The Lakota Wayby Joseph M. Marshall
A member of the Sicunga Lakota Sioux and a descendant of the legendary warrior Crazy Horse, Joseph Marshall has dedicated his entire life to spiritual fulfillment and teaching to others the essence of the Lakota wisdom. As a child, he learned from his grandfather: "Insults can hurt, but only if you let them. If you learn to let the wind blow through you, you will take away its power to blow you down. If you let the words pass through you, you will not feel them." In The Lakota Way, he imparts this lesson his grandfather gave him as well as many others. It combines his own poetic voice with rich storytelling, Native American folklore, history, and lessons to give a fresh outlook for those searching for a new perspective on spirituality and ethical living.
In The Lakota Way, Joe Marshall expresses the heart of Native American philosophy and the qualities that are crucial to the Lakota path to a fulfilling and meaningful life: bravery, fortitude, generosity, wisdom, respect, honor, selflessness, perseverance, love, humility, sacrifice, truth, and compassion. The wisdom is shared through stories at the heart of Lakota cultureand its survivaland their meaning and relevance are explained through examples from history and everyday life. The legend of Crazy Horse illuminates a lesson on humility, and the legend of Deer Woman teaches a lesson on respect. The Lakota Way is the perfect handbook of life and ethics for the entire family.
Author Biography: Joseph Marshall was born on the Rosebud Reservation in south central South Dakota. Raised by his maternal grandparents, his first language is Lakota. He is a historian, educator, andlecturer, and the author of highly regarded small press books. He has been a technical adviser and actor in television movies including Return to Lonesome Dove. A recipient of the Wyoming Humanities Award, he has been interviewed on local, regional, and national radio and television programs, including CBS Sunday Morning.
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Read an Excerpt
To be humble, modest, unpretentious
The Story of No Moccasins
Among us the old ones are the best models for how we should live our lives. Every old person is a collection of stories because of all that each one has seen and lived and all that happens in the world around them in a lifetime. I have not met an old person yet who was not a strong exemplar of at least one virtue, and many are outstanding exemplars of more than one.
lived in a time before the coming of the horses (prior to 1700).
lives. They had a son and a daughter and several grandchildren. No Moccasins, in fact, was grandmother to all the children in the village. She was a small woman, and by her sixty-seventh winter her hair was the color of new-fallen snow. The lines in her face seemed to show the many trails she had walked in her life. No visitor to her modest but orderly lodge ever left hungry, and rarely without a gift in hand, something that was finely quilled. She was known far and wide for her intricate quilling patterns and designs, and many women came to learn her skill. But in spite of all of that she was known mainly as the wife of Three Horns.
a warrior far past the time when most men lost the strength of arm and leg as well as the will to take risks. So in his lifetime he had collected many, many war honors. The lance to which his eagle feathers were tied was twice as long as a man was tall. Every feather was an honor, of course, and no other man could boast of such a thing. When he finally turned from the warpath, he took his place on the council of elders. There he offered his wisdom unselfishly and the skill with which he spoke could not be matched. He was seventy winters old, but his appearance could take the breath away. He didn't have the big belly that many old men did. He stood straight and tall, and his hair, which hung to his waist, was silvery white.
seemed as though he had always been there. So when he fell ill and took to his deathbed, the entire village was in disbelief.
villages came to pay honor to the dying leader. Three Horns' tiny village grew to twice its size in a matter of days. No Moccasins, her daughter, and several other women were kept busy cooking to feed all the guests. When Three Horns was told about all the people who had come, he asked the oldest people in the gathering to come to his lodge.
and Three Horns' lodge saw in the man's half of the lodge, which was to the north, the long eagle-feather staff, bows and arrows and lances, and buffalo-hide shields that were the colorful symbols of the glorious life of a warrior. Three Horns, weak from his illness, spoke in a low voice with No Moccasins, who was sitting beside him. But he seemed to grow stronger as he went on. No Moccasins, as she had always done, saw to the comfort of her guests and her husband and remained respectfully quiet.
into our lodge. I have been honored to share this lodge with my wife for nearly fifty winters. In that time we were given a fine son and a fine daughter and many grandchildren. Our people saw difficulty as well as good. We took to the path of war now and then and good men were hurt or died. We are feared and respected by our enemies. The number of our lodges and villages has grown in that time. We are a strong people; our ways are good. I am thankful to the Great Mystery for bringing me into this world as a Lakota! I have lived a good life and I am ready for the next. Before I leave I have a story to tell, and I ask that after the sun comes up tomorrow you tell this same story to all the people gathered here. That is why I have asked you to come today. Here is what I want you to know.
