JR'S Free Thought Pages
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Investigations into my indigenous heritage
My great grandmother was a Northern Alberta Cree, information that was to remain hidden from the family for decades, due in part I suppose to a sense of shame that there was native Indian genes in the family. In recent years I have read extensively in an endeavor to untangle the distortions, patriotic propaganda, lies and omissions concerning the history of our indigenous peoples that have been imparted to us by our ethnocentric racist educational institutions and mass culture as a whole. It’s not a pretty story; in fact it’s the antithesis of the fuzzy feel good fables we have been taught. History is written by the victorious and the oppressors, by those who have power, control and own the country. Recently we have witnessed a new approach to the writing of history that takes the perspective of the oppressed, the defeated and the powerless.
Two ground breaking books, one by Howard Zinn called A Peoples History of the United States and the other by James Loewen called Lies My Teacher Told Me are required reading by anyone interested in history. Of the hundreds of history books I have read, these are two of my favorites.
In researching my native Indian heritage I have re-read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), the first book ever written from the voices of Native Americans. I followed up with two books by Vine Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins and God is Red.
But a book by David Stannard called American Holocaust and another by Ward Churchill called A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust Denial in the Americas from 1492 to the Present are the most enlightening albeit disturbing books I have ever read. These are well researched scholarly works by University professors with hundreds of pages of footnotes. I’m presently working on two or three essays that will summarize my investigations and I will send them out when I get through the drafts.
Below are some passages from Dee Browns Bury My Hear at Wounded Knee. But In order to give you a preliminary insight into the horrific atrocities committed against indigenous peoples of the Americas from the invasion of Columbus in 1492 and for another five centuries I submit a brief summary of just one of them: The Sand Creek Massacre of the Cheyenne in 1864. Read and weep.
Sand Creek Massacre
On November 29, 1864, approximately seven hundred soldiers, under the command of Colonel John Chivington, approached a Cheyenne encampment near Sand Creek, in Colorado. The dawn's early light revealed to the soldiers about a hundred lodges scattered below.
Chivington knew that in an attempt to demonstrate that they were no threat, the Indians of this village had voluntarily turned in all but their hunting weapons to the Federal government. He knew that the Indians were considered by the military to be prisoners of war. He knew further that nearly all of the Cheyenne men were away hunting buffalo. His response to all of this: "I long to be wading in gore."
As was true of Descartes centuries before him, Chivington was no lone lunatic, but had an entire culture for company. This highly respected man—a former Methodist minister, still an elder in good standing at his church, recently a candidate for Congress—had already stated in a speech that his policy toward Indians was that we should "kill and scalp them all, little and big." It would be comforting to think that such a murderous impulse would stamp the man an outcast. We would be wrong. The Rocky Mountain News, the paper of record for the region, had ten times during the previous year used editorials to urge "extermination against the red devils," stating that the Indians "are a dissolute, vagabondish, brutal, and ungrateful race, and ought to be wiped from the face of the earth." The paper worked closely with the governor, who proclaimed it was the right and obligation of the citizens and the military of the region to "pursue, kill, and destroy" all Indians. Chivington and his troops did not act alone.
Two white men who happened to be visiting the camp spied the soldiers, and tied a tanned buffalo hide to a pole, then waved it above their heads as a signal that this was a friendly village. Black Kettle, the Cheyenne's principle leader, raised first a white flag and, fearing the worst, a United States flag (given to him by Abraham Lincoln) in a desperate attempt to convince the soldiers not to attack.
There is an awful inevitability about what happened next. Soldiers opened fire. Indians fled. Chivington ordered his artillery to shoot into the panicked mass of women and children. Troops charged, cutting down every nonwhite in their path. Women scratched at the creek's sandy bank, trying to scoop out shelters for themselves and their children. As one soldier later reported, "There were some thirty or forty squaws collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded but a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the squaws in that hole were afterwards killed, and four or five bucks outside. The squaws offered no resistance. Everyone I saw dead was scalped. I saw one squaw cut open with an unborn child, as I thought, lying by her side."
Picture the scene: a happy Chivington wades in gore. Mutilated Indians lie still in the cold November morning. In the distance, you can see a group of Cheyenne women and children trying to escape on foot. Far behind them, a group of soldiers charges on horseback. A movement in the dry creek bed to your left catches your eye. In the middle distance you see a child. As a soldier later recalled, "There was one child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, traveling on the sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about seventy-five yards, and draw up his rifle and fire—he missed the child. Another man came up and said, 'Let me try the son of a bitch; I can hit him.' He got down off his horse, kneeled down, and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped."
