Front Page Indians

10 May 2021

Stories from the front pages of South Dakota newspapers 130 years ago this week are presented below in chronological order from May 10 to May 16, 1891. Four and a half months earlier, on December 29, 1890, U.S. soldiers had slaughtered around 300 children, women and men at Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge Reservation. That massacre is referenced, directly or indirectly, in three of the seven stories.

Sunday, May 10, 1891. The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (Deadwood). “Among the arrivals in the city yesterday was Dr. M’Gillycuddy, of Rapid... Dr. M’Gillycuddy had his usual Indian story to relate. The doctor seems to think that although an Indian outbreak the present year is not to be thought of and will not happen, that a great big one is sure to come some day and that the Indians are but nursing their wrath to keep it warm.”

Monday, May 11, 1891. Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls). “Pierre, May 11. –Today is ration day at Fort Bennett and all Indians are receiving pay for ponies lost in the Custer campaign at $40 each. It is estimated that the amount will reach $100,000.”

Tuesday, May 12, 1891. Rapid City Journal (Rapid City). “Hugh McMahon, superintendent of waterworks, has received a letter from Dr. Dorchester asking estimates of cost of extending the water mains to the Indian school.”

Wednesday, May 13, 1891. Queen City Mail (Spearfish). “Hard Rope, a well-dressed Cheyenne Indian, came down in the Miles City hack last night. He departed this morning for his home at Pine Ridge. He smoked his cigarette like a white man, but it was very little information that the reporter could get from him. His answers to interrogations were given in monosyllables, and but few of them. He admitted his inability to write, but had every appearance of being able to make his mark after the fashion of his race—on the white man’s skull with tomahawk and scalping knife.”

Thursday, May 14, 1891. Spearfish Weekly Register (Spearfish). “Tom Sun, an old Indian scout, who owns a prosperous ranch on Sweetwater, Wyoming, has been spending a week in Ogden and vicinity. He has sold his bunch of cattle numbering 5,000. He purchased a carload of horses here and shipped them to Rawlin, from whence they will be driven to his ranch, located on the Pacific Short Line. –Ogden Utah, Standard.”

Friday, May 15, 1891. The Mitchell Capital (Mitchell). “The thrifty citizens of Watertown are considerably disgruntled because the Secretary of the Interior has ordered the money due the Sisseton and Wahpeton Indians to be paid out at the agency instead of in Watertown. This may be a little hard on the shopkeepers of the place but it seems no more than fair not to compel the Indians to come to town unless they wish to.”

Saturday, May 16, 1891. Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls). “Sturgis, May 16. –The grand jury, which is in session here and has been investigating the murder of the Indian Few Tails, has returned indictments against five persons, including the three Culberton brothers, and two others. These are all hard characters and the evidence against them is overwhelming. Sheriff Beaver is out after [the Culber]tons at Rapid City and Marshal Mathewson is after the others. The prosecution has been conducted by the state’s attorney here, who has been ably assisted by the assistant United States attorney.  It is not likely that any trial can be had before October, but a conviction will then be surely made. The story of the killing of Few Tails is an interesting one, and from the evidence gathered here was as follows:

“Early in November last, before the so-called outbreak took place at Pine Ridge agency, one of the most reliable and progressive Indians of that agency, an Oglalalla Sioux—Few Tails by name—a near relative of the hereditary chief, Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, obtained a pass from the United States Indian agent for the purpose of hunting antelope and other game north of the Black Hills, and departed for the hunting grounds with seven or eight of his people, including women and children, traveling in two wagons. Early in January, in total ignorance of the fact that there had been an outbreak or disturbance at their agency, they started south on their way home, with the wagons loaded with game.

“On the evening of January 10 they had reached a point on their homeward trip, at the mouth of Alkali creek and the Belle Fourche, or north fork of the Cheyenne river, in Meade county, S.D., about forty-five miles from Rapid City, and 130 miles from their agency, where they went into camp. About one-half mile away on the opposite side of the creek was situated a horse ranch. In this ranch were the following named white men: Three Culberton brothers and Messrs. Nettleson, Mervin and Joults. These six men visited the Indians’ camp during, while Few Tails was absent hunting, examined the lodges for arms, joked with the Indians and soon after returned to their ranch.

“At the ranch during the night they consulted together and decided to add to their already well-known reputation as horse thieves and border ruffians by next morning, Sunday, waylaying the Indians. The next morning early the Indians broke camp and while loading up their wagons they were visited by a sergeant of the Seventh United States infantry, who was in camp with four privates two and one-half miles away in Belle Fourche valley. Everything was quiet and the sergeant departed.

 “A short time afterward, the Indians seated on their loaded wagons, crossed Alkali creek, going south; the first wagon pulled up the bank from the creek crossing and passed on. The rear wagon, driven by Few Tails, and containing his wife and children, was pulling up the bank, when the six white men above referred to fired upon it from ambush twenty paces distant. Few Tails fell out of the wagon dead, his wife, shot through the breast and thigh, jumped on the back of a horse that was being led behind the wagon, and, finally, days after, reached the agency in an exhausted condition. The two wagon horses were killed. The Indians driving the advance wagon whipped up the horses and escaped for the time being. The white men immediately after firing the volley and killing Few Tails, and the horses, scattered, a part of them riding rapidly to the soldiers’ camp, two and one-half miles away, and reported that the Indians had “broken out,” and commenced stealing horses, etc, and that in endeavoring to prevent these depredations there had been a collision. Others of the party spread the same report among the neighboring settlers. In a short time the country was aroused, and the Indians escaping in the advance wagon were being pursued and fired upon by settlers and soldiers alike and were forced to abandon their wagon at the crossing of Box Elder creek, thirty miles south, part of them who survived the pursuit escaping to their reservation on their horses. The property of the Indians captured in the wagon was, with some horses, also captured, divided up among the whites as “trophies” of the Sioux “war,” and the report was flashed east over the wires that the bloody Sioux were devastating the Black Hills country and murdering helpless women and children, etc. This in brief is the story of one of the most cold-blooded and unjustifiable murders ever committed on the frontier.”

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JOURNAL POSTS