1878—January 10, resolution introduced in U.S. Senate that women be given a hearing on suffrage. June 4, Britain takes Cyprus from Turkey. July 12, yellow-fever epidemic begins in New Orleans; 4,500 die. October 18, Edison succeeds in subdividing electric current, adapting it for household use; gas stocks fall on New York Exchange. December, in St. Petersburg, Russia, university students battle police and cossacks. In Austria, Ferdinand Mannlicher invents magazine repeating rifle. David Hughes invents the microphone. New York Symphony Society founded. Gilbert and Sullivan present H.M.S. Pinafore.
We have been south and suffered a great deal down there. Many have died of diseases which we have no name for. Our hearts looked and longed for this country where we were born. There are only a few of us left, and we only wanted a little ground, where we could live. We left our lodges standing, and ran away in the night. The troops followed us. I rode out and told the troops we did not want to fight; we only wanted to go north, and if they would let us alone we would kill no one. The only reply we got was a volley. After that we had to fight our way, but we killed none who did not fire at us first. My brother, Dull Knife, took one-half of the band and surrendered near Fort Robinson. … They gave up their guns, and then the whites killed them all.
—OHCUMGACHE (LITTLE WOLF) OF THE NORTHERN CHEYENNES
All we ask is to be allowed to live, and live in peace. … We bowed to the will of the Great Father and went south. There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. So we came home. Better it was, we thought, to die fighting than to perish of sickness. … You may kill me here; but you cannot make me go back. We will not go. The only way to get us there is to come in here with clubs and knock us on the head, and drag us out and take us down there dead.
—TAHMELAPASHME (DULL KNIFE) OF THE NORTHERN CHEYENNES
I regard the Cheyenne tribe of Indians, after an acquaintance with quite a number of bands, as the finest body of that race which I have ever met.
—THREE FINGERS (COLONEL RANALD S. MACKENZIE)
IN THE MOON OF Greening Grass, 1877, when Crazy Horse brought his Oglala Sioux to surrender at Fort Robinson, various bands of Cheyennes who had joined him during the winter also gave up their horses and arms, placing themselves upon the mercy of the soldiers. Among the Cheyenne chiefs were Little Wolf, Dull Knife, Standing Elk, and Wild Hog. Together their people numbered about one thousand. Two Moon and 350 Cheyennes, who had been separated from the others after the Little Bighorn fight, went down the Tongue River to Fort Keogh and surrendered to Bear Coat Miles.
The Cheyennes who came to Fort Robinson expected to live on the reservation with the Sioux in accordance with the treaty of 1868, which Little Wolf and Dull Knife had signed. Agents from the Indian Bureau informed them, however, that the treaty committed them to live either on the Sioux reservation or on a reservation set apart for the Southern Cheyennes. The agents recommended that the Northern Cheyennes be transferred to Indian Territory to live with their kinsmen, the Southern Cheyennes.
“Our people did not like this talk,” Wooden Leg said. “All of us wanted to stay in this country near the Black Hills. But we had one big chief, Standing Elk, who kept saying it would be better if we should go there. I think there were not as many as ten Cheyennes in our whole tribe who agreed with him. There was a feeling that he was talking this way only to make himself a big Indian among the white people.” 1
While the government authorities were deciding what to do with the Northern Cheyennes, the Bluecoat chiefs at Fort Robinson recruited some of the warriors to serve as scouts to help find scattered bands which were still out and were unwilling to accept the inevitability of surrender.
William P. Clark, a cavalry lieutenant, persuaded Little Wolf and a few of his warriors to work with him. Clark wore a white hat while in the field, and that was the name the Cheyennes gave him—White Hat. They soon discovered that White Hat genuinely liked Indians, was interested in their way of life, their culture, language, religion, and customs. (Clark later published a scholarly treatise on the Indian sign language.)
Little Wolf could have stayed on at Fort Robinson with White Hat, but when orders came from Washington for the Cheyennes to be marched overland to Indian Territory, he decided to go with his people. Before leaving, the apprehensive Cheyenne chiefs asked for a final council with Three Stars Crook. The general tried to reassure them, telling them to go down and have a look at the Indian Territory; if they did not like it they could come back north. (At least that was the way the interpreters translated Crook’s words.)
