April 16, 1864 - O-way-see'-cha Comes - General Mitchell Arrives - Indians Come In - The Great Council - "Snell" - Shan-tag-a-lisk - The Big Mandan - Indian Peculiarities - Ogallallah - Indian Speeches - The Debate - The Bluff and Counter-bluff - The Niobrara - The Postponement - The Dog Feast
UPON April 16th an old Indian came in, and hunted me up, and with him was a man who could talk Indian. This old Indian was the vanguard coming up to the council. When I saw him I recognized him as the one who had appeared in camp some time before, and to whom I fed the molasses and crackers. He came up and was very profuse with me in his hearty handshake and "How-cola?" (Cola means friend.) I was very much surprised. The interpreter told me that the Indian's name was O-way-see'-cha, accent on the third syllable. This word means in the Sioux dialect "bad wound," "see-cha" meaning bad. The Sioux, like the French, put their adjectives after the noun. Wah-see-cha means "medicine bad," i. e., white-man. I was told that be acquired his name from a fight with the Pawnee Indians down north of Fort Kearney several years before; that he was so badly wounded that they carried him off on an Indian litter between two ponies; and he finally recovered to be as well as ever; and then, Indian fashion, he took a new name. He greeted me with an expression which the interpreter said meant that I was "his long-knife son." I asked him if he was hungry, and be said "No." Then I went to Ben Gallagher's sutler store with him and bought him a plug of chewing tobacco, which in the manner of that time, and the trade, was a foot long, three inches wide, and an inch thick, and for which I paid a dollar. This I gave to O-way-see'-cha and he patted me on the back, and bade me an affectionate good-by. He was camped upon the Platte valley two or three miles above the post. Nobody saw him come there, and it was supposed that he came down there stealthily, got himself all fixed at night, and made his appearance at the post the next morning. During the day we heard that Sioux Indians were coming in from every side; we had an inspection of arms, and put ourselves in such condition that we could fall in, and begin business at a moment's notice. The men were ordered to stay around the barracks, to wear their revolvers, sleep in their uniforms, and be ready, because we did not know what tricks might be played upon us. We also had the cannon loaded with shrapnel cut one second, set a post guard, and put pickets all around a halfmile from the post.
On April 16, 1864, General Mitchell and Lieutenant Williams, coming from Fort Kearney, arrived at the post. This was Brigadier-General Robert B. Mitchell. He was born in Ohio; came to Kansas as a pro-slavery Democrat. The conduct of the Missourians, and the early Kansas troubles, made him an anti-slavery Democrat. When the war broke out he was for fighting, and became immediately the Colonel of the Second Kansas. He was in the Lyon campaign in Missouri, and was badly shot up at the battle of Wilson's Creek. I was in that campaign as a soldier in the First Iowa Infantry, and our regiment was brigaded with the Second Kansas for a while, and I remembered Colonel Mitchell very well, and when he was said to have been shot, and taken from the field. After he recovered be was made a Brigadier-General, and sent with the army to Kentucky, and was in command of a brigade of cavalry. He was in the battle of Perryville, where he said he lost seven hundred men in seven minutes. He was in a very great number of fights and skirmishes, and used to say that up to date, he was in two more battles in number than any Brigadier in the service. His two biggest battles were Wilson Creek and Perryville, and it so happened that I was in the Wilson Creek battle and Captain O'Brien was in the Perryville battle. So, when he arrived at our post, we introduced selves to him and he took a great fancy to our company, and nearly ignored the other officers of the post. Lieutenant Williams, who was with him as A. D. C., was a little Kentucky cavalry First Lieutenant who had distinguished himself in Perryville by charging and cutting through a regiment of Confederate infantry, and then forming in the rear and cutting back through a battery of artillery. On the evening of the 16th Captain O'Brien and I had a fine visit with the General. In the meantime the Indians were coming in, and camping together near the river outside of the two miles limit. We had all of our men fully armed, and everything ready to prevent a surprise of our post. The Indians were ordered not come within two miles of the post except that they might send a delegation in of one hundred, to accompany their speakers to the place of rendezvous. Our sutler, Ben Gallagher, had started in to build a large sutler store, twenty-five feet square. Holes for the