Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in Search of Crazy Horse

Portrait of Crazy Horse, Tasunke Witko in Lakota, fresco on the interior wall of Wounded Knee museum, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Fort Robinson, Nebraska, July 26th, 2017

I wake up at Fort Robinson, just a little ways east of the village of Harrison in northwest Nebraska. I drove here last night from Wounded Knee, which takes about one hour and forty-five minutes. I camped out in the backseat of the car, where I continue to keep my sleeping bag, camp pad, and coats ready to make a cozy nest, in a parking lot behind one of the museum’s lodges. It’s a soft pinkish-blue morning, a little warm with a cool breeze blowing. It rained a little last night and everything feels fresh and clean, except me. I’ll soon find a place to wash my face, brush my teeth, and change into clean clothes. But right now, all I want to do is stretch my legs, drink my little thermos of coffee, and go out exploring in this calm and lovely early summer morning.

I drive the car around the fort, getting a good look at the layout and buildings until I see what I seek: a historical marker near apparent early fort buildings from the eighteenth century. I park. The grounds are lovely and well-maintained, and so are the buildings, from these rough log structures to the tidy clapboard ones painted white and green to the large lodges, halls, and offices of brick, adobe, and stone. This fort was in use more or less constantly, from its founding as Camp Robinson in 1874 as a military security outpost for the second Red Cloud Agency, to its reassignment as a training ground and quartermaster remount depot, breeding, training, and caring for up to 12,000 mules and horses at any given time prior to and for the duration of World War II. It was the regimental headquarters for the two African American black regiments in the then-segregated U.S. Army, first the Ninth Cavalry, then the Tenth, from 1887 to 1907. From 1885 to 1916, in fact, most of the troops stationed here were black.

Fort Robinson historical sign and reconstructed buildings from the 1870’s

Crazy Horse was among the most revered war leaders of the Oglala Lakota and their allies in the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. He had long been successful at resisting white settlers’ and the U.S. Army’s attempts to force him onto a reservation or to adopt their ways. He was one of the bold young warriors who led a contingent of soldiers into an ambush near Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming. This 1866 engagement, called the Fight of the Hundred in the Hand by the Lakota and the Fetterman Fight by the United States, was the worst defeat of the U.S. Army by Native Americans until the Battle of the Little Bighorn ten years later. 81 U.S. troops from Fort Phil Kearny and a few civilians lost their lives here. This battle was the culmination of a series of skirmishes and raids on unwelcome white settlers and forts such as this one set up to protect them.

For a long time previously, white and Native American people traded with one another and enjoyed mostly good relations on the Great Plains. However, settlers began flooding in in ever great numbers, disrupting buffalo migrations, depleting game, clearing timber, and putting up fences. At a certain point, the white presence came to be seen as a menace to the way of life that Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and those who followed them believed was divinely and wisely arranged. Why resort to grubbing in the soil and putting up fences when Wakan Tanka, the Creator or Great Spirit, had given the people such rich herds of game, which, together with the rich stands of timber and plentiful flowing water, provided all the nourishment, clothing, and shelter one could need, on vast swaths of beautiful land where the people could roam as freely as the animals? The Bozeman Trail, which cut across this good land, was a major route for these white settlers and for a time, they passed through it mostly unmolested. But when the trickle became a flood, the situation changed from a matter of hospitality and mutual benefit to one of survival. Would any reasonable person continue to welcome guests once they’ve begun to ransack their home, raid their fridge, take their most prized possessions to sell, and block their passage from room to room?

Reconstruction of the old guardhouse with marker for Crazy Horse’s death, Fort Robinson

Crazy Horse was having none of it. Like Sitting Bull, he distrusted white people and disdained their way of life. It seemed stunted to him, caged, lacking soul and nobility. Unlike Sitting Bull, he made no concessions to white ways until forced to do so for the survival of his band; even then, he did the absolute minimum necessary. We don’t know what he looked like since he refused to have his picture taken; he was unimpressed with most white-made goods and would accept no bribes; he absolutely refused to visit Washington, D.C. as his fellow great chiefs had done because, as he observed, the experience changed them. They were dazzled and bewitched by what they saw, so they lost their independent spirit, their sense of who they were.

Red Cloud at Red Cloud Agency near Fort Robinson

Perhaps this touched a nerve: Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, two chiefs who had once been among the greatest warrior defenders of the Lakota ways but who had adopted many white ways, grew jealous of the power and influence Crazy Horse enjoyed because of his steadfast independence. They remained great leaders of their people and had come to believe that the best way to preserve the lives of their people while preserving as much of their culture as they could was to work with the U.S. government. Nevertheless, it was a hard decision to make, and I’m sure they did so with a great degree of ambivalence. So, Crazy Horse’s recalcitrance must have been that much harder to take. They treated him with suspicion and took the U.S. Army’s side against him. Even his great friend who had fought at his side at the Little Bighorn, Little Big Man, had switched loyalties. He had visited Washington, too. He was one of those that assisted in the attempt to confine Crazy Horse the day he was killed.

Crazy Horse wasn’t only an independent spirit when it came to white ways. He was very unusual within Oglala Lakota society. He was a reserved man in a gregarious culture; he dressed simply at all times, when warbonnets, elaborate jewelry, and other showy regalia were the usual garb of warriors in battle; he didn’t scalp the enemies he killed; he didn’t take a wife until he was in his thirties when most of his fellows had started a family by age twenty; though he fought bravely and ferociously, he was also methodical in battle, planning his moves carefully and stopping to shoot accurately when a whirlwind, showy style of fighting was more customary; he spoke little of his own exploits when tales of personal heroism were the usual topic of conversation after a good fight. But his fame grew because the daring and magnificence of his exploits made him an irresistible topic of conversation for others.

The Fetterman fight and the Battle of the Little Bighorn were spectacular victories for Crazy Horse and his warriors, but he would never again enjoy that level of success in battle against the white invaders. His last fight with the U.S. Army was at the Battle of Wolf Mountains, which began when the soldiers attacked his band in the dead of winter.  Much of the fighting, in fact, occurred during a blizzard. The army decided to end the fighting, once and for all, to make an additional show of invincible strength by showing that they were willing and able to pursue the war even in the most extreme weather. The fighting was fierce and, though there was no decisive winner, the Lakota and Cheyenne’s losses were heavy. The camp, too, was suffering greatly from hunger and the intense cold. Crazy Horse was defeated, finally, not in battle, but by observing the suffering of his people. He, like so many great chiefs before him, surrendered so that his people, if they could not enjoy liberty, could at least survive.

Stones placed in formation near the Crazy Horse Monument and guardhouse. It appears to be an unfinished memorial: when doing research for this piece, I found an article from 2015 which discussed plans for a new memorial for Crazy Horse and his entire band, 899 lovers of freedom who were forced to surrender here in 1877. The outer stones to mark four cardinal directions are in place, though they are not the massive ones described in the article, and the central stone has another smaller one beside it for offerings. The concrete walkways and large plaques containing the names of the people are not in place. Perhaps this simplified version was put in place as the often long, tedious, sometimes indefinite fundraising efforts for the more elaborate one continue.

