Part 2 out of 3
When Sitting Bull was a boy, there was no thought of trouble
with the whites. He was acquainted with many of the early traders,
Picotte, Choteau, Primeau, Larpenteur, and others, and liked them,
as did most of his people in those days. All the early records
show this friendly attitude of the Sioux, and the great fur
companies for a century and a half depended upon them for the bulk
of their trade. It was not until the middle of the last century
that they woke up all of a sudden to the danger threatening their
very existence. Yet at that time many of the old chiefs had been
already depraved by the whisky and other vices of the whites, and
in the vicinity of the forts and trading posts at Sioux City, Saint
Paul, and Cheyenne, there was general demoralization. The
drunkards and hangers-on were ready to sell almost anything they
had for the favor of the trader. The better and stronger element
held aloof. They would not have anything of the white man except
his hatchet, gun, and knife. They utterly refused to cede their
lands; and as for the rest, they were willing to let him alone as
long as he did not interfere with their life and customs, which was
It was not, however, the Unkpapa band of Sioux, Sitting Bull's
band, which first took up arms against the whites; and this was not
because they had come less in contact with them, for they dwelt on
the Missouri River, the natural highway of trade. As early as
1854, the Ogallalas and Brules had trouble with the soldiers near
Fort Laramie; and again in 1857 Inkpaduta massacred several
families of settlers at Spirit Lake, Iowa. Finally, in 1869, the
Minnesota Sioux, goaded by many wrongs, arose and murdered many of
the settlers, afterward fleeing into the country of the Unkpapas
and appealing to them for help, urging that all Indians should make
common cause against the invader. This brought Sitting Bull face
to face with a question which was not yet fully matured in his own
mind; but having satisfied himself of the justice of their cause,
he joined forces with the renegades during the summer of 1863, and
from this time on he was an acknowledged leader.
In 1865 and 1866 he met the Canadian half-breed, Louis Riel,
instigator of two rebellions, who had come across the line for
safety; and in fact at this time he harbored a number of outlaws
and fugitives from justice. His conversations with these,
especially with the French mixed-bloods, who inflamed his
prejudices against the Americans, all had their influence in making
of the wily Sioux a determined enemy to the white man. While among
his own people he was always affable and genial, he became boastful
and domineering in his dealings with the hated race. He once
remarked that "if we wish to make any impression upon the pale-face,
it is necessary to put on his mask."
Sitting Bull joined in the attack on Fort Phil Kearny and in
the subsequent hostilities; but he accepted in good faith the
treaty of 1868, and soon after it was signed he visited Washington
with Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, on which occasion the three
distinguished chiefs attracted much attention and were entertained
at dinner by President Grant and other notables. He considered
that the life of the white man as he saw it was no life for his
people, but hoped by close adherence to the terms of this treaty to
preserve the Big Horn and Black Hills country for a permanent
hunting ground. When gold was discovered and the irrepressible
gold seekers made their historic dash across the plains into this
forbidden paradise, then his faith in the white man's honor was
gone forever, and he took his final and most persistent stand in
defense of his nation and home. His bitter and at the same time
well-grounded and philosophical dislike of the conquering race is
well expressed in a speech made before the purely Indian council
before referred to, upon the Powder River. I will give it in brief
as it has been several times repeated to me by men who were
"Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly
received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results
of their love! Every seed is awakened, and all animal life. It is
through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we
therefore yield to our neighbors, even to our animal neighbors, the
same right as ourselves to inhabit this vast land.
"Yet hear me, friends! we have now to deal with another
people, small and feeble when our forefathers first met with them,
but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough, they have a mind
to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them.
These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the
poor may not! They have a religion in which the poor worship, but
the rich will not! They even take tithes of the poor and weak to
support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of
ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away
from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.
They compel her to produce out of season, and when sterile she is
made to take medicine in order to produce again. All this is
"This nation is like a spring freshet; it overruns its banks
and destroys all who are in its path. We cannot dwell side by
side. Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were
assured that the buffalo country should be left to us forever. Now
they threaten to take that from us also. My brothers, shall we
submit? or shall we say to them: 'First kill me, before you can
take possession of my fatherland!'"
As Sitting Bull spoke, so he felt, and he had the courage to
stand by his words. Crazy Horse led his forces in the field; as
for him, he applied his energies to state affairs, and by his
strong and aggressive personality contributed much to holding the
It may be said without fear of contradiction that Sitting Bull
never killed any women or children. He was a fair fighter, and
while not prominent in battle after his young manhood, he was the
brains of the Sioux resistance. He has been called a "medicine
man" and a "dreamer." Strictly speaking, he was neither of these,
and the white historians are prone to confuse the two. A medicine
man is a doctor or healer; a dreamer is an active war prophet who
leads his war party according to his dream or prophecy. What is
called by whites "making medicine" in war time is again a wrong
conception. Every warrior carries a bag of sacred or lucky charms,
supposed to protect the wearer alone, but it has nothing to do with
the success or safety of the party as a whole. No one can make any
"medicine" to affect the result of a battle, although it has been
said that Sitting Bull did this at the battle of the Little Big
When Custer and Reno attacked the camp at both ends, the chief
was caught napping. The village was in danger of surprise, and the
women and children must be placed in safety. Like other men of his
age, Sitting Bull got his family together for flight, and then
joined the warriors on the Reno side of the attack. Thus he was
not in the famous charge against Custer; nevertheless, his voice
was heard exhorting the warriors throughout that day.
During the autumn of 1876, after the fall of Custer, Sitting
Bull was hunted all through the Yellowstone region by the military.
The following characteristic letter, doubtless written at his
dictation by a half-breed interpreter, was sent to Colonel Otis
immediately after a daring attack upon his wagon train.
"I want to know what you are doing, traveling on this road.
You scare all the buffalo away. I want to hunt in this place. I
want you to turn back from here. If you don't, I will fight you
again. I want you to leave what you have got here and turn back
I am your friend
I mean all the rations you have got and some powder. Wish you
would write me as soon as you can."
Otis, however, kept on and joined Colonel Miles, who followed
Sitting Bull with about four hundred soldiers. He overtook him at
last on Cedar Creek, near the Yellowstone, and the two met midway
between the lines for a parley. The army report says: "Sitting
Bull wanted peace in his own way." The truth was that he wanted
nothing more than had been guaranteed to them by the treaty of 1868
-- the exclusive possession of their last hunting ground. This the
government was not now prepared to grant, as it had been decided to
place all the Indians under military control upon the various
Since it was impossible to reconcile two such conflicting
demands, the hostiles were driven about from pillar to post for
several more years, and finally took refuge across the line in
Canada, where Sitting Bull had placed his last hope of justice and
freedom for his race. Here he was joined from time to time by
parties of malcontents from the reservation, driven largely by
starvation and ill-treatment to seek another home. Here, too, they
were followed by United States commissioners, headed by General
Terry, who endeavored to persuade him to return, promising
abundance of food and fair treatment, despite the fact that the
exiles were well aware of the miserable condition of the "good
Indians" upon the reservations. He first refused to meet them at
all, and only did so when advised to that effect by Major Walsh of
the Canadian mounted police. This was his characteristic remark:
"If you have one honest man in Washington, send him here and I will
talk to him."
Sitting Bull was not moved by fair words; but when he found
that if they had liberty on that side, they had little else, that
the Canadian government would give them protection but no food;
that the buffalo had been all but exterminated and his starving
people were already beginning to desert him, he was compelled at
last, in 1881, to report at Fort Buford, North Dakota, with his
band of hungry, homeless, and discouraged refugees. It was, after
all, to hunger and not to the strong arm of the military that he
surrendered in the end.
In spite of the invitation that had been extended to him in
the name of the "Great Father" at Washington, he was immediately
thrown into a military prison, and afterward handed over to Colonel
Cody ("Buffalo Bill") as an advertisement for his "Wild West Show."
After traveling about for several years with the famous showman,
thus increasing his knowledge of the weaknesses as well as the
strength of the white man, the deposed and humiliated chief settled
down quietly with his people upon the Standing Rock agency in North
Dakota, where his immediate band occupied the Grand River district
and set to raising cattle and horses. They made good progress;
much better, in fact, than that of the "coffee-coolers" or "loafer"
Indians, received the missionaries kindly and were soon a
When the Commissions of 1888 and 1889 came to treat with the
Sioux for a further cession of land and a reduction of their
reservations, nearly all were opposed to consent on any terms.
Nevertheless, by hook or by crook, enough signatures were finally
obtained to carry the measure through, although it is said that
many were those of women and the so-called "squaw-men", who had no
rights in the land. At the same time, rations were cut down, and
there was general hardship and dissatisfaction. Crazy Horse was
long since dead; Spotted Tail had fallen at the hands of one of his
own tribe; Red Cloud had become a feeble old man, and the
disaffected among the Sioux began once more to look to Sitting Bull
At this crisis a strange thing happened. A half-breed Indian
in Nevada promulgated the news that the Messiah had appeared to him
upon a peak in the Rockies, dressed in rabbit skins, and bringing
a message to the red race. The message was to the effect that
since his first coming had been in vain, since the white people had
doubted and reviled him, had nailed him to the cross, and trampled
upon his doctrines, he had come again in pity to save the Indian.
He declared that he would cause the earth to shake and to overthrow
the cities of the whites and destroy them, that the buffalo would
return, and the land belong to the red race forever! These events
were to come to pass within two years; and meanwhile they were to
prepare for his coming by the ceremonies and dances which he
This curious story spread like wildfire and met with eager
acceptance among the suffering and discontented people. The
teachings of Christian missionaries had prepared them to believe in
a Messiah, and the prescribed ceremonial was much more in accord
with their traditions than the conventional worship of the
churches. Chiefs of many tribes sent delegations to the Indian
prophet; Short Bull, Kicking Bear, and others went from among the
Sioux, and on their return all inaugurated the dances at once.
There was an attempt at first to keep the matter secret, but it
soon became generally known and seriously disconcerted the Indian
agents and others, who were quick to suspect a hostile conspiracy
under all this religious enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, there
was no thought of an uprising; the dancing was innocent enough, and
pathetic enough their despairing hope in a pitiful Saviour who
should overwhelm their oppressors and bring back their golden age.
