Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains by Charles A. Eastman

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  • 1918
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EVERY age, every race, has its leaders and heroes. There were over sixty distinct tribes of Indians on this continent, each of which boasted its notable men. The names and deeds of some of these men will live in American history, yet in the true sense they are unknown, because misunderstood. I should like to present some of the greatest chiefs of modern times in the light of the native character and ideals, believing that the American people will gladly do them tardy justice.

It is matter of history that the Sioux nation, to which I belong, was originally friendly to the Caucasian peoples which it met in succession-first, to the south the Spaniards; then the French, on the Mississippi River and along the Great Lakes; later the English, and finally the Americans. This powerful tribe then roamed over the whole extent of the Mississippi valley, between that river and the Rockies. Their usages and government united the various bands more closely than was the case with many of the neighboring tribes.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, chiefs such as Wabashaw, Redwing, and Little Six among the eastern Sioux, Conquering Bear, Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse, and Hump of the western bands, were the last of the old type. After these, we have a coterie of new leaders, products of the new conditions brought about by close contact with the conquering race.

This distinction must be borne in mind — that while the early chiefs were spokesmen and leaders in the simplest sense, possessing no real authority, those who headed their tribes during the transition period were more or less rulers and more or less politicians. It is a singular fact that many of the “chiefs”, well known as such to the American public, were not chiefs at all according to the accepted usages of their tribesmen. Their prominence was simply the result of an abnormal situation, in which representatives of the United States Government made use of them for a definite purpose. In a few cases, where a chief met with a violent death, some ambitious man has taken advantage of the confusion to thrust himself upon the tribe and, perhaps with outside help, has succeeded in usurping the leadership.

Red Cloud was born about 1820 near the forks of the Platte River. He was one of a family of nine children whose father, an able and respected warrior, reared his son under the old Spartan regime. The young Red Cloud is said to have been a fine horseman, able to swim across the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, of high bearing and unquestionable courage, yet invariably gentle and courteous in everyday life. This last trait, together with a singularly musical and agreeable voice, has always been characteristic of the man.

When he was about six years old, his father gave him a spirited colt, and said to him:

“My son, when you are able to sit quietly upon the back of this colt without saddle or bridle, I shall be glad, for the boy who can win a wild creature and learn to use it will as a man be able to win and rule men.”

The little fellow, instead of going for advice and help to his grandfather, as most Indian boys would have done, began quietly to practice throwing the lariat. In a little while he was able to lasso the colt. He was dragged off his feet at once, but hung on, and finally managed to picket him near the teepee. When the big boys drove the herd of ponies to water, he drove his colt with the rest. Presently the pony became used to him and allowed himself to be handled. The boy began to ride him bareback; he was thrown many times, but persisted until he could ride without even a lariat, sitting with arms folded and guiding the animal by the movements of his body. From that time on he told me that he broke all his own ponies, and before long his father’s as well.

The old men, his contemporaries, have often related to me how Red Cloud was always successful in the hunt because his horses were so well broken. At the age of nine, he began to ride his father’s pack pony upon the buffalo hunt. He was twelve years old, he told me, when he was first permitted to take part in the chase, and found to his great mortification that none of his arrows penetrated more than a few inches. Excited to recklessness, he whipped his horse nearer the fleeing buffalo, and before his father knew what he was about, he had seized one of the protruding arrows and tried to push it deeper. The furious animal tossed his massive head sidewise, and boy and horse were whirled into the air. Fortunately, the boy was thrown on the farther side of his pony, which received the full force of the second attack. The thundering hoofs of the stampeded herd soon passed them by, but the wounded and maddened buffalo refused to move, and some critical moments passed before Red Cloud’s father succeeded in attracting its attention so that the boy might spring to his feet and run for his life.

I once asked Red Cloud if he could recall having ever been afraid, and in reply he told me this story. He was about sixteen years old and had already been once or twice upon the warpath, when one fall his people were hunting in the Big Horn country, where they might expect trouble at any moment with the hostile Crows or Shoshones. Red Cloud had followed a single buffalo bull into the Bad Lands and was out of sight and hearing of his companions. When he had brought down his game, he noted carefully every feature of his surroundings so that he might at once detect anything unusual, and tied his horse with a long lariat to the horn of the dead bison, while skinning and cutting up the meat so as to pack it to camp. Every few minutes he paused in his work to scrutinize the landscape, for he had a feeling that danger was not far off.

Suddenly, almost over his head, as it seemed, he heard a tremendous war whoop, and glancing sidewise, thought he beheld the charge of an overwhelming number of warriors. He tried desperately to give the usual undaunted war whoop in reply, but instead a yell of terror burst from his lips, his legs gave way under him, and he fell in a heap. When he realized, the next instant, that the war whoop was merely the sudden loud whinnying of his own horse, and the charging army a band of fleeing elk, he was so ashamed of himself that he never forgot the incident, although up to that time he had never mentioned it. His subsequent career would indicate that the lesson was well learned.

The future leader was still a very young man when he joined a war party against the Utes. Having pushed eagerly forward on the trail, he found himself far in advance of his companions as night came on, and at the same time rain began to fall heavily. Among the scattered scrub pines, the lone warrior found a natural cave, and after a hasty examination, he decided to shelter there for the night.

Scarcely had he rolled himself in his blanket when he heard a slight rustling at the entrance, as if some creature were preparing to share his retreat. It was pitch dark. He could see nothing, but judged that it must be either a man or a grizzly. There was not room to draw a bow. It must be between knife and knife, or between knife and claws, he said to himself.

The intruder made no search but quietly lay down in the opposite corner of the cave. Red Cloud remained perfectly still, scarcely breathing, his hand upon his knife. Hour after hour he lay broad awake, while many thoughts passed through his brain. Suddenly, without warning, he sneezed, and instantly a strong man sprang to a sitting posture opposite. The first gray of morning was creeping into their rocky den, and behold! a Ute hunter sat before him.

Desperate as the situation appeared, it was not without a grim humor. Neither could afford to take his eyes from the other’s; the tension was great, till at last a smile wavered over the expressionless face of the Ute. Red Cloud answered the smile, and in that instant a treaty of peace was born between them.

“Put your knife in its sheath. I shall do so also, and we will smoke together,” signed Red Cloud. The other assented gladly, and they ratified thus the truce which assured to each a safe return to his friends. Having finished their smoke, they shook hands and separated. Neither had given the other any information. Red Cloud returned to his party and told his story, adding that he had divulged nothing and had nothing to report. Some were inclined to censure him for not fighting, but he was sustained by a majority of the warriors, who commended his self-restraint. In a day or two they discovered the main camp of the enemy and fought a remarkable battle, in which Red Cloud especially distinguished himself

The Sioux were now entering upon the most stormy period of their history. The old things were fast giving place to new. The young men, for the first time engaging in serious and destructive warfare with the neighboring tribes, armed with the deadly weapons furnished by the white man, began to realize that they must soon enter upon a desperate struggle for their ancestral hunting grounds. The old men had been innocently cultivating the friendship of the stranger, saying among themselves, “Surely there is land enough for all!”

Red Cloud was a modest and little known man of about twenty-eight years, when General Harney called all the western bands of Sioux together at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, for the purpose of securing an agreement and right of way through their territory. The Ogallalas held aloof from this proposal, but Bear Bull, an Ogallala chief, after having been plied with whisky, undertook to dictate submission to the rest of the clan. Enraged by failure, he fired upon a group of his own tribesmen, and Red Cloud’s father and brother fell dead. According to Indian custom, it fell to him to avenge the deed. Calmly, without uttering a word, he faced old Bear Bull and his son, who attempted to defend his father, and shot them both. He did what he believed to be his duty, and the whole band sustained him. Indeed, the tragedy gave the young man at once a certain standing, as one who not only defended his people against enemies from without, but against injustice and aggression within the tribe. From this time on he was a recognized leader.

Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse, then head chief of the Ogallalas, took council with Red Cloud in all important matters, and the young warrior rapidly advanced in authority and influence. In 1854, when he was barely thirty-five years old, the various bands were again encamped near Fort Laramie. A Mormon emigrant train, moving westward, left a footsore cow behind, and the young men killed her for food. The next day, to their astonishment, an officer with thirty men appeared at the Indian camp and demanded of old Conquering Bear that they be given up. The chief in vain protested that it was all a mistake and offered to make reparation. It would seem that either the officer was under the influence of liquor, or else had a mind to bully the Indians, for he would accept neither explanation nor payment, but demanded point-blank that the young men who had killed the cow be delivered up to summary punishment. The old chief refused to be intimidated and was shot dead on the spot. Not one soldier ever reached the gate of Fort Laramie! Here Red Cloud led the young Ogallalas, and so intense was the feeling that they even killed the half-breed interpreter.

Curiously enough, there was no attempt at retaliation on the part of the army, and no serious break until 1860, when the Sioux were involved in troubles with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. In 1862, a grave outbreak was precipitated by the eastern Sioux in Minnesota under Little Crow, in which the western bands took no part. Yet this event ushered in a new period for their race. The surveyors of the Union Pacific were laying out the proposed road through the heart of the southern buffalo country, the rendezvous of Ogallalas, Brules, Arapahoes, Comanches, and Pawnees, who followed the buffalo as a means of livelihood. To be sure, most of these tribes were at war with one another, yet during the summer months they met often to proclaim a truce and hold joint councils and festivities, which were now largely turned into discussions of the common enemy. It became evident, however, that some of the smaller and weaker tribes were inclined to welcome the new order of things, recognizing that it was the policy of the government to put an end to tribal warfare.

Red Cloud’s position was uncompromisingly against submission. He made some noted speeches in this line, one of which was repeated to me by an old man who had heard and remembered it with the remarkable verbal memory of an Indian.

“Friends,” said Red Cloud, “it has been our misfortune to welcome the white man. We have been deceived. He brought with him some shining things that pleased our eyes; he brought weapons more effective than our own: above all, he brought the spirit water that makes one forget for a time old age, weakness, and sorrow. But I wish to say to you that if you would possess these things for yourselves, you must begin anew and put away the wisdom of your fathers. You must lay up food, and forget the hungry. When your house is built, your storeroom filled, then look around for a neighbor whom you can take at a disadvantage, and seize all that he has! Give away only what you do not want; or rather, do not part with any of your possessions unless in exchange for another’s.

