Saturday, 10 November 2007

Know Your Indians - The Cheyennes



Know Your Indians - The Cheyennes

Fact Feature

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 Cheyennes. It is bad enough to betray, double-cross and shoot one's enemies in the back, but to do so to one's friends is unpardonable. Yet that is what we did to the friendly Cheyennes, with the result that we were plunged into an Indian war that culminated with the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the annihilation of Custer and his command. And it was the Cheyennes, rather than the Sioux, who turned the tables; and instead of the Indians being massacred without mercy, as Custer had planned, they utterly destroyed our troops.

Yet neither the Cheyennes nor the Sioux encamped by the Little Big Horn had any hostile intentions; they had not prepared a "trap" for Custer as he had assumed. They did not even know that he and his men were in the vicinity, and not until the battle was over did they realize whom they had been fighting. When Custer dismounted his men in preparation for battle, his only opponents were three Cheyennes who were peacefully fishing in the river. The horsemen that had been seen near Crow Peak were Little Wolf, the Cheyenne chief who, with a number of women and old men, was on his way to visit the Sioux, instead of being Sioux scouts as the white men had assumed.

One of the greatest, proudest, bravest and at the same time peace-loving tribes of our country, the Cheyennes had from the first been friendly with the white men. But after fifty years of treachery, mistreatment and broken promises on the part of the whites, the Cheyennes at last took to the warpath, and with their allies carried on a war that endured for twenty-five years and cost countless lives.

As to the Cheyennes themselves, they were of a totally different racial stock from the Dakota and Lakota or Sioux groups. They were of Algonquin ancestry, related to the prairie tribes of the Middle West and a peaceful agricultural tribe who dwelt in earth lodges and cultivated their farms in the vicinity of Lake Superior until the early part of the 19th Century. Then, for some reason, they migrated westward. They called themselves the Tsis-tsis-tas meaning "The Real People," but when they came in contact with the Sioux, who could not understand their language, the Sioux referred to them as the Sha-hi-ena or “Those who talk red".

This was a term applied to anyone whom the Sioux could not understand; white men corrupted it to "Cheyenne", by which name these Indians have been known ever since. In fact they practically forgot their true tribal name and referred to themselves, and still do—as Cheyenne. Also, finding themselves among Indians of the Siouian linguistic group, they were obliged to adopt the new tongue. Still retaining many of their own words, their language, although in some ways much like that of the Lakotas, is quite distinct.

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 Cheyennes were affiliated with the Suhtai tribe, who spoke a variation of the Tsis-tsis-tas tongue, travelling and living together and inter-marrying until finally becoming one tribe, with no traces left of the Suhtai customs or linguistics. In later years about one-half of the Masikota Sioux allied themselves with the Cheyennes, and still later they were joined by the mild and peaceful Arapahoes with whom they formed a more or less unified confederation.

The Cheyenne political organization was most unusual. There never was one supreme chief with dictatorial power. The governing body consisted of a council of forty big chiefs, who were selected by the various bands or groups every ten years. This council selected four Old Men chiefs as advisers, while each warrior clan or society had its own war chief and nine other chiefs, all of whom acted as representatives at a council meeting. As a result, it was not unusual for several hundred chiefs to be present at a general council. In addition to all this, every warrior clan had three attendants, whose duty was to prepare the food, look after the horses and serve as guards when the braves fought on foot. They were by no means servants or menials, but were regarded as persons of high status; and their opinions were invariably asked when any important decision was to be made. In other words the Cheyennes' form of government was a true democracy, and in many respects was similar to that of the Incas of Peru—with many of the features of the political organization of the Six Nations, or Iroquois, of New York.

