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Story of a Medal
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Knife River > Culture > Story of a Medal
Story of a Medal, Related by its Owner, Gun-that-Guards-the-House.

" The medal, now in the possession of Gun-That-Guards-the-House, belonged to She-he-ke, Coyote, who was one of the Chiefs of the Mandan village just north of Bad Water creek, called Scoria Hill village. There were two villages here, one each side of the river, and this was the one on the north side.

"One day a white man came up the river with a boat in which were thirty others, part of whom rowed and part of whom pulled the boat by a rope. They were very tired, and those pulling the boat had sore shoulders. No one welcomed them, and so She-he-ke invited them to his tepee, gave them food and cured their sores.

"When they were all rested they decided to go no further, and the white man asked She-he-ke to go to Washington with him. He consented and took his wife and young son, then about two years old. His wife's name was Yellow Corn.

Photo courtesy of the Three Tribes Museum.


"They stayed away for several years, and when they brought them back the Rees fired on the boat and drove them back. A year later a boat with soldiers and a big American flag came up the river. She-he-ke had been away so long that his son could speak good English. He brought many presents with him from Washington, a medal dated 1797 among the others.

"At Washington he had been told to always remain on friendly terms with the whites, and that he had better remain out of wars altogether. His tepee was built four-sided, like the white men's houses, and he had a big American flag flying above it. She-he-ke was killed in a fight with the Sioux on one occasion when he went out to watch his people drive them away. He was about forty years of age when he went to Washington, and he was living at the greater Mandan village near Fort Clark when he was killed. The family of She-he-ke is as follows:

"The son of She-he-ke was White-Painted House, born in 1804 at Scoria Hill village, and died at the age of 56, about 1860, at Big Bend camp, opposite Shell creek. His name was given him by an aunt who kept her tent white with clay, and she called him from that White-Painted-House.


"The son of White-Painted-House was Tobacco, born in 1832 at the east village, Big Village of the Mandans on the Knife River, and died at the age of 30 in Perished Children village. His wife was Beaver Woman. Tobacco's son is Gun-That-Guards-the-House. He was born in 1852, six miles below the old Arikara village, opposite Fort Berthold, at Big Bank village, and Move Slowly or Sitting Buffalo was head man here. His wife is Eagle Woman. He still keeps the medal and is proud of it.


The following mention of She-he-ke made by those who met him on their travels:

"In the original journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, edited by Thwaites (1904: Vol. 1), we have the following very interesting account of She-he-ke, or Big White. This will show how the memory of Gun-that-Guards-the-House has grasped and held the story of his kin, and how accurately he has held to the early account. In the journal we are told of the difficulties of going up the river just at this point where they are about to meet Big White. The party must drag the boat over the sand bars, and they were also at a loss to find the channel, and so they approached the village tired and lame from their exertions. "Two chiefs came to have some talk, one of the principal of the lower village, the other the man who thought himself the principal man, & requested to hear Some of the Speech that was Delivered Yesterday they were gratified, we put the medal on the neck of the Big white to whome we had Sent Clothes yesterday & a flag-" The journal continues: "a fine morning, the Chief of the Mandans Sent a 2d Chief to invite us to his Lodge to receive Som corn & here what he had to say. I walked down, ------ he had put before me 2 of the Steel traps which was robed from the French a Short time ago, (and) about 12 bushels of corn." The next entry reports, "a very cold day wind from the NW. the Big White Grand Chief of the 1st village, came and informed us that a large Drove of Buffalo was near and his people were waiting for us to join them in the chase."

"In the story of Gun-that-Guards-the-House he takes no account of months which transpired between the times the journey that Lewis and Clark made after they had met Big White. Nearly twenty months fly along before the expedition returns and Big White is persuaded to visit the Great Father at Washington.

"The explanation of the visit of Big White among the whites is as follows: "This Mandan Chief, Shahaka, remained a year among the whites, and in the summer of 1807, Clark, then Indian agent for Louisiana, sent him up the Missouri with two trading parties' and a small detachment of soldiers. During Shahaka's absence, his people and the Arikara had been engaged in hostilities, and the latter tribe had been joined by the Sioux. On Sept. 9th these hostiles attacked the American party-and compelled him to return to St. Louis. Shahaka was finally sent to his home by Lewis, arriving there Sept. 24, 1809." About the only great discrepancy that Gun-that-Guards-the-House makes is the point of time. To him after a hundred years this story had very close connection in time, while in reality there was a lapse of five years in the whole story.

"Two years after our chief returns to his people, Bradbury travels into the Mandan country and he tells of his first meeting with the great chief. "They conducted us to the lodge of She-he-ke, the chief, where we alighted. He met us at the door, and after shaking hands with us, said to my great surprise, in English, 'Come in house.'" I was again surprised, on entering the lodge, to see a fine dunghill cock. On inquiry I found that She-he-ke had brought it with him from the United States at the time he had accompanied Messrs. Lewis and Clark, where also he learnt his English." During this visit of Bradbury She-he-ke told him that he had a great wish to live with the whites, and we find that a number of his people were also willing to try the white man's life after the chief had told them of the wonders of the great white man's town down the river.

"During the same month and year that Bradbury meets the chief, Brackenridge comes up to the Indian village and She-he-ke comes to meet him. Brackenridge says: "He is a fine looking Indian, and very intelligent-his complexion fair, very little different from that of a white man exposed to the sun. His wife also accompanied him has a good complexion and agreeable features. They had returned home loaded with presents, but have since fallen into disrepute from the extravagant tales they related as to what they had witnessed; for the Mandans treat with ridicule the idea of there being a greater or more numerous people than themselves." The chief also expressed the wish to go back and live with the whites again. She-he-ke was very much discontented with the life and crudeness around him, and we also find that the brother Indians looked upon the chief with disdain and distrust.

Story of a Medal courtesy of North Dakota Historical Society Collections, Vol. 2. 1908. and the Three Tribes Museum.
Background: Gun-Guarding-House (Gun-that-Guards-the-House).
Photo courtesy of the Three Tribes Museum.