Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 25

Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts

“I unfolded the blanket, which was more than long enough to cover my feet and toes. The blanket, which I thought at first was made of cloth, was instead a soft, tanned buffalo hide. In the center was a large circle, painted in black and white. Surrounding the circle were carefully painted scenes of young Indian braves racing bareback across on the prairie on horses, spears at their sides. They rode round and round the circle forever, chasing an unseen buffalo herd.”

~ Oscar’s Gift

Villasur and his men (center) were quickly surrounded by the Pawnee and killed. 1720 (public domain image)

The Lakota and other American Indian tribes used buffalo hides not only for shelter and clothing but as a way to tell stories and record events. The painted hide pictured immediately above, for example, tells the story of when General Villasur was killed in 1720 by Pawnee and Oto warriors in what is now Nebraska.

One special kind of buffalo hide painting was the winter count—part calendar, part historical record in which each year or winter was named and represented by a picture, usually relating to a specific event. The header image on this post (with the white background) is from the Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, “Winter count 01 on cloth by Lone Soldier – 1902” (photo credit: Tim EvansonCC BY-SA 2.0).

Learn more: Visit the Smithsonian’s online exhibit, Lakota Winter Counts, download the teacher’s guide (all grades), and watch the video, below, where Candace Green, anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Emil Her Many Horses, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, talk about Lakota winter counts:

Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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