When the Indians refused to give up the "Ghost Dance" at the
bidding of the authorities, the growing suspicion and alarm focused
upon Sitting Bull, who in spirit had never been any too submissive,
and it was determined to order his arrest. At the special request
of Major McLaughlin, agent at Standing Rock, forty of his Indian
police were sent out to Sitting Bull's home on Grand River to
secure his person (followed at some little distance by a body of
United States troops for reinforcement, in case of trouble). These
police are enlisted from among the tribesmen at each agency, and
have proved uniformly brave and faithful. They entered the cabin
at daybreak, aroused the chief from a sound slumber, helped him to
dress, and led him unresisting from the house; but when he came out
in the gray dawn of that December morning in 1890, to find his
cabin surrounded by armed men and himself led away to he knew not
what fate, he cried out loudly:
"They have taken me: what say you to it?"
Men poured out of the neighboring houses, and in a few minutes
the police were themselves surrounded with an excited and rapidly
increasing throng. They harangued the crowd in vain; Sitting
Bull's blood was up, and he again appealed to his men. His adopted
brother, the Assiniboine captive whose life he had saved so many
years before, was the first to fire. His shot killed Lieutenant
Bull Head, who held Sitting Bull by the arm. Then there was a
short but sharp conflict, in which Sitting Bull and six of his
defenders and six of the Indian police were slain, with many more
wounded. The chief's young son, Crow Foot, and his devoted
"brother" died with him. When all was over, and the terrified
people had fled precipitately across the river, the soldiers
appeared upon the brow of the long hill and fired their Hotchkiss
guns into the deserted camp.
Thus ended the life of a natural strategist of no mean courage
and ability. The great chief was buried without honors outside the
cemetery at the post, and for some years the grave was marked by a
mere board at its head. Recently some women have built a cairn of
rocks there in token of respect and remembrance.
The noted Sioux warrior, Rain-in-the-Face, whose name once carried
terror to every part of the frontier, died at his home on the
Standing Rock reserve in North Dakota on September 14, 1905. About
two months before his death I went to see him for the last time,
where he lay upon the bed of sickness from which he never rose
again, and drew from him his life-history.
It had been my experience that you cannot induce an Indian to
tell a story, or even his own name, by asking him directly.
"Friend," I said, "even if a man is on a hot trail, he stops
for a smoke! In the good old days, before the charge there was a
smoke. At home, by the fireside, when the old men were asked to
tell their brave deeds, again the pipe was passed. So come, let us
smoke now to the memory of the old days!"
He took of my tobacco and filled his long pipe, and we smoked.
Then I told an old mirthful story to get him in the humor of
relating his own history.
The old man lay upon an iron bedstead, covered by a red
blanket, in a corner of the little log cabin. He was all alone
that day; only an old dog lay silent and watchful at his master's
Finally he looked up and said with a pleasant smile:
"True, friend; it is the old custom to retrace one's trail
before leaving it forever! I know that I am at the door of the
"I was born near the forks of the Cheyenne River, about
seventy years ago. My father was not a chief; my grandfather was
not a chief, but a good hunter and a feast-maker. On my mother's
side I had some noted ancestors, but they left me no chieftainship.
I had to work for my reputation.
"When I was a boy, I loved to fight," he continued. "In all
our boyish games I had the name of being hard to handle, and I took
much pride in the fact.
"I was about ten years old when we encountered a band of
Cheyennes. They were on friendly terms with us, but we boys
always indulged in sham fights on such occasions, and this time I
got in an honest fight with a Cheyenne boy older than I. I got the
best of the boy, but he hit me hard in the face several times, and
my face was all spattered with blood and streaked where the paint
had been washed away. The Sioux boys whooped and yelled:
"'His enemy is down, and his face is spattered as if with
rain! Rain-in-the-Face! His name shall be Rain-in-the-Face!'
"Afterwards, when I was a young man, we went on a warpath
against the Gros Ventres. We stole some of their horses, but were
overtaken and had to abandon the horses and fight for our lives.
I had wished my face to represent the sun when partly covered with
darkness, so I painted it half black, half red. We fought all day
in the rain, and my face was partly washed and streaked with red
and black: so again I was christened Rain-in-the-Face. We
considered it an honorable name.
"I had been on many warpaths, but was not especially
successful until about the time the Sioux began to fight with the
white man. One of the most daring attacks that we ever made was at
Fort Totten, North Dakota, in the summer of 1866.
"Hohay, the Assiniboine captive of Sitting Bull, was the
leader in this raid. Wapaypay, the Fearless Bear, who was
afterward hanged at Yankton, was the bravest man among us. He
dared Hohay to make the charge. Hohay accepted the challenge, and
in turn dared the other to ride with him through the agency and
right under the walls of the fort, which was well garrisoned and
"Wapaypay and I in those days called each other
'brother-friend.' It was a life-and-death vow. What one does the
other must do; and that meant that I must be in the forefront of
the charge, and if he is killed, I must fight until I die also!
"I prepared for death. I painted as usual like an eclipse of
the sun, half black and half red."
His eyes gleamed and his face lighted up remarkably as he
talked, pushing his black hair back from his forehead with a
"Now the signal for the charge was given! I started even with
Wapaypay, but his horse was faster than mine, so he left me a
little behind as we neared the fort. This was bad for me, for by
that time the soldiers had somewhat recovered from the surprise
and were aiming better.
"Their big gun talked very loud, but my Wapaypay was leading
on, leaning forward on his fleet pony like a flying squirrel on a
smooth log! He held his rawhide shield on the right side, a little
to the front, and so did I. Our warwhoop was like the coyotes
singing in the evening, when they smell blood!
"The soldiers' guns talked fast, but few were hurt. Their big
gun was like a toothless old dog, who only makes himself hotter the
more noise he makes," he remarked with some humor.
"How much harm we did I do not know, but we made things lively
for a time; and the white men acted as people do when a swarm of
angry bees get into camp. We made a successful retreat, but some
of the reservation Indians followed us yelling, until Hohay told
them that he did not wish to fight with the captives of the white
man, for there would be no honor in that. There was blood running
down my leg, and I found that both my horse and I were slightly
"Some two years later we attacked a fort west of the Black
Hills [Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming]. It was there we killed one
hundred soldiers." [The military reports say eighty men, under the
command of Captain Fetterman -- not one left alive to tell the
tale!] "Nearly every band of the Sioux nation was represented in
that fight -- Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull,
Big Foot, and all our great chiefs were there. Of course such men
as I were then comparatively unknown. However, there were many
noted young warriors, among them Sword, the younger
Young-Man-Afraid, American Horse [afterward chief], Crow King, and
"This was the plan decided upon after many councils. The main
war party lay in ambush, and a few of the bravest young men were
appointed to attack the woodchoppers who were cutting logs to
complete the building of the fort. We were told not to kill these
men, but to chase them into the fort and retreat slowly, defying
the white men; and if the soldiers should follow, we were to lead
them into the ambush. They took our bait exactly as we had hoped!
It was a matter of a very few minutes, for every soldier lay dead
in a shorter time than it takes to annihilate a small herd of
"This attack was hastened because most of the Sioux on the
Missouri River and eastward had begun to talk of suing for peace.
But even this did not stop the peace movement. The very next year
a treaty was signed at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, by nearly all
the Sioux chiefs, in which it was agreed on the part of the Great
Father in Washington that all the country north of the Republican
River in Nebraska, including the Black Hills and the Big Horn
Mountains, was to be always Sioux country, and no white man should
intrude upon it without our permission. Even with this agreement
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were not satisfied, and they would not
"Up to this time I had fought in some important battles, but
had achieved no great deed. I was ambitious to make a name for
myself. I joined war parties against the Crows, Mandans, Gros
Ventres, and Pawnees, and gained some little distinction.
"It was when the white men found the yellow metal in our
country, and came in great numbers, driving away our game, that
we took up arms against them for the last time. I must say here
that the chiefs who were loudest for war were among the first to
submit and accept reservation life. Spotted Tail was a great
warrior, yet he was one of the first to yield, because he was
promised by the Chief Soldiers that they would make him chief of
all the Sioux. Ugh! he would have stayed with Sitting Bull to the
last had it not been for his ambition.
"About this time we young warriors began to watch the trails
of the white men into the Black Hills, and when we saw a wagon
coming we would hide at the crossing and kill them all without much
trouble. We did this to discourage the whites from coming into our
country without our permission. It was the duty of our Great
Father at Washington, by the agreement of 1868, to keep his white
"During the troublesome time after this treaty, which no one
seemed to respect, either white or Indian [but the whites broke it
first], I was like many other young men -- much on the warpath, but
with little honor. I had not yet become noted for any great deed.
Finally, Wapaypay and I waylaid and killed a white soldier on his
way from the fort to his home in the east.
"There were a few Indians who were liars, and never on the
warpath, playing 'good Indian' with the Indian agents and the war
chiefs at the forts. Some of this faithless set betrayed me, and
told more than I ever did. I was seized and taken to the fort near
Bismarck, North Dakota [Fort Abraham Lincoln], by a brother [Tom
Custer] of the Long-Haired War Chief, and imprisoned there. These
same lying Indians, who were selling their services as scouts to
the white man, told me that I was to be shot to death, or else
hanged upon a tree. I answered that I was not afraid to die.
"However, there was an old soldier who used to bring my food
and stand guard over me -- he was a white man, it is true, but he
had an Indian heart! He came to me one day and unfastened the iron
chain and ball with which they had locked my leg, saying by signs
and what little Sioux he could muster:
"'Go, friend! take the chain and ball with you. I shall
shoot, but the voice of the gun will lie.'
"When he had made me understand, you may guess that I ran my
best! I was almost over the bank when he fired his piece at me
several times, but I had already gained cover and was safe. I have
never told this before, and would not, lest it should do him an
injury, but he was an old man then, and I am sure he must be dead
long since. That old soldier taught me that some of the white
people have hearts," he added, quite seriously.
"I went back to Standing Rock in the night, and I had to hide
for several days in the woods, where food was brought to me by my
relatives. The Indian police were ordered to retake me, and they
pretended to hunt for me, but really they did not, for if they had
found me I would have died with one or two of them, and they knew
it! In a few days I departed with several others, and we rejoined
the hostile camp on the Powder River and made some trouble for the
men who were building the great iron track north of us [Northern
"In the spring the hostile Sioux got together again upon the
Tongue River. It was one of the greatest camps of the Sioux that
I ever saw. There were some Northern Cheyennes with us, under Two
Moon, and a few Santee Sioux, renegades from Canada, under
Inkpaduta, who had killed white people in Iowa long before. We had
decided to fight the white soldiers until no warrior should be
At this point Rain-in-the-Face took up his tobacco pouch and
began again to fill his pipe.
