WITH THE SNAP OF fall in the air many of the Sioux and Cheyenne began returning to their agencies. The route of the Oglala was south along the Red Cloud Trail, crossing a notional boundary marking the end of Indian country at Hat Creek. From that point the trail passed south over grasslands broken by a fine tracery of dry creek beds until white clay buttes rose in the distance to announce the site of the Red Cloud Agency. A journalist following the trail in July 1876 remarked that he was expecting something “about as broad and as much travelled as Fifth Avenue.” It was nothing of the kind: “they showed me a little path about a foot wide; I have seen more respectable cowpaths.” All the same, he added, “probably twenty-five or thirty warriors go over it each day.”1
North in spring, south as winter approached had been the pattern for a decade, but this year the Indians were wary on their return, slipping into the agencies quietly. In mid-July, the civilian agents had all been replaced by military officers. There was talk of arresting Indians coming in from the north, and rumor said even the year-round agency Indians were to be stripped of their firearms and ponies. The big killing of white soldiers on the Little Bighorn had angered the military and the government as never before. Whites seemed ready to discard the old distinction between “friendlies” and “hostiles” and treat all Indians as enemies. Dark threats were in the air: forced removal of the Oglala and Brulé two hundred miles east to the Missouri, or perhaps even to the Indian Territory, never a home for the Sioux.
Billy Garnett found himself at the center of these fears and alarms. He was variously carried on the agency books as a laborer, watchman, guide, and interpreter at fifty dollars a month, but he was considerably more than that—the bearer of messages and commands, a handler of Indians in moments of tension, a sometime spy for the commander of the military post. Billy remained a boy in appearance, slender and smooth-skinned, but in April he turned twenty-one and in June he became a father, of a boy he named Charles. The mother was Zuzella Janis, sister of the fifteen-year-old Emily who had set fire to the body of Yellow Bear.2
For the previous three years Garnett had worked for what was called the Indian Department, but suddenly in July 1876 he found himself with two masters: the agency on one day, the Army on the next. The tenor of things to come was set early in September when a delegation of officials from Washington arrived at Red Cloud to revisit the question of the Black Hills. The opening remarks of Bishop Henry Whipple were anodyne in the usual manner—“[the] Great Father does not wish to throw a blanket over your eyes, and to ask you to do anything without first looking at it.”3
But Garnett translating for the Oglala quickly realized things were going to be very different this time. The commissioner chosen to drive the talks was the former attorney general, A. S. Gaylord, and he was blunt: President Grant wanted the chiefs to sign a new piece of paper giving up the Black Hills and the so-called unceded territories—the last of the Sioux hunting grounds in the Tongue and Powder river country. In addition, the Oglala and the Brulé would be compelled to leave their agencies along the White River. The rumors were true; it was the Great Father’s wish that they go to the Indian Territory, and he wanted them to send a delegation of chiefs to inspect that country. If they agreed to these demands, Gaylord said, the people would continue to receive their regular beef issue and other rations.
This stark choice was delivered to the Oglala at the Red Cloud Agency on September 7. It swept aside everything that had been promised in the Treaty of 1868, most importantly the provision which said no further surrender of Sioux lands would be legally valid unless agreed to in writing by three-fourths of all adult Sioux men. The Indians requested a week to talk things over, then delayed in the customary way, perhaps hoping the commissioners would go away. They did not. A second meeting finally convened at the agency on September 19, but things did not go well. Spotted Tail had been the first of the chiefs to stop fighting the whites in the mid-1860s, but his tongue remained sharp. He did not want to give up the Black Hills, and he did not want to take his band to the Indian Territory. “The white man wants another treaty,” he told the commissioners. “Why does not the Great Father put his red children on wheels, so that he can move them as he will?”4
Nor did Red Dog and Young Man Afraid of His Horses want to give away the Black Hills. “This is the country where I was born and I want to remain here,” said Young Man Afraid.
Whipple and Gaylord began to press the chiefs to sign a document immediately—right there and then. They promised only one concession: if the Sioux did not like the Indian Territory the government would allow them to settle on the Missouri River. The commissioners were insistent, the chiefs restless and unhappy. Red Cloud did not want to move to the Missouri. “There are bad men and whiskey there. I do not want to go.”5
At this point the Oglala chief Sitting Bull made his way to the center of the council, shouting his displeasure. He was carrying his great gunstock war club with its three knife blades, sign of his office as a chief of akicita. Sitting Bull was considered a friend of the whites; fifteen months earlier, in the spring of 1875, Grant in Washington had given him a Winchester rifle engraved with his name, “for bravery and friendship.” But his mood had changed. “The dose in this treaty infuriated him,” said Billy Garnett later.
