Teton (contr. of Titonwan, ‘dwellers on the prairie’). The western and principal division of the Dakota or Sioux, including all the bands formerly ranging west of Missouri river, and now residing on reservations in South Dakota and North Dakota. The bands officially recognized are:

Their history is interwoven with that of the other Dakota and is little more than a recountal of attacks on other tribes and on border settlers and emigrants. They were first met by Hennepin (1680) 20 or 30 leagues above the falls of St Anthony in Minnesota, probably at Sauk rapids, on Mississippi river, about 70 miles above Minneapolis. He places them in the neighborhood of Mille Lacs, far to the east of their later home. Lahontan also enumerates them among the tribes on the upper Mississippi, which leads to the conclusion that a part at least of the Teton formerly lived in the prairie region, near the upper Mississippi, though the main body may have been near upper Minnesota river Le Sueur in 1700 included them in the western Sioux, who lived between the upper Mississippi and the Missouri. On a map of De I’Isle (1701) Lahw Traverse is surrounded by villages of wandering Teton. Pachot 1Margry, D6c , vi, 518, 1886located them 80 leagues west of the Falls of St Anthony in 1722. Carver (1766) met at least a part of them at the extreme west point of his journey up Minnesota river, about 200 miles from its mouth. The younger Henry 2Cones, New Light, i, 145, 1897 found them in 1800 on the upper Missouri, where Lewis and Clark (Exped., 1, 98, 100, 1893) encountered them a few years afterward. These explorers enumerate as divisions:

  • Tetons of the Burnt Woods (Brules), about 300 men, who rove on both sides of Missouri, White, and Teton rivers.;
  • Tetons Okandandas (Oglala), 150 men, who inhabit both sides of the Missouri below Cheyenne river;
  • Tetons Minnekineazzo, about 250 men, on both sides of the Missouri above Cheyenne river;
  • Tetons Saone, about 300 men, living on both sides of Missouri river below Beaver creek. Gov. Ramsey said that they lived from Cannonball river south to Niobrara river. 3Rep. Ind. Aff. 1849, 84, 1850 .

The Teton entered into a peace treaty with the United States at Portage des Sioux, Missouri, in 1815, which was confirmed by treaty of June 22, 1825, at Ft Lookout, South Dakota. It was warriors of this group who massacred Lieut. Grattan and his party at Ft Laramie, Wyoming, in 1854; none, however, took part in the Minnesota massacre of 1862. In 1865 a commission concluded treaties with each of the several divisions of the group, with provision for right of way through their territory. By treaty of 1868 they first agreed to give up their free range and come upon a reservation, including about all of South Dakota west of the Missouri river. Under their chiefs, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull, they have been the principals in all the Indian wars and outbreaks of the northern plains, notably in 1864, 1876, and 1890.

Gov. Ramsey characterizes the Teton as a large, finely formed, tall, and vigorous people, hardy, indomitable, and restless warriors, daring horsemen, and skilful hunters, possessing in perfection “all the Indian virtues of bravery, cunning, treachery, and hospitality,” true to each other and ready foes to all others.

Neill 4Minn. Hist. Soc. Coll., 1, 258, 1872 says: “They are the plundering Arabs of America, and have of late years been a terror to the emigrants to the Pacific coast.” According to Lewis and Clark the interior policing of a village was confided to 2 or 3 officers who were named by the chief for the purpose of preserving order and remained in power some days, till the chief appointed their successors. These were always on the watch to keep tranquility during the day and guarded the camp at night. The short duration of their office was compensated by its authority, their power being supreme, and in the suppression of disturbance no resistance to them was suffered; their persons were sacred, and if in the execution of their duty they even struck a chief of the second class they could not be punished.

Riggs mentions as peculiarities of the Teton dialect, compared with those of other divisions of the Dakota group, that g hard is used for h of the Santee and k of the Yanktonai, and that, rejecting it altogether, they use 1 in its stead.

The Teton is the most populous and important of the Dakota divisions, constituting four-sevenths of the whole nation.

Lewis and Clark (1804) estimated them at 1,000 men, about 4,000 souls, probably much less than the true number. The Indian Bureau in 1842 estimated the total number at 12,000; Ramsey (1849), more than 6,000; Riggs (1851), fewer than 12,500. The Indian Bureau in 1861 gave a total of 8,900. It is probable these estimates were below rather than above the true number, as in 1890 the total Teton population was 16,426, and in 1909 the number, including Yanktonai bands at Standing Rock agency, North Dakota, was 18,098. In addition about 100 of the Sitting Bull refugees are still in Canada.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1.Margry, D6c , vi, 518, 1886
2.Cones, New Light, i, 145, 1897
3.Rep. Ind. Aff. 1849, 84, 1850
4.Minn. Hist. Soc. Coll., 1, 258, 1872