Lakota Winter Count

Native American calendar shows devastation of smallpox

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Calendars like this winter count used by Lakota in the Northern Plains mark the passage of years. The figure covered in small red dots shows how the deadly small pox was not just in the Texas colonies. The highly contagious disease, brought to the Americas by Europeans, spread throughout the continent and killed as many as 90% of American Indians.

Many cultures rely on oral stories to remember and pass along their history from one generation to the next. Winter counts are essentially calendars that visually represent Lakota oral histories. Each pictograph on the winter count symbolizes an important event that serves as a marker for one year. In its entirety, the winter count represents decades of important events. It was the keeper of the winter count’s responsibility to share that history with others.

Smallpox killed thousands of American Indians, with its most devastating effects between 1775 and 1782. It weakened tribal control over lands across North America, including Texas. The epidemic greatly changed the balance of power between the European colonists and American Indian nations and tribes.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Lakota Winter Count Artifact from Houston
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