“After I Got to Montana, My Sympathies Was With the Indians”
BY TEDDY BLUE ABBOTT
It was just about the time of the big chinook that came in March 1884, and a few snowdrifts still showed up, when a Cheyenne named Black Wolf and his immediate family of seven lodges came over from Tongue River to the Rosebud on a visit to the other Indians. They camped at the mouth of lame deer Creek, near where two partners name Zook and Alderson had a ranch. One day the chief, Black Wolf, went up to this ranch by himself, and the boys gave him dinner. There was just two of them there at the time, a fellow named Sawney Tolliver, from Kentucky originally, and another whose name I don’t remember.
After Black Wolf had filled up, like at Indian would, he walked out and sat down in the sun on some poles, and he went to sleep. He had an old black stovepipe hat on, and this Tolliver stood at the door of the ranch house and said to the other fellow: “I’ll bet you a dollar I can shoot a hole through his hat without hitting his head.”
The fellow took him up, and Tolliver throwed down on the Indian, and he just creased him along his scalp. You could lay your finger in the mark. It knocked him out and they thought they had killed him. So they got on their horses and rode to the next ranch to get help, because they expected to have hell with the Indians, and they expected right. When they got back to the ranch with their reinforce-ments, Black Wolf was gone. But they knew the Indians would be coming just the same, and pretty soon they come and commenced shooting. When the other cowboys saw how many Indians there was, they just stampeded it off, because they had no stomach for the business anyhow. It was a damn fool trick that caused the trouble. Tolliver left, too, quit the country. If he’d been caught, he’d have gone to jail, you bet, and he knew it. The soldiers would have seen to that.
The Indians went to work and burnt the house down, and shot the dog, and then they quit right there. Hank Thompson told me that in talking about it after-wards they put their two forefingers together, which is the sign meaning “we are even.” Some people claim that they stole some provisions out of the house, coffee and so on, and that the stuff was found in their teepees after they surrendered. I don’t know, I didn’t go in the tepees. My sympathies was with the Indians.
The cowboys who ran away got word to the soldiers and to the sheriff in Miles City that the Cheyennes had broke out. The first we knew of it over at the FUF was when my friend Billy Smith, the stock inspector, who was in charge of the sheriff’s posse, turned up at the ranch calling for help to arrest the Indians and protect a couple of white families that were in danger at the mouth of Lame Deer. By this time it was two days after the shooting, because it was one long days ride of ninety or a hundred miles to Miles City, and another one to the FUF. We ate dinner and got on our horses, and along about 2 A.M., we got to one of these white families at the mouth of the Lame Deer, where the posse was supposed to rendezvous. We found them all up and scared to death—though the Indians hadn’t done a damn thing yet, only burn down the house where there man had been shot. It was lucky he didn’t die, or there would have been hell.
Next day the posse divided, and fourteen of us, keeping this side of the Rosebud, rode away around and tied our horses in some brush, left two men with them, and after dark crawled up to where we were in between the Rosebud and the Indian camp. It makes me shiver yet when I think of the chance we took. There was no shelter whatever. We were right up against a high cut bank, with the river running fast and churning ice below us, so there was no way out in that direction. The teepees were about seventy five yards in front of us and a bright moon was shining. Some of the others said the Indians were asleep. My God, I could look into the teepee right opposite me and see the moonlight shining off the barrel of his gun–because they always polish off that black stuff–and I imagined I could see the hole at the end of the barrel, And it followed me everywhere.
At daylight Hank Thompson and the deputy from Miles City rode into the Indian camp, and believe me that was a brave thing to do. But the Indians liked Hank and trusted him completely. He called to Black Wolf in Cheyenne who they were, and Black Wolf invited them into his teepee and called all the other warriors into counsel. That’s when they told Hank they were even. They hadn’t done nothing wrong in there estimation.
The old fella, Black Wolf, was very tall and dignified, and he had a great big piece of buffalo manure tied on his head over the wound. Hank told him they were surrounded and asked them to surrender, and they all talked and argued. One Indian, Howling Wolf, was determined to fight, not surrender, and he kept tongue–lashing the others; he was all hate, and a white man knew he was dangerous and they was watching him.
Out on the bank we could hear the talking going on, but we couldn’t hear what they said or which way it was going until all of a sudden Hank Thompson’s voice rang out clear, in English, speaking to Louis King. He said: “If anything starts, get that Indian that’s doing the talking.”
And Louis said: “I’ll get him right between the eyes.”
We expected any second to hear the shooting starting, after that, and if it hadn’t started, God help us. I figure they would have got at least six of us outside, beside the two in the teepee. And we laid there cramped and shivering in the early morning cold—we had been there three hours already, and we waited. And we waited some more. During the World War I read about men going over the top, and I know what it is like. It’s the waiting that gets you. You feel your whole self go down in your boots, and you feel the gun in your hand–and then you wait another half hour.
