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Stomp Grounds [archive]

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Stomp Grounds

The earliest record of Stomp Grounds takes us back to the Mound Building period. By the time Europeans began making Contact with the southeastern tribes the use of the Mounds had began to diminish. Although the Mounds were still in existence most of the people had ceased to use them. However, one tribe, the Natchez, was still actively using their mounds. This was brought to a climactic halt when the French devastated the Natchez people in 1731. Remnants of the Natchez moved in with the Creek and the Cherokee. This brought about the end of the Mound Building culture.

During the Mound Building period one of the mounds was used as a ceremonial gathering place. The ceremonial gathering place was constructed in the shape of a square. The people arranged themselves an the four sides according to clan or position of authority within the tribe. When the people ceases to use the mounds for ceremonial purposes they brought the square shaped ceremonial grounds with them. The ceremonial grounds was then located in front of the Council House. After removal the use of the Council House was abandoned. However, the people continued in the use of the square grounds concept , even to this present day.

Today, the ceremonial grounds are more often referred to as a Stomp Grounds. The actual square ground is the central focal point of all activities on the Stomp Grounds. The Cherokee still use the square shape for the square ground. Most of the Creek have evolved the square ground into a circular shape, but still refer to it as the "square". There are other differences between the Cherokee and Creek grounds, but for the most part they both still retain the basic concept which was used during the Mound Building period.

There are many Stomp Grounds in Oklahoma. Probably the two most well known are the Stoke Smith Stomp Grounds of the Cherokee Keetoowah Society and the Tallahasee Grounds of the Creek. Besides these two there exist many other Stomp Grounds in various locations throughout northeastern Oklahoma. Their locations range from way out in the woods to being in someone's back yard. In addition to the Stomp Grounds in Oklahoma there are Stomp Grounds in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas, that I know of. I'm sure there are others I am not aware of.

Visiting a Stomp Ground is possible for newcomers, although it is best to be invited. And of course you have to know the exact location of a grounds. Unlike Pow-wows the Stomp Grounds usually do not advertise. This does not mean that it is a secret or that people aren't welcome. What this means is that the Stomp ground is still a ceremonial place where traditional people gather. As one of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma chiefs said "it is their religion and it is genuine". If you do visit a Stomp Grounds, always go to the leaders of the grounds and let them know you are there. They will inform you of any restrictions that may be placed on visitors' participation in their activities. And they will let you know where it is proper for you to sit and/or camp. Always remember this is the "church" of the people who regularly attend the Stomp Grounds. I heard William Smith say that people should act on the Stomp Grounds as they would in a church -with respect. You can usually tell who the leaders of a Stomp grounds are because they will be wearing a feather pointing straight up in their hat. These are usually the only men who wear a feather on the Stomp Grounds in such a way. Another thing, you will not see many people all dressed up in "Indian clothes" on the Stomp Grounds. This is a real place where people live their real lives. Although, you may see an occasional ribbon shirt or traditional women's dress worn on the grounds. This is most likely the case during Green Corn, which is a very special time on the Stomp Grounds. During this time the people usually dress up in their best traditional clothing. Much like some people get all dressed up to go to church on Easter.

One of the main activities, and one that visitors would most often get the chance to participate in, is the dancing. I believe that this is one of the most beautiful sights on the face of the earth., when the men start to sing and the call is given for the women wearing the shells to enter the square. The sight and the sound reaches down deep into your soul and stirs something, both ancient and timeless. Yes, I love to stomp!

In the middle of the square a fire is built. This is a Sacred Fire, and on some grounds the fire is actually built from the ashes of ceremonial fire that was brought across on the Trail of Tears. It is around this Fire that the people dance. The dance is called a stomp dance. There are two meanings for 'stomp dance'. One is the dance style or step itself. This is a slow shuffling stomp of the feet, one after the other. Stomp right, stomp left, stomp right, stomp left, etc. The other is a particular dance -a Stomp Dance. All dances, whether they are a stomp dance or not, usually use the stomp step. Hence, all dancing is generally categorized as "stomp dancing". The dance usually goes about like this -the song leader dances in front, followed by the head shaker (a woman wearing shell or can rattles attached to her calves), behind them come the rest of the singers and shakers, these followed by everyone else. The dance goes around the Fire in a counterclockwise direction, with the heart and left hand toward the Fire, everyone following in the steps of the person in front of them, forming a spiral of dancers. Sometime during the night at least one snake dance is performed. This is a real fun dance with everyone making circles and even going off the square.

Much can be said about the Stomp Grounds and traditional things. But it is best to be experienced and not talked about. I encourage everyone who is of southeastern Indian blood to visit a Stomp Ground at least once in your lifetime. If you are who you say you are, then this may be where you belong!

--written by Knowles Walkingbear, Cherokee Indian

Additional Reading

 Cherokee Legends
 Natchez Indians
 Cherokee Writing
 Southeastern Tribes

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