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Indian Heroes And Great Chieftains
By Charles A. Eastman

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The noted Sioux warrior, Rain-in-the-Face, whose name once carried
terror to every part of the frontier, died at his home on the
Standing Rock reserve in North Dakota on September 14, 1905. About
two months before his death I went to see him for the last time,
where he lay upon the bed of sickness from which he never rose
again, and drew from him his life-history.

It had been my experience that you cannot induce an Indian to
tell a story, or even his own name, by asking him directly.

"Friend," I said, "even if a man is on a hot trail, he stops
for a smoke! In the good old days, before the charge there was a
smoke. At home, by the fireside, when the old men were asked to
tell their brave deeds, again the pipe was passed. So come, let us
smoke now to the memory of the old days!"

He took of my tobacco and filled his long pipe, and we smoked.
Then I told an old mirthful story to get him in the humor of
relating his own history.

The old man lay upon an iron bedstead, covered by a red
blanket, in a corner of the little log cabin. He was all alone
that day; only an old dog lay silent and watchful at his master's

Finally he looked up and said with a pleasant smile:

"True, friend; it is the old custom to retrace one's trail
before leaving it forever! I know that I am at the door of the
spirit home.

"I was born near the forks of the Cheyenne River, about
seventy years ago. My father was not a chief; my grandfather was
not a chief, but a good hunter and a feast-maker. On my mother's
side I had some noted ancestors, but they left me no chieftainship.
I had to work for my reputation.

"When I was a boy, I loved to fight," he continued. "In all
our boyish games I had the name of being hard to handle, and I took
much pride in the fact.

"I was about ten years old when we encountered a band of
Cheyennes. They were on friendly terms with us, but we boys
always indulged in sham fights on such occasions, and this time I
got in an honest fight with a Cheyenne boy older than I. I got the
best of the boy, but he hit me hard in the face several times, and
my face was all spattered with blood and streaked where the paint
had been washed away. The Sioux boys whooped and yelled:

"'His enemy is down, and his face is spattered as if with
rain! Rain-in-the-Face! His name shall be Rain-in-the-Face!'

"Afterwards, when I was a young man, we went on a warpath
against the Gros Ventres. We stole some of their horses, but were
overtaken and had to abandon the horses and fight for our lives.
I had wished my face to represent the sun when partly covered with
darkness, so I painted it half black, half red. We fought all day
in the rain, and my face was partly washed and streaked with red
and black: so again I was christened Rain-in-the-Face. We
considered it an honorable name.

"I had been on many warpaths, but was not especially
successful until about the time the Sioux began to fight with the
white man. One of the most daring attacks that we ever made was at
Fort Totten, North Dakota, in the summer of 1866.

"Hohay, the Assiniboine captive of Sitting Bull, was the
leader in this raid. Wapaypay, the Fearless Bear, who was
afterward hanged at Yankton, was the bravest man among us. He
dared Hohay to make the charge. Hohay accepted the challenge, and
in turn dared the other to ride with him through the agency and
right under the walls of the fort, which was well garrisoned and

"Wapaypay and I in those days called each other
'brother-friend.' It was a life-and-death vow. What one does the
other must do; and that meant that I must be in the forefront of
the charge, and if he is killed, I must fight until I die also!

"I prepared for death. I painted as usual like an eclipse of
the sun, half black and half red."

His eyes gleamed and his face lighted up remarkably as he
talked, pushing his black hair back from his forehead with a
nervous gesture.

"Now the signal for the charge was given! I started even with
Wapaypay, but his horse was faster than mine, so he left me a
little behind as we neared the fort. This was bad for me, for by
that time the soldiers had somewhat recovered from the surprise
and were aiming better.

"Their big gun talked very loud, but my Wapaypay was leading
on, leaning forward on his fleet pony like a flying squirrel on a
smooth log! He held his rawhide shield on the right side, a little
to the front, and so did I. Our warwhoop was like the coyotes
singing in the evening, when they smell blood!

"The soldiers' guns talked fast, but few were hurt. Their big
gun was like a toothless old dog, who only makes himself hotter the
more noise he makes," he remarked with some humor.

"How much harm we did I do not know, but we made things lively
for a time; and the white men acted as people do when a swarm of
angry bees get into camp. We made a successful retreat, but some
of the reservation Indians followed us yelling, until Hohay told
them that he did not wish to fight with the captives of the white
man, for there would be no honor in that. There was blood running
down my leg, and I found that both my horse and I were slightly

"Some two years later we attacked a fort west of the Black
Hills [Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming]. It was there we killed one
hundred soldiers." [The military reports say eighty men, under the
command of Captain Fetterman -- not one left alive to tell the
tale!] "Nearly every band of the Sioux nation was represented in
that fight -- Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull,
Big Foot, and all our great chiefs were there. Of course such men
as I were then comparatively unknown. However, there were many
noted young warriors, among them Sword, the younger
Young-Man-Afraid, American Horse [afterward chief], Crow King, and

"This was the plan decided upon after many councils. The main
war party lay in ambush, and a few of the bravest young men were
appointed to attack the woodchoppers who were cutting logs to
complete the building of the fort. We were told not to kill these
men, but to chase them into the fort and retreat slowly, defying
the white men; and if the soldiers should follow, we were to lead
them into the ambush. They took our bait exactly as we had hoped!
It was a matter of a very few minutes, for every soldier lay dead
in a shorter time than it takes to annihilate a small herd of buffalo.

