- The word Sioux is thought to be an abbreviation of the (possibly French) word Nadouessioux, meaning Little Snakes or Enemies.
- They historically call themselves The Seven Council Fires or The Seven Nations.
- The Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Tribes are separated by three main languages.
- The Sioux originated from the source of the Mississippi River and then later migrated to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, and Western Canada. Now they are also based in Nebraska.
- Dakota Sioux were traditionally woodland people who thrived on fishing, farming, and hunting.
- Lakota Sioux were introduced to horses by the Cheyenne and lived a nomadic life on the prairies, surviving on bison and corn.
- Nakota Sioux also lived as Plains Indians.
- In the late Seventeenth Century the Dakota Sioux entered into an alliance with French fur-traders, competing against the English Hudson Bay Company.
- The Treaty of Fort Laramie established the Great Sioux Reservation in 1888.
- Sioux warriors often allied with the Cheyenne to fight their traditional enemies – the Pawnee. Later they also banded together against the United States military.
- Leaders are chosen based on their noble birth. They have to demonstrate bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom.
- Warriors have two fraternal society structures – one for young men (like the Kit-Fox, Elk, and Dog Soldiers), and one for the elders.
- Family is the center of Sioux life and children are held sacred.
- The Sioux are a very spiritual people who worship Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery).
- Mystical visions are accessed through ritual, prayer, music, dance, and self-sacrifice.
- Medicine Men are their holy leaders. The most important religious ceremony is the annual Sun Dance, held at the time of the Summer Solstice when the moon is full.
- Symbolism is also important in Sioux culture. For example, the Medicine Wheel represents the Circle of Life, and unity with the Great Spirit.
- The Sioux once practiced The Ghost Dance, based on the promise of a return to the old ways by the Indian prophet Wovoka.
- One of their most famous leaders was Chief Red Cloud who fought the US government for control of the Powder River County in Wyoming.
- Chief Sitting Bull was another great warrior. He led the charge at the Battle of the Little Bighorn that helped defeat George Armstrong Custer.
- Crazy Horse was one of the most feared Sioux war leaders.
- The large number of First Nation people were massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. This signaled a formal end to the Great Sioux Nation.
- Today, the largest Sioux presence lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
- Although there is widespread unemployment on the reservation, the Sioux are engaged in farming and ranching, including the raising of bison. The area held by the Oglala Lakota is said to be the poorest place in the country.
- Black Elk recorded the Sioux’s passing in his famous book Black Elk Speaks.
Want to know more? Watch this wonderful documentary about how the Battle of the Little Bighorn led to The Last of the Sioux:
Curtis, Edwards S. The North American Indian: The Complete Portfolios. Koln: Taschen, 1997.
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. London: Folio Society, 2003.
Mooney, James. The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.
Wikipedia, “Sioux” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sioux
- The word Cheyenne is thought to come from the Sioux Shai-ena, meaning People of a different speech.
- They call themselves Tsitsistas (Our People).
- The Cheyenne originated in Minnesota, but moved through the Dakotas and onto the Great Plains when they acquired horses from the Spaniards.
- Their farming communities switched from harvesting corn, beans, and squash to become nomadic hunters who followed after the huge buffalo herds.
- They soon became superb riders who shot antelope, deer, elk, and bison from the backs of their horses.
- If they needed to cross water the men crafted tub-shaped boats from a frame of branches covered with buffalo hide.
- Around 1832 the tribe split to become the Northern Cheyenne (now based in Montana), and the Southern Cheyenne (now in Oklahoma).
- The Northern Cheyenne guard the Sacred Buffalo Hat – an important religious artifact.
- The Southern Cheyenne protect the equally-revered Sacred Arrows.
- Both tribes worship two main deities: Heammawihio (The Wise One Above), and Ahktunowihio (The Divine Spirit of the Earth). They also honor four powerful spirits associated with the North, South, East, and West.
- The Cheyenne believe in ghosts and underwater monsters.
- Eagles symbolize strength and power.
- Bears bring good fortune.
- Deer represent endurance.
- The buffalo was considered a sacred animal because it provided almost everything the Plains Indian needed.
- Traditionally, the men hunted, made tools, and defended their tribe.
- Dog Soldiers were the fiercest of the Warrior bands that also included Fox Soldiers, Chief Soldiers, and Bowstring Soldiers.
- Women were responsible for setting up their mobile tipi homes, gathering and cooking food, making clothes, caring for the young, sick, and old, and for preparing animal skins.
- Girls were chaperoned by older women to protect their virtuous reputations.
- Boys were allowed to go to war after they had completed their first buffalo hunt.
- The Cheyenne were a polygamous society where a man could wed many wives. But if one of them wished for a divorce she simply placed her husband’s belongings outside her tipi and the marriage was over.
- One of the most important ceremonies still practiced is the annual eight-day Sun Dance.
- Their mourning rites include traditional prayer and song. Female family members often cut off their hair as a mark of respect. Some women slice their legs with hunting knives too.
- The Cheyenne fought several major battles in the Indian Wars, most notably at Sand Creek, Washita River, and Little Bighorn.
- Like many other Native American Tribes, the Cheyenne were forced onto reservations during the late nineteenth century.
Want to know more? Watch this wonderful documentary about the Sun Dance and how the Sacred Circle is passed on to as new generation:
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States (London: Folio Society, 2003)
De Capua, Sarah. The First Americans: The Cheyenne (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2007)
Wikipedia, “Cheyenne” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne
Woman Chief (1806-1854)
- Woman Chief was a revered female warrior of the Crow Tribe.
- She may also have been called Pine Leaf and Biawacheeitche.
- This Warrior Woman was born into the Gros Ventres people of Montana.
- After being taken prisoner at the age of 10, Woman Chief was raised by the Crows.
