The Rosebud Winter Count Calendar

Lakota History Cloth

… In 1998, inside a long-unopened trunk, a winter count was discovered in Ontario, California. Today it is one of the treasures in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The “Rosebud Winter Count” (for the Sioux reservation in South Dakota where it likely was collected) is a piece of muslin, 6912 by 35 inches, on which is drawn a pictographic calendar. There are 136 pictographs, mostly in black ink embellished with colored washes. The images—marking events documented elsewhere (an entry for 1833-34, “the year the stars fell,” refers to the Leonid meteor shower of 1833) or particular to the tribe (1865-66 was the year “Four Crows stealing horses were killed”)—appear to extend from 1752 to 1887 … 
What interests me most about the winter counts is their relation to language, to expression verbal and visual—language in the abstract. It is a crucial link between the oral and written traditions, not unlike the Rosetta stone, the Dead Sea scrolls, the walls of Lascaux. It is reflection and enigma, history and myth … it is both a story and a story to be told, of Man’s quest to know himself, composed in the language of imagery.

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