Chief Gall was one of the most aggressive leaders of the Sioux
nation in their last stand for freedom.
The westward pressure of civilization during the past three
centuries has been tremendous. When our hemisphere was
"discovered", it had been inhabited by the natives for untold
but it was held undiscovered because the original owners did not
chart or advertise it. Yet some of them at least had developed
ideals of life which included real liberty and equality to all men,
and they did not recognize individual ownership in land or other
property beyond actual necessity. It was a soul development
leading to essential manhood. Under this system they brought forth
some striking characters.
Gall was considered by both Indians and whites to be a most
impressive type of physical manhood. From his picture you can
judge of this for yourself.
Let us follow his trail. He was no tenderfoot. He never
asked a soft place for himself. He always played the game
according to the rules and to a finish. To be sure, like every
other man, he made some mistakes, but he was an Indian and never
acted the coward.
The earliest stories told of his life and doings indicate the
spirit of the man in that of the boy.
When he was only about three years old, the Blackfoot band of
Sioux were on their usual roving hunt, following the buffalo while
living their natural happy life upon the wonderful wide prairies of
It was the way of every Sioux mother to adjust her household
effects on such dogs and pack ponies as she could muster from day
to day, often lending one or two to accommodate some other woman
whose horse or dog had died, or perhaps had been among those
stampeded and carried away by a raiding band of Crow warriors. On
this particular occasion, the mother of our young Sioux brave,
Matohinshda, or Bear-Shedding-His-Hair (Gall's childhood name),
intrusted her boy to an old Eskimo pack dog, experienced and
reliable, except perhaps when unduly excited or very thirsty.
On the day of removing camp the caravan made its morning march
up the Powder River. Upon the wide table-land the women were
busily digging teepsinna (an edible sweetish root, much used by
them) as the moving village slowly progressed. As usual at such
times, the trail was wide. An old jack rabbit had waited too long
in hiding. Now, finding himself almost surrounded by the mighty
plains people, he sprang up suddenly, his feathery ears
conspicuously erect, a dangerous challenge to the dogs and the
A whoop went up. Every dog accepted the challenge. Forgotten
were the bundles, the kits, even the babies they were drawing or
carrying. The chase was on, and the screams of the women reechoed
from the opposite cliffs of the Powder, mingled with the yelps of
dogs and the neighing of horses. The hand of every man was against
the daring warrior, the lone Jack, and the confusion was great.
When the fleeing one cleared the mass of his enemies, he
emerged with a swiftness that commanded respect and gave promise
of a determined chase. Behind him, his pursuers stretched out in
a thin line, first the speedy, unburdened dogs and then the travois
dogs headed by the old Eskimo with his precious freight. The
youthful Gall was in a travois, a basket mounted on trailing poles
and harnessed to the sides of the animal.
"Hey! hey! they are gaining on him!" a warrior shouted. At
this juncture two of the canines had almost nabbed their furry prey
by the back. But he was too cunning for them. He dropped
instantly and sent both dogs over his head, rolling and spinning,
then made another flight at right angles to the first. This gave
the Eskimo a chance to cut the triangle. He gained fifty yards,
but being heavily handicapped, two unladen dogs passed him. The
same trick was repeated by the Jack, and this time he saved himself
from instant death by a double loop and was now running directly
toward the crowd, followed by a dozen or more dogs. He was losing
speed, but likewise his pursuers were dropping off steadily. Only
the sturdy Eskimo dog held to his even gait, and behind him in the
frail travois leaned forward the little Matohinshda, nude save a
breech clout, his left hand holding fast the convenient tail of his
dog, the right grasping firmly one of the poles of the travois.
His black eyes were bulging almost out of their sockets; his long
hair flowed out behind like a stream of dark water.