"Of course the younger warriors were delighted with the
prospect of a great fight! Our scouts had discovered piles of oats
for horses and other supplies near the Missouri River. They had
been brought by the white man's fire-boats. Presently they
reported a great army about a day's travel to the south, with
Shoshone and Crow scouts.
"There was excitement among the people, and a great council
was held. Many spoke. I was asked the condition of those Indians
who had gone upon the reservation, and I told them truly that they
were nothing more than prisoners. It was decided to go out and
meet Three Stars [General Crook] at a safe distance from our camp.
"We met him on the Little Rosebud. I believe that if we had
waited and allowed him to make the attack, he would have fared no
better than Custer. He was too strongly fortified where he was,
and I think, too, that he was saved partly by his Indian allies,
for the scouts discovered us first and fought us first, thus giving
him time to make his preparations. I think he was more wise than
brave! After we had left that neighborhood he might have pushed on
and connected with the Long-Haired Chief. That would have saved
Custer and perhaps won the day.
"When we crossed from Tongue River to the Little Big Horn, on
account of the scarcity of game, we did not anticipate any more
trouble. Our runners had discovered that Crook had retraced his
trail to Goose Creek, and we did not suppose that the white men
would care to follow us farther into the rough country.
"Suddenly the Long-Haired Chief appeared with his men! It was
"What part of the camp were you in when the soldiers attacked
the lower end?" I asked.
"I had been invited to a feast at one of the young men's
lodges [a sort of club]. There was a certain warrior who was
making preparations to go against the Crows, and I had decided to
go also," he said.
"While I was eating my meat we heard the war cry! We all
rushed out, and saw a warrior riding at top speed from the lower
camp, giving the warning as he came. Then we heard the reports of
the soldiers' guns, which sounded differently from the guns fired
by our people in battle.
"I ran to my teepee and seized my gun, a bow, and a quiver
full of arrows. I already had my stone war club, for you know we
usually carry those by way of ornament. Just as I was about to set
out to meet Reno, a body of soldiers appeared nearly opposite us,
at the edge of a long line of cliffs across the river.
"All of us who were mounted and ready immediately started down
the stream toward the ford. There were Ogallalas, Minneconjous,
Cheyennes, and some Unkpapas, and those around me seemed to be
nearly all very young men.
"'Behold, there is among us a young woman!' I shouted. 'Let
no young man hide behind her garment!' I knew that would make
those young men brave.
"The woman was Tashenamani, or Moving Robe, whose brother had
just been killed in the fight with Three Stars. Holding her
brother's war staff over her head, and leaning forward upon her
charger, she looked as pretty as a bird. Always when there is a
woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another
in displaying their valor," he added.
"The foremost warriors had almost surrounded the white men,
and more were continually crossing the stream. The soldiers had
dismounted, and were firing into the camp from the top of the
"My friend, was Sitting Bull in this fight?" I inquired.
"I did not see him there, but I learned afterward that he was
among those who met Reno, and that was three or four of the white
man's miles from Custer's position. Later he joined the attack
upon Custer, but was not among the foremost.
"When the troops were surrounded on two sides, with the river
on the third, the order came to charge! There were many very young
men, some of whom had only a war staff or a stone war club in hand,
who plunged into the column, knocking the men over and stampeding
"The soldiers had mounted and started back, but when the onset
came they dismounted again and separated into several divisions,
facing different ways. They fired as fast as they could load their
guns, while we used chiefly arrows and war clubs. There seemed to
be two distinct movements among the Indians. One body moved
continually in a circle, while the other rode directly into and
through the troops.
"Presently some of the soldiers remounted and fled along the
ridge toward Reno's position; but they were followed by our
warriors, like hundreds of blackbirds after a hawk. A larger body
remained together at the upper end of a little ravine, and fought
bravely until they were cut to pieces. I had always thought that
white men were cowards, but I had a great respect for them after
"It is generally said that a young man with nothing but a war
staff in his hand broke through the column and knocked down the
leader very early in the fight. We supposed him to be the leader,
because he stood up in full view, swinging his big knife [sword]
over his head, and talking loud. Some one unknown afterwards shot
the chief, and he was probably killed also; for if not, he would
have told of the deed, and called others to witness it. So it is
that no one knows who killed the Long-Haired Chief [General
"After the first rush was over, coups were counted as usual on
the bodies of the slain. You know four coups [or blows] can be
counted on the body of an enemy, and whoever counts the first one
[touches it for the first time] is entitled to the 'first feather.'
"There was an Indian here called Appearing Elk, who died a
short time ago. He was slightly wounded in the charge. He had
some of the weapons of the Long-Haired Chief, and the Indians used
to say jokingly after we came upon the reservation that Appearing
Elk must have killed the Chief, because he had his sword! However,
the scramble for plunder did not begin until all were dead. I do
not think he killed Custer, and if he had, the time to claim the
honor was immediately after the fight.
"Many lies have been told of me. Some say that I killed the
Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother [Tom
Custer], because he had caused me to be imprisoned. Why, in that
fight the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognized our
nearest friends! Everything was done like lightning. After the
battle we young men were chasing horses all over the prairie, while
the old men and women plundered the bodies; and if any mutilating
was done, it was by the old men.
"I have lived peaceably ever since we came upon the
reservation. No one can say that Rain-in-the-Face has broken the
rules of the Great Father. I fought for my people and my country.
When we were conquered I remained silent, as a warrior should.
Rain-in-the-Face was killed when he put down his weapons before the
Great Father. His spirit was gone then; only his poor body lived
on, but now it is almost ready to lie down for the last time. Ho,
hechetu! [It is well.]"
It is a pity that so many interesting names of well-known Indians
have been mistranslated, so that their meaning becomes very vague
if it is not wholly lost. In some cases an opposite meaning is
conveyed. For instance there is the name, "Young-Man-Afraid-of-
His-Horses." It does not mean that the owner of the name is afraid
of his own horse -- far from it! Tashunkekokipapi signifies "The
young men [of the enemy] fear his horses." Whenever that man
attacks, the enemy knows there will be a determined charge.
The name Tashunkewitko, or Crazy Horse, is a poetic simile.
This leader was likened to an untrained or untouched horse, wild,
ignorant of domestic uses, splendid in action, and unconscious of
The name of Two Strike is a deed name. In a battle with the
Utes this man knocked two enemies from the back of a war horse.
The true rendering of the name Nomkahpa would be, "He knocked off
I was well acquainted with Two Strike and spent many pleasant
hours with him, both at Washington, D. C., and in his home on the
Rosebud reservation. What I have written is not all taken from his
own mouth, because he was modest in talking about himself, but I
had him vouch for the truth of the stories. He said that he was
born near the Republican River about 1832. His earliest
recollection was of an attack by the Shoshones upon their camp on
the Little Piney. The first white men he ever met were traders who
visited his people when he was very young. The incident was still
vividly with him, because, he said, "They made my father crazy,"
[drunk]. This made a deep impression upon him, he told me, so that
from that day he was always afraid of the white man's "mysterious
Two Strike was not a large man, but he was very supple and
alert in motion, as agile as an antelope. His face was mobile and
intelligent. Although he had the usual somber visage of an Indian,
his expression brightened up wonderfully when he talked. In some
ways wily and shrewd in intellect, he was not deceitful nor mean.
He had a high sense of duty and honor. Patriotism was his ideal
and goal of life.
As a young man he was modest and even shy, although both his
father and grandfather were well-known chiefs. I could find few
noteworthy incidents in his early life, save that he was an expert
rider of wild horses. At one time I was pressing him to give me
some interesting incident of his boyhood. He replied to the effect
that there was plenty of excitement but "not much in it." There
was a delegation of Sioux chiefs visiting Washington, and we were
spending an evening together in their hotel. Hollow Horn Bear
spoke up and said:
"Why don't you tell him how you and a buffalo cow together
held your poor father up and froze him almost to death?"
Everybody laughed, and another man remarked: "I think he had
better tell the medicine man (meaning myself) how he lost the power
of speech when he first tried to court a girl." Two Strike,
although he was then close to eighty years of age, was visibly
embarrassed by their chaff.
"Anyway, I stuck to the trail. I kept on till I got what I
wanted," he muttered. And then came the story.
The old chief, his father, was very fond of the buffalo hunt;
and being accomplished in horsemanship and a fine shot, although
not very powerfully built, young Two Strike was already following
hard in his footsteps. Like every proud father, his was giving him
every incentive to perfect his skill, and one day challenged his
sixteen-year-old son to the feat of "one arrow to kill" at the very
It was midwinter. A large herd of buffalo was reported by the
game scout. The hunters gathered at daybreak prepared for the
charge. The old chief had his tried charger equipped with a soft,
pillow-like Indian saddle and a lariat. His old sinew-backed
hickory bow was examined and strung, and a fine straight arrow with
a steel head carefully selected for the test. He adjusted a keen
butcher knife over his leather belt, which held a warm buffalo robe
securely about his body. He wore neither shirt nor coat, although
a piercing wind was blowing from the northwest. The youthful Two
Strike had his favorite bow and his swift pony, which was perhaps
dearer to him than his closest boy comrade.
Now the hunters crouched upon their horses' necks like an army
in line of battle, while behind them waited the boys and old men
with pack ponies to carry the meat. "Hukahey!" shouted the leader
as a warning. "Yekiya wo!" (Go) and in an instant all the ponies
leaped forward against the cutting wind, as if it were the start in
a horse race. Every rider leaned forward, tightly wrapped in his
robe, watching the flying herd for an opening in the mass of
buffalo, a chance to cut out some of the fattest cows. This was
the object of the race.