Crazy Horse led his people to the Red Cloud Agency next to Fort Robinson and surrendered there on May 5th, 1877. For the next few months, rumor, gossip, accusations, negotiations, and whispers of plot and conspiracy whirled while Crazy Horse retreated ever further into himself. He was a man of action, not words, and he was impatient with all this hubbub. He had lost his only child, his beloved daughter They Are Afraid Of Her, about four years before, and her mother, his wife Black Shawl, was suffering from tuberculosis. He wanted nothing to be left alone as much as possible so long as he could not fight nor be free. But the rumors that Crazy Horse was plotting to assassinate General George Crook and start another war intensified, and Crook was determined to have him arrested, even assassinated if need be. Later inquiries showed that the rumors were unfounded, that there was no evidence that Crazy Horse planned to do otherwise than keep his word not to fight the whites anymore. Jealousy, infighting, betrayal, and poor translations, both accidental and deliberate, all contributed to the drama.

Left: Adjutant’s office, where Crazy Horse died, to the left of the guardhouse where he was stabbed; all of these buildings are reconstructions based on written records, photographs, and archaeological evidence. So you can see the actual distance between the adjutant’s office from which Crazy Horse walked to the guardhouse. Right: interior of the adjutant’s office with informational sign

The rumors got so bad that Crazy Horse feared that he would be executed or, worse, arrested and removed to some distant land of the whites away from his people, so on September 4th, 1877, he wrapped up his sick wife, and he and a few friends fled to his old friend Spotted Tail’s agency about forty miles east. He sought protection and advice as to what the whites were thinking, and he didn’t think this would betray his promise, of surrender. After all, he was going to an agency. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Jesse M. Lee was ordered to retrieve Crazy Horse, and he escorted him back to Fort Robinson the next morning. They went first to the adjutant’s office.

Stone monument, dedicated in 1934, near the site where Crazy Horse was bayoneted. I placed this little spray of sage here, picked in Deep Ravine at the Little Bighorn Battlefield from which Crazy Horse led his charge to split Custer’s forces. This maneuver was key to the successful outcome of the at battle. You can see that the morning breeze is about to waft the sprig away

Crazy Horse understood that he was to have a chance to talk things over with U.S. Army officials and clear things up. Lee was pretty sure of his innocence regarding all those rumors of plots, conspiracies, and warmongering, and promised Crazy Horse an interview with the white authorities which he didn’t have the authority to arrange. Lee hoped he could persuade the higher-ups to talk to Crazy Horse before deciding his fate, but it was not to be. Unequivocal orders came down for Crazy Horse’s immediate arrest instead. When Crazy Horse was led from the adjutant’s office into the guardhouse, he showed no sign of resistance, walking hand in hand with the captain. But when he stepped in the door, he saw the bars of the prison, and he realized this was a trap: there would be no talks, only imprisonment and then, who knows? So Crazy Horse pushed himself out the door, and as soldiers and his old friend Little Big Man tried to restrain him, he pulled out his knife and slashed Little Big Man’s arm. Another soldier near the guardhouse lowered his bayonet at the ready, and when the opportunity came, he lunged and stabbed. The blade pierced Crazy Horse’ side and into his kidney, and he fell.

After some controversy over what to do (put Crazy Horse in prison as he was, now in his death struggle? Leave him lying where he was as his friends began to hear the news and gather in anger?), he was carried back to the adjutant’s office on the red blanket he had been wearing. He refused the white man’s cot offered to him and asked to be placed on the floor instead. Crazy Horse was given morphine to ease his intense pain and he died, after lingering for long and painful hours, in the presence of his father and stepfather. He spoke forgiving words for most involved with his death except Little Big Man, who had, it seemed, not only betrayed Crazy Horse but all of his people.

Working model at the Visitor Center for the Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Hills, South Dakota. When asked once where his lands were now that the Lakota were being driven out, Crazy Horse answered, ‘My lands are where my dead lie buried’.

Crazy Horse has become one of the most widely revered Native Americans in history, if not the most. Many recognize similarities in the life and death story of Jesus Christ to that of Crazy Horse: each was called by the supernatural to be a deliverer of his people, each beheld visions and went out to the wilderness to seek them; each was warned by the supernatural of the nature and manner of death but boldly continued his mission nonetheless; each refused to be tempted away from his purpose by a vision of earthly reward and the sight of a glorious city; each was a loner and dreamer but also a charismatic leader; each called on his people to eschew a life of promised ease and comfort to follow him on a harder road; each preferred simplicity in dress and humility in comportment; each died, falsely accused and betrayed by a friend, with a stab wound in his side. These themes resonate in our American culture generally, in which Christianity plays such a significant formative role. There are so many great Native Americans that we remember and admire but perhaps Crazy Horse remains preeminent in our collective memory for these perceived Christlike qualities. In a strictly historical sense, these similarities are exaggerated and perhaps unwarranted, but in a cultural and spiritual sense, they stand out to us because of their resonance with our most cherished beliefs and values. Native American communities too, many of whom have adopted Christianity and especially those doctrines which echo their traditional faith, perceive Crazy Horse as everything from a stalwart warrior to a messianic figure, a great symbol of hope, deliverance, traditional virtue, and spiritual renewal for their beleaguered peoples.

Crazy Horse Memorial in progress, Black Hills, South Dakota

One last thing: three days ago, I climbed Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills, South Dakota. Sylvan Lake is nearby, and I had stopped there at a lakeside hotel to seek recommendations for the best hike to the top. One of the routes departs from the short of Sylvan Lake, but not the longer, more scenic one which I had chosen. As a teen, Crazy Horse went to Sylvan Lake with his father on a vision quest, one of the most important in his life, in which he was instructed how to paint his body with hailstones and his face with lightning for battle; to dress simply and wear his hair flowing down; to take no scalps; and generally to live a life of bravery and modest virtue. I wanted to find the exact place he went, but it would take a level of meticulous research and mapping that I had run out of time to do before I left. When I return to the Black Hills, I will make a point of seeking out that place.


Sources and inspiration:

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970

Buecker, Thomas R. ‘Final Days of Crazy Horse,’ Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield website

Connell, Evan S. Son of the Morning Star. London: Macmillan, 1984

Cozzens, Peter. The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. New York: Knopf, 2016

Crazy Horse.’ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fort Robinson and Red Cloud Agency National Historic Landmark Nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. Prepared by Steven Lissandrello and Sarah J. Pearce, Historic Sites Survey, National Park Service / Rocky Mountain Region National Park Service, Sep 27, 1976/Jul 20, 1983

Fort Robinson History‘. Nebraska State Historical Society website

Jackson, Joe. Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Marquis, Thomas Bailey. Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer, 1931

Marshall, Joseph III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History. New York: Viking, 2004

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks, 1932

Pearson, Jeffey V. ‘Nelson A. Miles, Crazy Horse, and the Battle of Wolf Mountains‘. From Montana, The Magazine of Western History, 51 (Winter 2001), 53-67; presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society

Powers, Thomas. The Killing Of Crazy Horse. New York: Knopf, 2010

Rose, Christina. ‘Native History: Crazy Horse Fights Final Battle,’ Indian Country Today, Jan 8, 2014

Rose, Christina. ‘New Fort Robinson Memorial Will Honor Crazy Horse and His Band,’ Indian Country Today, Jul 27, 2015

Schubert, Frank “Mickey”. ‘Fort Robinson, Nebraska (1874-1916)‘ Black Past website

Sites and Structures Maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society‘. Nebraska State Historical Society website

On the Value of Intellectuals, by Brad Kent

“George Bernard Shaw near St Neots from the Millership collection” from the Birmingham Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In times of populism, soundbites, and policy-by-Twitter such as we live in today, the first victims to suffer the slings and arrows of the demagogues are intellectuals. These people have been demonised for prioritising the very thing that defines them: the intellect, or finely reasoned and sound argument. As we celebrate the 161st birthday of Bernard Shaw, one of the most gifted, influential, and well-known intellectuals to have lived, we might use the occasion to reassess the value of intellectuals to a healthy society and why those in power see them as such threats.

