Native Village Youth and Education News
March 1, 2009 Issue 195 Volume 1
Family finds Lakota oral history
In 1910, Lakota Chief Martin White Horse
dictated stories about his South Dakota
reservation community. After his oral
history, called a winter count, was
typed up, the transcript went into
storage where it laid forgotten for
decades. Last summer, the typist's
descendants rediscovered it. This
rare, original oral history of Indian
life is one of the oldest examples of
Libby Holden's great-grandparents, George and Florence May Thwing, lived on the Cheyenne River Reservation in the early 1900s. George was an attorney who served Native Americans. Florence May is the one who actually typed up Chief White Horse's stories.
The 32-page narrative documents shares more than 100 years of Lakota history and culture. It starts with the year 1790. Each year is described by a significant event. In the White Horse narrative, the entries include:
(1823) In this year there was a big star (presumably a meteor) which came from the East and went toward the west: this star had a long tail and made a great noise and it burst in the west, causing an earthquake.
(1835) In the year of stars
moving in the sky.
The White Horse narrative is a companion piece to a second historical document by the chief: the White Horse winter count pictograph. The Pictograph is a series of drawings on a piece of canvas. Each drawing represents one year, starting in 1790 and ending in 1910. The pictograph has been in a Denver museum for several decades
"It's an important and irreplaceable document," said Ray DeMallie from Indiana University. "The winter count would be brought out literally during the dark evenings of winter and the count keeper would show the pictographs one by one and tell the stories behind them. The primary audience would be children, bringing them up with a sense of history."
ceremony was held in the town of White
Horse, South Dakota, to mark the rediscovery of the narrative.
"It was very, very meaningful," said
Donna Rae Petersen, a tribal member who helped organize
the event. "
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