“My countrymen, shall the glittering trinkets of this rich man, his deceitful drink that overcomes the mind, shall these things tempt us to give up our homes, our hunting grounds, and the honorable teaching of our old men? Shall we permit ourselves to be driven to and fro — to be herded like the cattle of the white man?”

His next speech that has been remembered was made in 1866, just before the attack on Fort Phil Kearny. The tension of feeling against the invaders had now reached its height. There was no dissenting voice in the council upon the Powder River, when it was decided to oppose to the uttermost the evident purpose of the government. Red Cloud was not altogether ignorant of the numerical strength and the resourcefulness of the white man, but he was determined to face any odds rather than submit.

“Hear ye, Dakotas!” he exclaimed. “When the Great Father at Washington sent us his chief soldier [General Harney] to ask for a path through our hunting grounds, a way for his iron road to the mountains and the western sea, we were told that they wished merely to pass through our country, not to tarry among us, but to seek for gold in the far west. Our old chiefs thought to show their friendship and good will, when they allowed this dangerous snake in our midst. They promised to protect the wayfarers.

“Yet before the ashes of the council fire are cold, the Great Father is building his forts among us. You have heard the sound of the white soldier’s ax upon the Little Piney. His presence here is an insult and a threat. It is an insult to the spirits of our ancestors. Are we then to give up their sacred graves to be plowed for corn? Dakotas, I am for war!”

In less than a week after this speech, the Sioux advanced upon Fort Phil Kearny, the new sentinel that had just taken her place upon the farthest frontier, guarding the Oregon Trail. Every detail of the attack had been planned with care, though not without heated discussion, and nearly every well-known Sioux chief had agreed in striking the blow. The brilliant young war leader, Crazy Horse, was appointed to lead the charge. His lieutenants were Sword, Hump, and Dull Knife, with Little Chief of the Cheyennes, while the older men acted as councilors. Their success was instantaneous. In less than half an hour, they had cut down nearly a hundred men under Captain Fetterman, whom they drew out of the fort by a ruse and then annihilated.

Instead of sending troops to punish, the government sent a commission to treat with the Sioux. The result was the famous treaty of 1868, which Red Cloud was the last to sign, having refused to do so until all of the forts within their territory should be vacated. All of his demands were acceded to, the new road abandoned, the garrisons withdrawn, and in the new treaty it was distinctly stated that the Black Hills and the Big Horn were Indian country, set apart for their perpetual occupancy, and that no white man should enter that region without the consent of the Sioux.

Scarcely was this treaty signed, however, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the popular cry was: “Remove the Indians!” This was easier said than done. That very territory had just been solemnly guaranteed to them forever: yet how stem the irresistible rush for gold? The government, at first, entered some small protest, just enough to “save its face” as the saying is; but there was no serious attempt to prevent the wholesale violation of the treaty. It was this state of affairs that led to the last great speech made by Red Cloud, at a gathering upon the Little Rosebud River. It is brief, and touches upon the hopelessness of their future as a race. He seems at about this time to have reached the conclusion that resistance could not last much longer; in fact, the greater part of the Sioux nation was already under government control.

“We are told,” said he, “that Spotted Tail has consented to be the Beggars’ Chief. Those Indians who go over to the white man can be nothing but beggars, for he respects only riches, and how can an Indian be a rich man? He cannot without ceasing to be an Indian. As for me, I have listened patiently to the promises of the Great Father, but his memory is short. I am now done with him. This is all I have to say.”

The wilder bands separated soon after this council, to follow the drift of the buffalo, some in the vicinity of the Black Hills and others in the Big Horn region. Small war parties came down from time to time upon stray travelers, who received no mercy at their hands, or made dashes upon neighboring forts. Red Cloud claimed the right to guard and hold by force, if need be, all this territory which had been conceded to his people by the treaty of 1868. The land became a very nest of outlawry. Aside from organized parties of prospectors, there were bands of white horse thieves and desperadoes who took advantage of the situation to plunder immigrants and Indians alike.

An attempt was made by means of military camps to establish control and force all the Indians upon reservations, and another commission was sent to negotiate their removal to Indian Territory, but met with an absolute refusal. After much guerrilla warfare, an important military campaign against the Sioux was set on foot in 1876, ending in Custer’s signal defeat upon the Little Big Horn.

In this notable battle, Red Cloud did not participate in person, nor in the earlier one with Crook upon the Little Rosebud, but he had a son in both fights. He was now a councilor rather than a warrior, but his young men were constantly in the field, while Spotted Tail had definitely surrendered and was in close touch with representatives of the government.

But the inevitable end was near. One morning in the fall of 1876 Red Cloud was surrounded by United States troops under the command of Colonel McKenzie, who disarmed his people and brought them into Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Thence they were removed to the Pine Ridge agency, where he lived for more than thirty years as a “reservation Indian.” In order to humiliate him further, government authorities proclaimed the more tractable Spotted Tail head chief of the Sioux. Of course, Red Cloud’s own people never recognized any other chief.

In 1880 he appealed to Professor Marsh, of Yale, head of a scientific expedition to the Bad Lands, charging certain frauds at the agency and apparently proving his case; at any rate the matter was considered worthy of official investigation. In 1890-1891, during the “Ghost Dance craze” and the difficulties that followed, he was suspected of collusion with the hostiles, but he did not join them openly, and nothing could be proved against him. He was already an old man, and became almost entirely blind before his death in 1909 in his ninetieth year.

His private life was exemplary. He was faithful to one wife all his days, and was a devoted father to his children. He was ambitious for his only son, known as Jack Red Cloud, and much desired him to be a great warrior. He started him on the warpath at the age of fifteen, not then realizing that the days of Indian warfare were well-nigh at an end.

Among latter-day chiefs, Red Cloud was notable as a quiet man, simple and direct in speech, courageous in action, an ardent lover of his country, and possessed in a marked degree of the manly qualities characteristic of the American Indian in his best days.


Among the Sioux chiefs of the “transition period” only one was shrewd enough to read coming events in their true light. It is said of Spotted Tail that he was rather a slow-moving boy, preferring in their various games and mimic battles to play the role of councilor, to plan and assign to the others their parts in the fray. This he did so cleverly that he soon became a leader among his youthful contemporaries; and withal he was apt at mimicry and impersonation, so that the other boys were accustomed to say of him, “He has his grandfather’s wit and the wisdom of his grandmother!”

Spotted Tail was an orphan, reared by his grandparents, and at an early age compelled to shift for himself. Thus he was somewhat at a disadvantage among the other boys; yet even this fact may have helped to develop in him courage and ingenuity. One little incident of his boy life, occurring at about his tenth year, is characteristic of the man. In the midst of a game, two boys became involved in a dispute which promised to be a serious one, as both drew knives. The young Spotted Tail instantly began to cry, “The Shoshones are upon us! To arms! to arms!” and the other boys joined in the war whoop. This distracted the attention of the combatants and ended the affair.

Upon the whole, his boyhood is not so well remembered as is that of most of his leading contemporaries, probably because he had no parents to bring him frequently before the people, as was the custom with the wellborn, whose every step in their progress toward manhood was publicly announced at a feast given in their honor. It is known, however, that he began at an early age to carve out a position for himself. It is personal qualities alone that tell among our people, and the youthful Spotted Tail gained at every turn. At the age of seventeen, he had become a sure shot and a clever hunter; but, above all, he had already shown that he possessed a superior mind. He had come into contact with white people at the various trading posts, and according to his own story had made a careful study of the white man’s habits and modes of thought, especially of his peculiar trait of economy and intense desire to accumulate property. He was accustomed to watch closely and listen attentively whenever any of this strange race had dealings with his people. When a council was held, and the other young men stood at a distance with their robes over their faces so as to avoid recognition, Spotted Tail always put himself in a position to hear all that was said on either side, and weighed all the arguments in his mind.

When he first went upon the warpath, it appears that he was, if anything, overzealous to establish himself in the eye of his people; and as a matter of fact, it was especially hard for him to gain an assured position among the Brules, with whom he lived, both because he was an orphan, and because his father had been of another band. Yet it was not long before he had achieved his ambition, though in doing so he received several ugly wounds. It was in a battle with the Utes that he first notably served his people and their cause.

The Utes were the attacking party and far outnumbered the Sioux on this occasion. Many of their bravest young men had fallen, and the Brules were face to face with utter annihilation, when Spotted Tail, with a handful of daring horsemen, dodged around the enemy’s flank and fell upon them from the rear with so much spirit that they supposed that strong reinforcements had arrived, and retreated in confusion. The Sioux pursued on horseback; and it was in this pursuit that the noted chief Two Strike gained his historical name. But the chief honors of the fight belonged to Spotted Tail. The old chiefs, Conquering Bear and the rest, thanked him and at once made him a war chief.

It had been the firm belief of Spotted Tail that it was unwise to allow the white man so much freedom in our country, long before the older chiefs saw any harm in it. After the opening of the Oregon Trail he, above all the others, was watchful of the conduct of the Americans as they journeyed toward the setting sun, and more than once he remarked in council that these white men were not like the French and the Spanish, with whom our old chiefs had been used to deal. He was not fully satisfied with the agreement with General Harney; but as a young warrior who had only just gained his position in the council, he could not force his views upon the older men.

No sooner had the Oregon Trail been secured from the Sioux than Fort Laramie and other frontier posts were strengthened, and the soldiers became more insolent and overbearing than ever. It was soon discovered that the whites were prepared to violate most of the articles of their treaty as the Indians understood it. At this time, the presence of many Mormon emigrants on their way to the settlements in Utah and Wyoming added to the perils of the situation, as they constantly maneuvered for purposes of their own to bring about a clash between the soldiers and the Indians. Every summer there were storm-clouds blowing between these two — clouds usually taking their rise in some affair of the travelers along the trail.

In 1854 an event occurred which has already been described and which snapped the last link of friendship between the races.

By this time Spotted Tail had proved his courage both abroad and at home. He had fought a duel with one of the lesser chiefs, by whom he was attacked. He killed his opponent with an arrow, but himself received upon his head a blow from a battle-axe which brought him senseless to the ground. He was left for dead, but fortunately revived just as the men were preparing his body for burial.

