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Civil War Era in North Dakota

Whitestone Hill Pictograph

Whitestone Hill Pictograph

Around 1914 or 1915, Takes-His-Shield, a survivor of the massacre at White Stone Hill, explained his view of the events at White Stone Hill on September 3, 1863. The map was drawn on paper by Richard Cottonwood as Takes-His-Shield re-told the events of that day. 

In 1932, Aaron McGaffey Beede, an attorney and former missionary to Standing Rock Reservation worked with Judge J. M. Austin to write a full interpretation of the pictograph. In 1932, Judge Austin also created copies of the document by means of a blueprint process (dry copiers had not yet been invented) and sent the copies to the State Historical Society and individuals who were interested in the pictograph and the events it described.

Takes-His-Shield’s pictograph is the only primary source document available that tells the Dakota experience at the massacre and subsequent battles. For that reason, it is extremely important to “read” it along with the documents produced by General Sully and his officers.

Aaron Beede, whose interpretation of the pictograph is presented here, was able to read the pictograph because of the many years he spent working with the Lakotas and Dakotas who lived on Standing Rock Reservation. However, as he notes, his ability to interpret the image is limited. His knowledge of the culture is deep, but not as comprehensive as those who were raised in the traditions and cultures of the Sioux. One of the valuable comments that Beede makes concerns the way the history was told in the pictograph. Only events that took place in daylight are told in the pictograph. Events that took place after dark (which occurred before the fighting ended) can only be told, not drawn, because they were heard not seen.

Judge Austin has also included in his letter (dated December 23, 1932) Judge Austin's Letter his own memory of his discussion with a veteran of one of the Iowa regiments at the battle. Austin does not give the man’s name, and it is possible that his re-telling of the veteran’s story may have some mistakes.

These letters allow us to compare perspectives on the massacre and battle. They are first-person accounts (also called primary sources) and as such are just as important as the reports of General Sully and his officers. Historians must read as many primary sources as possible to gain a full understanding of past events. This pictograph and the letters that explain it provide another perspective on the conflict at White Stone Hill.