Girls and Dolls

Northern Cheyenne girls with dolls and little teepees, about 1907

Northern Cheyenne girls with dolls and little teepees, about 1907

During his visits to Plains Indian camps in the mid 1800s, Richard Irving Dodge observed little girls at play. Young girls had much freedom to play until they were old enough to handle women’s work. Dodge said their mothers made dolls for them with dresses “copied in minute details from ceremonial dresses of parents or friends. [Their] baby-houses are miniature teepees.” While this photo was made 40-50 years later, the dolls and miniature teepees appear as Dodge described.

From: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 346.

Photo: courtesy Library of Congress

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Plains Indians’ Hair

During his many years as a soldier in the Western United States of the mid 1800s, Richard Irving Dodge learned much about the Plains Indians. In his book, “Our Wild Indians” he described men’s hairstyles and taking of scalps.

Ute man, Ta-Wits-Na, 1890, wears braids wrapped in beaver fur

Ute man, Ta-Wits-Na, 1890, wears braids wrapped in beaver fur

          According to Dodge, the Cheyenne and Arapaho men parted their hair in the middle and wore two long tails of hair on each side of their heads.
          Kiowa men parted their hair in the middle. On the left side a long tail of hair dangled. They cut the hair on the right side just below the ear and wore it loose.
          The Comanche combed their hair back from the forehead and wove it into one long braid.
          The Sioux, Crow and Winnebago men parted their hair in the middle and tied it in one unbraided tail on each side of the head. A two inch circle of hair just over the crown of the head was separated out and braided.
          Indians took scalps from other Indians killed or seriously wounded in battle. They believed taking the scalp of dead enemy killed his soul. The scalp was also proof of valor, of success in battle.
          Among the Plains Indians, a scalp taken in single combat became the personal property of that warrior. But scalps were shared when taken in a battle involving a number of warriors. Some of these scalps were given to the chief, even if he did not participate in the battle. Some were hung in the Medicine Lodge, touched only by the Medicine Chief. Others were danced over by the war party and afterward returned to the warriors who took them.

From: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 515-517.
Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress

Living by Indian Time

plains indian woman and child         The Plains Indians measured distance and travel time by “sleeps” (one night = one sleep).
          They marked the passage of time by moons and winters. The first night of a new moon was the start of a new period of time (or a month). 
          A year began with the first snowfall.
          Each year was identified by a significant event: the death of a certain chief, a sickness that affected many people, a great battle with an enemy, particularly abundant or scarce food, lack of snow or particularly heavy snow.
          A year with no significant events might be identified by something as simple as the location of winter camp that year.
          An Indian marked his birth by the event that defined that year. He counted his age by the number of winters he had lived.

From: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 396.

More Moons and Seasons

moon2A year, for Plains Indians and many other Native American peoples, began with the first snow in the autumn. They measured time by moons and the seasons when certain events of nature took place. Here are more examples:

Zuni (New Mexico in the Southwest)

Jan    When limbs of trees are broken by snow
Feb    No snow in trails
Mar   Little sand storm
Apr    Great sand storm
May   No name
Jun    Turning moon
Jul     When limbs of trees are broken by fruit
Sep    When corn is harvested
Oct     Big wind moon
Dec    When Sun has traveled home to rest

Omaha (Central Plains)

Jan    When snow drifts into tipis
Feb    When geese come home
Mar   Little frog moon
Jun    When the buffalo bulls hunt the cows
Jul     When the buffalo bellow
Sep    When the deer paw the earth

Sioux (Great Plains, Dakotas, Nebraska)

Jan    Wolves run together
Feb    Dark red calves
Mar   Sore eye moon
Apr    Red grass appearing
May   Moon when the ponies shed
Jun    Strawberry moon
Jul     Red blooming lilies
Aug   Cherries turn black
Sep    Calves grow hair
Oct    Changing season
Nov   Falling leaves
Dec    When dear shed their horns

For more moon names see previous post:

Photo courtesy NASA

Indian names for moons (from the Western Washington University Planetarium)

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Moons and Seasons

MoonA year, for Plains Indians and many other Native American peoples, began with the first snow in the autumn. They measured time by moons and the seasons when certain events of nature took place. Here are some examples:

Jan      Time of flying ants
Apr     Moon of the big leaves
May    Season when the leaves are green
Jul       Moon of the horse/time of ripeness
Oct      Time when the corn is taken in

 Cheyenne (Great Plains)
Jan       Moon of the strong cold
Apr      When the geese lay eggs
May     When the horses get fat
Sep       Drying Grass Moon
Oct       Freeze begins on stream’s edge
Nov      Deer rutting moon
Dec      When the wolves run together


Jan       When snow blows like spirits in the wind
Feb      Frost sparking in the sun
Mar      Buffalo dropping their calves
Apr      Ice breaking in the river
May     When the ponies shed their shaggy hair
Jun      When the buffalo bellows
Jul        The hot weather begins
Aug      Geese shedding their feathers
Sep       Dying grass
Oct       Falling leaves
Nov     When the rivers start to freeze
Dec      Popping trees

Lakota (northern plains)

Jan        Hard moon
Feb       When the trees crack because of the cold
Mar      Moon of the sore eyes
Apr      When the wife had to crack bones for marrow
May      Moon of the green leaves
Jun       When the berries are good
Jul        When the chokecherries are black
Aug      Moon of the ripening
Set        Moon of the brown leaves
Oct       When the wind shakes off leaves
Nov     When winter begins
Dec      When the deer shed their antlers

Photo Courtesy NASA

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Naming Years

Plains IndiansNative American people identified a year by a memorable event that took place. It might have been the year a certain chief died. A weather event, such as particularly deep snow or a flood, might be most remembered. A great battle with enemies could mark a year. Sometimes these events were recorded in painting on a piece of animal hide or even on the side of a teepee.