THERE IS no need to recount all of the wanderings and adventures of the Cheyennes until they finally reached their future home in the Black Hills. Although naturally peaceful and friendly, when warfare was forced upon them they were among the bravest, most valiant fighters of all the plains tribes. Throughout their long trek from Minnesota to the Black Hills of Dakota, they were obliged to fight their way through numerous hostile tribes who possessed firearms. Although the Cheyennes had only their bows and arrows, their war clubs and spears, in every case they were the victors. In warfare they were magnanimous, and held strictly to a code of honor. Even when battling the Crows, who were their greatest enemies, the captives were well treated; and, as was the case with the prisoners taken by the Sioux, these prisoners often refused to be returned to their own people but joined the Cheyennes. Children taken prisoners were adopted into the tribe, and at one time there were children of twenty-eight tribes being reared by the Cheyennes.

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 Cheyennes had separated into two groups; the northern and southern Cheyennes, although united and acting in unison. Although white settlements were being established and forts were being built, the Cheyennes still remained friendly and there was no friction. In fact, several white men—among them George Bent, one of two brothers who built Fort Bent—married a Cheyenne girl, daughter of Coyote Ear, and held quite an important place in the tribe.

The first wagon train to cross Cheyenne territory trundled across the plains in 1841; it was not molested, nor did they attack the emigrants who followed, yet the whites included them among the "hostile" tribes. When in 1849, Colonel Kearney established Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie, he reported that there was nothing to fear from the friendly Cheyennes, who were all anxious to keep out of any trouble with the white invaders.

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 Cheyennes was due to the action of Second Lieutenant J. L. Grattan—a hot-headed Indian-hater—who boasted that with ten men he'd wipe out the entire Cheyenne tribe. Then the incident occurred that resulted in the bloodiest Indian war in the history of the West

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 Cheyennes taken part, but had returned to their own hunting grounds and villages. In Washington, demands were made to "wipe out the red devils" and Grattan was regarded as a martyr. As usual, the whites did not discriminate when it came to Indian tribes; and when, in 1855, Colonel Harney led his force up the Platte River and found a camp of peaceful Brules under Little Thunder, he surrounded them with his soldiers and demanded the surrender of the Indians who had wiped out Grattan's force. This was impossible for they had been Minneconjous, the Brules having had no part in the affair.

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 Cheyennes to meet him at Fort Pierre. At this meeting, the Sioux agreed to obey the white men's orders; but the Cheyennes, who had taken no part in the troubles, refused to appear. Harney swore that, in the spring, he would lead a force against them and teach them who was master. It was now evident to the Cheyennes that their association with the Sioux was leading them into hostilities with the whites; and their chiefs—Crazy Head, Dull Knife, Lame Man, Old Bear, Little Wolf and others—foresaw that war was almost inevitable, although they did their utmost to avoid any hostilities.

Then someone declared that the Cheyennes had four horses belonging to the white men. The Indians did not deny this, but claimed that the horses were strays they had found in the plains and had brought in, hoping the owners would pay for the recovery of the animals. This, the post Commandant agreed to do and the Indians handed over three of the ponies. The fourth, Little Wolf claimed as his own, pointing out that the horse was of a different breed, and unlike that claimed lost by the white man. In the argument that followed, the Commandant ordered the arrest of the Cheyennes; an Indian bystander, Wolf Fire, was seized, the other Cheyennes escaping. Merely because he was a Cheyenne, Wolf Fire was imprisoned, half-starved and finally died in confinement.

Following this episode, the main body of Cheyennes joined their southern kinsmen along the Arkansas. Their only enemies were the Pawnees, and it was while they were on their way to Pawnee territory that once more they clashed with the whites.

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 Cheyennes, and whipped up his team, almost running down the Indian and his companion. Enraged at this treatment, they fired a few arrows after the wagon, one of them striking the driver's arm.

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 Cheyennes—who had no knowledge of what had occurred—returned from a hunt and stopped at Fort Kearney for a visit. Accompanying them there was a single Sioux who had done nothing wrong. Without any warning he was arrested and balls and chains were locked on his legs. Realizing that something was amiss, the Cheyennes ran off, taking the manacled Sioux with them. The troops opened fire and several Indians were wounded. Then mounting their horses, the soldiers raided the Cheyenne camp. Seizing the Indians’ ponies, the troops destroyed their lodges and property while the fugitive Cheyennes—having no idea of the reason for the attack—made their way to their village.

