Winter count

Winter counts (Lakota: "waniyetu wowapi") are pictorial calendars or histories in which tribal records and events were recorded. The Blackfeet, Mandan, Kiowa and Lakota used winter counts extensively. There are approximately 100 in existence (but many of these are duplicates).


The winter counts would have a single picture for each year (first snowfall to first snowfall) that would be the most important thing that happened. The pictures would be used as a reference that could be consulted regarding the order of the years. More extensive oral histories were passed down using the winter counts as guide posts.

Winter Counts in Lakota Culture

Each Lakota band, or tiyospaye, had a designated winter count keeper. The keeper was responsible for creating the oral history for the band and for adding a new image to the winter count each year. The image and name of the year was selected with the consultation of the band elders. The job of keeper was typically passed down from one male family member to the next. The keeper would copy the winter count whenever more space was needed or it was worn out. Winter counts were originally painted on hides until muslin and paper became available.

History of Discovery

Garrick Mallery, a Smithsonian scholar, recognized that one of those events, The Year the Stars Fell, correlated with the Leonid meteor storm of November 1833 and used that event to correlate the Lakota winter counts with western calendars.

Known Lakota Winter Counts


*American Horse Winter Count
*Cloud Shield Winter Count
*No Ears


*Battiste Good Winter Count
*Swift Bear
*Swift Dog


*Iron Dog
*Lone Dog
*Long Soldier
*Major Bush


*The Swan


*Hardin Winter Count
*Mato Sapa
*The Flame

External links

* [ Lakota Winter Counts: An Online Exhibit] by [ National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution]
* [ Winter Counts by Tanis Thorne]


Candace S. Greene and Russell Thornton (eds.), The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).

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