Born in Dublin on 26 July 1856 to a father who held heterodox religious opinions and a mother who moved in artistic circles, Shaw was perhaps bound to be unconventional. By age 19 he was convinced that his native Ireland was little more than an uncouth backwater–the national revival had yet to see the light of day–so he established himself in London in order to conquer English letters. He then took his sweet time to do it. In the roughly quarter of a century between his arrival in the metropole and when he finally had a modicum of success, Shaw wrote five novels–most of which remained unpublished until his later years–and eked out a living as a journalist, reviewing music, art, books, and theatre. That eminently readable journalism has been collected in many fine editions, and we see in it an earnest individual not only engaged in assessing the qualities of the material before him–much of which was dreadfully insipid–but eager to raise standards and to cultivate the public. He prodded people to want more and gave them the tools to understand what a better art would look and sound like. And he did so in an inimitable voice that fashioned his renowned alter ego: the great showman and controversialist, GBS.

“George Bernard Shaw, circa 1900” from the Library of Congress, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Shaw became more widely known as a playwright in late 1904, when King Edward broke his chair laughing at the Royal Command performance of Shaw’s play John Bull’s Other Island. He was no longer a journalist by trade, now being able to live by his plays, but Shaw continued to write essays, articles, and letters-to-the-editor in leading papers to set the record straight, to denounce abuses of power, and to suggest more humane courses of action. When he published his plays, he wrote polemical prefaces to accompany them that are sometimes longer than the plays themselves. These prefaces, written on an exhausting range of subjects, are equally learned and entertaining. Indeed, it has been said by some wags that the plays are the price that we pay for his prefaces.

In many ways continuing his fine work as the Fabian Society’s main pamphleteer in the 1890s, his prefaces suggest remedies for the great injustices of his time. And, what’s more, the vast majority of his prescriptions are as topical and provocative today. For example, if you’re American, should you opt for Trumpcare or Obamacare? Read The Doctor’s Dilemma and its preface and you’ll have a compelling case for neither, but rather a comprehensive and fully accessible public healthcare system, the sort now common in Canada and most European countries. That’s right, people were feeling the Bern–we might say the original Bern–well before Mr. Sanders was born.

Some of Shaw’s opinions came at a great cost. When he published Common Sense About the War, which was critical of both German and British jingoism at the outset of the Great War, he ran too much against the grain of the hyper-patriotic press and government propaganda, thereby becoming a pariah to many. But his star gradually returned into the ascendant as the body count mounted and a war-weary population came to share his point of view. The run-away international success of Saint Joan brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and, as Shaw said, gave him the air of sanctity in his later years.

“George Bernard Shaw with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, May 1949”, from Nehru Memorial Museum & Library. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

However, Shaw always maintained that he was immoral to the bone. He was immoral in the sense that, as a committed socialist in a liberal capitalist society, he didn’t support contemporary mores. Instead, he sought to change the way that society was structured and to do so he proposed absolutely immoral policies. A good number of these beyond universal healthcare have seen the light of day, such as education that prioritises the child’s development and sense of self-worth, the dismantling of the injustices of colonial rule, and voting rights for women. But those in power continue the old tug-of-war, and the intellectuals of today must be as vigilant, courageous, and energetic as Shaw in the defence of liberal humanist and social democratic values. Witness the return of unaffordable tertiary education in the UK, made possible by both Labour and Conservative policies.  We might recall that Shaw co-founded one of these institutions–the renowned London School of Economics–because he believed in their public good.

Whenever Shaw toured the globe in his later decades–he died in 1950 at age 94–he was met by leading politicians, celebrities, and intellectuals who wanted to bask in his wit, wisdom, and benevolence (Jawaharlal Nehru, Charlie Chaplin, and Albert Einstein are a few such people). Time magazine named him amongst the ten most famous people in the world–alongside Hitler and the Pope. Everywhere he went, the press hounded him for a quote. Yet despite the massive fees he could have charged, he never accepted money for his opinions, just as he had declined speaking fees in his poorer days when he travelled Britain to give up to six three-hour lectures a week to praise the benefits of social democracy. He would not be bought–or suffer the appearance of being bought.

On his birthday, then, we would do well to think of Shaw and maybe even read some of his plays, prefaces, or journalism. We might also cherish the service and immorality of intellectuals. And we should always question the motives of those who denigrate their value.

This piece was originally published in OUPBlog: Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Entering Pine Ridge Reservation via Bombing Range Rd (what a name!) from the Badlands, South Dakota.

Wounded Knee, South Dakota, afternoon and evening of July 25th, 2017

From McLaughlin, Standing Rock Reservation, South Dakota, I make the 5-hour drive south to my next destination in the Pine Ridge Reservation, just a little ways north of the Nebraska border. My drive takes me through Badlands National Park, though only for a short while. What I see of it is beautiful, and I certainly plan to return.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

My destination is Wounded Knee, named for Wounded Knee Creek and the site of a conflict between the United States army and the band of Chief Spotted Elk, or Big Foot, as the U.S. army dubbed him. This conflict was originally called the Battle of Wounded Knee in United States historical accounts but was generally redesignated the Massacre of Wounded Knee. As sympathy for the plight of defeated Native Americans grew and their side of the story became better known, it became clear that ‘massacre’ was a more fitting term for this affair than ‘battle,’ since the vast majority of those who were shot down here were noncombatants: women, children, infants, and the elderly.

Pine Ridge Reservation as I arrive on a soft summer evening

When I arrive at the large red and white sign at the side of the road which marks the Wounded Knee Massacre site, I park at the little lot in front of it. I look a while at the structures and the lay of the land here for a short. I take some pictures and then begin to read the sign, front and back. I’m not yet finished when a young man approaches me, perhaps fifteen or so. He is lean, about my height, with hair pulled back and hanging long behind. He’s dressed simply in a plain t-shirt and jeans. His skin is a rich reddish-gold tan in the deep peach just-after-sunset light, his cheekbones high. ‘That sign is wrong’, he says. ‘They tell the story wrong.’

‘Hello! And thanks for the warning,’ I reply. ‘Who are ‘they?”

He tells me that the people who agree with the army’s side of things wrote the sign. I interject and tell him, yes, I see where they placed a wood block on each side to cover part of the title, painted with the replacement word is ‘massacre’. But, he explains, they still didn’t really fix most of what’s wrong with it. Big Foot was not really the chief’s name, and …well, the whole thing is wrong. He tells me why. Then he points to the colorfully painted round building across the road.

‘Go to the museum, that’s our museum, where we tell the story’, he directs me. ‘I will,’ I said, ‘That’s where I’m headed next. But I do want to finish reading the whole sign and see what they said about it, and try to find out the real story if I can.’

I return to the back of the sign, read the rest carefully, then approach him again. ‘I know what they say here now, so I’ll go to the museum and read the story there.’ ‘Okay, he says, then hesitates a moment, then holds up some beaded necklaces in different bright colors, each with a circular pendant holder open in the center to display the gemstone or colorful glass bead within. ‘I make these’, he says.

I admire them, and he names the prices. ‘I’m sorry,’ I tell him. ‘I can check to see what I have, but I remember I don’t have much cash on me, not nearly enough to pay you fairly for all this work.’

‘I take contributions’, he says.