The Jack now ran directly toward the howling spectators, but
his marvelous speed and alertness were on the wane; while on the
other hand his foremost pursuer, who had taken part in hundreds of
similar events, had every confidence in his own endurance. Each
leap brought him nearer, fiercer and more determined. The last
effort of the Jack was to lose himself in the crowd, like a fish in
muddy water; but the big dog made the one needed leap with unerring
aim and his teeth flashed as he caught the rabbit in viselike jaws
and held him limp in air, a victor!
The people rushed up to him as he laid the victim down, and
foremost among them was the frantic mother of Matohinshda, or Gall.
"Michinkshe! michinkshe!" (My son! my son!) she screamed as she
drew near. The boy seemed to be none the worse for his experience.
"Mother!" he cried, "my dog is brave: he got the rabbit!"
snatched him off the travois, but he struggled out of her arms to
look upon his dog lovingly and admiringly. Old men and boys
crowded about the hero of the day, the dog, and the thoughtful
grandmother of Matohinshda unharnessed him and poured some water
from a parfleche water bag into a basin. "Here, my grandson, give
your friend something to drink."
"How, hechetu," pronounced an old warrior no longer in active
service. "This may be only an accident, an ordinary affair; but
such things sometimes indicate a career. The boy has had a
wonderful ride. I prophesy that he will one day hold the attention
of all the people with his doings."
This is the first remembered story of the famous chief, but
other boyish exploits foretold the man he was destined to be. He
fought many sham battles, some successful and others not; but he
was always a fierce fighter and a good loser.
Once he was engaged in a battle with snowballs. There were
probably nearly a hundred boys on each side, and the rule was that
every fair hit made the receiver officially dead. He must not
participate further, but must remain just where he was struck.
Gall's side was fast losing, and the battle was growing hotter
every minute when the youthful warrior worked toward an old water
hole and took up his position there. His side was soon annihilated
and there were eleven men left to fight him. He was pressed close
in the wash-out, and as he dodged under cover before a volley of
snowballs, there suddenly emerged in his stead a huge gray wolf.
His opponents fled in every direction in superstitious terror, for
they thought he had been transformed into the animal. To their
astonishment he came out on the farther side and ran to the line of
safety, a winner!
It happened that the wolf's den had been partly covered with
snow so that no one had noticed it until the yells of the boys
aroused the inmate, and he beat a hasty retreat. The boys always
looked upon this incident as an omen.
Gall had an amiable disposition but was quick to resent insult
or injustice. This sometimes involved him in difficulties, but he
seldom fought without good cause and was popular with his
associates. One of his characteristics was his ability to
organize, and this was a large factor in his leadership when he
became a man. He was tried in many ways, and never was known to
hesitate when it was a question of physical courage and endurance.
He entered the public service early in life, but not until he had
proved himself competent and passed all tests.
When a mere boy, he was once scouting for game in midwinter,
far from camp, and was overtaken by a three days' blizzard. He was
forced to abandon his horse and lie under the snow for that length
of time. He afterward said he was not particularly hungry; it was
thirst and stiffness from which he suffered most. One reason the
Indian so loved his horse or dog was that at such times the animal
would stay by him like a brother. On this occasion Gall's pony was
not more than a stone's throw away when the storm subsided and the
sun shone. There was a herd of buffalo in plain sight, and the
young hunter was not long in procuring a meal.
This chief's contemporaries still recall his wrestling match
with the equally powerful Cheyenne boy, Roman Nose, who afterward
became a chief well known to American history. It was a custom of
the northwestern Indians, when two friendly tribes camped together,
to establish the physical and athletic supremacy of the youth of
the respective camps.
The "Che-hoo-hoo" is a wrestling game in which there may be
any number on a side, but the numbers are equal. All the boys of
each camp are called together by a leader chosen for the purpose
and draw themselves up in line of battle; then each at a given
signal attacks his opponent.
In this memorable contest, Matohinshda, or Gall, was placed
opposite Roman Nose. The whole people turned out as spectators of
the struggle, and the battlefield was a plateau between the two
camps, in the midst of picturesque Bad Lands. There were many
athletic youths present, but these two were really the Apollos of
the two tribes.