"This attack was hastened because most of the Sioux on the
Missouri River and eastward had begun to talk of suing for peace.
But even this did not stop the peace movement. The very next year
a treaty was signed at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, by nearly all
the Sioux chiefs, in which it was agreed on the part of the Great
Father in Washington that all the country north of the Republican
River in Nebraska, including the Black Hills and the Big Horn
Mountains, was to be always Sioux country, and no white man should
intrude upon it without our permission. Even with this agreement
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were not satisfied, and they would not

"Up to this time I had fought in some important battles, but
had achieved no great deed. I was ambitious to make a name for
myself. I joined war parties against the Crows, Mandans, Gros
Ventres, and Pawnees, and gained some little distinction.

"It was when the white men found the yellow metal in our
country, and came in great numbers, driving away our game, that
we took up arms against them for the last time. I must say here
that the chiefs who were loudest for war were among the first to
submit and accept reservation life. Spotted Tail was a great
warrior, yet he was one of the first to yield, because he was
promised by the Chief Soldiers that they would make him chief of
all the Sioux. Ugh! he would have stayed with Sitting Bull to the
last had it not been for his ambition.

"About this time we young warriors began to watch the trails
of the white men into the Black Hills, and when we saw a wagon
coming we would hide at the crossing and kill them all without much
trouble. We did this to discourage the whites from coming into our
country without our permission. It was the duty of our Great Father
at Washington, by the agreement of 1868, to keep his white children away.

"During the troublesome time after this treaty, which no one
seemed to respect, either white or Indian [but the whites broke it
first], I was like many other young men -- much on the warpath, but
with little honor. I had not yet become noted for any great deed.
Finally, Wapaypay and I waylaid and killed a white soldier on his
way from the fort to his home in the east.

"There were a few Indians who were liars, and never on the
warpath, playing 'good Indian' with the Indian agents and the war
chiefs at the forts. Some of this faithless set betrayed me, and
told more than I ever did. I was seized and taken to the fort near
Bismarck, North Dakota [Fort Abraham Lincoln], by a brother [Tom
Custer] of the Long-Haired War Chief, and imprisoned there. These
same lying Indians, who were selling their services as scouts to
the white man, told me that I was to be shot to death, or else
hanged upon a tree. I answered that I was not afraid to die.

"However, there was an old soldier who used to bring my food
and stand guard over me -- he was a white man, it is true, but he
had an Indian heart! He came to me one day and unfastened the iron
chain and ball with which they had locked my leg, saying by signs
and what little Sioux he could muster:

"'Go, friend! take the chain and ball with you. I shall
shoot, but the voice of the gun will lie.'

"When he had made me understand, you may guess that I ran my
best! I was almost over the bank when he fired his piece at me
several times, but I had already gained cover and was safe. I have
never told this before, and would not, lest it should do him an
injury, but he was an old man then, and I am sure he must be dead
long since. That old soldier taught me that some of the white
people have hearts," he added, quite seriously.

"I went back to Standing Rock in the night, and I had to hide
for several days in the woods, where food was brought to me by my
relatives. The Indian police were ordered to retake me, and they
pretended to hunt for me, but really they did not, for if they had
found me I would have died with one or two of them, and they knew
it! In a few days I departed with several others, and we rejoined the
hostile camp on the Powder River and made some trouble for the men
who were building the great iron track north of us [Northern Pacific].

"In the spring the hostile Sioux got together again upon the
Tongue River. It was one of the greatest camps of the Sioux that
I ever saw. There were some Northern Cheyennes with us, under Two
Moon, and a few Santee Sioux, renegades from Canada, under
Inkpaduta, who had killed white people in Iowa long before. We had
decided to fight the white soldiers until no warrior should be left."

At this point Rain-in-the-Face took up his tobacco pouch and
began again to fill his pipe.

"Of course the younger warriors were delighted with the
prospect of a great fight! Our scouts had discovered piles of oats
for horses and other supplies near the Missouri River. They had
been brought by the white man's fire-boats. Presently they
reported a great army about a day's travel to the south, with
Shoshone and Crow scouts.

"There was excitement among the people, and a great council
was held. Many spoke. I was asked the condition of those Indians
who had gone upon the reservation, and I told them truly that they
were nothing more than prisoners. It was decided to go out and
meet Three Stars [General Crook] at a safe distance from our camp.