The Cheyennes wanted White Hat to go south with them, but the Army assigned the escort duty to Lieutenant Henry W. Law-ton. “He was a good man,” Wooden Leg said, “always kind to the Indians.” 2 They called Lawton the Tall White Man, and were pleased when he let the old and sick people ride in the soldier wagons during the day and gave them Army tents to sleep in at night. The Tall White Man also saw that everyone received enough bread and meat and coffee and sugar.
On the way south they followed familiar hunting trails, keeping away from towns, but they could see that the Plains were changing, filling up with railroads and fences and buildings everywhere. They sighted a few small herds of buffalo and antelope, and the Tall White Man issued rifles to thirty warriors chosen by the chiefs so they could go out and hunt.
There were 972 Cheyennes who started from Fort Robinson in the Moon When the Ponies Shed. After traveling for almost a hundred sleeps, 937 of them reached Fort Reno on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation, August 5, 1877. A few old people had died along the way; a few young men had slipped away to turn back north.
Three Fingers Mackenzie was at Fort Reno to meet them. He took away their horses and what few weapons they had, but this time he did not shoot their horses, promising that their agent would return them after they had settled down to farming on their new land. Then he transferred the Cheyennes to the care of the agent, John D. Miles.
After a day or so the Southern Cheyennes invited their northern relatives to a customary tribal feast for newcomers, and it was there that Little Wolf and Dull Knife first discovered that something was wrong. The feast consisted of little more than a pot of watery soup; this was all that the southerners had to offer. There was not enough to eat in this empty land—no wild game, no clear water to drink, and the agent did not have enough rations to feed them all. To make matters worse, the summer heat was unbearable, and the air was filled with mosquitoes and flying dust.
Little Wolf went to the agent and told him they had come only to take a look at the reservation. Now, because they did not like it, they were ready to go back north as Three Stars Crook had promised they could do. The agent replied that only the Great Father in Washington could decide when or whether the Northern Cheyennes could go back to the Black Hills country. He promised to get more food; a beef herd was being driven up from Texas for them.
The Texas Longhorns were scrawny, and their meat was as tough as their hides, but at least the Northern Cheyennes could now make soup as their relatives did. In late summer, the northerners began to fall sick with shaking chills, hot fevers, and an aching of bones. The sufferers wasted away in their misery. “Our people died, died, died, kept following one another out of this world.” 3
Little Wolf and Dull Knife complained to the agent and the soldier chief at Fort Reno until the Army at last sent Lieutenant Lawton, the Tall White Man, to make an inspection of the Northern Cheyenne camp. “They are not getting supplies enough to prevent starvation,” Lawton reported. “Many of their women and children are sick for want of food. A few articles I saw given them they would not use themselves, but said they would take them to their children, who were crying for food. … The beef I saw given them was of very poor quality, and would not have been considered merchantable for any use.”
The post surgeon had no quinine to alleviate the epidemic of malaria which was decimating the northerners. “He frequently locked up his office because he had no medicines and went away, because he did not want to be called upon by the Indians when he could do nothing for them.” 4
The Tall White Man called the chiefs together, not to talk to them but to listen. “We came down on the word of General Crook,” Dull Knife said. “We are still strangers in this country. We wish to get settled down where we are to live permanently and then we will send our children to school.”
The other chiefs and head men indicated their impatience with Dull Knife’s words. He was not talking strong enough. They held a short consultation and then chose Wild Hog to speak for them.
“Since we have been at this agency,” Wild Hog said, “we have drawn from the agent no corn, hard bread, hominy, rice, beans, or salt; yeast powder and soap only once in a while. The sugar and coffee we get only lasts about three days, and is issued for seven; and beef about the same. The flour has been very bad, very black, and we cannot make it rise.” As for the beef cattle, Wild Hog added, “a good many were lame, and looked as though they had been starved to death.”
Other chiefs spoke up then and told of the sickness and death among the people. The Cheyennes had agreed to use the white man’s medicine, but they could find no doctor who would give them any. If the Tall White Man would let them go hunting, they said, they could have buffalo meat to make them well again.
Only their agent could give them permission to hunt buffalo, Lawton replied, but he promised to ask Three Fingers Mackenzie (then commanding at Fort Sill) to intercede for them.
