Buffalo Hunting Among Northern Plains Indians Prior to the Horse

For thousands of years, the Indian nations of the Northern Plains relied upon the buffalo—technically bison, but commonly called buffalo—for food, for clothing, for shelter, and for tools. Before the coming of the horse, buffalo were hunted using either a buffalo jump or a corral.

The corral or impound method involved building a timber corral and enticing the buffalo into it so that they could be killed. Archaeologist Arrow Coyote, in his master’s thesis of the University of Montana reports:

“The corral structure can be made of fences of logs, brush, or piled snow. The idea is to construct the pound carefully to look solid so that bison cannot see ‘daylight’ and try to burst through the fences.”

Enticing the buffalo into the corral was not an easy task, nor was it always successful. It was not uncommon to bring the buffalo into the corral from several miles away.

The Plains Cree were among the most proficient users of the impound method. The Plains Cree used the impound for their winter buffalo hunt. According to anthropologist David Mandelbaum, in his book The Plains Cree: An Ethnographic, Historical, and Comparative Study:

“A pound had to be built under the supervision of a shaman who had been given the power to do so by a spirit helper. Each pound could only be used through one winter; the following year a new one had to be built.”

To make the impound, a thicket was first selected and an area 30-40 feet in diameter was cleared. A wall about 10-15 feet high was then constructed around the clearing. The entrance to the impound was placed to the east and two sturdy trees located about 20 feet apart were used as the entrance gates. A log was then lashed between the two trees at the height of the wall and a ramp constructed from the ground to this log.

At an oblique angle to the entrance of the impound, a chute was built to guide the buffalo. The chute was about 100 yards out and made a sharp turn right before the entrance. With the sharp turn, the buffalo herd would not see the corral until it was too late to stop.

To bring the buffalo into the chute leading to the impound, the hunters would locate a herd and then begin driving it toward the chute by slapping their folded robes against the ground or the snow. The herd would move away from the noise and then settle down to graze again. The men would repeat the action, moving the herd toward the chute. When the herd got close to the entrance of the chute, a single horseman, using a fast horse, would ride out and guide the herd into the chute.

Once inside the impound, the buffalo would mill about in a clockwise fashion and would be shot with arrows. Before butchering the dead animals, the medicine man would sing a song to the spirits. The camp crier would apportion the buffalo, usually giving the fattest carcasses to the men who had helped build the corral. Anthropologist David Mandelbaum writes:

“All who were encamped in the vicinity of a pound were privileged to share in its yield, regardless of whether they had helped build it or whether they belonged to the band that had constructed it.”

The buffalo jump involved luring the buffalo over high precipices along river valleys. To lure the herd to the jump site, a young man, disguised with buffalo horns and robe, would decoy the herd. Grace Flandreau, in her book The Lewis and Clark Expedition, writes:

“The job of decoy, given to the bravest and fleetest of the young men, seems to have been a questionable privilege, his escape from destruction depending entirely on whether he could run faster than the buffalo, and find a foothold under the cliff.”

The animals were usually killed or disabled in the fall. Crow warrior White-Man-Runs-Him describes the buffalo jump this way:

“When we got the buffalo up near the edge of the precipice we would all wave our blankets and buffalo robes and frighten the buffalo and they would run off the steep place, falling into the valley below, one on top of another.”

Buffalo were often hunted in the winter as the large animals could not run fast in the snow. The hunters, wearing snowshoes, could easily approach them at this time. To carry the meat back to camp, sleds were often made from buffalo ribs and hickory saplings.

 

Women Warriors Among Northern Plains Indians

The popular media and sometimes history book view of the Northern Plains Indians of the nineteenth century envisions a male warrior, mounted on a horse, wearing a long war bonnet. There are many things wrong with this stereotype, but what is usually missing from the non-Indian descriptions of Northern Plains Indian warfare is the fact that women were often warriors.

During the nineteenth century, most of the non-Indians who observed Indian war parties were blind to the women warriors who rode with them. They simply assumed that any women in the group were there simply to cook and provide sex. The idea that a woman could be a warrior was totally alien to them. They failed to understand that women sometimes rode into battle with their husbands.

