family: Grass (Poaceae)
> mȧhaemènȯtse, "corn berries" (grains)
> hoò'kȯhtse (corn ear)
Corn (maize) is stately annual grass, 150 to 250 cm tall. Leaves are 4 to 10 cm wide. Inflorescence is a panicle. By contrast to other grasses, it has unisexual flowers. It blossoms from June to September. Its fruits are known corn grains of various colors. It grows on sandy and clayey soils in warmer and wetter zones. Native groups of Nothern America began to cultivate corn under the influence of the sedentary cultures of central Mexico. Varieties, raised by Native Americans in the north of USA, had grains in 8 to 14 rows. They were derived from Mexican maíz de ocho with eight rows of grains which got on the Plains after 500 A.D. and helped to quick distribution of horticulture based on corn-growing (Wedel and Frison 2001: 57; Johnson 2001: 165). Corn got from America to Europe through Spaniards after 1500 A.D. It is almost world-spread today.
According to some Cheyenne priests, corn is the only cultivated plant which has a physical and spiritual potential as well as wild-growing plants. According to the Cheyenne traditions, it was not cultivated but it was a gift of Our Grandmother (Éštšemane; palatalized form of éškemane used by Cheyenne priests), female spirit of the deep earth (Schlesier 1987: 11). She gave buffalo meat and a dish of corn to two young men clothed the same way (Grinnell 1923 II: 339–44). However, a Cheyenne myth (hóhta'hēō'o) narrates that another three plants were a part of Her gift — pumpkins, tobacco, and maybe beans too (Grinnell 1907: 180–81). It implies the Cheyennes applied to these plants alike qualities and sacred character as well as to corn. Nonetheless, the mentioned story likewise confirms an exclusive role of corn among arable crops.
War between Dakotas and Chippewas burnt up in 1736–1765. Chippewas drove Dakotas and their allies Cheyennes (proper Tsétsėhéstȧhese, not Só'taeo'o) to west (Moore 1996: 18). The Cheyennes had to leave the Mississippi headwaters territory and move to the Sheyenne and Minnesota Rivers. They adopted entirely different way of life there:
On the Minnesota River, however, the Cheyennes were located south of the "corn line," a line which geographers draw on a map defining a region where there are usually enough frost-free days for the corn to mature every year. In this more southerly region, farming was an activity which had hegemony over all others. That is, other economic and cultural activities were curtailed if necessery so that corn could be planted at the right time, properly weeded, and harvested (Moore 1996: 20).
Moore writes about methods of horticultural groups of this region any more:
Since Indian people in aboriginal times had no way of breaking through the thick sod and sun-baked soil of the plains proper, they farmed instead along the watercourses, where riparian forests shaded the ground leaving moist soil with a covering of leaf humus on the forest floor. In selecting their garden spots along the rivers, Indian farmers tried to find sandy soils, which were more easily worked than clay soils. In a suitable area, the men usually assisted the women in girdling the trees to kill them and let the sunlight through. Then the underbrush, grass, and falled branches were raked together and burned, while suitable spots of soil among the trees were loosened and raked together to form hillocks…
These hillocks were then planted in corn, beans, and squash, so that the roots of the cultigens formed a thick mass to hold the soil, and nitrogen produced by the bean plants could serve to fertilize the other crops. On the major streams, each family planted several gardens on river terraces at different elevations, so that if the lower terraces were flooded, or if there were a drough and the upper terraces dried out, there would still be a harvest from at least some of the gardens. On the smaller streams there was usually only one terrace, and so the gardens were arranged along that terrace in a suitable area near the village. In both situations, some gardens were planted early and some later, as a hedge against a killing frost (Moore 1996: 21–22).
Even in the times, when the Cheyennes depended strongly on the buffalo hunting, corn remained an important part of their sustenance. Even on the Great Plains, some Cheyennes didn’t leave their agricultural customs. If there were a suitable conditions and good expectations that they could be back in late summer for the harvest, the Cheyenne women sowed corn. About 1800, the Cheyenne planted corn at the mouth of White River in South Dakota and were back in autumn to harvest it. There are some mentions that the Cheyennes attended to the horticulture along Grand, Little Missouri, and North Platte River in 1800–1850. Many older Cheyennes, who were born nearby the Black Hills about 1800, remembered their people planted corn commonly. Lakotas mentioned many places where the Cheyennes planted corn (Grinnell 1923 I: 251–3). Essentially, the Cheyennes never leaved corn planting completely and some new Cheyenne gardens appeared along the North Canadian River about 1870, just after domiciliation in the Indian Territory (Moore 1987: 147). On the Plains still, the Cheyennes called May and beginning of June enano'éeše'he, "planting moon" (Petter 1915: 718).
