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SIRS Discoverer Spotlight of the Month: National Native American Heritage Month

Each November, the United States celebrates National American Indian Heritage Month by honoring Native Americans and their diverse cultures, contributions and achievements. Many achievements and influences can be found in art, music, literature, agriculture, spirituality, and medicine. National American Indian Heritage Month has been a significant national celebration since 1990. This yearly commemoration honors Native Americans’ accomplishments and their role in the development of American culture and society, while recognizing the evolution of the Native American experience and emphasizing the importance of preserving Native traditions and heritage. Visit the November SIRS Discoverer Spotlight and join us in commemorating the cultures and recognizing the hardships of Native Americans. Young researchers can read about Crazy Horse as a child; discover the history of the Sioux tribe; explore the wonders of totem poles, and much more.

Edward S. Curtis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Other topics to research can include:

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery Cross the Rocky Mountains

It must have been a huge relief for Lewis and Clark and the members of the Corps of Discovery to see a river where the current would be in their favor for once, pushing them forward to their destination to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of rowing and poling against the current like they had on the Missouri River for over 2,000 miles since leaving St. Louis, the expedition had now come upon the Clearwater River on the other side of the Rocky Mountains near present-day Orofino, Idaho. Until that moment, it had been anything but smooth sailing. And they had just crossed 200 miles of the worst terrain they had ever come across. It took them 53 days to cross the Continental Divide from the headwaters of the Missouri in Montana and over the Bitterroot Range. The last 11 days of this leg of the expedition they faced starvation, dehydration, and frost bite.

In early August of 1805 Meriwether Lewis and three other expedition members left William Clark and the main group on the Beaverhead River in Montana and headed west toward Lemhi Pass, a low grassy gap on the Continental Divide along the Montana-Idaho border, where they were in search of Sacagawea’s tribe, the Shonshone. Sacagawea was a member of the Lemhi band of the Shoshone, but had been kidnapped when she was 12 years old by a group from the Hidatsa tribe after a battle between the two tribes. Lewis and Clark decided to take her on as a guide because they knew that they could not get over the Rocky Mountains without the help of the Shoshone. She knew the  language and knew the lands that lay ahead of them.

When Lewis and his men made it to Lemhi Pass they were expecting to see a far-reaching plain to the west with a river flowing to the Pacific Ocean. What they saw instead was what they had been seeing since they had made the grueling portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River: miles and miles of jagged, snow-covered peaks. The men’s spirits immediately sank because they knew that fall and winter weather were not far behind and the mountains seemed to go on endlessly. But they at least had accomplished one goal of the expedition: finding the western-most source of the Missouri River. Soon after going over the pass, Lewis and his men ran into members of the Shoshone and were escorted to their chief, Cameahwait, who by coincidence turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. Soon after an initial negotiation for horses and other supplies, William Clark and the rest of the expedition arrived with Sacagawea. After a brief emotional reunion with her brother, she helped translate and negotiate for the horses. They were now ready to tackle the rest of the Rockies. But now came the hard part: crossing the Bitterroot Range.

On September 11, after camping for two days for much-needed downtime at an area now called Travelers Rest near present-day Missoula, Montana, they began to ascend the Bitterroot Range on the Lolo Trail with a Shoshone guide named Old Toby. And it was on this trail where they faced their biggest challenge of the expedition.

Snow began to fall six to eight inches at a time. Along with this hazard, much of the trail was filled with downfall, making the trek an arduous clambering over and ducking under timber in thigh-deep snow. Several times they lost the snow-covered trail and had to double back. Provisions were running short. Their horses became weaker each day. And still, at each mountain pass, when the view permitted, the mountains and snow-capped peaks seemed to never end. And each time, the men’s spirits sank even deeper. At times, starvation became an issue, at which point they had to kill and butcher a horse to survive. On September 16 William Clark noted in his journal: “Began to Snow about 3 hours before Day and Continued all day … by night we found it from 6 to 8 Inches deep … I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin mockersons which I wore . . . men all wet cold and hungary. Killed a Second Colt which we all Suped hartily on and thought it fine meat.” Finally, 11 days after they left Travelers Rest, they emerged out of the Bitterroots into a wide plain near present-day Weippe, Idaho. They had made it out of the Rocky Mountain alive.

It was here they met the Nez Perce tribe, who turned out to be a warm and welcoming people, who fed, clothed, and nursed them back to health. The tribe also instructed them how to use fire to hollow out trees to make the canoes they would use to continue on their way on the Clearwater River.

On October 7th, 1805, two months after they had crossed over Lehmi Pass on the Continental Divide, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery shoved off the banks of the Clearwater leaving their past troubles behind and with a strong current in their favor. Here they would proceed to the confluence with the Columbia River and on to the Pacific Ocean.

You can learn more about the expedition of the Lewis and Clark and Corps of Discovery with Research Topics, magazine articles, and book entries in eLibrary.

Here’s a start to your research:

Research Topics:

Continental Divide
Lewis and Clark and Corps of Discovery
Meriwether Lewis
Nez Perce
Rocky Mountains
Sacagawea
Shoshone
William Clark

Magazine Articles:

Breaking Trail With Lewis & Clark
Ski

Comparing Notes With Lewis and Clark
American Heritage

The Corps of Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clark
American History

The Corps of Re-Discovery
American History

Lewis and Clark in Montana and Beyond
Wild West

Lewis and Clark National Historic Landmarks in Montana
Montana: The Magazine of Western History

Who Was Crazy Horse?

