Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dakota Nakota Lakota / Transportation & Travel

Article: Moving Camp

As 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 20-27 (originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

As the tribe lived by the hunt, they moved from place to place within their territory.

When the Assiniboine were farther north and before they had horses, each family had from six to twelve dogs capable of carrying up to fifty pounds each. They were used to pull the travois. As the women. did all the tasks about the lodges, they named all the dogs. They spoke to them like persons, either scolded them or praised them whenever the dogs deserved it. Oftentimes on a move, the dogs took after game, and sometimes the entire load was upset and left out on the prairie. When the dogs finally came back, they were scolded and sometimes whipped.

It is told that, on one of those occurrences, a woman got so angry she whipped her dog until the dog turned on her. Several men, who were traveling parallel with the party, saw what was happening and ran to aid the woman, but before they got there, the dog killed her and ran away. The men gave chase, and the dog climbed a big hill, where it sat down on the very top. When the pursuers were near, the dog disappeared beyond the hill. Although the men hunted in all directions, the dog was nowhere to be seen.

For many years after, whenever a party passed by that hill, the dog could be seen sitting on top. After a time the dog would rise and slowly go beyond, out of sight. One time a war party planned to surround the hill and kill the dog, but when they ran up the hill from all directions, the dog vanished. When each told of seeing the dog disappear over the hill from where they ascended, they were amazed and said, "It is the spirit of the dog. Perhaps no one would own it in the spirit world because it killed a human being. It came back to live in the hill near where the body of its mistress lies. Let us not disturb the will of the Beings who have done this." The hill was known as the home of the travois dog.

One northern band, named Camp Movers to the Kill, never owned many dogs, and when the men killed game, they butchered it and sent word back to camp for the whole band to move up to the kill.

The women got all of the fuel and brought it to camp by dog travois. The old women, with their dogs, went into the timber and loaded the travois for the dogs and then carried a load on their backs as well.

The aged, who could not travel with the band on foot, and small children rode travois. Two dogs, hitched to their travois, were placed side by side and the two centerpieces of the travois were fastened together with poles tied across both of them. A short stick was also tied between the necks of the travois to keep the dogs at a certain distance from each other. An old man or woman sat or Iay on the cross pieces which held the two travois together. In that way, the load was drawn as one by both dogs.

Another way is told by Bad Hawk:

One winter our band moved to another camping place and, as my old grandfather was unable to walk, three grown boys and myself pulled on a thong attached to a piece of hide on which he sat. The hide was drawn so She hair was next to the snow, and it slid along so smooth that we did not mind the load. We took our time and played along near the rear of the caravan. The location of the camping place e was on a wooded creek, and when we came within sight, the headers were already pitching their lodges. We stood on the edge of the hill overlooking the camp ground, and. then we followed the trail down the hill. As we were just boys, we had no idea of the weight of our load. As we descended, the load followed so quickly we jumped out of the way. But grandfather slid on down the hill so fast it was no time before he was to the bottom. As he hit the snow-covered sagebrush on the creek bottom, he turn ed over and over and landed in a heap that looked like a pile of tinned robes. Several women, who were nearby, came running over and helped him up, but he was not hurt and joked about the lads giving him a fast ride.

An old man, Last, told the following story:

A long time ago, when there were no horses, a war party found a lone horse and brought it back with them. The people were amazed to see so large a dog, and they named it Big Dog. And so horses are called today in the Assiniboine language.

It was so strong that it could carry two men at one time on its back.

Whenever a war party went forth, they always took the horse with them. On one of those trips an enemy war party was surprised and chased. Someone in the group, thought of the idea to carry the slow ones on ahead with the horse. So on e rode with him on each trip, and he took enough men to the front so that the enemy was overtaken in that way and beaten.

After that, the people worshipped the horse, and whenever a war party was to start, the warriors first made sacrifices to it. The war parties were always successful, and one time they brought back a large herd of horses. The horses were distributed among the people and, so, for the first time, our people owned horses.

An old saying was, "Dogs in the north and horses in the south." This was after our people were in both places.

The southern bands were the first to own horses, which were captured from enemy tribes to the southwest of them. ( In 1754, according to history, Anthony Hendry found horses among the western Assiniboines, probably stolen from the Blackfeet. )

The Plains bands used horses in the chase, so they had their fast buffalo runners and packed the kill on extra horses. The fast horses were never hitched to pull travois or carry packs of any kind.

Although horses were being used by bands south of them, the peoples of the north used dogs for a long time before they finally owned horses. They killed buffaloes by the trap method and usually camped nearby. They used the dogs to move the kill from the trap to the camp.

The bands moved often, and when the camp was moved to another location, lodge poles were made into travois. Two poles were sufficient, but in order to haul the extra poles, two or three were lashed together and used on each side of the travois. When dogs were used, only a pair of poles v-ere attached to each travois.

