Forty-Nine And Round Dance Songs

Canyon Records
Singers: Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Bointy; Raymond White Buffalo; Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Haumpy; Mr. and Mrs. Bill Botone; Herschel Kaulaity; Mr. and Mrs. John Emhoolah, Jr.; Ted Creeping Bear

Side 1
Songs for Forty-Nine Dance

To the non-Indian, the name 'forty-nine dance' has always aroused interest. What does forty-nine mean? Why is a dance called a forty-nine dance?

To most Indians, particularly the younger Indians throughout the Plains states, Southwestern U.S., and in urban areas where Indians have settled, 'forty-nine' calls forth thoughts of fun and sociability with other Indians.

Simply, it's a social dance. It began with the Kiowa Indians in Oklahoma around the turn of the century when a native Kiowa dance, long associated with warfare, lost its reason for being – and became a social dance form. Soon it spread to the Kiowas' ally and friend, the Comanche Indians. This is the reason given for most forty-nine songs of today being of Kiowa or Comanche origin.

Forty-nine spread to other tribes through mutual contact at gatherings where Kiowas danced the forty-nine. Those who learned it, carried it wherever they went.

Forty-nine is danced for the enjoyment of the dancers, and is never performed as part of a program. After the public program is over, after the spectators have gone home, after the dancers have changed from tribal dance clothing to street clothes, the forty-nine begins! The time may be close to midnight, and the dance may last until dawn. Non-Indians are not usually included, this being considered something of an 'Indian' gathering. Very close non-Indian friends may be invited occasionally, but for a non-Indian to try to wrangle an invitation is considered bad manners.

The dancers dance, facing center, in a circle, holding hands. There are several concentric circles, all around the big drum. As the dance progresses, the circles get tighter and tighter around the drum. The drummers sing the song, with all the dancers usually joining on the chorus.

Over the years the tempo has been increased by the younger singers. Forty-nine songs are in three-quarter time with a strong first beat, silent second beat, and soft final beat.

The dancers move to the left stepping to the left with the left foot on alternate loud beats (1,3,5, etc.) on even loud beats (2,4,6, etc.) the right foot is brought up to the left.

There are several stories told concerning the origin of the name 'forty-nine.' One concerns fifty men who went to war. In the first version forty-nine were killed, and only one returned; the second version is the opposite – with forty-nine returning. Thus comes the name 'forty-nine,' in honor of the forty-nine warriors who died as heroes . . . or, who returned as victors.

Marriott and Rachiin in American Epic point out the use of the dance as a resistance measure; with the discovery of gold in California in '49 came hordes of miners through Indian lands, then settlers, and soldiers to protect both. Indian dances were held all night long to disturb the soldiers' rest – social dances used as a form of resistance and "called forty-nine dances."

Other sources recount a different version. It seems the name started during a county fair in Oklahoma about 1920. A carnival side-show barker had been enticing customers all day for a dancing-girl-show themed with the California Gold Rush of '49. ("Come see the '49 Dancing Girls!")

That night the Kiowas and other Indians in attendance went off after hours to an Indian social dance. As the evening wore on some Indian jokesters began pointing to the dancing Indian women, and imitated the barker's chant. There was much fun and laughter among the dancers and singers, and others took up the barker's chant during the evening. This imitation became the standing joke of the fair; soon everyone was referring to this social dance as the forty-nine dance.

Side 2
Round Dances

The round dance is a social dance for men and women. The beat follows the same pattern as in the forty-nine songs, but is slower.

The round dance is not a native Plains dance form, but was introduced from the Great Basin in the 1880s as part of the Ghost Dance Ceremony. After the ceremonial of the Ghost Dance and its costuming was discontinued, the steps were retained as a social dance. This has become the round dance of today.

Round dances may be danced in tribal clothing or street clothing; the dance may be used both as a social dance, or as part of a public program. It is popular over a wide area of the Plains States.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Forty Nine 1 Kiowa
Forty Nine 2 Kiowa
Forty Nine 3 Kiowa
Forty Nine 4 Kiowa
Forty Nine 5 Kiowa
Forty Nine 6 Kiowa
Forty Nine 7 Kiowa
Round Dance 1 Kiowa
Round Dance 2 Kiowa
Round Dance 3 Kiowa
Round Dance 4 Kiowa
Round Dance 5 Kiowa
Round Dance 6 Kiowa