The Brules sustained him in this quarrel, as he had acted in self-defense; and for a few years he led them in bloody raids against the whites along the historic trail. He ambushed many stagecoaches and emigrant trains, and was responsible for waylaying the Kincaid coach with twenty thousand dollars. This relentless harrying of travelers soon brought General Harney to the Brule Sioux to demand explanations and reparation.

The old chiefs of the Brules now appealed to Spotted Tail and his young warriors not to bring any general calamity upon the tribe. To the surprise of all, Spotted Tail declared that he would give himself up. He said that he had defended the rights of his people to the best of his ability, that he had avenged the blood of their chief, Conquering Bear, and that he was not afraid to accept the consequences. He therefore voluntarily surrendered to General Harney, and two of his lieutenants, Red Leaf and Old Woman, followed his example.

Thus Spotted Tail played an important part at the very outset of those events which were soon to overthrow the free life of his people. I do not know how far he foresaw what was to follow; but whether so conceived or not, his surrender was a master stroke, winning for him not only the admiration of his own people but the confidence and respect of the military.

Thus suddenly he found himself in prison, a hostage for the good behavior of his followers. There were many rumors as to the punishment reserved for him; but luckily for Spotted Tail, the promises of General Harney to the Brule chiefs in respect to him were faithfully kept. One of his fellow-prisoners committed suicide, but the other held out bravely for the two-year term of his imprisonment. During the second year, it was well understood that neither of the men sought to escape, and they were given much freedom. It was fine schooling for Spotted Tail, that tireless observer of the ways of the white man! It is a fact that his engaging personal qualities won for him kindness and sympathy at the fort before the time came for his release.

One day some Indian horse thieves of another tribe stampeded the horses and mules belonging to the garrison. Spotted Tail asked permission of the commanding officer to accompany the pursuers. That officer, trusting in the honor of a Sioux brave, gave him a fast horse and a good carbine, and said to him: “I depend upon you to guide my soldiers so that they may overtake the thieves and recapture the horses!”

The soldiers recaptured the horses without any loss, but Spotted Tail still followed the Indians. When they returned to the fort without him, everybody agreed that he would never turn up. However, next day he did “turn up”, with the scalp of one of the marauders!

Soon after this he was returned to his own people, who honored him by making him the successor of the old chief, Conquering Bear, whose blood he had avenged, for which act he had taken upon himself the full responsibility. He had made good use of his two years at the fort, and completed his studies of civilization to his own satisfaction. From this time on he was desirous of reconciling the Indian and the white man, thoroughly understanding the uselessness of opposition. He was accordingly in constant communication with the military; but the other chiefs did not understand his views and seem to have been suspicious of his motives.

In 1860-1864 the Southern Cheyennes and Comanches were at war with the whites, and some of the Brules and Ogallalas, who were their neighbors and intimates, were suspected of complicity with the hostiles. Doubtless a few of their young men may have been involved; at any rate, Thunder Bear and Two Face, together with a few others who were roving with the warring tribes, purchased two captive white women and brought them to Fort Laramie. It was, however, reported at the post that these two men had maltreated the women while under their care.

Of course, the commander demanded of Spotted Tail, then head chief, that he give up the guilty ones, and accordingly he had the two men arrested and delivered at the fort. At this there was an outcry among his own people; but he argued that if the charges were true, the men deserved punishment, and if false, they should be tried and cleared by process of law. The Indians never quite knew what evidence was produced at the court-martial, but at all events the two men were hanged, and as they had many influential connections, their relatives lost no time in fomenting trouble. The Sioux were then camping close by the fort and it was midwinter, which facts held them in check for a month or two; but as soon as spring came, they removed their camp across the river and rose in rebellion. A pitched battle was fought, in which the soldiers got the worst of it. Even the associate chief, Big Mouth, was against Spotted Tail, who was practically forced against his will and judgment to take up arms once more.

At this juncture came the sudden and bloody uprising in the east among the Minnesota Sioux, and Sitting Bull’s campaign in the north had begun in earnest; while to the south the Southern Cheyennes, Comanches, and Kiowas were all upon the warpath. Spotted Tail at about this time seems to have conceived the idea of uniting all the Rocky Mountain Indians in a great confederacy. He once said: “Our cause is as a child’s cause, in comparison with the power of the white man, unless we can stop quarreling among ourselves and unite our energies for the common good.” But old- time antagonisms were too strong; and he was probably held back also by his consciousness of the fact that the Indians called him “the white man’s friend”, while the military still had some faith in him which he did not care to lose. He was undoubtedly one of the brainiest and most brilliant Sioux who ever lived; and while he could not help being to a large extent in sympathy with the feeling of his race against the invader, yet he alone foresaw the inevitable outcome, and the problem as it presented itself to him was simply this: “What is the best policy to pursue in the existing situation?”

Here is his speech as it has been given to me, delivered at the great council on the Powder River, just before the attack on Fort Phil Kearny. We can imagine that he threw all his wonderful tact and personal magnetism into this last effort at conciliation.

“‘Hay, hay, hay! Alas, alas!’ Thus speaks the old man, when he knows that his former vigor and freedom is gone from him forever. So we may exclaim to-day, Alas! There is a time appointed to all things. Think for a moment how many multitudes of the animal tribes we ourselves have destroyed! Look upon the snow that appears to-day — to-morrow it is water! Listen to the dirge of the dry leaves, that were green and vigorous but a few moons before! We are a part of this life and it seems that our time is come.

“Yet note how the decay of one nation invigorates another. This strange white man — consider him, his gifts are manifold! His tireless brain, his busy hand do wonders for his race. Those things which we despise he holds as treasures; yet he is so great and so flourishing that there must be some virtue and truth in his philosophy. I wish to say to you, my friends: Be not moved alone by heated arguments and thoughts of revenge! These are for the young. We are young no longer; let us think well, and give counsel as old men!”

These words were greeted with an ominous silence. Not even the customary “How!” of assent followed the speech, and Sitting Bull immediately got up and replied in the celebrated harangue which will be introduced under his own name in another chapter. The situation was critical for Spotted Tail — the only man present to advocate submission to the stronger race whose ultimate supremacy he recognized as certain. The decision to attack Fort Phil Kearny was unanimous without him, and in order to hold his position among his tribesmen he joined in the charge. Several bullets passed through his war bonnet, and he was slightly wounded.

When the commission of 1867-1868 was sent out to negotiate with the Sioux, Spotted Tail was ready to meet them, and eager to obtain for his people the very best terms that he could. He often puzzled and embarrassed them by his remarkable speeches, the pointed questions that he put, and his telling allusions to former negotiations. Meanwhile Red Cloud would not come into the council until after several deputations of Indians had been sent to him, and Sitting Bull did not come at all.

The famous treaty was signed, and from this time on Spotted Tail never again took up arms against the whites. On the contrary, it was mainly attributed to his influence that the hostiles were subdued much sooner than might have been expected. He came into the reservation with his band, urged his young men to enlist as government scouts, and assisted materially in all negotiations. The hostile chiefs no longer influenced his action, and as soon as they had all been brought under military control, General Crook named Spotted Tail head chief of the Sioux, thus humiliating Red Cloud and arousing jealousy and ill-feeling among the Ogallalas. In order to avoid trouble, he prudently separated himself from the other bands, and moved to the new agency on Beaver Creek (Fort Sheridan, Nebraska), which was called “Spotted Tail Agency.”

Just before the daring war leader, Crazy Horse, surrendered to the military, he went down to the agency and roundly rebuked Spotted Tail for signing away the freedom of his people. From the point of view of the irreconcilables, the diplomatic chief was a “trimmer” and a traitor; and many of the Sioux have tried to implicate him in the conspiracy against Crazy Horse which led to his assassination, but I hold that the facts do not bear out this charge.

The name of Spotted Tail was prominently before the people during the rest of his life. An obscure orphan, he had achieved distinction by his bravery and sagacity; but he copied the white politician too closely after he entered the reservation. He became a good manipulator, and was made conceited and overbearing by the attentions of the military and of the general public. Furthermore, there was an old feud in his immediate band which affected him closely. Against him for many years were the followers of Big Mouth, whom he had killed in a duel; and also a party led by a son and a nephew of the old chief, Conquering Bear, whom Spotted Tail had succeeded at his death. These two men had hoped that one or the other of them might obtain the succession.

Crow Dog, the nephew of Conquering Bear, more than once taunted Spotted Tail with the fact that he was chief not by the will of the tribe, but by the help of the white soldiers, and told him that he would “keep a bullet for him” in case he ever disgraced his high position. Thus retribution lay in wait for him while at the height of his fame. Several high-handed actions of his at this time, including his elopement with another man’s wife, increased his unpopularity with a large element of his own tribe. On the eve of the chief’s departure for Washington, to negotiate (or so they suspected) for the sale of more of their land, Crow Dog took up his gun and fulfilled his threat, regarding himself, and regarded by his supporters, not as a murderer, but as an executioner.

Such was the end of the man who may justly be called the Pontiac of the west. He possessed a remarkable mind and extraordinary foresight for an untutored savage; and yet he is the only one of our great men to be remembered with more honor by the white man, perhaps, than by his own people.


Chief Little Crow was the eldest son of Cetanwakuwa (Charging Hawk). It was on account of his father’s name, mistranslated Crow, that he was called by the whites “Little Crow.” His real name was Taoyateduta, His Red People.

As far back as Minnesota history goes, a band of the Sioux called Kaposia (Light Weight, because they were said to travel light) inhabited the Mille Lacs region. Later they dwelt about St. Croix Falls, and still later near St. Paul. In 1840, Cetanwakuwa was still living in what is now West St. Paul, but he was soon after killed by the accidental discharge of his gun.

It was during a period of demoralization for the Kaposias that Little Crow became the leader of his people. His father, a well-known chief, had three wives, all from different bands of the Sioux. He was the only son of the first wife, a Leaf Dweller. There were two sons of the second and two of the third wife, and the second set of brothers conspired to kill their half-brother in order to keep the chieftainship in the family.