In this kind of sport it is not allowed to strike with the
hand, nor catch around the neck, nor kick, nor pull by the hair.
One may break away and run a few yards to get a fresh start, or
clinch, or catch as catch can. When a boy is thrown and held to
the ground, he is counted out. If a boy has met his superior, he
may drop to the ground to escape rough handling, but it is very
seldom one gives up without a full trial of strength.
It seemed almost like a real battle, so great was the
enthusiasm, as the shouts of sympathizers on both sides went up in
a mighty chorus. At last all were either conquerors or subdued
except Gall and Roman Nose. The pair seemed equally matched. Both
were stripped to the breech clout, now tugging like two young
buffalo or elk in mating time, again writhing and twisting like
serpents. At times they fought like two wild stallions, straining
every muscle of arms, legs, and back in the struggle. Every now
and then one was lifted off his feet for a moment, but came down
planted like a tree, and after swaying to and fro soon became rigid
All eyes were upon the champions. Finally, either by trick or
main force, Gall laid the other sprawling upon the ground and held
him fast for a minute, then released him and stood erect, panting,
a master youth. Shout after shout went up on the Sioux side of the
camp. The mother of Roman Nose came forward and threw a superbly
worked buffalo robe over Gall, whose mother returned the compliment
by covering the young Cheyenne with a handsome blanket.
Undoubtedly these early contests had their influence upon our
hero's career. It was his habit to appear most opportunely in a
crisis, and in a striking and dramatic manner to take command of
the situation. The best known example of this is his entrance on
the scene of confusion when Reno surprised the Sioux on the Little
Big Horn. Many of the excitable youths, almost unarmed, rushed
madly and blindly to meet the intruder, and the scene might have
unnerved even an experienced warrior. It was Gall, with not a
garment upon his superb body, who on his black charger dashed ahead
of the boys and faced them. He stopped them on the dry creek,
while the bullets of Reno's men whistled about their ears.
"Hold hard, men! Steady, we are not ready yet! Wait for more
guns, more horses, and the day is yours!"
They obeyed, and in a few minutes the signal to charge was
given, and Reno retreated pell mell before the onset of the Sioux.
Sitting Bull had confidence in his men so long as Gall planned
and directed the attack, whether against United States soldiers or
the warriors of another tribe. He was a strategist, and able in a
twinkling to note and seize upon an advantage. He was really the
mainstay of Sitting Bull's effective last stand. He consistently
upheld his people's right to their buffalo plains and believed that
they should hold the government strictly to its agreements with
them. When the treaty of 1868 was disregarded, he agreed with
Sitting Bull in defending the last of their once vast domain, and
after the Custer battle entered Canada with his chief. They hoped
to bring their lost cause before the English government and were
much disappointed when they were asked to return to the United
Gall finally reported at Fort Peck, Montana, in 1881, and
brought half of the Hunkpapa band with him, whereupon he was soon
followed by Sitting Bull himself. Although they had been promised
by the United States commission who went to Canada to treat with
them that they would not be punished if they returned, no sooner
had Gall come down than a part of his people were attacked, and in
the spring they were all brought to Fort Randall and held as
military prisoners. From this point they were returned to Standing
When "Buffalo Bill" successfully launched his first show, he
made every effort to secure both Sitting Bull and Gall for his
leading attractions. The military was in complete accord with him
in this, for they still had grave suspicions of these two leaders.
While Sitting Bull reluctantly agreed, Gall haughtily said: "I am
not an animal to be exhibited before the crowd," and retired to his
teepee. His spirit was much worn, and he lost strength from that
time on. That superb manhood dwindled, and in a few years he died.
He was a real hero of a free and natural people, a type that is
never to be seen again.
Top of Page
Room | Indian
Heroes And Great Chieftains