- Historic Sites
Echoes Of The Little Bighorn
June 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 4
Spreading his hands to indicate a large circle, he said:
The Shahiyela [Cheyenne] camp \vas farthest north. We Oglala were ramped just southeast of them, with the Br’fblé in a smaller circle next to us. Next were the Sans Arc, then the Miniconjou, the Blackfoot Sioux, and farthest south next to the river were the Hunkpapa. I was twenty-eight years old that summer.
While we were together in this village, I spent most of my time with the Shahiyela since 1 knew their tongue and their ways almost as well as my own. In all those years I had never taken a wife, although I had had many women. One woman I wanted was a pretty young . Shahiyela named Monahseetah, or Meotxi as I called her. She was in her middle twenties but had never married any man of her tribe. Some of my Shahiyela friends said she was from the southern branch of their tribe, just visiting up north, and they said no Shahiyela could marry her because she had a seven-year-old son born out of wedlock and that tribal law forbade her getting married. They said the boy’s father had been a white soldier chief named Long Hair; he had killed her father, Chief Black Kettle, in a battle in the south [Battle of the Washita] eight winters before, they said, and captured her. He had told her he wanted to make her his second wife, and so he had her. But after while his Rrst wife, a white woman, found her out and made him let her go.
“Was this boy still with her here?” I asked him.
Yes, I saw him often around the Shahiyela camp. He was named Yellow Bird and he had light streaks in his hair. He was always with his mother in the daytime, so I would have to wait until night to try to talk to her alone. She knew I wanted to walk with her under a courting blanket and make her my wile. But she would only talk with me through the tepee cover and never came outside.
White Cow Bull sat silent a few minutes, musing on the past, I suppose, and remembering the Cheyenne girl Long Hair Custer had dishonored in the eyes of her people. I^ater interviews corroborated the old Oglala s statement that Monahseetah and Yellow Bird had been in the Little Bighorn camp at the time of the fight, many of my Cheyenne informants insisting that their strict moral code, more rigid than that of the Sioux, imposed restrictions on their relationships with fallen women. I was already familiar with various accounts of Custer s winter campaign against the Southern Cheyenne in 1868, in several of which Monahseetah is mentioned as having served Custer as an interpreter—although she apparently then spoke no English!
“Tell me about the battle with Long Hair,” 1 said.
That morning many of the Oglalas were sleeping laic. I he night before, we held a scalp dance to celebrate the victory over Gray Pox [General Grook] on the Rosebud a week before. I woke up hungry and went to a nearby tepee to ask an old woman for food. As I ate, she said:
“Today attackers are coming.”
“How do you know, Grandmother?” I asked her, but she would say nothing more about it.
After I finished eating I caught my best pony, an iron-gray gelding, and rode over to the Cheyenne camp circle. I looked all over for Meotzi and finally saw her carrying firewood up from the river. The boy was with her, so I just smiled and said nothing. I rode on to visit with my Shahiyela friend Roan Bear. He was a Fox warrior, belonging to one of that tribe’s soldier societies, and was on guard duty that morning. He was stationed by the Shahiyela medicine tepee in which the tribe kept their Sacred Buffalo Head.…We settled down to telling each other some of our brave deeds in the past. The morning went by quickly, for an Elk warrior named Bobtail Horse joined us to tell us stories about his chief, Dull Knife, who was not there that day.
The first we knew of any attack was after midday, when we saw dust and heard shooting way to the south near the Hunkpapa camp circle.…
Just then an Oglala came riding into the circle at a gallop.
“Soldiers are coming!” he shouted in Sioux. “Many white men are attacking!”
I put this into a shout of Shahiyela words so they would know. I saw the Shahiyela chief, Two Moon, run into camp from the river, leading three or four horses. He hurried toward his tepee, yelling:
” Natskaveho! White soldiers are coming! Everybody run for your horses!”
“ Hay-ay! llay-ay! ” The Shahiyela warriors shouted their war cry, waiting in a big band for Two Moon to lead them into battle.
“Warriors, don’t run away if the soldiers charge you,” he told them. “Stand and fight them. Watch me. I’ll stand even if I am sure to be killed!”
It was a brave-up talk to make them strong in their fight. Two Moon led them out at a gallop…
After Two Moon’s band loft to fight Major Reno, a new threat developed from Custer’s detachment advancing down Medicine Tail coulee toward the river and the Cheyenne camp.
“They’re coming this way!” Bobtail Horse shouted. “Across the ford! We must stop them!”