An Early History of Rock: Precious Asset, Homesteader Headache, or The Giver of All Life?

Karen Hanson
18 Min Read


Serene prairie or green cover or a homesteader’s worst nightmare? Is there mystery and power in “dem dere hills n‘ prairies” or simply a money pit made of granite, sandstone, and clay?

Rocks can be used to build myriad things: fencing, homes, shelter for animals, mass thermal collectors to warm greenhouses on chilly fall nights, fireplaces to toast your toes, pretty borders around flowers, walkways, grave markers and just about anything creative you can think of. 

They can also bend lawn mower blades into really fun and lively metal sculptures which will not only NOT trim your lawn whiskers, but really are not all that marketable.  (Although if you live in New York City and have some friends that can be convinced that they are the next new modern art movement, you might make a buck or two.)   Early History of Rock

Rocks just sit there seemingly unsuspecting, and just when you are pretty sure you are safe, they can twist your ankle and cause great pain, even if you do not land on your head and snap your collarbone.  They can also come nonchalantly rolling down an embankment only to smash your home to smithereens if you are one of those people who need to have cheap land AND an oceanfront home with such fierce desire you build a house which dangles precariously over even more rocks while desperately clutching onto, yes, still more rocks.  

Rocks are used in jewelry, sometimes we even call them precious or semi-precious.  (I’m really glad grandma always used precious in regards to myself, I’m not sure how much emotional damage “semi-precious” would have done.)  They are buffed and ground and cut and polished, and can be worth several thousand or million dollars if they are the right kind of precious for the right kind of person.  Rocks are symbols of strength, commitment, and love if worn on a certain finger, or even if not.  

Gems, stones, rocks, tools, walls, fences, whatever you’d like to call them, it is a certain fact that they exist and, homesteader or not, you are likely to run into rocks even if only tiny, even if only mixed as aggregate in asphalt or concrete, they are an undeniable part of our existence.  Whether it is a five-carat diamond on the finger of a lady, or potato-sized headaches handpicked out of fields to plant your crops, they are there.  Some would even say rocks are sacred and living beings, and that without them, there would be no “us” or even no universe.

“All life is Wakan (Sacred).  So also is everything which exhibits power, whether in action, as the winds and drifting clouds, or impassive abundance, as the boulder by the wayside.  For even the commonest sticks and stones have a spiritual essence which must be referenced as a manifestation of the all-pervading mysterious power that fills the universe.” –Frances LaFlesche, Osage Indian 

In the tale about to be related, the terms Dakota and Lakota will be used in a fashion that may seem to convey a sense of interchangeably, or just be confusing.  These terms do present somewhat of a challenge when discussing these peoples, because depending on the source of information, these terms come up in what seems like a haphazard manner.  In an effort to create more, or clear up confusion, I will say that this story is from the Sioux, though some may find that term offensive.  We could call them the People of the Seven Council Fires, which is a name they have chosen for themselves.  However, when speaking of what transpired and is rooted in cultural history before that name was chosen, it seems more appropriate to refer to them as Dakota which is widely accepted as representing The Nation as a whole.  

For those that are very technically minded in the detail of history the Santee words used here are without proper characters, as my keyboard only does so much.  These words also may show up here interchangeably as well, depending on which dialect (Nakota, Dakota or Lakota) in which they were related to me.

If you are technically minded and entrenched in clear specifics, this may be an agonizing read for you. This article is meant to be simply a once-over of the mystery of creation, pointing to Rock or Inyan being the beginning, in one narrative relation of the Lakota Creation Story.

Inyan (Rock) had no beginning because he existed when there was no other, according to this creation story.  His spirit, Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery), was the creator of Maka (Earth) and ancestor of all things.  Inyan is always to be listened to and respected.  Listen to the rocks for they are part of the earth and record all things past, present and future. 

Before time, Han (night) was.  Though Han was not as we know him now, with the stars and planets afloat in a velvety dark expanse.  He was empty, void; nothing and no thing.  Inyan (Rock) lived alone in this void but like Han, Inyan was different then than he is now.  He was not made of stone, but contained within him all things, all of life, the essence of life, and his spirit was understood Wakan Tanka, the greatest of all mysteries known and unknown.  All in all, Inyan was power and creation outside of time since time had not come into existence at this conceptual moment. 

Inyan was alone in an endless night that was perfectly empty.  To relieve him of his boredom and loneliness, he decided it would be a fabulous idea to have at least one such as himself in order to visit with and share his ideas.  This left Inyan in a bit of a conundrum, a god-paradox; for he was not just the only being in existence but there wasn’t anything else either, not even clay of which to form a likeness of a friend.  This problem was soon met with the simplest of answers, to make buddies out of himself.  With that, Inyan took of himself by letting out his blood, the essence of all life.  His blood poured into the dark vast void of Han and thus Skan was created.  Skan ingeniously was made to contain the seed of change and transformation.  

Having found his efforts to be most fruitful, Inyan poured even more of his blood onto a great disk before him, creating Maka or Mother Earth.  Sitting back, quite satisfied with everything so far, he realized that Maka, while lovely, was without life.  Again Inyan bled to create the waters of the earth, flowing life in the form of streams, seas, rivers, and lakes.  This spent Inyan’s own life essence and he turned to stone, falling down upon and deeply into Maka forming the bedrock within Maka.  Early History of Rock

This Dakota Universe was gruesomely borne of blood and sacrifice, but also love.  Still, this newly created world was cloaked in darkness, and without Inyan to create more beings, and Maka having not been created with the ability to be creator herself, she complained to Skan.  This complaining eventually wore on Skan, and to keep her quiet he placed a red glow in the sky (Anp) to light up the earth and banish the darkness.  Then Mother Earth realized she was no longer in complete darkness but still cold and shivery and complained yet again.  

