1884,
and authored The Indian Sign Language. Clark observed
that all tribes observed a return ritual for their scouts.
Basically, the broken circle is complete when the scout or scouts
enter the opening, whereupon the pipe is offered to the six directions,
the war chief or other headman and scout draw breath on the pipe,
and upon the fourth time, the scout or scouts are debriefed. It
was Clarks observation that often enough the ritual was not
always practiced. Certainly if there were an enemy war party fast
approaching, ceremony was dropped in preparation for combat.
The Lakhóta word for scout is Tunwéya, which means
Spy, Guide, or Scout. The sign
for scout is simply Wolf. Hold the right hand, palm
out, near right shoulder, first and second fingers extended, separated
and pointing upwards; remaining fingers and thumb closed; move right
hand several inches to front and slightly upwards, turning hand
a little so that extended fingers point to front and upward.
The Lakhóta scout sometimes employed a wolf headdress
to aid in his mission; sometimes they even carried a bone whistle
to aid in alerting the camp.
In English, the word spy implies a clandestine secrecy; a guide
leads people in unfamiliar territory, and a scout might mean learning
basic survival skills or a covert military reconnaissance. For the
Lakhóta, tunwéya clearly meant spying and reconnoitering
for the camp; they already know their own country and all except
the smallest certainly knew basic survival skills, however they
definitely needed to know who else traveled in their territory.