The Asiniboin

The Asiniboin were originally part of the Wazi-kute gens of the Yanktonai

(Ihanktonwanna) Dakota. According to the report of E.T. Denig to Governor

I.I. Stevens,(5) the Asiniboin call themselves Dakota, meaning Our

people. The Dakota style them Hohe, rebels, but Denig says the term

signifies fish eaters, and that they may have been so called from the

fact that they subsisted principally on fish while in British territory.


Lists of the gentes of this people have been recorded by Denig,

Maximilian, and Hayden, but in the opinion of the present writer they need


Asiniboin gentes

Denig Maximilian Hayden

We-che-ap-pe-nah, Itschcabine, Les Wi-ic-ap-i-nah,

60 lodges, under gens des filles. Girls' band.

Les Yeux Gris

E-an-to-ah, Stone Jatonabine, Les I'-an-to'-an.

Indians, the gens des roches, Either Inyan

original the Stone Indians tonwan, Stone

appellation for of the English. Village or

the whole nation; Call themselves Ihanktonwan, End

50 lodges, under Eascab. village or

Premier qui Voile. Yankton. J.O.D.)

Wah-to-pan-ah, Otaopabine, Les Wah-to'-pap-i-nah

Canoe Indians, 100 gens des canots.

lodges, under


Wah-to-pah-han-da-toh, Watopachnato, Les Wah-to'-pah-an-da-to,

Old Gauche's gens, gens de l'age. Gens du Gauche or

i.e., Those who Left Hand.

row in canoes; 100

lodges, under

Trembling Hand.

Wah-ze-ah we-chas-ta, O-see-gah (of Wah-zi-ah, or

Northern People (so Lewis and Clark, To-kum-pi, Gens du

called because they Discoveries, p. Nord.

came from the north in 43, 1806).

1839); 60 lodges,

under Le Robe de Vent.

The following gentes have not been collated: Of Maximilian's list,

Otopachgnato, les gens du large, possibly a duplication, by mistake, of

Watopachnato, les gens de l'age; Tschantoga, les gens des bois;

Tanin-tauei, les gens des osayes; Chabin, les gens des montagnes. Of

Hayden's list, Min'-i-shi-nak'-a-to, gens du lac.

The correct form in the Yankton dialect of the first name is Witcinyanpina

(Wicinyanpina), girls; of the second, probably Inyantonwan (Inyan tonwan);

the third and fourth gentes derive their names from the verb watopa, to

paddle a canoe; the fifth is Waziya witcacta (Waziya wicasta). Tschan in

Tschantoga is the German notation of the Dakota tcan (can), tree, wood.

Cha in Chabin is the German notation of the Dakota word he, a high ridge

of hills, a mountain.

In his report to Governor Stevens, from which the following information

respecting the Asiniboin is condensed, Denig used the term band to

denote a gens of the tribe, and clans instead of corporations, under

which latter term are included the feasting and dancing societies and the

orders of doctors, shamans, or theurgists.

These bands are distinct and occupy different parts of the country,

although they readily combine when required by circumstances, such as

scarcity of game or an attack by a large body of the enemy.

The roving tribes call no general council with other nations; indeed, they

are suspicious even of those with whom they have been at peace for many

years, so that they seldom act together in a large body. With the

exception of the Hidatsa, Mandau, and Arikara, who are stationary and live

in a manner together, the neighboring tribes are quite ignorant of one

another's government, rarely knowing even the names of the principal

chiefs and warriors.

In all these tribes there is no such thing as hereditary rank. If a son of

a chief is wanting in bravery, generosity, or other desirable qualities,

he is regarded merely as an ordinary individual; at the same time it is

true that one qualification for the position of chief consists in having a

large number of kindred in the tribe or gens. Should there be two or more

candidates, equally capable and socially well connected, the question

would be decided on the day of the first removal of the camp, or else in

council by the principal men. In the former case, each man would follow

the leader whom he liked best, and the smaller body of Indians would soon

adhere to the majority.

Women are never acknowledged as chiefs, nor have they anything to say in

the council. A chief would be deposed for any conduct causing general

disgust or dissatisfaction, such as incest (marrying within his gens) or

lack of generosity. Though crime in the abstract would not tend to create

dissatisfaction with a chief, yet if he murdered, without sufficient

cause, one whose kindred were numerous, a fight between the two bodies of

kindred would result and an immediate separation of his former adherents

would ensue; but should the murdered person be without friends, there

would be no attempt to avenge the crime, and the people would fear the

chief only the more. To preserve his popularity a chief must give away all

his property, and he is consequently always the poorest man in the band;

but he takes care to distribute his possessions to his own kindred or to

the rich, from whom he might draw in times of need.

