Thursday, May 26, 2011

War Correspondence from the Front Lines: Slim Buttes

General George Crook pictured here led the soldiers at the Slim Buttes fight. Slim Buttes is located in the northwestern corner of South Dakota. Just south of Slim Buttes, going towards Spearfish, is Crow Buttes, where not ten years earlier, the Lakota defeated the Crow Indians in a gunfight there.
War Correspondence from the Front Lines: 
Slim Buttes, Conflict On The Northern Plains
By Dakota Wind
SLIM BUTTES, S.D. - Note: Fintery’s account of the Slim Butte Fight took place three months after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

As we were about to break camp, on the morning of September 9th, a packer named George Herman rode up in hot haste to General Crook, bearing a dispatch from Colonel Mills, which announced that his detachment and attacked and captured, that morning, an Indian village of forty-one lodges, a large herd of ponies, and some supplies. The Sioux were still fighting to regain what they had lost, and the colonel requested reinforcements. He was then seventeen miles south , at Slim Buttes, on a tributary of Grand river. General Crook at once selected one hundred men, with the horses, from the 3d Cavalry, fifty from Noyes’ battalion of the 2d [Cavalry], and the 5th Cavalry, and, accompanied by his staff and the commanding officers of the different regiments, rode forward to the assistance of his subordinate. Mills, not anticipating an Indian fight, had allowed his men only fifty rounds of ammunition each, and Crook was alarmed lest the Sioux should compel him to expend his last cartridge before assistance could reach him. Finerty followed General Crook to the captured village. The Lakota retreated to gather together reinforcements to crush the white offense. Finerty speculates that the Lakota thought that Mills was alone like Custer before, because they weren’t anticipating Crook’s arrival to back Mills. The capture of the village took a few minutes at about 10 o’clock according to Finerty. Milles dispatched the scout Gruard to track the fleeing Lakota, which he did for about four miles. Mills then determined to attack the next morning.

Of course it rained all night, and while yet dark, the colonel moved forward his attachment, together with the pack mules, two miles. Then he halted the packers, fearing heir beats praying would alarm the Indians, dismounted all his cavalry, except twenty-five men under Schwatka, of Omaha, a well-known scout, and some other guides, went with Gruard and joined in the subsequent charge. Mills arriving in the edge of the ravine where the redskins sle[t securely, as they thought, sent Lieutenant Shwatka with his twenty-five mounted men, to drive off the pony heard [sic]. The ponies were stamped at once, but rushed for the village and alarmed the Indians.

A photo of Slim Buttes from Bob's Blah Blah Blog. There are plenty of beautiful and haunting images of Slim Buttes online, and blogs of people who visited that site. Plenty of antelope roam the range there, and an antelope research station is also at Slim Buttes. 

Von Leutwitz and Crawford, with fifty men each, on foot, surrounded the lodges and charged. There was a ripping of canvas and buffalo hide, as the Sioux had no time to untie the strings of the lodges and, therefore cut the tents with their knives. The soldiers fired a volley which the Indians returned in a desultory way. Almost at the first shot, Lieut. A. H. Von Leutwitz, of Troop F, 3d Cavalry, fell with a bullet through his right knee joint. This gentleman had served in the Austrian and Prussian armies, had fought at Montebello, Magneta, Solferino, all through the Italian campaign of ’59, had distinguished himself at Gettysburg and other great battles of our war, and had escaped comparatively unscathed. Yet his hour had come, and he fell wounded in a miserable Indian skirmish the very first man. Colonel Mills and Lieutenant Crawford then led on the soldiers and made short work of the village, although the Indians kept up a scattering fire from the bluffs.

When daylight came, the Sioux made matters much hotter, and the soldiers who were much exposed on that bare bluff were almost at their mercy. Mills sent back for his train, which came up with Moore, Bubb and R.A. Strahorn, all of whom behaved in a gallant manner during the skirmish which followed. Lieutenant Crawford acted fine judgment, and was spoken highly of by the soldiers who participated in the affair. Shwatka did his work in a thorough manner, and made a mark of which he may well be proud. But Mills is peculiar, and occasionally the reverse of politic, which to some extent neutralizes his undeniable ability as an officer. Yet, for all that, Crook’s column can never forget his brilliant dash on September 9, which saved it from much greater privation. He captured a large amount of dried provisions, 2,500 buffalo robes, and many other campaign luxuries which Indians appreciate as much as white men.

Anson Mills recovered this guidon from American Horse's band at the fight at Slim Buttes. The guidon was carried into battle at the Little Bighorn a few months earlier. 

One of the gallant Custer’s guidons, Colonel Keogh’s gauntlets, five horses of the 7th Cavalry and several other relics of the fated regiment were among the prizes secured. A party of Sioux, unable to make their escape, took refuge in a sort of deep, brush-covered gully, just above the site of the village, on the eastern slope, dug intrenchments [sic] with their hands and knives, and could not be dislodged by Mills’ detachment. In an attempt to drive them out, nearly all the casualties occurred. Private John Wenzel, of Troop A, 3d Cavalry was killed, and Sergt. Ed Glass, of Troop E, one of the boldest non-commissioned officers in the army, was shot through the right forarm. Several other soldiers were wounded in attempting to carry this fatal den.

