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Numerous calls were made upon the governors of Nebraska and Dakota for arms and troops by the sheriff, other officers, and prominent persons of the counties adjacent to the reservations, representing a panic among the citizens, and the appearances of immediate danger to lives and property from an Indian outbreak.
On November 24th, having obtained from regimental and company commanders of the Nebraska National Guard the exact number of officers and men in the military force of the state, efficient for immediate service, I reported to Governor Thayer the strength and availability of the military force under my command, which was composed of two regiments of infantry, of ten companies each, one troop of cavalry, and a battery, or company of light artillery; and in view of the possibility of the military organizations of the state being required for actual service in the suppression of the threatened Indian outbreak, I directed the commanders of the First and Second Infantry Regiments, and of the Artillery and Cavalry Companies to have their several commands in readiness for service in the field.
On November 27th, there was an issue of beef to the Indians at Pine Ridge. The issue was made to about 2,600 Indians, and there were some ninety-three steers issued. Each animal was turned over to the heads of families, who made up a band of thirty Indians, and this was the beef rations for two weeks. The steers were all lean and in poor condition, and the scene of turning loose the frightened creatures, the shouting, and finally the slaughtering of the poor animals, tended to increase the excitement and encourage the warlike disposition of the Indians. Twelve hundred soldiers were moved in near the agency, and four guns were planted in a position to command the main avenues of approach to the agency, during the afternoon of the same day. The excitement was further increased by the report that 4,000 hostile Indians were approaching from Rosebud Agency, distant some fifty miles or more.
Conflicting reports came from Standing Rock and Rosebud Agencies. The statement was made that Chiefs Two Strike and Short Bull, had united their bands of Rosebud Indians, and were making all preparations for war; that they had actually put on their war paint, and prepared medicine to render themselves bullet proof. Plenty Bear, a friendly Indian from Wounded Knee, brought in the report that there were 364 lodges, containing 2,000 Indians at Wounded
Knee, who were engaged in a regular war dance and were swearing vengeance upon the whites.
Chief Little Wound reported to Agent Royer, that he was unable to control or pacify his band of followers. Short Bull, one of the leading ghost dancers of the Rosebud Agency, came over to the camp of the Pine Ridge Indians with the supposed intention of forming a union of the Indians of the two agencies on the Porcupine and Medicine Root Creeks. Attempts were made to arrest Short Bull, but it was soon discovered that he had left camp with Good Thunder and other prominent ghost dancers, for the Rosebud Agency.
On November 30th, the bullet proof medicine was tested upon Chief Porcupine, at a war dance on Wolf Creek, a few miles out from Pine Ridge Agency, and as a result he was seriously wounded at the first volley, by two bullets passing through his limbs.
New stories of the most alarming character were brought into the agency daily. Reports of preparations for war near Standing Rock; of the Rosebuds starting out on a raid on Medicine Root; of hostile bands gathering on Wounded Knee Creek, near its junction with White River; of treachery among the friendly Indians at Pine Ridge Agency; and hundreds of other statements of like character, were brought in every few hours.
Special Agent Cooper and Agent Royer had a consultation with Two Strike, Crow Dog, Red Cloud, Big Road, and other chiefs, and sent instructions for all the bands of Rosebud Indians to come into the agency.
On December 1st, it was reported that the hostile Indians were massing their forces between Pine Ridge and the Bad Lands, and the situation was acknowledged by all to be very critical. . More regular troops were sent forward as speedily as possible, and the movements began to assume a military character.
On December 5th, it was reported that the hostile Rosebud Indians slept upon their arms, and were constantly prepared for an attack; that they had guards, pickets and vidette posts, and also lines of signal couriers between their camp and Pine Ridge, so that every movement of the troops would be reported to their chief in a few moments. On the same day reports came of depredations committed by the hostiles upon some half-breed Indian farmers, who came in from the White Earth River, near the mouth of Porcupine Creek. The houses and personal property upon these farms were appropriated, or destroyed, by warlike bands, moving to their camp on White River. All the settlers, whether half-breeds or Indians, were forced to either join the party, or have their property destroyed. Mr. McGaa lost a large number of horses and cattle. Mr. O'Rourke's ranch on Wounded Knee Creek was raided and much property destroyed. Mr. Stirk, William Vlandry, Mr. Cooney, Yellow Bird, Mr. Kerns, Mrs. Fisher and many others, living on the Reservation, distant from the agency from ten to thirty miles, had their ranches raided, and their property taken or destroyed.
On December 6th, General Brooke had a conference with a number of Indian chiefs at Pine Ridge. This was brought about by Father Jule, a Roman Catholic priest. The chiefs came to the conference bearing a flag of truce, armed with Winchester rifles and observing the ceremony supposed to be attendant upon distinguished warriors and chieftains. Turning Bear, Big Turkey, High Pine, Big Bad Horse and Bull Dog led the procession, mounted upon Indian ponies. Next came the head chief, Two Strike, riding in a buggy with Father Jule; these were surrounded by a body guard of four young warriors. They were all in full Indian costume, with war paint and feathers, while bunches of eagle's plumes decorated the manes and tails of their ponies, whose backs and sides were also painted in the approved fashion.
