There Are 120 Years of Lakota History on This Calendar

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There Are 120 Years of Lakota History on This Calendar

The visual recording of life in the nation sheds light on a vanished culture

Smithsonian Magazine
January 2015

The old man Poolaw gave me my Indian name, Tsoai-talee (Rock tree boy), when I was an infant. Poolaw was a notable figure in the Kiowa tribe, an arrow maker and a calendar keeper. He died soon after I was born, and I regret that I did not come to know him. Nonetheless I feel close to him, for I have being in the name he gave me.

Tsoai, the rock tree, is what the Kiowas call Devils Tower, the monolithic outcropping in the shape of a tree stump, rising from the plains on the edge of the Black Hills in Wyoming. Tsoai is a principal landmark on the old migration route of the Kiowas from the Yellowstone River to the Southern Plains. According to Kiowa legend, it is the tree that carried seven sisters into the heavens where they became the stars of the Big Dipper. The story links the Kiowas forever to the stars, to relatives in the night sky.

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… Read more.

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