Mackenzie, who had made a career of killing Cheyennes and their horses, was able to afford compassion for the survivors now that they were defenseless. After receiving Lieutenant Lawton’s reports, Three Fingers complained strongly to General Sheridan: “I am expected to see that Indians behave properly whom the government is starving—and not only that, but starving in flagrant violation of agreement.” At the same time, he advised the commander at Fort Reno, Major John K. Mizner, to cooperate with the agent in obtaining rations for the Cheyennes. “If the Indians from hunger run off contrary to the wishes of the agent to get buffalo, do not attempt to cause their return, or the troops will be placed in the position of assisting in a great wrong.” 5
Not until the coming of the cold moons did agent Miles grant permission for the Northern Cheyennes to go out for a buffalo hunt, and then he put some of the southerners to spy on them to make certain they would not run away to the north on the horses he had returned to them. The buffalo hunt was so miserable a failure that the hunters would have joked about it had not everyone been starving for meat. Buffalo bones were everywhere on the southern Plains, ghostly heaps of bones left by white hunters, but the Cheyennes could find nothing to hunt but a few coyotes. They killed the coyotes and ate them, and before the winter was over they had to eat all their dogs to supplement the agency’s meager rations of beef. Some talked of eating the horses given to them by the agent for hunting, but the chiefs would not hear of this. If they decided to go back north they would need every horse they could get.
All this while, Three Fingers and the Tall White Man had been trying to get more food for the Cheyennes, but no response came from Washington. When pressed for an explanation, the new Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz, said that “such details do not in the nature of things come to the knowledge of the Secretary. It is the business of the Indian Office.” Yet Schurz had been appointed Secretary for the express purpose of bringing reforms to the Indian Office. He declared that the discontent among the Northern Cheyennes was traceable to chiefs who wanted “to keep up the old traditions and to keep the other Indians from work.” He admitted that appropriations were not sufficient to purchase enough rations to comply with treaty provisions, but hoped that through “utmost economy” and “careful management” the Indian Office would be able to get through the year with only a small deficiency. (Some of the Indian Territory chiefs who went to Washington that year found Schurz amazingly ignorant of Indian matters. The Cheyennes called him Mah-hah Ich-hon, Big Eyes, and marveled that a man with such enormous organs of vision could know so little.6)
33. Dull Knife. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
With the coming of the warm moons, mosquitoes began swarming in the reservation bottomlands, and soon the Northern Cheyennes were again afflicted with fever and chills. To add to the illnesses, a measles epidemic struck the children. In the Moon of Red Cherries, there were so many burial ceremonies that Little Wolf decided the chiefs must go and confront agent Miles. He and Dull Knife were both getting old—well past the half-century mark—and they knew it did not matter very much what happened to them. But it was their duty to save the young people, the tribe itself, from being blotted off the earth.
Miles agreed to meet them, and Little Wolf was spokesman. “Since we have been in this country, we are dying every day,” he said. “This is not a good country for us, and we wish to return to our home in the mountains. If you have not the power to give us permission to go back there, let some of us go to Washington, and tell them there how it is here, or do you write to Washington and get permission for us to go back north.”
“I cannot do this now,” the agent replied. “Stay here for one more year, and then we will see what we can do for you.”
“No.” Little Wolf spoke firmly. “We cannot stay another year; we want to go now. Before another year has passed, we may all be dead, and there will be none of us left to travel north.”
Some of the young men then asked permission to add their voices to the council. “We are sickly and dying here,” one said, “and no one will speak our names when we are gone.”
“We will go north at all hazards,” another said, “and if we die in battle our names will be remembered and cherished by all our people.” 7
34. Little Wolf. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution
During August the chiefs counseled among themselves, and a division came among them. Standing Elk, Turkey Leg, and some others were fearful of starting back north. The soldiers would track them down and kill them all; it was better to die on the reservation. Early in September Little Wolf, Dull Knife, Wild Hog, and Left Hand moved their bands a few miles away from the others so as to be ready to travel quickly when they knew the time had come to start north. Every day they were making trades, giving up long-cherished belongings for ponies and what few old guns the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos were willing to part with. But they did not try to fool the agent. In fact, when Little Wolf made up his mind to start north in the Drying Grass Moon, he went to see Miles and told him he was going back to his own country. “I do not want to see blood spilt about this agency. If you are going to send your soldiers after me, I wish that you would first let me get a little distance away from this agency. Then if you want to fight, I will fight you, and we can make the ground bloody at that place.”
