Oglala spiritual leader, educator, Wilmer Mesteth shares history, traditional songs

Posted by on Jun 17, 2012 in Articles, Dakota Lakota Journal | 2 comments

Oglala spiritual leader, educator, Wilmer Mesteth shares history, traditional songs

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, educator, Wilmer Mesteth(Wanapeye Najica) shares history, traditional songs
A beautiful history, a beautiful country, a beautiful people

By Abena Songbird

Dakota Lakota Journal Staff

At the foot of Crazy Horse, Wilmer “Stampede” Mesteth, Oglala spiritual leader, gave his presentation: Historical Music & History of the Wakpa Waste Tiospaye (Good River People). Mesteth, (Wanapeye Najica) is a direct descendent of Chief Red Shirt. (all photos by Abena Songbird)

CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL ? Oglala spiritual leader, Wilmer “Stampede” Mesteth gave a generous presentation to an appreciative crowd of foreign tourists and members of the local community Thursday, July 5, at Crazy Horse Memorial.
Mesteth, Wanapeye Najica, (Stampede) born in 1957 at Silver Lake, South Dakota, is a direct descendent of Chief Red Shirt, who fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn. He spoke of the history of the Wakpa Waste Tiospaye (Good River People) who settled in 1879 along the Cheyenne River in what is the northwestern corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation at Red Shirt Table.
“My Indian name was passed down over six generations through my family,” said Mesteth. “I also have a grandson who now carries the name Stampede. My ancestors were great chiefs like Chief Red Shirt. My father retained many songs, and stories that came from that battle (Little Big Horn).”
Welcoming the tourists to the “sacred Black Hills” Mesteth said, “According to 1868 Treaty, this land belongs to the Oglala Lakota people. We still keep that in our hearts.”
As a professor of Lakota history, art, ethno botany, culture, thought and philosophy at the Oglala Lakota College, Mesteth is also a well known artist and carrier of these old, traditional society songs, some of which he shared last Thursday evening.
Crazy Horse education director, Minnicoujou author and historian, Donovin Sprague in his introduction of Mesteth said he carries with him a “treasure,” his knowledge also of the Lakota language; kept alive in his teachings and now on his new CD: “Lakota are Charging,” a collection of Victory Songs from the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Explaining all the bands of Oceti Sakowin, he said, “In my band, we have 60,000 people who are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. I’m probably related to 2/3s of them.”
Asking everyone to stand, Mesteth opened his presentation entitled: Music and History of the Wakpa Waste Tiospaye appropriately enough with a song for Tashunka Witco, (Crazy Horse) whose effigy in rock towered above him in the background.
He explained to the crowd that his great-grandfather Joseph High Eagle and some elders (Henry Standing Bear) approached sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and blessed the ground for him to carve the image of “a great leader who once lived among us.”
Giving the song’s meaning, Mesteth said it told of the time of Crazy Horse’s surrender at Ft. Robinson in the spring of 1877. In the song he follows his journey along the east side of the Black Hills, to Red Shirt Table, came down from Bear Butte sat and prayed along the Rapid Creek, then the Cheyenne River and White River to Ft. Robinson. Ten miles outside of Ft. Robinson, 1,500 of his people followed along behind him singing that same song.
“He was a proud, great chief who fought to the utmost of his ability in the Red Cloud’s War: Canku Wakan Akicitay, the Holy Road War,” Mesteth said, adding, “He fought in those battles: The Battle of Kills One Hundred and Fetterman’s Fight. The greatest battles were Rosebud and the Little Big Horn.”
“They were fighting for this beautiful country you’re looking upon here today,” he said. “For a way of life for our people. They were fighting for our buffalo herd…for men, women and children…”
“That’s who the leader Crazy Horse was: honored by many people,” Mesteth told those assembled. “Today we still speak his name, still tell his stories. Today this mountain is carved in his image so we’ll never forget him,” he said, adding that Lakota medicine people told the people that Crazy Horse was going to “come back in stone.”
He also spoke of Chief’s Red Shirt, Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, saying that all the bands had great leaders, autonomous societies and social networks of great morals and manners.
“We’re a good people, kind, and gentle and wise, were the elders. The young people listened to the elders and upheld our way of life, our beliefs” he said. “Our people were very religious people. To this day we hang onto our ceremonies; the Sundance, Vision Qwest and the Sweat Lodge. We still have our God given Lakota language, a Lakota culture that’s still alive and up-to- par with mainstream society.”


