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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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The Spy And The Wolf
Tunwéya Na Šungmánitu Thánka
by Dakota Wind

GREAT 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 families.

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, weren’t selected for their fighting prowess, nor were they necessarily warriors. The scout party was selected for each man’s keen eyesight and a man’s 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 Hokšíla (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.

Cedric 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 scout’s relatives, or the camp’s 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 people’s 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.

The 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 Clark’s 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.

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