Emma Cornelia Sickels – Heroine of Pine Ridge or Self-Promoter

Little Wound’s face grew black.  I could see the men tighten their Grasp upon their knives, and knew that my life was in the balance.

Breaking from my general theme of this site, I have chosen to write about an individual who was not present at Wounded Knee, was not a soldier, and was not in the employ of the government.  Hours of research sometimes are rewarded with a first hand account of a significant event that has seemingly gone unnoticed by other historians.   Lieutenant John Kinzie’s account of Wounded Knee was one such example.  The account of Emma Cornelia Sickels, a thirty-six-year-old native of Massachusetts, appears to be another.

While researching individuals detailed in a compilation of Omaha Bee articles that I am preparing for publication, I came across references to Emma Sickels.  The article was from January 1896 and detailed that Miss Sickels of Chicago was awarded a gold medal from a society in France.  The article went on to state:

When the uprising occurred in 1890 she volunteered her services as a mediator to the War department. Secretary Proctor and General Schofield sanctioned her enterprise. She managed at great personal risk to get into the camp of the hostile Indians, and although the massacre of Wounded Knee took place, she has always maintained that by giving General Miles timely information of the intentions subsequent to that she averted a wholesale slaughter at the agency.[1]

The medal she received, either in 1896 or 1902, was described as a gold medal shaped like a sunburst, and engraved on the reverse, “To Emma C. Sickels, the Heroine of Pine Ridge; for exceptional bravery in checking the Indian war of 1890.”[2]

Of all that I have read on Wounded Knee, her name did not register.  After searching through a plethora of books on the subject, from Greene’s American Carnage to Utley’s Last Days of the Sioux Nation, and from Coleman’s Voices of Wounded Knee to Jensen, Paul, and Carter’s Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, I came up with little that would merit the accolades detailed in the Bee article.  Greene made no mention of Miss Sickels, and Utley and Coleman only briefly quoted her with a disparaging characterization of Pine Ridge Indian Agent Daniel F. Royer.  Jensen, Paul, and Carter provided  a lengthier quote where she described the home of Red Cloud.  Other than those brief entries, current historians covering the Sioux disturbances of 1890 and 1891 paid her little or no attention.[3]

Always preferring primary sources over secondary, I dug into those authors’ end notes. The reference that Utley and Coleman cited was to a lengthy letter that Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby of the Nebraska National Guard included in his work “The Sioux Indian War of 1890-’91.”  Sickels wrote to Colby at his request in the middle of January 1891 from Pine Ridge when the outbreak was just being brought to a peaceful settlement.  I found it interesting that Miss Sickels did not stop at Dr. Royer and provided her low opinion of Brigadier General John R. Brooke as well.  “General Brooke is unanimously, and justly, characterized as obstinate, short-sighted and easily deceived.”  She went on to say, “He was one who knew about facts after they had happened, and seemed to be constructed so that he was mentally incapable of anticipating or preventing any event.”  Sickels continued her scathing attack on Brooke and seemed to lay much of the blame for Wounded Knee at the general’s feet.

The Seventh Cavalry was rescued by Colonel Henry without orders from General Brooke. No defense of fortifications or outlying sentinels had been placed around the agency.  Only through the services of Major Cooper was it possible for those to act who defended the Agency and prevented a massacre. I am stating these facts plainly to show why there is so strong a feeling against a man who, by his criminal inaction placed so many lives in danger, which he was employed to defend, by permitting the plots to be carried on in spite of warning, by allowing preparations for hostilities to be publicly made at the Agency blacksmith shop, and by depending for his information upon those only who, to say the least, were of very questionable character. His command to Colonel Forsythe was: “Disarm them; if they resist, destroy them!” I have been told that there is written evidence of this.
The attack of Big Foot’s band was premeditated and skillfully planned. If it had been successful, those who have been in readiness to join the uprising in their different places along the line from Texas to Montana, would have broken out.
Although we may justly condemn the lack of discretion that would forcibly disarm them while their worst feelings were aroused, creating a resistance consistent with all ideas of manliness and bravery (in which the Indians have never been deficient), yet this has been overruled for good by showing the opposing forces their mutual power and spirit. As one of the Indian boys wrote in language work at the school: “Indians laugh when white soldier comes. They think he cannot fight, and cannot hurt them; but white soldier fight strong and Indian man now think it not easy.”
On the other hand, the desperation and bravery shown by a body of one hundred and fifty men who will attack five hundred who have surrounded them, show the spirit of the foe our soldiers had to meet, and should convince a skeptical nation of the firm, strong measures needed to be taken.[4]