The chief had a fair start; his horse was well trained and
needed no urging nor guidance. Without the slightest pull on the
lariat he dashed into the thickest of the herd. The youth's pony
had been prancing and rearing impatiently; he started a little
behind, yet being swift passed many. His rider had one clear
glimpse of his father ahead of him, then the snow arose in blinding
clouds on the trail of the bison. The whoops of the hunters, the
lowing of the cows, and the menacing glances of the bulls as they
plunged along, or now and then stood at bay, were enough to unnerve
a boy less well tried. He was unable to select his victim. He had
been carried deeply into the midst of the herd and found himself
helpless to make the one sure shot, therefore he held his one arrow
in his mouth and merely strove to separate them so as to get his
At last the herd parted, and he cut out two fat cows, and was
maneuvering for position when a rider appeared out of the snow
cloud on their other side. This aroused him to make haste lest his
rival secure both cows; he saw his chance, and in a twinkling his
arrow sped clear through one of the animals so that she fell
In this instant he observed that the man who had joined him
was his own father, who had met with the same difficulties as
himself. When the young man had shot his only arrow, the old chief
with a whoop went after the cow that was left, but as he gained her
broadside, his horse stepped in a badger hole and fell, throwing
him headlong. The maddened buffalo, as sometimes happens in such
cases, turned upon the pony and gored him to death. His rider lay
motionless, while Two Strike rushed forward to draw her attention,
but she merely tossed her head at him, while persistently standing
guard over the dead horse and the all but frozen Indian.
Alas for the game of "one arrow to kill!" The boy must think
fast, for his father's robe had slipped off, and he was playing
dead, lying almost naked in the bitter air upon the trampled snow.
His bluff would not serve, so he flew back to pull out his solitary
arrow from the body of the dead cow. Quickly wheeling again, he
sent it into her side and she fell. The one arrow to kill had
become one arrow to kill two buffalo! At the council lodge that
evening Two Strike was the hero.
The following story is equally characteristic of him, and in
explanation it should be said that in the good old days among the
Sioux, a young man is not supposed to associate with girls until he
is ready to take a wife. It was a rule with our young men,
especially the honorable and well-born, to gain some reputation in
the hunt and in war, -- the more difficult the feats achieved the
better, -- before even speaking to a young woman. Many a life was
risked in the effort to establish a reputation along these lines.
Courtship was no secret, but rather a social event, often
celebrated by the proud parents with feasts and presents to the
poor, and this etiquette was sometimes felt by a shy or sensitive
youth as an insurmountable obstacle to the fulfilment of his
Two Strike was the son and grandson of a chief, but he could
not claim any credit for the deeds of his forbears. He had not
only to guard their good name but achieve one for himself. This he
had set out to do, and he did well. He was now of marriageable age
with a war record, and admitted to the council, yet he did not seem
to trouble himself at all about a wife. His was strictly a
bachelor career. Meanwhile, as is apt to be the case, his parents
had thought much about a possible daughter-in-law, and had even
collected ponies, fine robes, and other acceptable goods to be
given away in honor of the event, whenever it should take place.
Now and then they would drop a sly hint, but with no perceptible
They did not and could not know of the inward struggle that
racked his mind at this period of his life. The shy and modest
young man was dying for a wife, yet could not bear even to think of
speaking to a young woman! The fearless hunter of buffaloes,
mountain lions, and grizzlies, the youth who had won his eagle
feathers in a battle with the Utes, could not bring himself to take
this tremendous step.
At last his father appealed to him directly. "My son," he
declared, "it is your duty to take unto yourself a wife, in order
that the honors won by your ancestors and by yourself may be handed
down in the direct line. There are several eligible young women in
our band whose parents have intimated a wish to have you for their
Two Strike made no reply, but he was greatly disturbed. He
had no wish to have the old folks select his bride, for if the
truth were told, his choice was already made. He had simply lacked
the courage to go a-courting!
The next morning, after making an unusually careful toilet, he
took his best horse and rode to a point overlooking the path by
which the girls went for water. Here the young men were wont to
take their stand, and, if fortunate, intercept the girl of their
heart for a brief but fateful interview. Two Strike had determined
to speak straight to the point, and as soon as he saw the pretty
maid he came forward boldly and placed himself in her way. A long
moment passed. She glanced up at him shyly but not without
encouragement. His teeth fairly chattered with fright, and he
could not say a word. She looked again, noted his strange looks,
and believed him suddenly taken ill. He appeared to be suffering.
At last he feebly made signs for her to go on and leave him alone.
The maiden was sympathetic, but as she did not know what else to do
she obeyed his request.
The poor youth was so ashamed of his cowardice that he
afterward admitted his first thought was to take his own life. He
believed he had disgraced himself forever in the eyes of the only
girl he had ever loved. However, he determined to conquer his
weakness and win her, which he did. The story came out many years
after and was told with much enjoyment by the old men.
Two Strike was better known by his own people than by the
whites, for he was individually a terror in battle rather than a
leader. He achieved his honorable name in a skirmish with the Utes
in Colorado. The Sioux regarded these people as their bravest
enemies, and the outcome of the fight was for some time uncertain.
First the Sioux were forced to retreat and then their opponents,
and at the latter point the horse of a certain Ute was shot under
him. A friend came to his rescue and took him up behind him. Our
hero overtook them in flight, raised his war club, and knocked both
men off with one blow.
He was a very old man when he died, only two or three years
ago, on the Rosebud reservation.
One of the wittiest and shrewdest of the Sioux chiefs was American
Horse, who succeeded to the name and position of an uncle, killed
in the battle of Slim Buttes in 1876. The younger American Horse
was born a little before the encroachments of the whites upon the
Sioux country became serious and their methods aggressive, and his
early manhood brought him into that most trying and critical period
of our history. He had been tutored by his uncle, since his own
father was killed in battle while he was still very young. The
American Horse band was closely attached to a trading post, and its
members in consequence were inclined to be friendly with the
whites, a policy closely adhered to by their leader.
When he was born, his old grandfather said: "Put him out in
the sun! Let him ask his great-grandfather, the Sun, for the warm
blood of a warrior!" And he had warm blood. He was a genial man,
liking notoriety and excitement. He always seized an opportunity
to leap into the center of the arena.
In early life he was a clownish sort of boy among the boys --
an expert mimic and impersonator. This talent made him popular and
in his way a leader. He was a natural actor, and early showed
marked ability as a speaker.
American Horse was about ten years old when he was attacked by
three Crow warriors, while driving a herd of ponies to water. Here
he displayed native cunning and initiative. It seemed he had
scarcely a chance to escape, for the enemy was near. He yelled
frantically at the ponies to start them toward home, while he
dropped off into a thicket of willows and hid there. A part of the
herd was caught in sight of the camp and there was a counter chase,
but the Crows got away with the ponies. Of course his mother was
frantic, believing her boy had been killed or captured; but after
the excitement was over, he appeared in camp unhurt. When
questioned about his escape, he remarked: "I knew they would not
take the time to hunt for small game when there was so much bigger
When he was quite a big boy, he joined in a buffalo hunt, and
on the way back with the rest of the hunters his mule became
unmanageable. American Horse had insisted on riding him in
addition to a heavy load of meat and skins, and the animal
evidently resented this, for he suddenly began to run and kick,
scattering fresh meat along the road, to the merriment of the
crowd. But the boy turned actor, and made it appear that it was at
his wish the mule had given this diverting performance. He clung
to the back of his plunging and braying mount like a circus rider,
singing a Brave Heart song, and finally brought up amid the
laughter and cheers of his companions. Far from admitting defeat,
he boasted of his horsemanship and declared that his "brother" the
donkey would put any enemy to flight, and that they should be
called upon to lead a charge.
It was several years later that he went to sleep early one
night and slept soundly, having been scouting for two nights
previous. It happened that there was a raid by the Crows, and when
he awoke in the midst of the yelling and confusion, he sprang up
and attempted to join in the fighting. Everybody knew his voice in
all the din, so when he fired his gun and announced a coup, as was
the custom, others rushed to the spot, to find that he had shot a
hobbled pony belonging to their own camp. The laugh was on him,
and he never recovered from his chagrin at this mistake. In fact,
although he was undoubtedly fearless and tried hard to distinguish
himself in warfare, he did not succeed.
It is told of him that he once went with a war party of young
men to the Wind River country against the Shoshones. At last they
discovered a large camp, but there were only a dozen or so of the
Sioux, therefore they hid themselves and watched for their
opportunity to attack an isolated party of hunters. While waiting
thus, they ran short of food. One day a small party of Shoshones
was seen near at hand, and in the midst of the excitement and
preparations for the attack, young American Horse caught sight of
a fat black-tail deer close by. Unable to resist the temptation,
he pulled an arrow from his quiver and sent it through the deer's
heart, then with several of his half-starved companions sprang upon
the yet quivering body of the animal to cut out the liver, which
was sometimes eaten raw. One of the men was knocked down, it is
said, by the last kick of the dying buck, but having swallowed a
few mouthfuls the warriors rushed upon and routed their enemies.
It is still told of American Horse how he killed game and feasted
between the ambush and the attack.
At another time he was drying his sacred war bonnet and other
gear over a small fire. These articles were held in great
veneration by the Indians and handled accordingly. Suddenly the
fire blazed up, and our hero so far forgot himself as to begin
energetically beating out the flames with the war bonnet, breaking
off one of the sacred buffalo horns in the act. One could almost
fill a book with his mishaps and exploits. I will give one of them
in his own words as well as I can remember them.
"We were as promising a party of young warriors as our tribe
ever sent against any of its ancestral enemies. It was midsummer,
and after going two days' journey from home we began to send two
scouts ahead daily while the main body kept a half day behind. The
scouts set out every evening and traveled all night. One night the
great war pipe was held out to me and to Young-Man-Afraid-of-
His-Horses. At daybreak, having met no one, we hid our horses and
climbed to the top of the nearest butte to take an observation. It
was a very hot day. We lay flat on our blankets, facing the west
where the cliff fell off in a sheer descent, and with our backs
toward the more gradual slope dotted with scrub pines and cedars.
We stuck some tall grass on our heads and proceeded to study the
landscape spread before us for any sign of man.
"The sweeping valleys were dotted with herds, both large and
small, of buffalo and elk, and now and then we caught a glimpse of
a coyote slinking into the gulches, returning from night hunting to
sleep. While intently watching some moving body at a distance, we
could not yet tell whether of men or animals, I heard a faint noise
behind me and slowly turned my head. Behold! a grizzly bear
sneaking up on all fours and almost ready to spring!
"'Run!' I yelled into the ear of my companion, and we both
leaped to our feet in a second. 'Separate! separate!' he shouted,
and as we did so, the bear chose me for his meat. I ran downhill
as fast as I could, but he was gaining. 'Dodge around a tree!'
screamed Young-Man-Afraid. I took a deep breath and made a last
spurt, desperately circling the first tree I came to. As the
ground was steep just there, I turned a somersault one way and the
bear the other. I picked myself up in time to climb the tree, and
was fairly out of reach when he gathered himself together and came
at me more furiously than ever, holding in one paw the shreds of my
breechcloth, for in the fall he had just scratched my back and cut
my belt in two, and carried off my only garment for a trophy!