Miles apparently did not believe the dissident chiefs would actually attempt such an impossible journey; he reasoned that they knew as well as he that the Army would stop them. Yet he took the precaution of sending Edmond Guerrier (the half-breed Southern Cheyenne who had survived Sand Creek in 1864) out to Little Wolf’s camp to warn him.
“If you go,” Guerrier told Little Wolf, “you will have trouble.”
“We do not want trouble,” Little Wolf replied. “We are not looking for anything of that kind. All we want is to get back to where we came from.” 8
During the night of September 9, Little Wolf and Dull Knife told their people to pack and be ready to start at first daylight. They left their tepees standing empty behind them and headed northward across the sand hills—297 men, women, and children. Less than a third of them were warriors—the strongest of heart in a proud, doomed tribe. There were not enough horses for all, and they took turns at riding and walking. A few young men rode ahead, searching for more ponies wherever they could find them.
In the days when the Cheyennes numbered in the thousands, they had more horses than any of the Plains tribes. They were called the Beautiful People, but fate had turned against them both in the south and in the north. After twenty years of decimation they were closer to obliteration than the buffalo.
For three days they traveled as though driven by a common will, straining nerves and muscles, showing no mercy to their horses. On September 13 they crossed the Cimarron 150 miles north of Fort Reno, and chose a defensive position where four canyons crisscrossed. Cedar brakes gave the warriors excellent cover.
The soldiers caught up with them there, and sent an Arapaho guide into the canyons to parley. The Arapaho made blanket signs, warning the Cheyennes to turn around and go back to the reservation. When Little Wolf showed himself, the Arapaho moved closer and told him the soldier chief wanted no fight, but if the Cheyennes did not follow him back to Fort Reno, they would be attacked.
“We are going north,” Little Wolf replied, “as it was promised we might, when we consented to come down to this country. We intend to go peaceably, if possible, without injuring or destroying any property of the white man on the way, and we will attack no one unless we are first molested. If the soldiers fight us we will fight them, and if white men, who are not soldiers, help to fight us, we will fight them also.” 9
Soon after the Arapaho took Little Wolf’s reply back to the soldier chief (Captain Joseph Rendlebrock), the soldiers advanced into the canyons and began firing. This was a foolish thing for the soldiers to do, because the Cheyennes were hidden all around them in the cedar brakes. All day and all night they kept the soldiers trapped there without water. The following morning the Cheyennes began slipping away to the north in small parties, leaving the soldiers to retreat.
Now the fight became a running battle across Kansas and into Nebraska. Soldiers swarmed from all the forts—cavalrymen galloping from forts Wallace, Hays, Dodge, Riley, and Kearney, infantrymen riding in railroad cars back and forth along the three parallel iron tracks that ran between the Cimarron and the Platte. To keep moving swiftly, the Cheyennes exchanged their tired mounts for white men’s horses. They tried to avoid fights, but the ranchers, cowboys, and settlers, even tradesmen in the little towns, joined in the pursuit. Ten thousand soldiers and three thousand white men who were not soldiers harried the fleeing Cheyennes unceasingly, thinning the defending warriors, picking off the old and young who fell behind. In the last two weeks of September, soldiers caught up with them five times, but each time they found their way out. By keeping to rough country, they made it impossible for the soldiers to use wagons or the big guns on wheels, yet as soon as they escaped from one pursuing column of Bluecoats, another was always there to take the place of the one left behind.
In the first days of the Moon of Falling Leaves, they crossed the Union Pacific Railroad, forded the Platte, and raced for the familiar sand hills of Nebraska. Three Stars Crook dispatched parallel columns across their path, but admitted that “to catch them would be as hard a task as to catch a flock of frightened crows.” 10
In the mornings now there was frost on the yellowing grass, but the crisp air was like a tonic after the long hot summer in Indian Territory. Six weeks of flight had left their clothing and blankets in tatters; there was never enough to eat; they were still so short of horses that half the men were taking turns riding and running.
