Information on the Yankton Sioux Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804
The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Yankton people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective.
The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.
The Yankton or Yanktonais Sioux were one of three groups of people who spoke a related language. They were called "Sioux" by the French in an adaptation of the Chippewa word Nadouessioux, a word which means "adder" or "snake." Since the Chippewa were the enemies of the Sioux, it is understandable that the people they were describing did not also call themselves snakes. Nakota, meaning "allies," is the term the Yanktonais Sioux use to describe their own people. The Nakota, composed of the Yankton and Yanktonais tribes, were in the middle of the three Sioux nations, the eastern being the Dakota and the western the Lakota. Today many Yankton Sioux live on a reservation in South Dakota.
Chairperson, Yankton Sioux Tribal Business and Claims Committee
Marty, South Dakota 57361
[Clark - writing near modern-day Yankton, South Dakota]
27th August Monday
Three miles above this Bluff we Set the Prairie on fire, to let the Sioux Know we wished to see them. At two o'clock an Indian Swam to the Pirogue. We landed & two others Came. They were boys, [and] they informed us that the Sioux were Camped near, on the River Jacques. One Mahar boy informed us his nation was gone to make a peace with the Pawnee. We Sent Sgt. Pryor & a Frenchman with the Interpreter Mr. Dorion to the Camp to See & invite their Great Chiefs to Come and Counsel with us at the Calumet Bluffs [blank] Mile above on L.S. We proceeded on 1 1/2 miles farther & Camped S.S.
27th August Monday 1804
Above this Bluff we had the Prairie Set on fire to let the Sioux See that we were on the river, & as a Signal for them to Come to it. At 2 o'clock passed the mouth of River Jacque, or Yankton. One Indian at the mouth of this river Swam to the Pirogue. We landed and two others came to us. Those Indians informed that a large Camp of Sioux were on River Jacque near the mouth. We Sent Sergt. Pryor & a Frenchman with Mr. Dorion the Sioux interpreter to the Camp with directions to invite the Principal Chiefs to council with us at a Bluff above Called the Calumet. Two of those Indians accompanied them and the third continued in the Boat, Showing an inclination to Continue. This boy is a Mahar, and informs that his nation were gone to the Pawnees to make a peace with that nation.
Here we Saw a likely young Indian of the Mahar nation. He told us that their camp was near; there is considerable of cottonwood Timber about this place. While we were halted here 2 more young Indians came to us, one a Mahar, the other a Sioux. Sergt. Pryor & 2 more went from the Boat with 2 of the Indians out to their Camp to invite them in to See us, especially the Chiefs. The other Indian came along and went with us.
Monday 27th. At 2 we stopped for dinner, and an Indian of the Mahars nation, who lives with the Sioux, came to us here, at the mouth of the Sacque river; and while we remained here two more came in.
[Clark - camped at Calumet Bluff, site of the modern Gavins Point Dam]
28th August Tuesday, 1804
We proceeded on about 3 Miles higher and Camped below the Calumet Bluff in a Plain on the L.S. to wait the return of Sergt. Pryor & Mr. Dorion, who we Sent to the Sioux Camp from the mouth of R: Jacque.
29th August Wednesday 1804
At 4 o'clock Sergt. Pryor & Mr. Dorion the Sioux interpreter, with about 70 Sioux, arrived on the opposite Side of the river. We Sent over for them, who came over. Mr. Dorion & his Son, who was trading with the Indians, Came over. Mr. Dorion informed that three Chiefs were of the Party. We Sent over Sergt. Pryor with young Mr. Dorion, Six Kettles for the Indians to Cook the meat they Killed on the way from their Camp (2 Elk & 6 Deer), about a bucket of Corn & 2 twists of Tobacco to Smoke, intending to Speak to them tomorrow. G. Drewyer Killed a Deer. Sergt. Pryor informs that when he approached the Indian Camp they Came to meet them, supposing Capt. Lewis or myself to be of the party intending to take us in a robe to their Camp. He approached the Camp which was handsome, made of Buffalo Skins Painted different Colors, their Camps formed of a Conic form Containing about 12 or 15 persons each and 40 in number. On the River Jacque of 100 yards wide & Deep Containing but little wood. They had a fat dog Cooked as a feast for them, and a Snug apartment for them to lodge.
