THE DAUGHTER OF SHAN-TAG-A-LISK:
A PIECE OF WESTERN HISTORY.
[The following as a piece of truthful history was published several years ago in a magazine. That portion of it is omitted which has appeared in the preceding pages.]
When, like the red-man of Plato, the American Indian shall have become a myth, some future anthropologist will wonder what manner of man he was.
Those who have been thrown in contact with him do not love him. His treachery, his cruelty, his basest kind of ingratitude, his wild, half-maniac superstitions, make those who knew him wonder where all of the sentimentality about the "noble redman" came from.
A true description of the aboriginal Indian dare not be put into print. The novelist and the dramatist of future times will give a character to the Indian which be never possessed, and he will be, like the Spanish Aldoran, knighted and put on horseback after he is dead. Yet, as Buddha says, "Amid the brambles and rubbish thrown over into the road, a lily may grow."
It is the object of this brief article to tell the true story of an Indian girl, and what happened to her. But in order that a comprehension may be had, by the reader, of the girl and her situation, it is necessary to go into some detail as to Sioux Indian life and history. It is also necessary to give some details of the Sioux nation as to its customs and geographical location, past and present; for without these facts the life and character of the Indian girl referred to cannot be understood.
Her name was Ah-ho-ap'pa, the Sioux name for wheaten flour. It was the whitest thing they knew. She had other names, as Indian women often have, but when the writer first saw her she was called Ah-ho-ap'pa. How she got the name is forgotten.
Her father's name, Shan-tag-a-lisk, meant "Spotted Tail"; some of the Indians pronounced it "Than-tag-a-liska." He was one of the greatest chiefs the Sioux nation ever had. In order to explain him and what follows, it is best to give a brief description of the Indian question as relates to the Sioux nation at the time of the Civil War. The great Rebellion broke out in 1861, after having been planned for years, and not only were the Northern arsenals emptied, the South armed, and the navy scattered, but the entire Indian population, consisting of several powerful Indian nations, were precipitated upon the frontiers of the North and West. The "civilized nations" of the Indian Territory formally joined the Confederacy, and helped to raise armies. The other Indians raided and ravished the borders from southern Kansas to the British Possessions, so that it was necessary to station troops in a long cordon, and build forts and transport military supplies in enormous quantities, often at great distances, in some cases a thousand miles from a railroad, and store and guard the supplies. This greatly hampered the General Government. At the time the war closed there were in the Department of "Kansas and the Territories" nearly 60,000 troops. And long afterwards, when the clouds of the civil war had passed away, I find from a return in my possession that there were stationed along the line to protect Kansas, Nebraska and the overland line to Utah, 10,000 men and twenty-six pieces of artillery. This is exclusive of northern Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, that required another army. The time to which my narrative refers is between the summer of 1864 and the spring of 1866. After a long, hot march to reinforce Fort Laramie, which was then described as being in "Idaho Territory," we, a detachment of Iowa cavalry, arrived at the so-called fort in July, 1864. A regiment of Ohio cavalry had preceded us, and were building additional forts and were holding the passes in the mountains. Fort Laramie seemed, at that time, to the outside world, to be an echo from a vast, unknown, perilous interior. Soon after arrival the writer was detailed as adjutant of the post. Let us now turn to a view of the Sioux nation of that day. The Sioux nation occupied a vast territory, and was subdivided into subordinate tribes which had been so remotely sundered that their languages differed and had run into dialects. Their traditions said that they had come from the salt water, but they could not tell when, for the time was so great. They had traditions of the East but not of the West. They claimed kinship with the Iowas, Missouris, Kansas, and Quapaws or Arkansas Indians. I will repeat here that the tribes of the Sioux nation with which we had to deal were the Brulé, the Oga-llall'ahs, and the Minne-con'-jous, pronounced Minne-kau-zhous. The name of the first is the French interpretation of the Indian name, "The Burnt-thighs." The second, "Oga-llall'-ah," is a Sioux expression meaning "The Split-off Band," i. e., "The Secessionists." The third, "Minne-con'-jous," means the "Shallow-water people," they being residents of the country where the streams were all shallow and choked with sand. It was a vast territory, and was called "The shallow-water-land."
