Our Village sits on a bluff that once overlooked a creek (the creek was dammed in 1928, creating the present-day Lake Mitchell). There was a ditch and a pallisade on the south and west sides of the Village. Early archaeologists once described our Village as a "fortified village", which would imply that perhaps the neighbors weren't so friendly. If this were the case, wouldn't you think that the ditch and wall would have surrounded the Village? We have never found any evidence of hostility or warfare occuring in our Village. Our archaeologists and researchers considered this and presented another theory.
What was outside the Village that would have terrified our people so much that they expended much labor and natural resources to construct the ditch and pallisade? The pallisade was constructed of logs cut from the cottonwood trees that lined the banks of streams and potholes on the prairie surrounding the Village. The ditch was wide and deep. Constucting these defenses required a great deal of manpower.
Some scientists estimate that there were perhaps as many as 100 million bison roaming North American 1,000 years ago. A large majority of these huge creatures were to be found on the prairies in the northern plains. A herd of stampeding bison would have been a serious threat to our Villagers. Bison would not be a threat if they were coming from the north or east sides of the Village, these areas were the bluffs and the bison would have taken the path of least resistance and would have run around the bluffs. But what about the south and west sides that faced the prairie. Building the pallisade would have offered an obstacle that may have deterred the bison and forced them to run around, thereby protecting the Village from complete mayhem and destruction.
What about that ditch? There was a force of nature that would have been absolutely terrifying to our Villagers. Fire was a serious and real threat, especially in the late summer and early autumn, when the grasses dried. Lighting could very easily ignite the dry grass and thatch and the ensuing fire would spread very rapidly. Acres of land would be consumed in just mere minutes. Fire would not have come from the east or north sides of the Village as those were the floodplains on which our Villagers grew their crops. The south and west sides, however, were open to the surrounding prairie and fire may have been a constant threat. Digging the ditch would have provided an excellent fire break, just as ditches do today for the modern forest fire fighters.
Fire, though a danger, was very beneficial to our Villagers. After fire spread across the prairie, new grasses and other plants would quickly emerge. The ash would have offered nutrients to the plants that survived the fires; indeed, some plants require fire to successfully reproduce. Animals would then come to graze on the tender, young shoots of the new plants. The Villagers most certainly would have taken advantage of the animals, such as deer, elk and bison.
The remains of an early ditch can be seen today at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. It lies along the walkway to the Archeodome. AS the Village grew over time, the ditch was moved and the wall was built. The diorama in the museum shows how the Village may have looked 1,000 years ago.
On a clear, star filled night in the winter of 966, a Village man looked at the full moon. It was a familiar sight, bright yellow, illuminating the dark night, filling it with shadows, yet comforting in its presence. Later that same night, he awoke and stepped outside his lodge. With horror, he gazed at the moon, now an angry blood red color. What was happening? Where was the moon he had observed earlier? For the first time in his life, the moon, a constant orb in his life telling him the seasons, did not comfort him. What did this mean?
For a millenia, humans relied on the moon to tell them when to hunt or fish, when to plant crops, or when to harvest. Its cycles could be counted and tracked. Full moons often had names, for example the Mandan (the descendants of our Villagers) harvested their crops during the "moon of ripe corn" Many cultures around the world had different names for the moon. The Chinese called April's moon the "peony moon"; for the Celts of the British Isles, April was the "growing moon". Farmers living in medieval England saw April's moon as the "seed moon". The tribes of New Guinea did not have 12 moons in their annual cycle, they had just eight moons. The third moon was called the "palolo worm moon". All names had cultural significance to whomever was naming it.
But what about the "Blood Moon" that our Villager saw? It may have been a very frightening evening for our Villagers on that cold night in the winter of 966 (a total lunar eclipse visible to our Villagers ocurred on February 8th, 966). The bright full moon began to darken until it was a blood red moon. It was a total Lunar Eclipse. Lunar eclipses are relatively common, but total lunar eclipses are not so common. Many cultures around the world had myths that explained the lunar eclipse. Some believed that an animal or demon was swallowing the moon. Some believed that throwing stones would frighten the animal or demon away. That seemed to always work, after all, the eclipse eventually ended and all was right again.
A total Lunar eclipse occurs when the sun passes directly behind the Earth into its shadow (or umbra). The total eclipse can only happen when the sun, Earth and moon are in perfect alignment and only when there is a full moon. Unlike a solar eclipse, which can only last for minutes, a lunar eclipse can last for hours.
A total Lunar Eclipse was seen on May 22, 1453 that seemed to fulfill a prophecy of the demise of Constantinople. Christopher Columbus used his knowledge of an upcoming eclipse to his advantage against the indigenous tribes of Jamaica after his men had stolen food and other belongings from the tribe. The tribe, upon seeing the eclipse Columbus had forecasted, gave much needed food and weapons. The great astronomer, Tycho Brahe, predicted the lunar eclipse of December 8, 1573 at the young age of 26.
Today, the Lunar Eclipse is no longer frightening to most of us. Our next eclipse will be October 8th, 2014. Indeed, we will see two more total eclipses in 2015. There will not be another total lunar eclipse until 2018, but it will not be visible here in the northern plains of South Dakota.
We cannot help but wonder what the people of our Village thought when they saw something like the Blood Moon. Did their shaman or medicine man perform spells or chants? Did the children cry or the women weep? Did the people throw rocks at the animal or demon devouring the moon. Or did they, like some culutures, see good in the eclipse and celebrated. We may never know.
The photo of the Blood Moon was taken in Florida on the morning of April 15th, 2014 by Don Durfee. Our thanks!
We will keep our doors open throughout the winter months but it is always best to call first - if our director cannot get out of the driveway at her home in the country, we will be closed for the day!
We have several programs planned for the winter of 2013 - 2014 that promise to be entertaining, educational and just plain fun!
Native American Silversmithing - December 14 - Rosebud Tribe member Mike Marshall teaches us basic skills for creating our own unique jewelry pieces. There will be a fee charged for this class, we'll let you know soon how much it will cost.
Lakota Games on Ice - January 18th - Mike Marshall joins us for the second year to teach us the games his ancestors played during the long, cold days of winter. We promise this will be the best fun you've ever had while "freezing your tush off"! Just bundle up - this event is FREE! And, we give you hot chocolate after the games!!!
Winter Stories - February - A story teller from the Yankton Tribe will tell winter stories, accompanied by a drummer. His stories will reflect the beliefs and morals of his ancestors as they dealt with the harsh winters of the northern plains.
March - Free Movies!!! We will show a series of movies made and produced by Native Americans. Call us at 605-996-5473 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and info!
The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is proud to be a Blue Star Museum and show our support to our military families. We know how tough it can be to be a military family. Active members of the military and/or up to five family members receive free admission to our site all year long! Just show us your military identification and you'll be on your way to a great day at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village!