The firing of the Indians from the bluffs compelled the soldiers to throw up temporary breastworks, which saved them particularly serious damage. The riding mule of Mr. Moore, and a horse belonging to Troop I were shot from the “lava bed” arrangement. Mills, when he sent back for his train in the morning, had the good sense to send for re-enforcements at the same time. Crook arrived a little after 11 o’clock, and immediately attacked the Indian burrow in the gully. In that affair he displayed to the fullest extent his eccentric contempt for danger. No private soldier could more expose himself than did the General and the officers of his staff. I expected to see them shot down every moment; for Charley White, the well-known scout, was shot through the heart, just across the ravine, not ten paces from Crook. Kennedy, of the 5th Cavalry, and Stevenson, of the 2d, were wounded, the one mortally and the other dangerously, beside him, while many other soldiers had hair-breadth escapes. The boys in blue, although unquestionably brave, did not quite relish the idea of being shot in the digestive organs by an unseen and “ungettable” enemy, but their officers rallied them without difficulty, heading the assault musket or carbine in hand. Besides General Crook and his staff, Major W.H. Powell and Major Munson, of the infantry, Major Burke, of the same branch of service; Lieut. Charles King, of the 5th Cavalry; Lieutenant Rogers, and the ever gallant Lieut. W. Philo Clark, of the 2d Cavalry, took desperate chances in true “forlorn hope” fashion. The guide, Baptiste Pourier, already so distinguished for bravery, fought his way into the cavern, and succeeded in killing one of the male Indians, ingeniously using a captive squaw as a living barricade between himself and the fire of the other warriors. He took the scalp of the fallen brave in a manner that displayed perfect workmanship. Scalping is an artistic process, and, when neatly done, may be termed a satanic accomplishment. Lieutenant W. Philo Clark would later study the universal Plains Indian sign language and write of it in such detail, that his notes were edited and compiled into a book, “The Indian Sign Language” was became required reading at West Point Military Academy for several years.

Clark's book "The Indian Sign Language" is one of the most detailed examinations of the Plains Indian sign language, however, there are no illustrations or photographs to reference from. There are, however, other really good books out there that do. Do a search at Barnes and Nobles or Amazon and get yourself a copy. 

Crook, exasperated by the protracted defense of the hidden Sioux, and annoyed by the casualties inflicted among his men, formed, early in the afternoon, a perfect cordon of infantry and dismounted cavalry around the Indian den. The soldiers opened upon it incessant fire, which made the surrounding hills echo back a terrible music. The circumvallated Indians distributed their shots liberally among the crowing soldiers, but the shower of close-range bullets from the latter terrified unhappy squaws, and they began singing the awful Indian death chant. The papooses wailed so loudly, and piteiously, that even the hot firing could not quell their voices, and General Crook ordered me to suspend operations immediately. Then Frank Gruard and Baptiste Pourier, both versed in the Sioux tongue, by order of General Crook, approached the abrupt western bank of the Indian rifle pit and offered the women and children quarter. This was accepted by the besieged, and Crook in person went to the mouth of the cavern and handed out one tall, fine looking women, who had an infant strapped to her back. She trembled all over and refused to liberate the general’s hand. Eleven other squaws, and six papooses, were then taken out, but the few surviving warriors refused to surrender and savagely re-commenced the fight.

Then our troops re-opened with a very “rain of hell” upon the infatuated braves, who, nevertheless, fought it out with Spartan courage, against such desperate odds, for nearly two hours. Such matchless bravery, electrified even our enraged soldier into the spirit of chivalry, and General Crook, recognizing the fact that the unfortunate savages had fought like fiends, in defense of wives and children, ordered another suspension of hostilities and called upon the ducky heroes to surrender.
This image is said to be that of the elder American Horse. The younger, a nephew, also named American Horse, rose up to lead his uncles band of Oglala Lakota.

After a few minutes’ deliberation, the chief, American Horse – a fine looking, broad-chested Sioux, with a handsome face and a neck like a bull – showed himself at the mouth of the cave, presenting the butt end of his rifle toward the General. He had just been shot in the abdomen, and said, in his native language, that he would yield, if the lives of the warriors who fought with him were spared. Some of the soldiers, who lost comrades in the skirmish, shouted, “No quarter!” but not a man was base enough to attempt shooting down the disabled chief. Crook hesitated for a minute and then said – “Two or three Sioux more or less can make no difference. I can yet use them to good advantage. Tell the chief,” he said, turning to Gruard, “that neither he nor his young men will be harmed further.”

This message having been interpreted to American Horse, he beckoned to his surviving followers, and two strapping Indians, with their long, but quick and graceful stride, followed him out of the gully. The chieftan’s intestines protruded from his wound, but a squaw – his wife perhaps – tied her shawl around the injured part, and then the poor, fearless savage, never uttering a complaint, walked slowly to a little camp fire, occupied by his people, about 20 yards away, and sat down among the women and children. The surgeons examined the wound, pronounced it mortal, and during the night American Horse, one of the bravest and ablest of the Sioux chiefs, fell back suddenly, and expired without uttering a groan.

This photograph was taken by Stanley J. Morrow, of a family that was taken prisoner at the fight at Slim Buttes. 

It seems to have taken Finerty some time to acknowledge the fortitude and bravery of the Indian foe, which at first was only haltingly begrudged, now seemingly flows as he sees the enemy less a savage antagonist and more as desperate human beings with reasons of their own to fight. Finerty’s sympathetic account of the victims of the Slim Buttes Fight here now follows.

