A living treasure: Christine Weston Prairie Chicken

Posted by on Jun 17, 2012 in Articles, Dakota Lakota Journal | 1 comment

A living treasure: Christine Weston Prairie Chicken

A living treasure: Christine Weston Prairie Chicken
By Abena Songbird
Journal Staff Writer

Christine Prairie Chicken, 94 proudly sits in the home she owns in Rapid City, surrounded by photos of her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is the second oldest living member of the Santee Sioux tribe and the oldest living Dakota direct lineal descendant in the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate Litigation Wolfchild, (May 20, 1886).

RAPID CITY — Christine Weston Prairie Chicken, recently celebrated her 94 birthday in Rapid City at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Haines Ave. surrounded by her large and loving family.
Born Nov. 10, 1912 in Flandreau, South Dakota, she is Santee Sioux on both sides of the family; her grandfather, Daniel Weston, was the first homesteader in Flandreau.

A proud lineage
Her father, Samuel K. Weston was the first Presbyterian Minister at Pine Ridge. Her mother was Martha Redwing or “Wanahca Waste Win” (Pretty Flower), her Dakota name, which was passed down to Christine, who in turn passed the name down to another generation – her granddaughter. Her grandfather, Daniel Weston’s wife, was Julie Weston, whose father was white. His father was also Daniel Weston “Kuiyanhiyaye” (Saw You Chasing) and her father Samuel’s mother was Julia Culbertson , “Tate Hnakewin,” (Seated Wind Woman).
Her mother’s father was John W. Redwing, “Anpetukatedan” (Hot Day) and her mother’s mother was Elizabeth Columbus, “Tawizicewakanwin” (Yellow Holy Woman). Christine’s grandmother Elizabeth’s sister was Lucy Ta’opi, (Wounded) a medicine woman.
Her mother’s mother’s father and mother were: William Columbus (Tunkanahuamani) Grandpa Walking and Jane or Jennie. William and Jane Columbus are on the 1886 Minnesota Mdewakanton Sioux Census. Her mother’s father’s parents were “Manpiyacoka” (Middle of the Sky) and “Tuhmagawin” (That Flies).
Christine is the oldest living lineal descendant of William Columbus, a direct lineage in the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate Litigation Wolfchild, (May 20, 1886) which she was recently honored for in May in Minneapolis. This Indian trust case has been brought by over 4,000 individuals claiming descent from those persons who were members of the Mdewakanton band of Sioux Indians and who assisted settlers in Minnesota during the “1862 Sioux Outbreak” of hostilities (the “loyal Mdewakanton”).
Seeing five generations, she has six great-great grandchildren, and “lots of grandchildren” she said.

“Generations of Dakota Santee Oyate” Christine Weston Prairie Chicken’s family: Jane, wife of William Columbus, Christine Prairie Chicken’s mother’s mother’s mother, whom she traces as a direct lineal descendant in the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate Litigation Wolfchild, (May 20, 1886).

The reservation years
Prairie Chicken recalled how her parents used to travel by ox wagon from Flandreau to Pine Ridge in those early years – a considerable trip that would take a week or more – stopping to visit family along the way.
She remember the days before telephone, telegraph, when many families would communicate with a looking glass – the reflection cast in the sun to distant hillsides to let families know you were home. She was the youngest in a family of seven: with four brothers and two sisters.
“The winters were more severe then,” she said. Her brother Harry died at 18 of tuberculosis when attending school in Flandreau. Her brother Andrew, 7 died of the measles. In the days before embalming, when they used ice, they had to transport her brother all the way to Flandreau for burial.
Her sister’s Etta and Bessy both died of cancer; however her brothers Gilbert and Rueban lived to have older children and later passed away on the reservation. She is only remaining living member of her family, “They are all gone now,” she said.
She remembers when several men came from New York, starting up different churches bought up 40 acres on the reservation in Pine Ridge. They “thought the People were too wild,” she said, and they wanted young couples to come to the reservation and “teach them about God,” she said. There were three initial families they brought down, hers was one.
They came from Flandreau and Sisseton by wagon to Pine Ridge where they built a Presbyterian Church and moved her father, then minister, and family in White River, into a log house they provided.
“It had a dirt floor and roof. That’s where my family lived – it had no bed or nothing, just a stove. We slept on the floor,” she said. She said her grandmother’s sister used to use traditional herbs, roots and medicines to heal her and her siblings when they were sick. She still remembers the bitterroot she used for colds. She would make teas for them to drink. She also learned how to make much of the traditional foods she still cooks today from her mother and grandmother.
Prairie Chicken attended Pine Ridge Boarding School through eighth grade.
“When I went to school there, Indian people that were underweight, which she was, were quick to be misdiagnosed by a doctor. They were told, by this one physician, that they had tuberculosis.
“He made a big fool out of himself,” she said and never went back to school. “I think then a lot of people didn’t know any better.”
In 1932, Prairie Chicken, 20 married Solomon Prairie Chicken, Oglala then 25 years old. After an initial stay with his parents, which she “didn’t care for” she moved back with her family.