"My friend was well up another tree and laughing heartily at
my predicament, and when the bear saw that he could not get at
either of us he reluctantly departed, after I had politely
addressed him and promised to make an offering to his spirit on my
safe return. I don't think I ever had a narrower escape," he
During the troublous times from 1865 to 1877, American Horse
advocated yielding to the government at any cost, being no doubt
convinced of the uselessness of resistance. He was not a
recognized leader until 1876, when he took the name and place of
his uncle. Up to this time he bore the nickname of Manishnee (Can
not walk, or Played out.)
When the greater part of the Ogallalas, to which band he
belonged, came into the reservation, he at once allied himself with
the peace element at the Red Cloud agency, near Fort Robinson,
Nebraska, and took no small part in keeping the young braves quiet.
Since the older and better-known chiefs, with the exception of
Spotted Tail, were believed to be hostile at heart, the military
made much use of him. Many of his young men enlisted as scouts by
his advice, and even he himself entered the service.
In the early part of the year 1876, there was a rumor that
certain bands were in danger of breaking away. Their leader was
one Sioux Jim, so nicknamed by the soldiers. American Horse went
to him as peacemaker, but was told he was a woman and no brave. He
returned to his own camp and told his men that Sioux Jim meant
mischief, and in order to prevent another calamity to the tribe, he
must be chastised. He again approached the warlike Jim with
several warriors at his back. The recalcitrant came out, gun in
hand, but the wily chief was too quick for him. He shot and
wounded the rebel, whereupon one of his men came forward and killed
This quelled the people for the time being and up to the
killing of Crazy Horse. In the crisis precipitated by this event,
American Horse was again influential and energetic in the cause of
the government. From this time on he became an active participant
in the affairs of the Teton Sioux. He was noted for his eloquence,
which was nearly always conciliatory, yet he could say very sharp
things of the duplicity of the whites. He had much ease of manner
and was a master of repartee. I recall his saying that if you have
got to wear golden slippers to enter the white man's heaven no
Indian will ever get there, as the whites have got the Black Hills
and with them all the gold.
It was during the last struggle of his people, at the time of
the Messiah craze in 1890-1891 that he demonstrated as never before
the real greatness of the man. While many of his friends were
carried away by the new thought, he held aloof from it and
cautioned his band to do the same. When it developed into an
extensive upheaval among the nations he took his positive stand
Presently all Indians who did not dance the Ghost Dance were
ordered to come into camp at Pine Ridge agency. American Horse was
the first to bring in his people. I was there at the time and
talked with him daily. When Little was arrested, it had been
agreed among the disaffected to have him resist, which meant that
he would be roughly handled. This was to be their excuse to attack
the Indian police, which would probably lead to a general massacre
or outbreak. I know that this desperate move was opposed from the
beginning by American Horse, and it was believed that his life was
On the day of the "Big Issue", when thousands of Indians were
gathered at the agency, this man Little, who had been in hiding,
walked boldly among them. Of course the police would arrest him at
sight, and he was led toward the guardhouse. He struggled with
them, but was overpowered. A crowd of warriors rushed to his
rescue, and there was confusion and a general shout of "Hurry up
with them! Kill them all!" I saw American Horse walk out of the
agent's office and calmly face the excited mob.
"What are you going to do?" he asked. "Stop, men, stop and
think before you act! Will you murder your children, your women,
yes, destroy your nation to-day?" He stood before them like a
statue and the men who held the two policemen helpless paused for
an instant. He went on: "You are brave to-day because you
outnumber the white men, but what will you do to-morrow? There are
railroads on all sides of you. The soldiers will pour in from
every direction by thousands and surround you. You have little
food or ammunition. It will be the end of your people. Stop, I
say, stop now!"
Jack Red Cloud, son of the old chief rushed up to him and
thrust a revolver almost in his face. "It is you and men like
you," he shouted, "who have reduced our race to slavery and
starvation!" American Horse did not flinch but deliberately
reentered the office, followed by Jack still flourishing the
pistol. But his timely appearance and eloquence had saved the day.
Others of the police force had time to reach the spot, and with a
large crowd of friendly Indians had taken command of the situation.
When I went into the office I found him alone but apparently
quite calm. "Where are the agent and the clerks?" I asked. "They
fled by the back door," he replied, smiling. "I think they are in
the cellar. These fools outside had almost caught us asleep, but
I think it is over now."
American Horse was one of the earliest advocates of education
for the Indian, and his son Samuel and nephew Robert were among the
first students at Carlisle. I think one or two of his daughters
were the handsomest Indian girls of full blood that I ever saw.
His record as a councilor of his people and his policy in the new
situation that confronted them was manly and consistent.
The life of Dull Knife, the Cheyenne, is a true hero tale. Simple,
child-like yet manful, and devoid of selfish aims, or love of gain,
he is a pattern for heroes of any race.
Dull Knife was a chief of the old school. Among all the
Indians of the plains, nothing counts save proven worth. A man's
caliber is measured by his courage, unselfishness and intelligence.
Many writers confuse history with fiction, but in Indian history
their women and old men and even children witness the main events,
and not being absorbed in daily papers and magazines, these events
are rehearsed over and over with few variations. Though orally
preserved, their accounts are therefore accurate. But they have
seldom been willing to give reliable information to strangers,
especially when asked and paid for.
Racial prejudice naturally enters into the account of a man's
life by enemy writers, while one is likely to favor his own race.
I am conscious that many readers may think that I have idealized
the Indian. Therefore I will confess now that we have too many
weak and unprincipled men among us. When I speak of the Indian
hero, I do not forget the mongrel in spirit, false to the ideals of
his people. Our trustfulness has been our weakness, and when the
vices of civilization were added to our own, we fell heavily.
It is said that Dull Knife as a boy was resourceful and
self-reliant. He was only nine years old when his family was
separated from the rest of the tribe while on a buffalo hunt. His
father was away and his mother busy, and he was playing with his
little sister on the banks of a stream, when a large herd of
buffalo swept down upon them on a stampede for water. His mother
climbed a tree, but the little boy led his sister into an old
beaver house whose entrance was above water, and here they remained
in shelter until the buffalo passed and they were found by their
Dull Knife was quite a youth when his tribe was caught one
winter in a region devoid of game, and threatened with starvation.
The situation was made worse by heavy storms, but he secured help
and led a relief party a hundred and fifty miles, carrying bales of
dried buffalo meat on pack horses.
Another exploit that made him dear to his people occurred in
battle, when his brother-in-law was severely wounded and left lying
where no one on either side dared to approach him. As soon as Dull
Knife heard of it he got on a fresh horse, and made so daring a
charge that others joined him; thus under cover of their fire he
rescued his brother-in-law, and in so doing was wounded twice.
The Sioux knew him as a man of high type, perhaps not so
brilliant as Roman Nose and Two Moon, but surpassing both in
honesty and simplicity, as well as in his war record. (Two Moon,
in fact, was never a leader of his people, and became distinguished
only in wars with the whites during the period of revolt.) A story
is told of an ancestor of the same name that illustrates well the
spirit of the age.
It was the custom in those days for the older men to walk
ahead of the moving caravan and decide upon all halts and camping
places. One day the councilors came to a grove of wild cherries
covered with ripe fruit, and they stopped at once. Suddenly a
grizzly charged from the thicket. The men yelped and hooted, but
the bear was not to be bluffed. He knocked down the first warrior
who dared to face him and dragged his victim into the bushes.
The whole caravan was in the wildest excitement. Several of
the swiftest-footed warriors charged the bear, to bring him out
into the open, while the women and dogs made all the noise they
could. The bear accepted the challenge, and as he did so, the man
whom they had supposed dead came running from the opposite end of
the thicket. The Indians were delighted, and especially so when in
the midst of their cheers, the man stopped running for his life and
began to sing a Brave Heart song as he approached the grove with
his butcher knife in his hand. He would dare his enemy again!
The grizzly met him with a tremendous rush, and they went down
together. Instantly the bear began to utter cries of distress, and
at the same time the knife flashed, and he rolled over dead. The
warrior was too quick for the animal; he first bit his sensitive
nose to distract his attention, and then used the knife to stab him
to the heart. He fought many battles with knives thereafter and
claimed that the spirit of the bear gave him success. On one
occasion, however, the enemy had a strong buffalo-hide shield which
the Cheyenne bear fighter could not pierce through, and he was
wounded; nevertheless he managed to dispatch his foe. It was from
this incident that he received the name of Dull Knife, which was
handed down to his descendant.
As is well known, the Northern Cheyennes uncompromisingly
supported the Sioux in their desperate defense of the Black Hills
and Big Horn country. Why not? It was their last buffalo region
-- their subsistence. It was what our wheat fields are to a
About the year 1875, a propaganda was started for confining
all the Indians upon reservations, where they would be practically
interned or imprisoned, regardless of their possessions and rights.
The men who were the strongest advocates of the scheme generally
wanted the Indians' property -- the one main cause back of all
Indian wars. From the warlike Apaches to the peaceful Nez Perces,
all the tribes of the plains were hunted from place to place; then
the government resorted to peace negotiations, but always with an
army at hand to coerce. Once disarmed and helpless, they were to
be taken under military guard to the Indian Territory.
A few resisted, and declared they would fight to the death
rather than go. Among these were the Sioux, but nearly all the
smaller tribes were deported against their wishes. Of course those
Indians who came from a mountainous and cold country suffered
severely. The moist heat and malaria decimated the exiles. Chief
Joseph of the Nez Perces and Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas
appealed to the people of the United States, and finally succeeded
in having their bands or the remnant of them returned to their own
part of the country. Dull Knife was not successful in his plea,
and the story of his flight is one of poignant interest.
He was regarded by the authorities as a dangerous man, and
with his depleted band was taken to the Indian Territory without
his consent in 1876. When he realized that his people were dying
like sheep, he was deeply moved. He called them together. Every
man and woman declared that they would rather die in their own
country than stay there longer, and they resolved to flee to their
Here again was displayed the genius of these people. From the
Indian Territory to Dakota is no short dash for freedom. They knew
what they were facing. Their line of flight lay through a settled
country and they would be closely pursued by the army. No sooner
had they started than the telegraph wires sang one song: "The
panther of the Cheyennes is at large. Not a child or a woman in
Kansas or Nebraska is safe." Yet they evaded all the pursuing and
intercepting troops and reached their native soil. The strain was
terrible, the hardship great, and Dull Knife, like Joseph, was
remarkable for his self-restraint in sparing those who came within
his power on the way.
