described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck
Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of
the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long),
edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma
Press, 1961, p 33-43 (originally published as Land of
the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)
Assiniboine family was small, usually one to three children,
born from five to seven years apart.
were brought into the world with the help of two or more
old women who made a practice of assisting at births.
They were paid a fee, in advance, for their services.
If all went well, the women got along all right, but sometimes,
in delayed cases, a medicine man was called in to give
herbs to the mother. If they did not help, he resorted
to magic but gave no other assist-ance. When told that
the child had come, he smilingly remarked to the nurses,
"I told a tortoise to chase the baby out."
soon as the child was born, one of the women who had great
pride in her good character took the newborn child, cleaned
out its mouth, wrapped it up, and put it in the cradle.
By that act the child inherited the good qualities of
that woman and, of course, any bad habits or temper as
well. Because of that belief, as soon as a child came,
the nurses took stock of themselves, and in case none
was worthy, they called in some woman with a kind disposition
and who was industrious, to act as sponsor. However, in
an emergency, any of the women served as sponsor regardless
of her traits. If that woman was talkative or had a mean
temper and, when the child grew up, it had any of those
bad qualities, the women said, "See, the sponsor
all over again." If it was a good child, the one
who sponsored it took great pride in telling others that
she was responsible for the good traits of the child.
aunts, although they did not help, waited near at hand
to perform the sponsorship act so that the child would
be like them. The nurses resented such interference if
the aunt's character was not considered to be of the right
did not act as sponsors at the birth of children.
babies were kept in buckskin cradles that resembled sleeping
bags. The openings, from the top almost to the bottom,
were laced and tied. They were filled with ripe, dried
cat-tails, which when fluffed, were soft and downy and
served as a combination blanket and diaper. The cattails
were renewed as needed.
few days after the birth of a child, it was given a common
name, such as "The Boy" or "Good Girl,"
and it was known by that until the real name was conferred
on it at a later ceremony A child could have several different
names; a medicine man's selection, a warrior's, and other
common ones. The names could be given in jest, or they
might be of a descriptive nature.
the navel cord was cut off at birth, it was placed in
a small diamond-shaped buckskin bag with some tobacco
and sewed up. The bag was decorated all over in different
designs and beaver claws were sewed to the two side corners
and also the bottom point as decorations'
a medicine man had been called before the birth of a child
and had used magic, the navel bag was decorated with a
small design representing a tortoise. When children were
at play and a design of this kind was noticed on a navel
bag, they said to the owner, "Oh, you had to be chased
out by an old tortoise." The little bag was tied
high on the back of the child's coat or dress. When to
was scarce, the bag was taken off and the tobacco emptied.
The bag, with the navel cord in it, was packed away in
a medicine bundle for a keepsake to be given to the child
when it reached maturity-]
the birth of the first grandchild, one of the grandmothers
gave a feast to announce its arrival. Other children following
were not always feasted in this way.
a part of the ceremony, some old woman or old man re-ceived
a special invitation to the feast and was given a horse
or some other large gift. The recipient walked within
the camp circle exhibiting the gift and sang a song of
thanksgiving and praise.
next event celebrated by a feast was the child's first
birth-day, the only birthday in the lifetime of a person
that was cele-brated. The feast was always sponsored by
one of the grand-mothers, and the grandfather helped in
giving out personal invitations.
of these birthday feasts were very large when the grand-mothers
from both sides acted as joint hostesses. The camp crier
was given a fee and dispatched to announce the invitation
to the people. Everyone was invited to "come and
bring your cup and plate." A medicine man, who was
a very close friend of the grandfathers, was asked to
serve as master of ceremonies.
all the people had seated themselves in a circle, an invitation
was sent to the mother of the child. Usually the grand-mother
of the child took the message to her daughter, who was
waiting in her lodge. The young mother, who knew of the
feast beforehand, had the baby dressed in fine clothes
baby's sleeping bag, which served as a crib, was elabor-ately
decorated with porcupine quills in many colors and was
made for that occasion. If both of the grandmothers were
skilled quillworkers, they made the crib together, and
that fact was an-nounced at the feast. The grandmothers
of the different families tried to outdo each other in
making colorful cribs. There was usually much competition
in the decoration of the hood, and some were so large
and decked with so many ornaments that they were cumbersome.
grandmother proudly carried the child, and the mother
followed. The father was already seated with the crowd,
and as the feast was sponsored by women, he had no part
in it, except that he procured the meat used. However,
he was just as happy.
the approach of the women and the child, the master of
ceremonies stood up and a hush fell over the crowd. The
mother took her seat with the women, but the grandmother
stood hold-ing the child just within the circle and in
front of the medicine man. The man called on the Great
Being to partake of the feast and the pipe offering and
to take pity on the two grandmothers who had made the
feast-offering to the Being and to the spirits of the
departed. He asked that the child might live long and
be successful in every walk of life. By his eloquence,
he held the crowd in a reverent mood, so that at the end
of his speech all expressed their approval.
grandmother then carried the child from one to the other
so the people could see it, and, as she passed along in
the circle, different ones made comments which pleased
food was served and, as the feast neared the end, the
old men and old women sang songs of thanksgiving. In the
songs, the names of the child and its grandmothers were
often, children were not weaned until their fourth year.