John Redwing & Elizabeth Columbus, Prairie Chicken’s mother’s father and mother.

“When they told my folks to go around and preach the gospel, we were used to a four bedroom home but his folks lived in a log cabin with one bedroom,” she said.
She told her husband, “You never prepared a home for me and my little boy,’ she left with her folks for two weeks, saying, ‘Even if I have to live in a tent I don’t mind, I’d rather than live

Christine Weston Prairie Chicken’s Parents: Daniel Weston and Martha Redwing Weston “looking dapper” in a photo taken in Gordon, Nebraska

Her husband followed after Prairie Chicken when she moved with her folks to the reservation in Allen. There was little work for her husband at that time but building recreation for $5.00 a week in Oglala and Allen, but he provided a home for her. They lived in a tent for two years but they put a bed in it. He would get up and build a fire to get them through the cold winter.
Prairie Chicken said she and her husband used to travel to Denver to pick beets, do migrant work to feed themselves and their then infant son. They were furnished with small, stark houses with a stove but no beds.

Rapid City in the early years
Prairie Chicken first moved to Rapid City with her husband in the early ‘50’s she said from Allen, South Dakota, her youngest son was a year old.
“It was just a bunch of shacks with outhouses then,’ she said. They used to move houses from Igloo, South Dakota on dirt roads that weren’t fixed “too good” she said.
She initially worked at The Bright Spot, a restaurant still located across from the Alex Johnson. She washed dishes and worked as supervisor in their ballroom restaurant. She worked banquets and evening dances.
Her husband began working as a chauffer for the Sioux San nurse’s training while she garnered a job at
Ellsworth Air Force Base, first in the Laundry Services, she eventually moved up to a supervisory position at Ellsworth in the Officer’s Club, Dining Room Food Services.
Prairie Chicken retired in 1972 after more than 22 years of service, but many still remember her fondly by her nickname, “Miss P.C.”
She had six children with Solomon, five boys and one girl: Kenneth Stephen Prairie Chicken, Eleneta Veree (Klicknee) Prairie Chicken, Melbert Dean Prairie Chicken, Lonnie Curtis, Darnell Woodrow and Solomon Larry Prairie Chicken, her youngest who carries his father’s name.
In 1966, her husband, working for the government Nurse’s training; on the tip of a white male co-worker, bought a house on Lemmon Ave. in Rapid City, the house where she currently lives. The previous owners couldn’t pay the mortgage and moved out.
They took it over, paying only $25.00 total for the house, and moved in. “I liked it, we never owned a decent house before,” she said. They then had to pay $40.00 in property taxes monthly – more than the cost of their home.
Working at Sioux San Hospital for over sixteen years, her husband, Solomon, was well-known and respected. In 1970, Solomon, passed on.
Though she felt a great absence with his passing, she has a full and active life surrounded by family.
“She now owns her own house, and still drives her own care,” said daughter-in-law, Marilyn Prairie Chicken, Sicangu, Marilyn, who is married to Christine’s youngest son, has been instrumental in encouraging Christine to document her history, the stories and proud lineage of her family,
“I came from humble beginnings,” Prairie Chicken said, but these days on a fixed income, but these days she is happy she can afford to remodel her bathroom. “I don’t have a lot of money to do these things but I have some,” she said. Always good at managing money, Prairie Chicken was one of the first customers at Rapid City Credit Union, and now shows others how to track their accounts.
Christine is also a frequent traveler, dispelling the myth that age has slowed her down.
With her “frequent flyer status,” two years ago she flew to visit a son in Wasilla, Alaska. She has also traveled to Anchorage, Alaska and this year she visited Buffalo, New York where she has a granddaughter.
“There’s lots of Indians there too,” she said. In summer she has traveled with her son and daughter-in-law to San Diego, Los Angeles, even Mexico “to eat lobster” she said.
Last Fall she traveled to Washington, D.C. with her daughter-in-law, Marilyn, to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.
In September of this year she was one of the honored elders to also travel to D.C. for the World Peace and Prayer Day, which included indigenous spiritual leaders, elders and a multi-cultural inter-denominational prayer services from spiritual leaders around the world. The all converged on the grounds of the Washington Monument to hold a prayer vigil and medication for world peace.
Christine is well-known by defendants in the Wolfchild litigation but she also recently approached Cobell class action lawsuit attorney, Keith Harper, in regards to a case of land mismanagement on her deceased husband’s behalf.
Holding onto papers for over fifty years (she had the foresight, along with her husband, to notarize and sign the papers back in the ‘50s) which recorded a blatant incident where a white man openly swindled her husband out of land, Prairie Chicken presented the documents to Harper.
After December 15, 2006 she should get a decision on this theft of their land. She also stands to have much to gain from the Wolfchild litigation, if it is “ever settled” she said. “I have several irons in the fire,” she said adding that she has a large tract of land on the Pine Ridge. “Wanblee school sits on part of my land,” she said.
Barbara Feezor Buttes, who works for the Clearinghouse for Genealogical Information on the Wolfchild litigation with Mohrman & Kaardal, a Minneapolis law firm, had Prairie Chicken, as oldest living descendant, come to Minnesota as their honored guest.
Buttes, a close friend, presented her with a plaque which reads: “The Minnesota Mdewakanton Oyate presents this Certificate of Recognition on this 20th day of May 2006, to our esteemed elder, Christine Prairie Chicken, born November 10, 1912.