The Oglala knew nothing of the Indian Territory, they had never lived on the Missouri, they wanted to remain in their own country. Sitting Bull denounced this new request from the government as “all foolishness.” He said they could sign nothing away, too many of the Indians were still north hunting. He began ordering the Indians to leave the agency stockade.
Now one of the chiefs close to the whites—White Bird, who had succeeded as chief of the Spleen band after John Richard’s murder of Yellow Bear in 1872—began to taunt Sitting Bull: what about his reputation as a friend of the white man? Had that all gone by the way? All knew where White Bird stood. In June he had helped American Horse kill a man named Howatezi (Fish Guts) by the Indians and Sioux Jim by the whites, who called him a renegade. This Sioux Jim was a brother of Little Big Man. White Bird was taunting Sitting Bull—was he switching sides? Was he going north?6
But Sitting Bull was not to be talked down; with his club reversed—knives turned away—he struck White Bird a heavy blow, all the while shouting to the other Oglala, “Get out! Get out!”7
That was the end of the day’s talking. The Indians got up and departed, perhaps relieved. The commissioners made no objection. That night, or a day or two later, Sitting Bull left the agency and headed north. His sons were hunting on the Yellowstone that summer, and he had loaned his engraved Winchester to a friend who had also gone north. Sitting Bull went after the friend to retrieve his gun, and to see his sons, so he said, and very likely to absent himself from what he knew would happen the following day.
On September 20 at the agency the commissioners insisted the chiefs sign. Many of the chiefs who had chosen peace in 1868 were present, including Red Cloud and Young Man Afraid of His Horses.8 None wanted to sell the Black Hills or give up the hunting territories along the Powder and Tongue rivers, and none believed that is what they agreed to do. The official report of the commissioners identified the Reverend Samuel Hinman as interpreter for the Oglala, but in fact Billy Garnett did the interpreting that day. When the Indians objected to some provision of the new treaty, Garnett duly translated the Reverend Hinman’s promise that it would be changed. It was Hinman, also, who described the new western boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation as proceeding from the Niobrara River north to this stream and to that—along the 103rd meridian. The whole of the Black Hills are west of the 103rd meridian. There is no word in Lakota for meridian. Garnett repeated Hinman’s words, but none of the chiefs understood that signing this new treaty meant giving up the Black Hills.9 What they understood was Gaylord’s naked threat that the beef issue would halt if they did not sign.
According to Bishop Whipple, Gaylord made promises as well as threats to the chiefs. After the Little Bighorn there had been much talk of disarming and dismounting the Indians, and before leaving Washington, Gaylord had requested Grant’s instruction on the point. Grant was reassuring: “Tell the Indians that as long as they remain at peace they shall be protected in their property.”10 Whipple reported that Gaylord read Grant’s words to the commissioners out of his notebook, and that Grant’s promise was repeated to the chiefs on September 20: if the chiefs signed they would keep their guns and they would keep their ponies.
But what the Indians heard most clearly was Gaylord’s threat to end their food ration if they did not sign. The Indians felt cornered and bullied. The previous day Long Soldier had protested the new agreement so vehemently that he was threatened with arrest by the soldiers at Camp Robinson; now, when the signing began, Long Soldier touched the pen and then stalked away, pulling off his shirt and shouting to the Indians gathered near the chiefs’ circle, “Even these clothes do not belong to me, everything will belong to the whiteman, it is now a good time for the Lakotas to learn that and say, yes, yes, yes to the whiteman from this day forward.”11
Another angry signer was Fire Thunder, a noted chief and warrior who had played a leading role in fights with the whites at Horse Creek in 1865, on the Bozeman Trail when Fetterman was rubbed out in 1866, and in the wagon box fight in 1867. He signed the treaty in 1868 and he signed again in 1876, but as he approached the table to touch the pen, remembering the opening words of Bishop Whipple on September 7, Fire Thunder raised his blanket up over his head, covering his eyes, and touched the pen blindfolded. Also bitter in protest was Standing Elk, who told the white military officers at Fort Laramie in 1866 that he had come in with all his people because he had no choice: “The white soldier has killed all the buffalo … none are left for us to kill.” In the same spirit he signed the treaty in 1868. In 1876 when he touched the pen he bitterly reproached the implacable Gaylord:
Your words are like a man knocking me in the head with a stick. What you have spoken has put great fear upon us. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we are expected to say yes! yes! yes! yes!—and when we don’t agree at once to what you ask of us in council, you always say, You won’t get anything to eat! You won’t get anything to eat!12
In the end the commissioners got what they wanted—agreement by the Oglalas and Brulés to give up the Black Hills forever.