Miss Sickels was certainly an opinionated woman and not afraid to put it in writing.  I found another reference to Sickels in James Mooney’s landmark work The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee.  Mooney was an ethnologist who visited Indian tribes across the country investigating the origins of messiah religions among Native Americans. His laborious work for the Smithsonian Institution was the first real investigation into the causes of the Sioux outbreak and is first on a long list of sources for any work on Wounded Knee. Thus, I was surprised to note that Mooney listed Sickels among his many acknowledgments.  He credited her with providing a translated version of Pine Ridge Indian policeman George Sword’s account of the Ghost Dance.[5]

I focused my research on newspapers of the day and was not disappointed.  I found numerous articles detailing her award of a medal from the International Society of La Savateur, or more properly Le Sauveteur, of Paris, France.  One of those accounts seemed to lean toward self-aggrandizement and left me wondering if Sickels gave more weight to her own actions than was warranted.

Emma C. Sickels

Gen. Miles was about to order an attack upon the Indians when I informed him of their suspicions and told him that if I went out and explained how the battle of Wounded Knee came to be fought I thought they would come in peaceably. The general consented to delay the attack. I went into the Indian camp, explained matters to the chiefs, and came out unmolested. A half hour later the hostiles were in the agency and the uprising was at an end. The United States government appointed me the commissioner in charge of the Indian exhibit at the Columbian exposition as a part recognition of my work.[6]

Many of the articles referred to Miss Sickels as the “Heroine of Pine Ridge,”  and I wondered if the title was self-proclaimed.  Further research revealed a lengthy article published in the Chicago Tribune on 21 December 1890, prior to the Wounded Knee affair, detailing her success in bringing one of the key Lakota chiefs back into the camp of friendly Indians at Pine Ridge, and I was prepared to present that article here. Then my research came on a more detailed account that Miss Sickels published in April 1893 in The National Tribune. It is a riveting narrative of a brave woman determined to do everything within her power to bring a potential Indian war to a peaceful conclusion even at the cost of her life.  If true, it is a remarkable feat of peaceful intervention.  Unfortunately, it cannot be corroborated with any other first hand account, which may be why modern historians have left the story of Miss Emma C. Sickels to the archives.  Either that, or her role has been all but overlooked.

According to the Denver Public Library likely taken in 1891 depicts Emma Sickels with Native American Sioux men and women on the porch of a Pine Ridge Agency building in South Dakota. The men wear breechcloths, roaches, headdresses, moccasins, legbands with bells and hold guns, rifle, bow and arrows, flags with stars and stripes and "Harrison and Morton(?)." The Sioux women wears dresses, leather belts with metal disks (conchos,) hair pipe earrings and necklaces. The white woman holds a parasol and wears a dress with a tightly fitted bodice and hat with a wide crown.

According to the Denver Public Library this photograph was likely taken in 1891 and depicts Emma Sickels with Native American Sioux men and women on the porch of a Pine Ridge Agency building in South Dakota.

Among the Sioux:

A Woman’s Experience During the Pine Ridge Troubles.

