Vanished Culture: 120 Years of Lakota History on One Calendar

Lakota Winter Count Calendar


…Some years later my father and I went to the house where Poolaw had lived. In a bureau drawer in Poolaw’s bedroom, preserved by his family, were two items of interest—a human bone and a ledger book. Of the former my father said, “This is the forearm of a man named Two Whistles. I know nothing more about it.” Who was Two Whistles, I wondered, and how did the bone come into Poolaw’s possession? I encountered unrecorded history, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

The other item was a pictographic calendar begun by an unknown person and carried on by Poolaw. It covers just more than 100 years from 1830 on. Each year is represented by two entries, one for summer and one for winter, presumably the most important events of the year. Here I found history recorded. This was not history as I had encountered it before, but it was nonetheless a valid idea of history, reduced to an essential concept, composed in the language of imagery. Pictographic calendars, originally painted on hides, were kept by two tribes in particular, the Kiowa and the Sioux, or Lakota. They have come to be known as “Winter Counts”—so called because each year was believed to commence with the first snowfall. 

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