A permanent travois was made of two long poles tied together at the small ends with the butt ends spread out; a round or oval-shaped frame was fastened near the middle section. The frame was made of willow bent into shape and the center laced with rawhide strings. The point was padded and placed far up on a horse or dog and held in place by a harness. The poles on a horse travois were crossed and secured v,7ith thongs, then padded. The poles on the dog travois were not crossed but brought together and bound with wet rawhide, which, when dried, held the point strongly together.

Some dogs were in the habit of backing out of their travois, so a belly band was used in addition to the regular breast harness.
Travois horses were ridden by young mothers with their babies and led by women.

When a band was to move to another location, the camp crier, who was instructed by the chief and head men, made the rounds within the camp circle and proclaimed to the people that the camp would move the next morning. "The grass is getting short, the watering places are becoming stale, wood is scarce, and the game is now at a long distance from our camp, so make ready to move tomorrow," sang the crier, repeating the same instructions at intervals until the circle was completed.

When morning came, the people watched the emblem that adorned the top of the lodge of the chief. The ,emblem was usually the tail of a horse or other animal, or an eagle's head, stuffed, or sometimes the tanned skins of different animals. It all depended on what the chief of a band had for his emblem.

When the journey was to be made, the emblem, which was tied to a long lodge pole, was taken down. The emblem was pointed in the direction of the new camp location, and the pole was raised on a tripod. If the emblem hung near the ground, that was a sign the journey would be a long one. If the pole was raised so the emblem was high in the air, then only a short move was to be made.

The women, children, and old people formed the main caravan. They all traveled afoot, except the mothers with newborn babies and those unable to walk. These people rode the travois, the travois horses, or extra pack horses. The men walked in groups along the sides, some distance away, and others brought up the rear. The chief and the head men rode horseback far ahead of the women.

When the new location was reached, the emblem was stuck in the ground in an upright position and the lodges were pitched around it in the form of a circle. The women, with the help of the children, pitched the lodges and attended to the rest of the tasks. The old women got the wood, and the young maidens brought water. Young men tarried near the watering places for the chance to court the maidens who came for water. They took the horses to water and remained nearby as an excuse for being there.

The men never helped with the tasks, but sat in groups, visiting, until the lodges were all set up. Rivers were crossed in skin boats made of buffalo hides stretched over a circular framework of large willows. It was a basket-like framework with the hide stretched over it. Some were made oblong by sewing together two hides, with the seam through the center. The boats were always laid on the bank, turned over, when not in use.

If a crossing was made in moving to new campgrounds, temporary skin boats were built and then taken apart when the crossing had been made.

When a band crossed a large river, like the Missouri, the lodge poles were laced together and another layer laid crossways, then the two layers were made secure with thongs. All the camp equipment was placed on the raft and children and old people rode it. Then several men, all good swimmers, got around and swam across with it. Able-bodied men and women who were poor swimmers were permitted to hang on to the sides and swim along as the raft was towed.

During those crossings, the young men vied with one another in their skill at swimming. Some swam alongside of their favorite horses, while others rode without any kind of a bridle and guided their mounts by patting the necks with their hands. There were daring ones who turned their horses loose and clung to the tails and swam across that way.

Much has been written about the old and feeble being left to die on old campgrounds when a band moved to another place. The well-to-do families, who had the means to move their old relatives, never left any of them to die. It was only those who were poor and could not take their relatives along who had to do this.

But abandonment was not considered inhuman at that time. It was looked upon as the same as a person dying-nothing could be done about it. The old people understood that, with the infirmities of old age, death was near, and so the wish to be left behind came from them.

Usually, as soon as the caravan was out of sight, the aged per-son committed suicide; the men by knife and the women by hanging themselves to limbs of trees with thongs.

Just before they did away with themselves, they sang the death song. Their minds were not on the band that was moving away, but on the journey toward the east, to the land of de-parted relatives. Death in that manner was as honorable as from a coup in battle.

"The old people who were left to die were not many," Mrs. Crazy Bull says. "This act was uncommon. I am now eighty-nine nears old and I knew of only one such happening"

During the summertime we journeyed about a great deal. It was on one of those moves that a crowd gathered near the edge of a wooded creek. Everyone stopped their travois dogs and horses and went ahead to see what it was about. I was eighteen years old then and was just as curious as the others so I hurried over to the gathering.

Before I got there, I heard from others on the way that they were looking at the body of an old woman who had been left to die some moons ago. She was of our band and had been left behind, but many did not know of it until the day when they saw the dead body.

Each band usually stopped at the same campgrounds in moving about and we were headed for one of these camps.

I saw the body hanging to the limb of a tree. It was dried but had not fallen apart and was a ghastly sight. The limbs were hanging straight down like sticks attached to a bundle.

No one made any attempt to take it down for burial and the band moved on to another camping place.

The spot, on Little Porcupine Creek, is known to this day as the place where the dried old woman lies.