One of a party of five ladies en route from Chicago, I left the railroad at Valentine, Neb., Dec. 2, 1884, for an overland ride of 150 miles to Pine Ridge Agency.  The wintry journey over the unbroken prairie was full of incident and experience only found on such a trip.  To-day the whirl of farm houses and villages seen from the comfortable Pullman has taken the place of the boundless monotony, varied only by creeks, prairie-dog towns, and the slopes of the surrounding ridges.  The mule-train, ambulance and pack-wagon have given way to the swift-moving train.  A dining-car offers a far different bill of fare from the meals cooked upon the camp-stove, which we enjoyed with keen appetites in our tents, pitched by the creek, in the shelter of the cliff; and the blizzard which challenged our right to enter the country would now be powerless in wreaking the wrath it then poured upon its helpless victims.

No pains had been spared by Agent McGillicuddy and his wife for making us comfortable—relays of teams, supplies of well-cooked food, well-furnished tents and careful attendants had been provided; Mr. McGillicuddy himself taking charge of the expedition.  We were well taken care of when we reached the Agency—white people and Indians seeming to conspire to make us contented with our new home.

As Superintendent of the large Government Indian boarding-school, I had full opportunity to become acquainted with the leaders of the Sioux, and learned their respective ability and influence, the relative power and characteristics of their bands.

I became much attached to them, and when I resigned my superintendency to resume the study of my profession in Chicago, I was much gratified to learn that the Indians had held a council and wished me to return to again take charge of the school.  Although it was impracticable for me to go, their action was valuable to me as a token of confidence and good will.

On Dec. 2, 1890, I started again for Pine Ridge, from Washington, alone, on a very different mission.  I went, authorized by the War and Interior Departments, fully informed by the officials of the extent of the threatened outbreaks and causes of apprehension of danger, to do what I could toward ascertaining the facts and restoring the confidence of the disaffected Sioux.

This was of great importance, because as the General of the Army told me, “on account of the distrust and uncertainty it was impossible to obtain reliable information, and consequently the greatest obstacle in the way of peace was the lack of the necessary discrimination between the hostiles and those well disposed.”

The newspapers were full of an Indian outbreak; Cabinet meetings were occupied in discussing the situation.  All topics on the floor of Congress yielded to this; the Sioux reservations had been placed under military control; soldiers had been ordered from their distant posts; full preparation was being made for extensive warfare.

My knowledge of those who were accused of being the instigators of the trouble convinced me that there must be some grave injustice, some gross misunderstanding, which should be investigated.

None knew better than I the personal danger which I would incur, but as I had said to Secretary Proctor, he had not hesitated to send 6,000 soldiers to risk their lives in war, I was ready to risk mine in the interests of peace.  I made preparation, in case I should never return, and started, by a singular coincidence, on the anniversary of my first journey.

Trains bearing soldiers to the scene of action passed those loaded with men, women and children fleeing from the danger.

Leaving the railroad at Rushville, Neb., I rode about 20 miles by stage to my former home, and was welcomed by my old friends.

At the Agency all was uncertainty and suspense.  Each day brought new rumors of war and preparations for hostilities.  It was impossible to tell the false from the true, except by personal knowledge of the character of the informants.

Little Chief, the redoubtable leader of the Cheyennes, was camped with his band on the South.  He had been compulsorily sandwiched among the Sioux for about six years.  The previous Summer he had attempted to make his escape to his home in Montana—requiring the military to bring him back.  He was consequently in good fighting mood, and was preparing to use this opportunity.  Near him were encamped a heterogeneous number of “orphan and loafer” camps.  Red Cloud and his men lived on the northwest, having been a constant center of disturbance since the Agency was established.

The Brule-Sioux were intrenched in the impregnable “bad lands” about 40 miles distant, and Little Wound—the one universally credited with being the pivot of action—was encamped with his men on Wolf Creek, about four miles away.

My acquaintance with the Indians enabled me to get at the facts.  I became convinced that the real hostiles were at the Agency, and were decoying the soldiers into an attack upon the Brules and Little Wound, thus leaving the Agency unprotected, at the mercy of those who would seize it as a center of operation.