Now picture another scene, this of the soldiers riding home, victorious. You know that they scalped ever body they could find, even digging up those which by accident had been buried with their heads full of hair. You see so many scalps that, as The Rocky Mountain News will soon report, "Cheyenne scalps are getting as thick here now as toads in Egypt. Everybody has got one and is anxious to get another to send east." You know also that the soldiers cut off fingers and ears to get at the jewelry of the dead. But now you look closer and closer still, and you see that the soldiers "cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over the saddle-bows, and wore them over their hats while riding in the ranks."
Now picture, if you will, a third and final scene. Congress orders an investigation into what Chivington calls "one of the most bloody Indian battles ever fought," and what Theodore Roosevelt later calls "as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier." The investigating committee calls a meeting with the governor and with Chivington, to be held at the Denver Opera House. Open to the public, the meeting is well-attended. You are in the back. You smell sweat, smoke, and you cannot be sure, but you think liquor. During the meeting someone asks whether, as a solution to the obvious Indian problem, it would be better to civilize or exterminate them. The crowd explodes. As a senator later wrote, "there suddenly arose such a shout as is never heard unless upon some battlefield—a shout almost loud enough to raise the roof of the opera house—'exterminate them! exterminate them!'"
Chivington did not act alone.
Chivington was neither reprimanded nor otherwise punished, and parlayed his fame into fortune as an after-dinner speaker. The University of Colorado named a dormitory after his second-in-command.
That these Indians were killed was in no way surprising. They were never considered human. The women were "squaws" and the men "bucks." The children? They counted even less. They should be killed because, as Chivington was fond of saying, "Nits make lice."
(Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words, 2000)
Some scanned excerpts from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
This fascinating, informative and disquieting book is almost 500 pages so what you will read below are just a few snippets. This book ought to be required reading for every American high school student. It’s totally at variance with the “feel good” patriotic gibberish most of us in my generation at least were taught. After reading this book there is no doubt as to who were the “savages”.
HBO last year made a movie based on Dee Brown’s book. It’s well worth viewing in spite of the fact that the worst of the atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the Christian white man were not covered and some historical events were added that were not in the book. But distortions and omissions still prevail and mythologies die hard. "Scalping" for example was only done by natives in the movie (like in the silly fairy tale Westerns from the 1950s and 60s) but this was a ritual performed by whites on natives and was used as evidence of a killed Indian when bounties were imposed. Natives learned this barbarism from the Europeans and only carried it out in retaliation. The HBO production focuses primarily on the Sioux which represents only the last chapter in the book.
The Murder of the Apache Chief Mangas
The Mimbrenos warriors warned him not to go. Did he not remember what had happened to Cochise when he went to see the soldiers at Apache Pass? Mangas shrugged off their fears. After all, he was but an old man. What harm could the soldiers do to an old man who wanted only to talk peace? The warriors insisted that a guard accompany him; he chose fifteen men, and they started up the trail toward the soldier camp.
When they came within sight of the camp, Mangas and his party waited for the capitdn to show himself. A miner who spoke Spanish came out to escort Mangas into the camp, but the Apache guards would not let their chief go in until Captain Shirland mounted a truce flag. As soon as the white banner was raised, Mangas ordered his warriors to turn back; he would go in alone. He was protected by a truce, and would be perfectly safe. Mangas rode on toward the soldier camp, but his warriors had scarcely disappeared from view when a dozen soldiers sprang from the underbrush behind him, with rifles cocked and ready. He was a prisoner.
"We hurried Mangas off to our camp at old Fort McLean," said Daniel Conner, one of the miners who was traveling with the California Volunteers, "and arrived in time to see General West come up with his command. The general walked out to where Mangas was in custody to see him, and looked like a pigmy beside the old chief, who also towered above everybody about him in stature. He looked careworn and refused to talk and evidently felt that he had made a great mistake in trusting the paleface on this occasion."1
Two soldiers were assigned to guard Mangas, and as night came on and the air turned bitter cold, they built a log fire to keep themselves and their prisoner from freezing. One of the California Volunteers, Private Clark Stocking, afterward reported hearing General Joseph West's orders to the guards: "I want him dead or alive tomorrow morning, do you understand, I want him dead."2
Because of the presence of Mangas' Apaches in the area, extra sentinels were assigned to patrol the camp after darkness fell. Daniel Conner was pressed into service, and as he was walking his post just before midnight he noticed that the soldiers guarding Mangas were annoying the old chief so that he kept drawing his feet up restlessly under his blanket. Curious as to what the soldiers were doing, Conner stood just outside the firelight and watched them. They were heating their bayonets in the fire and touching them to Mangas' feet and legs. After the chief had endured this torture several times, he raised up and "began to expostulate in a vigorous way by telling the sentinels in Spanish that he was no child to be playing with. But his expostulations were cut short, for he had hardly begun his exclamations when both sentinels promptly brought down their minie muskets to bear on him and fired, nearly at the same time, through his body."
