White River, Rosebud, SD - Over a hundred years ago, when the
Seven Council Fires ("Sioux") were still living in Minnesota, there
was a Teton band of Hunkpapa at Spirit Lake under an chief called
Tawa Makoche (His Country). It was his country too, Indian Country,
until the white soldiers with their cannon finally drove the Teton
across the Missouri River.
In his youth the chief had been a great warrior. Later, when
his fighting days were over, he was known as a wise leader, invaluable
in council, a great giver of feasts, and a provider for the poor.
The chief had three sons and one daughter. The sons tried to
emulate their father in deed by becoming great warriors as their
father, but it was a difficult thing to do. Time and again they
battled against the Crow with reckless bravery, exposing their selves
in the front rank, fighting hand to hand, until one by one they
were all killed. The sad chief had only his daughter left. Some
say her name was Makata Win (On The Ground Woman). Others called
her Ohitika Win (Brave Woman).
The young woman was beautiful and proud. Many young men sent
their fathers to the old chief with gifts of fine horses that were
preliminary to marriage proposals. Among those who desired Ohitika
Win for a wife was a young warrior named Hé Lúta (Red
Horn), himself the son of a chief, who sent his father again and
again to arrange a marriage on his behalf.
Ohitika Win would not marry. "I will not take a husband," she
said, "until I have counted coup on the Crow to avenge my brothers."
Another young man, Wambdi Cikala (Little Eagle), also loved
Ohitika Win. He was too shy to declare his love because he was poor,
and had never been able to distinguish himself.
At this time, the Crow made a great effort to establish their
nation on the upper Missouri River, a country the Saone (Northern
Teton) consider their own. The Hunkpapa decided to send out a strong
war party to chase them back. Hé Lúta and Wambdi Cikala
were in this same war party.
"I shall ride with you," Ohitika Win said. She put on her best
dress of white buckskin, which was richly decorated with beadwork
and quillwork; around her neck she wore a dentalium choker.
Ohitika Win then went before Tawa Makoche and addressed him,
"Father, I must go to the place where my brothers died. I must count
coup for them. Tell me that I can go."
Tawa Makoche wept with overwhelming pride and profound sadness.
"You are my last child," he said, "I fear for you, and for a lonely
age without children to comfort me. Your decision has long been
determined. I see that you must go. Do it quickly. Wear my warbonnet
into battle. Go and do not look back."
Ohitika Win then took her brothers weapons, her father's warbonnet
and best horse, and rode out with the war party. They came upon
a vast enemy camp, that it appeared to be the entire Crow nation
hundreds of men and thousands of horses. There were many
more Crow than Hunkpapa, but they attacked nevertheless.
Ohitika Win was a sight to stir and motivate the warriors to
great deeds. She gave Hé Lúta her oldest brother's
lance and shield, and said, "Count coup for my brother." To Wambdi
Cikala she gave her second brother's bow and arrows, and said, "Count
coup for him who owned these." She gave her youngest brother's war
club to another young warrior. For herself, Ohitika Win carried
her father's coup stick wrapped in otter fur.
At first Ohitika Win held back in the fight. She supported the
Hunkpapa by singing brave-heart songs and trilling (the tremulous
cry which women use to encourage their men). When the Hunkpapa were
driven back by overwhelming numbers, she rode into the midst of
the fight. She didn't try to kill her enemies, but counted coup
left and right. What Lak?óta warrior could think of retreat
when a woman fought bravely beside them?
The press of the Crow and their horses pushed the Hunkpapa back
a second time. The horse of Ohitika Win was hit by a musket ball
and went down. She was one foot and defenseless when Hé Lúta
passed her by. She was too proud to call out for help and he pretended
not to see her. Wambdi Cikala then came riding out of the battle
dust, dismounted, and told her to get on. She did so, thinking that
they would ride double when he called out, "This horse is wounded,
and is too weak to carry us both."
"I won't leave you to be killed," said Ohitika Win, when Wambdi
Cikala struck the horse's rump with her brother's bow. The horse
bolted and Wambdi Cikala went back into the fight on foot. Ohitika
Win rallied the war party for a final charge. Their final push was
so determined and fierce that the Crow retreated.
This was the battle in which the Crow were driven away from
the Missouri River. It was a great victory for the Hunkpapa, and
many brave young men had died. Among the dead was Wambdi Cikala,
struck down with his face towards the enemy. The Hunkpapa warriors
took the bow of Hé Lúta and broke it, then took his
feathers and sent him home.
They placed the body of Wambdi Cikala on a scaffold, where the
enemy camp had been. Then, they killed his horse to serve him in
the spirit world. "Go willingly," they told the horse, "Your rider
has need of you in the spirit world."
Ohitika Win gashed her arms and legs with a knife in her grief.
She also cut her hair short and tore her dress. Thus, she mourned
for Wambdi Cikala. They had not been husband and wife. In fact,
he hardly dared look at her or speak to her, but now she asked everyone
to treat her as a widow.
Ohitika Win never took a husband, and she never ceased to mourn
the loss of Wambdi Cikala. "I am his widow, "she would tell people.
She died of old age. She had done a great thing and her fame endures.
of the Gros Ventre on the Prairies, by Karl Bodmer.
Hu?kpháp?a: Head Of The Camp Circle, Hunkpapa
Ochéthi akówi?: Seven Council Fires
Mníoe: Water Astir, Missouri River
Mníota: Smoking Water, Minnesota
Mní Wak?á?: Water With Energy, Spirit Lake
Saone: Northern Teton (Hunkpapa, Oohenonpa, Miniconjou, Itazipco)
Thít?u?wa?: Dwellers On The Plains, Teton