Home History The Suicide Charge of Two Killer Cheyennes

The Suicide Charge of Two Killer Cheyennes

by Enochadmin

To an informal observer the biweekly distribution of presidency rations at southeastern Montana’s, amid the rolling hills of Lame Deer Valley, appeared to have proceeded easily. Because the solar edged slowly towards its zenith that day in September 1890, many ladies had already accomplished their chores, shaving meager slabs of the white man’s “noticed buffalo” into skinny strips and punctiliously arranging them on poles to dry underneath the good, cloudless sky. Males idled, consuming their noonday meals and maybe recalling happier instances earlier than stringy beef had supplanted fats bison. Outwardly, the Northern Cheyennes appeared to have tailored to the bewildering modifications reservation life entailed.

Supporting Gamers
Clockwise from above: Northern Cheyenne leaders Two Moons (left) and American Horse, who sanctioned the proposed duel; 1st Lt. Samuel C. Robertson of the first Cavalry’s Troop G; and 1st Lt. Edward W. “Ned” Casey of Troop A. (From Left: Library of Congress; Montana Historic Society (2)

These changes had, in fact, come at a horrible price. Fourteen brief years earlier, in June 1876, Northern Cheyenne warriors had reveled within the wake of the profitable alliance with the Lakotas that had destroyed Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s seventh U.S. Cavalry command on the Little Bighorn. However that was earlier than Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie’s devastating assault on Chief Boring Knife’s village that November and the Northern Cheyennes’ humiliating exile to the reservation of their Southern Cheyenne cousins in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) the next 12 months. Many died in the course of the brutal trek, nonetheless extra on arrival, and in September 1878 the Northern Cheyennes set out on a grueling exodus north underneath Boring Knife and Little Wolf, certain for his or her northern homeland. Boring Knife’s followers ultimately surrendered close to Fort Robinson, however Little Wolf’s band made it to Montana Territory and was allowed to stay there on the Tongue River Indian Reservation (the present-day Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation), established in 1884 by presidential government order. 

By 1890 the buffalo had vanished, leaving the Cheyennes wholly depending on the insufficient and sometimes substandard rations doled out via the company’s butcher barn and commissary. Thus they congregated on Lame Deer Creek this Friday, Sept. 12, 1890, as they’d each two weeks, to obtain their rations. 

Map by Joan Pennington

Although the pastoral scene appeared calm, a grim foreboding blanketed the camp. Girls shunned the banter that normally attended meals preparation. Males appeared unusually sullen. For one, there have been too many troopers. Whereas the Cheyennes had accepted their nominal presence, bluecoats nonetheless provoked chilling recollections of Sand Creek, Washita and Powder River. 5 months earlier, in response to frenzied calls for by native settlers, an insignificant outpost named Camp Criminal had sprouted a few mile beneath the Cheyenne village. It housed three troops of the first U.S. Cavalry, and that afternoon two of the three all of a sudden appeared. 

As 1st Lt. Samuel C. Robertson disposed his Troop G, the Cheyennes started shuffling somberly out of their tepees to collect on the encircling hills. “They now stood upon the ridges above the valley in dense teams of good barbaric shade,” Robertson later recalled. Rife with apprehension, the individuals watched and waited, anticipating one of many strangest purposes of capital punishment ever administered.

Tongue River Indian Reservation
The company at Lame Deer Creek on the Tongue River Indian Reservation is pictured right here in a 1904 {photograph} by L.A. Huffman (1854–1931). (Montana Historic Society)

Mutual resentment and suspicion flared between Cheyennes and neighboring whites in Might 1890 following the disappearance of native rancher Bob Ferguson. Like many encroaching whites, Ferguson, his brother and their sister ranched on the fringes of the Tongue River Indian Reservation, to the southwest close to Kirby. Final seen looking for stray horses on the night of Might 6, Ferguson had merely vanished. On Might 29 a search celebration discovered his corpse in a dry wash within the Little Wolf Mountains, northwest of the company. Ferguson’s killers had wrapped his physique in his black saddle blanket, wound the rancher’s coat about his head and coated him over with sand. Moccasin tracks and the butchered carcasses of steers on the scene of the crime urged he had interrupted Indian rustlers and been shot from ambush.

