Two outstanding Western lives in one special edition
The history of the frontier region of the United States of America in the pre and post American Civil War period—the ‘Wild West’—has always fascinated historians and enthusiasts. This was a harsh, largely uncharted land given to extremes of terrain and weather; a place which attracted hard men on both sides of the law and which was populated by tribes of fiercely independent native Indians who would protect their tribal lands and way of life at any cost. This was also the age of the pioneers, the ranchers, horse-soldiers, lawmen, adventurers, desperados and feather-bonnet crested warriors, all of whom appear in vibrant detail within the pages of this special Leonaur edition. The two titles in this good-value, two-in-one edition are both autobiographies of true ‘Westerners’ who made their lives on the frontier of the 19th century and who experienced it in all its variety, colour and violence. Robert McReynolds began his lifetime of adventure as a very young man and was prepared to make his way by turning his hand to whatever work came his way, from ranching to prospecting; he knew the troubled Black Hills of Dakota well and was no stranger to fights with hostile Indians or outlaws. The second title here, by Alexander Majors, recounts the life of a well known character of the far west and Rocky Mountains. Majors was responsible for bringing freight, stage coach and mail services to this wild region and also for recruiting the young man who became known as ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody as a daring ‘Pony Express’ rider. Clearly there can be no one better than Majors to recount these thrilling times and his autobiography amply rewards the reader.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
For more than three months after his arrival thousands of the Sioux warriors kept up the ghost dance almost nightly. The quantities of unbleached domestic that they were purchasing at the agency stores and making up into “ghost shirts,” together with the ammunition they were known to be hoarding convinced the agency authorities at Pine Ridge that an outbreak was imminent. A call was made for United States troops, but before any considerable number arrived hostilities had begun. A cattle herder was killed and a large herd of cattle belonging to the government was driven into the bad-lands. The same night Chief Red Cloud, who had become almost blind in his extreme old age, was taken forcibly from his home near the Pine Ridge agency building and made to lead the hostile attack on the Jesuit Mission some four miles distant. A desultory firing was kept up on the agency for some nights afterward, when a reinforcement of troops arrived and the hostiles withdrew to the natural fortresses of the bad-lands.
Chief American Horse appears to have doubted the divine origin of the Indian Messiah, and held in check some six or seven thousand of his people encamped on a creek near the agency. In the meantime General Miles arrived with a strong force of cavalry and artillery. Batteries were trained on the tepees of the Brule Sioux under American Horse, and they were ordered not to congregate, which order was respected up to the close of the campaign.
Rumours of Indian depredations were of every day occurrence. Settlers were fleeing from their homes and seeking refuge in the villages. So great was the terror in northwestern Nebraska that General John M. Thayer, then governor, ordered out the entire force of the National Guard, numbering about two thousand men, under Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, to protect the Nebraska frontier.
The main body of hostiles was safely entrenched in the bad-lands and was only awaiting the springtime, when grass would furnish provender for their ponies; when they intended to begin their work of destruction on the white settlements.
Up to this time no Indian had been killed or wounded, although there was some heavy firing done in defence of the mission and the agency. This fact tended to strengthen their belief in the invulnerability of the ghost shirt which, by this time, was worn by all the warriors. So great was their faith in the efficacy of this garment to turn the bullets of their white foe, that Big Foot and a band of about four hundred ventured to leave the stronghold and commit some petty depredations within thirty miles of Pine Ridge.
General Miles promptly dispatched Colonel Forsythe and a troop of two companies of the Seventh Cavalry to subdue them. It will be remembered that the Seventh was General Custer’s old regiment that met the Indians on the Little Big Horn on that memorable 25th of June, 1876, when every man taking part in the engagement was massacred by this same tribe of Sioux Indians which this detachment under Colonel Forsythe was seeking. On the evening of the twenty-eighth of December, Colonel Forsythe came upon Big Foot’s band. No resistance was offered at the time, although the demeanour of the braves foreboded the terrible tragedy soon to follow. The Indians were escorted some miles distant and ordered to go into camp on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek, which flows through a wide, open valley skirted for miles on either side by high, sandy bluffs and scant growth of fir, cedar and pine.
The Indians were made to pitch their tepees in a semi-circle and park their wagons and ponies behind them. The soldiers formed in a triangle in front of the semi-circle with a Hotchkiss gun under command of Sergeant Wingate in the centre of the triangle. The men stood by their guns throughout the bitter cold of the Dakota night, while the Indians were comfortably wrapped in their blankets within the shelter of the tepees. As the first rays of the sun were slanting across the bleak and cheerless plain, the shrill notes of a bugle rang out on the frosty air. It was the signal to arouse the Indian camp. They came from their tepees with blankets swathed about them, and desperation was stamped upon their faces. Big Foot, who was ill with pneumonia, was first carried out and laid upon a bed of fur in front of his tepee, and then two hundred and fifty braves seated themselves in rows about him.
Through an interpreter they were ordered by Captain Wallace to lay down their arms. They were armed mostly with Winchesters which were concealed beneath the blankets about them. Suddenly the medicine man of the tribe sprang to his feet and threw a handful of dirt into the air. It was a signal, and in another instant the death-like shrieks—the Sioux war-cry, “Hi-yi-hip-yi!” echoed up and down the valley, and the blaze of two hundred Winchesters sent their deadly missiles into the faces of the soldiers not over thirty feet away. There was an instant of hush—then a crash of musketry, and the last Sioux Indian battle was on! There were wavering ranks of blue as men fell to the ground wounded or dying; frantic horses dashed riderless over the plain; forms in red blankets were running hither and thither as the deadly triangle poured a withering crossfire into the struggling mass about the tepees. There were swift retreats of small parties, followed by swifter pursuit of horsemen.
Indians were shot right and left as the mellow cadence of the bugle said, “Fire at will.” Squaws were dashing right and left, attempting to stab the soldiers with their long, copper-handled scalping knives; boys kneeled on the ground and coolly fired rifles at the soldiers. They, too, were shot, and meanwhile the terrible Hotchkiss gun boomed death. Small fleeing parties gained the sand bluffs and shot the pursuing soldiers. A wagon, drawn by two ponies and loaded with bucks and squaws who were trying to get away, was struck by a six-inch shell and literally blown to pieces. Brave Captain Wallace was killed with a blow from a stone battle-axe as he was entering a tepee.
The field of carnage is a dreadful sight. The mind shrinks from contemplating it. Human life has there passed away. Agony and suffering is everywhere. Gloom is on men’s faces and dark frowns on their brows. One wishes it were effaced from memory, for in years to come one must see in fancy and hear again in fitful slumber the dying shrieks and piteous cries of agony.