It is said that grown children would stop their play and
run to their mothers to nurse.
bringing up of children usually fell to the grandparents,
even though there was only one child in the family. The
parents were always busy with their tasks. The man was
often away on hunts, war parties, in other parts of the
camp, visiting, or in council, and all of the work about
the lodge fell to the young wife. So for that reason the
children were left with the old folks.
grandparents always camped near their son's lodge, and
if the young wife was an only child, her parents were
near also. So the children were with their grandparents
a good deal of the time. They were delighted to be permitted
to stay over night in either one of the old couples' lodges,
and in that way a deep affection grew up between the young
and the old.
the old people actually raised grandchildren who were
not orphans. Although the children were with their grand
parents a great deal, their mothers ruled over them in
a stern manner. When the boys had passed their tenth birthday,
it was the fathers and the grandfathers who trained them.
a father decided that there were to be no more children,
the last child's hair was tied in a knot on top of its
head, a sign to everyone that the child did not have a
younger brother or sister. Both boys and girls wore their
hair in that style until they grew up, at which time the
knot was taken down.
were many ways for children to enjoy themselves. They
played together in large groups until about ten years
of age. From then on, the boys had their games and, as
they grew older, hunted small game.
was great sport for a group of boys with bows and dried
-grass arrows to surround a patch of tall grass along
the edge of a slough and shoot the mice that ran from
one patch to an-other. Sometimes if the grass was thick
and the mice could not be seen, a fire was started. At
the approach of the fire the mice ran in all directions.
is told that, on one of these mouse hunts, a group of
boys let the fire get away and it burned over a large
tract of land. The camp soldiers, a group of men who kept
order in a band, caught the boys and punished them by
destroying their bows and arrows and cutting their clothing
amused themselves in the summer months with a stick game,
a mud-throwing game, target shooting, swimming, and dances
held in the woods. In more recent years, popguns were
made from ash wood and loaded with wood pulp and used
in mimic wars.
the summer months, the girls played camp with toy lodges
made out of large cottonwood leaves. These were pitched
in groups to represent bands, and visits were made from
one group to another. This game was kept up until the
people moved to another place, then the girls would again
start new villages.
winter, tops made from buffalo horns or ash wood were
spun on the ice. Sticks were thrown at targets placed
against snow banks. The horns of yearling buffaloes, attached
to long sticks, were thrown and slid on the ice.
down hills was the most popular sport in which the boys
and girls mingled in the afternoons. They used pieces
of hides or dried badger skins for sleds.
the long evenings, boys and girls were almost always in
their lodges. Often they listened to mythical tales told
by their grandparents. Sometimes a mother prepared some
food and invited the neighboring children and an old man,
who was a good storyteller, to entertain them for an evening.
small anklebones of the buffalo, tied to the middle of
a sinew string and spun, provided an evening's amusement
old men, when too old to join in the hunt, made bows and
arrows for their grandsons and taught them the use of
weapons. As the old men had much time, they took great
pains to teach and to train the children. They spoke words
of advice to them in a way that made them realize the
important place they would have in life if they obeyed.
Always they looked to the future life of the child, so
that he would become a good hunter and a great warrior.
boys at an early age took their grandfathers' advice se-riously.
They matured early and were eager to try out the things
their advisers talked about.
fathers shamed grown sons, when they had slept late, by
saying "How can you join a war party if you love
your sleep so much? By this time of the day the party
will be far away, and you will be left behind." Water
was thrown on boys to waken them if they were late sleepers.
man named Last tells the story about an unusually harsh
Cap had two sons whom he trained to be war-riors. The
man was very rough with his boys. Oftentimes he dragged
them out of bed and ducked them in the creek in the very
early morning. When they were very young, he placed them
on fast buffalo runners and urged the horses to a fast
pace by riding just behind them.
of the boys was born a cripple and died young, but the
other grew up and was a fearless warrior.
Cap was looked upon by the people as a cruel father, and
to this day, we who knew him remember him by his harsh
methods of training his two sons.
a rule, children of the Assiniboines were never whipped
or handled roughly. Skin Cap's method of training was
an ex-ception. If grown boys did things contrary to their
fathers' wishes, they were talked to and made to realize
their mistakes. If a lad was listless and easygoing, his
father spoke to him in the following manner: "Among
our people everyone is expected to marry and raise children.