Two kegs of whisky were bought, and all the men of the tribe invited to a feast. It was planned to pick some sort of quarrel when all were drunk, and in the confusion Little Crow was to be murdered. The plot went smoothly until the last instant, when a young brave saved the intended victim by knocking the gun aside with his hatchet, so that the shot went wild. However, it broke his right arm, which remained crooked all his life. The friends of the young chieftain hastily withdrew, avoiding a general fight; and later the council of the Kaposias condemned the two brothers, both of whom were executed, leaving him in undisputed possession.

Such was the opening of a stormy career. Little Crow’s mother had been a chief’s daughter, celebrated for her beauty and spirit, and it is said that she used to plunge him into the lake through a hole in the ice, rubbing him afterward with snow, to strengthen his nerves, and that she would remain with him alone in the deep woods for days at a time, so that he might know that solitude is good, and not fear to be alone with nature.

“My son,” she would say, “if you are to be a leader of men, you must listen in silence to the mystery, the spirit.”

At a very early age she made a feast for her boy and announced that he would fast two days. This is what might be called a formal presentation to the spirit or God. She greatly desired him to become a worthy leader according to the ideas of her people. It appears that she left her husband when he took a second wife, and lived with her own band till her death. She did not marry again.

Little Crow was an intensely ambitious man and without physical fear. He was always in perfect training and early acquired the art of warfare of the Indian type. It is told of him that when he was about ten years old, he engaged with other boys in a sham battle on the shore of a lake near St. Paul. Both sides were encamped at a little distance from one another, and the rule was that the enemy must be surprised, otherwise the attack would be considered a failure. One must come within so many paces undiscovered in order to be counted successful. Our hero had a favorite dog which, at his earnest request, was allowed to take part in the game, and as a scout he entered the enemy camp unseen, by the help of his dog.

When he was twelve, he saved the life of a companion who had broken through the ice by tying the end of a pack line to a log, then at great risk to himself carrying it to the edge of the hole where his comrade went down. It is said that he also broke in, but both boys saved themselves by means of the line.

As a young man, Little Crow was always ready to serve his people as a messenger to other tribes, a duty involving much danger and hardship. He was also known as one of the best hunters in his band. Although still young, he had already a war record when he became chief of the Kaposias, at a time when the Sioux were facing the greatest and most far-reaching changes that had ever come to them.

At this juncture in the history of the northwest and its native inhabitants, the various fur companies had paramount influence. They did not hesitate to impress the Indians with the idea that they were the authorized representatives of the white races or peoples, and they were quick to realize the desirability of controlling the natives through their most influential chiefs. Little Crow became quite popular with post traders and factors. He was an orator as well as a diplomat, and one of the first of his nation to indulge in politics and promote unstable schemes to the detriment of his people.

When the United States Government went into the business of acquiring territory from the Indians so that the flood of western settlement might not be checked, commissions were sent out to negotiate treaties, and in case of failure it often happened that a delegation of leading men of the tribe were invited to Washington. At that period, these visiting chiefs, attired in all the splendor of their costumes of ceremony, were treated like ambassadors from foreign countries.

One winter in the late eighteen-fifties, a major general of the army gave a dinner to the Indian chiefs then in the city, and on this occasion Little Crow was appointed toastmaster. There were present a number of Senators and members of Congress, as well as judges of the Supreme Court, cabinet officers, and other distinguished citizens. When all the guests were seated, the Sioux arose and addressed them with much dignity as follows:

“Warriors and friends: I am informed that the great white war chief who of his generosity and comradeship has given us this feast, has expressed the wish that we may follow to-night the usages and customs of my people. In other words, this is a warriors’ feast, a braves’ meal. I call upon the Ojibway chief, the Hole-in-the-Day, to give the lone wolf’s hunger call, after which we will join him in our usual manner.”

The tall and handsome Ojibway now rose and straightened his superb form to utter one of the clearest and longest wolf howls that was ever heard in Washington, and at its close came a tremendous burst of war whoops that fairly rent the air, and no doubt electrified the officials there present.

On one occasion Little Crow was invited by the commander of Fort Ridgeley, Minnesota, to call at the fort. On his way back, in company with a half-breed named Ross and the interpreter Mitchell, he was ambushed by a party of Ojibways, and again wounded in the same arm that had been broken in his attempted assassination. His companion Ross was killed, but he managed to hold the war party at bay until help came and thus saved his life.

More and more as time passed, this naturally brave and ambitious man became a prey to the selfish interests of the traders and politicians. The immediate causes of the Sioux outbreak of 1862 came in quick succession to inflame to desperate action an outraged people. The two bands on the so-called “lower reservations” in Minnesota were Indians for whom nature had provided most abundantly in their free existence. After one hundred and fifty years of friendly intercourse first with the French, then the English, and finally the Americans, they found themselves cut off from every natural resource, on a tract of land twenty miles by thirty, which to them was virtual imprisonment. By treaty stipulation with the government, they were to be fed and clothed, houses were to be built for them, the men taught agriculture, and schools provided for the children. In addition to this, a trust fund of a million and a half was to be set aside for them, at five per cent interest, the interest to be paid annually per capita. They had signed the treaty under pressure, believing in these promises on the faith of a great nation.

However, on entering the new life, the resources so rosily described to them failed to materialize. Many families faced starvation every winter, their only support the store of the Indian trader, who was baiting his trap for their destruction. Very gradually they awoke to the facts. At last it was planned to secure from them the north half of their reservation for ninety-eight thousand dollars, but it was not explained to the Indians that the traders were to receive all the money. Little Crow made the greatest mistake of his life when he signed this agreement.

Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the cash annuities were not paid for nearly two years. Civil War had begun. When it was learned that the traders had taken all of the ninety-eight thousand dollars “on account”, there was very bitter feeling. In fact, the heads of the leading stores were afraid to go about as usual, and most of them stayed in St. Paul. Little Crow was justly held in part responsible for the deceit, and his life was not safe.

The murder of a white family near Acton, Minnesota, by a party of Indian duck hunters in August, 1862, precipitated the break. Messengers were sent to every village with the news, and at the villages of Little Crow and Little Six the war council was red-hot. It was proposed to take advantage of the fact that north and south were at war to wipe out the white settlers and to regain their freedom. A few men stood out against such a desperate step, but the conflagration had gone beyond their control.

There were many mixed bloods among these Sioux, and some of the Indians held that these were accomplices of the white people in robbing them of their possessions, therefore their lives should not be spared. My father, Many Lightnings, who was practically the leader of the Mankato band (for Mankato, the chief, was a weak man), fought desperately for the lives of the half-breeds and the missionaries. The chiefs had great confidence in my father, yet they would not commit themselves, since their braves were clamoring for blood. Little Crow had been accused of all the misfortunes of his tribe, and he now hoped by leading them against the whites to regain his prestige with his people, and a part at least of their lost domain.

There were moments when the pacifists were in grave peril. It was almost daybreak when my father saw that the approaching calamity could not be prevented. He and two others said to Little Crow: “If you want war, you must personally lead your men to-morrow. We will not murder women and children, but we will fight the soldiers when they come.” They then left the council and hastened to warn my brother-in-law, Faribault, and others who were in danger.

Little Crow declared he would be seen in the front of every battle, and it is true that he was foremost in all the succeeding bloodshed, urging his warriors to spare none. He ordered his war leader, Many Hail, to fire the first shot, killing the trader James Lynd, in the door of his store.

After a year of fighting in which he had met with defeat, the discredited chief retreated to Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, Manitoba, where, together with Standing Buffalo, he undertook secret negotiations with his old friends the Indian traders. There was now a price upon his head, but he planned to reach St. Paul undetected and there surrender himself to his friends, who he hoped would protect him in return for past favors. It is true that he had helped them to secure perhaps the finest country held by any Indian nation for a mere song.

He left Canada with a few trusted friends, including his youngest and favorite son. When within two or three days’ journey of St. Paul, he told the others to return, keeping with him only his son, Wowinape, who was but fifteen years of age. He meant to steal into the city by night and go straight to Governor Ramsey, who was his personal friend. He was very hungry and was obliged to keep to the shelter of the deep woods. The next morning, as he was picking and eating wild raspberries, he was seen by a wood-chopper named Lamson. The man did not know who he was. He only knew that he was an Indian, and that was enough for him, so he lifted his rifle to his shoulder and fired, then ran at his best pace. The brilliant but misguided chief, who had made that part of the country unsafe for any white man to live in, sank to the ground and died without a struggle. The boy took his father’s gun and made some effort to find the assassin, but as he did not even know in which direction to look for him, he soon gave up the attempt and went back to his friends.

Meanwhile Lamson reached home breathless and made his report. The body of the chief was found and identified, in part by the twice broken arm, and this arm and his scalp may be seen to-day in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.


There was once a Sioux brave who declared that he would die young, yet not by his own hand. Tamahay was of heroic proportions, herculean in strength, a superb runner; in fact, he had all the physical qualities of an athlete or a typical Indian. In his scanty dress, he was beautiful as an antique statue in living bronze. When a mere youth, seventeen years of age, he met with an accident which determined his career. It was the loss of an eye, a fatal injury to the sensitive and high-spirited Indian. He announced his purpose in these words:

“The ‘Great Mystery’ has decreed that I must be disgraced. There will be no pleasure for me now, and I shall be ridiculed even by my enemies. It will be well for me to enter soon into Paradise, for I shall be happy in spending my youth there. But I will sell my life dearly. Hereafter my name shall be spoken in the traditions of our race.” With this speech Tamahay began his career.

He now sought glory and defied danger with even more than the ordinary Indian recklessness. He accepted a personal friend, which was a custom among the Sioux, where each man chose a companion for life and death. The tie was stronger than one of blood relationship, a friendship sealed by solemn vow and covenant. Tamahay’s intimate was fortunately almost his equal in physical powers, and the pair became the terror of neighboring tribes, with whom the Dakotas were continually at war. They made frequent raids upon their enemies and were usually successful, although not without thrilling experiences and almost miraculous escapes.

Upon one of these occasions the two friends went north into the country of the Ojibways. After many days’ journey, they discovered a small village of the foe. The wicked Tamahay proposed to his associate that they should arrange their toilets after the fashion of the Ojibways, and go among them; “and perhaps,” he added, “we will indulge in a little flirtation with their pretty maids, and when we have had enough of the fun we can take the scalp of a brave or two and retreat!” His friend construed his daring proposition to be a test of courage, which it would not become him, as a brave, to decline; therefore he assented with a show of cheerfulness.