My knowledge of Red Cloud, gained from personal experience; his methods; his system of communication with different tribes, of which I had been informed from various sources; the coincidence between the presence of his messengers and the manifestations of hostilities even in remote tribes, and his movements at the Agency, furnished me the clews.  I knew that he had deadly hatred for Little Wound; that the latter had frustrated many of Red Cloud’s plots.  I traced the reports of Little Wound’s hostilities to the interviews so freely given by Red Cloud and his men to reporters, and was confident that if Red Cloud could involve the progressive Indians, conceal his own complicity, and settle a score with an old enemy—whose father he had killed—that he would deem it worthy of his utmost efforts.  Such a course would be consistent with his whole career of treachery and disorder.  This conviction was borne out by subsequent events.  I was determined to see Little Wound, carry to him the messages of peace with which I had been commissioned, and learn his grievance.

After much difficulty in obtaining horses I started for Little Wound’s camp with two of my former pupils—young men—members of Little Wound’s band.  My only safety lay in my defenselessness, going to the camp as a friend, attended only by two of his followers.

Little Wound

I found the Chief with a few of his men at a log house near his camp, suspicious and desperate, preparing for self-defense with guns and arrows.  I should not have respected him had he not, under the circumstances, taken measures to protect his band, who were in hourly expectation of an attack by the soldiers.  The girls afterward told me that their mothers lay all night trembling in fear.

I told the Chief that I had not forgotten that when my life was in danger, because Red Cloud wanted to burn down the schoolhouse and kill me, he (Little Wound) had brought his men and saved our lives.  I had heard that now my old friends were in danger, and I had come with messages from the great men in Washington, who wanted to know what the trouble was, and what could be done to stop it.

He said that his people had been sick; that they had but little food, as the crops had failed; there was no feed for the ponies; instead of the payment of $100,000, which had been promised that year, in fulfillment of the treaty they had been compelled to sign, there was 1,000,000 pounds less of beef than before, and all the people were in great trouble.

I told him that I had read in the newspapers that he was making war.  He replied that “Red Cloud had been getting the Indians into bad ways, and when it was being found out he told all the men who made the papers that I had done it.”  He showed me a letter from his grandson at Carlisle, which, he said, made his “heart bad.”  It read:

“Dear Grandpa: When I am reading in the newspapers it makes me shamed about what you doing in ghost dancing.”

I asked him to tell me about the ghost dance.  He explained that “One white man had said to the Indians: ‘There is one religion—by way of ghost dancing, which would help all the Indians.’  I thought if anything would help the Indians I would look to it and see, but I have found that the ghost dancing does not help, and I have put it away.”

The keynote of despair was struck in the words repeated by Yellow Hair, Little Wound’s Lieutenant: “All the white folks think that we are all bad.”  This was repeated over and over by different ones during the interview.

I replied that bad white folks and bad Indians had been keeping the others apart and getting them into trouble, but if now the best people of both races could be better acquainted and work together, we would have the trouble stopped.  I had brought words of peace.  I would tell everybody about the hard times the Indians were having, and we would work together to stop it.  I would write in the newspapers, and I would take back their words to those from whom I had come.

I left the camp and went back to the Agency, to find that there my return had been given up, in the belief that my errand had been fatal.

Their fears were nearly realized the following day when I made my next visit to the camp.  The mischief-makers made me the subject of their efforts, fanning the flames of distrust and suspicion.

I found Little Wound and his men on the alert, ready with guns and knives.  I told the Chief that I had fulfilled my promise, and wanted to talk with him again.

He went into his tepee, and I heard a clanking sound.  I called him and he came out, followed by seven men with guns and knives.  He went to a knoll not far away and held another conference.  I told him that I had been thinking about the trouble that his people were in, and wished that all the white people knew about it.  Would he like to go to Washington and tell those who were there?  Little Wound’s face grew black.  I could see the men tighten their grasp upon their knives, and knew that my life was in the balance.