Crook under the surrender of the chief, took all the survivors under his protection, and ordered the dead and wounded to be taken from their stronghold. Let the country blame or praise the General for his clemency, I simply record the affair as it occurred. Several soldiers jumped at once into the ravine and bore out the corpses. The warrior killed by Baptiste Pourier was a grim looking old fellow, covered with scars and fairly laden down with Indian jewelry and other savage finery. The other dead were three squaws – one at first supposed to be a man – and, sad to relate, a tiny papoose. The captive squaws, with their children, came up to view the corpses. They appeared to be quite unmoved, although a crowd of half-savage camp followers, unkempt scouts and infuriated soldiers surged around them – a living tide. The skull of one poor squaw was blown, literally, to atoms, revealing the ridge of the palate and presenting a most ghastly and revolting spectacle. Another of the dead females – a middle-aged woman – was riddled by bullets that there appeared to be no unwounded part of her person left. The third victim was young, plump, and, comparatively speaking, light of color. She had a magnificent physique, and, for an Indian, a most attractive set of features. She had been shot through the left breast, just over the heart, and was not in the least disfigured.

“Ute John,” the solitary friendly Indian who did not desert the column, scalped all the dead, unknown to the General or any of the officers (of ignored by), and I regret to be compelled to state a few – a very few – brutalized soldiers followed his savage example. Each took only a portion of the scalp, but the exhibition of human depravity was nauseating. The unfortunates should have been respected, even in the coldness and nothingness of death. In that affair, surely, the army were the assailants, and the savages acted purely in self-defense. I must add, in justice to all concerned, that neither General Crook nor any of his officers of men suspected that any women or children were in the gully until their cries were heard above the volume of fire poured upon the fatal spot.

That was a particular picture of Indian warfare at Slim Buttes. There a dead cavalry horse lay on his side on the western bank of the bloody burrow, while Tom Moore’s mule, his feet sticking up in the air, lay on his back about thirty years nearer to the abandoned tepees. On the southern slope of the embankment, in the line of fire, face downward, the weight of his body resting on his forehead and knees, the stiff, dead hands still grasping the fully cocked carbine, two empty cartridge shells lying beside him, lay John Wenzel. He had been shot through the brain – the bullet entering the left jaw from below, and passing out through the top of his head – by either American Horse or Charging Bear, after having fired twice into the gully. He, doubtless, never realized that he had been hit, poor fellow. Wenzel knew more about a horse than, perhaps, any man of Troop A, 3d Cavalry, and used to attend to my animal before he was detailed, for the reason that he was well mounted, to accompany hat [sic] to him, fatal advance movement of Colonel Mills. Diagonally the opposite, on the northern slope, lay the stalwart remains of Charley White – “Buffalo Chip,” as he was called – the champion harmless liar and most genial scout upon the plains. I saw him fall and heard his death cry. Anxious to distinguish himself, he crept cautiously up the slope to have a shot at the hostiles. Some of the soldiers shouted, “Get away from there Charley, they’ve got a bead on you!” Just then a shot was fired, which broke the thigh bone of a soldier of the 5th Cavalry, named Kennedy, and White raised himself on his hands and knees in order that he might locate the spot from whence the bullet came. As he did so, one of the besieged Indians, quick as lightning, got his range and shot him squarely through the left nipple. Charley threw up his hands, crying out loud enough for all of us to hear him, “My God, my God, boys, I’m done for this time!” One mighty convulsion doubled up his body, then he relaxed all over and rolled like a log three or four feet down the slope. His dead face expressed tranquility rather than agony when I looked at him some hours later. The wind blew the long, fair locks over the cold features, and eyes were almost perfectly closed. The slain hunter looked as if he were taking a rest after a toilsome buffalo chase. Last, and also least (in size I suspect from Finerty’s account, not in importance as it would seem to read today) the slaughtered Indian papoose, only about two months old, lay in a small basket, where a humane soldier had placed the tiny body. Had the hair of the poor little creature been long enough, “Ute John,” I believe, would have scalped it also.

A horse drawn strecher carries a wounded soldier from the fight at Slim Buttes. Photo by Stanley J. Morrow.

With all this group of mutilated mortality before them, and with the groans of the wounded soldiers from the hospital tepee ringing in their ears, the hungry troopers and infantry tore the dried Indian meat they had captured into eatable pieces, and marched away as unconcernedly as if they were attending a holiday picnic. It was, indeed, a ghastly, charnel-house group – one which, if properly put on canvas, would, more than anything I have read of, or heard described, give the civilized world a faithful picture of the inevitable diabolism of Indian warfare. Most of our dead were hastily buried by their comrades, but the bodies of the Indians, both male and female, were left where they fell, so that their friends might have the privilege of properly disposing of them after we had left. The Sioux Indians, so far as known, never place their dead in the earth, so that leaving the bodies above ground was of no particular consequence in their case. During the afternoon, American Horse, and some of the squaws, informed Gen. Crook, through the scouts, that Crazy Horse was not far off, and that we would certainly be attacked before nightfall. The General, under the circumstances, wished for nothing better.

As Lieutenant Lawson was about to preside over funeral rites for the fallen soldiers, the troops were fired upon at once. The terrain of Slim Buttes offered modest protection to Crazy Horse’s war party. Crook’s men quickly mounted a counter offensive. Gen. Merritt took command of the soldiers in the vicinity of the burials; Col. Chambers made for the southern bluff to flank the Lakota war party; Col. Royall led the offense on the northern and north-western bluff; Major Noyes led to the 2nd Cavalry to protect the eastern flank of Crook’s command. The soldiers ascended the bluff, Slim Buttes actually offered more protection for them as they made their way up, than to the Lakota who had the high ground. The Lakota mounted a strike from horseback against the 3rd Cavalry from out of a ravine in the northwestern angle of the bluffs, led by a mounted warrior on a quick white horse, whom Finerty speculates must be Crazy Horse.
This map comes from the Command and General Staff College's "Atlas of the Sioux Wars." Though there isn't a close-up of the flight at Slim Buttes as there is of the Little Bighorn or the Battle of the Rosebud, this one documents the dispersal of the Lakota and Cheyenne after the battle of the Little Bighorn. It does note where the Slim Buttes fight is, in the north west corner of South Dakota.