doors and windows had been sawed from the logs, and most of the roof was on. But it had no floor nor any furnishing. It had a large doorhole in the north and one in the south; the opening on the south side faced our camp. With great pomp the Indians to the number of about one hundred, all fully armed and finely mounted, came down towards our camp about nine o'clock. Then seventeen chiefs threw off their weapons, leaving them behind with their escort, and came forward to the new sutler-house with great pomp and ceremony. Then all of the officers of the post, coming up to within about fifty feet of the building, took off their sabres and revolvers and left them in a pile with a guard. We had three interpreters, the principal one of whom was named Watts. He had been with the Indians and traded with them for many years. His usual name was "Snell," which was an abbreviation of his Indian name, which was Wah-see-cha-es-snel-la (The "lonesome white man"). There were two other interpreters besides Watts. Among the Indians there was an Indian who, it was said, readily understood English. The Indians formed a semicircle, in the building, sitting down on the ground, and we formed one, sitting on crackerboxes opposite them, except that General Mitchell sat in a large camp-chair. He looked like a king. He was an exceedingly handsome man, with a full, dark-brown curly beard and mustache. Major George M. O'Brien sat on his right, also a fine-looking man, standing six feet one inch. He afterwards practiced law in Omaha, and on his death was buried there.
On the left of the General sat Captain O'Brien, six feet high. I was six feet, and we tapered off at both sides, making a pretty good showing, in full uniforms, with our red silk sashes on, which hadn't seen the light for several months. Back of the General was a man whom the General had brought along with him, and from whom he appeared to take advice as to preliminaries and procedure. I didn't find who he was. To the left front of the General, and immediately in front of Captain O'Brien, on a cracker-box, sat the interpreter, Watts. The Indians all through this matter seemed to be unusually important, and punctilious. They all had their blankets on, and although they had ostensibly left their arms behind, every one had probably a sharp butcher-knife in the folds of his blanket. At least, Watts said so. As a sort of stand-off, we, who had left our arms behind us, each had a pistol in his hip pocket so as not to be taken unawares. Nothing was said for several minutes, and we all sat in silence. Every once in a while an Indian made a sort of sign or signal, and it would go around like penitents crossing. It was some kind of a slight significant sign made instantly and simply, which would be taken up and gone through with as if it were a signal of some kind, or an invocation of some kind. Directly opposite General Mitchell was Shan-tag-a-lisk, which is translated as "Spotted Tail." He was the greatest warrior in the Sioux nation, said to be the greatest either past or present. He was said to be able to count twenty-six "cooz." He belonged to the Brulé Sioux. On his right was my friend, "Bad Wound." On the left were "Two Strike," and "Two Crows," and the "Big Mandan." On the opposite side were "Prickly Pear" and "Eagle Twice." These are all the names I have preserved. "Two Strike" was said to have killed two Pawnees with one bullet. These Indians represented the four tribes of the Sioux that were nearest to us. Those south of the river were the "Ogallallah," of whom "Bad Wound" was chief. Northwest were the "Brulés," of whom "Shan-tag-a-lisk" was chief. North of us and east of the Brulés were what were called the "Minne-kaw'-zhouz." The latter word signified shallow water. The "shallow water" Sioux lived upon the streams which through a great scope of country were all shallow. "Two Strike" was said to be their chief. East of them on the Missouri river were a lot of Indians represented by the Big Mandan. The word Brulé, which is a French word, means "sun-burnt"; it was derived from the Indian name which in the Indian tongue meant "burnt-thighs." Their thighs exposed to the sun were sunburned in their constant riding on horseback. The words meant more than at first appeared; for, Indians who walked on the ground did not get their thighs burned more than other parts, especially as the Indians went practically naked when the sun was hot. Hence the words "burnt-thighs" meant that the Brulé Indians were riders; that they belonged to the cavalry, that is, the Chivalry; in other words, they were of the equestrian class. The words constituted a boast that they were better than others and were the Rough-Riders of the plains. Such was the tradition of the name. Peace or war upon the plains, as to us, depended largely upon our satisfying all these Indians.
