SHSND Home > North Dakota History > Unit 3: Commerce Culture, and Conflict, 1800-1878 > Winter Counts

Unit 3: Set 1. Winter Counts - Introduction

Intro | High Dog Count | Beede's Provenance | No Ears Count | Discussion |
Activity 1
| Activity 2

The Lakota and other tribes kept track of the passage of time and their community history with a winter count (waniyetu wowapi) . The annual season was reckoned from the first snow of one winter to the first snow of the next winter. Pictographic winter counts such as High Dog’s used a single image painted on hide, and later, muslin or paper, to remind the keeper of the major events and their importance. However, some winter counts did not have a pictograph; the events used to mark the passage of years were kept in the memory of the keeper of the winter count. The keepers chose significant events after consulting with the elders and leaders of his band or village.

This document set includes two winter counts: John No Ears’ count which perhaps followed an older tradition and probably did not include a pictograph. It appears that this copy resulted from No Ears relating the winter count to Major General Hugh Scott, who worked for the Bureau of American Ethnology.

High Dog’s winter count was collected in 1912 by Aaron Beede, an Episcopalian missionary to the Lakota. Beede’s careful process of collecting the terms, translating them, then completing the telling with a longer explanation of the events offers a detailed understanding of Lakota life on the northern plains during a period of cultural transition as well as the influence of the collector (in this case Reverend Beede) on the story-telling process. Other collectors influenced the winter counts by requesting copies or purchasing them. The keeping of winter counts, unlike many other traditions, was not outlawed, so it continued into the twentieth century.

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