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Painted Woods story shared

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Place names can lose their stories over time. That's especially true since people no longer navigate the prairie based on landmarks and the stars. Now there are GPS coordinates.

Painted Woods south of Washburn fits snugly into the puzzle of local history, and a local volunteer effort aims to keep the spot's story alive.

A ceremony marking the unveiling of the Painted Woods Interpretive Sign will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Painted Woods Wildlife Management Area, on Painted Woods Road off Highway 1804 south of Washburn. Tribal Elder Tillie Walker will talk about NuEta traditions, and Dakota Good House will present the story of Painted Woods and perform songs. There will be other guests and speakers including an open microphone time.

The interpretive sign will tell the story of why they are called Painted Woods, as researched and developed by a committee of the Sakakawea Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Tail Heritage Foundation. Members include Diana Medicine Stone, Jonathan Bry, Christine Hogan, Betty Morgan and Good House. The committee worked with officials from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the agency responsible for the wildlife management area.

The story as told:

"It is said that this territory was claimed by the Mandan Indians and by their enemy the Yanktonai Sioux. To meet here was to fight here. A day came when all grew tired of the fighting and the Mandan hosted a peace council during the autumn harvest. At this council, a young daughter of the a Mandan chief fell in love with a Sioux warrior. Her father, outraged, had his soldiers kill the young man. Consequently, the Sioux warriors killed the maiden. The bodies of the lovers were placed in a tree, as was the burial custom.

"Warfare erupted anew. The Sioux painted the surrounding trees with their exploits against the Mandan. The Mandan, in turn, painted their deeds denouncing the Sioux. Thus the name, Painted Woods.

"A possible time for this event falls between 1715, when the Mandan and the Sioux counseled, and 1738, when they were enemies of one another."

A direct descendent of Sheheke or White Coyote, the Mandan chief who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition on its return trip, including a visit with Thomas Jefferson, and returned to the Knife River villages west of present-day Washburn, Diana Medicine Stone said, "My mother told me, 'know who you are.'" And knowing the stories of the traditional homeland of the Mandan people is part of knowing this place and who we are.

Although Painted Woods is a "nice place" to go, many people, including Indian people, do not know the story, Medicine Stone said.

The effort to have interpretative signs at Painted Woods is a form of outreach. "Let (travelers) know what the history is," she said.

Mogran agrees on the importance of outreach. She stresses, "Why tell the story?" The program for the event reads, "It's our goal to reach out and revive awareness of the indigenous cultures and remind everyone of the heritage and traditional stories of the first inhabitants of Painted Woods."

The public is invited to the ceremony. Bring your own chair. And in case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. Refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

The program is sponsored by Game and Fish Department and Sakakawea Chapter.

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