When Mangas fell back, the guards emptied their pistols into his body. A soldier took his scalp, another cut off his head and boiled the flesh away so that he could sell the skull to a phrenologist in the East. They dumped the headless body in a ditch. The official military report stated that Mangas was killed while attempting escape.
After that, as Daniel Conner put it, "the Indians went to war in earnest... they seemed bent on avenging his death with all their power." (pp. 198-99)
The Tucson Killers and the Camp Grant massacre
Tucson in 1871 was an oasis of three thousand gamblers, saloon-keepers, traders, freighters, miners, arid a few contractors who had made fortunes during the Civil War and were hopeful of continuing their profits with an Indian war. This backwash of citizens had organized a Committee of Public Safety to protect themselves from Apaches, but as none came near the town, the committee frequently saddled up and rode out in pursuit of raiders in the outlying communities. After the two April raids, some members of the committee announced that the raiders had come from the Aravaipa village near Camp Grant. Although Camp Grant was fifty-five miles distant, and it was unlikely that Aravaipas would have traveled that far to raid, the pronouncement was readily accepted by most of the Tucson citizens. In general they were opposed to agencies where Apaches worked for a living and were peaceful; such conditions led to reductions in military forces and a slackening of war prosperity.
During the last weeks of April, a veteran Indian fighter named William S. Oury began organizing an expedition to attack the unarmed Aravaipas near Camp Grant. Six Americans and forty-two Mexicans agreed to participate, but Oury decided this was not enough to ensure success. From the Papago Indians, who years before had been subdued by Spanish soldiers and converted to Christianity by Spanish priests, he recruited ninety-two mercenaries. On April 28 this formidable band of 140 well-armed men was ready to ride.
The first warning that Lieutenant Whitman at Camp Grant had of the expedition was a message from the small military garrison at Tucson informing him that a large party had left there on the twenty-eighth with the avowed purpose of killing all the Indians near Camp Grant. Whitman received the dispatch from a mounted messenger at 7:30 A.M. on April 30.
"I immediately sent the two interpreters, mounted, to the Indian camp," Whitman later reported, "with orders to tell the chiefs the exact state of things, and for them to bring their entire party inside the post.... My messengers returned in about an hour, with intelligence that they could find no living Indians."6
Less than three hours before Whitman received the warning message, the Tucson expedition was deployed along the creek bluffs and the sandy approaches of the Aravaipas' village. The men on the low ground opened fire on the wickiups, and as the Apaches ran into the open, rifle fire from the bluffs cut them down. In half an hour every Apache in the camp had fled, been captured, or was dead. The captives were all children, twenty-seven of them, taken by the Christianized Papagos to be sold into slavery in Mexico.
When Whitman reached the village it was still burning, and the ground was strewn with dead and mutilated women and children. "I found quite a number of women shot while asleep beside their bundles of hay which they had collected to bring in that morning. The wounded who were unable to get away had their brains beaten out with clubs or stones, while some were shot full of arrows after having been mortally wounded by gunshot. The bodies were all stripped."
Surgeon C. B. Briesly, who accompanied Lieutenant Whitman, reported that two of the women "were lying in such a position, and from the appearance of their genital organs and of their wounds, there can be no doubt that they were first ravished and then shot dead…One infant of some ten months was shot twice and one leg hacked nearly off."
Whitman was concerned that the survivors who had fled into the mountains would blame him for failing to protect them. "I thought the act of caring for their dead would be an evidence to them of our sympathy at least, and the conjecture proved correct, for while at the work many of them came to the spot and indulged in their expressions of grief too wild and terrible to be described ... of the whole number buried [about a hundred] one was an old man and one was a well-grown boy—all the rest women and children." Death from wounds and the discovery of missing bodies eventually brought the total killed to 144. Eskiminzin did not return, and some of the Apaches believed he would go on the warpath in revenge for the massacre.
"My women and children have been killed before my face," one of the men told Whitman, "and I have been unable to defend them. Most Indians in my place would take a knife and cut his throat." But after the lieutenant pledged his word that he would not rest until they had justice, the grieving Aravaipas agreed to help rebuild the village and start life over again.
Whitman's persistent efforts finally brought the Tucson killers to trial. The defense claimed that the citizens of Tucson had followed the trail of murdering Apaches straight to the Aravaipa village. Oscar Hutton, the post guide at Camp Grant, testified for the prosecution: "I give it as my deliberate judgment that no raiding party was ever made up from the Indians at this post." F. L. Austin, the post trader, Miles L. Wood, the beef contractor, and William Kness, who carried the mail between Camp Grant and Tucson, all made similar statements. The trial lasted for five days; the jury deliberated for nineteen minutes; the verdict was for release of the Tucson killers.
As for Lieutenant Whitman, his unpopular defense of Apaches destroyed his military career. He survived three court-martials on ridiculous charges, and after several more years of service without promotion he resigned.