And all the time Hang Thompson was talking, talking in Cheyenne, explaining things to the Indians and promising that they would get a square deal if they surrendered. And after a while Black Wolf, who was the sub chief at the head of this little bunch, agreed. And the Indians all walked out, thirteen of them, and gave up their guns. They built a big fire then, and we came in and surround them and searched them for knives. All but one young brave named Pine had given them up, and he put up a big fight for his knife, which he had in his breach clout, and they couldn’t get it away from him. But Black Wolf made him give it up. They’re obedient in all things to the chief.
We had an awful narrow squeak in that camp, even after the surrender. When we came in and surrounded them, we didn’t bother the women, naturally. It was breakfast time and they were busy around the camp, going back and forth to the river for water. And four or five would go down to the river, and three or four we come back. And three would go down, and two would come back…. And they kept that up until there was only one old woman left in that camp. There was a trail that led around through some brush, on the top of the cut bank, and they was crawling along the trail on their hands and knees, going to get word to the whole tribe, which was camped only six miles away.
One of our posse happened to see the head and shoulders of one squaw, and she crawled along where the trail went out of the brush a little way, and that woke him up. He took one look around the camp and yelled: “Where the hell is all the women?” After that they rounded them up and brought them back. There was two or three hundred Indians in that bunch six miles away, and if those women had gotten through to them, it would have been the end of us.
After we had disarmed the Indians, we marched them down to Gaffney’s house, that was one of the white families I mentioned at the mouth of Lame Deer. And there I was sworn in as a special deputy, on account of Billy Smith knowing me before. Billy Smith was in charge of the posse. We got our breakfast down there, and Mrs. Gaffney done the cooking for all of us and the Indians, too. After breakfast we loaded the Indians in a wagon and started off for Miles City, where they were to be tried.
There was a lot of things happening in that Indian camp after I left that I only know about through hearsay. Frank Abbott, who came over with the rest of us from the FUF, says there was a young squaw, Pine’s squaw, that had only been married two weeks, and she tried to follow her husband, and he says he has always been sorry for the way they had to treat her to make her go back. But he was disgusted to beat everything with the whole affair, and we was all disgusted when we found out what it was all about, and what danger we had been in for a damn fool trick. Frank says the squaw tried to go to Miles City, while the Indians were in prison before the trial, and was drowned crossing Tongue River. But I couldn’t say as to that, because I never heard anything more about it.
We got down to Carpenter and Robinson’s ranch just before dark, and there we heard that the Tolliver’s hadn’t made enough trouble yet, because Sawney Tolliver’s brother, Brownie, had said he was going to follow us with a bunch of men and going to shoot the Indians in the wagon. Unarmed Indians. Sawney was in Wyoming by this time. Billy Smith left word at the ranch that if anybody followed us and tried to meddle with the Indians, we would shoot them down like dogs. Those Indians had surrendered without firing a shot.
And that wasn’t the only reason that we felt as we did. There was only six of us in the posse that took them to Miles City, and if those thirteen Indians had all give a yell and jumped for it out of the wagon, in the night, we’d never have hit a one of them. But they’d given their word. Or Black Wolf had, and what he said went for the rest of them. They always look to the chief.
In the meanwhile there was still this main bunch of two or three hundred Indians only six miles up from the mouth of Lame Deer, and they’d have jumped the whole United States Army if their chief had given the word. But he didn’t give the word. And there again we owed everything to the honor of an Indian.
For on our way to Carpenter and Robinson’s that afternoon we saw this one teepee, out from the side of the road. It was the teepee of Little Wolf, the war chief of all the Cheyennes, who was camped out there by himself. And Hank Thompson Road over to him and begged and pleaded with him to give his word that he would stay where he was for another twenty four hours instead of going in to join his tribe. This would give us a chance to get to Miles City. For Little Wolf was the Cheyennes great chief, who had let them up here in ‘78, and they would not move without him.
He finally promised to stay where he was, and he kept his promise, and that saved all our lives. He was a wise leader as well as a great fighter, Little Wolf was, and I believe he was wise enough not to want any more trouble with the white man. He had had plenty of it, and I believe he knew that the white man was bound to win in the end.
We traveled all that night, the six of us and the Indians. I kept going to sleep in the saddle, because it was the second night for me, and I remember Billy Smith jerking my horse’s head up when he went to grazing on me. About daybreak we got to Rosebud station on the Northern Pacific, and we waited there for the train to take us to Miles City. And there I claimed this young Indian, Pine, that wouldn’t give up his knife, for my Indian, my friend, and I looked after him as best I could. He was one of the best-looking Indians I ever saw, six feet, one or two inches tall and straight as a string. And he was brave–he fought for his knife–and I was sure stuck on him.
We all ate there, while we was waiting for the train, and I handed Pine the grub and water first, but he always handed them to the chief–everything for the chief. And after they had eaten they all wrapped up in their blankets and laid down on their stomachs and went to sleep. And so did I – right beside Pine.