What to do now?  So far every being had been created through Inyan’s ultimate sacrifice, the lesson already imparted to the newly created beings that in order to create something new, something had to be given up.  Was our Skan up to the challenge?  Skan began taking parts from Inyan, as no blood was left, and parts of himself and parts of Maka.  This would be akin to taking parts of the sky, earth, and rock to form the gaseous orb.  From this menagerie, he modeled Wi, the sun, and gave to it spirit and a life of its own so that it may forever burn and create heat to warm Maka. indigenous rocks hand axe

Anp (I know this is confusing but Wi is the disk of the sun and Anp is the “being” of the sun or the light) offered endless heat and brightness as he hung in the sky, but eventually started to burn Maka and she obviously wanted Skan to bring back the darkness to have some relief, and so was complaining again.  This creation business is rife with little details that our new beings are just learning, so we must have patience here. 

There are many versions of this story, and truly what I have recounted so far is just the tip of the stone of creation for these wonderful people with rich tales and history.  In my opinion, Inyan was very angry at Maka for not being happy with him as her sole companion.  Obviously rock (Inyan) is deeply rooted within the earth (Maka) and because Maka had no real creation powers of her own, and given the fact that Inyan had sacrificed his body including hands and other, more familiar, creation-making parts, Maka was a very unsatisfied woman and hauled off to use Skan as her creative force to make Unk. 

cobblestoneLater on Inyan “co-creates” with Unk.  It is unclear as to how exactly but we assume it can be done because it was, or so the myth goes.  Out of this union, a son is born named Iya, who eventually became the chief of all evil beings, but this was not before Inyan created an egg which hatched as a full grown man that contained all the wisdom in the world.  Unk, Maka’s daugher and Inyan’s mistress, was a bit contentious, similar to her mother and thus angered Skan.  Her crimes are purported to be various and varied, but the one constant in all the recounts this writer has been witness to, she definitely slept with her own son.  This effectively made her the mother of all demons, and later gave birth to Gnaski, a very beautiful but dangerous and deceitful being. 

Where or with whom Gnaski was created is also unclear.  This is the beauty of folktale and myth, the power is in the recounting of the story, and not necessarily seated in any type of accurate nor concrete detail.  Ironically, the story of the stone Creator-god is not etched in stone, but is at the same time in many historical sites across the plains of North America. 

There were a lot of power plays going on from this turmoil between the gods.  We watch as things like jealousy, hate, foolishness, and pride are born.  It is also when we see a lot of lessons being taught from the mistakes and assumptions of these creator-gods.  Lessons that are hopefully learned by Dakota children and taken to heart as they grow up.  Similar to the life lessons taught in other religions or spiritual tales.  I am sparing you now, dear reader, many pages of a very long story told over and over again, in many ways, as to how the universe and man were created, and the mistakes of the gods.  

Interestingly enough, this Lakota myth is actually somewhat explained by science if you think about it.  From the primordial ooze, stone, all things come, and the first creation made was Skan or motion, the force.  Creation takes motion and rapid expansion.

Sounds a bit like the Big Bang theory, no?    

Native Americans were contemplating the cosmos much earlier than any European, and it’s no wonder with great stories like these.  I can imagine sitting out on the prairie listening to this story over a fire and letting my mind wander and wonder up at the stars at how it all began.  

Lava flows could be seen as the blood of Inyan, blood of stone.  Science tells us that landmasses were formed from these things and also gave off the necessary mix of gaseous vapors that create the atmosphere or Skan.  Another interesting note and something that is a bit different in these Native creation myths, is that their gods do not just pluck something out of nowhere to create the stuff.  Action does not take place in some sort of fantasy of isolation or by some un-seeable hoogy-boogy force.  Everything made is made from what already exists.  It is all part and parcel of each other, or to put it as many know it, the circle and interconnectedness of all life.  

Even though rock can be weathered, chipped and broken away, it records time like no other natural medium.  Thousands of years of history of the comings and goings of Indian Nations and even, sometimes simply proclaiming that “Otto was here”.

While people leave their marks to pass along stories and history, so too do animals.  You can’t, perhaps, roller-skate in a buffalo herd, but you can view the passages over the prairies where buffalo have been, also leaving their mark in history on buffalo rubbing rocks.  These particular rocks are quartzite, the size of what you can see from the earth is approximately 7 feet long and up past my shoulders, and I’m 6 feet tall so these are some pretty big sturdy rocks.  In an effort to shed dense winter hair, buffaloes would rub against these rocks leaving behind a mirrored surface.  

Even sand and water are recording history as we speak, evidenced above in the ancient traces of fossilized sand ripples that turned to pink quartzite about 1.6 billion years ago even though mile thick glaciers that passed over it left deep scars in other places as it traveled south about 14,000 years long past.  Being that the carvings contained upon these slabs of Inyan were created a mere 5,000 years ago you can today lay your hand upon the very places that the Dakota Nation may have also felt and tread. 

The next time your hoe, hand, or motorized vehicle meets rock, whether for good or ill, maybe you’ll take the time to remember this story and wonder what this life would be like without the rocks.  Will an encounter with Inyan spark the inspirational force within you to create something new with him or will it be a battle to the end to get rid of him? 

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