Like the Napoleonic cuirassiers at Waterloo, they rode along the line looking for a gap through which to penetrate. They kept up a perpetual motion, apparently encouraged by a warrior, doubtless Crazy Horse himself, who, mounted on a fleet, white horse, galloped around the array and seemed to possess the power of ubiquity. Failing to break into that formidable circle, the Indians, after firing several volleys, their original order of battle being completely broken, and recognizing the folly of fighting such an outnumbering force any longer, glided away from out front with all possible speed. As the shadows came down into the valley, the last shots were fired, and the affair of Slim Buttes was over.

Finerty estimates that Crook lost about thirty men in this “battle.” They settled down for rest that night after hasty burials presided over by Sergeant Van Moll and a small party of soldiers from Troop A. General Crook’s surgeon, Dr. McGillicuddy attended American Horse’s last hours, noting the Lakota’s zest for life to the end. They broke camp the next morning, September 10th, 1876.

The rear guard of the column consisted, that morning, of two troops of the 5th Cavalry, commanded by Captains Summer and Montgomery, under Gen. E.A. Carr. They remained dismounted, until all the rest of the command had filed by them, bound for “the Hills.” Scarcely had they mounted their horses, when they were attacked most determinedly by Indians secreted in the ravines that abound that region. But they were veterans, and coolly held their ground. They lost many wounded, but none killed outright. The Indians on the other hand, were unfortunate, and left five warriors gasping upon the sod. Crazy Horse, convinced that Slim Buttes was not the Little Bighorn, drew off in despair, and the remainder of the march was made without molestation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blue Thunder: Profile of a US Indian Scout's Service

Blue Thunder: A U.S. Indian Scout's Service
Yanktonai Dakota Man Enters Military Service

By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - The role of the US Indian Scouts consisted of four duties: to gather intelligence about the land and people therein, to interpret languages when or if needed, to run down deserters, and to deliver correspondence between the forts on the frontier, and to & from the campaign trail. 
Brigadier General Alfred Howe Terry is pictured above.

On March 6, 1873, Brigadier General Terry issued General Orders No. 19:

During the last five years, “Indian scouts,” enlisted under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved July 28, 1866, have been employed at many of the military posts of this Department. As a rule, they have renounced entirely their former habits and modes of life, and in assuming the uniform of the military service, they have conformed to its requirements in a manner worthy of all praise and of the emulation of their white comrades. They have performed the same duties as are imposed upon white soldiers serving on the frontier, with a prompt obedience, with a cheery alacrity, courage, skill, and intelligence which have won the highest applause from their military superiors. The Department Commander desires that his high appreciation of their services in the past shall be made known to every scout in the command, accompanied by the assurance that their good conduct has been brought to the attention of those still higher in military rank and command, and is duly appreciated by them. To this end he directs that each and every post commander where scouts are employed, shall cause this order to be, under his personal supervision, so read and in interpreted to them that all shall fully understand the degree of commendation intended.

In addition to the commendation, hereinbefore expressed and intended to apply to all the scouts, the following instances of good conduct have attracted the Department Commander’s attention, and are by him worthy of special mention, viz.:

Extract from the report of Colonel D. S. Stanley, 22nd Infantry, commanding the “Yellowstone Expedition,” dated October 28th, 1872:

“First Lieutenant Eben Crosby, 17th Infantry, left his camp to hunt, and when about one and half (1 ½) miles from camp, was surrounded and murdered by 100 mounted Sioux. The day before this murder, this same party had discovered the five Santee scouts who had served me during the summer, and whom I had sent to Fort Rice with dispatches. The wild Sioux attacked these brave fellows at sunrise, at Heart Butte, and kept up the fight for nearly fifty miles and during the entire day. The Santees [sic] were well armed, had 100 rounds each, and they kept their assailants off and came off themselves with the loss of two of their horses, and their blankets, clothing, and some accoutrements, which they dropped to lighten their horses. I recommend these brave Santees [sic] to the notice of the Commander of the Department.”

Captain Seth Eastman painted this scene of Fort Rice.

The names of the scouts above referred to are, Chaska [Firstborn Son], Hepkakwajidan, Kapojan, Omanisa [Walks Red, or Walks White (note: without a diacritical accent mark, translating the name correctly poses a problem) [smudge], Waakakahan. 

Extract from the report of Colonel T. L. Critenden, 17th Infantry, commanding Fort Rice, dated November 11th, 1873:

“A Sioux Indian by the name of ‘Goose’, “ “ “ “ “ [quotations in reference to scouts already listed by Brigadier General Terry] carried the dispatch, to Colonel Stanley, commanding the Yellowstone Expedition, and brought back an answer in eight days from his departure. It is needless to speak of the extreme peril he encountered, or to any that except through Indians no such rapid communication could have been had with Colonel Stanley. 

Attention is also [unreadable] to the conduct of “Cold Hand,” also a Sioux scout at this post. Some time last summer, during my absence from the post, a party of Indians stole most of the horses belonging to the scouts at this post, and carried them beyond to the Yellowstone. Cold Hand accompanied by four Indians that he induced to follow him , pursued and overtook these robbers, recaptured his horses, and brought them safely back. 