Strange as it may appear, all of the Indians had extremely feminine faces, except the Big Mandan. Spotted Tail looked exactly like a woman; and in short, as I had already observed, and often afterwards observed, the Indian men seemed to have a feminine look and the women to have a rather masculine look, which increased as they grew older. An old Indian woman had a much more dangerous-looking face than an old Indian man. So much has been written about the noble looks and appearance of the red man, and his fine physique, and all that kind of stuff, that it seems strange to contradict it; but as a matter of fact, the Indian warriors as a whole looked more like women than like men, and their extermination, I believe, is due to the fact that they did not have the surviving power nor the sufficient fibre. In addition to this, these Indians had revolting and beastly habits and vices, just as bad as could be, and their names, many of them, were such that no interpretation in the English would be printable.
The word "Ogallallah" meant "the split-off band," because in former years the band had split off from the main Sioux tribe, and gone down into what was said to have been Pawnee territory. But concerning those facts I could never get anything but contradictory stories. The "split-off" must have been a long while before. They called themselves "Lah-ko-tahs." The interpreter told me that the separation had been so long, and so distant, that one part of the Sioux tribe had lost the consonant "d" and the other the use of the consonant "l," and one called themselves "Lah-ko-tahs," and the other "Dah-ko-tahs." Once I talked with two Irish travelers in regard to the Indians. One of them asked me what the word "Ogallallah" meant, and I told him that it meant "the split-off band," and be spoke up and said, "That is a pure Irish word, and in the old Irish language means, 'secessionist.'" I may say here that it was not unusual for persons in referring to the language of the northern Sioux to say that there were words in use among them that were distinctly Irish and Welsh. I took no note of them at the time, considering them to be merely accidental coincidences, and now I remember only the word "Ogallallah."
It was very interesting, the silent way in which we sat on both sides and gazed at each other. When it came to muscle and physique, our men, man for man, could have thrown them all outdoors and walked on them, except perhaps as to the "Big Mandan." We were all larger than the Indians except him, and he was about six feet four, and about a yard across, about forty years of age, and very light-colored for an Indian. it would have been a close tussle between him and Major O'Brien. Finally, one Indian got out a pipe from under his blanket. It had a stem about two and a half feet long. It was made of red pipestone, and had a good-sized bowl, but the orifice was scant for the tobacco. It was filled with great pomp and solemnity by the man who took it and he did it little by little, as if it was a great function. He felt the weight and importance of the ceremony. Then he passed the pipe down to the end of the line, and there an Indian with a flint-and-steel and a piece of punk started the pipe. Then it went from mouth to mouth, the parties each taking three whiffs. When it had gone along the entire Indian line, it struck the end of our line. We were all trying to look solemn. The Indians were dreadfully solemn, They acted as if they thought they were doing the greatest deed in their lives; we did not wish to hurt their feelings by impairing the solemnity of the occasion, so we just looked as wise as we could. But when the pipe struck the end of our line, where Lieutenant Williams was, before he put the pipe into his mouth he drew it under his sleeve, saying as he did so, "I don't believe I want to swap saliva with that crowd." This being said in a ponderous and thoughtful way, perhaps impressed the crowd on the other side as being a mental benediction on receiving the utensil. We all kept looking solemn, however, although it was hard work. When the pipe got to the General he pulled out his silk handkerchief and polished off the mouthpiece, took three profound whiffs, and passed it on. After it had gone through with our line it went across to where it had started from.
