A North Star Dakotan Interview with Frank Bull Bear
Growing Up Lakota
Frank Bull Bear, a Lakota, was born in eastern Montana in 1869 while his band, consisting of thirty-five lodges, was on a buffalo hunt. His father was injured on that hunt and died in 1870. Bull Bear’s grandparents reared him.
What were the summer buffalo hunts like?
During the summer we moved from place to place. When I was about six years old, my grandfather gave me a small pony. I rode him bareback. When we traveled, we went single file. The hunters led the way. Our tents were loaded on a travois and pulled by a horse. Some of the women walked along leading the horse. There were about a hundred or more dogs. The dogs stayed close to the end of the line when we were on the march. Dogs that would not behave while we were marching were beaten or killed. If it was a pet, the owner tied its mouth with buckskin so it could not bark. Sometimes camp was made after we had marched only half a day, and sometimes we marched all day. Camp was usually made by a stream. It did not take long to put up the tipis. The women did the work. The men looked after the horses. I and some of the other children would go down and play in the stream.
We always had plenty to eat. My grandfather was too old to hunt but the hunter gave us chunks of meat. Some of it we ate raw or roasted over a fire. Thin strips were hung in the sun to dry.
What did you do in the winter?
When winter set in, we moved into the woods near a river. We had dried meat, dried plums, choke cherries, bull berries to eat. An open fire was built on the ground in the center of the tipi. This kept us warm, but when the fire went out at night, the tent was very cold. Buffalo robes kept us warm. Some mornings I woke up with my head covered with snow that had fallen through the opening at the top of the tipi.
At this time the Indians were strong and healthy. They did not know what sickness was. In the winter time we wore moccasins, breech cloth, mittens, and a cap that covered our ears and neck. Parts of our bodies were exposed to the weather, but we did not get sick.
When did you go to the reservation?
When I was eight years old, we traveled to Fort Yates, Dakota Territory. I think the trip took us about twenty-five days or more. Our hunters shot deer, buffalo, and antelope on the way. Most of them used bow and arrow, but we had two or three guns in the camp. I rode my pony the entire way. I did not know at the time where we were going. On nearing Fort Yates we pitched camp about two miles from the fort. Up to this time I had never seen a white man. Two or three days later I went with my grandfather to the fort. I saw white soldiers and was afraid. My grandfather told me not to be afraid as these people were our friends. We were given rations consisting of flour, bacon, coffee, and sugar.
The first flour we received was thrown away but we kept the sack. The bacon we tried to roast over a fire. It was too salty, and we fed it to our dogs. I ate most of the sugar but did not like the coffee at the time. A few days after this my grandfather and I went in for beef rations.
Did you go to school?
I had to go to school. An Indian policeman came to our cabin and took me in a wagon to the school. There were about twenty-five children in the school. I did not like it at all. The next day I started off to school but went down to the woods along the Missouri River where I played all day. The next morning I started for the woods again, but was caught by the policeman just as I got to the woods. I cried but he made me go with him to the school. Every day the first month the policeman brought in five or six children. The first year in school I learned only a few words of English. Some of us brought bow and arrows to school but our teacher, Mr. A.C. Wells, took them away from us. He was afraid we would get hurt with them.
At this time my hair grew down to my shoulders. One day Mr. Wells cut my hair very short. I did not like it at all. He cut the hair of every boy who had long hair. I went to this school for five years. I did not learn much of anything. I liked to hunt and ride on horseback. After school was out I forgot all about it. My grandparents did not want me to go to school or learn the ways of the white people.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council