Dakota Indian Names and Writing

The names of the Sioux bands or villages, are as fanciful as those given to individuals. Near Fort Snelling, are the “Men-da-wahcan-tons,” or people of the spirit lakes; the “Wahk-patons,” or people of the leaves; the “Wahk-pa-coo-tahs,” or people that shoot at leaves, and other bands who have names of this kind. Among those chiefs who have been well-known around Fort Snelling, are:

Wah-ba-shawThe Leaf
Wah-ke-on-tun-kahBig Thunder
Wah-coo-taRed Wing
Muzza HotahGray Iron
Ma-pe-ah-we-chas-tahThe man in the Cloud
Tah-chun-coo-wash-taGood Road
Sha-ce-peeThe Sixth
Wah-soo-we-chasta-neBad Hail
Ish-ta-hum-bahSleepy Eyes

These fanciful names are given to them from some peculiarity in appearance or conduct; or sometimes from an occurrence that took place at the time that they usually receive the name that is ascribed to them for life. There is a Sioux living in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling, called “The man that walks with the women.” It is not customary for the Indian to show much consideration for the fair sex, and this young man, exhibiting some symptoms of gallantry unusual among them, received the above name.

The Sioux have ten names for their children, given according to the order of their birth.

The oldest son is calledChaske
The oldest daughter is calledWenonah

These names they retain until another is given by their relations or friends.

The Dahcotahs say that meteors are men or women flying through the air; that they fall to pieces as they go along, finally falling to the earth. They call them “Wah-ken-den-da,” or the mysterious passing fire. They have a tradition of a meteor which, they say, was passing over a hill where there was an Indian asleep. The meteor took the Indian on his back, and continued his route till it came to a pond where there were many ducks. The ducks seeing the meteor, commenced a general quacking, which so alarmed him that he turned off and went around the pond, and was about to pass over an Indian village. Here he was again frightened by a young warrior, who was playing on the flute. Being afraid of music, he passed around the village, and soon after falling to the earth, released his burden. The Indian then asked the meteor to give him his head strap, which he refused. The Indian offered him a feather of honor for it, and was again refused. The Sioux, determined to gain his point, told the meteor if he would give him the strap, he would kill a big enemy for him. No reply from the meteor. The Indian then offered to kill a wigwam full of enemies the meteor still mute. The last offer was six wigwams full of dead enemies for the so much coveted strap. The meteor was finally bribed, gave up the head-strap, and the Sioux went home with the great glory of having outwitted a meteor; for, as they met no more, the debt was never paid.

The language of the Sioux would, with proper facilities, be easily acquired. It is said, in many respects, to resemble the ancient Greek. Even after having acquired considerable knowledge of the language by study, it is necessary to live among the people in order to understand their fanciful mode of speaking.

One of the chiefs, “Sleepy Eyes,” visited a missionary not many weeks since, and on being asked why he did not come at the time appointed, replied, “How could I come when I have no moccasins,” meaning that he had no horse. The horse had recently been killed by a man who owed him a grudge; and his way of alluding to the loss was the moccasins. On another occasion, this same chief, having done what he considered a favor for the missionaries, at Traverse des Sioux , told them that his coat was worn out, and that he had neither cloth nor thread to mend it; the fact was, that he had no coat at all, no cloth nor thread; his brawny neck and arms were entirely bare, and this was his way of begging for a new coat.

In Indian warfare, the victor takes the scalp of his enemy. If he have time, he takes the entire scalp, including the ears; but if hurried, a smaller scalp-piece is taken. As an inducement to be foremost in battle, the first four that touch the dead body of an enemy, share the honors that are paid to the one who slew the foe and took the scalp. But the victors in Indian fight frequently suffer in this way; a wounded savage feigns death, and, as some warrior approaches to take his scalp, he will suddenly rise, discharge his gun, and fight desperately with the tomahawk until killed. Deeds of valor performed by Indians are as often done from desperation as from any natural bravery. They are educated to warfare, but often show great disinclination to fight; strategy goes farther with them than manly courage does. At Fort Snelling, the Sioux have more than once crouched under the walls of the fort for protection, and on one occasion a chief, who came in to give information of the approach of some Chippeways trembled so as to shake the ornaments about his dress.

Dakota, Sioux,

Fort Snelling,

Eastman, Mary H. Dahcotah, Or Life and Legends of the Sioux around Ft. Snelling. New York: John Wiley. 1849.

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