Finally Spotted Tail said something which, being interpreted, was: "The white brother has sent for us. What does the white brother want?" Then Genl. Mitchell, with much assumed and natural dignity, combined, began to tell the Indians how the whites and Indians had lived side by side in peace for so many years, and how the Indians were prosperous through contact with the whites, and were getting guns, and killing game more easily, and having a better time of it generally; and how persons had conspired to bring about a want of amity and friendship; and how it was his desire to meet the red brother, and tell him what the Great Father in Washington wanted. It was a long preamble which General Mitchell had evidently conned over in his mind, because he wound up with a statement that the white man wanted peace, and wanted the Sioux to keep out of the Platte Valley.
Thereupon the Big Mandan rose up, throwing off his blanket, and standing out with nothing on but breech-clout and moccasins. He commenced a speech which started out slow and low, beginning to rise in volume and increase in rapidity, until he was spouting away like a man running for office before a county convention. No report that I know of was ever made of what took place at this powwow, and my notes concerning it are meager. But the "Big Mandan" told about how in former days they had fought the Chippewas clear up to the Lakes in the east, and now they were being crowded away from the Missouri River; that they owned the land, and they owned the buffalo, and the antelope, and the deer, and the wild ducks, and the geese; and how the white man was pushing them all the time, and killing their cattle, and their birds, and catching their fish, and making it harder all the time for them to get a living. It was the old, old story. During his speech the Indians all sat and looked mutely at the ground. All at once at a passage of the speech they brightened up, and grunted an applause. I said to the interpreter, "What is that sentence?" He said, "The Indian coined a new word." It appears that it is one of the characteristics of the Indian language to run words together; to take a vowel from one and a consonant from another, forming a combination of thought, and boiling it down into a word. And it was the part of an orator to make new words which his hearers could immediately comprehend the meaning of, and it was on this occasion that the Big Mandan had met the dramatic situation by the coining of a new word for the Sioux vocabulary.
General Mitchell made a speech, a brief reply sitting in his chair, intending to assuage the sentiment that Big Mandan had raised. Major O'Brien wanted to make a talk but General Mitchell would not allow anybody talk but himself, fearing the matter might break up into something which would resemble a town row. Then another of the Indians got up and went over the story again; how they were a hungry people; how the white brother had everything, and they had nothing; how the white brother had flour and bacon and sugar and everything else in vast quantities more than they wanted, while the Indian had a continual struggle with poverty, and had nothing to eat but dried pumpkin, and buffalo-berries, and jerked meat. General Mitchell replied to this speech by saying that the Government gave them blankets enough and clothing enough, to clothe them for all seasons of the year; that the Government gave them flour, bacon and supplies, which if prudently used would always enable them to have plenty to eat; that the Government desired them to live in houses, and had offered them carpenters and blacksmiths, and to teach them how to build houses; and how to become civilized and live like the whites, but they would not do it, and that their troubles arose from their perversity and want of thought.
Then another of the Indian orators got up, and began to talk about the white people sending whisky into their villages, and cheating them out of their beaver-skins, and the mink and otter and muskrats, and buffalo-robes, and how the Indians were getting fewer and poorer all the time from the "drunk-water" which the white man sent out. To this General Mitchell replied that there were bad white men as well as bad Indians; that the white man put chains on those who sold whisky to Indians, and kept them in confinement, when they could be caught; that such white men were bad white men; that the Indians ought to kill them on sight when they brought whisky into their village; that the difficulty with the Indians was they wanted the white man to bring the whisky in, and would not punish him; that they wanted the whisky, and therefore they were complaining of themselves, and not of the white men.
And so it went speech after speech, General Mitchell always replying to every speech. He had thought it all up, and I must say he beat the Indian in their controversy. He told the Indians that they had no right to claim all of the land. He told them that the good Manitou, who put us all on earth, intended that each one should have his share of the earth, and the Indians had no right to take ten times as much land per head as they allowed the white people. And he pointed out that the white people had to live all penned up and in discomfort, so that the Indian could have ten times the amount of land that he ought to have, and kill the buffalo which belonged to everybody on the earth alike, but which the Indians claimed the entire ownership of. And that the Indian had kept the white man back and the latter was so crowded that if the lands which the white man had were divided, each white man would have only a small piece, so small that an Indian could shoot an arrow across it while the Indian had land he could not see over.