The Flight of the Nez Perce
The whites told only one side. Told it to please themselves. Told much that is not true. Only his own best deeds, only the worst deeds of the Indians, has the white man told.
—Yellow Wolf of the Nez Perces
The earth was created by the assistance of the sun, and it should be left as it was The country was made without lines of demarcation,and it is no man's business to divide it see the whites all over thecountry gaining wealth, and see their desire to give us lands which are worthless.... The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same. Say to us if you can say it, that you were sent by the Creative Power to talk to us. Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. If I thought you were sent by the Creator I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with it as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to live on yours.
—Heinmot Tooyalaket (Chief Joseph) of the Nez Perces
In September 1805, when Lewis and Clark came down off the Rockies on their westward journey, the entire exploring party was half-famished and ill with dysentery—too weak to defend themselves. They were in the country of the Nez Perces, so named by French trappers, who observed some of these Indians wearing dentalium shells in their noses. Had the Nez Perces chosen to do so, they could have put an end to the Lewis and Clark expedition there on the banks of Clearwater River, and seized their wealth of horses. Instead the Nez Perces welcomed the white Americans, supplied them with food, and looked after the explorers' horses for several months while they continued by canoe to the Pacific shore.
Thus began a long friendship between the Nez Perces and white Americans. For seventy years the tribe boasted that no Nez Perce had ever killed a white man. But white men's greed for land and gold finally broke the friendship.
In 1855 Governor Isaac Stevens of Washington Territory invited the Nez Perces to a peace council. "He said there were a great many white people in the country, and many more would come; that he wanted the land marked out so that the Indians and white men could be separated. If they were to live in peace it was necessary, he said, that the Indians should have a country set apart for them, and in that country they must stay."
Tuekakas, a chief known as Old Joseph by the white men, told Governor Stevens that no man owned any part of the earth, and a man could not sell what he did not own.
The governor could not comprehend such an attitude. He urged Old Joseph to sign the treaty and receive presents of blankets. "Take away your paper," the chief replied. "I will not touch it with my hand."
Aleiya, who was called Lawyer by the white men, signed the treaty, and so did several other Nez Perces, but Old Joseph took his people back to their home in Wallowa Valley, a green country of winding waters, wide meadows, mountain forests, and a clear blue lake. Old Joseph's band of Nez Percys raised fine horses and cattle, lived in fine lodges, and when they needed anything from the white men they traded their livestock.
Only a few years after the first treaty signing, government men were swarming around the Nez Perces again, wanting more land. Old Joseph warned his people to take no presents from them, not even one blanket. "After a while," he said, "they will claim that you have accepted pay for your country."1
In 1863 a new treaty was presented to the Nez Perces. It took away the Wallowa Valley and three-fourths of the remainder of their land, leaving them only a small reservation in what is now Idaho. Old Joseph refused to attend the treaty signing, but Lawyer and several other chiefs—none of whom had ever lived in the Valley of Winding Waters—signed away their people's lands. The "thief treaty," Old Joseph called it, and he was so offended that he tore up the Bible a white missionary had given him to convert him to Christianity. To let the white men know he still claimed the Wallowa Valley, he planted poles all around the boundaries of the land where his people lived.
Not long after that, Old Joseph died (1871), and the chieftainship of the band passed to his son, Heinmot Tooyalaket (Young Joseph), who was then about thirty years old. When government officials came to order the Nez Perces to leave the Wallowa Valley and go to Lapwai reservation, Young Joseph refused to listen. "Neither Lawyer nor any other chief had authority to sell this land," he said. "It has always belonged to my people. It came unclouded to them from our fathers, and we will defend this land as long as a drop of Indian blood warms the hearts of our men."2 He petitioned the Great Father, Ulysses Grant, to let his people stay where they had always lived, and on June 16, 1873, the President issued an executive order withdrawing Wallowa Valley from settlement by white men.
In a short time a group of commissioners arrived to begin organization of a new Indian agency in the valley. One of them mentioned the advantages of schools for Joseph's people. Joseph replied that the Nez Perces did not want the white man's schools.
"Why do you not want schools?" the commissioner asked.
"They will teach us to have churches," Joseph answered.
"Do you not want churches?"
"No, we do not want churches."
"Why do you not want churches?"
"They will teach us to quarrel about God," Joseph said. "We do not want to learn that. We may quarrel with men sometimes about things on this earth, but we never quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that."3
Meanwhile, white settlers were encroaching upon the valley, with their eyes on the Nez Perce land. Gold was found in nearby mountains. The gold seekers stole the Indians' horses, and stockmen stole their cattle, branding them so the Indians could not claim them back. White politicians journeyed to Washington, telling lies about the Nez Perces. They charged the Indians with being a threat to the peace and with stealing the settlers' livestock. This was the reverse of the truth, but as Joseph said, "We had no friend who would plead our cause before the law council."4 (pp. 316-18)
Like all the other indigenous tribes of North America, the rest of the story of the Nez Perce is not a pretty one. (My comment)
Standing Bear v Crook (Standing Bear becomes a person)
With Crook's tacit agreement, Judge Dundy issued a writ of habeas corpus upon the general, requiring him to bring the Ponca prisoners into court and show by what authority he held them. Crook obeyed the writ by presenting his military orders from Washington, and the district attorney for the United States appeared before the judge to deny the Poncas' right to the writ on the ground that Indians were "not persons within the meaning of the law."
