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Documents - Document 1 - Sioux Pictograph of the Whitestone Hill Battle

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Treaty 1951 | Treaty 1868

Sioux Pictograph of the Whitestone Hill Battle

About 50 years after the battle at Whitestone Hill, an Indian pictograph of the battle was drawn by Richard Cottonwood, as directed by Takes-His-Shield—who was apparently at Whitestone Hill in 1863. The pictograph presents the Sioux Indian tradition of the conflict at Whitestone Hill. The following explanation of the pictograph, or “Map-History,” is summarized from an interpretation written by Rev. Aaron McGaffey Beede in 1932, almost 20 years after the pictograph was drawn. Beede served as an Episcopal missionary among the Sioux at Fort Yates in North Dakota for many years.

A photocopy of this pictograph is displayed at the Whitestone Battlefield Historic Site Museum. The photo is from State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Pictograph of Whitestone Hill.
Battle of Whitestone Hill. This pictograph presents the Sioux Indian
tradition of the conflict at Whitestone Hill. It was drawn about 50 years
after the battle by Richard Cottonwood, as directed by Takes-His-Shield
who was apparently at Whitestone Hill in 1863. (Image courtesy
of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2002.38.1)
close-up of "1" section on pictograph

The explanation begins near the number “1” on the pictograph, beside the circle of tipis. The many Sioux heads show that Indian men, women, and children were at the camp. They were on their autumn buffalo hunt and frying meat for the winter, as indicted by the jerked meat hanging from poles supported by forked posts near the tipis. The camp was in the broken prairie country beside a small lake. The lake is shown, along with lines indicating hill ridges and a sort of squarish table land.

The camp consisted of two groups of Sioux, one accustomed to war and to spears, and the other using only arrows. War scalps are drawn on the tops of the tipi poles of some tipis and these tipis are shown with spears, while other tipi poles have no scalps and are shown with arrows. The two groups of Sioux were so friendly that they are all shown camped in one circle, not in two circles.

A large army of mounted white soldiers suddenly swooped down upon the Sioux, with the horse tracks of white soldiers shown in an orderly array or pattern. The soldier’s attack is shown coming from the lower right corner of the map. Most of the Indians started to run away, fleeing in the direction opposite the army. A fleeing woman has hitched a travois to a horse which has no rider, and three children are crowded onto this travois.

Close-up of "2" portion of pictograph.

Now the perspective changes on the pictograph to the opposite corner labeled with number “2.” An Indian reading this large pictograph on the floor would typically walk around the map to the opposite corner.

A small lake or hilly rise is shown near the “2.” A large part of the army is rushing, shown by hoof prints in well-formed order, to encircle the fleeing Indians and cut off their escape. A smaller number of soldiers pursue the fleeing Indians without killing any of them. An Indian woman catches a get-away horse, places an old woman in the saddle, and hitches her travois loaded with children to the horse. No one has been killed yet.

A column of troops turns down near the outside of the “2,” chasing Indians who had gone that way. Another woman with a get-away horse, together with many other Indians, swings by a circular route back toward the “1.” So far none has been killed, and these Indians have not put up a fight or any type of defense.

Close-up of "3" portion of pictograph

Now the viewpoint changes to the number “3” area. The troopers have the Indians between them and are killing the Indians, but the Indians are not fighting: not one arrow is in the picture. The mark that looks something like “R” on the face means the person was killed, and the fact that 25 or 30 of these marks are present in this part of the pictograph indicates a slaughter of the Indians.

Close-up view of "4" portion of the pictograph.

Now the story moves to the number “4” area of the map. After killing the Indians, a large number of soldiers went away, with their horse tracks crossing the ones made earlier. Some of the Indians escaped at this time, indicated by the faces with no marks showing that they were killed. Then darkness came, so that no eyes actually saw where the troopers went or where the Indians escaped. The only events shown in the picture are those that could be seen, and what happened after darkness set in could not be seen. No Indians had fired arrows or fought the soldiers in any way, according to the pictograph.

Beede also wrote that he had once asked Takes-His-Shield why he was not in the map, as is usually the case with the Indian who makes the pictograph. According to Beede, Takes-His-Shield “said that since that time he had been in the other life ...the same as dead, and so he must not put himself into it. There was a slight tremble in his voice, but otherwise no emotion, firm set face and jaws.... He was a man of few words and seldom talked with people abut the matter.”

“It should be noted that as a historical source, this depiction of the Whitestone Hill conflict is only as accurate as the memory of one participant a half century after the event occurred, plus the still later interpretation by someone who was not there at all. The pictograph is valuable, however, because it does present the Indian tradition of the engagement.” (Beede, pp. 97–98) Interpretation from Shimmin-Tveit Museum, Forbes, North Dakota)

Continue to Document 2: Courts of Indian Offenses...