Shan-tag-a-lisk was one of the greatest of the Brulé leaders, with a commanding influence over the Minneconjous; which bands roamed through the vast country north, northeast, and east of Fort Laramie, but mostly north of the Platte.
Owa-see'-cha ("Bad-wound") was the chief of the Oga-llall-ahs, which roamed mostly south of the Platte, at the beginning of the time of which I speak. I have stated that Owa-see'-cha had suffered much at the hands of a Pawnee chief in a battle, hence the name.
Shan-tag'-a-lisk and Owa-see'-cha claimed to be able to bring into the field 26,000 Ar-ke'-chetas, or public soldiers. The Sioux nation then had what might be called a regular army. Not all of the men were soldiers; some were mere hunters or food-providers, but most of the strong and able-bodied were enrolled in a sort of military guild called Ar-ke-chetas, and were either out stealing horses, fighting and plundering, or else acting as policemen at home, and taking care of one another while drunk.
To rise among the Ar-ke-chetas the aspirant must "count coo," as it was called. The term "coo" was the French translation "coup" of the Sioux word strike, and the French term was the one always used by the interpreters, who were mostly French, and the various Indians came to adopt the word themselves. The relative importance of an Indian in his own estimation was the number of times be could count "coo," and the Indian never failed to advise his white listener as to the number. The Indian is a great deal of an Ananias. His native character is that of a vain-glorious braggart. He always claims to be a "heap-big-warchief." He could fool the white man who knew nothing about it, but the Indians could not fool one another. They knew each other's methods and manners, and they had a way of regulating those things.
A "coo" meant the blow first given to an enemy by a Sioux with his hand or something in his hand.
The Indian idea was that anybody might shoot an enemy, but it was the man who touched him first that was entitled to the glory. It was not the man who killed an enemy, or who scalped an enemy, that took the glory, but the man who touched the enemy first. One Indian might shoot and instantly kill a foe, another Indian might rush and strike the fallen foe with a riding-whip, and a third might secure the scalp, but the glory went to the Indian who made the "strike."
There was much reason in it, for a wounded Indian, like a little learning, was a dangerous thing; and the really brave Indian was he who first struck an enemy with something held in the hand. Sometimes blows were so close together that disputes arose as to who was entitled to the "coo," but these matters were settled by evidence in council. No Indian could claim and take a "coo" that be could not prove. The warriors held their "coos" by a sort of judicial determination of the tribe, or public concession of known facts.
An Indian who made two or three "coos' was a hero. When he could claim half a dozen he was a war chief. He was generally killed before he got any more. Shan-tag-a-lisk was the greatest of the warriors of the Sioux nation, at that time, and counted more "coos" than any other one in the nation. He said, "I count twenty-six coos." He was a quick, nervy, feminine-looking Indian of only medium size and height, and about forty years of age.
The writer had met both Shan-tag-a-lisk and Owa-see-cha before making the said trip to Fort Laramie. It was at Cottonwood Springs where two peace conventions were had, ten miles below the forks of the Platte. The object was to pacify the Sioux nation so that our Government might draw off some of the troops on the frontier and send them to the front at Atlanta, Georgia, where Sherman, at that time, was busily engaged and needed all the troops he could get. But nothing came of our peace conventions. It was also desired that a free opening might be had to the west for the scattering, disorganized soldiers and citizens of the Confederacy, who were fleeing from the theatre of war and from places where the Rebel conscription was, in the language of Grant, "robbing the cradle and the grave." These travelers to the west, although they might not be loyal to the Government, could ably protect themselves from the savage; they formed an army of extermination, and were exceedingly valuable to the General Government for the services they could render in exploring and building up the country and getting the Indians upon reservations.
