Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter

Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter

by Delphine Red Shirt

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Told in their own words, Turtle Lung Woman’s Granddaughter is the unforgettable story of several generations of Lakota women who grew up on the open plains of northern Nebraska and southern South Dakota. Delphine Red Shirt has delicately woven the life stories of her mother, Lone Woman, and Red Shirt’s great-grandmother, Turtle Lung Woman, intoSee more details below


Told in their own words, Turtle Lung Woman’s Granddaughter is the unforgettable story of several generations of Lakota women who grew up on the open plains of northern Nebraska and southern South Dakota. Delphine Red Shirt has delicately woven the life stories of her mother, Lone Woman, and Red Shirt’s great-grandmother, Turtle Lung Woman, into a continuous narrative that succeeds triumphantly as a moving, epic saga of Lakota women from traditional times in the mid–nineteenth century to the present. Especially revealing are Turtle Lung Woman’s relationship with her husband, Paints His Face with Clay, her healing practice as a medicine woman, Lone Woman’s hardships and celebrations growing up in the early twentieth century, and many wonderful details of their domestic lives before and during the early reservation years.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post

"Part family history, part myth, it is made especially revealing by the lively, fantastic stories of Red ShirtÍs mother, Lone Woman. . . . These legends and histories, related in spare but eloquent language, are fascinating throughout."—The Washington Post
Kaia Hemming

"A colorful, emotional journey. . . . It is the intimacy and sacredness of the way these individualized stories have been preserved and retold that gives this story an uncommonly poignant spiritual glimpse into the historical perspective of these Lakota women."—Kaia Hemming, Voices from the Gap
Publishers Weekly
In this "prequel" to her own growing-up story (Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood), Red Shirt lets readers listen in as her mother, Lone Woman, recounts her life and that of her grandmother, Turtle Lung Woman. With her fluid incorporation of her mother's Lakota phrases and songs, Red Shirt, a Yale professor of American studies and English, brings to life Lakota language, lore and history from the mid-19th century, "when things were still steeped in the old ways," to the mid-20th century, when "the world was changing daily." Details of Lakota life in South Dakota and Nebraska (such as the momentous adoption of canvas rather than buffalo hide moccasins) are etched with clarity, as are the consequences of larger historical forces. A medicine woman, Turtle Lung Woman lived among Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Sitting Bull. She was 28 when the U.S. government forced the Lakota to move to a reservation in 1879, and she recalls hearing about Wounded Knee in 1890. Family marriages and births, Lakota standards of behavior, the practice of medicine women and "their own legends about how they came to be" mingle harmoniously in this dual memoir. Red Shirt does not lecture; rather, her vivid, simple prose turns the reader into a witness. "I was there and I remember," she writes, and readers will feel that way, too. (Apr. 18) Forecast: Though the book is written for a general audience, women's studies scholars, anthropologists and ethnologists should be interested as well. Campus bookstores in Western states should stock up. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

University of Nebraska Press
Publication date:
American Indian Lives Series
Product dimensions:
0.55(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

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Chapter One

    Beading by Moonlight

In the life of the Lakota "oyáte," the Lakota people, before 1868, the "oyáte" lived a certain way. "Hehá makhóche ki, yaké ki héchus'e yaké eš tayá wichóni," back then, the land was as it is now, but the people lived a different way. They lived content and pleased with everything around them. They were grateful for everything they had.

    It was a time when our people called themselves "ikcé wicháša," or "common man," and lived a certain way. My grandmother Kheglézela Chagúwi, Turtle Lung Woman, was a young woman back then. She lived a certain way. The wife of a man with many wives, she was the favored one, the one who sat in the honored place in her tipi, and while the others carried wood, she made moccasins. So it was she sat in the moonlight one night making "hapíkceka," "common shoes" or moccasins, for her husband, Ité Siyákhiya, Paints His Face with Clay, who was going to war.

    She sat singing a song as she made hapíkceka for him. She sang a song about Ité Siyákhiya, Paints His Face with Clay, going to war: "Zuyá iyáyikte, ehápi k'u, hé waštéwalake, iyótiyewakiye." The words say, "He is going to war, you have said. He whom I cherish, I shall see hard times."

    The Lakota word "zuyá" means "war." We were always at war with the Khagí wicháša, or Crow men.The word "khagí" means "crow." It is the name of the bird, the crow, whose tongue when split it speaks.

    The Khagí wicháša "ahíwichaktepi," we say, "they came to kill." When they did, "thókic'u," we say, "we took revenge" for any killing they did. It seemed like a vicious cycle, they came to kill and we went to strike back. Sometimes they came to take horses and we went to take them back. An old song goes like this: "Khagí wicháša ki šúkawakha awáglaka po, šúka wamánu s'a miyé yelo." This song says, "Crow man, watch your horses, horse stealer, that is who I am." They even took women and children. The Khagí wicháša was our mortal enemy. He came among us to take our horses or our scalps.