The Cheyennes sowed corn in following planting space: grains was sowed with soft end up, four at the corners of a square and one in the middle. This way of sowing could have had some religious connotations. It evokes too strikingly the way of offering corn in the Mȧsėháome Ceremony. In this case, the grains at the corners of a square would represent four sacred persons of cardinal directions (névėstanevóo'e) and the grain in the middle would represent Ma'hēō'o. Hoes used to loosen ground were of stones, natural ones or chipped to a proper shape and size, which were tied to a stick. Sometimes, the Cheyennes substituted stones with elk or deer shoulder blade, eventually any suitable bone (Grinnell 1923 I: 252, II: 299).
Some Cheyenne myth mentions directly that the Cheyenne men sowed and cultivated corn so as it would be stately and tall much like them. They compared dead yellow-white leaves of rippen corn to old man’s white hairs (Grinnell 1907: 191). However, Grinnell (1923 I: 253) remarks otherwhere that corn was serviced by women.
Although the dependence on buffalo hunting grew and economic importance of corn diminished, the Cheyennes worshiped it all along. The Só'taeo'o culture hero Erect Horns (Tomȯsévėséhe) is known as Standing on the Ground [like corn] or Red Corn Tassel. Motsé'eóeve (Sweet Medicine), culture hero of proper Tsétsėhéstȧhese, was called Rustling Corn Leaf. They identified them with two men whom the Grandmother Earth gave sacred corn (Grinnell 1923 II: 339–44). These culture heroes brought sacred Buffalo Hat or four Sacred Arrows to their people. The Hat and Arrows were very important ceremonial objects connected with hunting rituals. It interconnects Cheyenne horticultural and hunting traditions (Hart 1981: 11). It interconnects religious traditions of Só'taeo'o and proper Tsétsėhéstȧhese too.
Enduring reverence for corn is reflected in George Bent’s (1843–1918; half-blooded Cheyenne, grandson of the Arrow Keeper White Thunder) letter to historian G. E. Hyde of 1913:
… My son is going to plant that corn and other seed you send me. I told old Cheyennes that was the corn that Cheyennes planted on Missouri river way back. They took one grain of this corn in their hands, rub themselves with it all over their bodies. They hung their heads down and prayed… (Powell 1969: 30).
The rubbing of body has to put blessing of sacred thing over man (Powell 1969: 30).
According to Grinnell (1923 I: 251), Cheyennes performed ceremonies connected with corn, especially so-called Corn Dances, and keeped sacred corn ears which were, as they belived, raised from original grains obtained from the Grandmother Earth, all the time, from period when they began cultivate corn at least to 1876. Northern Cheyenne Daniel Old Bull remembered the last Corn Dance was performed in the summer of 1877 near Fort Keogh where a division of the Northern Cheyennes was interned that time (Anderson 1958: 60). John Stands in Timber (1967: 102) states that Corn Dance was performed there still in 1891. He refers also to its Cheyenne name Momenėtaneo'o (maybe Mȧhaemènėtaneo'o, "corn people," after Corn Dance priests).
Berries, bulbs, and four kinds of corn played an important symbolic role in the Corn Dance (Moore 1986: 188). The ceremony was performed by girls and unmarried women (also middle-aged women according to Grinnell). Four young women leaded the dance. First one carried a corn earn, second one hold a gourd rattle, third one had bear skin robe over the shoulders, and fourth one carried stuffed prairie dog whereby she signaled beginning of the dance. Other women danced a round dance which four men, priests of the ceremony, accompanied with singing and drumming on hand drums. Later, the dance had a social role, e. g. it celebrated the return of succesfull war party. It could be a healing ritual too. Cheyennes called it "Arikara Ceremony" (Anderson 1958: 58–60; Grinnell 1923 I: 252).
Priests and healers joined with the corn dance were so-called Arikara Doctors. They kept traditions and objects having connection with this ceremony, sacred corn ears among others. They specialized in curing wounds and were very succesfull in stopping of bleeding. The last Arikara Doctor was medicine man Bridge (Hóxovȯhó'e) who died in January of 1879 (Anderson 1958: 60; Powell 1981: 276).
There were some other rituals connected with corn beside the corn dance. The Corn-seeding Dance, which was a round dance again, was danced by young men and young women. So-called Corn Man leaded it. The dance was accompanied with the sound of elkhorn scrapers. Other two versions of the round dance were performed around stuffed prairie dog with blue beads in place of eyes, or around red painted pole with red painted buffalo horn on the top (Anderson 1958: 62).
