- Historic Sites
The Ordeal of Plenty Horses
Caught between two cultures, a young Sioux sought to make himself a hero—by killing an army officer
December 1974 | Volume 26, Issue 1
The next day Plenty Horses joined with other young men in attacking and routing the 7th Cavalry at Drexel Mission, then rode down White Clay Valley to the big camp at No Water. It rocked with intense excitement. Inflamed by Wounded Knee, the Indians danced the Ghost Dance and worked to erect defenses against the attack they feared would come. On the morning of January 7, Plenty Horses later stated, “I was out from the camp watching that no troops came to harm my father and relatives. Of course I was in a bad frame of mind. Our home was destroyed, our family separated, and all hope of good times was gone. There was nothing to live for.”
Plenty Horses was one of a party of about forty Sioux that chanced on Casey and two Cheyenne scouts, White Moon and Rock Road, on the slope of a low hill about two and a half miles north of the No Water camp. After a round of friendly handshaking and an exchange of pleasantries most of the Sioux drifted down the hillside to where other Indians were butchering cattle. About ten, including Plenty Horses, remained to talk with the white officer. Through Rock Road, who could speak a little English, Casey asked if one of the Indians would volunteer to ride back to the village and persuade some of the chiefs, perhaps even Red Cloud, to come out for a parley. Old Broken Arm, whose left arm hanging limp at his side explained his name, turned to a tall slender man with a painted face named Bear Lying Down and directed him to carry the message. Bear Lying Down had married a sister of Plenty Horses’ mother and thus was his uncle.
As Bear Lying Down galloped up the valley Casey, for reasons that are not apparent, sent Rock Road back to White River. Then he proceeded at a slow walk, following the trail of Bear Lying Down. Plenty Horses rode beside him, and they conversed in English. White Moon and Broken Arm followed.
At the No Water village Bear Lying Down interrupted a council in Red Cloud’s tepee, where some of the chiefs had been debating whether to heed General Miles’s appeal to come to the agency for peace talks. The invitation had been relayed by Pete Richard. Richard was one of a veritable tribe of mixed-bloods, part French and part Indian, that moved comfortably in both white and Indian worlds. Several generations of Richards (or Reshaws) had figured conspicuously in Sioux affairs for a half century. Of massive frame, swarthy countenance, and bristling black mustache and eyebrows, he spoke English haltingly and with a heavy French accent. He handled Sioux much better, and as Red Cloud’s son-in-law he carried considerable influence with the chiefs. They had just decided to hold a conference with Miles when He Dog, who was Red Cloud’s nephew and an Oglala subchief in his own right, came in with Bear Lying Down. After listening to Casey’s message Red Cloud told Pete Richard to hurry out and warn the officer to turn back, that the vicinity was full of crazy young bucks who might kill him, and that Red Cloud and others had already agreed to go to the agency the very next day and talk with General Miles.
Richard and Bear Lying Down met Casey and his companions about one and a half miles from the Sioux camp. After shaking hands all around they sat their horses in a rough circle while Richard and Casey talked. As Richard later described the meeting:
The Lieutenant shook hands with me, and I asked him where he was going, and he answered, “General Brooke sent me down here.” I then told him that he had better go back, and that Red Cloud had sent me down to tell him so, and that the Chiefs were going in to see General Miles the next day. He then asked me if it would be safe to go to the top of the hill above the camp. I told him that he had better go home at once for the young fellows were just the same as if they were drunk or crazy. I then showed Lieutenant Casey a pass that General Miles had given me, and told him that if Red Cloud could not come into the Agency, he would steal away and go to General Brooke’s camp. I then told him again to go away at once, and he said he would go.…
During this conversation Plenty Horses had slowly backed his horse out of the circle and posted himself about three or four feet behind Casey. As Richard and the officer wheeled their horses to depart Plenty Horses took his Winchester from under his blanket, calmly raised it to his shoulder, and fired one shot. The bullet tore into the back of Casey’s head and came out just under the right eye. The horse reared and pitched its rider from the saddle. Casey crashed to the ground on his face, dead.
White Moon started to leave, but Richard called him back and told him to take Casey’s horse and accouterments with him. White Moon refused all but the horse. Broken Arm dismounted and turning the dead man on his back opened his overcoat and took his two pistols. Plenty Horses, meanwhile, had begun to ride slowly toward the village. “Why don’t you shoot Plenty Horses?” White Moon asked Richard in sign language. “Why don’t you shoot him yourself?” Richard signalled back. Dispatching Bear Lying Down to alert Red Cloud to the killing, Richard accompanied the Cheyenne scout down the valley to report to General Brooke. That afternoon Casey’s scouts, now commanded by Lieutenant Robert N. Getty, rode out to recover the body of their beloved Big Nose.