    It was one of these times when my grandfather went to war. He went against the Khagí wicháša. My grandmother Turtle Lung Woman sat under a full moon and made beaded moccasins for him. The full moon we call "hawí," or "night sun." She preferred it, saying she grew stronger when it was the brightest. Perhaps so the way the men felt as they prepared for war.

    "Ápa ki iyécha," she told me, "Its light was as bright as day." She could see well enough to sew. She sat outdoors at night on a piece of soft buckskin. Her long dark hair was neatly braided. A small woman, dressed in trader's cloth and blue leggings with leather moccasins, she sat hunched over her work. She was intent on finishing before daybreak, when Ité Siyákhiya would leave for war.

    She made hapíkceka. She measured her husband's foot and set out a pattern to sew from. She cut tanned buckskin, folded it with the outer side in, and used an awl to punch holes for sewing. She used buffalo sinew and a bone needle as she pulled each stitch carefully through the holes. She could feel a callus on the heel of her right hand. She worked patiently with the awl, bone needle, and sinew thread. She sewed carefully, flattening out the seams so her husband would not feel any discomfort when he wore his moccasins. They might be the only things he wore into battle that day.

She thought about her husband, Ité Siyákhiya, a "zuyá wicháša," a warrior. Sometimes he left for a long time when he went to war. She wanted to make sure he had enough moccasins with him. This time he wanted four pairs to take with him. She had started making them earlier that day but had not finished so she had to work by moonlight.

    He asked her to go as a "moccasin carrier," a member of the group going to war, but she declined. A moccasin carrier was a brave woman who risked becoming a captive. She could not bear the thought of living with a different oyáte. She thought of the Khagí wicháša and living as a captive among them. She dreaded seeing the black painted face of the Khagí wicháša, who painted his face this way to signify that he had killed many Lakotas.

    She knew the other tribes who were our enemies. We fought them when they entered our territory, "Lakhóta ektá hiyúpi háta," when they came among us. We fought the people we called "Phezí wokhéya othí ki," meaning "grass house dwellers," the Shoshones, and those we called "Wicháša Yúta," meaning "man eater," the Utes, whom we knew were cannibalistic. The tribe we considered "wakátuya okíchiyusika," the greatest enemy, was the Khagí wicháša.

My grandmother Turtle Lung Woman told me she sat and thought about her life as she sat and sewed hapíkceka. She saw life at the "wašícu," at the white man's forts. She knew what "phezúta sápa," meaning "black medicine," coffee, and "agúyapi," meaning "burned-on," bread, tasted like. She saw the strange and wonderful things there at the forts. She knew what the white man looked like, but she did not yet dread him. She knew what the Khagí wicháša looked like and she dreaded him the most.

    The Khagí wicháša looked like us, only his hair and clothing were different. He wore his hair long, like our men, but the hair on the forehead of the Khagí wicháša was cut into short bangs. He combed it distinctively so that it stood up like a stiff comb on a bird, such as on a ruffed grouse or prairie chicken. His shadow was one that our people had learned to dread. Seeing him so close meant sure death.

The way we thought was not the same as the way the Khagí wicháša thought, even though it seemed we would look the same to any wašícu, or white man, the same to anyone unfamiliar with our culture and theirs. His language and customs were different. The Khagí wicháša wore a necklace of strings of beads cascading down his chest. His beadwork and art were different. The cradle boards we used to carry our babies were similar only in structure, not in decoration. We lived a different way from him.

    As far back as anyone remembers, the Khagí wicháša was always our adversary. He hated us and in time we learned to hate him. The Khagí wicháša even killed our children and old women who were gathering wood or anyone who was found unprotected. He came lurking into our largest camps. We were on guard always. He would sneak in and claim one of us.

We called it "phe'ícuya zuyá glí" when the men went to war against them, "for a scalp they went to war and came back." "Glípi," we say, "they returned." They would come home and boast that they had killed a Crow. "Eyá héchus'e, iwóglakapi eš thóka wa wakté iyápi," they would say that they killed a Crow but no one would believe them. So when they killed a Crow they would take a piece of the scalp, put it under their belt, and they would carry it that way. "Thóka phehí yuhá glípi," with the "other people's scalps they came home." The word "thóka" meant "the other people." We used this word to refer, in a general way, to any other tribe other than the Khagí.

My grandfather Ité Siyákhiya made careful preparations before he went with others to war against the Khagí wicháša. He killed a deer, elk, or buffalo and left the best part of it as a sacrifice to the spirits. He asked the spirits to help him succeed in war. He vowed to take only from the enemy. He wanted to return with more horses and scalps than anyone. If the spirits were pleased they would help him. Otherwise they might help the enemy.

