Groups of people record their history even when they do not have written languages. They do so by passing down events orally or by recording them pictorially. The Lakota people recorded their history by creating winter counts, which are drawings of historical events on animal hides or muslin.
In the past, every Lakota band had a keeper of the winter count. Once a year the leaders reviewed the important events of the previous year and together selected the single most significant one, which the keeper added to the long list of annual pictographs, consisting of as many as 200 entries. He could recite the story of each successive winter on this lengthy winter count, thereby passing on history orally. Such memorable events as smallpox epidemics, wars, government-mandated school attendance, and the move from tipi to cabin were noted on the winter counts. Tribal members could recall the year of their birth by the event associated with their birth date.
By the 1930s the tradition of the winter count had generally ceased. Dr. Thomas Red Owl Haukaas created the Carnegie Winter Count from a 1990s viewpoint, including social and political issues that have affected the lives of Lakota people up to modern times. In this unique contemporary winter count, Dr. Haukaas depicted 125 yearly events affecting his tribe, the Sicanġu Lakota people on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Haukaas began the winter count with the creation of the reservation in 1868–1869 and ended with the 500th anniversary of Columbus' encounter with Native Americans. Since there is no count keeper, he created a guide book that gives an explanation of the icon for each year.
Carnegie Winter Count
Thomas Red Owl Haukaas, M.D. (1950- ), Sicanġu (Brulé) Lakota/Creole, 1995
Brain-tanned deer (Odocoileus sp.) hide, ink, commercial paint, nylon sinew; L 123.0 x W 95.7 cm; 36025-1a
Winter Count: 1908–1918
1908–1909: Flowing-Waters Winter
The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot modify or repeal Indian treaty rights in cases concerning water rights.
1909–1910: Swift Bear's Winter
Chief Swift Bear's passing added to the accumulated loss of respected leaders chosen by the people because of their valor and adherence to traditional values
1910–1911: Quarter-Left Winter
Congress opened up the Rosebud Reservation land to outsiders. This left only Todd County as exclusively Indian land.
1911–1912: They-Want-It-All Winter
Congress attempted to open Todd County to outside sale. Mixed-bloods, full-bloods, and the U.S. Agent joined together in opposition.
1912–1913: Turning Bear's Winter
Turning Bear, a former leader of the Ghost Dance, was killed when he was run over by a train.
1913–1914: Hollow Horn Bear's Winter
During the inaugural parade for President Woodrow Wilson, Chief Hollow Horn Bear, Rosebud's representative, contracted pneumonia and went on his journey.
1914–1915: Two Strike's Winter
The loss of traditional leadership continued with the death of Two Strike.
1915–1916: High Bear's Winter
Another leader, High Bear, was lost.
1916–1917: Little Tracks Winter
Over 25,000 head of Rosebud cattle were sold to meet World War I needs in Europe. Lakota ranchers were unable to purchase new stock when prices rose sharply, so their cattle business was crippled.
1917–1918: He-Feeds-the-Unsica Winter
Agent Corey initiated a new program for the unsica ("pitiful") that assisted the old, the sick, and the destitute.
1918–1919: Returns-from-War Winter
Many celebrations and ceremonies marked the return of Lakota World War I soldiers. The first Indian reported to have been killed was Chauncey Eagle Horn, a Sicanġu from Oak Creek.