The American attitude regarding women, including Indian women, can be seen in 1877 when an American delegation went to Saskatchewan, Canada, to meet with Sioux refugees under the leadership of Sitting Bull. When The One that Speaks Once, the wife of Bear that Scatters, addressed the council, the Americans were insulted and offended by allowing a woman to speak to them in council. As had happened in other councils where women spoke, the Americans left the council and refused to participate with them.

Listed below are a few examples of well-known nineteenth century women warriors on the Northern Plains.

Fallen Leaf

While Fallen Leaf (often called Woman Chief by the Americans) was a Crow warrior, she was actually born to the Gros Ventre nation and was captured by the Crow when she was 12. As a girl, her Crow foster parents allowed her to use the bow and arrow and to guard the horses. Later she learned to shoot a rifle and went on hunts with the men. With regard to her buffalo hunting prowess, Edwin Thompson Denig, writing in 1856 in his Of the Crow Nation, says Fallen Leaf

“could kill four or five buffalo at a race, cut up the animals without assistance, and bring the meat and hides home.”

She counted coup the first time when the Blackfoot attacked her camp. She mounted her horse and rode out to meet them. She shot down one Blackfoot warrior with her gun and shot arrows into two more. Denig writes:

“This daring act stamped her character as a brave. It was sung by the rest of the camp, and in time was made known to the rest of the nation.”

A year later, she led her first war party against the Blackfoot, capturing 70 horses, killing two men including a chief, and taking the gun from a Blackfoot warrior.

After she had counted coup four times in the prescribed Crow tradition, she was considered a chief and sat in the council of chiefs. In addition to being a war leader, she was also a good hunter and had four wives.

Running Eagle

Running Eagle became a Blackfoot (Piegan) warrior after her husband was killed by the Crow. To avenge her husband’s death, she sought help from the Sun and was told

“I will give you great power in war, but if you have intercourse with another man, you will be killed.”

After this she became a very respected war leader and led many successful raids on the large Flathead horse herds west of the Rocky Mountains. It was on a raid in Flathead country when she was killed. She had had sexual relations with one of the men in her war party and for this reason lost her war power.

Tashenamani 

Tashenamani (also calledMoving Robe; She Walks With Her Shawl) was a Hunkpapa Lakota woman who, along with thousands of other Sioux and Lakota, was camped at the Greasy Grass (also known as the Little Big Horn) in July of 1876. When Lt. Col. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry attacked the camp, Tashenamani seized her brother’s war staff and led the counterattack against the attacking cavalry. The warrior Rain-in-the-Face, recalling this attack, said:

“Always when there is a woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another in displaying their valor.”

She rode into battle with her face painted crimson as a woman in mourning to avenge the death of her brother One Hawk who had been killed at the beginning of the attack. During the battle she killed at least one soldier: a black interpreter. When he asked her not to kill him, she replied:

“If you did not want to be killed, why did you not stay home where you belong and not come to attack us?”

Tasheamani was the daughter of Crawler and her fight at the Greasy Grass was not her first battle. Several years earlier, when she was 17 years old, she had been a part of a war party against the Crow.

Buffalo Calf Robe:

At the battle of the Rosebud in 1876, American soldiers and their Crow and Shoshone allies attacked a Sioux and Cheyenne camp. The Shoshone and Crow shot the horse of Cheyenne Chief Comes in Sight out from under him. As they were closing in to finish him off, Buffalo Calf Robe (aka Calf Trail Woman), the sister of Comes in Sight, rode into the middle of the warriors and saved the life of her brother. Buffalo Calf Robe had ridden into battle that day next to her husband Black Coyote. The Cheyenne remember this as the most important war honor of the day.

Ehyophsta 

As a Cheyenne warrior, Ehyophsta (Yellow-head Woman) played a prominent part in an 1868 battle with the Shoshone in which she counted coup on one Shoshone warrior and killed another.

Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains

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The Great Plains stretches from the Canadian provinces in the north, almost to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. Plains Indians are those which are most often stereotyped by movies and other media as representing all Indians. The buffalo, the horse, and the tipi are all important items in Plains cultures.

