Jan 31, 2013 - The Battle of Apple Orchard (Bismarck, ND) by Dakotah Good House

see more of Dakotah’s writing-research at thefirstscout.blogspot.com

Get yourself a copy of Mike Cowdrey’s book Horses And Bridles Of The American Indians. Order it direct from the publisher Hawk Hill Press. A review of this book is coming soon.

Back in September of 2012, Mr. Mike Cowdrey and I began a friendly dialog about a pictograph which was identified with the Whitestone Hill conflict of 1863. I had postulated that the conflict depicted was the running conflict from Dead Buffalo Lake to Stoney Lake which ended at Apple Creek in late July, 1863. Here are Mr. Cowdrey’s remarks:

Let me say that I do not “have a dog in this fight,” by which I mean that I’m not wedded to the Whitestone Hills identification for the events depicted on the muslin, if you can come up with more-compelling evidence that better fits the circumstances of Sibley’s fights. Here are some of the points I think you’ll need to address; and also the reasons I concluded 15 years ago that the depiction shows the camp at Whitestone Hills.

Here is the pictograph which Cowdrey interpreted as having something to do with Whitestone Hill. Unfortunately, the pictograph was sold at Sotheby’s back in the 1990s to an anonymous collector.

The Army descriptions of the large, multi-band village specifically mention pothole lakes within the circle of lodges, and these are shown by the Sioux artist, also. What may be the SAME, water-filled depressions are illustrated by one of the color photos in the recent report. There are probably at least several other depressions in the area which might also have been water sources for the village of 1862. In comparison, Dead Buffalo Lake, where the Sibley attack occurred, was a much larger body of water, more than a mile in diameter. I think this is far too large to have been encompassed by ANY tipi village anywhere on the Plains during the 19th century.

Picture of two pothole lakes south and west of Whitestone Hill State Historic Site. Takes-His-Shield stated that the encampment was south and east of the Whitestone Hill SHS.

The name of the area, Inyan Ska Paha, is traditionally said to have originated from the ancient practice of piling up the white, glacial debris which litters the surface, into cairns on the hilltops and ridge lines. Sunlight reflecting from these white rocks was visible for many miles. Several of these cairns are carefully depicted by the Ihanktowanna artist, along the ridge line which horizontally bisects the composition. As I recall (I don’t have a copy of my 1997 text, at hand), there is also Sioux oral testimony that these cairns were often created by vision-questers in this sacred area; and a vision quest in progress is depicted near the left-center of the same ridge line (the sanctified site with four cloth flags). The survey team, of which you were a part, found and documented the remains of many of these rock piles (last, two attachments), while noting that most of the historic rock cairns had been dismantled in the 1920s, for use in constructing the present monument.

Diagram by Kimball Banks, Ph.D., of Metcalf Archaeology who coordinated the Arch III Survey at Whitestone Hill SHS in 2012. The diagram depicts the remains of a stone cairn, toppled by careless passersby sometime back.

I respect Mr. Cowdrey’s forwardness in saying that he doesn’t “have a dog in this fight.” He has conducted meticulous research in his own work and maps he’s put together in regard to the horse and its historic journey across North America are things which I concur. Here’s my take on the pictograph.

The guns were identified by a few individuals at the 2012 Great Plains History Conference in Fargo, ND, as Spencer carbines. The seven-shot repeating Spencer rifles were produced from about 1860 to 1890 and were used throughout the Civil War and the western Indian Wars. The rifles which the soldiers are carrying as they ride away on their horses appear to be the 1860 Spencer rifle with bayonet.

A screen capture of a Google map above Whitestone Hill (in yellow square). Several pothole lakes are in the vicinity, easily within a mile of Whitestone Hill SHS.

There are several natural pothole lakes on site at Whitestone Hill. There is one lake at Whitestone Hill that is of great importance to the Dakota and Lakota peoples, the lake which has a peninsula in the shape of a pipe. The artist (still unknown artist) chose to render just two lakes when the site has several lakes and one significant lake.

The Dakota-Lakota encampment was far larger than the historically designated “core,” the site that is currently designated the “battlefield.” If there were 5000 people, that might mean about 1000 lodges, each with sanitation concerns and grass for their horses. The encampment would have been spread out to encompass more than just two of the lakes there. An encampment of that size around just two pothole lakes would not likely be possible.