- Since her adopted father had lost all his sons, he encouraged her tom-boy pursuits.
- Yet even when engaging in masculine activities she always wore female attire.
- Woman Chief excelled at horse riding, shooting, and dressing buffalo.
- When he father died she took control of his lodge and went on several raids against the Blackfoot.
- She raised her own band of warriors that took many horses and scalps.
- Woman Chief had four wives.
- Following the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851), she became involved in inter-tribal negotiations.
- After several years of peace this remarkable warrior was ambushed and killed by her original birth tribe.
Brodell, Ria. “Butch Heroes,” at https://www.riabrodell.com/biawacheeitche-or-woman-chief-aka-barcheeampe-or-pine-leaf/
Wikipedia, “Woman Chief,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_Chief
Nancy Ward (c. 1738 – 1822)
- Nancy Ward was a Cherokee War Woman from Tennessee.
- She was also called Nanyehi.
- Some claim her father was a British officer named Ward, but others argue that he was a member of the Delaware Tribe.
- In 1755, her husband – Kingfisher – was killed in action against the Muscogee Creeks. She was with him on the battlefield, helping to load his musket.
- Although only 18 years old, Nancy Ward picked up her fallen husband’s weapon, rallied the surrounding warriors, and led them to victory.
- She was given the title Ghigau (War Woman / Beloved Woman) for her bravery.
- This warrior woman believed in a peaceful co-existence with the colonists.
- Through her interactions with the early Europeans, she brought farming and dairy production to Cherokee society. A prisoner whose life was spared by Ward – Mrs. Lydia Russell Bean – taught the women how to weave cloth.
- Nancy Ward also owned African American slaves who worked in her fields.
- Legend claims that she had a recurring vision forewarning the Trail of Tears that would leave behind “a trail of corpses – the weak, the sick who could not survive the journey.”
Carney, Virginia Moore. Eastern Band Cherokee Women. Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.
Finger, John R. Eastern Band of Cherokees: 1819-1900. Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.
Wikipedia, “Nancy Ward,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Ward
Moving Robe Woman (1854 – c. 1931)
- Moving Robe Woman was a member of the Hunkpapa Sioux.
- She was also called Thasina Mani, Mary Crawler, Her Eagle Robe, She Walks With A Shawl, and Walking Blanket Woman.
- Her father was Chief Crawler.
- She was the sister of One Hawk or Deeds, a warrior killed at the start of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
- At the age of 17 she had taken part in a Sioux raid against the Crow, in Montana.
- Moving Robe Woman gained fame when she rode alongside her father – against Lt. Colonel Custer – to avenge her brother’s death.
- A brave named Fast Eagle claimed he held Custer’s arms while Moving Robe Woman stabbed him. She was also credited with the death of a black soldier called Isiah Dorman.
- Charging into battle this Warrior Woman rode a black horse, painted her face crimson, and braided her hair.
- In an interview in 1931 she claimed, ” . . . I have not boasted of my conquests. I am a woman, but I fought for my people.”
AmericanTribes.com, “Mary Crawler,” at http://www.american-tribes.com/Lakota/BIO/MaryCrawler.htm
Geni.com, “Moving Robe Woman, Thasina Mani,” at https://www.geni.com/people/Moving-Robe-Woman-T%C8%9Fa%C5%A1%C3%ADna-M%C3%A1ni/6000000031182145889
Wikipedia, “Moving Robe Woman,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_Robe_Woman
Buffalo Calf Road Woman (c. 1850 – 1879)
- Buffalo Calf Road Woman was born around 1850 into the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
- She was married to Black Coyote and had two children.
- This Warrior Woman gained fame when she rescued her brother, Comes In Sight, at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876.
- Comes In Sight and his horse were injured and left on the battlefield when the Cheyenne retreated. Buffalo Calf Road Woman rode out under fire, at full gallop, hauled up her brother, and managed to get him to safety.
- Her remarkable act of bravery rallied the remaining Cheyenne toward a final victorious push against General George Cook’s soldiers.
- In her honor, the Cheyenne call the Battle of the Rosebud, The Fight Where The Girl Saved Her Brother.
- She also accompanied her husband in the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876). Legend claims she was the warrior who knocked Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer from his horse before he died.
- Buffalo Calf Road Woman and Black Coyote were part of the Northern Cheyenne exodus from Indian Territory in 1878, led by Dull Knife and Little Wolf.
- The family were captured on route and taken into custody.
- The Warrior Woman died from diphtheria in Miles City the following year.
Amazing Women In History, “Buffalo Calf Road Woman: http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/buffalo-calf-road-cheyenne-warrior-woman/
Wikipedia, “Buffalo Calf Road, Heroic Cheyenne Warrior Woman,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Calf_Road_Woman
Lozen (c. 1840-1889)
- Lozen was an Apache Warrior Woman, born sometime around 1840.
- Her childhood name was Little Sister, which later became Lozen – meaning spirited.
- Her brother was Chief Victorio.
- This Apache band resisted confinement on the San Carlos Reservation (Arizona) and sought refuge in Mexico.
- Lozen fought alongside the men and accompanied Geronimo in the last campaign of the Apache Wars. After they were forced to surrender she was taken prisoner by the U.S. military.
- Victorio called Lozen the “shield to her people,” admiring her military strategies and skills.
- She was a gifted horsewoman.
- Lozen was also considered to be a Shaman or Medicine Woman. Legend claims she could predict an enemy approach and that she had magical healing powers. She was often called on to act as a midwife.
- One of her famous acts of bravery was to lead her people to safety across the dangerously swollen Rio Grande River.
- She died from tuberculosis in a military prison in Alabama.
McWilliams, John P. Against the Wind: Courageous Apache Woman. New York: Page, 2016.
Wikipedia, “Lozen,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lozen