Sahnish History and Culture Stories

This series of Sahnish family stories was inspired by Marilyn Young Bird. It is meant for all of those who wonder how we are related to each other, Sahnish (Arickara), Hidatsa (Gros Ventres) and Mandans. Knowing our family tree can help build stronger relationship among all of the people.

We start with the Young Bird and White Calfe family tree. If you have a suggestion for next family tree, contact either Dorreen Yellow Bird, editor(701)- 421-2876 ([email protected]) or Marilyn Young Bird (303) 345-3139 ([email protected]).

Greta Martha White Calfe, “Woman,” was born on August 17, 1931 August to Benjamin Young Bird and Jessie Everett Young Bird at Nishu, North Dakota. Greta is the fourth child, of thirteen children born to Ben and Jessie. Greta and Oscar have two children, Verlee- Sayler and Frank White Calfe and a grandson Ethan White Calfe that she loves dearly.

With no older brothers, she became her father’s right- hand helper. She helped him with the operation their cattle ranch. One of the yearly events she recalls was the Nishu community annual cattle and horse roundups. Greta, the only female, would ride her horse Power River alongside the men and boys as they drove the cattle along the banks of the Missouri River to Elbowoods. The riders would herd the cattle across the Elbowoods Bridge and to Haliday, North Dakota where the cattle would be put on the train to South St. Paul, Minnesota for sale. Greta’s father, Ben would ride his horse Silver up to the entrance of the Elbowoods Bridge, take off his saddle and bridle, give the horse a slap and send him home.

After graduating from the Elbowoods High School, she enrolled at Minot State College. After she graduated from Minot State Teachers College, she married Oscar White Calfe in 1951. They moved five miles from her childhood home where she lives. Greta and Oscar raised cattle and farmed. In 1984 Oscar died of terminal cancer, leaving Greta, her daughter Verlee-Sayler and her husband Kenny to continue running the ranch.

When their son Frank and daughter Verlee started high school rodeoing, the whole family got involved. Greta took up barrel racing, breakaway roping, and team roping. She won many of her events and received belt buckles. Greta began her teaching career, in 1951 at Ziegler School. Ziegler School at one room country school southwest of White Shield. The school had a round belly wood burning stove, no electricity, no running water, and outhouse toilet. She had to prepare food for lunch for students and haul drinking water. Her students were from the John and Florence White, Dan and Mable Howling Wolf, and Pfliger families.

In 1971 Greta accepted an assistant teacher position for the first and second grades at the White Shield School, recommended by Mrs. Margaret Breuer, one of the two Native educators employed at White Shield School. When Mrs. Breuer retired, Greta became the full-time first grade teacher. She continued until her retirement in May 2005.

In one of her first grade classes, she had a special needs student who had difficulty expressing herself verbally, difficulty in managing her physical body. Greta did not bring her expression to the attention of the other students, but let them explore and develop their own way of relating to their new classmate. From the beginning she observed that the students innately knew how to nurture life. She saw that they took responsibility for their new classmate. When it was time to leave the classroom for recess, they would gather around their classmate to assist in putting on her hat, gloves, and coat. After she was dressed, the students would assist her down the staircase. Some of the students would stand at the bottom to catch her if she should fall. The other half of the students would walk along side and guide her down the stairs. Outside, half of the students would go play on the swings and slide, or run, jump, and play tag. As Greta watched her students, she does not know how they knew when recess was half over. The first group would stop playing and come back to be with their classmate. The students that had stayed behind to protect and play with their classmate would go out play. When recess was over, the students would walk beside their classmate and guide her up the staircase. When they entered the classroom, they would take time to help her remove the heavy clothing and then take their seats.

One day, Greta decided to take her class outside for their science assignment.

Their science assignment was to observe nature. They would write about whatever caught their interest, trees, birds, clouds, sun, grass, rabbits, dogs, etc. When they came back into the classroom, they had to draw their subject and explain why they chose that subject and tell their story. Every one of her students did their assignment without any hesitation. One-by-one they would stand before the class and give their presentation. When it came time for their young classmate’s turn, the student got up, managed her way to the front of the class and held up her piece of drawing. The picture showed her expression of what had caught her interest. Then she expressed in words the best she could. The students sat silent and gave their undivided attention to their classmate’s presentation. When the class had finished for the day and all the students left the room, one young person stayed behind. Greta was sitting at her desk when this loving and caring classmate came up to Greta and said, “Teacher, I know why we could not understand her. it is because she was speaking “Arikara.” This story brought tears to Greta’s eyes and healing to her heart and spirit. It is absolutely clear that we are all born with unconditional love and pure innocence. We carry innate knowing in our DNA.

Greta has received many Awards and Achievements for her 32 years of service. Greta continues to be busy and active. She continues to raise cattle with her grandson Ethan White Calfe. Her daughter Verlee-Sayler and son, Frank help her at her home in White Shield. Although she stepped down from the Board of the Sahnish Cultural Society, she continues promoting her culture now through the creation of her hand-made Star Quilts.

Greta speaks highly of her 54 years as an educator and remembers it fondly; believing that a good education is the foundation of a successful life, knowing she did her best to help each one of her students, along with her nine grandchildren succeed. She loves looking back through photos of her classes and is touched when students, three generations of whom she taught run up to her calling “Mrs. White Calfe, Mrs. White Calfe when they see her, hug her and tell her how much they love her.

Greta will celebrate her 90th Birthday on August 17, 2021.

Oscar and Greta Young Bird White Calfe
Ben Young Bird and Jesse Everett Young Bird, Greta’s parents
Clare Everett and Fannie Sitting Bear Everett. grandparents of Greta. She was the daughter of Chief Sitting Bear
Joe Young Bird and Susie Walker Young Bird are Ben Young Birds parents.