- Historic Sites
Graves And Grizzlies
A search for a desecrated corpse, an encounter with a 900-pound bear, and a night of terror in Montana, 1879.
June 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 4
I could see the mute despair, the growing fear in her eyes, for she had been so confident she could find the place. I knew she was seeing again the lost grave of her father, torn and desecrated by ghoulish hands, while she, after coming so far, could do nothing to perform a sacred duty and restore her father’s remains to mother earth, in accordance with the ancient rites of her people.
For several moments she sat silent. Then her pentup feelings gave away to a flood of tears. Again, as at the Big Hole battlefield, her wails of sorrow rang out up and down through this silent gulch, but this time to come back to us reverberating from the towering hills, as though the fiends of hell were laughing and mocking her grief. Standing by her side, helpless, I felt that it would not take much more to cause me to join in the mourning. Finally, I lifted her to her feet and as we stood there among those hills, I felt that I wanted to find the grave of Gray Eagle as badly as she did. I said, “Don’t cry, we will find him yet; we now must go back to camp and tomorrow we will have better luck; it must be in some other gulch.” She replied, “There is no use coming up here again; this is not the place and I was so sure it was.”
Our walk back to camp seemed a continuous funeral for us. We said nothing to each other. After I had chased the horses up the trail so they wouldn’t take the back trail in the night, keeping one of them on picket in camp, I told Susie if she had given up hope of finding her father’s grave, I had not. We would look around in some of the other gulches up the trail tomorrow. She replied rather hopelessly, “Where are you going to look now in all this big country?”
Early next morning I started out to round up the horses, and following up the trail, I came to another side gulch into which the horses had gone. I followed their trail up this gulch a short way, and soon began to wonder if this was not the gulch we were looking for. This one answered the description even to the thickets, and I was convinced that it was the right one, but I did not stop to look for the graves. Riding on up to the low summit of the hill, I found the horses, hastily rounded them up, and struck back for camp on the run. Susie must have observed something out of the ordinary from my expression, because she immediately said, “I know you have found the right place. Hurry. Eat and we will go.” I told her not to be too sure of that. I merely had found what I thought was the right gulch, but not the grave of her father. While I was eating, she saddled up her horse and in her eagerness to be off would not take time for breakfast. We were soon on our way. We rode up the trail to this gulch and soon came to the second thicket of pines. Dismounting, we tied our horses.
We had no trouble in finding the grave. It had been opened, and not by bears or wolves. The half-bleached skeleton of Gray Eagle was lying alongside the shallow pit. The pine saplings had been pulled out, and were piled at one side, with most of the needles dropped off under them, showing only too plainly that the saplings had been removed soon after the burial.
Susie saw all this, and her wailing death cry again echoed through the silent gulch and hills. “Yaw, yaw, I know now why my father’s spirit came back from the land of the dead and would not let me sleep in the night,” she cried. “It was the one-armed white chief’s bad Injun and white men scouts who done this, they pulled him out and scalped him.”
I examined the shallow pit to see if any of the trinkets or objects buried with him could be found. I scooped in the dirt with my hands, but the vandals had made a clean sweep. Nothing remained but Gray Eagle’s half-bleached skeleton with a few wisps of long hair. I could not tell if he had been scalped, but In-who-lise was sure that he had, or why had they dug him up? Also, why was most of his hair gone? He had been sewed in a blanket, In-who-lise said, and with him had been placed several articles, among them an old cap-and-ball navy six-shooter, and there were copper wire bracelets of three or four coils on his wrists.
I now proposed that we look for the grave of Red Heart and then return to camp for the axe, as I would have to make some kind of a shovel. After she got over her wailing, I succeeded in getting her started for the next thicket, about seventy-five yards above and on the opposite side of the gulch from where Gray Eagle had been buried. Arriving there, we found that Red Heart also had been disinterred. It looked as though the ones who had done this had pulled him out of the loose dirt covering him, leaving the legs partly in the grave, the shoulders leaning above on the rim of the pit. It was an awful sight to see. No pine saplings had been stuck up on this grave and Susie did not know what objects had been buried with him. Anyway, there was nothing left in sight.