The duties of a leading chief are to study the welfare of his people, by

whom he is regarded as a father, and whom he addresses as his children. He

must determine where the camp should be placed and when it should be

moved; when war parties are advisable and of whom they should be

composed--a custom radically different from that of the Omaha and

Ponka,--and all other matters of like character. Power is tacitly committed

to the leading chief, to be held so long as he governs to general

satisfaction, subject, however, to the advice of the soldiers. Age,

debility, or any other natural defect, or incapacity to act, advise, or

command, would lead a chief to resign in favor of a younger man.

When war is deemed necessary, any chief, soldier, or brave warrior has the

privilege of raising and leading a war party, provided he can get

followers. The powers of a warrior and civil chief may be united in one

person, thus differing from the Omaha and Ponka custom. The leading chief

may and often does lead the whole band to war; in fact, it devolves on him

to lead any general expedition.

The Akitcita (Akicita), soldiers or guards (policemen), form an important

body among the Asiniboin as they do among the other Siouan tribes. These

soldiers, who are chosen from the band on account of their bravery, are

from 25 to 45 years of age, steady, resolute, and respected; and in them

is vested the power of executing the decisions of the council. In a camp

of 200 lodges these soldiers would number from 50 to 60 men; their lodge

is pitched in the center of the camp and is occupied by some of them all

the time, though the whole body is called together only when the chief

wishes a public meeting or when their hunting regulations are to be

decided. In their lodge all tribal and intertribal business is transacted,

and all strangers, both white men and Indians, are domiciled. The young

men, women, and children are not allowed to enter the soldiers' lodge

during the time that tribal matters are being considered, and, indeed,

they are seldom, if ever, seen there. All the choicest parts of meat and

the tongues of animals killed in hunting are reserved for the soldiers'

lodge, and are furnished by the young men from time to time. A tax is

levied on the camp for the tobacco smoked there, which is no small

quantity, and the women are obliged to furnish wood and water daily. This

lodge corresponds in some degree to the two sacred lodges of the Hanga

gens of the Omaha.

Judging from the meager information which we possess concerning the

Asiniboin kinship system, the latter closely resembles that of the Dakota

tribes, descent being in the male line. After the smallpox epidemic of

1838, only 400 thinly populated lodges out of 1,000 remained, relationship

was nearly annihilated, property lost, and but few, the very young and

very old, were left to mourn the loss. Remnants of bands had to be

collected and property acquired, and several years elapsed ere the young

people were old enough to marry.

The names of the wife's parents are never pronounced by the husband; to do

so would excite the ridicule of the whole camp. The husband and the

father-in-law never look on each other if they can avoid it, nor do they

enter the same lodge. In like manner the wife never addresses her


A plurality of wives is required by a good hunter, since in the labors of

the chase women are of great service to their husbands. An Indian with one

wife can not amass property, as she is constantly occupied in household

labors, and has no time for preparing skins for trading. The first wife

and the last are generally the favorites, all others being regarded as

servants. The right of divorce lies altogether with the husband; if he has

children by his wife, he seldom puts her away. Should they separate, all

the larger children--those who require no further care--remain with the

father, the smaller ones departing with the mother. When the women have no

children they are divorced without scruple.

After one gets acquainted with Indians the very opposite of taciturnity

exists. The evenings are devoted to jests and amusing stories and the days

to gambling. The soldiers' lodge, when the soldiers are not in session, is

a very theater of amusement; all sorts of jokes are made and obscene

stories are told, scarcely a woman in the camp escaping the ribaldry; but

when business is in order decorum must prevail.

The personal property of these tribes consists chiefly of horses.

Possession of an article of small value is a right seldom disputed, if the

article has been honestly obtained; but the possession of horses being

almost the principal object in life of an Indian of the plains, the

retention of them is a matter of great uncertainty, if he has not the

large force necessary to defend them. Rights to property are based on the

method of acquirement, as (1) articles found; (2) those made by themselves

(the sole and undisputed property of the makers); (3) those stolen from

enemies, and (4) those given or bought. Nothing is given except with a

view to a gift in return. Property obtained by gambling is held by a very

indefinite tenure.

Murder is generally avenged by the kindred of the deceased, as among the

Omaha and Ponka. Goods, horses, etc, may be offered to expiate the crime,

when the murderer's friends are rich in these things, and sometimes they

are accepted; but sooner or later the kindred of the murdered man will try

to avenge him. Everything except loss of life or personal chastisement can

be compensated among these Indians. Rape is nearly unknown, not that the

crime is considered morally wrong, but the punishment would be death, as

the price of the woman would be depreciated and the chances of marriage

lessened. Besides, it would be an insult to her kindred, as implying

contempt of their feelings and their power of protection. Marriage within

the gens is regarded as incest and is a serious offense.