Echoes Of The Little Bighorn


I slept late the morning of the fight. The day before, I had been hunting buffalo and I had to ride far to find the herds because there were so many people in the valley. I came back with meat, but I was very tired. So when I got up, the camp women were already starting out to dig for wild turnips. Two of my uncles had left early for another buffalo hunt. Only my grandmother and a third uncle were in the tepee, and the sun was high overhead and hot. I walked to the river to take a cool swim, then got hungry and returned to the tepee at dinner time I noon I.

“When you finish eating,” my uncle said, “go to our horses. Something might happen today. I feel it in the air.”

I hurried to Muskrat Creek and joined my younger brother, who was herding the family horses. By the time I reached the herd, I heard shouting in the village. People were yelling that white soldiers were riding toward the camp.

I climbed Black Butte for a look around the country. I saw a long column of soldiers coming and a large party of Hunkpapa warriors, led by Sitting Bull’s nephew, One Bull, riding out to meet them. I could see One Bull’s hand raised in the peaee sign to show the soldiers that our leaders only wanted to talk them into going away and leaving us alone. But all at once the soldiers spread out for attack and began to fire, and the light was on. I caught my favorite war pony, a small buckskin mustang I called Sunkmvakan Zi Chischila [Little Yellow Horse] and raced him back to camp to get ready for battle.

I had no time to paint Zi Chischila properly for making war, just a minute or so to braid his tail and to daub a few white hail spots of paint on my own forehead for protection before I galloped out on the little buckskin to help defend the camp. I met four other Lakotas riding fast. Three were veteran fighters, armed with rifles; the other was young like me and carried a bow and arrows as I did. One of the veterans went down. I saw my chance to act bravely and filled the gap. We all turned when we heard shooting at the far side of the village nearest the Miniconjou camp circle and rode fast to meet this new danger. I could see swirls of dust and hear shooting on the hills and bluffs across the river. Hundreds of other warriors joined us as we splashed across the ford near our camp and raced up the hills to charge into the thickest of the fighting.

This new battle was a turmoil of dust and warriors and soldiers, with bullets whining and arrows hissing all around. Sometimes a bugle would sound and the shooting would get louder. Some of the soldiers were firing pistols at close range. Our knives and war clubs flashed in the sun. I could hear bullets whiz past my ears. But I kept going and shouting, “It’s a good day to die!” so that everyone who heard would know I was not afraid of being killed in battle.

Then a Lakota named Spotted Rabbit rode unarmed among us, calling out a challenge to all the warriors to join him. He shouted, “Let’s take their leader alive!” I had no thought of what we would do with this leader once we caught him; it was a daring feat that required more courage and much more skill than killing him. I dug my heels into my pony’s flanks to urge him on faster to take part in the capture.

A tall white man in buckskins kept shouting; at the soldiers and looked to be their leader. Following Spotted Rabbit, I charged toward this leader in buckskins. VVc were almost on top of him when Spotted Rabbit’s pony was shot from under him. Zi Chischila shied to one side, and it was too late. A Miniconjou named Charging Hawk rushed in and shot the leader at close range. In a little while all the soldiers were dead. The battle was over.

The soldier chief we had tried to capture lay on the ground with the reins of his horse’s bridle tied to his wrist. It was a fine animal, a blaze-faced sorrel with four white stockings. A Santee named Walks-Under-the-Ground took that horse.∗ Then he told everyone that the leader lying there dead was Long Hair; so that was the first I knew who we had been fighting. 1 thought it was a strange name for a soldier chief who had his hair cut short.

‘Sometimes more properly translated as “Sounds-the-Ground-as-HeWalks,” this was a son of lnkpadula .

Our attempt to save Long Hair’s life had failed. But we all felt good about our victory over the soldiers and celebrated with a big scalp dance. But our triumph was hollow. A winter or so later more soldiers came to round us up on reservations. There were too many of them to fight now. VVe were split up into bands and no longer felt strong. At last we were ready for peace and believed we would have no more trouble.

Beard tried to settle down and raise a family with Chief Big Foot’s band of Miniconjous on the Cheyenne River. The old life was nearly over. White hide-hunters almost finished off the buffalo herds in the i88o’s. Attempting to follow the white man’s road, the Sioux did not take kindly to reservation life. Times were hard, and government beef rations were far from sufficient to sustain the Indians.