I go to the car and check, and it’s true. I only have a few dollars. I take most of this and bring it back to him. ‘Thanks for telling me the story, and I’ll go find out more.’ I cross the road…

Wounded Knee historical sign, front side, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, 2017 Amy Cools

Wounded Knee historical sign, front side, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. You can right click on the image, open it in a new tab, then click on that to zoom in for ease of reading

Wounded Knee historical sign, back side

In 1890, the Lakota people were not doing well. They had mostly been driven from their homelands, scattered and confined to reservations in unfamiliar and mostly inhospitable territories. U.S. government-issued rations, supplied by treaty agreement, were scarce, sometimes in punishment for real or perceived infractions, and more often because corrupt and underpaid government agents and dishonest contract suppliers skimmed liberally from the top. So, the Lakota often went hungry.

They were often disarmed too, so they could not always defend their holdings from white raiders or go on raids themselves when hunger or honor demanded it. The dispossessed men could sometimes get special dispensations from the army to get their guns back for hunting but the hunting was poor. The white settlers had also nearly wiped the American buffalo from the face of the earth, in part for their hides which made fashionable hats and other goods, and in part to remove the incentive for Great Plains Indians to want to remain to their traditional hunting grounds. Deer, elk, and other game were getting ever harder to find too, and their lean meat was not as nutritious.

Wounded Knee massacre site. There are few and simple structures here. The site is privately owned, and negotiations to sell it to an organization that is both willing and has the resources to maintain it has been long and contentious. So, its fate as a preserved and protected national historic landmark is still uncertain.

Boredom, disillusionment, depression, and disease were also rampant. The traditional ways of life that gave it meaning were gone and the men, especially, had little to do and little reason to want to do it. Much of the reservation lands were not very good for farming even when some of the Lakota decided to take up this culturally undesirable occupation (it was traditionally acceptable for women but not for men), and bad land apportionment policies caused many Native American-owned ranches to fail. Children who were sent to white schools by their parents, or taken from their parents when they were unwilling, were shorn of their hair, traditionally worn long, and whipped when they dared speak a word of their native language or engage in any traditional ways. The unfamiliar terrain, often assigned as reservations precisely because their poor soil and malarial conditions made them undesirable to white settlers, helped contribute to the depression and disease that regularly wiped out large portions of Native American populations, who were already vulnerable to the diseases introduced by white people to which they had little or no immunity.

Spotted Elk, or Big Foot as he was known to the U.S. army, as a younger man. He was the Minneconjou Lakota chief who died with so many of his people at Wounded Knee in 1890

And when Native Americans of the Great Plains and throughout America, as individuals or groups, dared leave their poor circumstances in the reservations and strike out for a better life for themselves and their families, just as the white settlers had done when heading west, they were branded ‘hostiles’ and hunted down like criminals.

In 1890, the Minneconjou Lakota chief Spotted Elk welcomed two distressed Hunkpapa Lakota men into his camp in the Cheyenne River Reservation, just south of Standing Rock. They bore the sad tidings of the killing of his half-brother, Sitting Bull, and some of his followers who adhered to the Ghost Dance movement. About forty more of Sitting Bull’s band were set to flee Standing Rock, fearing they’d be next. White authorities thought that because the Ghost Dance cult believed sacred garments called Ghost Shirts could turn away bullets, this implied that their wearers secretly plotted war against the whites, though the Ghost Dance cult actually, explicitly preached non-violence. Like Sitting Bull, Spotted Elk was initially drawn to the Ghost Dance movement but later rejected its truth and utility, though they both tolerated adherence in the cult by others. After all, it revived a spirit of hope and purpose in its adherents, and it preached peace. But this made both Lakota leaders objects of suspicion by the white authorities, who apparently believed that once a Ghost Dancer, always a Ghost Dancer.

In solidarity and a spirit of brotherly hospitality, Spotted Elk invited the beleaguered and bereft Hunkpapas of the slain Sitting Bull’s band to take shelter with his own. Spotted Elk had become a trusted negotiator by white and Native American authorities by this time. He was an uncle of the great warrior Crazy Horse, Oglala hero of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and an ally of the rebellious tribes in the Great Sioux Wars of the 1870’s, but had remained a peaceful moderate in dealing with white demands for many years since then, settling down and farming on the reservation. By the time of Sitting Bull’s death in the spring of 1890, however, White and Native Americans alike had begun to view the sixty-five-year-old Spotted Elk as, at best, out of touch and somewhat irrelevant, and at worst, a secret Ghost Dance anti-white conspirator.

Wounded Knee massacre site

When white authorities heard that the Ghost Dancing Hunkpapas were with Spotted Elk, they believed their suspicions of impending rebellion were confirmed. They wanted Spotted Elk arrested too, along with the Hunkpapa refugees. But the peaceful Spotted Elk, who didn’t want to betray these men, couldn’t convince the young men of his band to give up the Hunkpapas anyway. When he heard that troops were on their way, Spotted Elk decided it was useless to try to give in to these unreasonable demands and expose himself to unreasonable arrest. He decided to lead his band south to Pine Ridge instead, in answer to a request by Chief Red Cloud to mediate some difficulties there. Before he left, however, he fell terribly ill with pneumonia. He made this trek south with his people carried in a litter, coughing up blood and growing every weaker along the way. It was dead winter, late December, and they struggled through the snow, wind, and bitter cold.

Though the local army authority didn’t believe Spotted Elk and his people were a threat, they were ordered to intercept and detain them. U.S. Army troops caught up with Spotted Elk and his people not far from Wounded Knee Creek, where they proceeded on to camp and arrange for talks. But the talks did not go well. They began with the order from faraway higher-ups to disarm the band. Spotted Elk refused. The band needed to be able to protect themselves out here away from the Pine Ridge agency, and they needed to hunt and provide their families with food in these hard times.

The protracted and repeated bargaining and forced attempts to convince Spotted Elk’s men to give up their weapons became more and more contentious. It was just too humiliating for a man to be forced to give up his most expensive and prized possession, his main tool and weapon with which he could vanquish his enemies, protect his life and those of his people, and provide for his family and friends. Sometimes the Minneconjou would make a show of giving up weapons by turning in their old and broken ones, sometimes the soldiers would simply raid the tents and take the hidden weapons, pushing past the enraged and resisting women as they did so. This whole business of forcibly and unnecessarily disarming the band was not a policy that the local military authorities thought wise or necessary. But the orders came in insistingly, so they obeyed. Francis Craft, the Jesuit priest who lived with the Lakota people and spoke their language, assisted with these sticky negotiations. It’s the map from his papers that I used as an aid in seeking the site of Sitting Bull’s death.

On December 29th, 1890, the Minneconjou men were called out to be thoroughly searched and all their firearms confiscated once and for all. When a rather clueless soldier tried to grab and wrest a gun from the hands of a deaf and perhaps mentally troubled man, a shot went off. It was all over then. The shots kept firing, and the killing began. And went on, and on. Both sides shot some from their own number in the crossfire. And both sides fought at first, but when it became clear that the badly outnumbered Minneconjou were losing, the killing kept going, segueing from combat to simple extermination. Soldiers, in a cold relentless sort of frenzy, began methodically picking off the fleeing Minneconjou one by one, aiming, shooting to kill all those the Hotchkiss guns didn’t get.

“Big Foot, leader of the Sioux, captured at the battle of Wounded Knee, S.D.” Here he lies frozen on the snow-covered battlefield where he died, 1890; this photo is in the National Archives collection at Washington, DC. The title of the photo is misleading in two ways: first, his people called him Spotted Elk, and he only later became known as Big Foot, an insulting nickname for him coined by a U.S. soldier; and second, he was not captured, he approached to the army on his own accord to discuss terms. He had been lying down, but his frozen body was propped up this way by the photographer. Many of the bodies on this sub-zero battlefield were similarly bent, distorted, gesturing in strange ways from rigor mortis combined with freezing

When the firing finally stopped, about two dozen soldiers were killed and about forty wounded. But between 250 and 300 of Spotted Elk’s people were killed, more than two-thirds of them women, children, and other noncombants. Spotted Elk was among them.