Only about ten days since, Cold Hand, with three other scouts, all Sioux, left here with the mail for Grand River. On the way, they were attached by a party about thirty strong. Cold Hand and his party repulsed these Indians, wounding one badly, and capturing two horses, which, together with the mail, they delivered safely at Grand River. 

When it is remembered that the Indians who attacked these scouts belong to the Sioux tribe, and live at Grand River, when not at war, and that they duty of the scouts requires them to go to Grand River weekly, I think the conduct of these scouts can only be regarded as very remarkable for fidelity and courage. I even think it worthy of some notice from the War Department, and I am sure that such notice would do good.

The Department Commander takes great pleasure in recommending all the above named scouts to the notice of the President of the United States, and in requesting for them the “Certificate of Merit” authorized by the 17th section of the Act of Congress, approved March 3d, 1847. 

By Command of Brigadier General Terry.

O. D. Greene,

OFFICIAL: [signed O.D. Greene]

Captain, 6th Infantry
Blue Thunder sits outside his lodge down by the Missouri River near Fort Yates, (Dakota Territory) North Dakota. Photo by Frank Fiske.

On July 2, 1873, Brigadier General Terry sent another letter, this time to Edward Parmelee Smith, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, requesting recognition of service of two more US Indian Scouts:

To the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington DC


Recently, at Fort Rice, I was informed that each of the Indian Scouts mentioned in the enclosed copy had been furnished a Medal from the Indian Bureau or by some one of its agents. I am just in receipt of a Communication from the War Department informing me of the decision of the Honorable Secretary of War that the “Certificates of Merit” asked for by me on behalf of these Indians could not be under the law, made to apply to them. In view of this decision I have the honor to request that you will give such instructions, if prachcable [sic, practical?], and you think proper, as will insure. The issue of medals to “Blue Thunder” and “Bear-Coming-Out” Sioux Indians employed as Scouts at Fort Rice and referred to in the enclosed Copy of an Official Report from the Commanding Officer Fort Abraham Lincoln. I am reliably informed these Indians were much incited to their meritououes [sic, meritorious?] Conduct by the hope of receiving Medals and I am satisfied such Award to them would have a beneficial effect not only upon the particular Indians but upon all others in the Military Service.

I am Sir Very respectfully Your obedient Servant

[signed Alfred H. Terry]

Brigadier General, USA Comm
On August 15, 1873, Captain William Thompson Commander of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Rice, sent the following letter to Captain O. D. Greene:


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 29th ultimo [of last month] enclosing two Silver medals for presentation to “Blue Thunder”and “Bear-Comes-Out,” Indian Scouts, and to report that the medals were duly presented by me today to the scouts to whom they were awarded, with a full and clear explanation as to why the presents were made.

The recipients were highly pleased with the medals and adhered fully to appreciate the commendatory nature of the correspondence on the subject – all of which was carefully interpreted to them – as well as the explanatory remarks made by me. A copy of the correspondence referred to was also given to each Indian in consideration of the high estimation in which a testimonial of this character is always held by their race.

Very respectfully your obedient servant
[smudge; signed –smudge – Thompson, Captain –smudge – Cavalry]

Blue Thunder pictured here old and blind when this was taken. He still maintained a tipi behind his cabin by the river's edge down by Fort Yates, ND. When he went on his last journey isn't known, but he took it sometime in the early 1920s. 

Blue Thunder enlisted as a US Indian Scout at Fort Rice for a couple of years before transferring to Fort Yates where he served a few more years. He wasn’t accorded the Certificate of Merit as requested by General Terry because Blue Thunder wasn’t a US citizen. 

Blue Thunder later fought in a three-day gun fight at the Little Heart Butte fourteen miles southwest of Fort Abraham Lincoln, in 1874. He held off an estimated 100 “wild” Sioux from attacking Fort Abraham Lincoln. 

The Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1916. Blue Thunder died a US citizen sometime in 1922-23. Blue Thunder so impressed the citizens of Mandan, ND that they put his image above the Mandan Fire Department which can still be seen today, bottled a soft drink they called “Blue Thunder,” and used his imagery to represent the city. 

This image of Blue Thunder was carved out of granite by Mandan artist Hynek Rybnicek. 

Some might regard the US Indian Scouts as “sell-outs” or “traitors” but the times were that a man would do what he had to do to feed his family. With the bison disappearing across the Great Plains, many native men enlisted not just because it afforded a chance to take revenge on an enemy tribe, but to provide for their loved ones. 

Above is the cover of Traditional Lakota Songs by the Porucpine Singers. Their music can now be purchased on iTunes. Go support these traditional singers and buy their CD and listen to the history in these songs.  

The Porcupine Singers in South Dakota recall a song Our Friends Came With The Soldiers on their CD Traditional Lakota Songs. The lyrics go:

Wayankiye Lakota kol miye
Kola Lakota kol
Nape wayelo
“Our Friends came with the soldiers,
So I chased my friends away.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Winter Counts: The Art of History

The book "Moonstick: The Seasons of the Sioux" by Eve Bunting and John Sandford provides wonderful concise explanations of the months, and beautiful illustrations of the seasons. Its a children's book, but worth looking through for information. 
Winter Counts: The Art of History
Pictographic Lakota History
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - In the age before the railroad, before horses and guns, the Dakota and Lakota Sioux regarded the full passing of a year in thirteen months. Thirteen twenty-eight or twenty-nine day months.

The year ended and began with the arrival of the spring, when the birds flocked north, when the ice broke on the Missouri, when the trees began to bud, and when bison calves were born. The sources for the Smithsonian however, state that the year is measured from first snowfall to first snowfall. One of those sources was an anthropologist in the 1880s names Garrick Mallory, who heard it first-hand from the people he was recording the winter counts.