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 Washington stating that the Cheyennes were peaceful and quiet; but having seen their friends shot down by Stewart's men, the younger warriors could not be controlled by their chiefs. He added that if somebody would control the U. S. Army, he could control the Indians.

IT WAS ABOUT this time that the Sioux outbreak in Minnesota occurred. For two years the Government was too busily occupied with this, and the Civil War, to bother with the Cheyennes. Then another Indian-hating, crazy-headed Army officer started a bloody, inexcusable war that was bitterly denounced by many white men— including Kit Carson, the famous scout. About twenty head of stampeded steers were found by the Cheyennes, who brought them in to be delivered to the owners; the Cheyennes were charged with having stolen them. Whereupon Lieutenant George Layre, with a troop of cavalry equipped with a howitzer, set out to ''kill every Cheyenne he could find." The first of the Indians he met were a few buffalo-hunters with chief Lean Bear who, a few years earlier, had been in Washington.

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 Cheyennes and opened fire, wounding and killing several Indians. Numerous other attacks were made on camps and villages of the Cheyenne, most of whom had never heard that hostilities had broken out. All of these unprovoked massacres of the peaceful Cheyennes were pictured as "glorious victories" by the Army, and Governor Evans of Colorado declared it the duty of every white man to kill every Indian he met regardless of tribe. The result was that hundreds of the frontiersmen took advantage of this "open season" on the Indians and killed, robbed and scalped without discrimination. The war was on. Tortures was resorted to by the whites, as when Major Downing captured a Cheyenne scout and roasted his feet in a fire until the Indian told of the position of the Cheyenne camp. Raiding the camp at daybreak, when all the men were on a hunt and only women and children remained, Downing ordered his men to butcher every Indian.

At Fort Larned, when a friendly Arapaho, Chief Left Hand, and his men came in under a flag of truce, he was fired upon, and General Mitchell's actions resulted in the friendly Indians becoming hostile. Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapahos now united in an all-out war and in a short time had killed hundreds of whites, had burned settlements and farms and had cost our government over 30 million dollars. Settlers everywhere fled east when possible, stage and freight lines stopped operating. Denver was surrounded by Indians and was faced with starvation. Finally, realizing that the tribesmen had the upper hand, Governor Evans—who had boasted he would wipe out every Indian who could be found—appealed for peace.

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 Fort Lyon to negotiate for peace. Anthony notified Colonel Chivington, an ex-minister in charge of the Colorado military district, that he had lured the Cheyennes within easy reach and asked for troopers to attack them. With 600 soldiers, Chivington joined Anthony with his 100 men. With the utmost secrecy, they moved on the Cheyenne camp where the Indians, feeling that peace was near, were quietly waiting for the promised conference to begin. Their camp of 100 tipis contained some 200 men and about 500 women and children under Black Kettle, White Antelope, Yellow Wolf, Lone Bear and War Bonnet with a few Arapahos under Left Hand.

The approaching troops were first sighted by Cheyenne women when they went to the nearby stream for water just as day was breaking. At first, in the dim light, the dark mass of approaching soldiers was mistaken for a herd of buffalo and the women aroused the camp. When the men came hurrying out and realized that the oncoming horde was not buffalo, but soldiers, the Indians were in a panic until Black Kettle reassured them, declaring the white men were coming in peace and ordering his warriors to remain unarmed. At the signing of the treaty in I860, the chief had been presented with an American flag, which he now hoisted on a pole above his tipi while the Indians stood about him confident of safety beneath the flag.

The next moment, the troops, now within pistol shot, opened fire, killing scores of the Cheyennes. As those remaining alive or unharmed strove to escape, they were shot down by the soldiers, who then drew knives and bayonets and commenced a wholesale slaughter. Chivington urged them on, shouting: "Obey your orders. No prisoners to be taken."

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."

Yet the Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, whose people had suffered the most by treachery of the soldiers, still argued for peace. But finding that his fellows would not listen to his pleas, he moved his band out of the hostile area and into lands south of the Arkansas River.