At one night camp, the chiefs took a count. Thirty-four of those who had started from Indian Territory were missing. Some had scattered during the fights and were making their way north by other trails, but most had died from the white men’s bullets. The older people had grown weak, the children were suffering from lack of food and sleep, and few of them could travel much farther. Dull Knife said that they should go to Red Cloud’s agency and ask Red Cloud to give them food and shelter against the cold moons, which would soon be upon them. Many times they had helped Red Cloud when he was fighting for the Powder River country. Now it was his turn to help the Cheyennes.
Little Wolf scoffed at such talk. He was going to Cheyenne country, to the Tongue river valley, where they could find plenty of meat and skins and live like Cheyennes again.
In the end the chiefs settled the matter amicably. Those who wished to go on to Tongue River could follow Little Wolf; those who were tired of running could follow Dull Knife to Red Cloud’s agency. The next morning, 53 men, 43 women, and 38 children continued straight north with Little Wolf. About 150 turned northwestward with Dull Knife—a few warriors, and the old, the children, the wounded. After some deliberation, Wild Hog and Left Hand also went with Dull Knife so as to be with their children, the last strong seed of the Beautiful People.
On October 23 Dull Knife’s column was only two sleeps from Fort Robinson when a driving snowstorm caught them on the open plain. The heavy wet flakes blinded the struggling marchers, turned the horses’ coats white, and slowed their progress. Suddenly, out of the swirling blizzard, appeared a ghostly troop of cavalry. The Cheyennes were surrounded.
The soldier chief, Captain John B. Johnson, sent an interpreter forward and quickly arranged a parley. Dull Knife told the captain that he wanted no trouble; all he wanted was to reach Red Cloud or Spotted Tail so that his people could find food and shelter.
Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had been moved far north to Dakota, the captain informed him. No longer was there a reservation in the Nebraska country, but Fort Robinson had not yet been closed. The soldiers would take them to the fort.
At first Dull Knife objected, but as dusk came on there was an icy bite in the blizzard; the Cheyennes were freezing and starving. Dull Knife said he would follow the soldiers to the fort.
Darkness came down fast, and the soldiers made camp along a creek, posting guards around the Cheyennes. That night the chiefs talked uneasily among themselves, wondering what the soldiers would do with them. They decided to dismantle their best guns and pistols, leaving the broken ones to be turned in if the soldier chief ordered them to give up their arms. All through the hours of darkness they took the guns apart, giving the barrels to the women to conceal beneath their clothing, tying springs, locks, pins, cartridges, and other small pieces to beads and moccasins as though they were ornaments. Sure enough, the next morning Captain Johnson ordered his men to disarm the Cheyennes. They placed their broken rifles, pistols, and bows and arrows in a little pile, and the captain let the soldiers take them for souvenirs.
On October 25 they reached Fort Robinson and were assigned a log barracks that had been built to house a company of 75 soldiers. Although the 150 Cheyennes were crowded, they were glad for shelter. The soldiers gave them blankets, plenty of food and medicine, and there was friendliness and admiration in the eyes of the guards who kept watch over their barracks.
Each day Dull Knife asked the post commander, Major Caleb Carlton, when they could go on to Red Cloud’s new agency. Carlton told him they would have to wait until he received orders from Washington. To show his sympathy for the Cheyennes, he gave permission for a few warriors at a time to go out after wild game, lending them hunting rifles and ponies. They found but few animals of any kind; the prairie around Fort Robinson was empty and lonely with all the tepees gone, but the Cheyennes enjoyed the freedom to roam without fear, even though it was only for a day at a time.
Early in the Moon When the Wolves Run Together, their friend Major Carlton left the fort and a new commander came. Captain Henry W. Wessells. The Cheyennes heard the enlisted men speak of him as the Flying Dutchman; Wessells was always darting about the fort, spying on the Cheyennes, entering their barracks unannounced, peering into corners, his eyes searching everywhere. It was during this moon the white men called December that Red Cloud was brought down from Dakota to counsel with them.