Thus began on April 18, 1879, the now almost forgotten civil-rights case of Standing Bear v. Crook. The Poncas' lawyers, Webster and Poppleton, argued that an Indian was as much a "person" as any white man and could avail himself of the rights of freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. When the United States attorney stated that Standing Bear and his people were subject to the rules and regulations which the government had made for tribal Indians, Webster and Poppleton replied that Standing Bear and any other Indian had the right to separate themselves from their tribes and live under protection of United States laws like any other citizens.
The climax of the case came when Standing Bear was given permission to speak for his people: "I am now with the soldiers and officers. I want to go back to my old place north. I want to save myself and my tribe. My brothers, it seems to me as if I stood in front of a great prairie fire. I would take up my children and run to save their lives; or if I stood on the bank of an overflowing river, I would take my people and fly to higher ground. Oh, my brothers, the Almighty looks down on me, and knows what I am, and hears my words. May the Almighty send a good spirit to brood over you, my brothers, to move you to help me. If a white man had land, and someone should swindle him, that man would try to get it back, and you would not blame him. Look on me. Take pity on me, and help me to save the lives of the women and children. My brothers, a power, which I cannot resist, crowds me down to the ground. I need help. I have done."13
Judge Dundy ruled that an Indian was a "person" within the meaning of the habeas corpus act, that the right of expatriation was a natural, inherent, and inalienable right of the Indian as well as the white race, and that in time of peace no authority, civil or military, existed for transporting Indians from one section of the country to another without the consent of the Indians or to confine them to any particular reservation against their will.
"I have never been called upon to hear or decide a case that appealed so strongly to my sympathy," he said. "The Poncas are amongst the most peaceable and friendly of all the Indian tribes.
If they could be removed to the Indian Territory by force, and kept there in the same way, I can see no good reason why they might not be taken and kept by force in the penitentiary at Lincoln, or Leavenworth, or Jefferson City, or any other place which the commander of the forces might, in his judgment, see proper to designate. I cannot think that any such arbitrary authority exists in this country."14
When Judge Dundy concluded the proceedings by ordering Standing Bear and his Ponca band released from custody, the audience in the courtroom rose to its feet and, according to a newspaper reporter, "such a shout went up as was never heard in a courtroom." General Crook was the first to reach Standing Bear to congratulate him.15
At first the United States district attorney considered appealing the decision, but after studying Judge Dundy's written opinion (a brilliant essay on human rights), he made no appeal to the Supreme Court. The United States government assigned Standing Bear and his band a few hundred acres of unclaimed land near the mouth of the Niobrara, and they were back home again.
As soon as the surviving 530 Poncas in Indian Territory learned of this astonishing turn of events, most of them began preparations to join their relatives in Nebraska. The Indian Bureau, however, was not sympathetic. Through its agents the bureau informed the Ponca chiefs that only the Great Council in Washington could decide if and when the tribe might return. The bureaucrats and politicians (the Indian Ring) recognized Judge Dundy's decision as a strong threat to the reservation system; it would endanger the small army of entrepreneurs who were making fortunes funneling bad food, shoddy blankets, and poisonous whiskey to the thousands of Indians trapped on reservations. If the Poncas were permitted to leave their new reservation in Indian Territory and walk away as free American citizens, this would set a precedent which might well destroy the entire military-political-reservation complex.
In his annual report, Big Eyes Schurz admitted that the Poncas in Indian Territory "had a serious grievance," but he strongly opposed permitting them to return to their homeland because it would make other Indians "restless with a desire to follow their example" and thereby cause a breakup of the territorial reservation system.16
At the same time, William H. Whiteman, who headed the lucrative Ponca agency, tried to discredit Standing Bear's band by describing them as "certain renegade members of the tribe," and then he wrote in glowing terms of his considerable expenditures for materials and tools to develop the reservation in Indian Territory. Whiteman made no mention of the discontent prevalent among the Poncas, their constant petitions to return to their homeland, or of his feud with Big Snake.
Big Snake was Standing Bear's brother, a giant with hands like hams and shoulders as big as a buffalo's. Like many huge men, Big Snake was quiet and gentle of manner (the Poncas called him the Peacemaker), but when he saw that White Eagle and the other head men were being intimidated by agent Whiteman, he decided to take action on his own. After all, he was the brother of Standing Bear, the Ponca who had won freedom for his people.