The Dakota/Lakota kept track of time two ways. The first method was by using counting sticks. There were thirteen sticks, about the size of tipi pins, to represent the lunar months, and a long stave upon which were carved notches representing each passing day, and in the case of the winter count keeper Brown Hat, years. 

Above is a colored example of Baptiste Good 's (Brown Hat's) winter count. The complete winter count can be viewed in the text "Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vols. 1 & 2" by Garrick Mallory. 

The second method for tracking time was the winter count. The Dakota/Lakota call it WaniyÄ—tu Wowapi [lit. Winter They-Picture], freely translated as “Winter Count.” A winter count is a mnemonic device with a picture representing a year. The year is named rather than numbered. 

In the “dog days” (the days before horses) as the traditional elders say, the tribe would come together in the spring, as one year ended and a new one began, to decide what to name the year, then the winter count keeper would draw the year accordingly. 

Some anthropologists say that the winter count tradition began after first contact. The John K. Bear winter count begins with Wicokicize tanka [lit. Battle Big], and according to anthropologist James Howard, there are three tribes whom the Dakota/Lakota were at war with: the Assiniboine, the Cree, and the Chippewa. In one of the biggest battles fought between the Sioux and Chippewa was one which took place at Mille Lac in 1682. 1682, is also the year that the John K. Bear winter count has been determined to begin in. 

The John J. Bear winter count also starts two years before first contact, at least with this particular band of Sioux, the Ihanktowana (or Yanktonai). This winter count records 1684 as Wasicun tokahcin ahi kin [lit. takes-the-fat first came the], or “The very first white man they had ever seen among them,” or “the first white men came to them.” James Howard reasoned that the eastern Sioux, the Dakota, had made contact about 1640, with Jean Nicolet, and that the western branches of Sioux very probably didn’t have their first contact until the arrival of Nicholas Perrot in 1682. 

The Brown Hat winter count, also known as the Baptiste Good winter count, is a wonderful anomaly, for it begins in A.D. 901 with the coming of the White Buffalo Calf Woman bringing the gift of the sacred pipe and continues with various mythological histories and the arrival of the horse (which wasn’t reintroduced to North American until the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico in the early 16th century). 

Above is Blue Thunder's winter count, currently in the collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. It measures about 3' x 15' and was originally a tipi liner. The material is cotton, the pigments are a combination of ink, pencil, and paint.

Winter counts are an interesting subject to search for in libraries, archives, and museums. They defy being categorized. Is it philosophy? Is it psychology? Is it religious studies? Is it history or social science? Is it language? Is it art? Is it geography? Winter counts have been designated as a multi-discipline study, and are simply Dakota/Lakota.

The John K. Bear winter count has entries that fit philosophy, even an entry related to psychology case studies conducted by the North Dakota State Hospital back in the 1970s. It is definitely history. It is language. It is art. Winter counts even contain geographical data relating to movements over the plains and movements (due to warfare) of other tribes. They also contain meteorological data with references to deathly cold winters, blistering summers, devastating floods, and earthquakes. They even mention astronomical events such as unusually luminescent northern lights turning night to day, the passing of asteroids, comets, and falling stars.

The winter count is an art, and not just art, but the ability to relate the history to the listener. The winter count keeper was selected by the people made up of a council of elders, traditional tribal leaders, and spiritual leaders or advisors, for his artistic ability and his for his charisma or public speaking. The winter count keeper was referred to as Ehanna wicohan oyakapi [lit. Long-ago knowledge relating-to-the-people], relating the history to the people, or simply “historian.”

Above is the "British Museum" winter count, named that only because its part of the collection there. It is actually a variant of Blue Thunder's winter count.

Women have kept the tradition of the winter count too, in two cases at least. The Blue Thunder winter count was kept by a female relative, Yellow Lodge Woman, and was added to for a few years, until it was sold to the State Historical Society of North Dakota (it was the 1930s and the money was desperately needed).

The winter count tradition is still practiced. Cataloging and interpreting winter counts is on-going across the country as museums and other institutions realize they are more than an art piece.

The Brule winter count above is also a home. Winter counts were painted on hides, tipi liners, cloth, in ledger books, and also on the tipi.

The Smithsonian Institute has a wonderful online interactive exhibit of ten Lakota winter counts, including the Bapiste Good winter count (but only entries from 1700-01 and on). Visit:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remembering Whitestone Hill

This engraving of Whitestone Hill which appeared in Harper's Weekly, after a pencil drawing by General Alfred Sully.
Remembering Whitestone Hill
Sacred Cultural Site: Remembering Tragedy

By Dakota Wind
WHITESTONE HILL, N.D. - In 1914, about five thousand people attended the dedication of the Whitestone Hill Battlefield. Amongst the visitors were three Sioux Indians who went out and correctly identified the battle site and encampment of Sioux which is south-east of where it was supposed to be. The three Sioux delegates were: Red Bow, Takes-His-Shield, and Holy Horse. Red Bow and Takes-His-Shield both gave accounts of what happened at Whitestone Hill, with Rev. Beede, an Episcopal missionary on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, serving as interpreter. Holy Horse, a veteran of the incident at Whitestone Hill, did not offer his account and only showed himself. Only one known record of Red Bow's account is available.[1]

At least one pictograph of the Sioux perspective of the Whitestone Hill Battle exists, that rendered by Mr. Richard Cottonwood under the direction of Takes-His-Shield in 1913; Takes-His-Shield was there in 1863 and was eighteen years old at the time of the battle. It was then interpreted by Rev. Aaron Beede in 1932.