The tipi village encampment location according to Takes-His-Shield, which is on privately owned land, within the orange square.

The pictograph seemingly portrays an “Indian” victory. The conflict at Whitestone Hill ended with resounding violence, a massacre, for the Dakota and Lakota who were there. It’s possible that the artist chose to portray the Whitestone Hill conflict as a victory.

The practice of building stone cairns was a spiritual tradition of pilgrims of the vision quest at Whitestone Hill, but also at many sites of spiritual significance across the continent. I agree with Cowdrey that a vision quest, or perhaps that one is about to begin or has ended, is shown.

I threw the idea out there to Cowdrey that the pictograph possibly tells of the conflict of Sibley’s running conflicts with the Dakota and Lakota at Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake, and it is true that the lakes are big, perhaps too big to be encompassed by a tipi village as I first thought.

Sibley’s arm of the punitive campaign. Big Mound, Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake are depicted towards the end of his campaign.

Still unconvinced that the pictograph is showing the Whitestone Hill conflict altogether, I followed the Sibley branch of the Punitive Campaign of 1863. There were/are two lakes south of University Drive in present-day Bismarck, ND. One of them is still round. The other lake developed into a wetland area, which was drained and filled in the past ten years. The two lakes together could be encompassed by a large tipi village.

Sibley’s Campaign by Clell Gannon. See the original fresco in the atrium of the Burleigh County Courthouse in Bismarck, ND.

On Sibley’s campaign, he followed and a harassed a group of Sioux he assumed had something to do with the Minnesota Dakota Conflict. The people he chased led him on a sinuous path bath and forth across the Apple Creek. They did so because soldiers with their wagons and supplies had a difficult time fording the creek.

Sibley caught up to the Dakota-Lakota people on July 28, 1863. Only he didn’t catch up to them. The Dakota-Lakota people he encountered were warriors who took the high ground, where present-day University of Mary sits today. The people he was hoping to capture, according to the war theory practiced by the Union army, the elders, women and children had already forded the Missouri River at the confluence of Apple Creek. Apple Creek then used to converge with the Missouri right below Pictured Bluff.

A map by the Missouri River Commission, published in 1894. The map is based on a survey of the river in 1889 and a topographical survey in 1891.

The warriors on Pictured Bluff used trade mirrors to share flashes of sunlight with their families across the river, then readied themselves for a fight which lasted until August 1, when Sibley withdrew his command from the field, unable to determine how many Indians his soldiers killed, or even if they killed any at all.

Sibley’s objective was to meet and engage the Sioux. He filed the Apple Creek Conflict as a victory in his report. He named the camp site “Camp Slaughter” but not for the perceived victory. Instead it was named for a doctor whose last name was Slaughter.

I noticed after the fact that I forgot to mark where the two lakes once were located, which was south of where Bismarck is delineated in the map, about at the bend of the two parties. The vision quest hill is east of the University of Mary on privately owned land.

In all, Sibley lost nineteen men over the course of the campaign. Not all at the Apple Creek Conflict.

There is a vision quest hill near Apple Creek, located perhaps a half-mile east of the Pictured Bluff. No one has been there to pray in years, and with the development of the University of Mary, Highway 1804, and some residential housing, no one will likely ascend that hill to pray again.

The central figure wearing a red shirt may be Gall. At that time he was known as Walks-In-Red. Historians like Robert Utley (The Lance and The Shield) and Robert Larson (Gall) treat the conflicts at Dead Buffalo Lake and Stoney Lake as losses for the Dakota-Lakota. Sitting Bull’s own personal account of his counting coup on Sibley’s mule team show not only that the Hunkpapa Lakota were in these conflicts and the last conflict at Apple Creek, but that the warriors met their objective to protect and buy time for their people to escape.

If Sitting Bull was present, it is safe to assume that so was Gall. They were very close at this time in their relationship, and they were in the same tiospaye, the same tribe of Lakota, the Hunkpapa. The lance which is depicted in the hand of the central most figure, is the lance of a war chieftan, the kind once carried by Gall, or Walks-In-Red.

Who was the victor in this conflict? Sibley met his objective to meet and engage the Sioux. The warriors had a duty to protect their people. The Dakota-Lakota people in this conflict may not have wanted the fight which was brought to them, but they ended it on their terms.

Of course, I could just be wrong.

Last Real Indians