Corn had yet another ceremonial usage. For the capturing of eagles in pits which was practiced up to the first half of 1800’s, Cheyennes prepared a ceremonial food which comprised balls of pulverized corn (Grinnell 1923 I: 253, 302–3). According to J. P. Powell (1969: 28), this food gave blessing and success. Corn was used in the Mȧsėháome Ceremony. It was one of foods which priests offered to the spiritual powers. They put four grains of corn at the base of four tipi poles in the cardinal directions, the fifth one at the base of center-pole (Grinnell 1923 II: 299).
Cheyennes belive in a special connection between corn and prairie dogs because both prairie dogs and corn appear on the tops of hills of earth and prairie dog villages resemble cornfields cultivated in the native manner, with the hillocks of earth. The prairie dog teeth are likened to the corn grains because they are yellow. Both have a bearing to yellow coating (vernix) of newborn babies and yellow hair of newborn buffalo calves. The vernix and yellow hair of buffalo calves, which they will loose in first year of life, are a part of a Cheyenne symbolical komplex emphasised the connection between Cheyenne people and buffallo mainly. It is said Ma'hēō'o intended to give buffallo to the Cheyenne people only. Cheyenne babies born yellow as well as buffallo calves and Cheyennes think of it as an evidence. They believe only Cheyenne babies have vernix (Moore 1974: 163–4).
Describing a Cheyenne painted shield to which a piece of black colored corn husk is tied (famous shield of Ho'hanénoo'o, Southern Cheyenne chief Pile of Stones or Little Rock), Kan and Wierzbowski (1979: 129, 132–3) draw our attention to possible ceremonial links between corn and Pleiades Constellation in the Cheyenne tradition. Heliacal rising and setting of Pleiades define the vegetation season of the northern hemisphere and played an important role in ceremonial life of agricultural societies, including horticultural Cheyennes. Many Cheyenne myths reflect a reverence for this constellation. Cheyennes called Pleiades Seven Brothers (Schlesier 1987: 50, 92), Seven Sisters (Leman 1980a: 12), Hotóhkeo'o tsénésȯhtȯxese or Seven Stars (Fisher et al. 2012), and Mano'otóhkeo'o or Bunch of Stars (Schlesier 1987: 50, 92; Glenmore and Leman 1984: 28). We meet with symbols of Pleiades on the Cheyenne artefacts of great spiritual importance (painted shields or tipi covers) still in 1800’s, when Cheyennes left the horticultural way of life already. They are mostly depicted as a group of seven light dots, central one is rounded with others. Kan and Wierzbowski (1979: 129, 132–3) speculate the presence of corn on above mentioned shield could be a prayer for protection and preservation of life. And the black coloration corresponds to this explanation too because Cheyennes associate black color with protection from the death.
Cheyennes, as well as the most of American Indians, like to eat corn. It was often dried and stored so that husks was rolled up on cobs and braided together in long strings which were hung on walls and from ceilings. As well, it could be dried over an open fire where it became little brown. The Cheyenne women dry corn in the oven today. It was prepared and is prepared in many ways. Fresh ears with the husk are baked in ash of rotten cottonwood or buffalo chips which are the most suitable for this purpose. Corn cooked with cow or deer hooves is favourite too. It is an old food. According to a modern Northern Cheyenne recipe, dried corn grains are soaked in water overnight and then cooked until they are soft. Last, sweetened tea or Kool Aid lemonade is added. This is allowed to sit for several hours or more and served cool (Hooper 1975: 71–4).
Generally, corn grains are shelled from cobs and ground. The Cheyenne women ground corn by hand still in the early 1900’s. Smooth river stones served as quern-stones or "pounder." A pit was often hollowed in the larger lower stone or quern (pénȯhemenahtȯtse). Women put corn grains or berries in the pit and pounded them with handstone (péeneo'o). Some women used stone "pounder" still about 1975 but they grasp rather meat-grinder or buy corn meal in the store today (Hooper 1975: 72–3, 92).
The corn meal was and is used to thicken soups and bouillons. Some corn balls (hó'xėstóha) were very favourite in 1800’s. Beside ground corn, the balls could include minced sunflower seeds and boiled beans. To this day, Cheyennes like corn pemmican (hó'xėstóó'o). Preparing it, they parch corn in the oven to become brown. They grind it and add grease, preferably from kidneys. The mixture is flavoured with sugar and salt. Some women variegate this pemmican with wetted chokecherry cakes. The mass is formed into balls or is eaten from kettle with spoon or by hands (Hooper 1975: 72–3; Leman 1980: 209). According to some informations, Cheyenne people didn’t knew breads or pancakes before contact with white traders. The corn pemmican and corn balls supplied them probably (Hooper 1975: 85).
Cheyennes used and still use both coloured and plain stripes of cornhusk for decorative wrappings of fringes, thongs, tipi dangles, and the like (Grinnell 1923 I: 164; Holley 2001).