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 Fort Kearney—and the entire force was wiped out by the combined Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Had Fetterman heeded the warning of the peacefully-inclined Cheyennes, he would not have fallen into the trap; but, like most other Army men, he regarded all Indians as foes to be shot down without mercy.

Not long after the so-called "Fetterman massacre," a party of Cheyennes under chief Porcupine, gazed with amazement when they first saw a railway train on the recently completed Union Pacific Railway. So ignorant of the "iron wagons" were the Indians, that they attempted to lasso the locomotive. However, they had placed logs on the track and the train was derailed, killing all of the crew.

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 Cheyennes at Washita. With the death of Black Kettle, the only remaining great Cheyenne chief, Little Wolf, and his band now joined the Sioux followers of Sitting Bull.

The next event of importance was the battle of Tongue River when General Crook met a small party of northern Cheyennes under Little Hawk. Although the soldiers were forced to retreat, leaving a number of men dead on the field, yet Crook reported it as a "smashing victory" over the "Sioux under Crazy Horse". A week after this skirmish, the Cheyennes, in daring cavalry-charges, bested the white soldiers at the Rosebud, although it was reported by the Army as a victory.

Having lost all they possessed in a battle with General Reynolds, a band of Cheyennes, led by a few Sioux, reached Sitting Bull's camp on the Little Big Horn. Here were assembled some ten or twelve thousand Indians belonging to the Unoapapa, Brule, Minneconjou, Blackfeet, Santee, Assiniboine, Sans Arc and other tribes with about 1500 Cheyennes, all having met for a peace conference. Never even suspecting that soldiers were near, the Indiana held dances and ceremonials and finally went to sleep, to be aroused by the women shouting that soldiers were approaching. There is no need to retell the Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, but it resulted in bringing the long Indian war to an end when honorable and sensible men and Army officers such as General Nelson A. Miles and others were placed in command. But before final peace had been established, the surviving Cheyennes were doomed to suffer another terrible fate at the hands of their captors.

LITTLE WOLF, Dull Knife, and about one thousand of their people were placed on reservations at Darlington and Fort Reno in Oklahoma. Here, in a barren desert land, torrid in summer and bitterly cold in winter, with no game and no adequate shelter, the Indians starved and suffered torment. Rations promised by the government failed to arrive and what little meat (he Indians did receive was mostly bone and gristle. There was only one doctor to attend to more than 5,000 Indians, and for more than six months, he was unable to obtain needed medicines and supplies. Within two months after they reached the reservations, more than half of the Cheyennes were ill. During the first winter, forty-one died of cold and malnutrition and those who survived were living skeletons.

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 Washington and report conditions, they were refused. Then Little Wolf delivered his ultimatum, and told the agent that he and his people were leaving and heading back to their own country. The next day the two chiefs, with about 300 Cheyennes, started north. On the second day, they were overtaken by troops. Although Little Wolf ordered his men not to fire on the soldiers, the latter fired on the chief—although he was under a flag of truce. Instantly, the Cheyennes charged the troopers. The fight lasted until the next day when the soldiers retreated, leaving several dead. None of the Indians had been killed, although several were seriously wounded, their lack of casualties being due to the fact that, for the first time, the Cheyennes had entrenched themselves.

Resuming the trek northward, avoiding settlements and ranches, committing no depredations, the Cheyennes plodded on. Then, once more, they were overtaken by the soldiers and surrounded. Many of the Indians' ponies had been killed and eaten; many of the band were riding double; and all— men, women and children, had been marching steadily across an arid waste for days and had been emaciated and weak from hunger at the start. But the indomitable spirit of the Cheyennes could not be weakened by hunger or hardships. Taking refuge among the rocks of the hillside, they beat back the charges of the soldiers until they were forced to withdraw. Then the Indians charged, drove the whites from their wagons and secured supplies of ammunition and food.

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 Arkansas, the Cheyennes came upon some buffalo-hide hunters. The Indians surrounded the men without harming them, for Little Wolf had ordered them not to shoot. The Cheyennes gorged themselves on buffalo-meat. Several times the Indians sighted troops but were not attacked and committed no depredations, although the papers everywhere held screaming headlines on the marauding Indians ravaging Nebraska and Kansas.

