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Indian Heroes And Great Chieftains
By Charles A. Eastman

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If any people ever fought for liberty and justice, it was the
Cheyennes. If any ever demonstrated their physical and moral
courage beyond cavil, it was this race of purely American heroes,
among whom Little Wolf was a leader.

I knew the chief personally very well. As a young doctor, I
was sent to the Pine Ridge agency in 1890, as government physician
to the Sioux and the Northern Cheyennes. While I heard from his
own lips of that gallant dash of his people from their southern
exile to their northern home, I prefer that Americans should read
of it in Doctor George Bird Grinnell's book, "The Fighting
Cheyennes." No account could be clearer or simpler; and then too,
the author cannot be charged with a bias in favor of his own race.

At the time that I knew him, Little Wolf was a handsome man,
with the native dignity and gentleness, musical voice, and pleasant
address of so many brave leaders of his people. One day when he
was dining with us at our home on the reservation, I asked him, as
I had a habit of doing, for some reminiscences of his early life.
He was rather reluctant to speak, but a friend who was present
contributed the following:

"Perhaps I can tell you why it is that he has been a lucky man
all his life. When quite a small boy, the tribe was one winter in
want of food, and his good mother had saved a small piece of
buffalo meat, which she solemnly brought forth and placed before
him with the remark: 'My son must be patient, for when he grows up
he will know even harder times than this.'

"He had eaten nothing all day and was pretty hungry, but
before he could lay hands on the meat a starving dog snatched it
and bolted from the teepee. The mother ran after the dog and
brought him back for punishment. She tied him to a post and was
about to whip him when the boy interfered. 'Don't hurt him, mother!'
he cried; 'he took the meat because he was hungrier than I am!'"

I was told of another kind act of his under trying
circumstances. While still a youth, he was caught out with a party
of buffalo hunters in a blinding blizzard. They were compelled to
lie down side by side in the snowdrifts, and it was a day and a
night before they could get out. The weather turned very cold, and
when the men arose they were in danger of freezing. Little Wolf
pressed his fine buffalo robe upon an old man who was shaking with
a chill and himself took the other's thin blanket.

As a full-grown young man, he was attracted by a maiden of his
tribe, and according to the custom then in vogue the pair
disappeared. When they returned to the camp as man and wife,
behold! there was great excitement over the affair. It seemed that
a certain chief had given many presents and paid unmistakable court
to the maid with the intention of marrying her, and her parents had
accepted the presents, which meant consent so far as they were
concerned. But the girl herself had not given consent.

The resentment of the disappointed suitor was great. It was
reported in the village that he had openly declared that the young
man who defied and insulted him must expect to be punished. As
soon as Little Wolf heard of the threats, he told his father and
friends that he had done only what it is every man's privilege to do.

"Tell the chief," said he, "to come out with any weapon he
pleases, and I will meet him within the circle of lodges. He shall
either do this or eat his words. The woman is not his. Her people
accepted his gifts against her wishes. Her heart is mine."

The chief apologized, and thus avoided the inevitable duel,
which would have been a fight to the death.

The early life of Little Wolf offered many examples of the
dashing bravery characteristic of the Cheyennes, and inspired the
younger men to win laurels for themselves. He was still a young
man, perhaps thirty-five, when the most trying crisis in the
history of his people came upon them. As I know and as Doctor
Grinnell's book amply corroborates, he was the general who largely
guided and defended them in that tragic flight from the Indian
Territory to their northern home. I will not discuss the justice
of their cause: I prefer to quote Doctor Grinnell, lest it appear
that I am in any way exaggerating the facts.

"They had come," he writes, "from the high, dry country of
Montana and North Dakota to the hot and humid Indian Territory.
They had come from a country where buffalo and other game were
still plentiful to a land where the game had been exterminated.
Immediately on their arrival they were attacked by fever and ague,
a disease wholly new to them. Food was scanty, and they began to
starve. The agent testified before a committee of the Senate that
he never received supplies to subsist the Indians for more than
nine months in each year. These people were meat-eaters, but the
beef furnished them by the government inspectors was no more than
skin and bone. The agent in describing their sufferings said:
'They have lived and that is about all.'

"The Indians endured this for about a year, and then their
patience gave out. They left the agency to which they had been
sent and started north. Though troops were camped close to them,
they attempted no concealment of their purpose. Instead, they
openly announced that they intended to return to their own country.