“Our hearts are sore for you,” Red Cloud said. “Many of our blood are among your dead. This has made our hearts bad. But what can we do? The Great Father is all-powerful. His people fill the whole earth. We must do what he says. We have begged him to allow you to come to live among us. We hope he may let you come. What we have we will share with you. But remember, what he directs, that you must do. We cannot help you. The snows are thick on the hills. Our ponies are thin. The game is scarce. You cannot resist, nor can we. So listen to your old friend and do without complaint what the Great Father tells you.”
So Red Cloud had grown old and cautious in his later years. Dull Knife had heard he was a prisoner on his own Dakota reservation. The Cheyenne chief arose, looking sadly on the seamed face of his old Sioux brother. “We know you for our friend, whose words we may believe,” he said. “We thank you for asking us to share your lands. We hope the Great Father will let us come to you. All we ask is to be allowed to live, and to live in peace. I seek no war with anyone. An old man, my fighting days are done. We bowed to the will of the Great Father and went far into the south where he told us to go. There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. Sickness came among us that made mourning in every lodge. Then the treaty promises were broken, and our rations were short. Those not worn by diseases were wasted by hunger. To stay there meant that all of us would die. Our petitions to the Great Father were unheeded. We thought it better to die fighting to regain our old homes than to perish of sickness. Then our march was begun. The rest you know.”
Dull Knife turned toward Captain Wessells: “Tell the Great Father that Dull Knife and his people ask only to end their days here in the north where they were born. Tell him we want no more war. We cannot live in the south; there is no game. Here, when rations are short, we can hunt. Tell him if he lets us stay here Dull Knife’s people will hurt no one. Tell him if he tries to send us back we will butcher each other with our own knives.” 11
Wessells stammered out a few words. He promised to let the Great Father know what Dull Knife had spoken.
Less than a month later, January 3, 1879, a message came to Captain Wessells from the War Department. General Sheridan and Big Eyes Schurz had made up their minds about Dull Knife’s Cheyennes. “Unless they are sent back to where they came from,” Sheridan said, “the whole reservation system will receive a shock which will endanger its stability.” Schurz concurred: “The Indians should be taken back to their reservation.” 12
In the fashion of the War Department the order was for immediate action, regardless of the winter weather. It was the Moon When the Snow Drifts into the Tepees, the season of bitter cold and raging blizzards.
“Does the Great Father desire us to die?” Dull Knife asked Captain Wessells. “If so we will die right here. We will not go back!” 13
Wessells replied that he would give the Cheyennes five days to change their minds. During that time they would be kept prisoners in the barracks and would receive no food, or wood for the heating stove.
And so for five days the Cheyennes huddled together in the barracks. Snow fell almost every night, and they scraped it off the window ledges for water. But there was nothing to eat except scraps and bones left from previous meals, and the frost in the barracks bit at hands and faces.
On the ninth of January, Wessells summoned Dull Knife and the other chiefs to his headquarters. Dull Knife refused to go, but Wild Hog, Crow, and Left Hand went away with the soldiers. After a few minutes Left Hand came running out with his wrists manacled, soldiers crowding upon him, but before he was silenced he shouted so that the people in the barracks would know what had happened. Wild Hog told Captain Wessells that not one Cheyenne would go south again, and the captain had ordered him put in irons. In an attempt to escape, Wild Hog tried to kill the soldiers, but they had overcome him.
After a while Wessells came outside the barracks and talked to them through the windows. “Let the women and children out,” he ordered, “so they will no longer suffer.”
“We’ll all die here together sooner than be sent south,” they answered. 14
Wessells went away, and then soldiers came and put chains and iron bars over the doors of the barracks. Night came, but moonlight on the snow made everything outside as light as day; it glittered on the steel bayonets of the six soldier guards who stamped back and forth in their hooded greatcoats.
One of the warriors pushed the cold stove aside and lifted a section of planking. Below on the dry earth were five gun barrels, hidden there since the first day. From ornaments and moccasins, they began collecting triggers and hammers and cartridges. Soon they had the rifles and a few pistols back together again. The young men painted their faces and put on their best clothing, while the women made little stacks of saddles and bundles beneath each window so that everyone could leap out quickly. Then the best marksmen among the warriors took positions at assigned windows, each choosing one of the guards outside as his target.