"We met him on the Little Rosebud. I believe that if we had
waited and allowed him to make the attack, he would have fared no
better than Custer. He was too strongly fortified where he was,
and I think, too, that he was saved partly by his Indian allies,
for the scouts discovered us first and fought us first, thus giving
him time to make his preparations. I think he was more wise than
brave! After we had left that neighborhood he might have pushed on
and connected with the Long-Haired Chief. That would have saved
Custer and perhaps won the day.

"When we crossed from Tongue River to the Little Big Horn, on
account of the scarcity of game, we did not anticipate any more
trouble. Our runners had discovered that Crook had retraced his
trail to Goose Creek, and we did not suppose that the white men
would care to follow us farther into the rough country.

"Suddenly the Long-Haired Chief appeared with his men! It was
a surprise."

"What part of the camp were you in when the soldiers attacked
the lower end?" I asked.

"I had been invited to a feast at one of the young men's
lodges [a sort of club]. There was a certain warrior who was
making preparations to go against the Crows, and I had decided to
go also," he said.

"While I was eating my meat we heard the war cry! We all
rushed out, and saw a warrior riding at top speed from the lower
camp, giving the warning as he came. Then we heard the reports of
the soldiers' guns, which sounded differently from the guns fired
by our people in battle.

"I ran to my teepee and seized my gun, a bow, and a quiver
full of arrows. I already had my stone war club, for you know we
usually carry those by way of ornament. Just as I was about to set
out to meet Reno, a body of soldiers appeared nearly opposite us,
at the edge of a long line of cliffs across the river.

"All of us who were mounted and ready immediately started down
the stream toward the ford. There were Ogallalas, Minneconjous,
Cheyennes, and some Unkpapas, and those around me seemed to be
nearly all very young men.

"'Behold, there is among us a young woman!' I shouted. 'Let
no young man hide behind her garment!' I knew that would make
those young men brave.

"The woman was Tashenamani, or Moving Robe, whose brother had
just been killed in the fight with Three Stars. Holding her
brother's war staff over her head, and leaning forward upon her
charger, she looked as pretty as a bird. Always when there is a
woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another
in displaying their valor," he added.

"The foremost warriors had almost surrounded the white men,
and more were continually crossing the stream. The soldiers had
dismounted, and were firing into the camp from the top of the cliff."

"My friend, was Sitting Bull in this fight?" I inquired.

"I did not see him there, but I learned afterward that he was
among those who met Reno, and that was three or four of the white
man's miles from Custer's position. Later he joined the attack
upon Custer, but was not among the foremost.

"When the troops were surrounded on two sides, with the river
on the third, the order came to charge! There were many very young
men, some of whom had only a war staff or a stone war club in hand,
who plunged into the column, knocking the men over and stampeding
their horses.

"The soldiers had mounted and started back, but when the onset
came they dismounted again and separated into several divisions,
facing different ways. They fired as fast as they could load their
guns, while we used chiefly arrows and war clubs. There seemed to
be two distinct movements among the Indians. One body moved
continually in a circle, while the other rode directly into and
through the troops.

"Presently some of the soldiers remounted and fled along the
ridge toward Reno's position; but they were followed by our
warriors, like hundreds of blackbirds after a hawk. A larger body
remained together at the upper end of a little ravine, and fought
bravely until they were cut to pieces. I had always thought that
white men were cowards, but I had a great respect for them after
this day.

"It is generally said that a young man with nothing but a war
staff in his hand broke through the column and knocked down the
leader very early in the fight. We supposed him to be the leader,
because he stood up in full view, swinging his big knife [sword]
over his head, and talking loud. Some one unknown afterwards shot
the chief, and he was probably killed also; for if not, he would
have told of the deed, and called others to witness it. So it is
that no one knows who killed the Long-Haired Chief [General Custer].

"After the first rush was over, coups were counted as usual on
the bodies of the slain. You know four coups [or blows] can be
counted on the body of an enemy, and whoever counts the first one
[touches it for the first time] is entitled to the 'first feather.'

"There was an Indian here called Appearing Elk, who died a
short time ago. He was slightly wounded in the charge. He had
some of the weapons of the Long-Haired Chief, and the Indians used
to say jokingly after we came upon the reservation that Appearing
Elk must have killed the Chief, because he had his sword! However,
the scramble for plunder did not begin until all were dead. I do
not think he killed Custer, and if he had, the time to claim the
honor was immediately after the fight.

"Many lies have been told of me. Some say that I killed the
Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother [Tom Custer],
because he had caused me to be imprisoned. Why, in that fight
the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognized our
nearest friends! Everything was done like lightning. After the
battle we young men were chasing horses all over the prairie, while
the old men and women plundered the bodies; and if any mutilating
was done, it was by the old men.

"I have lived peaceably ever since we came upon the
reservation. No one can say that Rain-in-the-Face has broken the
rules of the Great Father. I fought for my people and my country.
When we were conquered I remained silent, as a warrior should.
Rain-in-the-Face was killed when he put down his weapons before the
Great Father. His spirit was gone then; only his poor body lived
on, but now it is almost ready to lie down for the last time. Ho,
hechetu! [It is well.]"



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