At Laramie half-breed runners were sent out to bring in the Sioux and have an adjustment of pending difficulties, but the raid upon the line west of Laramie and the warlike feeling of the young men of the Sioux made it a failure. Nevertheless, some of the Indians came in, and Shan-tag-a-lisk was said to be within a hundred miles of the Post with many lodges of his band. On consultation at the sutler's store it was considered best to issue provisions to all the Indians who came in, especially as Shan-tag-a-lisk was keeping his band and his young Indians out of the war. It was thought best to make some presents to the Indian women who came in, and the Post commander was instructed to do so from the post fund. The Indian women were presented with red blankets, bright calicoes, looking-glasses, etc., etc. The writer, as adjutant of the post, superintended by order of the post commander a distribution of provisions. All of the Indian women and children sat down in a circle on the parade-ground, into the middle of which were rolled barrels and boxes of flour, crackers, bacon, and coffee. Then from the few Indian men, two or three were selected who entered the ring and made the division with great solemnity; going around the ring repeatedly with small quantities of the several articles that were being divided. My instructions were to see that everything was fairly done and all the supplies equally divided.
As I came up to the ring, on the day of the first division, an Indian girl was standing outside of the ring, looking on. She was tall and well dressed, and about eighteen years of age, or perhaps twenty. As the distribution was about to begin I went to her and told her to get into the ring, and motioned to her where to go. She gave no sign of heed, looked at me as impassively as if she were a statue, and never moved a muscle. A few teamsters, soldiers and idlers were standing around and looking on from a respectful distance. I shouted to Smith, the interpreter, to come. He came, and I said to him, "Tell this squaw to get into the ring or she will lose her share." Smith addressed her, and she replied. Smith looked puzzled, sort of smiled, and spoke to her again; again she replied as before. "What does she say?" I asked of Smith. Smith replied, "Oh, she says she is the daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk." "I don't care," said I, "whose daughter she is; tell her to get into the ring and get in quick." Again Smith talked to her, and impatiently gestured. She made a reply. "What did she say?" I asked. "Oh, she says that she don't go into the ring," said Smith. 'Then tell her," I said, "that if she doesn't go into the ring she won't get anything to eat." Back from her, through Smith, came the answer: "I have plenty to eat; I am the daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk." So I left her alone, and she stood and saw the division, and then went off to the Indian camp. Several times rations were distributed during the week, and she always came and stood outside of the ring alone. During the daytime she came to the sutler's store and sat on a bench outside, near the door, watching as if she were living on the sights she saw. She was particularly fond of witnessing guard-mount in the morning and dress-parade in the evening. Whoever officiated principally on these occasions put on a few extra touches for her special benefit, at the suggestion of Major Wood, the Post Commander. The Officer-of-the-guard always appeared in an eighteen-dollar red silk sash, ostrich plume, shoulder-straps, and about two hundred dollars' worth of astonishing raiment, such as, in the field, we boys used to look upon with loathing and contempt. We all knew her by sight, but she never spoke to any of us. Among ourselves we called her "the princess." She was looking, always looking, as if she were feeding upon what she saw. It was a week or ten days that Ah-ho-appa was around Fort Laramie. At last she went away with her band up to Powder River. Her manner of action was known to all, and she was frequently referred to as an Indian girl of great dignity. Some thought she was acting vain, and some thought that she did not know or comprehend her own manner. There was no silly curiosity in her demeanor. She saw everything, but asked no questions. She expressed no surprise, and exhibited not a particle of emotion. She only gazed intently.