Little Wound said: “I have been to Washington many times.  It makes me a liar to my people.”  I learned afterward that not only had I touched upon the greatest cause of grievance, the bad faith shown the Indians, but that Little Wound, remembering Crazy Horse’s death, believed that I was trying to draw him into a trap.

I asked him if he would prefer to have letters put into the newspapers, and have the white people learn in that way.  He said that would be better, and told me what he would like to have written.

Having heard that one of my former pupils was sick, I dismounted and went into her tepee to see her, promising to return the next day and bring her some medicine.  I kept my promise, and was able to convince the Indians of my sincerity.

My visit to Little Chief’s camp was but little less hazardous.  I invited him to come and see me, saying that I wished to tell him about my mission.  He came and in a two hours’ talk gave me full information of his grievance.  I could not and did not blame him for wanting to fight, but I told him that I was sure that he would be more successful in gaining what he wanted if he would let the white people know of his trouble and work with them.

This he promised to do, and three weeks later came to bid me good-by as he was starting for this Montana home.

The summary of the whole situation was that the friendly Indians were discouraged, and the hostiles were determined to use this opportunity to carry forward their plots.

Reductions of rations, poor crops, unwholesome food, sickness, failure of treaty payment, had driven the progressive leaders to desperation, while the bloodthirsty, disorderly element had been given prominence.

The “Messiah craze” and ghost-dance songs had their influence, for organizing into a common cause those who wished to gratify their spirit of revenge or love of war.

The Brules at Rosebud Agency had been redistricted by a new survey, throwing their ration center at Pine Ridge.  Their coming to Pine Ridge at a time of destitution was resisted by the Ogalalla (Pine Ridge) Sioux, and amid the disorder which followed there were two flights—the flight of Agent Royer in terror for soldiers, and the flight of the Brules to the “Bad Lands.”

The disorderly element, with the treachery common to the worst of humanity (of both races), offered their services as messengers and were accepted, demonstrating that the “greatest discrimination between the hostile and the well-disposed.”

The Brules were told that the soldiers were going to attack them and the military were informed that the Brules were going to make raids upon the settlements.  Soldiers were sent with cannon and Gatling guns to the interminable labyrinth of the Bad Lands, where the alkali turrets, varying from 50 to 500 feet, marked ravines that irregularly traversed the country over an area of 100 by 40 miles.

On my next visit to Little Wound’s camp, I invited him to come to see me at the Agency.  He hesitated, and with evident suspicion, asked me why I wished him to come.

I told him that he could not possibly run any greater risk in coming to see me than I had been willing to do it, to bring help to his people.  Was he not willing to do as much as I?  He yielded to this argument and came with his wife to see me.

I had invited the Special Agent to meet him, and during the two hours of his stay, Little Wound became convinced of the peaceable intentions of the Government, returning to his camp reassured.

I became so aroused to the danger threatening the Agency, that I went to report the matter where I was sure it would receive the attention it demanded.  A few days after I left, Little Wound came into the Special Agent’s office and volunteered to go to the “Bad Lands” and bring back the Brules, asking for protection in case of trouble, saying that he had gone on a similar errend [sic] once before and had not been supported by the Government.  He went to the Bad Lands and was successful in his mission, making the attack by the soldiers unnecessary, thus throwing his power into the balance of peace.

Meanwhile preparations had been going on to capture the Agency.  Big Foot’s band, composed of the worst element of Standing Rock (Sitting Bull’s remnant), Cheyenne River and Rosebud Agencies were on their way to Pine Ridge to fight, as I have learned from trustworthy sources.

When it was known that a hostile band of Indians was at large, each settlement felt that it might be the point of attack.  Farms and ranches were deserted, all the inhabitants huddling together in the little towns in a most pitiable manner.  Squads of soldiers were sent in different directions to intercept and surround Big Foot’s band.

Maj. Whiteside [sic] came upon them about 26 miles from the Agency, and, compelling them to surrender, brought them down to Wounded Knee Creek, where, after supplying needed tents, they encamped for the night; he had sent for reinforcements who arrived about midnight, keeping close guard over the wily hostiles lest they again slip away.