Determined to test the new law, Big Snake requested permission to leave the reservation and go north to join his brother. As he expected, permission to leave was refused by agent Whiteman. Big Snake's next move was not to leave Indian Territory, but to travel only a hundred miles to the Cheyenne reservation. With him went thirty other Poncas, making what they believed to be a gentle testing of the law which said that an Indian was a person and could not be confined to any particular reservation against his will.
Whiteman's reaction was that of any entrenched bureaucrat whose authority is threatened. On May 21, 1879, he telegraphed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, reporting the defection of Big Snake and his party to the Cheyenne reservation, and requesting that they be arrested and detained at Fort Reno "until the tribe has recovered from the demoralizing effects of the decision recently made by the United States district court in Nebraska, in the case of Standing Bear."17
Big Eyes Schurz agreed to the arrest, but evidently fearing another challenge in the courts, he asked the Great Warrior Sherman to transport Big Snake and his "renegades" back to the Ponca reservation as quickly and quietly as possible.
In his usual blunt manner, Sherman telegraphed General Sheridan on May 22: "The honorable Secretary of the Interior requests that the Poncas arrested and held at Fort Reno, in the Indian Territory... be sent to the agency of the Poncas. You may order this to be done." And then, as if anticipating Sheridan's apprehensions about flying in the face of Judge Dundy's recent decision, Sherman decreed: "The release under writ of habeas corpus of the Poncas in Nebraska does not apply to any other than that specific case."18 For the Great Warrior Sherman it was easier to unmake laws than it was for the courts of the land to interpret them.
And so Big Snake lost his first test of his brother's victory at law, and he never had a chance to try again. After being brought back to the Ponca agency in the Corn Is in Silk Moon, Big Snake was marked for destruction. Agent Whiteman reported to Washington that Big Snake had "a very demoralizing effect upon the other Indians ... extremely sullen and morose." In one paragraph Whiteman charged that Big Snake had repeatedly threatened to kill him, and in another complained that the Ponca had never spoken to him since his return. The agent became so furious that he begged the Commissioner of Indian Affairs "to arrest Big Snake and convey him to Fort Reno and there confine him for the remainder of his natural life."19
Finally, on October 25, Whiteman obtained authorization from Sherman to arrest Big Snake and imprison him in the agency guardhouse. To make the arrest, Whiteman requested a detail of soldiers. Five days later, Lieutenant Stanton A. Mason and thirteen soldiers arrived at the agency. Whiteman told Mason that he would send out a notice to the Poncas, ordering those who had money coming to them for special work to report to his office the next day. Big Snake would be among them, and as soon as he entered the office, Mason was to make the arrest.
On October 31 Big Snake entered Whiteman's office about noon and was told to take a chair. Lieutenant Mason and eight armed men then surrounded him, Mason informing him that he was under arrest. Big Snake wanted to know why he was being arrested. Whiteman spoke up then and said one charge against him was threatening his (Whiteman's) life. Big Snake calmly denied this. According to the post trader, J. S. Sherburne, Big Snake then stood up and threw off his blanket to show he was not armed.
Hairy Bear's statement: "The officer told Big Snake to come along, to get up and come. Big Snake would not get up, and told the officer he wanted him to tell him what he had done. He said he had killed no one, stolen no horses, and that he had done nothing wrong. After Big Snake said that, the officer spoke to the agent, and then told Big Snake he had tried to kill two men, and had been pretty mean. Big Snake denied it. The agent then told him he had better go, and would then learn all about it down there. Big Snake said he had done nothing wrong, and that he would die before he would go. I then went up to Big Snake and told him this man [the officer] was not going to arrest him for nothing, and that he had better go along, and that perhaps he would come back all right; I coaxed all I could to get him to go; told him that he had a wife and children, and to remember them and not get killed. Big Snake then got up and told me that he did not want to go, and that if they wanted to kill him they could do it, right there. Big Snake was very cool. Then the officer told him to get up, and told him that if he did not go, there might something happen. He said there was no use in talking; I came to arrest you, and want you to go. The officer went for the handcuffs, which a soldier had, and brought them in. The officer and a soldier then tried to put them on, but Big Snake pushed them both away. Then the officer spoke to the soldiers, and four of them tried to put them on, but Big Snake pushed them all off. One soldier, who had stripes on his arms, also tried to put them on, but Big Snake pushed them all off. They tried several times, all of them, to get hold of Big Snake and hold him. Big Snake was sitting down, when six soldiers got hold of him. He raised up and threw them off. Just then one of the soldiers, who was in front of him, struck Big Snake in the face with his gun, another soldier struck him alongside the head with the barrel of his gun. It knocked him back to the wall. He straightened up again. The blood was running down his face. I saw the gun pointed at him, and was scared, and did not want to see him killed. So I turned away. Then the gun was fired and Big Snake fell down dead on the floor."20
The Interior Department first issued a statement that Standing Bear's brother "Big Snake, a bad man" had been "shot accidentally."21 The American press, however, growing more sensitive to treatment of Indians since the Standing Bear case, demanded an investigation in Congress. This time the military-political-reservation complex was operating in the familiar climate of Washington, and nothing came of the investigation.