Years are sometimes identified in religious works by events. In the Bible, for instance, Isaiah 6:1 references an event in “the year when King Uziah died.”

A Native American might say, “I was born the year the grasshoppers came and ate everything that grew from the land.”

If you had to identify the past five years by a major event that took place in each year, how would you name those years?

School Schedule, Colorado 1890’s

Boys 1890Colorado’s College of the Sacred Heart, located West of Denver, was a boarding school that accepted younger boys than its name implies. Students lived by a strict schedule. Here is the “Order of Daily Exercises” in the 1890’s.

On Class days:
5:30 A.M. Rising, Toilet
6:00 Mass, Morning Prayers
6:30 Study
7:30 Breakfast and recreation
8:30 Mental Philosophy, Latin, English
10:00 Recess
10:15 Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics
11:15 Recess
11:30 Study. Optional Branches
12:00 Dinner, Recreation
1:30 P.M. Study
2:00 Moral Philosophy, Greek, English
3:00 Recess
3:15 Christian Doctrine, Evidences of Religion,
Chemistry, Elocution
3:45 Penmanship
4:15 Recreation, Lunch, Calistthenics
5:15 Study
6:30 Supper, Recess, Night Prayers
7:30 Study
8:30 Dormitory
9:00 Retire

On Sunday:
6:00 A.M. Rising, Toilet
6:30 Sodality Mass, Morning Prayers
7:30 Breakfast, Recreation
9:15 Mass, Catechetical Instruction, Recreation
10:45 Reading of Marks, Instruction on Politeness
11:45 Toilet
12:00 Dinner, Recreation
5:15 Study, etc.

Families could visit a student between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

See previous post for more information about the school.

Private School, Colorado 1890s

College Sacred heartResearching a new biography led me to the collection of pre-1900 records from the College of the Sacred Heart in Colorado. The school was chartered by the Colorado legislature in 1887. This school for boys was located on 50 acres in Clear Creek Valley west of Denver. It was operated by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. The school later became part of what is now Regis University.
          In the mid 1890s, tuition and board at the College of the Sacred Heart cost $100 per five month term. There was a $10 fee per term for “Washing and Mending of Linens (clothing).”
          Here is the list of “necessary articles” a student was expected to bring on entering the school each term:
3 changes of underwear
6 shirts
3 night shirts
6 collars
4 cravats
12 handkerchiefs
3 suits of clothes
6 pair socks or stockings
3 pair shoes
1 pair overshoes
6 table napkins
8 towels
combs and other toilet articles
Note to parents: “The student’s number should be marked on each item.”

What We Write About

WCWhile browsing the many bookshelves in our house, I came across a little brown volume titled Water-Closets. The inside cover is signed by author Glenn Brown, an architect. A little tab of paper bound in front of the Preface page notes, “Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1884, by John Phin, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C.”
          Yes, this intriguing little book is about toilets. It begins with history and includes many illustrations drawn by the author.
          The ancient Romans had four types of toilets. “Close stools (lasana) in which rich ancients used gold or silver bowls; vases (gastra) which were stationed on the roadways; public privies (cloacina) [Mr. Brown says there were 142 in the city of Rome]; and privies (latrina).” Mr. Brown concludes that the cloacina and the latrina were water-closets, or private rooms with water for drainage. He offers details of various designs and construction through history.
          According to Mr. Brown, one of the earliest mentions of a water-closet is found in a poem. “Metamorphosis of Ajax,” by Sir John Harrington, published in 1596, is about a water-closet that the poet invented for his house.
          I suppose this simply reminds us that anything can be the subject of a book.

Studying Sign

Garrick Mallery

Garrick Mallery

Sign language, talking with hands, was once the common means of communication among North American Plains Indian tribes who spoke some 40 different languages. It was a complex language that could be used to negotiate alliances and trade agreements.  Within tribal groups the elders often used sign for storytelling and rituals, an act that lent more drama to the stories. 
          Today, Plains Indian sign language is considered an endangered language, as are many spoken tribal languages. A 2010 gathering on the Northern Cheyenne reservation brought together fluent sign-talkers from a number of northern Plains tribes. Also participating were linguists and persons speaking American Sign Language (used by persons who are deaf). The purpose was to study the variations and commonalities in signing.
          The event was reminiscent of a 1930 gathering that brought together chiefs and elders from twelve tribes. The National Anthropological Archives has black and white film of that event which captured elders telling stories in sign.
          One man with an early interest in Native American sign language was Garrick Mallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Native Americans who came to Washington for treaty talks were invited to his studio to demonstate signs. Mallery carefully sketched and described the movements of hands and body for each sign.

For examples of Indian sign language visit:

Photo courtesy National Archives


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers