Echoes Of The Little Bighorn

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I knew him well in his winter years. During a visit in the early fifties, I asked him if he had indeed been able to forgive the soldiers who had wounded him and had slain his family.

“I am sorry for all that happened at Wounded Knee,” he said, combing his bony fingers through hair still black and glossy. “But now my heart is full and warm with friendship for the white man.”

Beard proved it when his grown son Tommy, his only living offspring, died of the “white man’s sickness” - tuberculosis. I tried to help him through his heartbreak. Turning briefly from his sorrow, the old fellow named me his son to take his beloved Tommy’s place an honor I gratefully accepted.

When my wife Jan and I were married in Rapid City, South Dakota, in July, 1954, none of our parents, hers or mine, were able to be with us. Filling the gap, Dewey and Alice came forward to shake our hands and wish us well. Beard had a folded cloth under one arm. As he shook it free, I saw it was an old-time courting blanket brilliant red and green with a beaded strip dividing the colors—which I knew Alice had painstakingly made. He silently draped it, first around my shoulder, then Jan’s, encircling us together in the Sioux fashion of marriage. Then, speaking our Sioux names, he told us we were “one, now and always.” With the death of Sitting Bull’s deaf-mute son, John, in May, 1955, Beard became the last survivor —Indian or white—of Ouster’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn. He died the following November, the final, grand old patriarch of the fighting Sioux.

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