11 years after the suicidal two-man cost, Huffman photographed these daughters of Chief American Horse. Head Chief had sought to show himself to an older sister of theirs named Goa. (Montana Historic Society)

Cheyenne Agent Robert L. Upshaw, who resigned weeks later, blamed Ferguson’s homicide not directly on the federal government’s failure to supply adequate beef rations and instantly on the actual fact reservation Indians remained armed. In the meantime lurid newspaper accounts whipped native settlers right into a frenzy. On slim proof the Indian police arrested three Cheyennes. Held for a number of weeks, they had been lastly launched, a lot to settlers’ anger and dismay. The trio had served honorably underneath 1st Lt. Edward W. “Ned” Casey in Troop A, Division of Dakota, an experimental contingent of Cheyenne scouts serving with the U.S. Cavalry. Casey vehemently denounced their arrests as a “put-up plan” by huge ranchers in search of entry to Cheyenne lands. Ferguson’s homicide was by no means solved, a incontrovertible fact that stored tensions at a low boil.

By late summer season an uneasy calm had returned. On September 5 a 25-year-old Cheyenne named Head Chief rode into Chief American Horse’s village to renew his courtship of the chief’s younger daughter Goa. Years later tribal historian John Stands in Timber recounted the Cheyenne model of occasions to historian Margot Liberty. Providing espresso and fry bread, Goa wistfully apologized for her insufficient hospitality, explaining that her household had eaten little else for a very long time. Few Cheyenne households may stretch their skimpy rations to cowl a full two weeks. Accepting Goa’s meager providing, Head Chief boasted he would quickly carry her greater than sufficient meat to supply a good meal. 

Recognized for his conceitedness, Head Chief led a small group of younger, dissident warriors. Many within the tribe thought-about him a troublemaker. Psychologically scarred by an overbearing father, Head Chief carried a horrible chip on his shoulder. Seemingly oblivious to the realities of reservation life, his father had repeatedly shamed Head Chief by mocking his son’s failure to attain the since banned struggle honors that had as soon as outlined manhood.

Peaceable Moments on Lame Deer Creek
Left: A warbonneted rider poses outdoors dealer A.C. Stohr’s submit at Lame Deer across the flip of the nineteenth century. Proper: Northern Cheyenne ladies line up for rations at Lame Deer circa 1910. Ration day on Sept. 12, 1890, was much more somber. ( Mansfield Library College of Montana)

By then Head Chief had attracted a shadow, a 13-year-old orphan who adopted him in every single place. Younger Mule had briefly attended the Ashland College and bought a smattering of English. He had additionally reduce his hair and accepted the given identify “John.” Caught between two worlds, Younger Mule had come to idolize the bombastic Head Chief. 

On September 6 Head Chief set out on horseback with Younger Mule to satisfy his pledge to Goa. The 2 hunters searched fruitlessly till night after they came upon milk cows belonging to native rancher Hugh Gaffney. Younger Mule urged warning, warning these had been white man’s animals. However Head Chief dismissively argued that white males had pushed away the buffalo, thus killing a lone cow constituted little greater than a poor commerce. 

Whereas returning to American Horse’s village, they encountered a mounted Hugh Boyle, a tubercular 21-year-old from Champaign, In poor health., who was recuperating on his Uncle Gaffney’s ranch for the summer season. Noting the packhorse burdened with contemporary meat, Boyle sneered, “I see {that a} hungry canine has snapped up one in all my cows.” 

Head Chief sensed Boyle’s hostility with out comprehending his phrases. “What does he say?” 

“He calls us canines,” Younger Mule answered.

View of troopers of Troop ‘G’ First U.S. Cavalry seated on horses with officer quarters in background at Fort Custer, Montana Territory.
(Montana Historic Society Analysis Middle, Archives)

Erupting with rage on the insult, Head Chief jerked a rifle from beneath the meat packs as Boyle turned his horse to flee. The transient contest ended earlier than it started when a .45-70 slug slammed into Boyle’s chest, knocking him to the bottom. From horseback Head Chief fired once more at his susceptible sufferer, the bullet disintegrating Boyle’s cranium. Dismounting, Head Chief examined the younger man’s conspicuous crimson cap, gory with mind tissue, and pitched it right into a clump of bushes.

Head Chief and his younger confederate then unpacked and cached the meat, liberating their packhorse to move Boyle’s physique, which they carried a number of miles into the hills. Earlier than depositing the physique in a shallow grave, Head Chief draped the younger man’s handkerchief over his bloody visage, sarcastically explaining to Younger Mule, “So he gained’t get his face soiled.” 

