Siouan or Sioux ?

Out of some sixty aboriginal stocks or families found in North America above the Tropic of Cancer, about five-sixths were confined to the tenth of the territory bordering Pacific ocean; the remaining nine-tenths of the land was occupied by a few strong stocks, comprising the Algonquian, Athapascan, Iroquoian, Shoshonean, Siouan, and others of more limited extent.

The Indians of the Siouan stock occupied the central portion of the continent. They were preeminently plains Indians, ranging from Lake Michigan to the Rocky mountains, and from the Arkansas to the Saskatchewan, while an outlying body stretched to the shores of the Atlantic. They were typical American barbarians, headed by hunters and warriors and grouped in shifting tribes led by the chase or driven by battle from place to place over their vast and naturally rich domain, though a crude agriculture sprang up whenever a tribe tarried long in one spot. No native stock is more interesting than the great Siouan group, and none save the Algonquian and Iroquoian approach it in wealth of literary and historical records; for since the advent of white men the Siouan Indians have played striking roles on the stage of human development, and have caught the eye of every thoughtful observer.

The term Siouan is the adjective denoting the “Sioux” Indians and cognate tribes. The word “Sioux” has been variously and vaguely used. Originally it was a corruption of a term expressing enmity or contempt, applied to a part of the plains tribes by the forest-dwelling Algonquian Indians. According to Trumbull, it was the popular appellation of those tribes which call themselves Dakota, Lakota, or Nakota[pg 158] (“Friendly,” implying confederated or allied), and was an abbreviation of Nadowessioux, a Canadian-French corruption of Nadowe-ssi-wag (“the snake-like ones” or “enemies”), a term rooted in the Algonquian nadowe (“a snake”); and some writers have applied the designation to different portions of the stock, while others have rejected it because of the offensive implication or for other reasons. So long ago as 1836, however, Gallatin employed the term “Sioux” to designate collectively “the nations which speak the Sioux language,” 1 and used an alternative term to designate the subordinate confederacy – i.e., he used the term in a systematic way for the first time to denote an ethnic unit which experience has shown to be well defined. Gallatin’s terminology was soon after adopted by Prichard and others, and has been followed by most careful writers on the American Indians. Accordingly the name must be regarded as established through priority and prescription, and has been used in the original sense in various standard publications. 2

In colloquial usage and in the usage of the ephemeral press, the term “Sioux” was applied sometimes to one but oftener to several of the allied tribes embraced in the first of the principal groups of which the stock is composed, i.e., the group or confederacy styling themselves Dakota. Sometimes the term was employed in its simple form, but as explorers and pioneers gained an inkling of the organization of the group, it was often compounded with the tribal name as “Santee-Sioux,” “Yanktonnai-Sioux,” “Sisseton-Sioux,” etc. As acquaintance between white men and red increased, the stock name was gradually displaced by tribe names until the colloquial appellation “Sioux” became but a memory or tradition throughout much of the territory formerly dominated by the great Siouan stock. One of the reasons for the abandonment of the name was undoubtedly its inappropriateness as a designation for the confederacy occupying the plains of the upper Missouri, since it was an alien and opprobrious designation for a people bearing a euphonious appellation of their own. Moreover, colloquial usage was gradually influenced by the usage of scholars, who accepted the native name for the Dakota (spelled Dahcota by Gallatin) confederacy, as well as the tribal names adopted by Gallatin, Prichard, and others. Thus the ill-defined term “Sioux” has dropped out of use in the substantive form, and is retained, in the adjective form only, to designate a great stock to which no other collective name, either intern or alien, has ever been definitely and justly applied.

The earlier students of the Siouan Indians recognized the plains tribes alone as belonging to that stock, and it has only recently been shown that certain of the native forest-dwellers long ago encountered by English colonists on the Atlantic coast were closely akin to the[pg 159] plains Indians in language, institutions, and beliefs. In 1872 Hale noted a resemblance between the Tutelo and Dakota languages, and this resemblance was discussed orally and in correspondence with several students of Indian languages, but the probability of direct connection seemed so remote that the affinity was not generally accepted. Even in 1880, after extended comparison with Dakota material (including that collected by the newly instituted Bureau of Ethnology), this distinguished investigator was able to detect only certain general similarities between the Tutelo tongue and the dialects of the Dakota tribes. 3 In 1881 Gatschet made a collection of linguistic material among the Catawba Indians of South Carolina, and was struck with the resemblance of many of the vocables to Siouan terms of like meaning, and began the preparation of a comparative Catawba-Dakota vocabulary. To this the Tutelo, ¢egiha, Ɉɔiwe’re, and Hotcagara (Winnebago) were added by Dorsey, who made a critical examination of all Catawba material extant and compared it with several Dakota dialects, with which he was specially conversant. These examinations and comparisons demonstrated the affinity between the Dakota and Catawba tongues and showed them to be of common descent; and the establishment of this relation made easy the acceptance of the affinity suggested by Hale between the Dakota and Tutelo.

Up to this time it was supposed that the eastern tribes “were merely offshoots of the Dakota;” but in 1883 Hale observed that “while the language of these eastern tribes is closely allied to that of the western Dakota, it bears evidence of being older in form,” 4 and consequently that the Siouan tribes of the interior seem to have migrated westward from a common fatherland with their eastern brethren bordering the Atlantic. Subsequently Gatschet discovered that the Biloxi Indians of the Gulf coast used many terms common to the Siouan tongues; and in 1891 Dorsey visited these Indians and procured a rich collection of words, phrases, and myths, whereby the Siouan affinity of these Indians was established. Meantime Mooney began researches among the Cherokee and cognate tribes of the southern Atlantic slope and found fresh evidence that their ancient neighbors were related in tongue and belief with the buffalo hunters of the plains; and he has recently set forth the relations of the several Atlantic slope tribes of Siouan affinity in full detail. 5 Through the addition of these eastern tribes the great Siouan stock is augmented in extent and range and enhanced in interest; for the records of a group of cognate tribes are thereby increased so fully as to afford historical perspective and to indicate, if not clearly to display, the course of tribal differentiation.Citations:

  1. “A synopsis of the Indian tribes … in North America,” Trans, and Coll. Am. Antiq. Soc., vol. II, p. 120.[]
  2. “Indian linguistic families of America north of Mexico,” Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, for 1885-86 (1891), pp. 111-118. Johnson’s Cyclopedia, 1893-95 edition, vol. VII, p. 546, etc.[]
  3. Correspondence with the Bureau of Ethnology.[]
  4. The Tutelo tribe and language,” Proc. Am. Philos. Soc., vol. xxi, 3883, p. 1.[]
  5. Siouan Tribes of the East; Bulletin of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1894.[]

History, Siouan,

McGee, W. J. The Siouan Indians. Published in the Fifteenth Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology, 1893 – 1894. Washington. 1897.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top