Know Your Indians - The
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Double Action Western magazine 1953 September. Digital capture 2007 November by Doug Frizzle.
IN ALL THE history of our shameful dealings with the Indians, there is no blacker page than our treatment of the
Yet neither the
One of the greatest, proudest, bravest and at the same time peace-loving tribes of our country, the
As to the
This was a term applied to anyone whom the Sioux could not understand; white men corrupted it to "
They changed their name, their tongue, and their means and manner of living to suit conditions and environment. They adopted the conical tipis, hunting the buffalo and other game instead of cultivating the ground, and became the finest horsemen of the plains. Yet they did not change their natures, their inherently peaceful ways, and their desire for friendship with their fellow men. This included the whites, although, according to their traditions, the arrival of the white men and their conquest of the Indians had been foretold by a great Shaman and Cultural Hero named "Sweet Medicine," whose prophecy was strikingly like those of the Aztec and Incan seers.
During the period prior to 1831 and until 1880, the
THERE IS no need to recount all of the wanderings and adventures of the
Despite their long warfare with enemy tribes, they were friendly to the white men. Lewis and Clark found them peaceful and the later trappers, traders and settlers had no trouble with them. Meanwhile the
The first wagon train to cross
The first trouble started with an attack on the Sioux, when a visiting Minneconjou saw a white soldier about to cross the river in a rowboat and asked the trooper to take him along. For reply the soldier cursed the Indian and struck him. Then, as he started to row away, the Minneconjou fired his musket. Frightened at what he had done, the Indian retreated to his camp while the soldier, also scared, hurried to the fort where there were a dozen soldiers and some 10,000 Indians.
Having heard the frightened soldier's tale, Lieutenant Fleming with five men charged into the Indians' camp. Only women and children were there, all the men being absent on a hunt. The soldiers fired a volley, killing five Sioux, and then retired to the fort. The following day the Indian leaders visited the fort and assured the commandant that they were not hostile, but protested the shooting of five innocent women.
The first trouble with the
Again it was a Minneconjou who was responsible. He came upon a sick, half-starved cow abandoned by a wagon-train, killed and skinned it and reported what he had done to the chiefs. The Brule Sioux chief, Bear Who Scatters His Enemies, at once reported the matter to the officers at the fort and offered to pay $10.00 for the old cow. The former owner demanded $25.00 and the matter was taken up with the Indian Agent. Grattan, however, obtained permission to take twenty men and arrest the Minneconjou who had killed the cow—although the act violated the treaty provided that disputes between Indians and whites were to be settled by the chiefs.
Accompanied by twenty-nine men with two howitzers, Grattan made for the Indian camp. Realizing the dire results impending, two chiefs, Man Afraid of His Horse and Bear That Scatters His Enemies, begged the soldiers to wait, but to no avail. Reaching the camp, the cavalry halted about fifty yards from the tipis and without warning opened fire. At the first volley, Bear Who Scatters His Enemies was killed together with a number of Indians. Then the artillery opened up and the shot tore through lodges, wounding women and children. It was not until then that the Indians opened fire with the result that Grattan's force was wiped out, not a man escaping. Even then, the Indians did not go on the warpath, but broke camp and scattered.
AT NO TIME during this trouble had the
Enraged, Harney ordered an attack and the soldiers opened fire, killing eighty-six Brules—mainly women and children—wounding many more and taking seventy women and children as prisoners. Not a single shot was fired by the Indians, and there was no resistance offered. In fact, so terrified were the Indians, that—in order to avoid further troubles—five braves voluntarily rode in and surrendered to Harney, declaring they had killed Grattan.
Harney next ordered all the Sioux and
Then someone declared that the
Following this episode, the main body of
Finding they were out of tobacco, and seeing the mail wagon approaching, one of the Indians and a half-breed stepped out to the road and signaled the wagon driver to stop, merely to beg for tobacco. Instead of stopping, the driver drew his revolver, fired at the
When they learned what had happened, the chiefs ordered the two men to be whipped and driven from the camp, terrified for fear of what might follow. Their fears were well-founded, for the following day, a troop of the First Cavalry under Captain G. H. Stewart appeared. The Indians sat quietly, unarmed, when a bugle call sounded and the cavalry charged into the village. Terror-stricken, the Indians fled in every direction, but ten were killed and eight wounded—although not one shot had been fired by them. The soldiers then looted the camp and rode off. In his report of this wholly uncalled-for massacre of the peaceful, unarmed Indians, Captain Stewart wrote that: "I lost no men and not a wound was received.”
A short time after this, another band of
Later, they learned through a friendly white man that Big Head, one of their chiefs, had been wounded and was a prisoner, and that their stolen horses were at the fort. Charging unexpectedly at the corral, they secured their ponies and rescued Big Head without firing at the troops or touching the cavalry mounts.
Fearing what might ensue, the Indian Agent, Twiss, wrote to
IT WAS ABOUT this time that the Sioux outbreak in
As the soldiers approached, the chief reassured his frightened men, telling them there would be no trouble as he would show the Lieutenant the papers and Medal given him by the President. Accompanied by his attendants, Lean Bear rode towards the cavalry making the peace sign. When less than twenty paces away, Layre ordered his men to fire and Lean Bear and his men fell, fairly torn to pieces by bullets. Then, charging over their bodies, the soldiers brought the cannon into action and killed twenty-six of the fleeing Indians, wounding dozens more.
In the meantime, Lieutenant Dunn, in charge of another detachment, came upon another band of
Other white men, who realized the justice of the Indians' reprisals, added their pleas. On the Indians' side, chiefs Yellow Wolf, Black Kettle and others also wanted peace—with the result that the Indians divided, the younger, more hot-headed warriors going northwest, while the older, peacefully-inclined bands used every effort to negotiate an honorable peace.