After darkish Gaffney’s cows ambled house unescorted. Frightened for his lacking nephew, the rancher rode as much as the Cheyenne company for assist. Boyle’s white horse returned the next morning, its saddle bearing bloodstains. That was sufficient to spur troopers and the Indian police to kind search events and go to American Horse’s camp, the place shouts and threats accompanied their fruitless ransack of the village. Having encamped within the hills in a single day, Head Chief and Younger Mule weren’t conscious of the uproar. They arrived shortly after midday, shocked to find the furor their actions had unleashed.

Responding to the village’s apparent panic, Head Chief defiantly acknowledged his guilt. Whereas American Horse assured him nobody within the village would betray him, he added gloomily that if Head Chief refused to give up, the Cheyennes could be compelled to defend him, an motion that may show ruinous. 

Execution by hanging precluded a non secular afterlife, and submitting to such an abhorrent loss of life was out of the query for any Cheyenne, main Head Chief to suggest a surprising compromise:

Chief Two Moons and his household had been residing on this tepee in 1896 when Huffman was capturing reservation life. Throughout negotiations over the destiny of Head Chief, Two Moons reiterated that the confessed assassin of 21-year-old Hugh Boyle refused to be hanged. What adopted as an alternative was Head Chief’s proposed duel. (Montana Historic Society)

I don’t need the ladies and kids to endure on my account. Go right down to the company. Inform them I killed the boy. Inform them on the subsequent ration day…I will likely be there. Inform them to be prepared, and I’ll play with the troopers at the moment. I’ll are available capturing—allow them to attempt to cease me. They are going to by no means hold me. I’ll die like a person. 

Having sealed his destiny, the defiant Head Chief visited his dad and mom camp close to Ashland. Over a solemn dinner he urged his household to not grieve, however to sing a victory music for him when he was gone. Sarcastically, he ordered his father to behave like a person.

Younger Mule’s whereabouts over the subsequent couple of days are unsure. Head Chief, against this, basked in glory. Fellow members of the Elk Society shaped an honor guard to guard their hero, assuring he wouldn’t be arrested.

Following Head Chief’s confession, American Horse led searchers to Boyle’s burial website within the hills. Walter Shirlaw, a census employee on the reservation, accompanied the group that recovered the physique, following what he known as a “toilsome” ascent. Lieutenant Robertson concurred in describing an “arduous search.”

Many younger Cheyennes handed the evening previous to ration day feasting and sharing tales, and Head Chief paid his final go to to Goa. Throughout the nightlong vigil, he boasted of getting killed two different white males. Later hypothesis pointed to the Ferguson homicide. No arduous proof ever surfaced, however in an eerie echo of that earlier killing, those that found Boyle’s physique discovered the younger man’s coat wrapped about his head. 

 In 1901 Huffman took this photograph of Lame Deer Valley in southeastern Montana. (Montana Historic Society)

A couple of hours earlier than dawn on September 12 greater than a dozen shut mates accompanied Head Chief and Younger Mule to the summit of Squaw Hill, overlooking Lame Deer Valley, the place they performed remaining ceremonial preparations. Younger Mule, although merely an confederate and of little curiosity to the troopers, expressed his melancholy want to affix his hero in loss of life. “If you find yourself useless, I’ll don’t have anything,” he stated. “I’ll die too.” As the primary traces of daybreak streaked the horizon, village elders ordered the younger males off the hill, fearing a reckless youthful outburst that would ignite a common bloodbath.

Later that morning on the reservation’s company appearing coroner and magistrate Harold Brown convened a coroner’s jury to deliberate over Boyle’s homicide. American Horse’s testimony secured Head Chief’s swift indictment. 

Passionate eleventh hour negotiations adopted, persevering with as much as the final second, with Head Chief’s father begging for clemency. Tribal leaders supplied 30 horses as compensation to Boyle’s household, a staggering quantity of wealth for the impoverished Cheyennes. Agent James A. Cooper patiently defined that, regardless of Cheyenne customized, property settlements couldn’t atone for homicide. Below white legislation Head Chief should forfeit his life. Negotiations collapsed when Chief Two Moons reiterated Head Chief’s refusal to be hanged. 