IT WAS THEN that General Crook, with 12,000 troops, set a trap for the homeward-bound Cheyennes. Columns of soldiers closed in on the east, south and west, two troops more were loaded into trains that shuttled back and forth across the pathway of the approaching Indians. In addition, two companies of cavalry were stationed at Ogallala. It was within two and one half-miles of this place that the Cheyennes reached the railway line. But Crook's trap was never sprung, for the Indians, having muffled the horses' hoofs, slipped at night between the two troops of cavalry and continued on their journey. When daylight came, the only traces of the Cheyennes that the soldiers could find were the tracks of the Indians' horses.

Once beyond the Platte River, the Cheyennes were in the sand hills where there was practically no vegetation, no water, no game. Even the soldiers who were on their trail suffered terribly and marvelled at the courage and the endurance of the Cheyennes, who soon separated into two bands, one under Dull Knife turning westward. By the Running Water, Little Wolf and his party settled down for the winter and were not molested, and in the spring continued on to the Powder River where they met two spies, one a Sioux the other a half-breed.

These carried word to Lieutenant Clark who, a couple of days later, overtook the Cheyennes. "Thank the Lord I've found you," he said as he rode up and grasped Little Wolf's hand. Then, he added: "I come as your friend, not your foe. I want you to surrender your arms and to accompany me to Fort Keogh." For the next few days, Indians and whites camped together while the Cheyennes held council.

Finally all agreed and Little Wolf told Clark that they would go peacefully to the fort. As they approached, General Nelson A. Miles rode out and shook hands with Little Wolf, saying: "Today we meet and shake hands; we will always be friends from now on." The story of Dull Knife and his band was very different. Unaware of the abandonment of the Red Cloud Agency, they headed for it with the intention of surrendering and asking to be allowed to remain on the tribal lands.

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 Cheyennes.

After the starving Indians had eaten, they followed the cavalry, but discovering they were being led away from the agency and toward Fort Robinson, they protested. Although the soldiers insisted they were merely being taken to the fort to surrender and that they would be housed and fed, the Cheyennes feared a trap. Despite the zero weather and a blizzard, they dug in the frozen earth and made fox-holes. All but five carbines had been taken from them, but with these five guns they faced the Army, and held their own for ten days until a cannon ball burst among the women and children. The Cheyennes then surrendered, but were so weak from exposure and hunger that they scarcely could walk and had to be loaded into wagons and hauled to the fort where they were well treated. Then they were told that Indian Agent Carl Schurz in Washington had ordered them sent back to the Oklahoma reservation,

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 Indiana dragged out and put in irons. But as the soldiers attempted to obey, Wildhog, weak as he was, drew a knife and others joined in the hopeless fight.

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 Cheyennes who had escaped from their prison were piled in the snow, but most of the missing 85 were never accounted for. Dull Knife with his wife and son and the latter’s wife and child, had in some miraculous manner escaped. Weak and emaciated as they were, they fought their way onward, subsisting on snow and their moccasins, until more dead than alive, they crawled into the Pine Ridge Agency and told of what had taken place.

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 Cheyennes were lauded. In Washington, Carl Schurz, who was responsible for the whole disgraceful affair, trembled in his shoes; to save his face, he sent frantic telegrams to Pine Ridge and Fort Keogh, granting the Cheyennes their freedom and their ancestral lands.

It had taken them many years, the deaths of hundreds of their people and suffering beyond description, but the Cheyennes had won. All they had desired, all they had fought for was theirs at last. They had peace and their homeland, although fewer than 500 of the tribe were left.

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 Cheyennes' character, their tribal pride, their desire for peace, their love of their homes and freedom and their prowess as fighters have never changed. As a Cheyenne youth said, when he and some companions volunteered for service in the World War: "Since when have the Cheyennes failed to fight for freedom?"

For much of the historical data, I am indebted to Mr. Joseph Millard, and to my good friend, Chief Ho-To-Pi, the famous Cheyenne opera singer.

A.H.V.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.