Sioux Indians

Siouan Family, Siouan Tribe, Sioux Tribe. The most populous linguistic family North of Mexico, next to the Algonquian. The name is taken from a ‘term applied to the largest and best known tribal group or confederacy belonging to the family, the Sioux or Dakota, which, in turn, is an abbreviation of Nadowessioux, a French corruption of Nadowe-is-iw, the appellation given them by the Chippewa. It signifies ‘snake,’ ‘adder,’ and, by metaphor, ‘enemy.’

Before changes of domicile took place among them, resulting from contact with whites, the principal body extended from the west bank of the Mississippi northward from the Arkansas nearly to the Rocky Mountains, except for certain sections held by the Pawnee, Arikara, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Blackfeet, Comanche, and Kiowa. The Dakota proper also occupied territory on the east side of the river, from the mouth of the Wisconsin to Mille Lacs, and the Winnebago were about the lake of that name and the head of Green bay. Northward Siouan tribes extended some distance into Canada, in the direction of Lake Winnipeg. A second group of Siouan tribes, embracing the Catawba, Sara or Cheraw, Saponi, Tutelo, and several others, occupied the central part of North Carolina and South Carolina and the Piedmont region of Virginia 1 , while the Biloxi dwelt in Mississippi along the Gulf coast, and the Oto on Yazoo river in the same state.

According to tradition the Mandan and Hidatsa reached the upper Missouri from the northeast, and, impelled by the Dakota, moved slowly upstream to their present location. Some time after the Hidatsa reached the Missouri internal troubles broke out, and part, now called the Crows, separated and moved westward to the neighborhood of Yellowstone river. The Dakota formerly inhabited the forest region of south Minnesota, and do not seem to have gone out upon the plains until hard pressed by the Chippewa, who had been supplied with guns by the French.

According to all the evidence available, traditional and otherwise, the so-called Chiwere tribes, Iowa, Oto, and Missouri, separated front the Winnebago or else moved westward to the Missouri f roan the same region. The five remaining tribes of this group, Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw, which have been called Dhegiha by Dorsey, undoubtedly lived together as one tribe at some former time and were probably located on the Mississippi. Part moving farther down became known as “downstream people,” Quapaw, while those who went up were the “upstream people,” Omaha. These latter moved northwest along the river and divided into the Osage, Kansa, Ponca, and Omaha proper. As to the more remote migrations that must have taken place in such a widely scattered stock, different theories are held.  By some it is supposed that the various sections of the family have become dispersed from a district near that occupied by the Winnebago, or, on the basis of traditions recorded by Gallatin and Long, from some point on the north side of the Great Lakes. By others a region close to the eastern Siouans is considered their primitive home, whence the Dhegiha moved westward down the Ohio, while the Dakota, Winnebago, and cognate tribes kept a more northerly course near the Great Lakes.

The tribes of the Manahoac confederacy were encountered by Capt. John Smith in 1608, but after that time all of the eastern Siouans decreased rapidly in numbers through Iroquois attacks and European aggression. Finally the remnants of the northern tribes, consisting chiefly of Tutelo and Saponi, accompanied the Tuscarora northward to the Iroquois and were adopted by the Cayuga in 1753. On the destruction of their village by Sullivan in 1779 they separated, the Saponi remaining with the Cayuga in New York, while the Tutelo fled to Canada with other Cayuga. From the few survivors of the latter tribe, Hale and J. O. Dorsey obtained sufficient material to establish their Siouan connections, but they are now almost extinct. The fate of the Saponi is probably the same. The southern tribes of this eastern Siouan group consolidated with the Catawba, and continued to decrease steadily in numbers, so that at the present time there are only about 100 remaining of the whole confederated body. Some of the eastern Siouan tribes may have been reached by De Soto; they are mentioned by the Spanish captain Juan Pardo, who conducted an expedition into the interior of South Carolina in 1567.

The Biloxi were first noted by Iberville, who found them in 1699 on Pascagoula river, Mississippi. In the next century they moved northwest and settled on Red river, Laouisiana, where the remnant was found by Gatschet in 1886 and their affinities determined. These people reported that another section had moved into Texas and joined the Choctaw.
The Oto, called Ushpi by their neighbors, are first mentioned by Iberville in 1699, but were probably encountered the year preceding by the missionaries De Montigny, Davion, La Source, and St Cosine, though not specifically mentioned. Unlike the other Yazoo tribes, they sided with the French in the great Natchez war and continued to live near the Tunica Indians. Their Siouan affinity was demonstrated by Swanton in 1908 through a vocabulary collected from the last survivor.

The first known meeting between any western Siouans and the whites was in 1541, when De Soto reached the Quapaw villages in east Arkansas. The earliest notice of the main northwestern group is probably that in the Jesuit Relation of 1640, where mention is made of the Winnebago, Dakota, and Assiniboin. As early as 1658 the Jesuit missionaries had heard of the existence of 30 Dakota villages in the region north from the Potawatomi mission at St Michael, about the head of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1680 Father Hennepin was taken prisoner by the same tribe.

In 1804-05 Lewis and Clark passed through the center of this region and encountered most of the Siouan tribes. Afterward expeditions into and through their country were numerous; traders settled among them in numbers, and were followed in course of time by permanent settlers, who pressed them into narrower and narrower areas until they were finally removed to Indian Territory or confined to reservations in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana.

Throughout all this period the Dakota proved themselves most consistently hostile to the intruders. In 1862 occurred a bloody Santee uprising in Minnesota that resulted in the removal of all of the eastern Dakota from that state, and in 1876 the outbreak among the western Dakota and the cutting off of Custer’s command. Later still the Ghost-dance religion spread among the Sioux proper, culminating in the affair of Wounded Knee, Dec. 29, 1890.

It is impossible to make statements of the customs and habits of these people that will be true for the entire group. Nearly all of the eastern tribes and most of the southern tribes belonging to the western group raised corn, but the Dakota (except some of the eastern bands) and the Crows depended almost entirely on the buffalo and other game animals, the buffalo entering very deeply into the economic and religious life of all the tribes of this section. In the east the habitations were, bark and mat wigwams, but on the plains earth lodges and skin tipis were used. Formerly they had no domestic animals except dogs, which were utilized in transporting the tipis and all other family belongings, including children (see Travois), but later their place was largely taken by horses, the introduction of which constituted a new epoch in the life of all Plains tribes, facilitating their migratory movements and the pursuit of the buffalo, and doubtless contributing largely to the ultimate extinction of that animal.

Taking the reports of the United States and Canadian Indian offices as a basis and making a small allowance for bands or individuals not here enumerated, the total number of Indians of Siouan stock may be placed at about 40,800.

The Tutelo, Biloxi, and probably the rest of the eastern Siouan tribes were organized internally into clans with maternal descent; the Dakota, Mandan, and Hidatsa consisted of many non-totemic bands or villages, the Crows of non-totemic gentes, and the rest of the tribes of totemic gentes.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Sioux as both an ethnological study, and as a people.

  1. see Mooney, Siouan Tribes of the East, Bull. B. A. E., 1894[]

Siouan, Sioux,

Indian Territory,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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