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  
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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

Did the Utes Use Sign Language?

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for "now"

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for “now”

In his book Our Wild Indians Richard Irving Dodge shared what he learned about the Indians’ use of sign language.
          “Plains Indians,” according to Dodge, “used sign even to accompany speaking among themselves. Talking with their hands was just habit to them.”
         But Dodge noticed that other tribes made far less use of sign language.
          Dodge once asked Chief Ouray about Ute sign language. “Ouray told me his people never used the sign language among themselves,” Dodge reported. “Most of the [Ute] warriors had picked up a little smattering of this language and used it in their [communication] with the Plains Indians or with the whites.”
          Similarly, “most of [the Utes] had acquired a slight knowledge of Spanish by and for use in their trade with Mexicans and Apaches.”

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 384.

Photo from Smithsonian collection

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Indian Communication

Ute Scout 1899“All persons who have been among Indians are astonished at the wonderful speed and accuracy of Indian rumors,” reported Richard Irving Dodge, longtime western military officer in the 1800s. “Something occurs today; it is known tomorrow at distances that appear incredible.”
          “In September, 1880 an outbreak occurred at Fort Reno, sixty miles from this post (Cantonment, Indian Territory). The Indian scouts here knew and informed me of it before I heard of it by the telegraph line between the two posts.
          “So, also, when Ouray was sick; his condition was known every day by us, though we were quite a hundred miles away, and the country between us exceedingly difficult.” [Dodge probably refers to Ouray’s final illness in 1880.]

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection 

Quoted material 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 344.


christmas-lights-110661300062462IPdThe first string of electric outdoor Christmas lights was created by Thomas Edison in 1880. He hung them on his Menlo Park Laboratory where passengers on the nearby railroad line would see them.

Two years later Edison’s partner, Edward H. Johnson, wrapped a string of red, white and blue light bulbs around the Christmas tree in his own home.

In 1895 President Grover Cleveland introduced colorful electric lights to the family Christmas tree in the White House.

The first National Christmas tree with electric lights was lit by President Calvin Coolidge on Christmas Eve 1923.

Information from Everyday Mysteries, Fun Science Facts, Library of Congress

Meriam Report, Part 3

Indian Boarding SchoolThe 1928 Meriam Report of the condition of Indians on reservations drew conclusions about the effectiveness of government policies toward Indians.
          The report noted, “It almost seems as if the government assumed that some magic in individual ownership of property would…prove an educational civilizing factor…unfortunately this policy has for the most part operated in the opposite direction”
          The report stated that many of the Indians lived on lands “from which a trained and experienced white man could scarcely wrest a reasonable living.” The report indicated that some land given to Indians was not suitable for farming. Such land had “little value for agricultural operations other than grazing.”

Source: Meriam Report


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