The Poncas of Indian Territory had learned a bitter lesson. The white man's law was an illusion; it did not apply to them. And so like the Cheyennes, the diminishing Ponca tribe was split in two—Standing Bear's band free in the north, the others prisoners in the Indian Territory. (pp. 360-66)
The Utes Must Go
The Army conquered the Sioux. You can order them around. But we Utes have never disturbed you whites. So you must wait until we come to your ways of doing things.
—Ouray the Arrow, Chief of the Utes
I told the officer that this was a very bad business; that it was very bad for the commissioner to give such an order. I said it was very bad; that we ought not to fight, because we were brothers, and the officer said that that didn't make any difference; that Americans would fight even though they were born of the same mother.
—Nicaagat (Jack) of the White River Utes
The Utes were Rocky Mountain Indians, and for a generation they had watched the invading white men move into their Colorado country like endless swarms of grasshoppers. They had seen the white men drive their old enemies the Cheyennes from the Colorado plains. Some Ute warriors had joined the Rope Thrower, Kit Carson, in the white men's war against the Navahos. In those times the Utes believed the white men were their allies, and they enjoyed visiting Denver to exchange buffalo hides for gaudy trade goods in the stores. But each year these strange men from the East became more numerous, invading the Utes' mountains to dig for yellow and white metal.
In 1863 the governor of Colorado Territory (John Evans) and other officials came to Conejos in the San Juan Mountains to meet with Ouray the Arrow and nine chiefs of the Utes. A treaty was signed there, giving the white men all the Colorado land east of the mountaintops (the Continental Divide), leaving the Utes all the land west of the divide. In exchange for ten thousand dollars' worth of goods and ten thousand dollars' worth of provisions to be distributed annually for ten years, the Utes agreed to relinquish mineral rights to all parts of their territory and they promised not to molest any citizen of the United States who might come into their mountains to dig.
Five years later, the white men of Colorado decided they had let the Utes keep too much land. Through political pressures they persuaded the Indian Bureau that the Utes were a constant nuisance—wandering everywhere, visiting towns and mining camps, and stealing livestock from settlers. They said they wanted the Utes placed on a reservation with well-defined lines but what they truly wanted was more Ute land. Early in 1868 with a great deal of fanfare, the Indian Bureau invited Ouray, Nicaagat (Jack), and eight other chiefs to Washington. Rope Thrower Carson accompanied them as trusted friend and adviser. In Washington they were quartered in a fine hotel, served excellent meals, and given an abundance of tobacco, candy, and medals.
When the time came for treaty making, the officials insisted that one of the visiting chiefs must accept responsibility for all seven bands represented. Ouray the Arrow was the unanimous choice for chief of all the Utes. He was half-Apache, half-Uncompahgre Ute, a handsome, round-faced, sharp-eyed Indian who could speak English and Spanish as fluently as the two Indian tongues he knew. When the land-hungry politicians tried to put him on the defensive, Ouray was sophisticated enough to present the Utes' case to newspaper reporters. "The agreement an Indian makes to a United States treaty," he said, "is like the agreement a buffalo makes with his hunters when pierced with arrows. All he can do is lie down and give in."1
The beginning of the end of freedom upon their own reservation came in the spring of 1878, when a new agent reported for duty at White River. The agent's name was Nathan C. Meeker, former poet, novelist, newspaper correspondent, and organizer of cooperative agrarian colonies. Most of Meeker's ventures failed, and although he sought the agency position because he needed the money, he was possessed of a missionary fervor and sincerely believed that it was his duty as a member of a superior race to "elevate and enlighten" the Utes. As he phrased it, he was determined to bring them out of savagery through the pastoral stage to the barbaric, and finally to "the enlightened, scientific, and religious stage." Meeker was confident he could accomplish all this in "five, ten, or twenty years."3
In his humorless and overbearing way, Meeker set out systematically to destroy everything the Utes cherished, to make them over into his own image, as he believed he had been made in God's image. His first unpopular action was to move the agency fifteen miles down White River, where there was fine pastureland suitable for plowing. Here Meeker planned to build a cooperative agrarian colony for Ute Indians, but he overlooked the fact that the Utes had long been using the area as a hunting ground and for pasturing their horses. The site he chose to build agency buildings on was a traditional racing strip where the Utes enjoyed their favorite sport of betting on pony races.