Mesteth also spoke of the sacred areas in the Black Hills where elders come, and where he brings young people and his students to learn of the Lakota “medicines” that grow there, used for healing: to the north, Mato Paha, or Bear Butte, and in the Needles area: Epahaska, or Harney Peak, the “Highest Peak” or “Perch of the Thunder Beings” and Mayeska, or “Bald Mountain” to the West, many Buttes that are sacred, as well as rivers and streams: Mni Luza, Rapid Creek, Wakpa Waste, Big River, or Missouri, the Cheyenne River, Wakpa Tanka, and Waschi Wakpa, or South Platte, areas where Native people still bring offerings and pray “for our existence of life and to thank the Creator for giving us life.”
“In the Springtime I bring my children here to see the buffalo calving,” he said.
Mesteth explained that these places were known in memory, as are the stories that took place there.
Speaking of the Wind Cave site as the emergence place of Lakota people, he also said it was in the center of an ancient buffalo migration route, Tatanka Ta Hochoka, where millions passed from the Southern Plains, “So massive they could walk on the top of their hump.”
“We know our country quite well, the history that took place here. It’s a beautiful history, a beautiful country, a beautiful people, the Lakota people,” Mesteth stated, before singing three versions of the “Song of Chiefs.”
The first was a song sung by Chief Red Cloud’s Headsman, over his signing of the 1868 Treaty: Great Chief Red Cloud why do you want me to be a white man, sign the treaty and move onto the reservation; Red Cloud you told us to hang onto our ways, always be Lakota; and finally – after a disheartened Red Cloud, taken and placed under guard at Ft. Robinson: Red Cloud take courage, there’s nothing you can do. Only the earth lasts forever…

Oglala spiritual leader Wilmer Mesteth, opened his presentation with some Brave Heart Society songs for Tashunka Witco, Crazy Horse, July 5, at Crazy Horse Memorial.

Mesteth also shared a song of Chief Sitting Bull, and two Victory Songs of the June 25, 1876 Little Big Horn Battle: My friend Longhair (Custer) what is it you search for? You come among our country searching for our people, our camp… so now there you lie in such a way; and, Where does Custer lie? He is over here.
He spoke of intertribal wars with the Pawnee, Omaha, Chippewa, Plains Cree, Arikara, Chippewa, Kiowa and of course, the Crow, saying it was great honor, act of bravery, a “sportsman-like” type of warfare to steal the enemy’s horses.
With hand drum, he sang a rousing Crow horse-stealing song: Crow Nation watch your horses, Keep a close eye on them, I am a horse thief…
Picking up the cedar flute, he shared several Lakota love songs, one his father wrote and recorded in the ‘40s to woo Mesteth’s mother, Rosalyn Red Shirt. His father , who had a big ranch over in Kyle, was from the Chief Little Wound band and married a Red Shirt, Rosalyn of the Wakpa Waste Band, many families that were part of that original Chief Red Shirt band who settled there with their allotment after the battle of Little Big Horn, close to the Badlands, in the northwestern corner of the Pine Ridge.
“My dad was coming through Red Shirt table on one of his cattle driving trips, he stopped in to visit with my grandfather, that’s where he met my mother…”he explained, adding that later on he brought him thirty head of cattle in dowry for his mother. “This song tells of when they met and when their love started.”
For thirty five years, as a spiritual leader, Mesteth has held his Sundance there at Red Shirt Table, “On top of that table is like on top of the world,” he said. “I pray for my people, still practice my traditional ways. That land is very special to me – I have many memories there of my grandparents,” he said, speaking of the great gardens they had along the Cheyenne River, and their chicken ranch.
“They were self-sufficient during the 1920’s and ‘30’s,” he added. Mesteth said they spoke there of many stories, such as the Battle of the Little Big Horn. “There’s a lot of history there in that Red Shirt community. I learned a lot of history there as a child, a lot of stories.”

Lois Putnam, 81, a teacher at the Loneman School for ten years, who knew Mesteth when he was teaching Lakota studies there, showed the crowd why he is also known as a prestigious Northern Plains artist by presenting him with a pencil drawing he did many years ago of a “Lakota Madonna.”

Mesteth said that at one time that Tiospaye was known “all about” for their progressiveness and self-sufficiency, then adding that during W.W. II was made by the government into a bombing gunnery range, giving the families a two-week ultimatum to leave, causing the displacement of many families… also part of Red Shirt Table history.
Speaking further of his family, members of the Wakpa Waste band of his mother he said, “The people that lived there, my uncle Mathew Two Bulls, was a great historian and singer. I looked up to him and learned many things, many songs,” he said, also adding his aunt, Nellie Two Bulls, who passed away this winter “Today they are no longer with us…it’s a great loss to our people,” he said. “They were our wisdomkeepers and we cherish them.”
Closing out the day the way it had begun, Mesteth sang a Chief Society Song, another Crazy Horse song, composed by Tashunka Witco’s mother on Sept. 5, 1877 at the time of his killing.
“She sang a song befitting a Chief, as they carried his body from Ft. Robinson to an unknown burial site,” he said: When you look upon the sacred Black Hills remember me, remember who I am. I was a defender for my people, for this land…never forget, I am Crazy Horse.


  1. It’s really generous presentaton and great homage for Crazy Horse and Lakota people.

    No, we’ll never forget you, Tashunka Witko. Even here, in Poland, are people who remember you.

    God bless Mesteth. Thank you, Abena, for your post.

    Best regards from Poland

  2. My grandpa was a very good man. He will always and forever be missed. Nobody can ever in a million year take his place. I will always love you and miss you. You’ll always have a place in my heart.

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