Cooper had initially balked at Head Chief’s proposed duel. However the bloody penalties that might ensue if the Cheyennes intervened to stop a dangling compelled him to relent and authorize the unconventional compromise. So, at 3 p.m. 1st Cavalry Main Henry Carroll, the commander of Camp Criminal, dispatched Lieutenant Robertson and Troop G to the company. Troop E, underneath 1st Lt. John Pitcher, would observe in reserve. Their mixed pressure numbered simply shy of 90 males. Troop D, underneath 2nd Lt. Henry A. Barber, remained in camp as a guard.

Whilst Robertson arrived on the company and deployed his males, he regarded the entire affair “a idiot’s errand.” A duel pitting two boys in opposition to two U.S. Cavalry troops appeared “too grotesque to be entertained.” Chief Courageous Wolf rapidly disabused him of the notion, assuring him the approaching battle could be a lethal critical affair.

Inside minutes the 2 warriors made their entrance, rising from a stand of bushes some 800 yards throughout the valley. By means of his subject glasses Robertson watched as they rode into view, properly mounted, properly armed and clad in full struggle regalia. Head Chief displayed an impressive trailing warbonnet. The soldiers raced their horses up a rocky ridge on the north finish of the valley, singing their loss of life songs and circling ostentatiously in full view of the throngs watching from the hills. Persevering with to circle, the pair triggered their rifles to attract the troopers’ hearth.

Minutes later, having been outflanked and pushed from their rocky aerie, Head Chief and Younger Mule raced down a steep decline instantly towards Pitcher’s arriving Troop E. They closed to inside some 200 yards earlier than the troopers opened up on them. Head Chief angled towards the left finish of the soldier line earlier than swerving sharply proper to make a defiant run throughout their entrance. Although a bullet shattered one in all his arms, he managed to cost again up the steep hill. Younger Mule was much less lucky. As he sought to observe Head Chief’s instance, his pony acquired a crippling wound, pitching the younger warrior headlong to the bottom. 

Head Chief paused to regulate the warbonnet he’d acquired from his grandfather earlier than once more bolting down to have interaction the troopers, most of whom had dismounted and stood prepared to fulfill him in a firing line. Twenty deputized members of the Indian police stood shoulder to shoulder with the ready troopers.

Head Chief had boasted to his Elk Society brothers that he would journey straight via the soldier’s line, and he did. Although struggling a number of deadly wounds, he one way or the other remained upright within the saddle, making good on his vow by penetrating some 20 yards earlier than toppling to the bottom useless behind the astonished troopers.

In the meantime, Younger Mule deserted his crippled mount and raced towards the troopers afoot, zigzagging downslope to dodge their hearth. He pulled up in a shallow gully to shoot, then scampered into some brush. Intermittent firing continued from Younger Mule’s place for 15 or 20 minutes earlier than the troopers managed to flank him. They discovered his lifeless physique. 

All Downhill From Right here
Not lengthy after Head Chief rode down what was then known as Squaw Hill, Cheyennes positioned rocks alongside the trail his horse took earlier than the rains and wind may erase its hoofprints. As this latest {photograph} reveals, a path of enormous white rocks mark Head Chief’s cost. Tongue River, established in 1884, has since been renamed the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. ( Dennis Hagan)

Silence descended on the valley. The affair had lasted absolutely an hour.

The our bodies lay briefly in state at American Horse’s camp, Cheyennes lining as much as see them. They had been later buried excessive above the village on the hill the place they died. Robertson praised the Indian police and tribal leaders for having behaved “most admirably,” noting, “To them is likely due the exceptional sight of scores of Cheyenne braves—lots of them fierce warriors of different days—witnessing, not unmoved however with out interference, the killing by troops of two of their tribe.” The killing of two Cheyennes for the loss of life of 1 white man went in opposition to tribal customized, however the Cheyennes accepted the end result, because it had mirrored Head Chief’s will.

Robertson offered a becoming epitaph to a cost by which two Indian deaths was the one doable consequence: “The audacity they displayed on this determined assault upon two troops of cavalry was in all probability by no means surpassed within the information of Indian bravery.”

Tribal custom has it that in the course of the remaining cost a feather broke free from Head Chief’s warbonnet, fluttering to the bottom close to the spot the place he was killed. Somebody tied it to a stone, and there it remained a few years. At this time a path of rocks marks Head Chief’s remaining cost. It’s stated that Cheyenne onlookers had distributed the markers alongside the trail his horse had taken via the grass earlier than the rains and wind may erase it.  

this text first appeared in wild west journal

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