Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara
Traditional Culture
  Who's Who
Since Time Immemorial
Homelands
All My Relations
Village Life & the Turning of the Seasons
Great River
Eagle Trapping
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
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Sovereignty
Recommended Web Sites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Intertribal Trade
The Fur Trade
Story of a Medal
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

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Adapted from map drawn by Bear's Arm, c. 1930, representing traditional Hidatsa homelands
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Antelope
Photo by Ken Walchek
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Kildeer Mountains
Courtesy North Dakota Game & Fish
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Courtesy North Dakota Game & Fish
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Breaks along Little Missouri River
Courtesy of North Dakota Game & Fish
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Sentinel Butte, Missouri River
Photo by Jay Dykins
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Skunk
Courtesy North Dakota Game & Fish
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Dancing Butte
Calvin Grinnell phot

 

Knife River > Culture > Homelands

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Saddle Butte, a landmark recognized for hundreds of years because of its location near the Missouri River.
Photo by Calvin Grinnell
 
"Packs Antelope"
 
A Hidatsa story related by Bear's Arm with some hesitation since he said that a storm had always followed his telling of the story.
 
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Thunder Butte cliffs
Photo by Calvin Grinnell
 

The land comes alive with the stories of our ancestors. The origin of one of our clans has its beginning on the butte where these rocks lie.

"There was a man who was very fond of hunting. When he skinned an antelope with pronged horns, he would wear the skin over his body as a decoy and walk up to the herd away from the wind and against the sun and when he came close he would shoot. Then he would pack the animal home on his back. So they named him 'Packs Antelope'.

"A pair of Thunder-birds and their young lived on top of a high butte (called Thunder Butte) which no one could climb. Every year when the birds grew a new coat of feathers they would shake off their old feathers and the wind would carry them in the direction of a lake named Skunk Lake. A great Serpent which lived in the depths of the lake would come out of the lake, cause a heavy fog to envelope the butte and, under its cover, would climb the butte and devour the young thunder-birds. Now the bird watched Packs Antelope and, seeing how powerful he was and how skillful with the bow and arrow which had been given to the Indian by the good spirits, decided to carry him away as he slept to its nest on the butte. One day when he grew drowsy after the hunt and lay down to rest, it took him away in its claws and when he awoke he was amazed to find himself on a flat butte with sheer rocks on the sides too steep to climb. As he looked over, the wind blew upward into his face. It was impossible to descend!

"As he stood crying he noticed two birds in the nest, one a male the other a female, and the female said, 'Stop crying, brother and come over to us!' and she told him not to fear, for their father had adopted him as one of their own. She related to him the danger they were in from the serpent and how her father had seen how brave he was and had brought him there to help them. She sang to him her father's song which he used when he wished to kill anything and her mother's song, and she gave him the right to sing both songs. The brother objected but the sister said she gave them to use when he fought the serpent because she was afraid of its power. These songs do not belong to me (Bear's Arm) hence I cannot sing them; I do not understand them well.

"Away out in the south-east in the direction of the Kildeer mountains they heard the thunder. The girl said, 'That is my father's voice.' The next sound of thunder was the voice of the mother. A dark cloud lay on the horizon and a windstorm arose. He lay down flat, the hot wind went by and when he looked up there were the two parents of the Thunder-birds. The male bird told him he would do all he could to shift the wind but he had to trust the boy's skill. The serpent's breath smelled like something spoiled burning; he would know by this smell when it was approaching. It was double-headed and on the throat of each head was a white spot where it was vulnerable. When that spot was hit the snake would open its mouth and thus make an easy mark, but he must guard himself against the lightning. The sandstone on the butte would be no protection, hence he must have a barricade of rocks of a more solid composition brought from other hills. Then the birds taught him their songs and departed.

"The next day Packs Antelope bade the birds shake their feathers. The wind was at that time blowing toward the lake. Packs Antelope took in his hand all the arrows he had and slid them forward. Four fell ahead of the rest. He straightened these, tested the heads to see if they were tight, tightened his wristlet made of hide to protect his wrist in pulling the string. He kept guard and after midnight felt the fog surrounding the butte. They could hear the snake coming and smell something like old moccasins burning. He knew the serpent was approaching.

"He went over to the heap of stones where it generally appeared, got behind it and waited for the snake to show its head. When the head came he watched for the white spot on the throat, drove an arrow in, dodged the lightning emitted by the serpent, and when the creature opened its mouth he shot a second arrow and could hear the head fall and the rocks tumble. He ran around to the second barricade and sent an arrow into the white spot on the second throat, dodged the lightning and shot an arrow into the open mouth. Just as he had shot the last of the four arrows the sun rose over the hills to the east. The fog ascended into the clouds. He went along the edge of the cliff and could see the double-headed snake circling the butte. On the side he had shot first the stones had fallen and he thought he could climb down.

image Pack's Antelope
Drawing by David Ripley

"Just then the thunder sounded, a cloud came over him, a great wind blew and a few drops of rain fell. There were the birds sitting on the butte. Fourfold was their joy when they saw the snake. Thunder-bird laid four of his war implements before Packs Antelope and told him to take his pick. He chose a mean looking implement as he had been instructed by the daughter. Thunder-bird said he had chosen well; this was the most powerful implement of the four. It was to be used when he sang the songs the daughter had taught him. He instructed him to go to the edge of the butte, make a motion as if to cut up the snake and instantly it would fall to pieces. He did so and the serpent fell into four parts. Then he was instructed to go to the edge, face each direction in turn and invite the birds from the four corners of the earth to a feast. When the birds came, one part was given to those from each direction - north, south, east, and west, and they blessed their son and promised that he should be a leading man of his people, a successful warrior and one able to control rain. After he had gone back to his own clan, whenever they had made a good kill if a rainstorm was coming he should wave his arms and the rain would split and go around them, or by motioning with his arms he could draw the rain toward them.

"The birds wished Packs Antelope to remain with them for a time. They roamed over the breaks of the Little Missouri and he used his power to destroy many of the evil things beneath the earth. Our grandfather who lives in the river thought, 'Now Packs Antelope has done his duty in killing the serpent and he should refuse further expeditions and live among his own people.'

 
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Photo by Calvin Grinnell
 
"So he had a big sweat lodge prepared and tied up his hair into a big knot and put his head up above the surface of the water near the place which the whites call Clark's Creek but which we call Thunder-bird Creek. Packs Antelope descended and struck his claws into his head and gave him a blow. Old Man grasped him by the ankles and carried him under the water to his den. "You have no power to kill me," he said, 'I belong to the Gros Ventre tribe. I existed long before you saw the light. You are my grandchild.' Then he instructed him not to go back to the birds but to carry back their blessing to his own people. He put him into the sweat-bath, switched him, gave him water to drink and made him vomit up all the flesh of the serpents he had been eating since he became a bird, and sent him back to his own people. He told Packs Antelope for his headgear to use the skin of a skunk with a visor of rawhide lest the gleam of his eyes strikes the visor first and does not kill the people. It is thrown only once a day in the morning when he first rises, after that there is no more lightning. To this day the people of this clan are known as the 'Low visors' (or caps) because of their headgear" (Parks: 1978).
 
Seven Rocks
 
Edwin Benson tells about a landmark long recognized in Mandan-Hidatsa territory.

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The Seven Enemy Warriors, 1930
Alfred W. Bowers Photo (Bowers: 1965)
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Seven Rocks
Calvin Grinnell Photo
 
Dancing Butte
 
Edwin Benson tells the story about Dancing Butte.
 
Backgroundt: Table Butte, photo by Calvin Grinnell