I enter the museum, and find myself in an open, roughly circular room. There’s a long folding table with a guestbook, a little cashbox, and some papers. Behind it stands a young woman in a long dark colored dress without sleeves, her long hair loosely pulled back. She’s rather petite, slim, with a round face and flushed cheeks. I greet her. She seems remote, almost out of it, and answers me in a voice so quiet I don’t catch all of what she says. She does indicate that should I look around, so I do. There’s a pair of child’s sparkly blue costume fairy wings in the center of the floor, and a few other toys. I find that the displays mostly consist of text and images painted on the wall and printed on large sheets, some framed, that sit atop more folding tables that line the room. They don’t refer much to the first clash at Wounded Knee, but to the second in the 1970’s, in the midst of the American Indian Movement. That’s a long and important story of its own, too much to get into in this piece. The displays also tell stories of other important moments in the struggle for Native American rights.

Here’s something of some of these stories, as this museum tells them:

American Indian Movement display at Wounded Knee Museum

American Indian Movement and Wounded Knee 1970’s conflict display at Wounded Knee Museum

Much needed addition to the Battle of the Little Bighorn Monument display at Wounded Knee Museum

Display about the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 which recognized that the Sioux, or Lakota, were the rightful owners of the Black Hills, Wounded Knee Museum. This treaty went right out the window, like all the others, once gold was discovered in the Black Hills

I leave the museum and am just about to walk up the hill when two very small children ran up to me. A little girl, perhaps three, hugs my legs, and her wide grin displays her tiny upper teeth. She has wispy pigtails and wears a pink play dress. She evidently wants to play but doesn’t  speak. Her little companion, a ruddy-faced toddler in a blue t-shirt and diaper, chases after her, his tough little feet undeterred by the gravel. Once she hops and then runs away, looking back in invitation for a good chase, he grabs my legs in turn and looks up. His short hair sticks out all around his head. They are impish and adorable. I’ve always particularly liked bold and precocious children. Not bratty, mind you, but outgoing. I greet them and smile, and since the little girl doesn’t answer what I say to her, just continues to invite me to play with gestures and body language, I’m not sure if she understands me. The lady from the museum calls to the children, and after a few moments of stalling, they run inside.

Wounded Knee Massacre Burial Site from Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, public domain via Wikimedia Commons. I approach this rise from the other side, where the Oglala-run museum is. You can click on the photo above to find several more photos of this burial ground at the Find A Grave website. Note the white flag in Robert Schaller’s photo memorializing Spotted Elk’s surrender flag that did nothing to save his life or the lives of his people.

US Attorney General Eric Holder laying a wreath at the site of the Wounded Knee Memorial, photo from the US Department of Justice. The memorial was erected here in 1903.

I continue up the hill to the burial ground, the cemetery gate composed of an unpretentious arch of metal across two pillars of brick painted red and white. It’s surmounted by a simple cross. There are many gravestones and a handsome engraved marble monument that was erected in 1903. I’m about to take my camera out to take pictures for this piece when I see there are other visitors here standing over grave sites, some speaking to each other softly, some silent, two evidently praying. It doesn’t seem respectful, somehow, to take pictures while these people are having this solemn moment here, so I refrain. I’m certain to find some photos published in a public forum later for reference since this is an important historical site.

The burial ground is located on the very hill that the Hotchkiss guns were placed to mow the Oglalas down in their village, sparing no-one. But it wasn’t just the distant artillery that lacked discretion in whom it killed. Oglala survivors told of soldiers who deliberately shot women, children, and infants at point-blank range. Many of the soldiers believed that this indiscriminate killing was justified as a pre-emptive strike, and besides, just as Native Americans were not legal citizens or even persons under U.S. law, so were they considered on a moral basis. They were thought by many as a sort of species of sub-human, in a similar sense that African Americans were. They were just human enough to accept favors from and treat kindly when it was more expedient to do so, and just human enough to have sex with, at least with the women, with their consent if you could get it but if not, no matter. But they were not human enough to deserve representation in court, not human enough to judge each Native American as a moral individual deserving the benefit of the doubt or of the right to enjoy liberty in their own way.

Portrait of General L. W. Colby of Nebraska State Troops Holding Baby Girl, Zintkala Nuni (Lost Bird), Found On Wounded Knee Battlefield, South Dakota, 1890, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

There were, to be sure, some soldiers who did not get caught up in the rush to violence. Some believed and went on to report that the Lakota were being treated unfairly and in fact, this affair was little short of mass murder, a wholly unnecessary result of bad policy ordered by ill-informed and bigoted higher-ups who didn’t know or care much what was happening on the ground.

General L. W. Colby was one of those who believed that Wounded Knee was a murderous debacle. A few soldiers had rescued and shielded some of the Lakota, especially women and children. A few survivors were rescued from the frozen battlefield later, including a few infants pulled from the arms of their dead or dying mothers. One of these, Zintkala Nuni or Lost Bird, was adopted by Colby. Perhaps he saw this adoption as an opportunity to undo a tiny bit of the wrong done. He also seemed to perceive himself as a sort of white knight to this tiny damsel in distress.

Zintkala Nuni, or Lost Bird, as an actress portraying Pocahontas at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

Unfortunately, Colby’s dismay at what happened to the Lakotas at Wounded Knee didn’t translate into his being a very good caretaker to this one particular Lakota. He abandoned Lost Bird and her adoptive mother when she was a child. She was put in white schools but never accepted by her white peers, yet she was forbidden by her doting but unwise adoptive mother to associate with children of her own or other races either. She wanted Lost Bird to be an example of her brand of progressivism, to show that Native Americans could be as perfectly civilized as anyone else if you just assimilate them properly. But Lost Bird never adjusted well to white culture in general and struggled to get by as an adult, mostly working as a traveling performer. She had many troubled relationships, some of which were abusive, and Colby had her institutionalized in a harsh reformatory when she became pregnant at seventeen. She contracted syphilis from her first husband and suffered from it the rest of her life. Already weakened by this disease, Lost Bird died at only age 29 in an influenza epidemic in 1920. Her body was reclaimed by her people and reburied here at Wounded Knee in the burial ground on the hill.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and inspiration:

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970

Burgoyne, Mindie. ‘Lost Bird – the Sad Story of a Baby Taken from Wounded Knee.’ Dec 31, 2015, Travel Hag blog

Connell, Evan S. Son of the Morning Star. London: Macmillan, 1984

Cozzens, Peter. The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. New York: Knopf, 2016

Harrison, Eric. ‘A Girl Called ‘Lost Bird’ Is Finally at Rest: History: Lakota Infant Survived Wounded Knee Killing and Was Adopted by Whites. Now She is Buried Among Her People.’ Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1991

Jackson, Joe. Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Lawrence, Melanie. ‘Chronicle of a Lakota Girl Raised White / Baby Found at Wounded Knee Grew Up to Face an Identity Crisis.’ SF Gate, July 23, 1995

Lost Bird Story: Summary.’ South Dakota Pulic Television website

Marquis, Thomas Bailey. Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer, 1931

Marshall, Joseph III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History. New York: Viking, 2004

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks, 1932

Powers, Thomas. The Killing Of Crazy Horse. New York: Knopf, 2010

Spotted Elk‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark Nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places. Prepared by Richard E. Jensen / Eli Paul, Research Department of the Nebraska Historical Society, Dec 6, 1990

The Mealy-Mouthed Cowardice of America’s Elites After Charlottesville

As is so often the case, Fareed Zakaria’s analysis is the best I’ve read on this subject. As Bill Maher recently pointed out, sure, there was violence on both sides in World War II as well, but one side was still right

Fareed Zakaria

By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017

Much of the United States has reacted swiftly and strongly to President Trump’s grotesque suggestion that there is a moral equivalence between the white supremacists who converged last weekend on Charlottesville and those who protested against them. But the delayed, qualified and mealy-mouthed reactions of many in America’s leadership class tell a disturbing story about the country’s elites — and the reason we are living in an age of populist rebellion.