In order to make a success of marriage the father must
be a good provider and that means a good hunter. It is
time that you think of these things. Look to your equipment
and also learn to use it skillfully. Study the habits
of animals and birds and learn to take them at the right
time and in the correct manner. Make your kills neatly
and quickly, or else you and your family will have to
eat sour meat from exhausted game.
you do not learn to judge good buffalo meat on the hoof
during a chase, you may take one that will make a laughing-stock
of you, and the hunters will always remind you of it at
to butcher without help and to tie the parts together
so that they will hang properly on your pack animal.
you do not pay any attention to these things before you
marry, how are you going to feed your wife and children?
You may never get a woman to sit beside you if she knows
of your helplessness. The women will find you out, pass
the word among their kind and will say, `Whoever wants
to live on the outskirts of an encampment will marry that
you get married, join at least one war party so that you
can tell of it whenever the occasion arises. If you do
not possess one good war exploit, you will be embarrassed
at a feast when the host sets special food apart for those
who first can recount a deed and are then able to partake
of the food."
fathers cautioned their boys, "Don't take anything
that does not belong to you. If you wish for anything,
ask for it, or get the owner's permission to use it. Don't
go prowling about at night, you may run into danger or
you may be blamed for something you perhaps did not do."
grandfathers were soft-spoken to the boys. The old and
the young became close friends, and on that account, the
boys were often with the grandfathers. The advice given
was simple and kindly: "If you see an old man doing
something and he seems to need help, don't hesitate to
offer assistance. If a blind old man is feeling his way
with his cane, go to him and say, `Grandfather, let me
lead you where you wish to go,' and then take hold of
his stick and lead him along, on smooth paths, to his
destination. That old man may impart a word of advice
to you that may make you a great man some day. In this
day of so much danger, a man does not know how long he
is going to live. So when a man reaches the age of gray
hairs, it is because he is wise, and, therefore, he can
pass the secret of his long life to some good boy who
does him a kindness."
were watched and trained more than they were talked to.
Wherever they wished to go, the grandmothers accompanied
them, and because they were chaperoned from birth, they
seemed to expect their grandmothers or aunts to go with
mothers spoke to their daughters, "Don't rummage
through bags that belong to others, for if you do, warts
will grow on your hands. Repeated acts will make the warts
grow larger and, in time, they will cover your hands.
company comes to our lodge, play outside and don't listen
to grownups when they are talking, as you may thought-lessly
repeat some bit of gossip and cause trouble between families."
were taught to address their parents as "father"
or "mother" and their grandparents as "grandfather"
or "grand-mother." Mention of the names of other
relatives had to be pre-ceded by the relationship, as:
"my uncle Red Feather," "my aunt Wing Woman,"
"my cousin, Scalps Them."
all old people were called grandparents, children addressed
those other than their own grandparents as "Grandfather
White Shield" or "Grandmother Calf Woman."
parents' and grandparents' love for their children and
grandchildren was shown in many ways. They celebrated
with a feast at the birth of a child and again when it
was named; the first birthday; the first small game killed
by a boy; the first handi-craft of a girl; the first time
either a boy or a girl joined in a dance. It was only
the first of any event in the lives of children that was
celebrated. If parents could, not afford a feast, they
gave away things, but only to the old.
love and fondness that parents and grandparents had for
their children is shown in the following story told by
brother, who was seven years older than I, was kicked
by a horse. The injury was near the temple and, al-though
he seemed to be on the way to recovery, he died very suddenly.
My parents were grief-stricken and refused to have the
body was lashed to a travois, and as it was in the late
summer, it was not long before the body decomposed. From
time to time, the coverings were changed and flies were
kept away with a smudge. When camp was moved to another
location, the burial travois was drawn by a gentle horse
that did not mind his strange burden. As a rule, horses
were afraid of dead bodies.
time the body dried up and became a light bundle, so that
when a new camping place was reached and while the women
were busy setting up the lodges, the horse grazed about
until the travois was removed.
body was never taken off the travois, which was always
leaned against the outside of our lodge at the back, and
my father slept in the part of the lodge nearest to it.
the late fall, a group of prominent men of our band came
to our lodge with my uncle as spokesman and besought my
parents to consent to the burial of the body. My father
could not refuse, because they brought a peace pipe with
them which was lit. My father was asked to smoke it, and
when he did so, they knew their mission was accomplished.
So, at last the body was buried.
old man named Bad Hawk told this story:
grandfather, Spotted Beaver, was a well- known medicine
man of the magic clan. He had an only daugh-ter who died
at the age of twelve years. Day after day, he went to
her burial place to be near her. As he was a magic man,
he believed in things supernatural and he took comfort
in the thought that his daughter's spirit was near and
heard his voice.
the body had decayed and dried, my grandfather took the
bones from the limbs and cut them in length about one
and one-half inches, cleaned and smoothed out the cores,
and laced them on a buckskin string.
That weird necklace was always worn by my grandfather.
When he tgok part in different medicine dances and gatherings,
where the performers stripped down to their clouts and
moc-casins, he never took the necklace off but wore that
string of bones as a part of his magic and relied on the
spirit of his daughter for guidance.