Deeply religious, she believes in healing ways
Following in her minister father’s footsteps, she is a loyal member of the St. Mathews Episcopal Church, still attending their annual convocations.
Prairie Chicken said she notices people “slacking” when it comes to taking little ones to church. “Those in school today don’t know who God is,” she said. She also has sons who practice ceremonial ways and she recently attended her son Lonnie’s Sun Dance, in support. Respecting the traditional ways; she remains a steadfast member of her church, where her sons Melbert, is a Catechist, and Larry, is a Lay Reader.
A deeply religious woman with a close family and solid work ethic, Prairie Chicken also credits sobriety for having a healing impact on herself and her whole family.
She began attending Al-Anon meetings after her husband died. “Al-Anon helped my whole family, my boys were drinking and almost died,” she said adding that now one of her sons has been sober 28 years.
She herself never drank, but recently attended an Al-Anon retreat in Placerville with Sunday services and communion recently which she felt “really was healing.”
Her son Darryl, “sobered up” to move back and take care of her, she said. He finished college and now works in an Optician’s office in Rapid City. He used to work as a counselor on the reservation.
“He does all the cleaning” she said. She also owns two dogs, Buffy and Rosco, both a “bulldog mix,” and keeps an account to pay for all their shots, or if they get sick at the Vets.
As second oldest member of the Santee tribe, {the oldest is Lillian Beane, who she said moved back to Flandreau} Christine said, she tries to share in her memories of her family ways and has given demonstrations on traditional foods.
“We knew all the parts of the buffalo and how it was used,” she said. She still makes it at home, drying it in a box her son Darryl made her. She offered some of her wasna during the interview and still bakes her own bread.
Every Christmas she will have her whole family over and cook a traditional dinner of bapa stew (thinly shaved buffalo or beef) with timsila (wild turnip) and dried corn, wojapi, and her homemade fry bread.
She is looking forward to the graduation of her son Larry’s daughter, Christina, who carries her Dakota name, “Wanarcha Waste Win” (Pretty Flower). Christina goes to college in Colorado Springs and has one year to go she said. “I am really proud of her and all my grandchildren, who are healthy and thriving.”
Her message to others in the community, ‘I never thought I’d live this long. Take good care of your families; life is different now,” she said.

One Comment

  1. No. Assuming you are asking me, Abena Songbird, author of this article.

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