By 1800, it was estimated that at least 30 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains. For the Plains Indians, the buffalo provided them with food, shelter, tools, and spiritual guidance. For some of the Plains tribes, such as the Blackfoot, the buffalo was considered to be “real food” and all other flesh was considered to be inferior. Buffalo hunting was not something done for sport, but the buffalo were harvested so that the people could live.

There were three main methods used by the Plains tribes in harvesting the buffalo: the buffalo jump, the impound, and the horse-mounted hunt.  

The Buffalo Jump:

The buffalo jump involved luring the buffalo over high precipices along river valleys. Since the cliff was not movable and the buffalo were rarely close to the jump site, this meant that the people had to bring the buffo in. To lure the herd to the jump site, a young man, disguised with buffalo horns and robe, would decoy the herd. The job of decoy was given only to the fastest runners as they had to run faster than the buffalo in order to escape death. The runners also had to be able to run for many miles, luring the herd to the jump. While the runner lured the herd, the people would fan out in a long V-shaped formation from the jump site. Waving blankets and robes, they would help guide the animals in and panic them into a stampede. Crow warrior White-Man-Runs-Him describes the buffalo jump:

“When we got the buffalo up near the edge of the precipice we would all wave our blankets and buffalo robes and frighten the buffalo and they would run off the steep place, falling into the valley below, one on top of another.”

The American explorer Meriwether Lewis described the buffalo jump this way:

“one of the most active and fleet young men is selected and disguised in a robe of buffalo skin… he places himself at a distance between a herd of buffalo and a precipice proper for the purpose; the other Indians now surround the herd on the back and flanks and at a signal agreed on all show themselves at the same time moving forward towards the buffalo; the disguised Indian or decoy has taken care to place himself sufficiently near the buffalo to be noticed by them when they take to flight and running before them they follow him in full speed to the precipice; the Indian (decoy) in the mean time has taken care to secure himself in some cranny in the cliff… the part of the decoy I am informed is extremely dangerous.”

At the bottom of the cliff, the people would set to work processing the dead buffalo into meat, hide, and tools. All parts of the animal were used. Some parts of the buffalo, such as the tongue, brains, and liver were often consumed raw. Other parts were broiled or boiled.

Pemmican was made from the pounded, dried meat mixed with melted fat, marrow, and a paste from chokecherries which not only added flavor but also helped as a preservative. Sometimes this mixture was placed in skin casings and sometimes it was dried into cakes.

The buffalo provided the Plains Indians with far more than food. Buffalo hair was used for making ropes and pads; the horns and hoofs were made into implements and utensils; the sinew was used for sewing and for making bow strings; and the hides were used for clothing, blankets, and tipi covers.  A typical northern Plains lodge required 12-20 buffalo hides for covering. Generally, the hides for lodges were obtained from hunts conducted in the late spring or early summer as the buffalo shed their winter coats at this time. The hides from buffalo killed during the fall and winter hunts were ideal for making robes.

In organizing the hunt, several bands might come together and the rewards of the hunt would be divided equally among all who were present. A single hunt might harvest a few dozen buffalo up to a couple of hundred.

Shown below is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta, Canada.

Head Smashed In

The Buffalo Impound:

When a suitable cliff was not available, some of the Indian nations would harvest the buffalo using an impound method. This involved building a timber corral and enticing the buffalo into it so that they could be killed. The idea was to construct the impound carefully so that it looked solid. If the buffalo could not see ‘daylight’ they would not try to burst through the fences. As with the use of the buffalo jump, enticing the buffalo into the impound was not an easy task, nor was it always successful. It was not uncommon to bring the buffalo into the corral from several miles away.  

The Plains Cree were among the most proficient users of the impound method. The Plains Cree often used the impound for their winter buffalo hunt. Each impound could only be used through one winter; the following year a new one had to be built. In making the corral, the Cree would first select a thicket and then clear an area about 30-40 feet in diameter.  A wall about 10-15 feet high was then constructed around the clearing. The entrance to the impound was placed to the east and two sturdy trees located about 20 feet apart were used as the entrance gates. A log was then lashed between the two trees at the height of the wall and a ramp constructed from the ground to this log.