29th August Wednesday 1804
At 4 o'clock P.M. Sergt. Pryor & Mr. Dorion, with 5 Chiefs and about 70 men &c. arrived on the opposite Side. We Sent over a Pirogue & Mr. Dorion & his Son who was trading with the Indians Came over with Sergt. Pryor, and informed us that the Chiefs were there. We Sent Sergt. Pryor & young Mr. Dorion with Some Tobacco, Corn & a few Kettles for them to Cook in, with directions to inform the Chiefs that we would Speak to them tomorrow. Those Indians brought with them for their own use 2 Elk & 6 Deer which the young men Killed on the way from their Camp. Sergt. Pryor informs me that when [he] Came near the Indian Camp they were met by men with a Buffalo robe to Carry them. Mr. Dorion informed they were not the Owners of the Boats & did not wish to be Carried. The Sioux Camps are handsome, of a Conic form Covered with Buffalo Robes Painted different Colors and all Compact & handsomely arranged, covered all round an open part in the Center for the fire, with Buffalo robes. Each Lodge has a place for Cooking detached. The lodges contain 10 or 15 persons. A Fat Dog was presented as a mark of their Great respect for the party, of which they partook heartily and thought it good & well flavored. [The interpreter Pierre Dorion, Sr. had several children with a Yankton Sioux wife. The son mentioned in this account would have been ½ Yankton. The custom of carrying important visitors into camp on buffalo robes carried by several men of the tribe was popular among the Sioux].
In the afternoon Sergt. Pryor & the 2 men who went with him returned to our Camp & brought with them 60 Indians of the Sioux nation. They Camped on the opposite Shore & did not incline to cross this evening. Our Captains Sent them over Some Corn & Tobacco &c. Sergt. Pryor informed me that their Town is about 9 miles from the Missouri up the R. Jacque. Their Town consisted of about [blank - Gass says 40] lodges which was made of painted red & white dressed Buffalo & Elk Skins & is very handsome. The Women homely, the most of them old, but the young men handsome.
30th of August Thursday 1804
A very thick fog this morning. After preparing some presents for the Chiefs which we intended make by giving Medals, and finishing a Speech what we intended to give them, we sent Mr. Dorion in a Pirogue for the Chiefs & warriors to a Council under an Oak tree near where we had a flag flying on a high flagstaff. At 12 o'clock we met and Capt. Lewis delivered the speech & then made one great Chief by giving him a medal & some clothes, one 2d. Chief & three third Chiefs in the same way. They received those things with the goods and tobacco with pleasure. To the Grand Chief we gave a flag and the parole & wampum with a hat & Chiefs Coat. We Smoked out of the pipe of peace, & the Chiefs retired to a [wigwam] made of bushes by their young men to divide their presents and smoke, eat and council. Capt. Lewis & myself retired to dinner and consulted about other measures. Mr. Dorion Jr. [was] much displeased that we did not invite him to dine with us (which he was sorry for afterwards). The Sioux is a stout, bold looking people, (the young men handsome) & well made, the greater part of them make use of bows & arrows. Some few fusees [trade muskets] I observe among them, notwithstanding they live by the bow & arrow. They do not shoot so well as the northern Indians. The Warriors are very much decorated with Paint, Porcupine quills & feathers, large leggings & moccasins, all with buffalo robes of Different Colors. The Squaws wore Petticoats & and white Buffalo robes with the black hair turned back over their necks & Shoulders. I will here remark [upon] a Society which I had never before this day heard was in any nation of Indians - four of which is at this time present and all who remain of this Band. Those who become members of this Society must be brave active young men who take a Vow never to give back, let the danger be what it may. In War Parties they always go forward without Screening themselves behind trees or anything else. To this Vow they Strictly adhere during their Lives. An instance which happened not long Since, on a party in Crossing the River Missouri on the ice, a hole was in the ice immediately in their Course which might easily have been avoided by going around. The foremost man went on and was lost, the others were dragged around by the party. In a battle with the (Crow) Indians who inhabit the Coul Noir or black mountain, out of 22 of this society 18 was killed, the remaining four was dragged off by their (friends) party. Those men are likely fellows; they Sit together, Camp & Dance together. This Society is in imitation of the Societies of the (de Curbo or Crow) Indians from whom they imitate.