The least respected of today’s leaders are, of course, politicians. The public largely views them as craven and cowardly, pandering to polls and focus groups. And that is how too many Republican officials have behaved in the face of Trump’s words and actions. With some honorable exceptions, men and women who usually cannot stop pontificating on every topic on live TV have suddenly gone mute on the biggest political subject of the day.


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My Great Year for National Parks, Monuments, and Forests

A Joshua tree in bloom at Joshua Tree National Park

June 2016 through August 2017 has been an incredible one year and three months for me for visiting United States’ National Parks, Monuments, and Forests. The National Parks and Monuments are managed by the National Park System, the National Forests by the United States Department of Agriculture. They are all among our nation’s national treasures and I am so grateful that we decided, as a nation, that there are some things too beautiful and rare to be despoiled for short-term material gain.

I’ve also been to many National Historic Sites over the course of this same period, but the journeys I’m focusing on here have been all about enjoying my country’s spectacular and incredibly varied natural beauty in just these few of the greatest of our natural preserves…

1 – Zion National Park, Utah. Panoramic view from Observation Point which overlooks the Virgin River canyon from 6,507 feet, June 2016

The Narrows, Zion National Park, is a slot canyon formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Most of the hike through this amazing formation is done by wading through the river. It’s wonderfully refreshing on a hot day but it’s also hard on your feet, hiking on and among slippery rocks while your feet are continuously soaked

Enjoying cold milk (it’s a very good thermos) and salty bacon at after the hot, steep hike to Observation Point, Zion National Park

2 – Bryce Canyon, Utah, a panoramic view, June 2016

A windy day at Bryce Canyon. The evening before we were to return home from that trip to Zion and Bryce, my companion and I heard that it was going to be a clear night. So we packed up our Zion campsite that evening and returned to stargaze from above and among the rock turrets and canyons at Bryce, a prime place for viewing the night sky nearly free from light pollution. We ran into a trio of night sky photographers, and they let us look through their cameras and see the starlight they had captured throughout the night.

3, first visit – Yosemite National Park, California. Tenaya Lake from Tioga Pass, June 2016

Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Valley, still gushing in June. When I return later that year, it will look very different

4 – Grand Canyon, Arizona. View from South Kaibob Trail, August 2016

On the South Kaibob Trail on the way to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. This was a whirlwind trip: I had just been in Southern California to visit family and had only a few days off work. I took the last two days of this precious time off to go to the Grand Canyon because I’d never been, an unacceptable state of affairs. I woke up very, very early in the morning, drove from Southern California to the Grand Canyon. I arrived about 3 pm, and chose this quicker, steeper hike to the canyon floor, which I reached not long after sunset. After a scolding from a fox, whose den I had stumbled into while exploring in the half-light, I spent a rather hot, buggy, restless night with just a ground tarp and sleeping bag, arose very early, and hiked out of the canyon via Bright Angel Trail. It was gorgeous, and fortunately, the first third or so of the trip followed the course of a creek where I was able to bathe my hot head, arms, and legs from time to time. I arrived at the rim around noon, and once the bus returned me to the car, I began the drive straight back to Oakland, with one break at a truck stop to take a shower. I arrived home very early in the morning, took a nap, and reported to work as usual at quarter to eight, stiff, sore, and glowing with adventure. By the way, in ordinary circumstances, I don’t recommend a hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon immediately succeeded by a twelve-hour, straight-through drive. Straightening and moving my limbs became far more difficult each time I got out of the car, and by the time I got to work, I could hardly manage a hobble. But we had been understaffed at work for a long time and I needed to break away and do something fantastic, so it was well worth it.

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail, September 2016 Amy Cools

View of Grand Canyon walls from Bright Angel Trail

3, second visit – Yosemite National Park, California, a view featuring Half Dome from the Yosemite Falls – El Capitan Trail, September 2016

At Yosemite Falls overlook. The Falls had dried up by this time.

Panoramic view from the El Capitan Trail, September 2016. What a beautiful hike! Long and steep in places, but great places to rest. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a filter in case you need more, there’s none to be had up here. I was pretty thirsty by the time I finished.

5) Canyonlands National Park, Utah, December 2016

A view of Canyonlands National Park, December 2016 Cools

A view of Canyonlands National Park

6 – Colorado National Monument, Colorado, panoramic view, December 2016

At Colorado National Monument, December 2016

Bighorn sheep at Colorado National Monument, December 2016

7, first visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Lochsa Lodge on the day of my arrival, January 2017. I was on a literary retreat and had decided to keep my camera put away and enjoy nature thus undistracted this time. It was beautiful here, covered in snow, and the natural hot springs by Warm Springs Creek were glorious

8, first visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. At the north gate’s Roosevelt Arch, Montana, January 2017

Canary Spring with Mount Everts in the distance and bison near the lake below, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. During my visit, despite the cold and deep snow, I saw plenty of wildlife, including elk, many species of birds, deer, and a red fox

9 – Joshua Tree National Park, California, panoramic view of Hidden Valley, March 2017. This park is especially dear to my heart

Joshua Tree, pencil cholla, yucca, and blue blue sky, in the Mohave Desert portion of Joshua Tree National Park.

A natural sphinx among the sun’s rays and above the yucca plants

10 – Pinnacles National Park, California. I was here this year in March 2017, but I didn’t take any pictures during that visit. I was on another one of those literary retreats, and I decided to repeat my no-cameras-in-nature policy from last retreat. My companions and I saw many more California condors on this trip than I had seen during my earlier visits here, and since it was early in the year before the heat of the summer, there were many wildflowers. I took this photo and the next during one of my earlier visits, in July 2013.

At Pinnacles National Park, July 2013

11 – Olympic National Park, Washington. A view of its stunning mountain peaks, May 2017. Excuse the shadow in the corner, I keep my mini tablet in a sturdy case since I carry it hiking and just about everywhere else with me since I can take great photos with it as well as write on it comfortably. The case offers better protection than any other I’ve found, but its camera opening is a little misplaced, requiring I nudge the tablet over before I take a photo. I forgot this time, as I too often do

At another overlook in Olympic National Park, May 2017

Panoramic view of Olympic National Park from Hurricane Hill. You can see the ocean near Point Angeles in the distance to the left

7, second visit – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho, in the Bitterroot Mountains. A view from a trail not far from Wendover Creek’s West Fork, July 2017. This time, I camped near Lochsa Lodge at Powell Campground, then hiked, or attempted to hike, the Wendover Ridge trail that the Lewis and Clark expedition trekked over this mountain. I got in a very hood hike indeed, but lost the trail. It’s not often used and I had no guide who is familiar with it, so I ended up off-trail quite a bit. I was not disappointed, however: it was a glorious adventure.