and father's village to hunt. I came to a village that was encamped for the summer just north of the Running Water River. There was great feasting and a dance at that time, for there had been a fight and a great victory over enemies to the south. I was invited to join the celebration. It was a good time. There was much food and we danced far into the night.
looked into the largest and most wonderful eyes I had ever seen. A young woman was gazing down at me. She said, `It is funny what suddenly grows beside this trail.' I jumped to my feet and followed her to the water and carried the water skins back to the village for her. That was the best chore I have ever done in my life.
young woman, with all the other young men who had come to court her. Her name was Carries the Fire and she did put the fire in my heart. I was very surprised when she asked me to come again the next evening. You will not be surprised when I tell you I remained in her village until the autumn hunts. By then, for reasons I still cannot understand but for which I am grateful, she had decided that I might be a good husband. So I went back north to tell my family so they could prepare the gifts to her family for the bride price.
longest winter of my life. So I left my family and became a part of her village, as is a custom among us. Not long after that, enemies came among us from the south on a revenge raid for the defeat they had suffered before. They killed a man and took two young women. A war party went south on their trail. I went along.
country I had never seen. We traveled fast and caught up with them as they rejoined their village. We hid and watched. We saw where they had put the two young women. Later we saw where their night sentinels were and made a plan.
the east of the village, and two of us would do the same to the west. While the men of the village were busy putting out the fires, two of us would sneak in and take back our young women. The plan worked, except for one thing: I was one of the two who sneaked into the village, and I was captured.
with the two young women, and I was glad to pay the price of a good raid. As you might think, my captors were very angry. They made me a slave. All my clothing was taken from meeverything. I was led around naked; everyone laughed. I was made to work. I pulled drag poles like a dog until my hands and knees were bleeding. They teased me; they threw dirt in my face. Women pulled up their dresses in front of me and laughed, showing me that I was no longer a man. They gave me no food so I had to fight with the dogs for scraps. At night they bound me hand and foot and stretched me between two stout poles. There was no way to escape. I began to feel lower than a dung beetle.
lack of food made me very weak, and I knew that before I was too weak I had to escape. After a time they stopped putting a guard to sit and watch me at night. Night after night I pulled at the poles which held me, and little by little I loosened them. But someone saw what I had done and pounded the poles in deeper. I was discouraged.
Great Mystery to give me a quick death. I could not escape; I was too weak.
There was no one about; it was too cold. Even the dogs curled up out of the rain. My heart was sad as I thought about my young wife and that I would never, ever see her again. I thought about her so much that her face appeared to me. After a moment I realized it was real; she was there! While I lay there in disbelief she cut my bonds with her knife, pulled me to my feet, and guided me out of the enemy's village.
know we walked through the night and by dawn we arrived at a hiding place she had prepared. The rain had fallen through the night and washed out our tracks. She could not have found a better time to come.
saw that she was wearing men's clothesmineto disguise herself for the journey. We hid, and we ate and rested. She told me that the other men had returned home with the news that I had been killed. She grieved for a time, she said, but she found herself not believing I was really dead. One night she made preparations and left the camp. The others had told her where the enemy camp was located. She knew where to look. After many days of hiding and watching she came into the camp on that rainy night.
knew we had to travel north to come home. So they sent out a war party.
home. We knew to be cautious, of course, and we looked often at our back trail. That is how we saw others heading in the same direction: six of them moving fast. I knew they had to be from the village where I had been a captive and that those six men were the best of their warriors. I had escaped when they were certain I could not. They could not know that I had help. Because my escape was an insult they could not let pass, they sent out their best trackers, their fiercest warriors.
They were running, and I could not. Carries the Fire and I decided that we should hide so that we would not leave a trail they could find. But they had to be thrown off somehow. I thought about that but I could do nothing, so I did not speak that thought to her. But she had thought the same.
afternoon while I slept she slipped away. She returned that evening, wet and barefoot. She had placed her moccasins near a creek to lay a false trail for our pursuers. Later she told me that when they nearly spotted her, she hid in a beaver's lodge. She had to go into the creek and come up inside the beaver's house. I teased her, saying that she should have a new nameNo Moccasins.
and traveled in that direction for three days, then north. I began to call her No Moccasins because it was a name of honor for what she had done. That is why my wife is called No Moccasins. Though I grew stronger each day it was not an easy journey home. We had to watch for enemies, find food, and a shelter each night. But it was her quiet courage, more than anything, that was our greatest strength.
had been killed and that my wife had gone off and killed herself. That is not unknown. My wife did not want me to tell our story and would only let me say that I had escaped from my captors. The people honored me for that, but it was not my victory.