Some of the Indians Swam across the river to get Some breakfast with us. At the hour of 9 o'clock the commanding officers had all things in readiness to hold a counsel with the chiefs and warriors of the Sioux nation. They sent a pirogue across for them; they all came into our camp in the most friendly manner &c. There was four of them which were always a singing & playing on their curious instruments which were as follows, viz. they had each of them a Thrapple made of a fresh buffalo hide dressed white with some small shot in it and a little bunch of hair tied on it. The head man of them was painted white, the rest of them were painted different colors. When they arrived at our camp & took the commanding officers by the hand 2 guns was fired from our bow piece, the colors displaying &c. Each man of our party gave the 4 men of [the] Band a piece of Tobacco. They Sang around our camp during the time of the counsel. Each man of those Musicians had a War hoop [shield]; it was made of thickest buffalo hides dressed white, covered with thin Goat Skin dressed white & ornamented with porcupine quills & feathers &c. and in Such a defensive manner that a Musket Ball could not penetrate through it. They wore them on their backs when at practice, but when in attack at war they wear them on their right arm tied fast. The talk was finished by our Commanding officers about 4 o'clock. They made five Chiefs & Gave Each a Medal & Gave the whole Some presents. They Gave the Grand Chief which they call in Indian Weucha, (La Liberator in French), a red laced coat & a fine cocked hat & red feather & an American flag & a white Shirt &c. all of which he was much pleased with. They received all their presents very thankfully,
& divided them among one another &c. The captains Gave the young Boys Some beads to Shoot for with their Bows & arrows. There was one in particular that beat all the rest, stuck his arrow every time in the mark &c. After dark we made a large fire for the Indians to have a war dance; all the young men prepared themselves for the dance. Some of them painted themselves in a curious manner. Some of the Boys had their faces & foreheads all painted white &c. A drum was prepared, the Band began to play on their little Instruments, & the drum beat & they Sang. The young men commenced dancing around the fire. It always began with a hoop & hollow & ended with the Same, and in the intervals, one of the warriors at a time would rise with his weapon & Speak of what he had done in his day, & what warlike actions he had done &c. This they call merit &c. They would confess how many they had killed & of what nation they were of & how many horses they had stolen &c. They Camped alongside of us & behaved honestly & clever &c.
Thursday 30th. At nine o'clock the Indians came over the river. Four of them, who were musicians, went backwards and forwards, through and round our camp, singing and making a noise. After that ceremony was over they all sat in council. Captain Lewis and made five of them chiefs, and gave them some small presents. At dark Captain Lewis gave them a grained deerskin to stretch over a half keg for a drum. When that was ready they all assembled round some fires made for the purpose: two of them beat on the drum, and some of them had little bags of undressed skins dried, with beads or small pebbles in them, with which they made a noise. These are their instruments of music. Ten or twelve acted as musicians, while twenty or thirty young men and boys engaged in the dance, which was continued during the night. No Squaws made their appearance among this party.
The Boys Shot with their Bows and arrows for Beads and appeared to be merry and behaved well among our party. Capt. Lewis Shot his air gun, told them that there was medicine in her & that She would do Great execution. They were all amazed at the curiosity, & as Soon as he had Shot a few times they all ran hastily to See the Ball holes in the tree. They Shouted aloud at the Site of the execution She would do &c. The Captains Gave them provisions &c. As Soon as it was dark, a fire was made, a drum was repaired among them. The young men painted themselves different ways, some with their faces all white, others with their faces part white round their forehead, & breasts &c. Then they commenced dancing in a curious manner to us. There was a party that Sung and kept time with the drum. They all danced or all their young men especially. They Gave a hoop before they commenced dancing. They would dance around the fire for Some time and then hoop, & then rest a few minutes. One of the warriors would get up in the center with his arms & point towards the different nations, & make a Speech, telling what he had done, how many he had killed & how many horses he had Stole &c. All this makes them Great men & fine warriors, the <greater> larger rogues the best men &c. or the Bravest men & them that kills most gets the greatest honors among them.