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, a view from near Wendover Ridge, July 2017

8, second visit – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming, July 2017

At the summit of Mt Washburn, Yellowstone National Park. My elation is pretty evident in this photo

12 – Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from the high point of Beartooth Highway near the Wyoming/Montana border, July 2017. They closed the high point of the pass late night through early morning, and since I was driving through a little after midnight, I pulled off to sleep. So glad they closed the road. I saw the most incredible array of stars before I went to sleep, and I woke up to this view.

Custer-Gallatin National Forest, view from Rock Creek Vista, Montana, off Beartooth Highway

13 – Black Hills National Forest, entering Black Elk Wilderness on the Black Elk (formerly know as Harley Peak) Trail, July 2017

View of the Black Hills with a Rocky Mountain goat from Black Elk Peak, July 2017

14 – Badlands National Park, South Dakota, July 2017. I passed through this park on a long drive and didn’t get to spend much time, but admired what I did see greatly. I will be back!

Passing from the Badlands into the Pine Ridge Reservation, July 2017

15 – Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, overview of Kabetogama Lake from Blind Ash Bay Trail, August 2017

On some very ancient rocks at Voyageurs National Park. The exposed rocks at this park date as far back as 2.8 billion years, over half the age of the Earth itself.  Such ancient rocks are exposed here because the park contains the edge of the Canadian Shield, an ancient volcanic bedrock that’s been exposed in places by glaciers that passed through here then disappeared around 11,000 years ago. The rocks I visited are not that old, but they are very old indeed. Grace, a geology enthusiast and employee of the National Park Service, was excited at my inquiry about the geology of the park (her fellow National Park Service employee watched our interaction with an ‘oh no, here we go again! look), and she took me on a tour of some nearby ancient formations. The one I’m sitting on is one of those.

A garter snake sticks out its red tongue on an ancient rock at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

16 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, panoramic view of Painted Canyon, August 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, another view of Painted Canyon. Unfortunately, I also got to spend only a very little time in this park since I needed to hurry on to my next destination, but I had to get myself over here for at least a peek and to pay tribute to this man who did so much for conservation efforts in the United States. Thanks, Theodore Roosevelt!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Amy Cassey!

Joseph and Amy Cassey historical marker, Old Town Philadelphia, 2015 Amy Cools

Amy Cassey, anti-slavery and civil rights activist, was born in New York City on August 14, 1808. Born Amy Williams to an elite family, she married a wealthy Philadelphia businessman named Joseph Cassey in 1825. This partnership was very happy and fruitful, and the Casseys used their wealth and prestige to do much good, particularly in the antislavery movement. She outlived her husband, who was twenty years her senior, and married Charles Lenox Remond, a mutual friend and co-activist of herself and Frederick Douglass (and namesake of one of his children), continuing her work until her death on August 15, 1856, just one day after her birthday.

I couldn’t find any images of Amy Cassey or her first husband, but there are many of Remond who, by the way, had particularly awesome hair.

Amy and Joseph Cassey House at 243 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA

Learn more about this great woman:

Amy Matilda Cassey Album – a treasure trove of poetry, drawings, and various writings by herself and many famous human rights activists of her time, from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia

Cassey, Amy Matilda Williams (1808-1856) – by Janine Black for Black Past

A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (selections) – Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Yale University Press, 2008

Cassey House – in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Standing Rock Reservation: In Search of Sitting Bull, I Find Sakakawea, Too – Part 2

General store on the main road at Kenel, a community in Standing Rock Reservation, South Dakota, as seen through the windshield.

Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North and South Dakota, morning and early afternoon of July 25th, 2017

I wake up at Prairie Knights Casino and Resort at the north end of Fort Yates in Standing Rock Reservation, on the North Dakota side. It’s by far the nicest place I’ve stayed at this trip and one of the cheapest. Thanks, gamblers, for subsidizing my roomy bed, my nice bathtub with its complimentary tasty-smelling chokecherry bath products, and my ultra-clean room!

Historical sign and wood structures near the site of old Fort Manuel, Kenel. The original site of the town

I head south on Highway 1806, otherwise known as the Native American Scenic Byway, towards the tiny unincorporated community of Kenel, in search of the site of old Fort Manuel. Counting the road just across from Kenel’s general store, I turn left on the third road, a dirt road, guided by a little brown road sign. Then I head straight, past the turnoff that curves off to the left back towards Kenel. After a little while, this road curves to the left as well and arrives at a simple, tall, broad gateway made of three large poles with a pair of antlers in the center of the crossbeam, indicating the entrance to someone’s private property, likely a farm or ranch. The place for which the gate marks the entry is encircled by a thick grove of trees. I pull off to the right of the road in before I reach the gateway. Then I look around and see what look like historical marker signs in the field around and beyond the left side of the wooded boundary. There are some wood structures rising from the grass beyond that. I take the little footpath heading in that direction.

Portrait medallion on Sakakawea’s memorial obelisk on the west bank of the Missouri River, Standing Rock Reservation. In his record of her death, clerk John Luttig wrote: ‘She was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl.’

I’m here following my trail of discovery to the site where Sakakawea lived her last year, and where she died. She was a Shoshone girl captured and enslaved by the Hidatsa people, and became one of three purchased Native American wives of an inept, and by at least one account brutish, French Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. Sakakawea died at only twenty-five years of age after a long illness, probably secondary to the rigors of the Lewis and Clark expedition. During that trek, which was otherwise only undertaken by strong, travel-hardened men, she gave birth to her first child, a son, which she carried and nursed the rest of the way. Despite what would seem to us as a rather grim life story, she was loved and admired for her ability to navigate most difficulties with aplomb and for her cheerful and willing disposition. Sakakawea went on to become one of the most famous and beloved women in American history.

According to most histories, Sakakawea, sometimes spelled Sacagawea or Sakajawea (the first two are preferable because they most closely indicate the correct pronunciation in the name’s Shoshone language), died here at Fort Manuel on December 20th, 1812. There are some sources which place her death much later and far away, at the Wind River Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming on April 9th, 1884. However, that evidence is much more circumstantial and based on hearsay, and later attempts to corroborate those sources are irreconcilable with better-recorded contemporary evidence.

Reconstruction of old Fort Manuel Lisa, Kenel, South Dakota, Standing Rock Reservation

Sakakawea had moved to Fort Manuel the year before her death with her husband and a troupe of fur traders in August of 1811. Her death in December of the following year was recorded by John Luttig, clerk of the Missouri Fur Company for which the fort was founded as an outpost. This company, in turn, was founded in St. Louis in 1809 by Manuel Lisa, the Spanish entrepreneur for whom the fort was named, and William Clark was elected its president. This was the Clark of Lewis and Clark; he and Meriwether Lewis led the great exploratory expedition ordered by President Thomas Jefferson to discover a more direct trading route across the continent. From 1804 – 1806, the expedition wound northwest up the Missouri River then straight west across land to the Pacific Ocean. It was Charbonneau who was recruited by Lewis and Clark, but it was Sakakawea who lent her invaluable assistance to this mission as interpreter, trail guide, identifier of wild foods to gather, and on one occasion, rescuer of the all-important contents of a tipped boat. Clark later adopted her son, Baptiste, whom he called ‘Pomp’; he had become very fond of this tiniest member of the expedition. He later made sure Baptiste received a quality education. Charbonneau, evidently, was also rather a deadbeat.

