Museum Minute: Lone Dog Winter Count

Oct 9, 2020

Credit Plains Indian Museum

Winter counts are recordings of the Lakota tribal history. The Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has one winter count that is known as the lone dog winter count. That’s because Lone Dog was the last known keep of this tribal history. It’s a calendar representation of important events between 1800 and 1871.

Rebecca West, the curator of the museum, said it’s not like the calendars we are familiar with. 

“It is really a spiral that starts at the center and goes counterclockwise, and it represents those 71 years in tribal history,” she said. 

West says pictographs are used to represent events. This includes the Leonid meteor shower in 1833 that was recorded by other cultures. 

“But also there are representations of different diseases. And right now, with [COVID-19], we're thinking a lot about the pandemic,” said West. “And it brings back memories that these types of diseases and epidemics were here on the Plains and devastated Native cultures for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

An account of the whooping cough is represented as a picture of a man’s face with lines coming out of it. There are also representations of smallpox and measles. 

“It's interesting to see that these things did happen in earlier generations, and sometimes we forget so it's come back to us in this one account,” said West.