31st Of August Friday
Rose early, a fair day. A curious society among this nation, worthy of remark, formed of their active determined young men, with a vow never to give back, let the danger or difficulty be what it may. In war parties they always go forward, without Screening themselves behind trees or anything else. To this vow they Strictly adhere during their Lives. An instance of it, is last winter on a march in Crossing the Missouri a hole was in the ice immediately in their Course which might easily be avoided by going around. The foremost man went on and was drowned, the others were caught by their party and dragged around. In a battle with the Crow Indians, Out Of 22 of this Society 18 was killed, the remaining four was dragged off by their friends, and are now here. They associate together, Camp together and are merry fellows. This Custom the Sioux learned of the de Carbours inhabiting the Cout Noie or Black mountain. All the Chiefs Delivered a Speech agreeing to what we Said &c. & begged, which I answered from my notes. We made or gave a certificate to two Brave men, the attendants of the Great Chief, gave them Some tobacco and prepared a Commission for Mr. Dorion to make a peace with all the (Chief) nations in the neighborhood, Mahars, Ponca, Pawnee, Loups, Otos and Missouris & to take to the President Some of the Great Chiefs of each nation who would accompany him. Also to do certain other things, and wrote Instructions. Gave him a flag and Some Clothes. The Chiefs Sent all their young men home, and they Stayed for Mr. Dorion. In the evening late we gave the Commissions & Instructions to Mr. Dorion & he received them with pleasure, & promised to do all which was necessary. I took a Vocabulary of the Sioux language, and a few answers to Some queries I put to Mr. Pierre Dorion respecting the War Situation, Trade &c. & of that people which is divided into 20 tribes, possessing Separate interests. They are numerous, between 2 & 3,000 men, divided into 20 tribes who view their interests as different. Some bands at War with Nations [with] which other bands are at peace. This nation call themselves Dar co tar. The French call them Sioux. Their language is not peculiar to themselves as has been Stated, a great many words is the Same with the Mahars, Poncas, Osage, Kansas &c. Clearly proves to me those people had the Same origin. This nation inhabits the Red River of Hudson Bay, St. Peters [Minnesota River], Mississippi, Demoin R., Jacque & on the Missouri they are at War with 20 nations, and at peace with 8 only. They received their trade from the British except a few on the Missouri. They furnish Beaver, Martin, Loups [wolves], otter, bear and deer and have forty traders at least among them.
31st August 1804 Speeches:
At 8 o'clock the Chiefs and warriors met us in Council, all with their pipes with the Stems presented towards us. After a Silence of about [blank], the great Chief Dressed himself in his fine Clothes and two warriors in the uniform and armor of their Nation Stood on his left with a War Club & Spear each, & Dressed in feathers.
The Shake Hand, 1st Chief, Spoke:
My Father. I am glad to hear the word of my G.F. [great father, i.e. President of the United States] and all my warriors also glad.
My Father- now I see my two fathers, & what you have Said I believe and all my people do believe also.
My Father- We are very glad you would take pity on them this Day, we are poor and have no powder and ball.
My Father- We are very Sorry our women are naked and all our children, no petticoats or clothes
My Father- You do not want me to Stop the boats going up if we See, I wish a man out of your [Dorion] boat to bring about a peace between all the Indians, & he can do So.
My Father- Listen to what I say. I had an English medal when I went to See them, I went to the Spaniards, they give me a medal and Some goods. I wish you would do the Same for my people.
My Father- I have your word; I am glad of it & as Soon as the Ice is done running I will go down & take with me Some great men of the other bands of the Sioux.
My Father- I will be glad to See My Grand Father, but our Women have got no Clothes and we have no Powder & Ball, take pity on us this day.