The handsome strangers were well received by the Ojibway girls, but their perilous amusement was brought to an untimely close. A young maiden prematurely discovered their true characters, and her cry of alarm brought instantly to her side a jealous youth, who had been watching them from his place of concealment. With him Tamahay had a single-handed contest, and before a general alarm was given he had dispatched the foe and fled with his scalp.

The unfortunate brave had been a favorite and a leader among the tribe; therefore the maddened Ojibways were soon in hot pursuit. The Sioux braves were fine runners, yet they were finally driven out upon the peninsula of a lake. As they became separated in their retreat, Tamahay shouted, “I’ll meet you at the mouth of the St. Croix River, or in the spirit land!” Both managed to swim the lake, and so made good their escape.

The exploits of this man were not all of a warlike nature. He was a great traveler and an expert scout, and he had some wonderful experiences with wild animals. He was once sent, with his intimate friend, on a scout for game. They were on ponies.

They located a herd of buffaloes, and on their return to the camp espied a lonely buffalo. Tamahay suggested that they should chase it in order to take some fresh meat, as the law of the tribe allowed in the case of a single animal. His pony stumbled and threw him, after they had wounded the bison, and the latter attacked the dismounted man viciously. But he, as usual, was on the alert. He “took the bull by the horns”, as the saying is, and cleverly straddled him on the neck. The buffalo had no means of harming his enemy, but pawed the earth and struggled until his strength was exhausted, when the Indian used his knife on the animal’s throat. On account of this feat he received the name “Held-the-Bull-by-the-Horns.”

The origin of his name “Tamahay” is related as follows. When he was a young man he accompanied the chief Wabashaw to Mackinaw, Michigan, together with some other warriors. He was out with his friend one day, viewing the wonderful sights in the “white man’s country”, when they came upon a sow with her numerous pink little progeny. He was greatly amused and picked up one of the young pigs, but as soon as it squealed the mother ran furiously after them. He kept the pig and fled with it, still laughing; but his friend was soon compelled to run up the conveniently inclined trunk of a fallen tree, while our hero reached the shore of a lake near by, and plunged into the water. He swam and dived as long as he could, but the beast continued to threaten him with her sharp teeth, till, almost exhausted, he swam again to shore, where his friend came up and dispatched the vicious animal with a club. On account of this watery adventure he was at once called Tamahay, meaning Pike. He earned many other names, but preferred this one, because it was the name borne by a great friend of his, Lieutenant Pike, the first officer of the United States Army who came to Minnesota for the purpose of exploring the sources of the Mississippi River and of making peace with the natives. Tamahay assisted this officer in obtaining land from the Sioux upon which to build Fort Snelling. He appears in history under the name of “Tahamie” or the “One-Eyed Sioux.”

Always ready to brave danger and unpopularity, Tamahay was the only Sioux who sided with the United States in her struggle with Great Britain in 1819. For having espoused the cause of the Americans, he was ill-treated by the British officers and free traders, who for a long time controlled the northwest, even after peace had been effected between the two nations. At one time he was confined in a fort called McKay, where now stands the town of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He had just returned from St. Louis, and was suspected of exciting his people to rebel against British subjects. His life was even threatened, but to this Tamahay merely replied that he was ready to die. A few months later, this fort was restored to the United States, and upon leaving it the British set the buildings on fire, though the United States flag floated above them. Some Indians who were present shouted to Tamahay, “Your friends’, the Americans’, fort is on fire!” He responded with a war whoop, rushed into the blazing fort, and brought out the flag. For this brave act he was rewarded with a present of a flag and medal. He was never tired of displaying this medal and his recommendation papers, and even preserved to the end of his life an old colonial stovepipe hat, which he wore upon state occasions.

The Sioux long referred to the president of the United States as “Tamahay’s father.”

The following story is told of him in his later days. He attempted one day to cross the first bridge over the Mississippi River, but was not recognized by the sentinel, who would not allow him to pass until he paid the toll. Tamahay, who was a privileged character, explained as best he could, with gestures and broken English, that he was always permitted to pass free; but as the sentinel still refused, and even threatened him with his bayonet, the old Indian silently seized the musket, threw it down into the waters of the Mississippi and went home. Later in the day a company of soldiers appeared in the Indian village, and escorted our hero to a sort of court-martial at the fort. When he was questioned by the Colonel, he simply replied: “If you were threatened by any one with a weapon, you would, in self-defense, either disable the man or get rid of the weapon. I did the latter, thinking that you would need the man more than the gun.”

Finally the officer said to them, “I see you are both partly wrong. Some one must be responsible for the loss of the gun; therefore, you two will wrestle, and the man who is downed must dive for the weapon to the bottom of the river.”

Scarcely was this speech ended when Tamahay was upon the soldier, who was surprised both by the order and by the unexpected readiness of the wily old Indian, so that he was not prepared, and the Sioux had the vantage hold. In a moment the bluecoat was down, amid shouts and peals of laughter from his comrades. Having thrown his man, the other turned and went home without a word.

Sad to say, he acquired a great appetite for “minne-wakan”, or “mysterious water”, as the Sioux call it, which proved a source of trouble to him in his old age. It is told of him that he was treated one winter’s day to a drink of whisky in a trader’s store. He afterwards went home; but even the severe blizzard which soon arose did not prevent him from returning in the night to the friendly trader. He awoke that worthy from sleep about twelve o’clock by singing his death dirge upon the roof of the log cabin. In another moment he had jumped down the mud chimney, and into the blazing embers of a fire. The trader had to pour out to him some whisky in a tin pail, after which he begged the old man to “be good and go home.” On the eve of the so-called “Minnesota Massacre” by the Sioux in 1862, Tamahay, although he was then very old and had almost lost the use of his remaining eye, made a famous speech at the meeting of the conspirators. These are some of his words, as reported to me by persons who were present.

“What! What! is this Little Crow? Is that Little Six? You, too, White Dog, are you here? I cannot see well now, but I can see with my mind’s eye the stream of blood you are about to pour upon the bosom of this mother of ours” (meaning the earth). “I stand before you on three legs, but the third leg has brought me wisdom” [referring to the staff with which he sup- ported himself]. “I have traveled much, I have visited among the people whom you think to defy. This means the total surrender of our beautiful land, the land of a thousand lakes and streams. Methinks you are about to commit an act like that of the porcupine, who climbs a tree, balances himself upon a springy bough, and then gnaws off the very bough upon which he is sitting; hence, when it gives way, he falls upon the sharp rocks below. Behold the great Pontiac, whose grave I saw near St. Louis; he was murdered while an exile from his country! Think of the brave Black Hawk! Methinks his spirit is still wailing through Wisconsin and Illinois for his lost people! I do not say you have no cause to complain, but to resist is self-destruction. I am done.”

It is supposed that this speech was his last, and it was made, though vainly, in defense of the Americans whom he had loved. He died at Fort Pierre, South Dakota, in 1864. His people say that he died a natural death, of old age. And yet his exploits are not forgotten. Thus lived and departed a most active and fearless Sioux, Tamahay, who desired to die young!


Chief Gall was one of the most aggressive leaders of the Sioux nation in their last stand for freedom.

The westward pressure of civilization during the past three centuries has been tremendous. When our hemisphere was “discovered”, it had been inhabited by the natives for untold ages, but it was held undiscovered because the original owners did not chart or advertise it. Yet some of them at least had developed ideals of life which included real liberty and equality to all men, and they did not recognize individual ownership in land or other property beyond actual necessity. It was a soul development leading to essential manhood. Under this system they brought forth some striking characters.

Gall was considered by both Indians and whites to be a most impressive type of physical manhood. From his picture you can judge of this for yourself.

Let us follow his trail. He was no tenderfoot. He never asked a soft place for himself. He always played the game according to the rules and to a finish. To be sure, like every other man, he made some mistakes, but he was an Indian and never acted the coward.

The earliest stories told of his life and doings indicate the spirit of the man in that of the boy.

When he was only about three years old, the Blackfoot band of Sioux were on their usual roving hunt, following the buffalo while living their natural happy life upon the wonderful wide prairies of the Dakotas.

It was the way of every Sioux mother to adjust her household effects on such dogs and pack ponies as she could muster from day to day, often lending one or two to accommodate some other woman whose horse or dog had died, or perhaps had been among those stampeded and carried away by a raiding band of Crow warriors. On this particular occasion, the mother of our young Sioux brave, Matohinshda, or Bear-Shedding-His-Hair (Gall’s childhood name), intrusted her boy to an old Eskimo pack dog, experienced and reliable, except perhaps when unduly excited or very thirsty.

On the day of removing camp the caravan made its morning march up the Powder River. Upon the wide table-land the women were busily digging teepsinna (an edible sweetish root, much used by them) as the moving village slowly progressed. As usual at such times, the trail was wide. An old jack rabbit had waited too long in hiding. Now, finding himself almost surrounded by the mighty plains people, he sprang up suddenly, his feathery ears conspicuously erect, a dangerous challenge to the dogs and the people.

A whoop went up. Every dog accepted the challenge. Forgotten were the bundles, the kits, even the babies they were drawing or carrying. The chase was on, and the screams of the women reechoed from the opposite cliffs of the Powder, mingled with the yelps of dogs and the neighing of horses. The hand of every man was against the daring warrior, the lone Jack, and the confusion was great.

When the fleeing one cleared the mass of his enemies, he emerged with a swiftness that commanded respect and gave promise of a determined chase. Behind him, his pursuers stretched out in a thin line, first the speedy, unburdened dogs and then the travois dogs headed by the old Eskimo with his precious freight. The youthful Gall was in a travois, a basket mounted on trailing poles and harnessed to the sides of the animal.

“Hey! hey! they are gaining on him!” a warrior shouted. At this juncture two of the canines had almost nabbed their furry prey by the back. But he was too cunning for them. He dropped instantly and sent both dogs over his head, rolling and spinning, then made another flight at right angles to the first. This gave the Eskimo a chance to cut the triangle. He gained fifty yards, but being heavily handicapped, two unladen dogs passed him. The same trick was repeated by the Jack, and this time he saved himself from instant death by a double loop and was now running directly toward the crowd, followed by a dozen or more dogs. He was losing speed, but likewise his pursuers were dropping off steadily. Only the sturdy Eskimo dog held to his even gait, and behind him in the frail travois leaned forward the little Matohinshda, nude save a breech clout, his left hand holding fast the convenient tail of his dog, the right grasping firmly one of the poles of the travois. His black eyes were bulging almost out of their sockets; his long hair flowed out behind like a stream of dark water.