At an oblique angle to the entrance of the impound, a chute was built to guide the buffalo. The chute was about 100 yards out and made a sharp turn right before the entrance. With the sharp turn, the buffalo herd would not see the corral until it was too late to stop.

To bring the buffalo into the chute leading to the impound, the hunters would locate a herd and then begin driving it toward the chute by slapping their folded robes against the ground or the snow. The herd would move away from the noise and then settle down to graze again. The men would repeat the action, moving the herd toward the chute. When the herd got close to the entrance of the chute, a single horseman, using a fast horse, would ride out and guide the herd into the chute.

Once inside the impound, the buffalo would mill about in a clockwise fashion and would be shot with arrows. Before butchering the dead animals, the medicine man would sing a song to the spirits. Everyone who was camping in the area got a share of the buffalo, regardless of whether they had helped build the corral or whether they belonged to the band that had constructed it.

Horse-Mounted Buffalo Hunting:

After the acquisition of the horse, the buffalo was also hunted from horseback. The animals would be brought down using a bow and arrow or a lance. In hunting buffalo from horseback, the preferred weapon was the bow and arrow, even after firearms became common. The bow was preferred for two reasons: (1) it was difficult to reload a muzzle-loading gun at full gallop, and (2) the hunter could easily reclaim the animals by looking at and identifying their own arrows. Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief describes hunting buffalo with a bow and arrow:

“Sometimes when a hunter rode side by side with a buffalo, and shot the animal, the arrow would go clear through. The Indians were very proud and careful of their arrows. They did not wish to break them. That is the reason why they shot them on the side, so that when the buffalo fell the arrow would not be broken.”

Buffalo hunting was generally a communal undertaking. A lone hunter might startle the herd and as a result little meat could be taken. Therefore, most of the tribes had one of the warrior societies supervise the hunters to make sure that no one hunted early. Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief describes what happened when a lone hunter would disobey the warrior society:

“When they got him, they broke his gun, his arrows and bow, broke his knife, cut his horse’s tail off, tore off his clothes, broke his saddle in pieces, tore his robe in pieces, cut his rope into small bits, also his whip. Then they sent him off afoot.”

Among the Assiniboine, horse-mounted hunters supervised by the Soldiers’ Society and using bows and arrows would surround the buffalo herd. In an hour’s time, 80-100 hunters could kill 100-500 buffalo. The hunter who killed the animal claimed the hide and the choicest pieces of meat. All who aided in the butchering were entitled to a portion of the meat.

Northern Plains Indian Medicine Bundles

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The Northern Plains Indian medicine bundle is simply a collection of objects which symbolize a spiritual path. The use and nature of these bundles varies greatly among the various Indian Nations of the Northern Plains. In addition, some of the bundles are owned by individuals and are symbols of their individual spiritual paths, while others are owned by the tribes or tribal associations and are associated with the spiritual well-being of the larger group. In this diary, we are going to look at the personal medicine bundles.  

The personal medicine bundle is made in accordance with instructions received from spiritual helpers during the vision quest. The sacred contents of the bundle are symbols of power: they are not the spiritual power itself. Thus, if a personal medicine bundle is lost or stolen, the power is not lost as the individual has the power to remake the bundle.

With regard to the Crow, the initial power of the medicine bundle traditionally comes from a vision. The medicine bundle is therefore grounded in individual revelations. The spirituality of the bundle involves not only the assembly of the materials which it contains, but also the rituals of displaying these materials and the responsibility of bundle ownership. The function of the bundle is to care for general well-being and to prevent misfortune.

One example of the contents of a bundle and the symbolism of the objects within the bundle can be seen in the bundle of the Crow warrior Half Yellow Face. The main object in the medicine bundle was a flute painted with yellow lines. Carved into the flute were an elk’s head and a bighorn sheep’s head. Attached to the flute were curlew and red woodpecker feathers. An eagle feather hung from one end. Half Yellow Face did not put this bundle together but received it from another Crow warrior, Cold Face. The power in the bundle had been originally given by the Great Above Person to Cold Wind through the elk. Cold Wind had received the vision for the bundle while fasting on a high mountain top near the Stillwater River. Thus the symbolism of the elk and the bighorn sheep represent this original vision. The power of the bundle helped to protect Half Yellow Face in war and to find his enemies. The bundle also contained love medicine.