See image below for Takes-His Shield’s map of events of Whitestone Hill.[2] An abbreviated interpretation follows (note: the map may well be a reverse; numerals may have been added later):

Takes-His-Sheild sat across from Richard Cotton Wood, directing Cotton Wood what to draw in this pictographic representation. The top of the pictograph is actually south, the bottom north, the left east, and the right west.

Many men, women, and children were in the camp. They were on an annual autumn bison hunt and drying meat for the winter. The camp was in the broken prairie country beside a small lake. The camp consisted of two groups of Sioux: one group prepared for war and the other for the hunt. They were on friendly terms with each other and so camped in one circle. White soldiers are shown to have attacked from the lower right (east?) of the camp. The Sioux back away in the opposite direction of the attack. 

The Sioux are near a small lake when soldiers rush in and surround them. A group of soldiers pursue some Sioux who’ve escaped, but don’t kill them. No one has been killed at this point.
The soldiers have the Sioux between them and are killing them, but the Sioux are not fighting back. Many Sioux were slaughtered at this point, with up to thirty Sioux were killed.
The soldiers distance themselves, cross their own trail from their first movement. At this point in the engagement, when darkness crept in, the Sioux made their escape.

It is interesting to note that according to Takes-His-Shield’s account, that not a single Sioux retaliated or offered resistance when they came under attack.

About 156 prisoners were taken into custody, mostly women and children and brought to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. There, in November, 1863, Sam Brown, an interpreter sent a correspondence to his father about the incident at Whitestone Hill:

I hope you will not believe all that is said of “Sully’s Successful Expedition,” against the Sioux. I don’t think he aught to brag of it at all, because it was, what no decent man would have done, he pitched into their camp and just slaughtered them, worse a great deal than what the Indians did in 1862, he killed very few men and took no hostile ones prisoners…and now he returns saying that we need fear no more, for he has “wiped out all hostile Indians from Dakota.” If he had killed men instead of women & children, then it would have been a success, and the worse of it, they had no hostile intention whatever, the Nebraska 2nd pitched into them without orders, while the Iowa 6th were shaking hands with them on one side, they even shot their own men.[3]

Some winter counts mention the Sioux Uprising of 1862, much less the incident at Whitestone Hill. Colonel Garrick Mallory, an ethnologist employed by the US Army to study the Plains Indian sign language after the Civil War, suggests that the Sioux’s reluctance to record the history of the consequence of the Uprising (the Sibley and Sully campaigns of 1863) are the reason for choosing to not remember those military campaigns. Here are some entries in around the time of the Uprising of 1862 and the Whitestone Hill incident of 1863:

Anderson Winter Count[4]
1862-1863: Plenty buffalo that winter.
1863-1864: Red Feather, an Assiniboine Sioux, was killed.
1864-1865: The Crow came that winter and killed eight.

No Ears Winter Count
1863: Eight were killed by the enemy.
1864: Four Crow were killed.
1865: Horses died off that winter.

Short Man Winter Count
1863: Eight were killed by the enemy.
1864: Four Crow were killed.
1865: Horses died off that winter.

Iron Crow Winter Count[5]
1863: He and his wife died.
1864: Two Face was hanged (note: Two Face was unjustly hanged by the US Army after he returned a captive white woman he rescued from his own people.)
1865: Many Deer made peace that winter (note: This is reference to a treaty signed at Fort Laramie in 1865, in which Colonel H. Maynadier officiated over. The colonel’s name sounded like “Many Deer” to the Lakota and so they called him thus).

Red Horse Owner’s Winter Count[6]
1863: They scalped a boy near the camp.
1864: They were fighting with the white man [in reference to the battles the year before].
1865: Many Deers made peace.

The Red Horse Owner Winter Count. 

Blue Thunder Winter Count[7]
1863: Big Brain died. 
1864: A man was our prisoner, he told us the truth, so we named him that. 
1865: Turtle Head was stabbed to death. 

Iron Shell Winter Count[8]
1863: Broken up dance. Many divisions of Sioux were camping together when suddenly they dispersed [in reference to the Whitestone Hill incident]. 
1864: Laugh-As-He-Lies-Down is burned. The interpreter named so, was patronizing a trading post, located on the south bank of the Platte River near the Oregon Trail, when the post burned down. The Cheyenne were suspected of starting the blaze. 
1865: Many Deer came to make a treaty. 

John K. Bear Winter Count[9]
1863: The Santee Dakota warred with the whites (in reference to the uprising the previous year). 
1864: They camped with the beaver along Stone Idol Creek (presently known as “Porcupine Creek). 
1865: The Santee were held captive in a village (in reference to the Sioux who were taken prisoner after the Sioux Uprising of 1862; they were brought to Crow Creek Indian Reservation before being relocated to Santee, Nebraska). 

American Horse Winter Count
1862-1863: The Crow scalped an Oglala boy alive. 
1863-1864: The Oglala and Mniconjou took the war path against the Crow and stole 300 Crow horses. The Crow followed them and killed eight of the Sioux war party. 
1864-1865: Bird, a white trader, went to Powder River to trade with the Cheyenne. They killed him and took his goods. 

Cloud Shield Winter Count[10]
1862-1863: Some Crow came to their camp and scalped a boy.
1863-1864: Eight Dakota were killed by the Crow. 
1864-1865: Bird, a white trader, was burned to death by the Cheyenne. 

Flame Winter Count
1862-1863: Red Plume kills an enemy. 
1863-1864: The Crow kill eight Sioux on the Yellowstone. 
1864-1865: Four Crow were caught stealing horses from the Sioux and were tortured to death. 