But fate was against him, for there were those looking for
blood money who betrayed him when he thought he was among friends.
His people were tired out and famished when they were surrounded
and taken to Fort Robinson. There the men were put in prison, and
their wives guarded in camp. They were allowed to visit their men
on certain days. Many of them had lost everything; there were but
a few who had even one child left. They were heartbroken.
These despairing women appealed to their husbands to die
fighting: their liberty was gone, their homes broken up, and only
slavery and gradual extinction in sight. At last Dull Knife
listened. He said: "I have lived my life. I am ready." The
others agreed. "If our women are willing to die with us, who is
there to say no? If we are to do the deeds of men, it rests with
you women to bring us our weapons.
As they had been allowed to carry moccasins and other things
to the men, so they contrived to take in some guns and knives under
this disguise. The plan was to kill the sentinels and run to the
nearest natural trench, there to make their last stand. The women
and children were to join them. This arrangement was carried out.
Not every brave had a gun, but all had agreed to die together.
They fought till their small store of ammunition was exhausted,
then exposed their broad chests for a target, and the mothers even
held up their little ones to be shot. Thus died the fighting
Cheyennes and their dauntless leader.
This Cheyenne war chief was a contemporary of Dull Knife. He was
not so strong a character as the other, and was inclined to be
pompous and boastful; but with all this he was a true type of
native American in spirit and bravery.
While Dull Knife was noted in warfare among Indians, Roman
Nose made his record against the whites, in defense of territory
embracing the Republican and Arickaree rivers. He was killed on
the latter river in 1868, in the celebrated battle with General
Save Chief Gall and Washakie in the prime of their manhood,
this chief had no peer in bodily perfection and masterful
personality. No Greek or Roman gymnast was ever a finer model of
physical beauty and power. He thrilled his men to frenzied action
when he came upon the field. It was said of him that he sacrificed
more youths by his personal influence in battle than any other
leader, being very reckless himself in grand-stand charges. He was
killed needlessly in this manner.
Roman Nose always rode an uncommonly fine, spirited horse, and
with his war bonnet and other paraphernalia gave a wonderful
exhibition. The Indians used to say that the soldiers must gaze at
him rather than aim at him, as they so seldom hit him even when
running the gantlet before a firing line.
He did a remarkable thing once when on a one-arrow-to-kill
buffalo hunt with his brother-in-law. His companion had selected
his animal and drew so powerfully on his sinew bowstring that it
broke. Roman Nose had killed his own cow and was whipping up close
to the other when the misfortune occurred. Both horses were going
at full speed and the arrow jerked up in the air. Roman Nose
caught it and shot the cow for him.
Another curious story told of him is to the effect that he had
an intimate Sioux friend who was courting a Cheyenne girl, but
without success. As the wooing of both Sioux and Cheyennes was
pretty much all effected in the night time, Roman Nose told his
friend to let him do the courting for him. He arranged with the
young woman to elope the next night and to spend the honeymoon
among his Sioux friends. He then told his friend what to do. The
Sioux followed instructions and carried off the Cheyenne maid, and
not until morning did she discover her mistake. It is said she
never admitted it, and that the two lived happily together to a
good old age, so perhaps there was no mistake after all.
Perhaps no other chief attacked more emigrants going west on
the Oregon Trail between 1860 and 1868. He once made an attack on
a large party of Mormons, and in this instance the Mormons had time
to form a corral with their wagons and shelter their women,
children, and horses. The men stood outside and met the Indians
with well-aimed volleys, but they circled the wagons with whirlwind
speed, and whenever a white man fell, it was the signal for Roman
Nose to charge and count the "coup." The hat of one of the dead
men was off, and although he had heavy hair and beard, the top of
his head was bald from the forehead up. As custom required such a
deed to be announced on the spot, the chief yelled at the top of
"Your Roman Nose has counted the first coup on the
longest-faced white man who was ever killed!"
When the Northern Cheyennes under this daring leader attacked
a body of scouting troops under the brilliant officer General
Forsythe, Roman Nose thought that he had a comparatively easy task.
The first onset failed, and the command entrenched itself on a
little island. The wily chief thought he could stampede them and
urged on his braves with the declaration that the first to reach
the island should be entitled to wear a trailing war bonnet.
Nevertheless he was disappointed, and his men received such a warm
reception that none succeeded in reaching it. In order to inspire
them to desperate deeds he had led them in person, and with him
that meant victory or death. According to the army accounts, it
was a thrilling moment, and might well have proved disastrous to
the Forsythe command, whose leader was wounded and helpless. The
danger was acute until Roman Nose fell, and even then his
lieutenants were bent upon crossing at any cost, but some of the
older chiefs prevailed upon them to withdraw.
Thus the brilliant war chief of the Cheyennes came to his
death. If he had lived until 1876, Sitting Bull would have had
another bold ally.
The Nez Perce tribe of Indians, like other tribes too large to be
united under one chief, was composed of several bands, each
distinct in sovereignty. It was a loose confederacy. Joseph and
his people occupied the Imnaha or Grande Ronde valley in Oregon,
which was considered perhaps the finest land in that part of the
When the last treaty was entered into by some of the bands of
the Nez Perce, Joseph's band was at Lapwai, Idaho, and had nothing
to do with the agreement. The elder chief in dying had counseled
his son, then not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years of
age, never to part with their home, assuring him that he had signed
no papers. These peaceful non-treaty Indians did not even know
what land had been ceded until the agent read them the government
order to leave. Of course they refused. You and I would have done
When the agent failed to move them, he and the would-be
settlers called upon the army to force them to be good, namely,
without a murmur to leave their pleasant inheritance in the hands
of a crowd of greedy grafters. General O. O. Howard, the Christian
soldier, was sent to do the work.
He had a long council with Joseph and his leading men, telling
them they must obey the order or be driven out by force. We may be
sure that he presented this hard alternative reluctantly. Joseph
was a mere youth without experience in war or public affairs. He
had been well brought up in obedience to parental wisdom and with
his brother Ollicut had attended Missionary Spaulding's school
where they had listened to the story of Christ and his religion of
brotherhood. He now replied in his simple way that neither he nor
his father had ever made any treaty disposing of their country,
that no other band of the Nez Perces was authorized to speak for
them, and it would seem a mighty injustice and unkindness to
dispossess a friendly band.
General Howard told them in effect that they had no rights, no
voice in the matter: they had only to obey. Although some of the
lesser chiefs counseled revolt then and there, Joseph maintained
his self-control, seeking to calm his people, and still groping for
a peaceful settlement of their difficulties. He finally asked for
thirty days' time in which to find and dispose of their stock, and
this was granted.
Joseph steadfastly held his immediate followers to their
promise, but the land-grabbers were impatient, and did everything
in their power to bring about an immediate crisis so as to hasten
the eviction of the Indians. Depredations were committed, and
finally the Indians, or some of them, retaliated, which was just
what their enemies had been looking for. There might be a score of
white men murdered among themselves on the frontier and no outsider
would ever hear about it, but if one were injured by an Indian --
"Down with the bloodthirsty savages!" was the cry.
Joseph told me himself that during all of those thirty days a
tremendous pressure was brought upon him by his own people to
resist the government order. "The worst of it was," said he, "that
everything they said was true; besides" -- he paused for a moment
-- "it seemed very soon for me to forget my father's dying words,
'Do not give up our home!'" Knowing as I do just what this would
mean to an Indian, I felt for him deeply.
Among the opposition leaders were Too-hul-hul-sote, White
Bird, and Looking Glass, all of them strong men and respected by
the Indians; while on the other side were men built up by
emissaries of the government for their own purposes and advertised
as "great friendly chiefs." As a rule such men are unworthy, and
this is so well known to the Indians that it makes them distrustful
of the government's sincerity at the start. Moreover, while
Indians unqualifiedly say what they mean, the whites have a hundred
ways of saying what they do not mean.
The center of the storm was this simple young man, who so far
as I can learn had never been upon the warpath, and he stood firm
for peace and obedience. As for his father's sacred dying charge,
he told himself that he would not sign any papers, he would not go
of his free will but from compulsion, and this was his excuse.
However, the whites were unduly impatient to clear the coveted
valley, and by their insolence they aggravated to the danger point
an already strained situation. The murder of an Indian was the
climax and this happened in the absence of the young chief. He
returned to find the leaders determined to die fighting. The
nature of the country was in their favor and at least they could
give the army a chase, but how long they could hold out they did
not know. Even Joseph's younger brother Ollicut was won over.
There was nothing for him to do but fight; and then and there began
the peaceful Joseph's career as a general of unsurpassed strategy
in conducting one of the most masterly retreats in history.
This is not my judgment, but the unbiased opinion of men whose
knowledge and experience fit them to render it. Bear in mind that
these people were not scalp hunters like the Sioux, Cheyennes, and
Utes, but peaceful hunters and fishermen. The first council of war
was a strange business to Joseph. He had only this to say to his
"I have tried to save you from suffering and sorrow.
Resistance means all of that. We are few. They are many. You can
see all we have at a glance. They have food and ammunition in
abundance. We must suffer great hardship and loss." After this
speech, he quietly began his plans for the defense.
The main plan of campaign was to engineer a successful retreat
into Montana and there form a junction with the hostile Sioux and
Cheyennes under Sitting Bull. There was a relay scouting system,
one set of scouts leaving the main body at evening and the second
a little before daybreak, passing the first set on some commanding
hill top. There were also decoy scouts set to trap Indian scouts
of the army. I notice that General Howard charges his Crow scouts
with being unfaithful.
Their greatest difficulty was in meeting an unencumbered army,
while carrying their women, children, and old men, with supplies
and such household effects as were absolutely necessary. Joseph
formed an auxiliary corps that was to effect a retreat at each
engagement, upon a definite plan and in definite order, while the
unencumbered women were made into an ambulance corps to take care
of the wounded.