By and by the train came, and we all got on it and went to Miles City. The whole town went out to see us come in with the Indians. At the station we loaded them all in a bus, to take them to the jail at the fort, and I was on top of the bus, so everybody thought I was the cowboy that done the shooting. There was a very popular demi-mondaine by the name of Willie Johnson, who was running Kit Hardiman’s honky-tonk, as I have mentioned before, and I remember she came to the door of the house and hollered: “Stay with it, Blue! Don’t you weaken!” When we turned the Indians over to the authorities at Fort Keogh, Major Logan, the commanding officer, was as sore as a boil. He said, here was the Indians but where was the fellow that started the trouble? And when they told him he was out of the country by that time, Major Logan said the posse was a hell of an outfit and gave us the devil, until, as Billy Smith said afterwards, if he’d had one more word out of him, he’d have hit him over the head with his six shooter.
I’ll tell you something about soldiers. At the first news of the outbreak they started a company of them from Fort Keogh, with the a cannon. And when they got up to Miles City with the Indians, the soldiers had gone just forty miles, which was less than half the distance to the scene of the trouble, in the same time it took the sheriff’s posse to go clear down to the mouth of Lame Deer and get the Indians and get back.
But that’s the way they always was in the Army–had to go by West Point regulations; had to build a campfire in a certain position from the tent regardless of the way the wind was blowing. They was no earthly good on the frontier.
Well, the thirteen Indians was shut up under guard, and the next morning the whole Cheyenne tribe road into Miles City. The people were scared to death. They didn’t know what was going to happen. But the Indian prisoners had been guaranteed a fair trial, and Hank Thompson was among the Cheyennes all the time, talking to them like a Dutch uncle. So nothing happened. They finally fixed it all up. Four of the Indians plead guilty to burning the ranch house and got a year apiece in the pen, and they turned the rest loose. One of them died up there of grief.
While they were all in jail, I went to see Pine every day, and took him presents of tailor-made cigarettes and candy and stuff. And I told him I’d get him out of it, and luckily he did get out of it, and he was my friend for life. The last day he took a silver ring off his finger and gave it to me. The ring had a little shield, and on the shield it said “C Co 7 Cav.” That was Tom Custer’s company, and Pine took it off the finger of one of Tom Custer’s soldiers at the fight, and he was in that fight when he was not yet fourteen years old. The ring was too small for me, and I wore it around my neck for years, but in the end somebody got away with it.
That business at the mouth of the Lame Deer opened my eyes to a lot of things about the Indians. I had it in for them before that, but it was due to ignorance. I had seen a lot of them, but I never associated with them the way I did after I got up to Montana. From that time I was on their side, because I saw that when trouble started, more often than not it was the white man’s fault.
Not three months after the so-called outbreak I have been telling about, there was another mixup with the Cheyennes, and it started in the very same outfit– Zook and Alderson. After the Indians burned their ranch on Lame Deer, they moved the outfit, and instead of staying away from these Indians they moved right up into the thick of them, on Hanging Woman, which is another Creek in the Tongue River country. It almost seemed like they were looking for trouble: yet that couldn’t have been true, because Alderson and his partner were both nice fellows and I believe they were away, both times, when the trouble occurred.
It was during the spring round up, and they were all out with the round up except a cowboy named Packsaddle Jack and a couple of others, who were breaking horses at the ranch. Packsaddle Jack was bringing in his horses, early one morning, and they was a Cheyenne named Iron Shirt who had a little garden near there – corn and pumpkins and stuff. And Packsaddle drove his horses right over the Indians garden, and when the Indian come out and objected, Packsaddle shot him in the arm.
Well, there was a lot of riding around and excitement, the same story all over again. Except that some of the cowpunchers had got their belly full by this time. And when a couple of fellows from Zook and Alderson’s rode over to the round up and asked for men to help defend the ranch, Jesse Garland, the round up captain, told them to go to hell. He said: “You got us into one jackpot this spring, and I won’t allow a man to leave this roundup.”
It all blew over. The Cheyennes knew they were beaten, and they were trying to keep the peace. Packsaddle Jack was tried in Miles City that fall and acquitted. And the rest of us were going against those fighting Indians on account of any more damned foolishness like that.
But it led to more and still more trouble. Several white men were found dead. Then another white man got killed by two young Indians in a fuss over a cow, which he said they had butchered, and I don’t doubt they had. The chief sent word for them to come in, as the tribe would get into trouble for it, and he was going to punish them. They sent word back that they would not come, but in their own way.
And they went up on top of a hill, and they sang their death songs, and painted themselves, and braided their horses manes. And then they rode down from the hill, just the two of them, and charged two companies of soldiers that were sent out to arrest them. Which shows you the desperate courage of those Cheyennes.
I forgot to tell you about one thing that happened that next morning on the Rosebud. While we were laying out there in the grass, half froze and waiting for all hello to break loose out of that teepee, I saw an old Indian go up a hill and pray to the sun. It was just coming up, and the top of the hill was red with it, and we were down there shivering in the shadow. And he was way off on the hill, and he held up his arms, and oh, God, but did he talk to the Great Spirit about the wrongs the white man had done to his people. I never have heard such a voice. It must have carried a couple of miles.
I have noticed that what you see when you are cold and scared is what you remember, and that is the site I will never forget. I am glad that I saw it. Because nobody will ever see it again.
From We Pointed Them North. First published in 1939. Reprinted with permission, University of Oklahoma Press.