Meeker found Quinkent (Douglas) to be the most amiable of the chiefs at White River. He was a Yampa Ute about sixty years old, his hair still dark, his pendant mustaches turning white. Douglas owned more than a hundred ponies, which made him rich by Ute standards, but he had lost most of his following among the younger men to Nicaagat (Jack).
It was Meeker's fancy to have the Utes address him as Father Meeker (in their savage state he looked upon them as, children), but most of them called him "Nick," much to his displeasure.
By the spring of 1879 Meeker had a few agency buildings under construction and forty acres of land plowed. Most of the work was done by his white employees, who were paid money for their efforts. Meeker could not understand why the Utes also expected money for building their very own cooperative agrarian community, but in order to get his irrigation ditches dug, he agreed to pay money to thirty Utes. They were willing workers until Meeker's funds were exhausted; then they went away to hunt or attend pony races. "Their needs are so few that they do not wish to adopt civilized habits," Meeker complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. "What we call conveniences and comforts are not sufficiently valued by them to cause them to undertake to obtain them by their own efforts... the great majority look upon the white man's ways with indifference and contempt." He proposed a course of action to correct this barbaric condition: first, take away the Utes' hundreds of ponies so that they could not roam and hunt, replace the ponies with a few draft horses for plowing and hauling, and then as soon as the Utes were thus forced to abandon the hunt and remain near the agency, he would issue no more rations to those who would not work. "I shall cut every Indian down to the bare starvation point," he wrote Colorado's Senator Henry M. Teller, "if he will not work."5
Meeker's inveterate itch for writing down his ideas and observations, and then sending them off to be put into print, eventually brought him to a complete breaking point with the Utes. During the spring of 1879 he wrote an imaginary dialogue with one of the Ute women, attempting to show how the Indians could not comprehend the joys of work or the value of material goods. During the course of his dialogue, Meeker declared that the reservation land belonged to the government and was only assigned to the Utes for their use. "If you don't use it and won't work," he warned, "white men away off will come in and by and by you will have nothing."6
This little composition was first published in the Greeley (Colorado) Tribune, where it was seen by William B. Vickers, a Denver editor-politician who despised all Indians, especially Utes. Vickers at that time was serving as secretary to Frederick Pitkin, the wealthy miner who in 1873 had been the leader in separating the San Juan Mountains from Ute ownership. Pitkin had used his power to become governor of Colorado when it became a state in 1876. After the end of the Sioux wars in 1877, Pitkin and Vickers began drumming up a propaganda campaign to have all the Utes exiled to Indian Territory, thus leaving an immense amount of valuable land free for the taking. Vickers seized upon Nathan Meeker's newspaper essay as a fine argument for removing the Utes from Colorado, and he wrote an article about it for the Denver Tribune:
The Utes are actual, practical Communists and the government should be ashamed to foster and encourage them in their idleness and wanton waste of property. Living off the bounty of a paternal but idiotic Indian Bureau, they actually become too lazy to draw their rations in the regular way but insist on taking what they want wherever they find it. Removed to Indian Territory, the Utes could be fed and clothed for about one half what it now costs the government.
Honorable N. C. Meeker, the well-known Superintendent of the White River agency, was formerly a fast friend and ardent admirer of the Indians. He went to the agency in the firm belief that he could manage the Indians successfully by kind treatment, patient precept and good example. But utter failure marked his efforts and at last he reluctantly accepted the truth of the border truism that the only truly good Indians are dead ones.7
Vickers wrote considerably more, and his article was reprinted across Colorado under the title "The Utes Must Go!" By late summer of 1879, most of the white orators who abounded in frontier Colorado were uttering the applause-producing cry "The Utes Must Go!" whenever they were called upon to speak in public places.
Sitting Bull and Wild Bill
During the following summer the Secretary of the Interior authorized a tour of fifteen American cities for Sitting Bull and his appearances created such a sensation that William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody decided he must add the famous chief to his Wild West Show. The Indian Bureau offered some resistance to the proposal at first but when White Hair McLaughlin was queried, he was enthusiastic. By all means, he said, let Sitting Bull go with the Wild West Show. At Standing Rock, Sitting Bull was a constant symbol of Indian resistance, a continual defender of the Indian culture that McLaughlin was determined to eradicate. White Hair would have liked to see Sitting Bull go on tour forever.
And so, in the summer of 1885, Sitting Bull joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, traveling throughout the United States and into Canada. He drew tremendous crowds. Boos and catcalls sometimes sounded for the "Killer of Custer," but after each show these same people pressed coins upon him for copies of his signed photograph. Sitting Bull gave most of the money away to the band of ragged, hungry boys who seemed to surround him wherever he went. He once told Annie Oakley, another one of the Wild West Show's stars, that he could not understand how white men could be so unmindful of their own poor. "The white man knows how to make everything," he said, "but he does not know how to distribute it." (p. 427)
The last chapter of the book is on the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Here are a few links for those interested in the tragic event: