PIERRE, S.D. Donald Montileaux grew up listening to his
father tell Lakota stories.
They were stories passed down from father to son for generations.
Now that rich history of Native American storytelling is taking
on a new form.
Montileaux is one of many South Dakota artists who create visual
depictions of Native American legends and scenes using old accounting
ledgers. The Native art form originated in about 1870, when buffalo
hide became scarce, Montileaux said, and was popular until about
1940. Native Americans would barter for ledger books with local
accountants so they could illustrate their stories, which until
then were only shared orally.
Using his talent for creating unique-looking horses through
ledger art, Montileaux authored "Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend."
Already an award-winning artist for his ledger work, Montileaux's
latest project is a new outlet. Named after the first Lakota horse,
the nearly 50-page book tells the story of the Lakota people's horse
and the journey they make when the horse is taken away by the Great
"Tasunka" is a learning book, Montileaux said, and children
are the target audience.
"The book is an educational tool for teachers to use for children,"
he said. "Through this book, hopefully we can knock down some prejudices."
A member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, Montileaux created the
book after being inspired by a recent telling of the tale. Although
Montileaux had heard the story of Tasunka many times throughout
his life, it wasn't until he heard Alex White Plume recall the tale
during a trip to the Badlands in 2005 that he decided to put the
legend on paper.
Montileaux started working on the book three years ago and it
was recently released by the South Dakota State Historical Society
Using his lavish drawings, Montileaux put on paper a story that
has been kept alive through oral storytelling, perhaps for centuries.
Montileaux said it was important to retell the tradition accurately.
"In our culture, storytellers have to have someone to verify
the story," he said.
That verification came through a long process, during which
Montileaux worked closely with White Plume and Agnes Gay, who translated
the story into Lakota. He also worked with a local photographer
who sent his hand-drawn images to a designer in California.
While putting the book together, Montileaux used his granddaughters
as a sounding board.
"I wanted to keep it a simple style," he said. "But I realized
color was essential."
Montileaux used pastels to create vibrant blue, green and red
backdrops. He worked to give the scenes depicted on each page of
"Tasunka" a quality that allows the images to almost leap off the
Montileaux labored for years to perfect the horse images found
in "Tasunka." His latest horses, which he calls very simplistic,
have no hooves. The hoofless horses create a sort of flying effect,
"Tasunka" also features unusually colorful animals such as a
bright blue horse. The idea for that, Montileaux said, comes from
a legend of the famous Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, who would only
ride blue roan horses.
When the finished book finally arrived at his studio in downtown
Rapid City, Montileaux felt at ease.
"It's like birthing a kid," he said.
Though the three-year project was different than any of Montileaux's
previous work, he said he plans to create more books based on Lakota
legends using the network of storytellers, translators and designers
he gathered for "Tasunka." He'll also rely on the same panel of
"I will continue to use my grandchildren as a sounding board,"