For a man like the great Oglala Lakota warrior Tashunkeh Witko, the man most people know as Crazy Horse, it seemed like an undignified way to die. On September 5th, 1877, four months after he and other Oglala leaders came to Fort Robinson at the Red Cloud Agency to surrender and negotiate a peaceful ending to the fighting, and just a year after the battle at the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse was dead. While being arrested he was stabbed in the back by a soldier with a bayonet just outside a jail cell. How could this have happened to a man who rode fearlessly through a hail of arrows and gunfire in order to give his war parties time to regather themselves, a man who selflessly rescued fellow warriors from certain death on the battlefield? The U.S. Army called the stabbing an accident. Relatives, friends, and fellow tribe members of Crazy Horse thought differently.

Crazy Horse was born sometime around 1842 near Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota to parents from two different Sioux tribes, his mother, Rattling Blanket Woman, a Miniconjou, and his father, Crazy Horse, an Oglala holy man. After Crazy Horse was born his mother began calling him Curly for his naturally light-colored, curly hair. When he was about twelve years old Curly witnessed the shooting of their great Lakota chief Conquering Bear by U.S. Army soldiers led Lieutenant John Grattan. The ensuing skirmish eventually left 29 U.S. Army soldiers dead, including Grattan, and later became known as the Grattan Massacre and the beginning of the Sioux Wars. As Curly grew into a young man, seeing that he was destined for great things, his father relinquished his own name to his son after the young warrior had revealed the vision he had of bullets and arrows vanishing in thin air before they struck him. His father took the name Worm, and with his new name, Curly had become a third generation Crazy Horse after his father and grandfather.

As tales of Crazy Horse’s heroics during battle grew, he quickly became a leader among his people who they willingly followed and trusted. But he was different from most Oglalas. He was shy, modest, never drew attention to himself, and many times seemed alone in his thoughts. Some considered him aloof. Unlike most Oglala warriors, informed by his vision, he almost never took scalps. He wore little or no face paint, never wore a war bonnet, and was content with wearing only one head feather. He did not dance and no one ever saw him sing, both activities that Lakotans loved. He never married his true love, Black Buffalo Woman. Her husband, No Water, shot Crazy Horse in the face when he found the two together in a tipi during a buffalo hunt. The shot glanced off the side of his face and left a permanent scar.

These are just some of the things we know about Crazy Horse, but much about his life remains vague at best. Only those who were close to him knew much of anything. Two of the most important resources that can give a researcher unique insights into the life of Crazy Horse come from two books, Mari Sandoz’s “Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas,” and John Neihardt’sBlack Elk Speaks.”

Growing up on the panhandle of present day Nebraska in the early 1900s, Mari Sandoz lived among the Oglala who often encamped near the Sandoz homestead. She befriended relatives and friends of Crazy Horse like He Dog, Short Bull, and Black Elk. Using her knowledge of the Lakota language, she artfully wove her tale of Crazy Horse by integrating the Lakota’s superb transcendental imagery into plain English. John Neihardt, an American poet and ethnographer, interviewed Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man and cousin of Crazy Horse. In “Black Elk Speaks,” through the translation of Black Elk’s son Ben Black Elk, Neihardt narrated Black Elk’s own stories and his visions as a medicine man, but also related many stories about Crazy Horse the warrior and leader of the Oglala Lakota.

eLibrary can also give you a step up in your research of the life of Crazy Horse. There are resources on the Plains Indians tribes, such as the Sioux and Cheyenne, and the Great Sioux Wars from the 1850s to the 1890s (including the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Battle of the Rosebud). Below are those resources and more related to Crazy Horse and his people.

Research Topics:
* Battle of the Little Bighorn
* Battle of the Rosebud
* Crazy Horse
* Sioux Indians
* Sioux Wars

Magazine Articles:
* How Little Bighorn Was Won
* Lakotas Feared Fighters of the Plains
* Tragedy at Red Cloud Agency: The Surrender, Confinement, and Death of Crazy Horse
* ‘We Belong to the North’: The Flights of the Northern Indians From the White River Agencies, 1877-1878
* What Did Crazy Horse Look Like?

Book Articles:
* Crazy Horse (Tasunke Witko)
* Sioux
* Plains War

November: Native American Heritage Month

Native American Dancing at the National Powwow

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November National American Indian Heritage Month, now more commonly known as Native American Heritage Month.  The endeavor to gain national recognition for the contributions and traditions of the first Americans had finally come to fruition some 75 years after initially being proposed in 1915.

Most of us are familiar with Native American figures like Crazy Horse, Geronimo and Sitting Bull.  We have also learned about major events in Native American history such as the Trail of Tears, the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee.  But have you heard about the trial of Standing Bear?  What about Sarah WinnemuccaGhost Dance?  The Carlisle Indian School?  The American Indian Movement?  eLibrary can help you learn about these Native American topics and many more with its array of Native American resources.  Find general history and culture in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians.  Read newspapers and magazines such as Indian Country Today and The Circle: News from an American Indian Perspective to gain insight on contemporary topics like Native American sports team names and maintaining Native American heritage.  eLibrary also offers books on major historical events including Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee.  Finally, check out Research Topics on individual tribes from the lesser known Nez Perce to the more well-known Cherokee.

Take time this month to peruse Native American offerings in eLibrary.  Learn the who, what, where and why of Native American history.  Meet Native Americans you do not know.  Discover a heritage that may be new to you.