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Painted Woods


Here is a love story for Valentine’s Day. The Painted Woods sits south of Washburn, and is hailed as a beautiful place. However, few people know why it was called Painted Woods in the first place. Well, the name comes from a North Dakotan love story over 300 years old.

The Yanktonai Dakota and Mandan Indian tribes were sore enemies. Their relationship was rife with warfare. Neither tribe had claimed the Painted Woods, so oftentimes they would meet there to battle. Eventually, the Mandan decided to hold a peace council during an autumn harvest and declared it to be a time of trading. After that, the two tribes would meet there every fall to facilitate trade. It is said that on one of these expeditions, a young Yanktonai Dakota man met a young Mandan maiden and they fell in love. Unfortunately, tribal traditions conflicted. For the Mandan, it was traditional that a man go to his woman in her mother’s lodge. For the Yanktonai, they believed that if a marriage was cross-tribal, the woman should go live with the man.

When it was time for the Yanktonai to depart, the young man broke with tradition and stayed with the maiden. However, there were also problems within the Mandan culture, so they soon eloped. At this point of the story, the tribes disagree about what happened. The Mandan say the man stole the maiden and that the Yanktonai killed her. The Yanktonai deny this, stating that the Mandan killed the brave and lost the young woman.

A close examination of cultural traditions may shed light on this discrepancy. In Mandan tradition, if a woman left her tribe, she was considered dead to them, thus she “died” when she chose to leave with her lover. When the Mandan came to kill the brave, she fought next to him and was killed by the Mandan, but to them, the Yanktonai had killed her long ago.

Both tribes agree that the lovers were left hanging in a grove of trees, wrapped in buffalo skin, and later found and buried by the Yanktonai. Both tribes began painting about their tribal conflict on the trees, and thus it became Painted Woods.

Today’s Dakota Datebook is written by Lucid Thomas.


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