The manner of discussion was that the Indian would speak a sentence, and then the interpreter would interpret it. Then the Indian would speak another sentence, and that would be interpreted. When the General spoke, his speech was put into the Sioux language, and the man behind the General was there as overseer to see that "Snell" translated it correctly, and several times the overseer interfered to have the translation explained, the great object being to have the true idea which each one brought forth, presented to the other. The debate ran on, and the pipe was relit and passed around several times during the silences which ensued. Silences of five to ten minutes ensued after each of General Mitchell's speeches, Then the pipe would go around with the same formality. Spotted Tail, sitting quietly, said: "Why are we here? Why has the white brother asked us to come?" Then General Mitchell said: "The object of this meeting is to have an understanding, and make a treaty, so each will know what he ought to do. We want you Sioux to stay off from the Platte Valley. You can come down hills on the edge of the valley while you are hunting but you must not come down into the valley, for it scares the women and children that are living in the houses in the valley. If you wish to cross the road, and go north or south of the river, you must send in word during the daytime to one of the posts, and then you will be escorted across the valley from the hills on one side to the hills on the other, and then you can go where you will. But you mustn't come down in the valley or allow spies, beggars, or bad Indians to come down into the valley. You must restrain your bad men; we will hold you responsible; this is an ultimatum. This we insist upon your doing. If it takes more to feed you, if it takes more bacon or blankets and corn, we will give you more, but you must stay out of the Platte Valley."
This speech of General Mitchell's seemed to nettle them all. Shan-tag-a-lisk was their greatest warrior, but he was not much of a talker. Their principal orator was the Big Mandan, but Shan-tag-a-lisk got up with his blanket on, and his arms folded across his breast, and began talking in a low, hesitating tone. He said: "The Sioux nation is a great people, and we do not wish to be dictated to by the whites or anybody else. We do not care particularly about the Platte valley, because there is no game in it. Your young men and your freighters have driven all the game out or killed it, so we find nothing in the Platte valley. But we want to come and trade in the Platte valley wherever we please. We want places where we can sell our beaver-skins and our buffalo-robes. The Platte valley is ours, and we do not intend to give it away. We have let the white man have it so that he could pass, but he has gone over it so often now that he claims it and thinks he owns it. But it is still ours, and always has been ours. It belonged to our forefathers, and their graves are along the hills overlooking the valley from the Missouri river to the mountains, and we do not expect to give it up. We are not afraid of the white man, nor are we afraid to fight him. We have not had in late years any very serious difficulties with the white men. Trouble has been brought about by 'drunk-water.' Bad whites have given it to bad Indians, and they have got both of us into trouble. The donations which the white men have been giving us are not sufficient; they are not adequate for the concessions which we have made. The goods that were brought us at Woc-co-pom'-any agency were neither as good as had been promised us, nor were they in amount as had been promised us. The Great Father through his army officers makes us great promises, but the agents, who are not army officers, cheat us, and do not carry out the treaty obligations. Last fall at the Woc-co-pom'-any agency, when the agent asked us to sign for our goods, we would not sign, because they were not what they should be in value or amount, and one of the army officers who was there told us not to sign, and he swore at the agent, and told him he was a thief, and was cheating us. The army officers treat us well enough, but those who are not officers cheat us when they can, and we do not want to deal with any but the army officers. Besides this, we will not give up the Platte valley to you until we have a regular treaty, and until we have all agreed to it, and have been paid for it. It will soon be that you will want other roads to the west. If we give you this you will want another, and if we give you that you will want a third. Before we will agree to anything you must stop the surveyors that are going west at this very time on the river Niobrara. All of these things must be considered before we will make a treaty."