The day after Gaylord promised the chiefs they could keep their guns and their ponies if they signed the new agreement, Crook and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie met with General Sheridan at Fort Laramie to plan the seizure of their guns and their ponies. Crook had been brooding. Of Red Cloud over the summer of defeat the general later wrote, “I can accuse him of no overt act of hostility.” But open conflict was not what angered Crook most. Worse was sullen defiance, resistance, the challenge implicit in silent refusal.
In every way in which he could [he] manifested his sympathy for the Indians on the war path, sent them supplies of ammunition, aided and assisted them with information in regard to our movements, he showed himself to be an alert, ill disposed and dangerous rascal. When enough testimony had accumulated … I determined to lose not a moment in stripping him of every vestige of authority.13
Sheridan and Sherman wanted to seize the guns and horses of all the Sioux—hostile, friendly, or in between. Crook balked at all; he refused to dismount Spotted Tail’s Brulé, who had been loyal to the whites throughout. But he wanted to break the spirit of Red Cloud, and he believed that setting him afoot would do it. At Fort Laramie on September 21 a simple plan was devised. Red Cloud and Red Leaf were camped with their bands on Chadron Creek, about twenty miles east of the agency and the military post at Camp Robinson. The officers agreed that Mackenzie would order the chiefs to return with their people, and force them back with soldiers if the chiefs refused. In early October, Mackenzie sent Billy Garnett to deliver the colonel’s order to the chiefs. Garnett rode over to Red Cloud’s lodge on Chadron Creek and there he also found Red Dog, the man who often spoke in council on the chief’s behalf. For some reason Red Cloud did not take Mackenzie’s threat seriously. He ignored the order to bring in his people and he dismissed the threat to cut off rations and use soldiers to force the Indians to return.
Red Dog told Garnett it was all right, the soldiers could have the agency if they wanted it, the Indians would be content with a building owned by their friend, the trader Joseph Bissonette, called Grey Hat (Wapahahota) by the Indians. Red Dog asked Garnett to tell Mackenzie to ship their rations out to Bissonette’s house and to bring the herd of beef for the next issue when they came. The chiefs asked Garnett to return when it was issue day to help things go right.14
But of course no rations and no beef were sent to Chadron Creek. Garnett was dispatched again to tell the chiefs that Colonel Mackenzie would send soldiers if the Indians did not come in. They did not budge. A few days later, on the night of October 19, 1876, Garnett was sent off with orders to the road ranch maintained by the trader Hank Clifford near the Red Cloud Agency. As he approached Clifford’s ranch, Garnett found Major Frank North and his brother Luther camped on Snake Creek with a detachment of about forty Pawnee scouts, bitter hereditary enemies of the Sioux. The Norths were to meet up with Mackenzie that night to surround the resistant chiefs, Garnett said. All set out in the dark and rode at a steady trot for about five hours, reaching the Oglala villages on Chadron Creek just as daylight was breaking.