One evening in the sutler store the officers of parts of three regiments were lounging, when Elston was asked if he knew Ah-ho-appa. "Very well indeed," he said; and then he proceeded to say:
"I knew her when she was a baby. She was here in the squaw-camp eight or nine years ago, and must have stayed with her relatives here two or three years. She is very much stuck up, especially in the last four or five years. She won't marry an Indian; she always said that. Her father has been offered two hundred ponies for her, but won't sell her. She says she won't marry anybody but a 'capitan',' and that idea sort of pleases her father for more reasons than one. Among the Indians every officer, big or little, with shoulder-straps on, is a 'capitan'.' That's a Spanish word the Indians have adopted, Every white man that wears shoulder-straps is a capitan. With her it's a capitan or nobody. She always carries a knife, and is as strong as a mule. One day a Blackfoot soldier running with her father's band tried to carry her off, but she fought and cut him almost to pieces -- like to have killed him; tickled her father nearly to death. The young bucks seem to think a good deal of her, but are all afraid to tackle her. The squaws all know about her idea of marrying a capitan; they think her head is level, but don't believe she will ever make it. She tried to learn to read and speak English once of a captured boy, but the boy escaped before she got it. She carries around with her a little bit of a red book, with a gold cross printed on it, that General Harney gave her mother many years ago. She's got it wrapped up in a parfleche [piece of dressed rawhide]. You ought to hear her talk when she is mad. She is a holy terror. She tells the Indians they are all fools for not living in houses, and making peace with the whites. One time she and her father went in to Jack Morrow's ranch and made a visit. She was treated in fine style, and ate a bushel of candy and sardines, but her father was insulted by some drunken fellow and went away boiling mad. When he got home to his tepee he said he never would go around any more where there were white men, except to kill them. She and her father got into a regular quarrel over it, and she pulled out her knife and began cutting herself across the arms and ribs, and in a minute she was bleeding in about forty places, and said that if he didn't say different she was going to kill herself. He knocked her down as cold as a wedge, and had her cuts fixed up by the squaws with pine pitch; and when she came to he promised her that she could go, whenever he did, to see the whites. And she went; you bet she went. She would dress just like a buck and carry a gun. White men would not know the difference. They can't get her to tan buckskin, or gather buffalo cherries. No, sir. There was a teamster down at Bardeaux ranch that wanted to talk marry to her, but his moustache was too white." (In the old folk-lore of the plains a man's liver was supposed to be of the color of his moustache. So the speaker meant that the teamster was white-livered, hence cowardly.)
Here ended Elston's story, and all of the officers listened, and some asked questions, until all knew Ah-ho-appa, who did not know her before; and when Mr. Bullock, the post sutler, brought in a gallon of his fine new whisky-toddy the subject changed to Petersburg and Richmond, and whether Sherman's artillery could carry shells over Hood's lines into Atlanta. All efforts for peace at Laramie were failures and hostilities raged along the line, but Shan-tag-a-lisk stayed out of it.
Here for a time we leave the daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk. She has gone north to Powder River with her father's band. The writer was adjutant for only thirty days, and then was ordered east down the Platte. The Government was making every effort to end the war. Richmond was invested. Atlanta fell into our bands. Rebellion and disunion was being pressed to the wall. The blows were now redoubled and terrific. Fighting day and night, the Confederacy was doomed. Every man was called upon to do his best. Every man did his best, and then came Appomattox; and there was written into our national constitution, with the sword, an amendment that States could not secede from the Union. Then the disbanding armies poured out into the Western States and Territories to begin the making of homes and the building of railroads and cities. Then peace was proffered to the Indian tribes. A commission was sent from Washington and a convention of the "Civilized Tribes" held at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Judge Cooley, of Dubuque, on behalf of the United States, was spokesman. I was there, but still in the United States' service. Ross and Boudinot made speeches, and peace was established there ere frost fell in the autumn of 1865. Commissioners were selected to make treaties with the Western tribes. They were no longer stirred up by emissaries from the Indian Territory and the Confederacy.
Early in 1866 the Department of "The United States forces in Kansas and the Territories" was commanded by Major-General Grenville M. Dodge, who had commanded an army corps under Sherman. The writer had seen General Dodge being hauled off in an army wagon, badly wounded, at Pea Ridge, at which place was first invented the American battle theory of fighting three days without stopping, contrary to the traditions of the "Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World" which had theretofore happened, and which were generally fought in a few hours each.
General Dodge had placed Colonel H. E. Maynadier in charge of the sub-district at Laramie. The Indian troubles had slackened up, but there were at the post about six hundred men, including everybody there. A year and a half had elapsed, and the writer was still in the military volunteer service.