The Jack now ran directly toward the howling spectators, but his marvelous speed and alertness were on the wane; while on the other hand his foremost pursuer, who had taken part in hundreds of similar events, had every confidence in his own endurance. Each leap brought him nearer, fiercer and more determined. The last effort of the Jack was to lose himself in the crowd, like a fish in muddy water; but the big dog made the one needed leap with unerring aim and his teeth flashed as he caught the rabbit in viselike jaws and held him limp in air, a victor!

The people rushed up to him as he laid the victim down, and foremost among them was the frantic mother of Matohinshda, or Gall. “Michinkshe! michinkshe!” (My son! my son!) she screamed as she drew near. The boy seemed to be none the worse for his experience. “Mother!” he cried, “my dog is brave: he got the rabbit!” She snatched him off the travois, but he struggled out of her arms to look upon his dog lovingly and admiringly. Old men and boys crowded about the hero of the day, the dog, and the thoughtful grandmother of Matohinshda unharnessed him and poured some water from a parfleche water bag into a basin. “Here, my grandson, give your friend something to drink.”

“How, hechetu,” pronounced an old warrior no longer in active service. “This may be only an accident, an ordinary affair; but such things sometimes indicate a career. The boy has had a wonderful ride. I prophesy that he will one day hold the attention of all the people with his doings.”

This is the first remembered story of the famous chief, but other boyish exploits foretold the man he was destined to be. He fought many sham battles, some successful and others not; but he was always a fierce fighter and a good loser.

Once he was engaged in a battle with snowballs. There were probably nearly a hundred boys on each side, and the rule was that every fair hit made the receiver officially dead. He must not participate further, but must remain just where he was struck.

Gall’s side was fast losing, and the battle was growing hotter every minute when the youthful warrior worked toward an old water hole and took up his position there. His side was soon annihilated and there were eleven men left to fight him. He was pressed close in the wash-out, and as he dodged under cover before a volley of snowballs, there suddenly emerged in his stead a huge gray wolf. His opponents fled in every direction in superstitious terror, for they thought he had been transformed into the animal. To their astonishment he came out on the farther side and ran to the line of safety, a winner!

It happened that the wolf’s den had been partly covered with snow so that no one had noticed it until the yells of the boys aroused the inmate, and he beat a hasty retreat. The boys always looked upon this incident as an omen.

Gall had an amiable disposition but was quick to resent insult or injustice. This sometimes involved him in difficulties, but he seldom fought without good cause and was popular with his associates. One of his characteristics was his ability to organize, and this was a large factor in his leadership when he became a man. He was tried in many ways, and never was known to hesitate when it was a question of physical courage and endurance. He entered the public service early in life, but not until he had proved himself competent and passed all tests.

When a mere boy, he was once scouting for game in midwinter, far from camp, and was overtaken by a three days’ blizzard. He was forced to abandon his horse and lie under the snow for that length of time. He afterward said he was not particularly hungry; it was thirst and stiffness from which he suffered most. One reason the Indian so loved his horse or dog was that at such times the animal would stay by him like a brother. On this occasion Gall’s pony was not more than a stone’s throw away when the storm subsided and the sun shone. There was a herd of buffalo in plain sight, and the young hunter was not long in procuring a meal.

This chief’s contemporaries still recall his wrestling match with the equally powerful Cheyenne boy, Roman Nose, who afterward became a chief well known to American history. It was a custom of the northwestern Indians, when two friendly tribes camped together, to establish the physical and athletic supremacy of the youth of the respective camps.

The “Che-hoo-hoo” is a wrestling game in which there may be any number on a side, but the numbers are equal. All the boys of each camp are called together by a leader chosen for the purpose and draw themselves up in line of battle; then each at a given signal attacks his opponent.

In this memorable contest, Matohinshda, or Gall, was placed opposite Roman Nose. The whole people turned out as spectators of the struggle, and the battlefield was a plateau between the two camps, in the midst of picturesque Bad Lands. There were many athletic youths present, but these two were really the Apollos of the two tribes.

In this kind of sport it is not allowed to strike with the hand, nor catch around the neck, nor kick, nor pull by the hair. One may break away and run a few yards to get a fresh start, or clinch, or catch as catch can. When a boy is thrown and held to the ground, he is counted out. If a boy has met his superior, he may drop to the ground to escape rough handling, but it is very seldom one gives up without a full trial of strength.

It seemed almost like a real battle, so great was the enthusiasm, as the shouts of sympathizers on both sides went up in a mighty chorus. At last all were either conquerors or subdued except Gall and Roman Nose. The pair seemed equally matched. Both were stripped to the breech clout, now tugging like two young buffalo or elk in mating time, again writhing and twisting like serpents. At times they fought like two wild stallions, straining every muscle of arms, legs, and back in the struggle. Every now and then one was lifted off his feet for a moment, but came down planted like a tree, and after swaying to and fro soon became rigid again.

All eyes were upon the champions. Finally, either by trick or main force, Gall laid the other sprawling upon the ground and held him fast for a minute, then released him and stood erect, panting, a master youth. Shout after shout went up on the Sioux side of the camp. The mother of Roman Nose came forward and threw a superbly worked buffalo robe over Gall, whose mother returned the compliment by covering the young Cheyenne with a handsome blanket.

Undoubtedly these early contests had their influence upon our hero’s career. It was his habit to appear most opportunely in a crisis, and in a striking and dramatic manner to take command of the situation. The best known example of this is his entrance on the scene of confusion when Reno surprised the Sioux on the Little Big Horn. Many of the excitable youths, almost unarmed, rushed madly and blindly to meet the intruder, and the scene might have unnerved even an experienced warrior. It was Gall, with not a garment upon his superb body, who on his black charger dashed ahead of the boys and faced them. He stopped them on the dry creek, while the bullets of Reno’s men whistled about their ears.

“Hold hard, men! Steady, we are not ready yet! Wait for more guns, more horses, and the day is yours!”

They obeyed, and in a few minutes the signal to charge was given, and Reno retreated pell mell before the onset of the Sioux.

Sitting Bull had confidence in his men so long as Gall planned and directed the attack, whether against United States soldiers or the warriors of another tribe. He was a strategist, and able in a twinkling to note and seize upon an advantage. He was really the mainstay of Sitting Bull’s effective last stand. He consistently upheld his people’s right to their buffalo plains and believed that they should hold the government strictly to its agreements with them. When the treaty of 1868 was disregarded, he agreed with Sitting Bull in defending the last of their once vast domain, and after the Custer battle entered Canada with his chief. They hoped to bring their lost cause before the English government and were much disappointed when they were asked to return to the United States.

Gall finally reported at Fort Peck, Montana, in 1881, and brought half of the Hunkpapa band with him, whereupon he was soon followed by Sitting Bull himself. Although they had been promised by the United States commission who went to Canada to treat with them that they would not be punished if they returned, no sooner had Gall come down than a part of his people were attacked, and in the spring they were all brought to Fort Randall and held as military prisoners. From this point they were returned to Standing Rock agency.

When “Buffalo Bill” successfully launched his first show, he made every effort to secure both Sitting Bull and Gall for his leading attractions. The military was in complete accord with him in this, for they still had grave suspicions of these two leaders. While Sitting Bull reluctantly agreed, Gall haughtily said: “I am not an animal to be exhibited before the crowd,” and retired to his teepee. His spirit was much worn, and he lost strength from that time on. That superb manhood dwindled, and in a few years he died. He was a real hero of a free and natural people, a type that is never to be seen again.


Crazy Horse was born on the Republican River about 1845. He was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877, so that he lived barely thirty-three years.

He was an uncommonly handsome man. While not the equal of Gall in magnificence and imposing stature, he was physically perfect, an Apollo in symmetry. Furthermore he was a true type of Indian refinement and grace. He was modest and courteous as Chief Joseph; the difference is that he was a born warrior, while Joseph was not. However, he was a gentle warrior, a true brave, who stood for the highest ideal of the Sioux. Notwithstanding all that biased historians have said of him, it is only fair to judge a man by the estimate of his own people rather than that of his enemies.

The boyhood of Crazy Horse was passed in the days when the western Sioux saw a white man but seldom, and then it was usually a trader or a soldier. He was carefully brought up according to the tribal customs. At that period the Sioux prided themselves on the training and development of their sons and daughters, and not a step in that development was overlooked as an excuse to bring the child before the public by giving a feast in its honor. At such times the parents often gave so generously to the needy that they almost impoverished themselves, thus setting an example to the child of self-denial for the general good. His first step alone, the first word spoken, first game killed, the attainment of manhood or womanhood, each was the occasion of a feast and dance in his honor, at which the poor always benefited to the full extent of the parents’ ability.

Big-heartedness, generosity, courage, and self-denial are the qualifications of a public servant, and the average Indian was keen to follow this ideal. As every one knows, these characteristic traits become a weakness when he enters a life founded upon commerce and gain. Under such conditions the life of Crazy Horse began. His mother, like other mothers, tender and watchful of her boy, would never once place an obstacle in the way of his father’s severe physical training. They laid the spiritual and patriotic foundations of his education in such a way that he early became conscious of the demands of public service.

He was perhaps four or five years old when the band was snowed in one severe winter. They were very short of food, but his father was a tireless hunter. The buffalo, their main dependence, were not to be found, but he was out in the storm and cold every day and finally brought in two antelopes. The little boy got on his pet pony and rode through the camp, telling the old folks to come to his mother’s teepee for meat. It turned out that neither his father nor mother had authorized him to do this. Before they knew it, old men and women were lined up before the teepee home, ready to receive the meat, in answer to his invitation. As a result, the mother had to distribute nearly all of it, keeping only enough for two meals.

On the following day the child asked for food. His mother told him that the old folks had taken it all, and added: “Remember, my son, they went home singing praises in your name, not my name or your father’s. You must be brave. You must live up to your reputation.”