In the morning they were sullen and taciturn.  The command had been given to the officer in charge to disarm them at any cost.  The order was put into execution.  Soldiers, pressmen, and others, with guns unloaded and hands in pockets, stood idly watching—repeating the history of the century—thrown off their guard by the seeming compliance of the Indians, when suddenly the preconcerted signal was given.  The Indians, relying upon their medicine men and the invulnerability of their “ghost-shirts,” opened the attack, men, women, and children joining in, and the world has the “Battle of Wounded Knee.”

I have most carefully gathered this information from the survivors of Big Foot’s band; from the Sioux now living at Wounded Knee; from a knowledge of their beliefs and customs; from soldiers, press correspondents, and other sources, and have been able to trace nearly every other version to those who have especial motives for concealing the facts.

Unfortunately, the return of Little Wound and the Brules was coincident with the conflict at Wounded Knee.  Excited and designing messengers brought back terrifying reports.  The planned attack was made upon the Agency, beginning with the schoolhouse.  All was consternation and chaos.  The Brules, accusing Little Wound of alluring them to the same fate that had befallen Big Foot’s band, again fled, taking him prisoner as hostage for their safety.

At this juncture Gen. Miles arrived at the Agency and immediately took measures to protect it by sentry earthworks and camps stationed at exposed points.

The valiant services of Little Wound seem not to have been reported to Gen. Miles by the Official to whom the Chief applied for protection.  In the confusion the treacherous messengers again offered their services, and were again accepted.  Reports were spread that Little Wound and the Brules were defiant hostiles.  Soldiers were sent to bring them in, and orders were given setting the ultimatum of a limited time for a voluntary return.  Death seemed inevitable to them in either alternative.  Big Foot’s band was represented as a company of peaceable travelers brutally shot down by the soldiers in cold blood.  The messengers sent to them, as I have since learned, told them that this was to be their fate.  Big Road, Red Cloud’s nephew, with a diligence equaled only by his zeal in leading the ghost-dance, brought and carried these reports.  But few soldiers were left at the Agency.  Nearly all had been ordered where a cordon could be drawn around the hostiles or a barrier placed between them and the frontier towns.  The press of the day was filled with stirring reports of these details.  All clamored for immediate action against the “hostiles.”

I had reached Chadron, Neb., Dec. 27, expecting to go to Pine Ridge on the 30th.  The battle of Wounded Knee occurred Dec. 29.  All communication between Chadron and Pine Ridge was cut off.  Believing that the plan of the campaign was the same as before, except that the location was changed—Little Wound and the Brules being at Cedar Butte Creek instead of in their former positions—I was determined to go again to the Agency and keep my faith with those who had depended upon my word.  I could find no one willing to drive me over to Pine Ridge, and after waiting four or five days went to Rushville, the railroad point nearest the Reservation, and there met Mr. James Cook, well-known ranchman whom Gov. Thayer had requested to go to the scene of danger.  With his hand on his loaded gun he drove with me over that desolate road.

Soon after reaching the Agency I learned that my belief was correct that the interrupted plan had been resumed, with the additional incentive of having the chief commander in their power.  I reported this to Gen. Miles, and brought to him Yellow Hair, Little Wound’s Lieutenant, who had proven trustworthy.  A message was sent which Yellow Hair conveyed to his chief.


On that day the plan of the campaign was changed.  The defense upon the south was strengthened, orders were given that the Agency should be the center of action, and that the troops should concentrate there.  Trustworthy messengers were sent for the reassurance of the Brules, among them the Chief Young-Man-of-Whom-Horses-Are-Afraid (which is a more correct interpretation of his name.)  He had been away on a bear hunt during the trouble, and Gen. Miles had sent for him to return and act as mediator.