When a boy looking after horses called the alarm, soldiers and scouts charged in among the lodges. First into the village was Garnett, shouting to the Indians not to run and not to fight—the soldiers would not harm them if they did not fight. Things almost went awry some moments later when an Indian leveled a revolver at the commander of the soldiers, but Garnett and the Brulé chief Swift Bear stopped him before he could fire. Quickly the Indians were disarmed and the ponies rounded up and started southwest with the North brothers. From Camp Robinson that night the Norths drove more than seven hundred ponies straight on through to Fort Laramie, where most were later sold for about five dollars each. On Crook’s order about seventy-five of the ponies were retained by the Norths and their Pawnee scouts. For themselves, the North brothers chose a dark bay and a gray, said to be the two fastest in the whole Sioux tribe. The day of the seizure the great majority of the Indians followed the Norths and their horses back to Camp Robinson on foot; only the elderly and some of the women and children were permitted to ride, and on arrival at the agency even these horses were taken away. Red Cloud and his leading men were required to walk. Crook was determined to humble the chief while all the people were watching.15
The population of the Red Cloud Agency in October 1876 was variously estimated at about four thousand. Perhaps half of them had been with Red Cloud at Chadron Creek. A fair guess would say that about two thousand Oglala walked the twenty-some miles back to the agency, where their straggling arrival was witnessed by a party of whites from the military post who had gone out for an afternoon climb into the hills overlooking the White River valley:
At three o’clock p.m. Monday we saw one of the most magnificent sights ever witnessed on the plains. After experiencing four days of heavy winds and clouds and some rain, with no small degree of nervous anxiety, we ascended a mountain or butte some five hundred feet above the plain of the agency which stands about a mile off, when the sun broke out from its hiding place … brilliant and warm, opening up … as far as the eye could see, with a good field glass … the moving Sioux could be seen, wending their way in towards the agency from every point of the compass, most of them disarmed, dispirited and compelled to come … The vast hoards of squaws, children, ponies and dogs, will not get half in tonight, and already the shadows of evening begin to shut out from view this last, grand demonstration of the power of the Sioux nation. This is the first march on their downward course … At ten o’clock today [Tuesday] the captured and disarmed bands arrived at the agency, resembling vast droves of Texas cattle crossing the praries. A grand Indian council was held today and the long tried and trusted Spotted Tail was duly installed chief of the Dakota Sioux … Red Cloud was put in prison [on arrival Monday], but again breathes the free air.16
It was Crook’s idea to depose Red Cloud as chief of the Oglala, and it was apparently Swift Bear who convinced the general to elevate Spotted Tail in his place.17 On Crook’s instruction a big crowd gathered in front of an agency warehouse on October 21. Spotted Tail and a stolid Red Cloud stood front and center while Crook acted the part of kingmaker, and declared Spotted Tail to be “head chief of all the bands of the Sioux nation.” The frontier photographer Stanley J. Morrow was visiting the agency and took a stereoscopic photograph of the gathering. It must have been chilly that day. Indians and whites all seem to be wearing wool coats and caps. About twenty feet to the general’s right can be seen Billy Garnett, looking slender and young. Next to him is Frank Grouard.
Crook prided himself on knowing Indians, but his attempt to depose Red Cloud was eccentric, revealing a dim understanding of what it was that made a chief. It was not power and it was not the law, but rather force of personality. The camp marshals or police, the akicita, could demand the obedience of any man, including a chief. Those who defied the akicita could be punished by a beating, the destruction of a lodge, or the killing of horses. In extreme cases the offender himself might even be killed. In the 1860s Red Cloud once defied the orders of the akicita to break camp and was lashed across the face with a quirt—not lightly, or only once, but “repeatedly and severely,” according to the Oglala Hunts the Enemy. Red Cloud may have been chief, but he was in the wrong. “He quietly submitted.”18
Red Cloud once said he had been a chief since he was nine years old. In 1870, following his first trip to Washington, he appeared at Cooper Union in New York City and declared to a packed lecture hall, “Look at me! I am poor, naked, but I am chief of a nation.” It was Red Cloud who summoned the white traders to camp with the Ite Sica Oglala every winter. Many stories survive of his war exploits, and he told whites that he had been in more than eighty battles. The Bozeman War did not end until Red Cloud touched the pen.19
A chief’s power was in some degree wakan—mysterious, great. In the early 1860s, the mother of a young Oglala came to Red Cloud to ask for a new name for her son, who had just returned from a raiding party with war honors. Until that time the son was known as Clam, a name given to him previously by Sitting Bear, the father of American Horse. The woman promised to pay a horse for the new name. Red Cloud gave the horse to someone needy and said to the woman,
Once I dreamed that I visited a certain group of stars and after I got there I found the inhabitants to be bears. Hence I will name him Afraid of Bear. He is the bear and the enemy will all be afraid of him. In after years his name will be well-known on account of his killing of many enemies.20
A man who had traveled to the stars was not likely to be overawed by a general wearing a pith helmet or riding a mule, as George Crook often did, and he was not likely to believe that Crook could take away what no man had the power to give. None of the Oglala or Spotted Tail’s Brulé paid any attention to the general’s attempt to humble the Oglala chief and bring him down a peg or two.
It was probably on that day, October 21, that Stanley Morrow also took a stereograph of Red Cloud sitting outside a log building, possibly the guardhouse at Camp Robinson. Red Cloud is wearing a long black coat and holds a black hat in his hand. He is an imposing man with a face of planes and creases that might have been designed by an architect.21 On the order of General Crook, he had just spent a night in the guardhouse, but nothing of that can be seen in his face. Crook had not made Red Cloud a chief, and he could not unmake him.