Crazy Horse loved horses, and his father gave him a pony of his own when he was very young. He became a fine horseman and accompanied his father on buffalo hunts, holding the pack horses while the men chased the buffalo and thus gradually learning the art. In those days the Sioux had but few guns, and the hunting was mostly done with bow and arrows.

Another story told of his boyhood is that when he was about twelve he went to look for the ponies with his little brother, whom he loved much, and took a great deal of pains to teach what he had already learned. They came to some wild cherry trees full of ripe fruit, and while they were enjoying it, the brothers were startled by the growl and sudden rush of a bear. Young Crazy Horse pushed his brother up into the nearest tree and himself sprang upon the back of one of the horses, which was frightened and ran some distance before he could control him. As soon as he could, however, he turned him about and came back, yelling and swinging his lariat over his head. The bear at first showed fight but finally turned and ran. The old man who told me this story added that young as he was, he had some power, so that even a grizzly did not care to tackle him. I believe it is a fact that a silver-tip will dare anything except a bell or a lasso line, so that accidentally the boy had hit upon the very thing which would drive him off.

It was usual for Sioux boys of his day to wait in the field after a buffalo hunt until sundown, when the young calves would come out in the open, hungrily seeking their mothers. Then these wild children would enjoy a mimic hunt, and lasso the calves or drive them into camp. Crazy Horse was found to be a determined little fellow, and it was settled one day among the larger boys that they would “stump” him to ride a good-sized bull calf. He rode the calf, and stayed on its back while it ran bawling over the hills, followed by the other boys on their ponies, until his strange mount stood trembling and exhausted.

At the age of sixteen he joined a war party against the Gros Ventres. He was well in the front of the charge, and at once established his bravery by following closely one of the foremost Sioux warriors, by the name of Hump, drawing the enemy’s fire and circling around their advance guard. Suddenly Hump’s horse was shot from under him, and there was a rush of warriors to kill or capture him while down. But amidst a shower of arrows the youth leaped from his pony, helped his friend into his own saddle, sprang up behind him, and carried him off in safety, although they were hotly pursued by the enemy. Thus he associated himself in his maiden battle with the wizard of Indian warfare, and Hump, who was then at the height of his own career, pronounced Crazy Horse the coming warrior of the Teton Sioux.

At this period of his life, as was customary with the best young men, he spent much time in prayer and solitude. Just what happened in these days of his fasting in the wilderness and upon the crown of bald buttes, no one will ever know; for these things may only be known when one has lived through the battles of life to an honored old age. He was much sought after by his youthful associates, but was noticeably reserved and modest; yet in the moment of danger he at once rose above them all — a natural leader! Crazy Horse was a typical Sioux brave, and from the point of view of our race an ideal hero, living at the height of the epical progress of the American Indian and maintaining in his own character all that was most subtle and ennobling of their spiritual life, and that has since been lost in the contact with a material civilization.

He loved Hump, that peerless warrior, and the two became close friends, in spite of the difference in age. Men called them “the grizzly and his cub.” Again and again the pair saved the day for the Sioux in a skirmish with some neighboring tribe. But one day they undertook a losing battle against the Snakes. The Sioux were in full retreat and were fast being overwhelmed by superior numbers. The old warrior fell in a last desperate charge; but Crazy Horse and his younger brother, though dismounted, killed two of the enemy and thus made good their retreat.

It was observed of him that when he pursued the enemy into their stronghold, as he was wont to do, he often refrained from killing, and simply struck them with a switch, showing that he did not fear their weapons nor care to waste his upon them. In attempting this very feat, he lost this only brother of his, who emulated him closely. A party of young warriors, led by Crazy Horse, had dashed upon a frontier post, killed one of the sentinels, stampeded the horses, and pursued the herder to the very gate of the stockade, thus drawing upon themselves the fire of the garrison. The leader escaped without a scratch, but his young brother was brought down from his horse and killed.

While he was still under twenty, there was a great winter buffalo hunt, and he came back with ten buffaloes’ tongues which he sent to the council lodge for the councilors’ feast. He had in one winter day killed ten buffalo cows with his bow and arrows, and the unsuccessful hunters or those who had no swift ponies were made happy by his generosity. When the hunters returned, these came chanting songs of thanks. He knew that his father was an expert hunter and had a good horse, so he took no meat home, putting in practice the spirit of his early teaching.

He attained his majority at the crisis of the difficulties between the United States and the Sioux. Even before that time, Crazy Horse had already proved his worth to his people in Indian warfare. He had risked his life again and again, and in some instances it was considered almost a miracle that he had saved others as well as himself. He was no orator nor was he the son of a chief. His success and influence was purely a matter of personality. He had never fought the whites up to this time, and indeed no “coup” was counted for killing or scalping a white man.

Young Crazy Horse was twenty-one years old when all the Teton Sioux chiefs (the western or plains dwellers) met in council to determine upon their future policy toward the invader. Their former agreements had been by individual bands, each for itself, and every one was friendly. They reasoned that the country was wide, and that the white traders should be made welcome. Up to this time they had anticipated no conflict. They had permitted the Oregon Trail, but now to their astonishment forts were built and garrisoned in their territory.

Most of the chiefs advocated a strong resistance. There were a few influential men who desired still to live in peace, and who were willing to make another treaty. Among these were White Bull, Two Kettle, Four Bears, and Swift Bear. Even Spotted Tail, afterward the great peace chief, was at this time with the majority, who decided in the year 1866 to defend their rights and territory by force. Attacks were to be made upon the forts within their country and on every trespasser on the same.

Crazy Horse took no part in the discussion, but he and all the young warriors were in accord with the decision of the council. Although so young, he was already a leader among them. Other prominent young braves were Sword (brother of the man of that name who was long captain of police at Pine Ridge), the younger Hump, Charging Bear, Spotted Elk, Crow King, No Water, Big Road, He Dog, the nephew of Red Cloud, and Touch-the-Cloud, intimate friend of Crazy Horse.

The attack on Fort Phil Kearny was the first fruits of the new policy, and here Crazy Horse was chosen to lead the attack on the woodchoppers, designed to draw the soldiers out of the fort, while an army of six hundred lay in wait for them. The success of this stratagem was further enhanced by his masterful handling of his men. From this time on a general war was inaugurated; Sitting Bull looked to him as a principal war leader, and even the Cheyenne chiefs, allies of the Sioux, practically acknowledged his leadership. Yet during the following ten years of defensive war he was never known to make a speech, though his teepee was the rendezvous of the young men. He was depended upon to put into action the decisions of the council, and was frequently consulted by the older chiefs.

Like Osceola, he rose suddenly; like Tecumseh he was always impatient for battle; like Pontiac, he fought on while his allies were suing for peace, and like Grant, the silent soldier, he was a man of deeds and not of words. He won from Custer and Fetterman and Crook. He won every battle that he undertook, with the exception of one or two occasions when he was surprised in the midst of his women and children, and even then he managed to extricate himself in safety from a difficult position.

Early in the year 1876, his runners brought word from Sitting Bull that all the roving bands would converge upon the upper Tongue River in Montana for summer feasts and conferences. There was conflicting news from the reservation. It was rumored that the army would fight the Sioux to a finish; again, it was said that another commission would be sent out to treat with them.

The Indians came together early in June, and formed a series of encampments stretching out from three to four miles, each band keeping separate camp. On June 17, scouts came in and reported the advance of a large body of troops under General Crook. The council sent Crazy Horse with seven hundred men to meet and attack him. These were nearly all young men, many of them under twenty, the flower of the hostile Sioux. They set out at night so as to steal a march upon the enemy, but within three or four miles of his camp they came unexpectedly upon some of his Crow scouts. There was a hurried exchange of shots; the Crows fled back to Crook’s camp, pursued by the Sioux. The soldiers had their warning, and it was impossible to enter the well-protected camp. Again and again Crazy Horse charged with his bravest men, in the attempt to bring the troops into the open, but he succeeded only in drawing their fire. Toward afternoon he withdrew, and returned to camp disappointed. His scouts remained to watch Crook’s movements, and later brought word that he had retreated to Goose Creek and seemed to have no further disposition to disturb the Sioux. It is well known to us that it is Crook rather than Reno who is to be blamed for cowardice in connection with Custer’s fate. The latter had no chance to do anything, he was lucky to save himself; but if Crook had kept on his way, as ordered, to meet Terry, with his one thousand regulars and two hundred Crow and Shoshone scouts, he would inevitably have intercepted Custer in his advance and saved the day for him, and war with the Sioux would have ended right there. Instead of this, he fell back upon Fort Meade, eating his horses on the way, in a country swarming with game, for fear of Crazy Horse and his braves!

The Indians now crossed the divide between the Tongue and the Little Big Horn, where they felt safe from immediate pursuit. Here, with all their precautions, they were caught unawares by General Custer, in the midst of their midday games and festivities, while many were out upon the daily hunt.

On this twenty-fifth of June, 1876, the great camp was scattered for three miles or more along the level river bottom, back of the thin line of cottonwoods — five circular rows of teepees, ranging from half a mile to a mile and a half in circumference. Here and there stood out a large, white, solitary teepee; these were the lodges or “clubs” of the young men. Crazy Horse was a member of the “Strong Hearts” and the “Tokala” or Fox lodge. He was watching a game of ring-toss when the warning came from the southern end of the camp of the approach of troops.

The Sioux and the Cheyennes were “minute men”, and although taken by surprise, they instantly responded. Meanwhile, the women and children were thrown into confusion. Dogs were howling, ponies running hither and thither, pursued by their owners, while many of the old men were singing their lodge songs to encourage the warriors, or praising the “strong heart” of Crazy Horse.

That leader had quickly saddled his favorite war pony and was starting with his young men for the south end of the camp, when a fresh alarm came from the opposite direction, and looking up, he saw Custer’s force upon the top of the bluff directly across the river. As quick as a flash, he took in the situation — the enemy had planned to attack the camp at both ends at once; and knowing that Custer could not ford the river at that point, he instantly led his men northward to the ford to cut him off. The Cheyennes followed closely. Custer must have seen that wonderful dash up the sage-bush plain, and one wonders whether he realized its meaning. In a very few minutes, this wild general of the plains had outwitted one of the most brilliant leaders of the Civil War and ended at once his military career and his life.