It was decided that the main rear guard should meet General
Howard's command in White Bird Canyon, and every detail was planned
in advance, yet left flexible according to Indian custom, giving
each leader freedom to act according to circumstances. Perhaps no
better ambush was ever planned than the one Chief Joseph set for
the shrewd and experienced General Howard. He expected to be hotly
pursued, but he calculated that the pursuing force would consist of
not more than two hundred and fifty soldiers. He prepared false
trails to mislead them into thinking that he was about to cross or
had crossed the Salmon River, which he had no thought of doing at
that time. Some of the tents were pitched in plain sight, while
the women and children were hidden on the inaccessible ridges, and
the men concealed in the canyon ready to fire upon the soldiers
with deadly effect with scarcely any danger to themselves. They
could even roll rocks upon them.
In a very few minutes the troops had learned a lesson. The
soldiers showed some fight, but a large body of frontiersmen who
accompanied them were soon in disorder. The warriors chased them
nearly ten miles, securing rifles and much ammunition, and killing
and wounding many.
The Nez Perces next crossed the river, made a detour and
recrossed it at another point, then took their way eastward. All
this was by way of delaying pursuit. Joseph told me that he
estimated it would take six or seven days to get a sufficient force
in the field to take up their trail, and the correctness of his
reasoning is apparent from the facts as detailed in General
Howard's book. He tells us that he waited six days for the arrival
of men from various forts in his department, then followed Joseph
with six hundred soldiers, beside a large number of citizen
volunteers and his Indian scouts. As it was evident they had a
long chase over trackless wilderness in prospect, he discarded his
supply wagons and took pack mules instead. But by this time the
Indians had a good start.
Meanwhile General Howard had sent a dispatch to Colonel
Gibbons, with orders to head Joseph off, which he undertook to do
at the Montana end of the Lolo Trail. The wily commander had no
knowledge of this move, but he was not to be surprised. He was too
brainy for his pursuers, whom he constantly outwitted, and only
gave battle when he was ready. There at the Big Hole Pass he met
Colonel Gibbons' fresh troops and pressed them close. He sent a
party under his brother Ollicut to harass Gibbons' rear and rout
the pack mules, thus throwing him on the defensive and causing him
to send for help, while Joseph continued his masterly retreat
toward the Yellowstone Park, then a wilderness. However, this was
but little advantage to him, since he must necessarily leave a
broad trail, and the army was augmenting its columns day by day
with celebrated scouts, both white and Indian. The two commands
came together, and although General Howard says their horses were
by this time worn out, and by inference the men as well, they
persisted on the trail of a party encumbered by women and children,
the old, sick, and wounded.
It was decided to send a detachment of cavalry under Bacon, to
Tash Pass, the gateway of the National Park, which Joseph would
have to pass, with orders to detain him there until the rest could
come up with them. Here is what General Howard says of the affair.
"Bacon got into position soon enough but he did not have the heart
to fight the Indians on account of their number." Meanwhile
another incident had occurred. Right under the eyes of the chosen
scouts and vigilant sentinels, Joseph's warriors fired upon the
army camp at night and ran off their mules. He went straight on
toward the park, where Lieutenant Bacon let him get by and pass
through the narrow gateway without firing a shot.
Here again it was demonstrated that General Howard could not
depend upon the volunteers, many of whom had joined him in the
chase, and were going to show the soldiers how to fight Indians.
In this night attack at Camas Meadow, they were demoralized, and
while crossing the river next day many lost their guns in the
water, whereupon all packed up and went home, leaving the army to
be guided by the Indian scouts.
However, this succession of defeats did not discourage General
Howard, who kept on with as many of his men as were able to carry
a gun, meanwhile sending dispatches to all the frontier posts with
orders to intercept Joseph if possible. Sturgis tried to stop him
as the Indians entered the Park, but they did not meet until he was
about to come out, when there was another fight, with Joseph again
victorious. General Howard came upon the battle field soon
afterward and saw that the Indians were off again, and from here he
sent fresh messages to General Miles, asking for reinforcements.
Joseph had now turned northeastward toward the Upper Missouri.
He told me that when he got into that part of the country he knew
he was very near the Canadian line and could not be far from
Sitting Bull, with whom he desired to form an alliance. He also
believed that he had cleared all the forts. Therefore he went more
slowly and tried to give his people some rest. Some of their best
men had been killed or wounded in battle, and the wounded were a
great burden to him; nevertheless they were carried and tended
patiently all during this wonderful flight. Not one was ever left
It is the general belief that Indians are cruel and
revengeful, and surely these people had reason to hate the race who
had driven them from their homes if any people ever had. Yet it is
a fact that when Joseph met visitors and travelers in the Park,
some of whom were women, he allowed them to pass unharmed, and in
at least one instance let them have horses. He told me that he
gave strict orders to his men not to kill any women or children.
He wished to meet his adversaries according to their own standards
of warfare, but he afterward learned that in spite of professions
of humanity, white soldiers have not seldom been known to kill
women and children indiscriminately.
Another remarkable thing about this noted retreat is that
Joseph's people stood behind him to a man, and even the women and
little boys did each his part. The latter were used as scouts in
the immediate vicinity of the camp.
The Bittersweet valley, which they had now entered, was full
of game, and the Indians hunted for food, while resting their
worn-out ponies. One morning they had a council to which Joseph
rode over bareback, as they had camped in two divisions a little
apart. His fifteen-year-old daughter went with him. They
discussed sending runners to Sitting Bull to ascertain his exact
whereabouts and whether it would be agreeable to him to join forces
with the Nez Perces. In the midst of the council, a force of
United States cavalry charged down the hill between the two camps.
This once Joseph was surprised. He had seen no trace of the
soldiers and had somewhat relaxed his vigilance.
He told his little daughter to stay where she was, and himself
cut right through the cavalry and rode up to his own teepee, where
his wife met him at the door with his rifle, crying: "Here is your
gun, husband!" The warriors quickly gathered and pressed the
soldiers so hard that they had to withdraw. Meanwhile one set of
the people fled while Joseph's own band entrenched themselves in a
very favorable position from which they could not easily be
General Miles had received and acted on General Howard's
message, and he now sent one of his officers with some Indian
scouts into Joseph's camp to negotiate with the chief. Meantime
Howard and Sturgis came up with the encampment, and Howard had with
him two friendly Nez Perce scouts who were directed to talk to
Joseph in his own language. He decided that there was nothing to
do but surrender.
He had believed that his escape was all but secure: then at
the last moment he was surprised and caught at a disadvantage. His
army was shattered; he had lost most of the leaders in these
various fights; his people, including children, women, and the
wounded, had traveled thirteen hundred miles in about fifty days,
and he himself a young man who had never before taken any important
responsibility! Even now he was not actually conquered. He was
well entrenched; his people were willing to die fighting; but the
army of the United States offered peace and he agreed, as he said,
out of pity for his suffering people. Some of his warriors still
refused to surrender and slipped out of the camp at night and
through the lines. Joseph had, as he told me, between three and
four hundred fighting men in the beginning, which means over one
thousand persons, and of these several hundred surrendered with
His own story of the conditions he made was prepared by
himself with my help in 1897, when he came to Washington to present
his grievances. I sat up with him nearly all of one night; and I
may add here that we took the document to General Miles who was
then stationed in Washington, before presenting it to the
Department. The General said that every word of it was true.
In the first place, his people were to be kept at Fort Keogh,
Montana, over the winter and then returned to their reservation.
Instead they were taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and placed
between a lagoon and the Missouri River, where the sanitary
conditions made havoc with them. Those who did not die were then
taken to the Indian Territory, where the health situation was even
worse. Joseph appealed to the government again and again, and at
last by the help of Bishops Whipple and Hare he was moved to the
Colville reservation in Washington. Here the land was very poor,
unlike their own fertile valley. General Miles said to the chief
that he had recommended and urged that their agreement be kept, but
the politicians and the people who occupied the Indians' land
declared they were afraid if he returned he would break out again
and murder innocent white settlers! What irony!
The great Chief Joseph died broken-spirited and
broken-hearted. He did not hate the whites, for there was nothing
small about him, and when he laid down his weapons he would not
fight on with his mind. But he was profoundly disappointed in the
claims of a Christian civilization. I call him great because he
was simple and honest. Without education or special training he
demonstrated his ability to lead and to fight when justice
demanded. He outgeneraled the best and most experienced commanders
in the army of the United States, although their troops were well
provisioned, well armed, and above all unencumbered. He was great
finally, because he never boasted of his remarkable feat. I am
proud of him, because he was a true American.
If any people ever fought for liberty and justice, it was the
Cheyennes. If any ever demonstrated their physical and moral
courage beyond cavil, it was this race of purely American heroes,
among whom Little Wolf was a leader.
I knew the chief personally very well. As a young doctor, I
was sent to the Pine Ridge agency in 1890, as government physician
to the Sioux and the Northern Cheyennes. While I heard from his
own lips of that gallant dash of his people from their southern
exile to their northern home, I prefer that Americans should read
of it in Doctor George Bird Grinnell's book, "The Fighting
Cheyennes." No account could be clearer or simpler; and then too,
the author cannot be charged with a bias in favor of his own race.
At the time that I knew him, Little Wolf was a handsome man,
with the native dignity and gentleness, musical voice, and pleasant
address of so many brave leaders of his people. One day when he
was dining with us at our home on the reservation, I asked him, as
I had a habit of doing, for some reminiscences of his early life.
He was rather reluctant to speak, but a friend who was present
contributed the following:
"Perhaps I can tell you why it is that he has been a lucky man
all his life. When quite a small boy, the tribe was one winter in
want of food, and his good mother had saved a small piece of
buffalo meat, which she solemnly brought forth and placed before
him with the remark: 'My son must be patient, for when he grows up
he will know even harder times than this.'
"He had eaten nothing all day and was pretty hungry, but
before he could lay hands on the meat a starving dog snatched it
and bolted from the teepee. The mother ran after the dog and
brought him back for punishment. She tied him to a post and was
about to whip him when the boy interfered. 'Don't hurt him,
mother!' he cried; 'he took the meat because he was hungrier than
I was told of another kind act of his under trying
circumstances. While still a youth, he was caught out with a party
of buffalo hunters in a blinding blizzard. They were compelled to
lie down side by side in the snowdrifts, and it was a day and a
night before they could get out. The weather turned very cold, and
when the men arose they were in danger of freezing. Little Wolf
pressed his fine buffalo robe upon an old man who was shaking with
a chill and himself took the other's thin blanket.
