At a quick glance, you might miss the ancient cliff dwellings that blend effortlessly into the sheltered alcove of the canyon wall at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. These elaborate stone communities contained as many as 150 rooms, some of which still feature smoke-blackened walls and ceilings from fires that burned during cold winter months. The park protects nearly 5,000 archeological sites, inspiring visitors to imagine what life was like over 700 years ago. Photo courtesy of Chris Wheeler.
Happy Winter Solstice, 2016 Photo made while standing at the foot of Rainbow Mountain, Mount Wilson in the distance with the sun about to dip behind Oak Creek Canyon and in the foreground, glowing native plant Desert Needlegrass.
Rainbow Mountains, Sandstone Escarpment Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Spring Mountains Range, Las Vegas Nevada
Kills Two works on the Big Missouri Winter Count
Plains Native Americans (like the Lakota, Kiowa, Mandan, and Dakota)
maintained written histories in the form of Winter Counts. Winter Counts
were a historical record, a visual list of year names representing a
significant event in the life of the band from one winter to the next.
Pictorial representations of that event served as a reminder, a kind of
mnemonic device, for the Keeper of the Count to retell their history. We
know of 53 Winter Counts that together provide a historical record of
the Northern Plains from 1682 to 1920.
During the U.S. Revolution smallpox swept west from the Atlantic Coast
into the heart of the continent. Many Native American nations, like the
Lakota, were effected. These images
depict the 1779-1780 and 1780-1781 entries in Battiste Good’s Winter
Count with the words “The eruption and pains in the stomach and bowels
are shown as before, smallpox used them up winter”. The first Winter
Count record of epidemic disease is from a Yanktonai Dakota in 1714 with
the description “fatal cramps and convulsions”. On average, epidemics
struck the Great Plains every 5.7 years, with epidemic-free periods
ranging from zero to 45 years depending on the band in question, and
disease mortality increased in years following nutritional stress.
(Sundstrom, 1997, “Smallpox Used Them Up: References to Epidemic Disease
in Northern Plains Winter Counts, 1714-1920”).