is time to repay the great debt I owe my wife. Throughout my life I was fortunate as a warrior and somehow I was able to win some honors and gain a reputation. Yet all those honors are not mine because I could not have achieved them if my wife had not risked her life. I have not heard of any man in my lifetime who has done a braver deed. She traveled alone into enemy country and sneaked into an enemy's village. Few men can say they have done that.
one thought in mind: to be worthy of my wife. For my life long I have tried to be worthy, but I am afraid I am not. So I must give all these honors to the one who truly deserves them. I give them to my wife. I ask that my warrior weapons and my eagle-feather staff be moved from the man's place in our lodge to the woman's place, where they rightfully should be.
done. I ask that my burial scaffold hold only my body wrapped in my burial robe. I will leave this world as the man I was before I met my wife: poor and unadorned. All that I appeared to be would not have been if not for this woman."
silently wiped away her tears and pulled a robe up over her husband.
"Many were wise, honorable, generous, and brave. But none, except this old woman who sits beside me as always, had the one strength that gives true meaning to all the othershumility.
among ushas yet to do the same. Yet she cared not if anyone ever knew. It is time that everyone knows. Thus I have spoken."
word to tell the story of No Moccasins' courage and humility. Through the days and nights that followed, young and old alike crowded around the campfires to listen to those old ones. Before long No Moccasins' name rose with the smoke from many campfires.
Moccasins. Though her loss was great she comforted others. As he wished, Three Horns' burial scaffold was unadorned. Those who mourned for him also honored his widow.
else outwardly changed. She lived her life the same as alwaysa small, quiet old woman amidst the bustle of a busy village. She gave her husband's eagle-feather staff, his shield, and his weapons to the Kit Fox Warrior Society. They, in turn, decided to hang those symbols of honor in the great council lodge in the very center of the village. There they would remain as a reminder of one man's courage and an old woman's humility.
life now belonged to No Moccasins. Not a day went by that a gift of food was not left outside her lodge door, and every day she shared those gifts with the very young and the very old. For the rest of her days No Moccasin wanted for nothing. In the winter the firewood piled outside her door was nearly as high as the lodge. This, too, she shared. She welcomed all who came to visit, and many who did were warriors from near and far. They came to bring gifts and to share a meal, and to sit in the presence of courage to learn humility.
scaffold were hung her husband's shield, his weapons, and the eagle-feather staff. On the ground below were piled hundreds of moccasins so she would not have to journey to the other side in bare feet.
The Quiet path
Lakota tradition encouraged its fighting men to publicly recount their exploits in battle. Waktoglaka (wah-kto-glah-kah) is the word for that old custom, meaning "to tell of one's victories." It seems illogical that a culture in which humility was a virtue could allow its fighting men to brag in public. There was, however, an essential requirement: Each and every action recounted had to be verified by at least one witness. That verification ensured the truth. To truthfully describe one's action in combat through the forum of ceremony was not considered bragging because the recountingthe story of the actionwas a gift. It became part of the identity and the lore of the storyteller's warrior society, and it served to strengthen the entire villagenot to mention that the deed recounted served as an example for young men to emulate.
unless asked because they realized the value of humility. While exploits in the arena of combat were the way to establish and enhance a good reputation and gain status in the community, lack of appropriate humility was a sure way to taint one's reputation and erode hard-won status. In other words, once the battle was over it was time to be humble.
other virtues. To be generous was good, for example, as long as one did not call attention to his or her generosity. Anything good that was done or said with humility carried more impact. According to all the stories, one of the most humble of all Lakota was Crazy Horse.
"to scatter one's own," were (and are) one of the seven Lakota groups. His is one of the most familiar names to emerge from the turbulent nineteenth century in the American West. In western American history, written by Euro-Americans, he is popularly regarded as the conqueror of both General George Crook and Lieutenant Colonel George Custer. On June 17, 1876, he led seven hundred to nine hundred Lakota and Cheyenne warriors and stopped Crook's northward advance at the Battle of the Rosebud, on the Rosebud River in what is now north central Wyoming. Eight days later, one thousand to twelve hundred Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors under his leadership, as well as the able leadership of several other notable Lakota battlefield leaders, defeated Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Crazy Horse was thirty-six years old at the time, and his combat experience and leadership helped to thwartalbeit temporarilythe United States Army's grand plan of 1876 to capture and herd all the Lakota onto reservations once and for all. But we Lakota don't remember him primarily because he defeated Crook or Custer; we remember him becausein spite of his larger-than-life achievements on the field of battle he was a humble man.
an ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos and confusion, and to lead by example. In the Lakota society of his day the arena of combat provided opportunities for fighting men to display skill and courage. Acts of bravery on the battlefield earned them honors within their warrior societies and status in the society at large. Many men who achieved a following as combat leaders also went on to become political leaders as well, such as the Hunkpapa Lakota Sitting Bull.
earned him his first adult name, prior to Crazy Horse. Because he had a habit of dismounting in the midst of fighting, then kneeling beside his war horse to take deliberate aim at the enemy, he became known as His Horse Stands in Sight. Such conduct earned him more combat honors by his early twenties than most men achieved in an entire lifetime. He was known far and wide for his daring and recklessness in combat, but also for his ability to make good tactical decisions. If anyone earned the right to participate in the waktoglaka ceremony, it was he. But according to all the stories handed down about him, he never did.
spoke in public only twice. Though he was entitled to wear the symbols of his many achievements on the battlefieldeagle feathershe was known to dress plainly. If he wore any decoration, at all it was usually a single feather.
warriorsrecount his exploits in combatraised more than a few eyebrows because he was bucking tradition, but it also endeared him to many. Those exploits are the basis for the legend of Crazy Horse; but, sadly, they overshadow the real manthe man, the stories say, who would walk through camp with his head down in humility when he had every right to strut with arrogance. To the Lakota who knew, loved, and admired him, his humility only enhanced his achievements and he didn't need to recount his exploits. Many, many others did it for him.
brought men to him, especially during that critical period following the Battle of the Little Bighorn when the U.S. Army stepped up its campaign against him. Because of his reputation and the humility with which he always conducted himself, just over nine hundred people followed him. Only a few more than a hundred were fighting men. The rest were old people and women and children, and they all endured hardship and uncertainty. But all of the fighting men and most, if not all, of the others would have continued to fight against the whites to the last man, or woman, or child if Crazy Horse had chosen that as the best course of action. But he chose otherwise. As a true testament of their loyalty, Crazy Horse's people followed him into an uncertain future whenfor the welfare of his noncombatantshe finally surrendered to the United States. He was the last Lakota leader to do so.
his courage as a fighting man and his ability as a military and civilian leader. We Lakota will always remember him for those very reasons. As a Sicangu/Oglala Lakota I will always admire him for those achievements, but I will likewise never forget that he was a humble man. For me, his humility outshines his fame.
leaders to possess. A quiet, humble person, we believed, was aware of other people and other things. An arrogant, boastful man was only aware of himself. Interestingly, our methods of selecting leaders today seem to favor the arrogant and boastful.
is the same that many Native American tribes, or nations seem to mimic on a more frequent basis. In Lakota society of the not-too-distant past, however, it was the people who approached the man who possessed the qualities of leadership. One of those qualities was humility.
it was absolutely necessary for a leader. Humility can provide clarity where arrogance makes a cloud. The last thing the people wanted was someone whose judgment and actions were clouded by arrogance. Several years ago I watched my uncle, then president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, diffuse a volatile moment with simple humility. A woman walked into his office and proceeded to ridicule and berate him, insulting him in every way she could think of because she or her family had been denied a service by one of the tribal service agencies. He didn't interrupt her; he waited until she finished her tirade. Then, instead of taking umbrage because he, and the office he held, had been grievously insulted, he, with his head down, quietly and respectfully replied, "Yes, that is why I have this job. So you can insult me when something goes wrong. Thank you for telling me your problem." The woman could only walk away. She had expected her words to be met with anger because an arrogant person would have reacted in that manner. When there was no anger, no arrogant retort, she didn't know how to handle the humility.
room for humility: A man or a woman who believes he or she can be a leader approaches the people by declaring candidacy. In most cases the candidate is not known to the people and consequently is forced to do at least a little boasting, and certainly a lot of promising. To make matters worse we are besieged by more than one candidate. This all brings to mind the story of Iktomi, the Trickster.
Excerpted from The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III. Copyright © 2001 by Joseph Marshall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I bought 'The Lakota Way' just yesterday when Mr. Marshall began his book tour for this one at Barnes & Noble in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. After having read just three of his twelve stories and essays, I can already say that this book is worth the buy. The use of language is utterly simple--it's as if Mr. Marshall is verbally telling us the stories. I've gotten to know him a little (and of course, have my book signed), as I was fortunate to have dinner with him, my professor and five other classmates before the reading at BN. But you certainly can get to know him and his rich culture more deeply through each of his stories and essays that focus on one particular human virtue. And they simply hammer the lesson on the mind of the reader. A GREAT book! Like they say for the movies and other bestsellers, 'Two thumbs way up!'