Then General Mitchell asked if anyone present knew about the Niobrara, and some one of the party spoke and said that a surveying party was going west up the Niobrara with an escort. The Niobrara river was a river running west from the Missouri river parallel with the Platte, and about a hundred miles north of where we then were. Spotted Tail said that the Niobrara river went through their good country, and that they would resist the white man putting a road through, and that unless the work was stopped they were going to drive off or kill the expedition. And he also said that he wanted the road out on the Smoky Hill closed up, because it went through their best buffalo country. And he further said that they would not for the present carry out the wishes of General Mitchell until their demands were agreed to. The speech of Shan-tag-a-lisk wound up with a regular bluff, and it made General Mitchell a little angry; he got up, and told the Indians that he was not there to coax them, but was there to tell them what to do. That he would stop the survey up on the Niobrara river until there was another conference; that the Smoky Hill route was a route, much used, and was necessary for the white man, and it would not be closed. And he wound up by saying that if the Sioux did not keep away from the Platte river he would station a soldier to every blade of grass from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. This counter "bluff" on the part of General Mitchell brought Spotted Tail immediately to his feet. He got up and said that the Sioux nation was not afraid of the white people; that there were more Sioux than there were white people; that the Sioux nation had twenty-six thousand Ar-ke'-che-tas (organized warriors), and could put more soldiers into the Platte valley than white people could; that they knew all about the white people, and the white people were not smart enough to fool them; that the white people were all the while trying to fool the Indians and deceive them as to numbers so as to scare them. That the whites were parading before the Indians all the time so as to show off their numbers; that the same people that came up the Platte valley went back by the way of Smoky Hill. "We have seen them, and recognize them time and again. Some of them come back by way of Platte river, but that is only to fool us. The white men are marching around in a ring so that we may see them and be led to believe that there is a great number of them. They cannot fool us. We recognize the same people, and they are too few; we are not afraid of them -- we outnumber them."
It had got well along into the afternoon; no headway had been made, but General Mitchell seemed to think that the ground had been broken for a future conference. It was finally decided that the conference should adjourn, and meet again at the same place in fifty days. Nothing whatever had been gained. Both parties had been bluffing, and neither side was afraid of the other. But General Mitchell promised to stop the Niobrara expedition, and to get permission from the Great Father at Washington to make a new treaty, that would cede the Platte valley; that every one present should think the matter over; and come back in fifty days; and that the Indians should bring other chiefs with them if they wished. Then General Mitchell with great formality took Spotted Tail by the hand and said, "How cola?" and had the interpreter tell him that they would all be fed before they left the post. Thereupon the Indians were all taken to the cookhouse, where everything had been kept in readiness, and they were given all they could eat, which was an enormous amount. The boiled beef and coffee and hard-bread (which the boys called "Lincoln shingles") were spread out with panfuls of molasses, and things went along all right. A lot of supplies had been sent to the Indian camps during the day. The Indians invited our officers to go over to their camp and have a dog feast. It was not considered advisable for more than three to go, together with some civilians who were there. Captain O'Brien was one of the officers, and he requested me to be on guard until he came back, and have the horses all saddled and the men ready to mount on a moment's notice. He wanted to go to the Indian camp, and did not know what might happen, but he never seemed to fear any danger. One of the Indians asked the visitors to bring some coffee; so one of them, on his horse, took a little bag of roasted coffee, perhaps ten pounds. Captain O'Brien's story is that they were entertained by the principal chiefs; that they had dog to eat, and that the dog wasn't so bad after all. That the Indians put coffee into a big camp-kettle, and commenced boiling and kept filling the camp-kettle and boiling coffee until he came away about ten o'clock at night. He said the Indians drank coffee hot by the gallon, and didn't seem to be able to get enough of it. He said they appeared to be all right, and friendly; he didn't believe there would be any Indian trouble. The next morning there was not an Indian in sight, and current matters at our post went along in the same usual way. General Mitchell left as soon as the Indians did. I will speak more of him further on, but will say here that his honored grave may be seen on one of the sunlit slopes of the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
Shan-tag-a-lisk was over forty years old, but claimed to be about thirty. Pioneers said the Indians would not tell the truth about their ages, because they thought it might give the white men some occult advantage over them.