In this dashing charge, Crazy Horse snatched his most famous victory out of what seemed frightful peril, for the Sioux could not know how many were behind Custer. He was caught in his own trap. To the soldiers it must have seemed as if the Indians rose up from the earth to overwhelm them. They closed in from three sides and fought until not a white man was left alive. Then they went down to Reno’s stand and found him so well intrenched in a deep gully that it was impossible to dislodge him. Gall and his men held him there until the approach of General Terry compelled the Sioux to break camp and scatter in different directions.

While Sitting Bull was pursued into Canada, Crazy Horse and the Cheyennes wandered about, comparatively undisturbed, during the rest of that year, until in the winter the army surprised the Cheyennes, but did not do them much harm, possibly because they knew that Crazy Horse was not far off. His name was held in wholesome respect. From time to time, delegations of friendly Indians were sent to him, to urge him to come in to the reservation, promising a full hearing and fair treatment.

For some time he held out, but the rapid disappearance of the buffalo, their only means of support, probably weighed with him more than any other influence. In July, 1877, he was finally prevailed upon to come in to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, with several thousand Indians, most of them Ogallala and Minneconwoju Sioux, on the distinct understanding that the government would hear and adjust their grievances.

At this juncture General Crook proclaimed Spotted Tail, who had rendered much valuable service to the army, head chief of the Sioux, which was resented by many. The attention paid Crazy Horse was offensive to Spotted Tail and the Indian scouts, who planned a conspiracy against him. They reported to General Crook that the young chief would murder him at the next council, and stampede the Sioux into another war. He was urged not to attend the council and did not, but sent another officer to represent him. Meanwhile the friends of Crazy Horse discovered the plot and told him of it. His reply was, “Only cowards are murderers.”

His wife was critically ill at the time, and he decided to take her to her parents at Spotted Tail agency, whereupon his enemies circulated the story that he had fled, and a party of scouts was sent after him. They overtook him riding with his wife and one other but did not undertake to arrest him, and after he had left the sick woman with her people he went to call on Captain Lea, the agent for the Brules, accompanied by all the warriors of the Minneconwoju band. This volunteer escort made an imposing appearance on horseback, shouting and singing, and in the words of Captain Lea himself and the missionary, the Reverend Mr. Cleveland, the situation was extremely critical. Indeed, the scouts who had followed Crazy Horse from Red Cloud agency were advised not to show themselves, as some of the warriors had urged that they be taken out and horsewhipped publicly.

Under these circumstances Crazy Horse again showed his masterful spirit by holding these young men in check. He said to them in his quiet way: “It is well to be brave in the field of battle; it is cowardly to display bravery against one’s own tribesmen. These scouts have been compelled to do what they did; they are no better than servants of the white officers. I came here on a peaceful errand.”

The captain urged him to report at army headquarters to explain himself and correct false rumors, and on his giving consent, furnished him with a wagon and escort. It has been said that he went back under arrest, but this is untrue. Indians have boasted that they had a hand in bringing him in, but their stories are without foundation. He went of his own accord, either suspecting no treachery or determined to defy it.

When he reached the military camp, Little Big Man walked arm-in-arm with him, and his cousin and friend, Touch-the-Cloud, was just in advance. After they passed the sentinel, an officer approached them and walked on his other side. He was unarmed but for the knife which is carried for ordinary uses by women as well as men. Unsuspectingly he walked toward the guardhouse, when Touch-the-Cloud suddenly turned back exclaiming: “Cousin, they will put you in prison!”

“Another white man’s trick! Let me go! Let me die fighting!” cried Crazy Horse. He stopped and tried to free himself and draw his knife, but both arms were held fast by Little Big Man and the officer. While he struggled thus, a soldier thrust him through with his bayonet from behind. The wound was mortal, and he died in the course of that night, his old father singing the death song over him and afterward carrying away the body, which they said must not be further polluted by the touch of a white man. They hid it somewhere in the Bad Lands, his resting place to this day.

Thus died one of the ablest and truest American Indians. His life was ideal; his record clean. He was never involved in any of the numerous massacres on the trail, but was a leader in practically every open fight. Such characters as those of Crazy Horse and Chief Joseph are not easily found among so-called civilized people. The reputation of great men is apt to be shadowed by questionable motives and policies, but here are two pure patriots, as worthy of honor as any who ever breathed God’s air in the wide spaces of a new world.


IT is not easy to characterize Sitting Bull, of all Sioux chiefs most generally known to the American people. There are few to whom his name is not familiar, and still fewer who have learned to connect it with anything more than the conventional notion of a bloodthirsty savage. The man was an enigma at best. He was not impulsive, nor was he phlegmatic. He was most serious when he seemed to be jocose. He was gifted with the power of sarcasm, and few have used it more artfully than he.

His father was one of the best-known members of the Unkpapa band of Sioux. The manner of this man’s death was characteristic. One day, when the Unkpapas were attacked by a large war party of Crows, he fell upon the enemy’s war leader with his knife. In a hand-to-hand combat of this sort, we count the victor as entitled to a war bonnet of trailing plumes. It means certain death to one or both. In this case, both men dealt a mortal stroke, and Jumping Buffalo, the father of Sitting Bull, fell from his saddle and died in a few minutes. The other died later from the effects of the wound.

Sitting Bull’s boyhood must have been a happy one. It was long after the day of the dog-travaux, and his father owned many ponies of variegated colors. It was said of him in a joking way that his legs were bowed like the ribs of the ponies that he rode constantly from childhood. He had also a common nickname that was much to the point. It was “Hunkeshnee”, which means “Slow”, referring to his inability to run fast, or more probably to the fact that he seldom appeared on foot. In their boyish games he was wont to take the part of the “old man”, but this does not mean that he was not active and brave. It is told that after a buffalo hunt the boys were enjoying a mimic hunt with the calves that had been left behind. A large calf turned viciously on Sitting Bull, whose pony had thrown him, but the alert youth got hold of both ears and struggled until the calf was pushed back into a buffalo wallow in a sitting posture. The boys shouted: “He has subdued the buffalo calf! He made it sit down!” And from this incident was derived his familiar name of Sitting Bull.

It is a mistake to suppose that Sitting Bull, or any other Indian warrior, was of a murderous disposition. It is true that savage warfare had grown more and more harsh and cruel since the coming of white traders among them, bringing guns, knives, and whisky. Yet it was still regarded largely as a sort of game, undertaken in order to develop the manly qualities of their youth. It was the degree of risk which brought honor, rather than the number slain, and a brave must mourn thirty days, with blackened face and loosened hair, for the enemy whose life he had taken. While the spoils of war were allowed, this did not extend to territorial aggrandizement, nor was there any wish to overthrow another nation and enslave its people. It was a point of honor in the old days to treat a captive with kindness. The common impression that the Indian is naturally cruel and revengeful is entirely opposed to his philosophy and training. The revengeful tendency of the Indian was aroused by the white man. It is not the natural Indian who is mean and tricky; not Massasoit but King Philip; not Attackullakulla but Weatherford; not Wabashaw but Little Crow; not Jumping Buffalo but Sitting Bull! These men lifted their hands against the white man, while their fathers held theirs out to him with gifts.

Remember that there were councils which gave their decisions in accordance with the highest ideal of human justice before there were any cities on this continent; before there were bridges to span the Mississippi; before this network of railroads was dreamed of! There were primitive communities upon the very spot where Chicago or New York City now stands, where men were as children, innocent of all the crimes now committed there daily and nightly. True morality is more easily maintained in connection with the simple life. You must accept the truth that you demoralize any race whom you have subjugated.

From this point of view we shall consider Sitting Bull’s career. We say he is an untutored man: that is true so far as learning of a literary type is concerned; but he was not an untutored man when you view him from the standpoint of his nation. To be sure, he did not learn his lessons from books. This is second-hand information at best. All that he learned he verified for himself and put into daily practice. In personal appearance he was rather commonplace and made no immediate impression, but as he talked he seemed to take hold of his hearers more and more. He was bull-headed; quick to grasp a situation, and not readily induced to change his mind. He was not suspicious until he was forced to be so. All his meaner traits were inevitably developed by the events of his later career.

Sitting Bull’s history has been written many times by newspaper men and army officers, but I find no account of him which is entirely correct. I met him personally in 1884, and since his death I have gone thoroughly into the details of his life with his relatives and contemporaries. It has often been said that he was a physical coward and not a warrior. Judge of this for yourselves from the deed which first gave him fame in his own tribe, when he was about twenty-eight years old.

In an attack upon a band of Crow Indians, one of the enemy took his stand, after the rest had fled, in a deep ditch from which it seemed impossible to dislodge him. The situation had already cost the lives of several warriors, but they could not let him go to repeat such a boast over the Sioux!

“Follow me!” said Sitting Bull, and charged. He raced his horse to the brim of the ditch and struck at the enemy with his coup-staff, thus compelling him to expose himself to the fire of the others while shooting his assailant. But the Crow merely poked his empty gun into his face and dodged back under cover. Then Sitting Bull stopped; he saw that no one had followed him, and he also perceived that the enemy had no more ammunition left. He rode deliberately up to the barrier and threw his loaded gun over it; then he went back to his party and told them what he thought of them.

“Now,” said he, “I have armed him, for I will not see a brave man killed unarmed. I will strike him again with my coup-staff to count the first feather; who will count the second?”

Again he led the charge, and this time they all followed him. Sitting Bull was severely wounded by his own gun in the hands of the enemy, who was killed by those that came after him. This is a record that so far as I know was never made by any other warrior.

The second incident that made him well known was his taking of a boy captive in battle with the Assiniboines. He saved this boy’s life and adopted him as his brother. Hohay, as he was called, was devoted to Sitting Bull and helped much in later years to spread his fame. Sitting Bull was a born diplomat, a ready speaker, and in middle life he ceased to go upon the warpath, to become the councilor of his people. From this time on, this man represented him in all important battles, and upon every brave deed done was wont to exclaim aloud:

“I, Sitting Bull’s boy, do this in his name!”

He had a nephew, now living, who resembles him strongly, and who also represented him personally upon the field; and so far as there is any remnant left of his immediate band, they look upon this man One Bull as their chief.