    Ité Siyákhiya invoked the spirit of "Makhá," the earth. He took white clay from the earth and painted himself for battle. He mixed the white earth with buffalo fat and used it to paint his face and body. While he did this he would sing a song: "Lé makhá wékic'u ki, ú oyáte iníhawa yelo." These words mean "This earth I use as paint makes the enemy afraid." When he finished singing his song, he mounted a horse and rode into battle. When he painted himself this way, the dust flying shielded him from enemy eyes.

    In his day, every event had a song. It was thought that every Lakota should have a personal song to please the spirits, especially Tákuškaška, "that which moves, moves" — the energy in all living things, the Lakota God. It was said that Tákuškaška, like all spirits, loved the voices of men and women in song. He would come and listen and as He listened He would sometimes help those who needed it.

Ité Siyákhiya sang these songs to remind him of Tákuškaška. When he sang these songs they reminded him of things infinite in what is finite. It made him aware of the power in the unseen, in Tákuškaška, that which moves, unseen. In these songs he and the other men would sing about the "šugmánitu," the wolf, because they thought of themselves as such when they went to war. They lived like a wolf while they roamed the prairie in search of the enemy. They sang these songs to remind themselves that only the earth endured.

    So it was Ité Siyákhiya chose his best horse to take when he went to war. He tied a medicine bundle around its neck. In it he put an herb. He used the root of the "thícanicahu." It is a plant with silver leaves. It grows on the prairie. He fed it to his horse to keep it going on a long journey. For himself, Ité Siyákhiya brought extra pairs of moccasins and "wasná," pemmican, in a bag made from the stomach of a buffalo. The wasná was made from dried buffalo meat, bone marrow of the buffalo, and dried chokecherries or wild plums. It was pounded together and dried into cakes that are cut and carried. It kept well and nourished him on a long journey into enemy country. He could survive for a while on just water and wasná.

    On the day Ité Siyákhiya went to war, he and the others left quietly at daybreak. They had sent scouts ahead the previous night. They told the scouts where to go, what to do if they saw the enemy, and they told them to return to the main group and tell them everything they saw. Ité Siyákhiya did not consider it an honor to be asked to join the war party. He felt that the honor would be in coming home victorious.

    While they were journeying, Ité Siyákhiya listened for "wanági," for ghosts. A "wichá wanági" was the spirit of a man who had died. It returned to our world to hover near us, sometimes to warn us of bad things. These things were a mystery to Ité Siyákhiya. They were "wakhá," sacred. He knew that his own "nagí," his spirit, guarded him and warned him of danger. It was this part of him that would one day travel to the spirit world.

It was this, the wanági of his ancestors, those who died, who came back to warn him and the others. If a wanági appeared and sang a victory song, they would be victorious over the enemy. If instead the wanági sang a mourning song, the opposite would be true. Ité Siyákhiya knew that the wanági traveled at night. He waited with the others until daybreak to leave for war.

When they returned from a successful fight, Ité Siyákhiya and the other men would stop outside camp and, in full battle array, circle it. Triumphant and proud, they rode on horseback at full speed around the camp. Turtle Lung Woman watched the parade. The horses they rode were often the ones they captured from the enemy. What an honor it was to ride them in front of the women.

    Ité Siyákhiya, like the other men, fought for horses as much as for anything else. He greatly admired the speed and endurance of the "šúkawakha," or "sacred dog," the horse. Like all Lakota men, he dreaded Khagí wicháša horse thieves as much as the Khagí wicháša dreaded our horse thievery. For this reason, if any Khagí wicháša were found in our territory, they would be killed immediately.

They participated in a ceremony after they returned from war. It was called the Wakté Aglí Wachípi, the Kills and Returns Dance. In it, the drummers and singers were the warriors returning home victorious from the fight. They carried small drums, the size of small shields. They drummed and sang honoring songs for all the warriors, living and dead.

    The dancers were women, lamenting the death of sons or husbands or relatives lost in the fight. They carried on long poles the scalps of the enemy. The theme was vengeance. The men, with their faces painted black, stood with the women in a circle around a tall pole, moving in a direction from right to left.

    The women stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder with their scalp sticks, dancing near the men. The men stood together shoulder to shoulder near the women, singing songs of the living and dead heroes. They danced circling the pole in the center. The pole was painted black and white in alternating stripes. The black paint signified that the enemy had been killed. The white stripes indicated victory in battle. The center pole had hanging from it a scalp, a hand, and a foot of the enemy.

Excerpted from Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter by Delphine Red Shirt. Copyright © 2002 by University of Nebraska Press. 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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