At 9:45 P.M. the first shots were fired. At the same moment, every window sash burst outward, and the Cheyennes poured from the building. Seizing the rifles of the dead and wounded guards, they ran toward the line of bluffs beyond the bounds of the post. They had about ten minutes’ start on foot before the first mounted troops galloped in pursuit, some riding in their winter underwear. The warriors quickly formed a defense line while the women and children crossed a creek. Because of their few weapons, the warriors kept firing and falling back, firing and falling back. More soldiers were coming all the time, fanning out into an enveloping arc, and they were shooting every Indian that moved across the snow. In the first hour of fighting, more than half the warriors died, and then the soldiers began overtaking scattered bands of women and children, killing many of them before they could surrender. Among the dead was Dull Knife’s daughter.
When morning came, the soldiers herded 65 Cheyenne prisoners, 23 of them wounded, back into Fort Robinson. Most were women and children. Only 38 of those who had escaped were still alive and free; 32 were together, moving north through the hills and pursued by four companies of cavalry and a battery of mountain artillery. Six others were hidden among some rocks only a few miles from the fort. Among the latter was Dull Knife; the others were his wife and surviving son, his daughter-in-law and grandchild, and a young boy named Red Bird.
For several days the cavalrymen followed the 32 Cheyennes, until at last they trapped them near Hat Creek Bluffs in a deep buffalo wallow. Charging to the edge of the wallow, the cavalrymen emptied their carbines into it, withdrew, reloaded, and repeated the action until no fire was returned by the Indians. Only nine Cheyennes survived, most of them being women and children.
During the last days of January, traveling only by night, Dull Knife and his party made their way north to Pine Ridge. There they became prisoners on Red Cloud’s reservation.
Little Wolf and his followers spent the winter in concealed pits which they dug along the frozen banks of Lost Chokecherry Creek, one of the tributaries of the Niobrara. When the weather warmed slightly in the Sore Eye Moon, they started northward for Tongue River country. On Box Elder Creek they met Two Moon and five other Northern Cheyennes, who were working as scouts for the Bluecoats at Fort Keogh.
Two Moon told Little Wolf that White Hat Clark was out looking for him, and wanted to hold a council with him. Little Wolf replied that he would be glad to see his old friend, White Hat. They met about half a mile from the Cheyenne camp, Lieutenant Clark disarming himself to show that he had confidence in their friendship. The lieutenant said that his orders were to bring the Cheyennes into Fort Keogh, where some of their relatives had surrendered and were now living. The price of peace, he added, was their guns and ponies; they could keep the ponies until they reached Fort Keogh, but they must surrender their guns now.
“Since I left you at Red Cloud agency,” Little Wolf replied, “we have been down south, and have suffered a great deal down there. … My brother, Dull Knife, took one-half of the band and surrendered near Fort Robinson. He thought you were still there and would look out for him. They gave up their guns and then the whites killed them all. I am out in the prairie, and need my guns here. When I get to Keogh I will give you the guns and ponies, but I cannot give up the guns now. You are the only one who has offered to talk before fighting, and it looks as though the wind, which has made our hearts flutter for so long, would now go down.” 15
Little Wolf had to give up his guns, of course, but not until he was convinced that White Hat would not let the soldiers destroy his people. They went on to Fort Keogh, and there most of the young men enlisted as scouts. “For a long time we did not do much except to drill and work at getting out logs from the timber,” Wooden Leg said. “I learned to drink whiskey at Fort Keogh. … I spent most of my scout pay for whiskey.” 16 The Cheyennes drank whiskey from boredom and despair; it made the white traders rich, and it destroyed what was left of the leadership in the tribe. It destroyed Little Wolf.
After months and months of bureaucratic delay in Washington, the widows and orphans and the remnant of warriors at Fort Robinson were transferred to Red Cloud’s agency at Pine Ridge, where they joined Dull Knife. And then after more months of waiting, the Cheyennes at Fort Keogh were given a reservation on Tongue River, and Dull Knife and the dwindling few at Pine Ridge were permitted to join their people.
For most of them it was too late. The force was gone out of the Cheyennes. In the years since Sand Creek, doom had stalked the Beautiful People. The seed of the tribe was scattered with the wind. “We will go north at all hazards,” a young warrior had said, “and if we die in battle our names will be remembered and cherished by all our people.” Soon there would be no one left who could care enough to remember, no one to speak their names now that they were gone.