My Father- I want to listen and observe what you Say, we want our old friend (Mr. Dorion) to Stay with us and bring the Indians with my Self down this Spring.
My Father- I opened my ears and all my young men and we wish you to let Mr. Dorion Stay, and a Pirogue for to take us down in the Spring.
The speech of the White Crane, Marto se ree, 2d Chief:
My Fathers listen to my word, I am a young man and do not intend to talk much, but will Say a few words.
My Father- my father was a Chief, and you have made me a Chief. I now think I am a chief agreeable to your word as I am a young man and inexperienced, cannot say much; What the Great Chief has Said is as much as I could Say.
Parnarne Arparbe, Struck by the [Pawnee], 3d Chief:
My fathers I can't Speak much, I will speak a little to you.
My fathers- fathers the Chiefs you have made high, we will obey them, as also my young men. The Pipe I hold in my hand is the pipe of my father. I am poor as you See, take pity on me. I believe what you have Said.
My fathers- You think the great medal you gave My great Chief pleases me and the small one you gave me gives me the heart to go with him to See my Great father. What the Great Chief has Said is all I could Say. I am young and Can't Speak.
A Warrior by the name of Tar ro mo nee spoke:
My father- I am very glad you have made this man our great Chief, the British & Spaniards have acknowledged him before but never Clothed him. You have Clothed him, he is going to see our Great father. We do not see his wish to spear [spare?] him but he must go and see his great father.
Fathers, my great Chief must go and See his Grandfather, give him some of your milk [whiskey] to Speak to his young men.
My father. Our people are naked, we wish a trader to Stop among us, we would be very glad. Our two fathers would give us some powder and ball and some Milk with the flag.
Speech of Ar ca we char chi, (The Half Man), 3d Chief:
Fathers: I do not Speak very well, I am a poor man.
My Fathers- I was once a Chief's boy, now I am a man and a Chief of Some note.
My Fathers- I am glad you have made my old Chief a fine and a great man, I have been a great warrior but now I hear your words, I will bury my hatchet and be at peace with all & go with my Great Chief to see my great father.
My fathers- When I was a young man I went to the Spaniards to see their fashion. I like your talk and will pursue you advice, since you have given me a medal. I will tell you the talk of the Spaniards.
My Fathers- I am glad my Grandfather has sent you to the [red] people on this river, and that he has given us a flag large and handsome, the Shade of which we can Sit under.
My Fathers- We want one thing for our nation very much; we have no trader, and [are] often in want of good[s].
My Fathers- I am glad as well as all around me to hear your word, and we open our ears, and I think our old Friend Mr. Dorion can open the ears of the other bands of Sioux. But I fear those nations above will not open their ears, and you cannot I fear open them.
My Fathers- You tell us that you wish us to make peace with the Otos & Missouri. You have given 5 Medals. I wish you to give 5 Kegs with them.
My Fathers- My horses are poor, running the Buffalo. Give us Some powder and ball to hunt with, and leave old Mr. Dorion with us to get us a trader.
My Fathers- The Spaniards did not keep the Medal of the Token of our Great Chief when they gave him one. You have Dressed him and I like it. I am poor & take pity on me.
My fathers- I am glad you have put heart in our great Chief, he can now speak with confidence. I will support him in all your Councils.
After all [this] the chief presented the pipe to us. The Half Man rose & spoke as follows:
My father- What you have Said is well, but you have not given (me a paper) anything to the attendants of the Great Chiefs.
After which, in the evening late we gave Mr. Dorion a bottle of whiskey and himself with the Chiefs crossed the river and camped on the opposite bank.
31st of August
We gave a Certificate to two Men of War, attendants on the Chief. Gave to all the Chiefs a Carrot of Tobacco. Had a talk with Mr. Dorion, who agreed to Stay and Collect the Chiefs from as many Bands of Sioux as he could this fall & bring about a peace between the Sioux & their neighbors &c. & a Commission to act with a flag. After Dinner we gave Mr. Peter Dorion some Clothes & provisions & instructions to bring about a peace with the Sioux, Mahars, Pawnees, Poncas, Otos & Missouris, and to employ of each or as many of those nations any trader to take Some of the Chiefs as he Could, Particularly the Sioux. . . The Dar co tar or Sioux rove & follow the Buffalo, raise no corn or anything else, the woods & prairies affording a sufficiency. They eat meat, and substitute the ground potato which grow in the plains for bread.
August the 31st 1804
Last night the Indians Danced until late. In their dances we gave them some knives, tobacco & belts & tape & binding with which they were satisfied.
Friday 31st- The Indians remained with us all day, and got our old Frenchman to stay and go with their chief to the city of Washington. Some of them had round their necks strings of the white bear's claws, some of the claws three inches long.
Monday 1st of September 1806
About two miles below the Quicurre, 9 Indians ran down the bank and beckoned to us to land. They appeared to be a war party, and I took them to be Tetons and paid no kind of attention to them further than an inquiry to what tribe they belonged. They did not give me any answer. I presume they did not understand the man who spoke to them as he spoke but little of their language. As one canoe was yet behind we landed in an open commanding situation out of sight of the Indians determined to delay until they came up. About 15 minutes after we had landed several guns were fired by the Indians, which we expected was at the three men behind. I called out 15 men and ran up with a full determination to cover them if possible, let the number of the Indians be what they might. Capt. Lewis hobbled up on the bank and formed the remainder of the party in a situation well calculated to defend themselves and the canoes &c. When I had proceeded to the point about 250 yards I discovered the canoe about 1 mile above & the Indians where we had left them. I then walked on the sand beach and the Indians came down to meet me. I gave them my hand and inquired of them what they were shooting at, they informed me that they were shooting off their guns at an old keg which we had thrown out of one of the canoes and was floating down. Those Indians informed me they were Yanktons; one of the men with me knew one of the Indians to be the brother of young Dorion's wife. Finding those Indians to be Yanktons I invited them down to the boats to smoke. When we arrived at the canoes they all eagerly saluted the Mandan Chief, and we all sat and smoked several pipes. I told them that we took them to be a party of Tetons and the firing I expected was at the three men in the rear canoe and I had went up with a full intention to kill them all if they had been Tetons & fired on the canoe as we first expected. But finding them Yanktons and good men we were glad to see them and take them by the hand as faithful children who had opened their ears to our councils. One of them spoke and said that their nation had opened their ears, & done as we had directed them ever since we gave the medal to their Great Chief, and should continue to do as we had told them. We inquired if any of their Chiefs had gone down with Mr. Dorion, they answered that their Great Chief and many of their brave men had gone down, that the white people had built a house near the Omaha village where they traded. We tied a piece of ribbon to each mans hair and gave them some corn of which they appeared much pleased. The Mandan Chief gave a pair of elegant leggings to the principal man of the Indian party, which is an Indian fashion. [NB: to make presents]. The canoe & 3 men having joined us we took our leave of this party, telling them to return to their band and listen to our councils which we had before given to them. Their band of 80 lodges were on Plum Creek a few miles to north. Those nine men had five fusees and 4 bows & quivers of arrows.
Monday the 1st day of September 1806.
About 9 A.M. we passed the mouth of Rapid Water River. A short distance below we saw nine Indians on the north shore which run out of a thicket. Five of them had guns, the others bows & arrows. They signed to us to put to shore, but we floated a short distance below a point at an open place, as we expected they were the Tetons. As soon as we halted we heard several guns fire, we expecting that the Indians were firing at our hunters who were behind. Capt. Clark instantly run up with 10 men but soon returned with the Indians and found that they had been firing at a keg we had thrown out above and our hunters came up safe. We found these to be [of the] Yankton Nation & good Indians and friends to us. Our officers smoked with them and gave them a bushel of corn & some ribbon and then we proceeded on.
Monday 1st September 1806. This was a fine pleasant day and we set out early, and about 10 o'clock met nine of the Yankton band of the Sioux nation of Indians on the south side of the river. We halted and gave them some corn, and then proceeded on with an unfavorable wind.