We have heard much in past years of the march of the Nez
Perces under Chief Joseph, but little is remembered of the Dull
Knife outbreak and the march to the north led by Little Wolf. The
story of the journey has not been told, but in the traditions of
the old army this campaign was notable, and old men who were
stationed on the plains forty years ago are apt to tell you, if you
ask them, that there never was such another journey since the
Greeks marched to the sea. . . .

"The fugitives pressed constantly northward undaunted, while
orders were flying over the wires, and special trains were carrying
men and horses to cut them off at all probable points on the
different railway lines they must cross. Of the three hundred
Indians, sixty or seventy were fighting men -- the rest old men,
women, and children. An army officer once told me that thirteen
thousand troops were hurrying over the country to capture or kill
these few poor people who had left the fever-stricken South, and in
the face of every obstacle were steadily marching northward.

"The War Department set all its resources in operation against
them, yet they kept on. If troops attacked them, they stopped and
fought until they had driven off the soldiers, and then started
north again. Sometimes they did not even stop, but marched along,
fighting as they marched. For the most part they tried -- and with
success -- to avoid conflicts, and had but four real hard fights,
in which they lost half a dozen men killed and about as many

It must not be overlooked that the appeal to justice had first
been tried before taking this desperate step. Little Wolf had gone
to the agent about the middle of the summer and said to him: "This
is not a good country for us, and we wish to return to our home in
the mountains where we were always well. If you have not the power
to give permission, let some of us go to Washington and tell them
there how it is, or do you write to Washington and get permission
for us to go back."

"Stay one more year," replied the agent, "and then we will see
what we can do for you. "No," said Little Wolf. "Before another
year there will be none left to travel north. We must go now."

Soon after this it was found that three of the Indians had
disappeared and the chief was ordered to surrender ten men as
hostages for their return. He refused. "Three men," said he, "who
are traveling over wild country can hide so that they cannot be
found. You would never get back these three, and you would keep my
men prisoners always."

The agent then threatened if the ten men were not given up to
withhold their rations and starve the entire tribe into submission.
He forgot that he was addressing a Cheyenne. These people had not
understood that they were prisoners when they agreed to friendly
relations with the government and came upon the reservation.
Little Wolf stood up and shook hands with all present before making
his final deliberate address.

"Listen, my friends, I am a friend of the white people and
have been so for a long time. I do not want to see blood spilt
about this agency. I am going north to my own country. If you are
going to send your soldiers after me, I wish you would let us get
a little distance away. Then if you want to fight, I will fight
you, and we can make the ground bloody at that place."

The Cheyenne was not bluffing. He said just what he meant,
and I presume the agent took the hint, for although the military
were there they did not undertake to prevent the Indians'
departure. Next morning the teepees were pulled down early and
quickly. Toward evening of the second day, the scouts signaled the
approach of troops. Little Wolf called his men together and
advised them under no circumstances to fire until fired upon. An
Arapahoe scout was sent to them with a message. "If you surrender
now, you will get your rations and be well treated." After what
they had endured, it was impossible not to hear such a promise with
contempt. Said Little Wolf: "We are going back to our own country.
We do not want to fight." He was riding still nearer when the
soldiers fired, and at a signal the Cheyennes made a charge. They
succeeded in holding off the troops for two days, with only five
men wounded and none killed, and when the military retreated the
Indians continued northward carrying their wounded.

This sort of thing was repeated again and again. Meanwhile
Little Wolf held his men under perfect control. There were
practically no depredations. They secured some boxes of ammunition
left behind by retreating troops, and at one point the young men
were eager to follow and destroy an entire command who were
apparently at their mercy, but their leader withheld them. They
had now reached the buffalo country, and he always kept his main
object in sight. He was extraordinarily calm. Doctor Grinnell was
told by one of his men years afterward: "Little Wolf did not seem
like a human being. He seemed like a bear." It is true that a man
of his type in a crisis becomes spiritually transformed and moves
as one in a dream.

At the Running Water the band divided, Dull Knife going toward
Red Cloud agency. He was near Fort Robinson when he surrendered
and met his sad fate. Little Wolf remained all winter in the Sand
Hills, where there was plenty of game and no white men. Later he
went to Montana and then to Pine Ridge, where he and his people
remained in peace until they were removed to Lame Deer, Montana,
and there he spent the remainder of his days. There is a clear sky
beyond the clouds of racial prejudice, and in that final Court of
Honor a noble soul like that of Little Wolf has a place.



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