Lone Dog Winter Count
1862-1863: Red Feather, a Mniconjou, was killed. 
1863-1864: Eight Sioux were killed. This year, Sitting Bull fought General Sully in the Black Hills. The interpreter Lavary says that General Sully killed seven or eight Crow at The-Place-They-Shot-Deer, which is about 90 miles south-west of Fort Rice. Another interpreter, Mulligan, says that General Sully fought the Yanktonai and the Santee at the same place. [Maybe the interpreter meant “90 miles south-east of Fort Rice,” which would be roughly the distance to Whitestone Hill.]
1864-1865: The Dakota killed four Crow. 

Swan Winter Count[11]
1862-1863: A Mniconjou killed an Assiniboine named Red Feather. 
1863-1864: Eight Mniconjou killed by the Crow.
1864-1865: Four Crow killed by the Mniconjou. 

Big Missouri Winter Count[12]
1862: Death of Chief Turkey Leg. The Minnesota Uprising this year alarmed the Sioux throughout the West. The Santees had asked for new hunting grounds, as their old ones had been taken. Promised government supplies did not arrive, and they asked for food from a private store owner because they were hungry. The store owner, Nathan Myrick, said, “Let them eat grass.” Following this and a long series of deceptions, the angered Santees went on a rampage, killing Myrick and other settlers, and taking many white hostages. This was the war in which Secretary of the Interior, Caleb Smith, proclaimed that Indians should be regarded as “wards of the government,” no longer as independent nations. Here is the origin of the BIA’s “trust powers” doctrine. 
1863: In a battle with the Pawnee, the Sioux were badly defeated. Nine of the bravest Sioux warriors were killed. 
1864: This year nearly all the Sioux bands camped together. 
1865: The Omaha dance was brought to the Sioux. The typical headdress of the Omaha was the roach. 

Garnier Winter Count[13]
1862: A boy scalped.
1863: Eight were killed.
1864: Four Crow were killed. There was a massacre at Sand Creek (in reference to the campaign led by Colonel Chivington on Black Kettle’s friendly band of Cheyenne). 
1865: All the horses were killed. General Patrick Conner organized three columns of soldiers to begin a campaign into Powder River country from the Black Hills to the Bighorn Mountains. They had one order: “Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.” Conner builds a fort on the Powder River. Wagon trains began to cross the Powder River basin on their way to Montana gold fields. The Battle of Platte Ridge, July 24-26, 1865. The Cheyenne and Lakota lay siege on the most northern outpost of the US Army and succeed in killing all members of a platoon of cavalry who were sent out to meet a wagon train. 

Cranbrook Winter Count[14]
1862: Twenty Mandan were killed. 
1863: Winter of chasing foxes. 
1864: Return of a captured white girl to her parents. There is a record of two white women being released by their Dakota captors during this year. The Oglala captured Mrs. Fanny Kelly while she was on her way to California with her family. According to one version, her captors sold her Brings-Plenty, a Hunkpapa, who made her his wife. An army major sent a delegation of Blackfoot Sioux to buy her freedom. Her Indian husband refused to sell her so the rescue group took her at gunpoint. She was released at Fort Sully. By her own account, she was well treated. 
1865: Winter of lots of blood for food.

This image of Whitestone Hill was taken in 1918 on site. According to Red Bow, the confrontation actually took place south east of where the Whitestone Hill Conflict is currently designated.

While there are hundreds of other Sioux winter counts from which to draw, many overlap with the ones correlated in this paper, meaning that they reflect warfare with the Assiniboine, Crow, Mandan, or Pawnee as the case may be. This may reflect the cultural norm of recording only one’s triumphs rather than one’s failures as in the case of making personal exploit robes. Or as Mallory suggested that the Sioux simply did not want to record the consequences of the Uprising of 1862.

[1] Newspaper clipping from the Battle of Whitestone Hill Collection, SHSND.

[2] Page 96-98, Clair Jacobson, “Whitestone Hill: The Indians and the Battle,” Pine Tree Publishing, 1991.

[3] Sam J. Brown to Joseph R. Brown, November 13, 1863. Joseph Brown Papers (Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul).

[4], Anderson winter count (also called the Rosebud Winter Count). Accessed and downloaded January, 2003.

[5] The No Ears, Short Man, and Iron Crow winter counts appear in James R. Walker’s, “Lakota Society,” University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

[6] Joseph S. Karol, “Red Horse Owner’s Winter Count: The Oglala Sioux, 1786-1968,” Booster Publishing Co., Martin, SD, 1969.

[7] Blue Thunder is the author’s great-great-grandfather.

[8] The Iron Shell Winter Count appears in Royal Hassrick’s, “The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society,” University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

[9] The John K. Bear Winter Count appears in The Plains Anthropologist, Memoir 11, 1976.

[10] The American Horse and Cloud Shield winter counts appear in Garrick Mallory’s “Pictographs of the American Indians,” Government Printing Office, 1886.

[11] The Flame, Lone Dog, and Swan winter counts appear in Garrick Mallory’s “Pictographs of the American Indians,” Government Printing Office, 1886.

[12] The Big Missouri winter count can be found in Roberta Carheek Cheney’s “The Big Missouri Winter Count,” Naturegraph Publishers Inc., 1979.

[13] The Garnier winter count can be found at, which was downloaded November, 2003 by the author.

[14] The Cranbook winter count can be found in Alexis Praus’ “The Sioux: 1798-1922: A Dakota Winter Count,” Institutes of Science Bulletins 44, 1962.