As a full-grown young man, he was attracted by a maiden of his
tribe, and according to the custom then in vogue the pair
disappeared. When they returned to the camp as man and wife,
behold! there was great excitement over the affair. It seemed that
a certain chief had given many presents and paid unmistakable court
to the maid with the intention of marrying her, and her parents had
accepted the presents, which meant consent so far as they were
concerned. But the girl herself had not given consent.
The resentment of the disappointed suitor was great. It was
reported in the village that he had openly declared that the young
man who defied and insulted him must expect to be punished. As
soon as Little Wolf heard of the threats, he told his father and
friends that he had done only what it is every man's privilege to
"Tell the chief," said he, "to come out with any weapon he
pleases, and I will meet him within the circle of lodges. He shall
either do this or eat his words. The woman is not his. Her people
accepted his gifts against her wishes. Her heart is mine."
The chief apologized, and thus avoided the inevitable duel,
which would have been a fight to the death.
The early life of Little Wolf offered many examples of the
dashing bravery characteristic of the Cheyennes, and inspired the
younger men to win laurels for themselves. He was still a young
man, perhaps thirty-five, when the most trying crisis in the
history of his people came upon them. As I know and as Doctor
Grinnell's book amply corroborates, he was the general who largely
guided and defended them in that tragic flight from the Indian
Territory to their northern home. I will not discuss the justice
of their cause: I prefer to quote Doctor Grinnell, lest it appear
that I am in any way exaggerating the facts.
"They had come," he writes, "from the high, dry country of
Montana and North Dakota to the hot and humid Indian Territory.
They had come from a country where buffalo and other game were
still plentiful to a land where the game had been exterminated.
Immediately on their arrival they were attacked by fever and ague,
a disease wholly new to them. Food was scanty, and they began to
starve. The agent testified before a committee of the Senate that
he never received supplies to subsist the Indians for more than
nine months in each year. These people were meat-eaters, but the
beef furnished them by the government inspectors was no more than
skin and bone. The agent in describing their sufferings said:
'They have lived and that is about all.'
"The Indians endured this for about a year, and then their
patience gave out. They left the agency to which they had been
sent and started north. Though troops were camped close to them,
they attempted no concealment of their purpose. Instead, they
openly announced that they intended to return to their own country.
We have heard much in past years of the march of the Nez
Perces under Chief Joseph, but little is remembered of the Dull
Knife outbreak and the march to the north led by Little Wolf. The
story of the journey has not been told, but in the traditions of
the old army this campaign was notable, and old men who were
stationed on the plains forty years ago are apt to tell you, if you
ask them, that there never was such another journey since the
Greeks marched to the sea. . . .
"The fugitives pressed constantly northward undaunted, while
orders were flying over the wires, and special trains were carrying
men and horses to cut them off at all probable points on the
different railway lines they must cross. Of the three hundred
Indians, sixty or seventy were fighting men -- the rest old men,
women, and children. An army officer once told me that thirteen
thousand troops were hurrying over the country to capture or kill
these few poor people who had left the fever-stricken South, and in
the face of every obstacle were steadily marching northward.
"The War Department set all its resources in operation against
them, yet they kept on. If troops attacked them, they stopped and
fought until they had driven off the soldiers, and then started
north again. Sometimes they did not even stop, but marched along,
fighting as they marched. For the most part they tried -- and with
success -- to avoid conflicts, and had but four real hard fights,
in which they lost half a dozen men killed and about as many
It must not be overlooked that the appeal to justice had first
been tried before taking this desperate step. Little Wolf had gone
to the agent about the middle of the summer and said to him: "This
is not a good country for us, and we wish to return to our home in
the mountains where we were always well. If you have not the power
to give permission, let some of us go to Washington and tell them
there how it is, or do you write to Washington and get permission
for us to go back."
"Stay one more year," replied the agent, "and then we will see
what we can do for you. "No," said Little Wolf. "Before another
year there will be none left to travel north. We must go now."
Soon after this it was found that three of the Indians had
disappeared and the chief was ordered to surrender ten men as
hostages for their return. He refused. "Three men," said he, "who
are traveling over wild country can hide so that they cannot be
found. You would never get back these three, and you would keep my
men prisoners always."
The agent then threatened if the ten men were not given up to
withhold their rations and starve the entire tribe into submission.
He forgot that he was addressing a Cheyenne. These people had not
understood that they were prisoners when they agreed to friendly
relations with the government and came upon the reservation.
Little Wolf stood up and shook hands with all present before making
his final deliberate address.
"Listen, my friends, I am a friend of the white people and
have been so for a long time. I do not want to see blood spilt
about this agency. I am going north to my own country. If you are
going to send your soldiers after me, I wish you would let us get
a little distance away. Then if you want to fight, I will fight
you, and we can make the ground bloody at that place."
The Cheyenne was not bluffing. He said just what he meant,
and I presume the agent took the hint, for although the military
were there they did not undertake to prevent the Indians'
departure. Next morning the teepees were pulled down early and
quickly. Toward evening of the second day, the scouts signaled the
approach of troops. Little Wolf called his men together and
advised them under no circumstances to fire until fired upon. An
Arapahoe scout was sent to them with a message. "If you surrender
now, you will get your rations and be well treated." After what
they had endured, it was impossible not to hear such a promise with
contempt. Said Little Wolf: "We are going back to our own country.
We do not want to fight." He was riding still nearer when the
soldiers fired, and at a signal the Cheyennes made a charge. They
succeeded in holding off the troops for two days, with only five
men wounded and none killed, and when the military retreated the
Indians continued northward carrying their wounded.
This sort of thing was repeated again and again. Meanwhile
Little Wolf held his men under perfect control. There were
practically no depredations. They secured some boxes of ammunition
left behind by retreating troops, and at one point the young men
were eager to follow and destroy an entire command who were
apparently at their mercy, but their leader withheld them. They
had now reached the buffalo country, and he always kept his main
object in sight. He was extraordinarily calm. Doctor Grinnell was
told by one of his men years afterward: "Little Wolf did not seem
like a human being. He seemed like a bear." It is true that a man
of his type in a crisis becomes spiritually transformed and moves
as one in a dream.
At the Running Water the band divided, Dull Knife going toward
Red Cloud agency. He was near Fort Robinson when he surrendered
and met his sad fate. Little Wolf remained all winter in the Sand
Hills, where there was plenty of game and no white men. Later he
went to Montana and then to Pine Ridge, where he and his people
remained in peace until they were removed to Lame Deer, Montana,
and there he spent the remainder of his days. There is a clear sky
beyond the clouds of racial prejudice, and in that final Court of
Honor a noble soul like that of Little Wolf has a place.
[I wish to thank Reverend C. H. Beaulieu of Le Soeur,
Minnesota, for much of the material used in this chapter.]
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Indian nations of
the Northwest first experienced the pressure of civilization. At
this period there were among them some brilliant leaders unknown to
history, for the curious reason that they cordially received and
welcomed the newcomers rather than opposed them. The only
difficulties were those arising among the European nations
themselves, and often involving the native tribes. Thus new
environments brought new motives, and our temptations were
increased manyfold with the new weapons, new goods, and above all
the subtly destructive "spirit water."
Gradually it became known that the new race had a definite
purpose, and that purpose was to chart and possess the whole
country, regardless of the rights of its earlier inhabitants. Still
the old chiefs cautioned their people to be patient, for, said
they, the land is vast, both races can live on it, each in their
own way. Let us therefore befriend them and trust to their
friendship. While they reasoned thus, the temptations of graft and
self-aggrandizement overtook some of the leaders.
Hole-in-the-Day (or Bug-o-nay-ki-shig) was born in the opening
days of this era. The word "ki-shig" means either "day" or "sky",
and the name is perhaps more correctly translated Hole-in-the-Sky.
This gifted man inherited his name and much of his ability from his
father, who was a war chief among the Ojibways, a Napoleon of the
common people, and who carried on a relentless warfare against the
Sioux. And yet, as was our custom at the time, peaceful meetings
were held every summer, at which representatives of the two tribes
would recount to one another all the events that had come to pass
during the preceding year.
Hole-in-the-Day the younger was a handsome man, tall and
symmetrically formed, with much grace of manner and natural
refinement. He was an astute student of diplomacy. The Ojibways
allowed polygamy, and whether or not he approved the principle, he
made political use of it by marrying the daughter of a chief in
nearly every band. Through these alliances he held a controlling
influence over the whole Ojibway nation. Reverend Claude H.
Beaulieu says of him:
"Hole-in-the-Day was a man of distinguished appearance and
native courtliness of manner. His voice was musical and magnetic,
and with these qualities he had a subtle brain, a logical mind, and
quite a remarkable gift of oratory. In speech he was not
impassioned, but clear and convincing, and held fast the attention
of his hearers."
It is of interest to note that his everyday name among his
tribesmen was "The Boy." What a boy he must have been! I wonder
if the name had the same significance as with the Sioux, who
applied it to any man who performs a difficult duty with alertness,
dash, and natural courage. "The Man" applies to one who adds to
these qualities wisdom and maturity of judgment.
The Sioux tell many stories of both the elder and the younger
Hole-in-the-Day. Once when The Boy was still under ten years of
age, he was fishing on Gull Lake in a leaky birch-bark canoe.
Presently there came such a burst of frantic warwhoops that his
father was startled. He could not think of anything but an attack
by the dreaded Sioux. Seizing his weapons, he ran to the rescue of
his son, only to find that the little fellow had caught a fish so
large that it was pulling his canoe all over the lake. "Ugh,"
exclaimed the father, "if a mere fish scares you so badly, I fear
you will never make a warrior!
It is told of him that when he was very small, the father once
brought home two bear cubs and gave them to him for pets. The Boy
was feeding and getting acquainted with them outside his mother's
birch-bark teepee, when suddenly he was heard to yell for help.
The two little bears had treed The Boy and were waltzing around the
tree. His mother scared them off, but again the father laughed at
him for thinking that he could climb trees better than a bear.
The elder Hole-in-the-Day was a daring warrior and once
attacked and scalped a Sioux who was carrying his pelts to the
trading post, in full sight of his friends. Of course he was
instantly pursued, and he leaped into a canoe which was lying near
by and crossed to an island in the Mississippi River near Fort
Snelling. When almost surrounded by Sioux warriors, he left the
canoe and swam along the shore with only his nose above water, but
as they were about to head him off he landed and hid behind the
falling sheet of water known as Minnehaha Falls, thus saving his