Theodore Roosevelt Monument Manhood stone

By the way, I remember being annoyed a couple of years ago while visiting Theodore Roosevelt’s monument in Washington, D.C. Among the monuments was a row of large stones engraved with quotes. On one of these, Roosevelt equates manhood with daring and courage. I commented in a piece I wrote at the time that virtues such as these are human ones, and are not distributed in human nature according to sex. Sakakawea is just one of the countless women who demonstrate this, though she performed her brave acts within a cultural milieu that inculcated these virtues primarily in men while encouraging shrinking, even shuddering, modesty in women. To be sure, she showed fear at times and wept at others. But she not only did what it was her duty to do regardless, she took on men’s duties when they weren’t fulfilling them, and then went beyond that! And she did so in a way that made others love, admire, and remember her for her ability and excellent personal qualities long after others were forgotten.

A large fireplace inside of one of Fort Manuel’s reconstructed buildings, Standing Rock, South Dakota

But back to my story… The wooden structures I see here today at Fort Manuel were built in 1965. They replaced a 1941 facsimile of the old stockade that had been built according to the details of a 1938 study of the fort’s records and of the grounds. The reconstructed stockade was not built on the exact site: its walls tracked more or less the shape of the original ones but about 6 feet away, to keep the ground open for a planned excavation that was done in 1965-1966. Fortunately, since the fort was built on high ground, it escaped the flooding of Kenel’s original location three miles north of its current site as a result of the construction of the Oahe Dam in 1944. Unfortunately, the original remains of the fort were eroded away shortly after its excavation by unusually high waves. But at least the archaeological information about the fort was retrieved before that happened. The reconstructions standing here today near the old site likely portray the original structures quite accurately, since they’re based on the very meticulous archaeological and historical research work done on the site.

View from a reconstructed building at Fort Manuel

The excavation discovered the remains of seven structures within the original stockade walls. According to an archaeological and cultural report prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in  ‘Four of these units were dwellings (Structures A-C, E), one probably a storehouse (Structure 0), one a blacksmith shop (Structure F), and one possibly a stable or barn (Structure G). It is not known whether the post had other buildings, although extensive stripping of the site failed to reveal more. Luttig’s [1920] list of structures at the post does not tally exactly with the seven sites found by excavation and it may be incomplete.’ At first, I wonder why I see only five structures here today, but then I realize three of them are linked together like row houses, making seven in all.

Very, very few artifacts were found in the dig except for remains of the structures themselves. Fort Manuel was abandoned in the spring of 1813 after it was attacked by Native Americans allied with the British in the War of 1812. Any remaining goods were likely taken by the fort’s captors before it was burned down. Luttig, the clerk who admired Sakakawea and recorded both her death and his esteem for her, her little daughter Lizette, and her husband were among the survivors. Lizette likely died as a child, Charbonneau went on to enjoy a long life, and I don’t know what became of Luttig.

View of the Grand River from the bridge looking southwest, Standing Rock, just south of Little Eagle

Late nineteenth-century map showing the site of Sitting Bull’s camp on the north bank of the Grand River in Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, from the papers of Francis M. Craft

Liitle Eagle and Bullhead on the Grand River, as shown on Google Maps, 8-13-12017. Compare the dip of the river on today’s map with the dip of the river above.

I leave Fort Manuel and head south a short ways, turn right towards Kenel Road, stop for gas and an ice cream sandwich in McLaughlin, then turn south onto Highway 63. Just south of Little Eagle, I arrive at the bridge over the Grand River, the same bridge I crossed to come to Standing Rock and Fort Yates. I pull over at the head of the bridge and stop. I have more information this time. I’m here seeking the site of Sitting Bull’s death.

Based on Francis Craft’s late nineteenth-century map, Sitting Bull’s camp was on the north bank of the Missouri River, a good ways west of it, and a little ways east of Bullhead. I compare this map with the lay of the land and water here as shown on Google Maps. If Bullhead and the course of the Grand River are more or less the same as they are today and this map is accurate, the site of Sitting Bull’s camp would be a little ways west of where I’m standing, near the center of the curve where the river dips south. However, when you zoom out further, the lines of the river in the old map and in Google Maps track each other only loosely. Many years and weather systems have passed and the course and flow of the Missouri River, of which the Grand River is a tributary, have been tinkered with a lot since then. The first certainly, and the second likely, would affect its course over time.

Looking north and west from the bridge over the Grand River. It was somewhere along this north bank of the river, not far from here, where Sitting Bull was killed

I think of Sitting Bull’s death… no, martyrdom; he was killed for his beliefs. His real ones, and those that others ascribed to him.

Others believed he believed in the Ghost Dance movement because he tolerated it, and that the Ghost Dance movement was really a secret plot to violently overthrow white authority because it envisioned a blessed future in which the whites couldn’t oppress Native Americans anymore. Never mind that a specific doctrine of this cult was strict non-violence. Others believed he was a threat because he didn’t believe in white people, because he didn’t trust them as he should. Never mind that white soldiers and settlers had treated him and his people so badly for so long.

Sitting Bull Monument on the west bank of the Missouri River near Mobridge, SD

He believed that the world was big enough to hold many people with their different ways of living and that his people and their way of life deserved to exist, too. He believed in self-sacrifice and that convenience and luxury are not worth betraying your values for. He believed it was worth fighting the white people who were destroying his people’s ability to survive so long as it seemed there was a chance to drive them out. Then, he believed in peace when it became clear that was the only way left to survive. He believed in giving individuals, white ones too, the benefit of the doubt but he also believed you shouldn’t trust people who were crazy enough to value money and putting up fences above everything else. He believed in promises but not in written treaties: promises were the way of his people, but written treaties were invariably broken, as soon as they became inconvenient, by the very people who insisted on them.

Those are a few things I believe that he believed. I think I’m right about these, but I’m still learning, and I believe there’s more.

I cross the bridge and continue south towards Pine Ridge Reservation, south and west of here, about a 5-hour drive.

To be continued….

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Sources and information: 

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970

Connell, Evan S. Son of the Morning Star. London: Macmillan, 1984

Courchane, John Chalk. ‘Toussaint Charbonneau: In the Pacific North in 1805‘.

A Cultural Resource Inventory of Portions of Lake Oahe, Corson County, South Dakota, Volume I
by Paul H. Sanders, Dori M. Penny, Michael L. McFaul, Keith H. Oueholm, Kurt P. Schwetgert, and Thomas K. Larson, for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Foley, Thomas W, ed. At Standing Rock and Wounded Knee: The Journals and Papers of Father Francis Francis M. Craft, 1888-1890. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009

Howard, Helen Addison. ‘The Mystery of Sacagawea’s Death.‘ The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Jan., 1967), pp. 1-6, University of Washington

Jackson, Joe. Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Kenel, South Dakota. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Marshall, Joseph III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History. New York: Viking, 2004

Nelson, C.B. ‘South Dakota State Historical Society Markers.‘ (#391 Fort Manuel.) For the South Dakota State Historical Society

Perry, Douglass. ‘Lewis & Clark Expedition‘. Educator Resources, National Archives website.

Powers, Thomas. The Killing Of Crazy Horse. New York: Knopf, 2010

Sacagawea‘. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail – People, National Park Service website

Sacagawea‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Vestal, Stanley. Sitting Bull: Champion of the Sioux. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932

Wood, W. Raymond. ‘Manuel Lisa’s Fort Raymond: First Post in the Far West (November 1807—March 1813)‘. Discovering Lewis & Clark

See also: the South Dakota State Historical Society Markers in place at the Fort Manuel Site:and:

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Bldg. #1 N Standing Rock Ave.
P.O. Box D, Fort Yates, ND 58538
(701) 854-8500