After the death of Crow medicine man Braided Tail, his skull was added to his bundle. In this way the bundle became an oracle to its owners. The bundle would tell its owners about the enemy-their location and the outcome of raids-as well as where to find game. The bundle could tell if a sick person would be cured and it could tell the location of missing property.

One object found in many medicine bundles is the Buffalo Stone. Buffalo Stones are small stones containing strong medicine which are found on the prairie. This stone is generally a fossil of some kind, and the stone itself takes the initiative in contacting humans and offering itself as a helper. For the Blackfoot, the stone will call out to the individual with a faint chirp. Traditionally, these stones gave the Blackfoot hunters great power in hunting buffalo.

Among the Mandan, there are personal medicine bundles which are owned by both men and women. These personal bundles were assembled as tangible evidence of visionary contact with a specific spirit. If this spiritual power was deemed inadequate a bundle might be disposed of and another vision sought. Each bundle has its own sacred songs and rituals associated with its opening. The Mandan ceremonial bundle is a collection of objects which serve as aids in remembering the sequence and content of the origin stories.  Bundles owned by women are often associated with healing.

Among the Mandan, personal bundles are passed down from generation to generation in a matrilineal fashion. Thus, a man may inherit a bundle from his mother’s relatives, but not from his father. Before inheriting a bundle, however, a man has to show that he is worthy of it. Traditionally, this was done by giving feasts to the bundle at various times.

Among the Plains Cree, a vision might give an individual the ability to make a bundle containing war equipment to protect the wearer from wounds and other hazards. When bundle contents were worn in battle or for ceremonial occasions, a cloth had to be given to the bundle. When any bundle was opened, a pipe offering had to be made.

Among some tribes, such as the Blackfoot and the Crow, it is felt that the power of a medicine bundle can be transferred from one individual to another. Among the Crow, the owner of the bundle has the power to sell the bundle, along with its associated ceremonies, to someone else. The special talismans from a bundle can be sold three times and still retain the spiritual powers. In transferring the spiritual power of the medicine bundle, the original owner adopts the person wanting the bundle in a ceremonial process that began and ended with a sacred sweat lodge ceremony and prayer.

The Crow warrior Two Leggings explains why some men would buy a medicine bundle:

“Some of us bought powerful medicine bundles from well-known medicine men even if we had a vision of our own because we wanted their power and their sacred helpers.”

Among the Blackfoot, personal medicine bundles were assembled in accordance with personal visions. While the bundle originated with the owner’s vision, the owner could sell the bundle to another person. The songs and other knowledge associated with the bundle remained the personal possession of the individual until he was willing to transfer the bundle and the spiritual power which it represents to another.

No photographs of medicine bundles have been included here as most Native elders feel that it is improper to photograph the bundles and their contents. While there are many photographs of these bundles, it would be inappropriate and disrespectful to show them here.

Northern Plains Indian Spirituality

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Many of the stereotypical images of Indians that abound in movies and popular books were inspired by the Indian nations of the Northern Plains: these are the horse-mounted buffalo hunters that roamed the plains of Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Dakotas, and Wyoming during the nineteenth century. The popular images of the Northern Plains spirituality often focus on features such as the Sun Dance and the Vision Quest without any understanding of the underlying spiritual principles.

Northern Plains Indian spirituality tended to be somewhat different than the spirituality expressed in Christianity. The Crow warrior Two Leggings said:

“When the Black Robes [Jesuits] came to us they talked about the devil but we could not find him in the things we knew. We think that everything is good and bad and that no person or thing is all good or all bad.”

In the Crow language, the word alachiwakiia/ is often used for religion, but the word translates as “one’s own way” and may interpreted as “it’s up to you!” The experiences and manifestations of the power that enables life are personal.

Spirituality among the Northern Plains tribes was traditionally very personal. There was generally no universally acknowledged set of dogmas. Nor was there any ecclesiastical organization that handed down laws for the guidance of the religious consciousness. No one insisted that a person should believe in a particular creation myth or subscribe to some accepted concept of the hereafter.

