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Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden

Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians

Gilbert L. Wilson

Publication Year: 1987

Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born about 1839, was an expert gardener. Following centuries-old methods, she and the women of her family raised huge crops of corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers on the rich bottomlands of the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. When she was young, her fields were near Like-a-fishhook, the earth-lodge village that the Hidatsa shared with the Mandan and Arikara. When she grew older, the families of the three tribes moved to individual allotments on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. In Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden, first published in 1917, anthropologist Gilbert L. Wilson transcribed the words of this remarkable woman, whose advice today's gardeners can still follow. She describes a year of activities, from preparing and planting the fields through cultivating, harvesting, and storing foods. She gives recipes for cooking typical Hidatsa dishes. And she tells of the stories, songs, and ceremonies that were essential to a bountiful harvest. A new introduction by anthropologist and ethnobotanist Jeffery R. Hanson describes the Hidatsa people's ecologically sound methods of gardening and Wilson's work with this traditional gardener.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

front matter

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pp. v-ix

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Introduction to the reprint edition

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pp. xi-xxiii

Buffalo Bird Woman, known in Hidatsa as Maxidiwiac, was born about 1839 in an earth lodge along the Knife River in present-day North Dakota. In 1845 her people moved upstream and built Like-a-fishhook village, which they shared with the Mandan and Arikara. There Buffalo Bird Woman grew up to become an expert gardener of the Hidatsa tribe. Using agricultural practices centuries old, she and ...

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pp. xxv

The field of primitive economic activity has been largely left uncultivated by both economists and anthropologists. The present study by Mr. Gilbert L. Wilson is an attempt to add to the scanty knowledge already at hand on the subject of the economic life of the American Indian. The work was begun without theory or thesis, but solely with the ...

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pp. 1-5

The Hidatsas, called Minitaris by the Mandans, are a Siouan linguistic tribe. Their language is closely akin to that of the Crows with whom they claim to have once formed a single tribe; a separation, it is said, followed a quarrel over a slain buffalo. The name Hidatsa was formerly borne by one of the tribal villages. The other villages consolidated with it, and the name was adopted as that ...

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CHAPTER I. Tradition

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pp. 6-8

We Hidatsas believe that our tribe once lived under the waters of Devils Lake. Some hunters discovered the root of a vine growing downward; and climbing it, they found themselves on the surface of the earth. Others followed them, until half the tribe had escaped; but the vine broke under the weight of a pregnant woman, leaving the rest prisoners. A part of our tribe are therefore still beneath the lake. ...

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CHAPTER II. Beginning a garden

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pp. 9-15

The smallpox year at Five Villages left Otter's family with no male members to support them. Turtle and her daughter were then living in Otter's lodge; and Otter's daughters, as Indian custom bade, called Corn Sucker their elder sister. It was a custom of the Hidatsas, that if the eldest sister of a household married, her younger sisters were also given to her husband, as they came ...

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CHAPTER III. Sunflowers

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pp. 16-21

This that I am going to tell you of the planting and harvesting of our crops is out of my own experience, seen with my own eyes. In olden times, I know, my tribe used digging sticks and bone hoes for garden tools; and I have described how I saw my grandmother use them. There may be other tools or garden customs once in use in my tribe, and now forgotten; ...

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pp. 22-67

Corn planting began the second month after sunflower-seed was planted, that is in May; and it lasted about a month. It sometimes continued pretty well into June, but not later than that; for the sun then begins to go back into the south, and men began to tell eagle-hunting stories. We knew when corn planting time came by observing the leaves of the ...

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CHAPTER V. Squashes

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pp. 68-81

Squash seed was planted early in June; or the latter part of May and the first of June. In preparation for planting, we first sprouted the seed. I cut out a piece of tanned buffalo robe about two and a half feet long and eighteen inches wide, and spread it on the floor of the lodge, fur side up. I took red-grass leaves, wetted them, and spread them out flat, matted ...

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pp. 82-86

Bean planting followed immediately after squash planting. Beans were planted in hills the size and shape of squash hills, or about seven by fourteen inches; but if made in open ground the hills were not placed so far apart in the row. Squash hills, like corn hills, stood about four feet apart in the row, measuring from center to center; but bean hills ...

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CHAPTER VII. Storing for winter

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pp. 87-97

A cache pit was shaped somewhat like a jug, with a narrow neck at the top. The width of the mouth, or entrance, was commonly about two feet; on the very largest cache pits the mouth was never, I think, more than two feet eight, or two feet nine inches. In diagram (figure 25), the width of pit's mouth at BB' should be a little more than two feet, narrowing to ...

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CHAPTER VIII. The making of a drying stage

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pp. 98-104

There were about seventy lodges in Like-a-fishhook village, when I was a girl. A com drying stage stood before every lodge. That before Small Ankle's lodge was a three-section stage. of eight posts. White Feather, or his wives. owned two of these big eight-post stages, one before each of their two lodges; for White Feather had four wives. Many Growths-a woman-had a big eight-post stage. There were a ...

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pp. 105-106

Iron hoes had come into general use when I was a girl, but there were two or three old women who used old fashioned bone hoes. I think my grandmother, Turtle, was the very last to use one of these bone hoes. I will describe the hoe she used, as I remember it. The blade was made of the shoulder bone of a buffalo, with the edge trimmed and sharpened; and the ridge of bone, that is found on the shoulder ...

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CHAPTER X. Fields at Like-a-fishhook village

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pp. 108-112

Figure 36 is a map I have made of the gardens east, or better, southeast, of Like-a-fishhook village. The fields lay, as indicated on the map, upon a point of land that went out into the Missouri river. The map is only approximately correct. There were many other gardens than those represented here on the map; for I have made no attempt to indicate any but ...

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CHAPTER XI. Miscellanea

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pp. 113-118

The word really means, I think, a raised ridge of earth. We still use the word in this sense. Down by the government school house at Independence, our agent has run a road; and the earth dug out of the roadway has been piled along the side in a low ridge to get rid of it. This ridge, running along the side of the road, we call ...

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CHAPTER XII. Since white men came

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pp. 119-120

The government has changed our old way of cultivating corn and our other vegetables, and has brought us seeds of many new vegetables and grains, and taught us their use. We Hidatsas and our friends, the Mandans, have also been removed from our village at Like-a-fishhook bend, and made to take our land in allotments; so that our old agriculture has in ...

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pp. 121-127

Tobacco was cultivated in my tribe only by old men, Our young men did not smoke much; a few did, but most of them used little tobacco, or almost none. They were taught that smoking would injure their lungs and make them short winded so that they would be poor runners. But when a man got to be about sixty years of age we thought it right for him ...


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E-ISBN-13: 9780873516600
E-ISBN-10: 0873516605
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873512190
Print-ISBN-10: 0873512197

Page Count: 142
Publication Year: 1987

Edition: 1