Let us now visit Powder River, far north of Laramie. It was a cold and dismal day in February, about the 23d, 1866. Ah-ho-appa was stricken with consumption, and was living in a chilly and lonesome tepee among the pines on the west bank of the river. She had not seen a white person since her visit to Laramie in August, 1864. During this time there had been a continuous state of war along the routes. Most of the Indians were involved in hostilities that seemed unlikely to ever end, except with the extermination of one party or the other. But Shan-tag-a-lisk kept out of it as much as he could. His camp had been moved backwards and forwards all over the Big Horn, Rose Bud, and Tongue River country, and was again on the Powder River not far from where the three hundred horses of the Seventh Iowa cavalry perished in a September snow-storm. Ah-ho-appa's heart was broken. She could not stand up against her surroundings. In vain her father had urged her to accept the conditions as they were, to be happy and contented and not worry about things out of her reach. But she could not. The object of her life was beyond her reach. She had an ambition, -- a vague one; but her hopes were gone. Shortly before her death a runner from Laramie announced to the Indians on Powder River that commissioners would come with the grass, who would bring the words of the Great Father to his Indian children. Shan-tag-a-lisk was urged to send runners to all the bands south and west of the Missouri River, and to meet at Laramie as soon as their ponies could live on the grass. Ah-ho-appa heard the news, but it came too late. It did not revive her. She told her father that she wanted to go, but she would be dead; that it was her wish to be buried in the cemetery at Fort Laramie, where the soldiers were buried, up on the hill, near the grave of "Old Smoke," a distant relative and a great chief among the Sioux in former years. This her relatives promised her.
When her death took place, after great lamentations among the band, the skin of a deer freshly killed was held over the fire and thoroughly permeated and creosoted with smoke. Ah-ho-appa was wrapped in it and it was tightly bound around her with thongs so that she was temporarily embalmed. Shan-tag-a-lisk sent a runner to announce that he was coming, in advance of the commissioners, to bury his daughter at Laramie. It was a distance of two hundred and sixty miles.
The landscape was bleak and frozenly arid, the streams were covered with ice, and the hills speckled with snow. The trail was rough and mountainous. The two white ponies of Ah-ho-appa were tied together, side by side, and the body placed upon them. Shan-tag-a-lisk, with a party of his principal warriors and a number of the women, started off on the sad journey. When they camped at night the cottonwood and willow trees were cut down and the ponies browsed on the tops of the trees and gnawed the wood and bark. For nearly a week of the trip there was a continual sleet. The journey lasted for fifteen days, and was monotonous with lamentation.
When within fifteen miles of Fort Laramie at camp, a runner announced to Col. Maynadier the approach of the procession. Col. Maynadier was a natural prince, a good soldier, and a judge of Indian character. He was Colonel of the First U. S. Volunteers. The post commander was Major Geo. M. O'Brien, a graduate of Dublin University, afterwards brevetted to the rank of General. His honored grave is now in the beautiful cemetery at Omaha.
A consultation was held among the officers, and an ambulance dispatched, guarded by a company of cavalry in full uniform, followed by two twelve-pound mountain howitzers, with postilions in red chevrons. The body was placed in the ambulance, and behind it were led the girl's two white ponies.