The result of the conference was fruitless. General Brooke was unable to arrive at any agreement in regard to the coming in of the hostile bands represented by these chiefs. After the powwow was over, the chiefs were given a feast, under the direction of the quartermaster, after which a grand squaw dance was given.
In the evening, a conflict between Two Strike and Short Bull arose over the leadership of the united bands. Short Bull was supported by Crow Dog, Kicking Bear, High Hawke, Eagle Pine, and in fact by nearly all of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Agency Indians. Two Strike was supported by Turning Bear, Big Turkey, High Pine, Big Bad Horse and Bull Dog, with their followers. The valley along the edge of the Bad Lands was the scene of real war among the Indians for several hours. Rifles flashed, arrows went whizzing through the air; Indians in full war costumes, mounted on painted ponies, charged and retreated and circled around the bluffs and across the plains. Several Indians were killed outright, and many others wounded before the contest was settled.
This fight among themselves resulted in a separation of the hostiles who had united a few days before, and as a result Two Strike and his followers broke camp on White River for Pine Ridge, while Short Bull, Kicking Bear, and others of his band, started farther north into the Bad Lands. General Brooke immediately sent out 300 friendly Indians to join Two Strike, go back with him, and try to bring in Short Bull and his followers. At the same time, Lieutenant Casey, with his Cheyenne scouts, and Captain Adams' Troop of the First Cavalry were started to head off Short Bull and his band, while the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Cavalry were moved hastily toward the Bad Lands.
It was now determined that two things were necessary to be done: First, to arrest Sitting Bull, who was supposed to be the real leader of the different Indian tribes, and to be the cause of all the discontent and trouble. Second, to disarm the Indians and thus place them in a condition that would make further depredations and acts of war and massacre impossible.
Sitting Bull was encamped on the Grand River, about forty miles southwest from Standing Rock Agency, and it was reported that he was preparing to move to the Bad Lands, where he could only be taken with great difficulty, and it seemed necessary to act at once.
On Saturday, December 13th, word was sent by General Miles to Major McLaughlin and Captain Fouchet that the time to act had
Orders were given to get the Indian police ready for action, and to move on Sunday with a company of infantry and Troops “F” and “G,” of the Eighth Cavalry. Accordingly this force started out for the arrest of Sitting Bull on Sunday, December 14th.
There seemed to be a quiet understanding between the officers of the Indian and military departments that it would be impossible to bring Sitting Bull to Standing Rock alive, and even if successfully captured, it would be difficult to tell what to do with him. It is therefore believed that there was a tacit arrangement between the commanding officers and the Indian police, that the death of the famous old Medicine man was much preferred to his capture, and that the slightest attempt to rescue him should be the signal for his destruction.
When the United States Troops arrived within about five miles from the
camp of Sitting Bull, a consultation was had and it was arranged that they should move within about three miles of the Indian camp, and take stations so that they could be easily signaled; and the Indian police were to advance quietly to the tepees, and proceed immediately to the lodge of Sitting Bull, so timing themselves as to arrive there at daybreak. The Indian police led the way, Captain Fouchet's cavalry following the frozen trail, hauling two pieces of light artillery; in their rear, sometimes at a double quick in the bitter cold night, Colonel Drum's infantry command marched along in the darkness.
The clusters of Indian tepees were sighted on the river bank just at daybreak, and before the Indians could realize the situation, the police had surrounded the lodge of Sitting Bull. Bull Head, Lieutenant of Police, had command. No time was given to ceremony. A warrant, or order, for the arrest of the old chief and medicine man was produced. He was hustled out of the lodge in the presence of his two sons, and hoisted upon a horse. A loud shout, or cry, said to have been given by one of his sons, was interpreted into an attempt at rescue, and the firing from the police commenced. Bull Head, the lieutenant in command of the police, without hesitating a moment, shot Sitting Bull through the breast, killing him instantly. An answering shot from the Winchester of one of Sitting Bull's followers, mortally wounded Bull Head. This shot was answered by a volley from the police, and the firing then became general, when Captain Fouchet's command dashed up with their carbines, and also with their light artillery, and opened fire upon the Indians. They immediately fled toward the river, but were followed only a short distance by the cavalry. Sitting Bull's two sons, the elder named Black Bird, and the younger, Crow Foot, the latter being only twelve years old, were both killed. Sitting Bull's wives and daughters were not injured, and remained in their camp after the engagement, under the charge of one of the Indian police named Gray Eagle. Captain Fouchet took charge of the body of Sitting Bull, which was not mutilated, or scalped, as reported by some, and had the same taken 10 Fort Yates, North Dakota, where it was decently buried in a coftin.
Instead of causing relief and allaying apprehension, the death of Sitting Bull produced great excitement among both friendlies and