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Painter: Charles Bird King
The following account of Wanata is from "The Red Men of Iowa" by A. R. Fulton, published 1882.
One of the greatest men of the Sioux nation ever known to the whites was Wa-na-ta, a chief of the Yankton branch of that nation, who flourished during the first half of the present century. He distinguished himself as a warrior at the age of eighteen, when he fought under his father against the Americans. He was one of a band of savages collected from the Northwest by Colonel Dixon during the War of 1812, and was wounded in an engagement at Sandusky. After that war he professed friendship toward the United States. He devoted himself to the business of uniting and more thoroughly organizing the several tribes or bands of his nation, and in maintaining both aggressive and defensive warfare against the neighboring tribes, and especially the Chippewas and Iowas. From the position of chief of the Yanktons he rose to be recognized as the grand chief of the Sioux nation.
An incident which transpired in 1822 is related, which shows that Wa-na-ta adhered to the religious customs and superstitious ceremonies of his nation. It was on the eve of a journey in which he was likely to be exposed to danger from the Chippewas he communed with the Great Spirit, and made a vow to the sun that if he should safely return he would abstain from food and drink four days and nights, and would distribute among his people all his property. It so transpired that he returned from his journey
safely and without accident. Then, in obedience to his vow, his first care was to celebrate the sun-dance, a most painful and revolting ceremony. Incisions were made in his arms and breast, separating the skin from the flesh in the form of loops, through which a rope was passed, and the ends fastened to a post erected for that purpose. This commenced at the beginning of his fast, and continued throughout the four days. Sometimes he would engage in dancing; and at intervals would throw his whole weight upon the cord which passed through the loops of separated skin. Then he would swing to and fro in this painful position. After this ceremony was over he executed faithfully the remainder of his vow by distributing all his property among his people, parting with his lodges, dogs, guns, robes, ornaments, and several horses. Wa-na-ta and his two wives were thus reduced to poverty, in willing obedience to a solemn religious conviction. The sun-dance is a ceremony common among the Sioux tribes to this day, and on such occasions the self-inflicted tortures are quite similar to those in the case of Wa-na-ta.
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