But honor, when it came to dealing with Indians, was unknown to the leaders of the whites and the Army officers. Black Kettle's band was invited by Major Scott Anthony to come in to
The approaching troops were first sighted by
The next moment, the troops, now within pistol shot, opened fire, killing scores of the
Beneath the flag with its stars and stripes, Black Kettle and his wife, with elderly White Antelope, stood motionless, dazed and horrified at the butchery until they were the only Indians left alive.
FOR ONCE the public had its fill of the Army's treatment of the Indians. As true accounts of the massacre reached the east, citizens everywhere demanded a court-martial of Chivington who—seeing which way the wind now blew—retired from the Army before a court could be convened. Although a Congressional investigation bared the entire matter, the public denunciation of the massacre came too late. As the Sioux chief, Big Mouth, said, ''You white men have set the prairie on fire."
The first, and one of the most disastrous victories of the Indians, was in December, 1866, when Colonel Fetterman and his men were trapped— not far from
Not long after the so-called "Fetterman massacre," a party of
The war continued with the whites claiming numerous "victories,"— although in nearly every case, the Indians killed were peaceful bands who had taken no part in the hostilities. In the meantime, a new Indian leader was making history. Although known to the whites as Sitting Bull, the real name of this Uncapapa Sioux was "Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down". An immense amount of misinformation, lies and utter nonsense has been written and told of him. He is accused of having planned the Custer "massacre" and to have been a mighty chief and warrior.
As a matter of fact, he was not a chief, but a medicine-man. He was no famed warrior, and he constantly urged for peace with the whites. Many of the Indians joined him, for he was regarded as a man of great wisdom, and a Shaman. Also, many had been followers of Black Kettle who, despite his never-failing desire for peace, had been killed during Custer's slaughter of the
The next event of importance was the battle of Tongue River when General Crook met a small party of northern
Having lost all they possessed in a battle with General Reynolds, a band of
LITTLE WOLF, Dull Knife, and about one thousand of their people were placed on reservations at Darlington and
Dull Knife and Little Wolf sent pitiful pleas for help to the government, but nothing was done; and when they appealed to the Indian Agent for permission to go to
Resuming the trek northward, avoiding settlements and ranches, committing no depredations, the
At dawn, when the soldiers returned to the attack, not an Indian was to be found, for all had stolen away during the night. Soon after crossing the
IT WAS THEN that General Crook, with 12,000 troops, set a trap for the homeward-bound
Once beyond the
These carried word to Lieutenant Clark who, a couple of days later, overtook the
Finally all agreed and Little Wolf told
But by mere chance, they almost ran into a column of troopers of the Third Cavalry who never suspected there were Indians near. Ordering his men not to shoot, but to ride forward with hands in air, Dull Knife shook hands with Captain Johnson and explained that he and his band were on their way to the agency. Apparently the soldiers were willing to be friendly, and as they turned back, they left hardtack and other food for the
After the starving Indians had eaten, they followed the cavalry, but discovering they were being led away from the agency and toward
When they protested at this treatment, they were locked in an abandoned barracks, 150 Indians being herded into the old building. It was sub-zero weather; there were open chinks between the logs of the walls; there was no food, no blankets and only a broken-down small stove. The Chiefs begged the Commandant to give them food and blankets. But instead Weasels, the Commandant, had Dull Knife and two other chiefs dragged to his office. One of the Indians was barefoot, having eaten his moccasins, and Dull Knife's only clothing was an old ragged blanket. When Dull Knife declared that if the "Great White Father" had sentenced them to death, they would die there. Wessels flew into a furious anger, banged his fist upon the table and ordered: "Lock the damned rascals up! Give them nothing —no food, no fuel, nothing. They'll give in right enough, damn them all!"
THREE DAYS later, with the temperature six below zero, without heat, food or clothing and with no water after they had scraped the snow from the window sills, the Indians began chanting their death-songs. Wassels was furious. He realized that the prisoners never would give in, for to all his threats their only reply was "We will die here."' He then ordered the
Two Indians were killed and another escaped, and regained the barracks through the window. Eight more terrible days passed. Then the Indians realizing their end was near, bade one another farewell and armed themselves with a carbine and some pistols they somehow had managed to retain. Resolved to die fighting, Little Shield smashed the window and shot the sentry.
Instantly all of the Indians crawled and stumbled through the window and headed for the river while the few armed men kept the troopers at bay, wounding five and killing one. Then, crazed by thirst, they threw themselves down by the river and drank until unable to move. There the troopers trampled the Indians under their horses' feet, cut them down with sabres or shot them—whether men, women or babes in arms. Sixty-four bodies of the
When the story of these pitiful survivors appeared in the press, a tidal wave of revulsion swept the country. It might be all right to fight hostile Indians in open warfare; but to torture and starve those who were prisoners was quite a different matter. The public was shocked by the story of the outrages committed by Captain Wessels, while the courageous actions of the starved and dying
It had taken them many years, the deaths of hundreds of their people and suffering beyond description, but the
At the present time, there are about 13,000 of the tribe living, but it is doubtful if there is a single pure-blooded Tsis-tsis-tas among them. They first absorbed the Suhtais. For many years they were affiliated with the various Sioux tribes, the Blackfeet, Arapahos and others with whom they had intermarried, and many of their prisoners, both Indian and white, joined the Cheyennes and married their women. But despite the mixture of blood, the
For much of the historical data, I am indebted to Mr. Joseph Millard, and to my good friend, Chief Ho-To-Pi, the famous