When the cavalcade had reached the river, a couple of miles from the post, the garrison turned out, and with Col. Maynadier at the head, met and escorted them into the post, and the party were assigned quarters. The next day a scaffold was erected near the grave of "Old Smoke." It was made of tent-poles twelve feet long imbedded in the ground, and fastened with thongs, over which a buffalo-robe was laid, and on which the coffin was to be placed. To the poles of the scaffold were nailed the heads and tails of the two white ponies, so that Ah-ho-appa could ride through the fair hunting-grounds of the skies. A coffin was made and lavishly decorated. The body was not unbound from its deerskin shroud, but was wrapped in a bright red blanket and placed in the coffin mounted on the wheels of an artillery caisson. After the coffin came a twelve-pound howitzer, and the whole was followed to the cemetery by the entire garrison in full uniform. The tempestuous and chilling weather moderated somewhat. The Rev. Mr. Wright, who was the post Chaplain, suggested an elaborate burial service. Shan-tag-a-lisk was consulted. He wanted his daughter buried Indian fashion, so that she would go not where the white people went, but where the red people went. Every request of Shan-tag-a-lisk was met by Colonel Maynadier with a hearty and satisfactory "Yes." Shan-tag-a-lisk was silent for a long while, then he gave to the Chaplain, Mr. Wright, the "parfleche" which contained the little book that General Harney had given to her mother many years before. It was a small Episcopal prayer-book, such as was used in the regular army. The mother could not read it, but considered it a talisman. Mr. Wright then deposited it in the coffin. Then Colonel Maynadier stepped forward and deposited a pair of white kid gauntlet cavalry gloves to keep her hands warm while she was making the journey. The soldiers formed a large hollow square, within which the Indians formed a large ring around the coffin. Within the Indian ring, and on the four sides of the coffin, stood Colonel Maynadier, Major O'Brien, Shan-tag-a-lisk, and the Chaplain. The Chaplain was at the foot, and read the burial service, while, on either side, Colonel Maynadier and Major O'Brien made responses. Shan-tag-a-lisk stood at the head, looking into the coffin, the personification of blank grief. When the reading service closed Major O'Brien placed in the coffin a new crisp one-dollar bill, so that Ah-ho-appa might buy what she wanted on the journey. Then each of the Indian women came up, one at a time, and talked to Ah-ho-appa: some of them whispered to her long and earnestly as if they were by her sending some hopeful message to a lost child. Each one put some little remembrance in the coffin; one put a little looking-glass, another a string of colored beads, another a pine cone with some sort of an embroidery of sinew in it. Then the lid was fastened on and the women took the coffin and raised it and placed it on the scaffold. The Indian men stood mutely and stolidly around looking on, and none of them moved a muscle or tendered any help. A fresh buffalo-skin was laid over the coffin and bound down to the sides of the scaffold with thongs. The scaffold was within the military square, as was also the twelve-pound howitzer. The sky was leaden and stormy, and it began to sleet and grow dark. At the word of command the soldiers faced outward and discharged three volleys in rapid succession. They and their visitors then marched back to their post. The howitzer squad remained and built a large fire of pine wood, and fired the gun every half-hour all night, through the sleet, until daybreak.
In the morning a conference was had at post headquarters, which was decorated with flags; speeches were made, and the evils and misfortunes of the last five years were gone over. Col. Maynadier told of the expected coming of the commissioners, and made a speech. He said: "There is room enough for all of us in this broad country." Pointing to the silk flag of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, hanging from the wall, Col. Maynadier said: "My Indian brother, look at those stripes. Some of them are red, and some of them are white. They remain peacefully side by side -- the red and the white -- for there is room for each."
After this there was a brief interval of peace. A full account of this funeral may be found in the St. Louis newspapers of March, 1866.
With the grass came the commissioners. Then came the Union Pacific Railroad. Then came Indian resistance. Then war again. Then the decadence of the Sioux nation.
The daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk was an individual of a type found in all lands, at all times, and among all peoples: she was misplaced.
Her story is the story of the persistent melancholy of the human race; of kings born in hovels, and dying there; of geniuses born where genius is a crime; of heroes born before their age, and dying unsung; of beauty born where its gift was fatal; of mercy born among wolves, and fighting for life; of statesmen born to find society not yet ripe for their labors to begin, and bidding the world adieu from the scaffold.
We all of us know what it is to feel that at times we are out of tune with the world, but ever and anon we strike a node and come back into temporary harmony; but there are those who are never in tune. They are not alone the weak; they are the strong and the weak; they are the ambitious and as well also the loving, the tender, the true, and the merciful.
The daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk wanted to find somebody to love worth loving. Her soul bled to death. Like an epidendrum, she was feeding upon the air.
When wealth and civilization shall have brought to the Rocky Mountains the culture and population which in time shall come, the daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk should not be forgotten; it may be said of her, in the words of Buddha:
"Amid the brambles and rubbish thrown over into the road, a lily may grow."