As with tribes in other culture areas, the Indian nations of the Northern Plains did not traditionally separate their spiritual life from their daily life. The natural world and the supernatural world were not seen as distinct entities but as integrated into the people’s view of the universe. All things are alive-and therefore usually spoken of as “people.” This includes the animal-people, the plant-people, and forces such as streams, thunder, wind, sun, rocks, and so on.

Throughout their lives, the Indian people of the Northern Plains would carry on a dialogue with spiritual patrons who would guide their daily decisions through instructions given in dreams. In addition, these spiritual patrons could be summoned with special talismans (often included in their medicine bundles) and songs when danger was near or when help was needed in curing or in finding buffalo.

The term “medicine man” and “medicine woman” are usually used today to indicate a person who has some special spiritual power. Traditionally, these people treated the sick, conducted ceremonies, and spoke of the future. These medicine people were taught by supernatural entities or spirits who appeared to them in dreams or visions. These visits were often prompted by a prolonged fast and by the many sacrifices made to the spirits.  There were many ways of practicing these healing powers and therefore each man and woman conducted ceremonies differently and according to the way they had been instructed in their visions.

There are many important elements which define the traditional spirituality of the Northern Plains Indians. These elements include the sacred pipe, the sweat lodge, smudging, and paint.

The Sacred Pipe:

Smoking the pipe is a way of making prayers and communications to the spirits visible. The pipe is incorporated into almost all Plains Indian ceremonials. Some pipes are owned or held by individuals, while others are a part of societal or tribal bundles. The pipe symbolized peaceful intent, truthfulness, and mutual obligation.

Some of the Northern Plains tribes had tribal pipes, pipes which were used to spiritually aid the tribe. Among the Arapaho, for example, their Flat Pipe was viewed as a sacred object which was held in the highest respect. The keeper of the Flat Pipe was responsible for the care of the pipe and for praying daily for the well-being of the tribe. The keeper also assisted individuals who had vowed to pray through personal sacrifice to the pipe.

White Buffalo Woman gave the sacred pipe to the Lakota with precise instructions on how to use the pipe as an agent of prayer and peace. She told the Lakota that those who fought each other within the tribe must be friends.

While most of the northern Plains tribes used stone pipes with a T-shaped stone bowl, the Crow most frequently used straight tubular stone bowls. Among the Mandan, the village Medicine Pipe was crafted out of clay with a large center bowl and four pipe stems. It allows four medicine people to smoke together.

The Sweat Lodge:

The sweat lodge is the oldest known ritual among the Northern Plains tribes. It precedes most religious ceremonies and is often conducted as a ceremony in its own right. In ceremonial context, the sweat lodge functions to purify the participants.

Smudging:

The smoke of sage, sweetgrass, and other plants is often used for purification. Smudging makes it possible to see and communicate directly with the spirits. Smudging is a part of almost all spiritual activities. Among many of the tribes, smudging with sweetgrass (Savastana odorata) is a universal component for all ceremonies. The smoke is a purifying agent, a means of dispelling the everyday atmosphere and substituting a pleasant odor for the spirits.

Paint:

While non-Indians sometimes call the Indian use of paint as “war paint”, the painting of the body, face, and hands is an important part of many ceremonies which are not related to war. According to Blackfoot elder Long Standing Bear Chief:

“We believe that the Creator gave paint as one of four gifts to the human child of this Great Holy Being. Paint was given to use as a means of painting a person in difficulty because they were being marked for special recognition as being a person of the Source of Life’s making.”

Among the Gros Ventre, people have traditionally painted their faces with a special design in red paint. This symbolizes creation and their special relationship with the Great Mystery.  

Northern Plains Indians Names

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Traditionally men and women among the tribes of the Northern Plains usually carried several names during the course of their lives. Each child would be given a name shortly after birth. As the child grew older and began to acquire unique personal characteristics, another name might be given which reflected these characteristics. Upon entering adulthood, another name was often given which might reflect specific deeds of valor or visions.

The naming customs among the different tribes varied a great deal. Some of these are discussed below.  

Blackfoot:  

Among the Blackfoot, a child would be given a personal name by the mother at the time of birth. Later, the father would arrange with an older relative or an important person in the camp to have the child officially named. A boy would be given his first name in a sweatlodge ceremony when he was a few weeks old. While boys would later acquire new names, girls would retain their names throughout their lives.  

There was also etiquette with regard to asking people their names. Among the Blackfoot, it was considered rude to ask someone their name when in the company of other people. It was felt that this reflected poorly upon the person and made them feel ashamed.

Assiniboine:

Assiniboine babies received a name about 3-4 weeks after birth. The name would usually be given by a successful warrior or a holy man. Among the Assiniboine, girls’ names were generally kept throughout life, but young men frequently received new names in recognition of their first brave deed. The name of a deceased grandfather or other male relative might be given to a warrior who had counted coup many times.

Sarcee (Sarsi):

Among the Sarcee, boys would be given a derogatory name in adolescence and then encouraged to complete a brave deed that would entitle him to receive a man’s name. This man’s name was usually a name which had been owned by a deceased relative.

Arapaho:

Arapaho parents would ask an elder to choose a name for their child. This name and the accompanying prayers by the elders would help to ensure the child’s future success.

Missouri River Tribes:

Among the Missouri River village tribes (Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara), an infant was traditionally first given a name within ten days after birth. If a child died without being named, it would return to a spirit home to wait for an opportunity to be born again.  

Among the Hidatsa, the first child was traditionally born in the mother’s lodge and was named by the maternal grandfather. The name given to the newborn was usually one associated with the grandfather’s medicine bundle. During the naming ceremony, the child would be introduced to the father’s clan – the Hidatsa are matrilineal which means that the child would belong to the mother’s clan – and the spirit associated with the grandfather’s medicine bundle would be asked to bless the child.

Among the Arikara, children were named shortly after birth by an older relative or by the mid-wife. This name might come from names associated with the family’s medicine bundle or from the midwife’s medicine.  

Crow:

Among the Crow, a child was named four days after birth by a respected elder. The elder would paint the baby’s face, then lift the baby four times before giving the name. The baby and the mother would be smudged with bear root. Later in life, a person’s name might be changed to reflect a vision, a noteworthy battle exploit, or some personal peculiarity. Names were considered personal property, the same as song and paintings. Men would change their names to call attention to war deeds.

For the Crow, words have power and thus a name has power. Thus, the name might be bestowed upon a child as an indication of the kind of life or a particular ability desired for that child.

Cree:

Shortly after the birth of a Cree child, its parents would host a naming feast. An elder-usually a male for a male child and a female for a female child-with recognized spiritual powers would be asked to give the child a name. After singing a song, the elder would take the child and pronounce its name. The name was usually derived from one of the elder’s visions. The infant would then be passed from arm to arm around the lodge. Each person would take the baby, address it by name, and speak a wish for its future happiness.

As with many other tribes, it was (often still is) considered impolite to ask someone their name. The Cree feel that if one mentions one’s own name, the spiritual guardians of the name will be offended.

Cheyenne:

There was no infant naming ceremony among the Cheyenne and nicknames for babies were used for several years. At the age of five or six, a child’s ears would be ceremonially pierced and at this time the child might be given a formal name which was selected by the father’s oldest sister from names on the father’s side of the family. The piercing of ears is a symbolic way of opening the mind to learning, understanding, discipline, and knowledge.

Sioux:

Regarding Sioux names, the Sioux writer and physician Charles Eastman wrote:

“Indian names were either characteristic nicknames given in a playful spirit, deed names, or such as have a religious and symbolic meaning.”

Eastman also reported:

“Names of any dignity or importance must be conferred by the old men, and especially so if they have any spiritual significance.”

Among the Lakota Sioux, children would traditionally have their ears pierced during the Sun Dance. At this time, a new name would be given to the child.  

The Sioux leader Gall was initially given the name Little Cub Bear when his mother noticed that he resembled a grizzly cub in constant motion. Later, when he was seen eating the gallbladder of a freshly killed buffalo, he was given the name Gall. He was also known as The-Man-That-Goes-in-the-Middle and Walks-in-Red-Clothing (sometimes translated as Red Walker).