Cedar Butte Creek had become the headquarters for all disaffected and terrified Indians.  Many were there clamoring for vengeance on the dead at Wounded Knee.  Others found here their opportunity for war and disorder.  The situation called for greatest skill and wisdom.  A false step might at any time precipitate a carnage compared with which Wounded Knee would pale to insignificance.

After two weeks of intense suspense the Indians entered the Agency.  The long, moving column of mounted braves, escorting the train of wagons, was mistaken by old Captains for United States cavalrymen.  The young men came in determined to fight.

The friendlies were told that if they did not join in the fight they would be attacked by the soldiers on one side and by the hostiles on the other.  None were in greater danger than these unhappy people, who, through no fault of their own, were the victims of so much misfortune; whose pathetic cry had been “All the white folks think we are bad,” and who too fully realized the hostile taunt, “The white man knows no difference—you might as well join in the fight”; showing again that “lack of discrimination” would mete out a common fate to all.

When the moving mass had settled, a dead calm fell upon the Agency—the tense suspense was relaxed.

My knowledge of the Indians made me especially solicitous at this time.  The white man excels in power, the Indian in subtlety; and both say, “All is fair in war.”  I was anxious to go down into the camp and learn by observation and question the exact situation.

One of my former pupils offered to escort me.  The horses had been brought, and I started in search of my companion.  On my way I was struck with the desertion of the streets.  Few people were in sight, except here and there a group of Indians, the majority of whom were opposite Headquarters, which were separated from them by a common fenced in from the road.  Passing hurriedly along, my attention was attracted by a movement—the raising of a rifle to take aim.  Following the direction of the aim, I saw Gen. Miles sitting upon the veranda of Headquarters, listening to the music of the military band.

The terrible consequences of a single shot flashed over me.  With the hope that I might prevent his action without arousing his suspicion that I mistrusted him, I went to him and asked him if he had seen Marshall (my escort).  Instinctively, as I hoped, he leaned to hear my errand, dropping his gun upon his arm, the others also bending over to listen.  His small stock of English and my limited Sioux afforded pretext for gaining time and attracted the attention of those around us.

An unarmed soldier standing near, listening to the band, turned and came towards us.

I do not know exactly what I said, but I sent a message requesting Gen. Miles for an interview in his office, telling the soldier I would wait his return.  He must have been impressed with the sense of importance of his errand as he hurried away.  I have become hardened to danger in many forms, but preeminent in my memory will always be those terrible moments when I stood there awaiting the movements of soldier or Indian.  Before me stretched the overhanging ridges, ominous with threatening cannon and Gatling gun, crowded with thousands of armed men, ready for instant action.  Below them, camped along the creek, were the Indians, as at Wounded Knee; many were there, we knew, desperate, reckless, eager for bloodshed.

As I stood waiting Capt. Ewers rode by.  I motioned to him; he dismounted and approached me.  I asked him who the men were, telling what I had seen.  He saw the relative position of the Indian and General.  The soldier had delivered his message; my ruse was successful; Gen. Miles was leaving the porch.

Capt. Ewers went toward the Indians, but they put spurs to their horses and were soon out of sight.  I believe that they thought that I had sent the soldier upon the quest I had sought of them, and were waiting for me to pass on.  May I never again be called to endure such moments as when I stood there facing the Indian with the thought that thousands of lives depended upon my absolute self-control.

The pages of Indian warfare are filled with battles precipitated in this way.  History has just recorded a similar conflict from which the smoke had scarcely died away—the combatants emerging with renewed hatred and vengeance, and were now again confronting one another—the one with power, the other with subtlety.

When the soldiers returned and I went to Gen. Miles’s office, I could not trust myself to tell him the circumstances—it was still too vivid for words.  I made my proposed visit to the camp the subject of my call.  With my escort I went among the hostiles and had opportunity for observation.

Emma Cornelia Sickels

This was the last afternoon of the outbreak.  Conciliatory measures were used to restore peace, and although the brutal murder of Few Tails by white men, and the bringing in of his wounded wife, gave just cause for grievance, the kind treatment she had received at the hands of the soldiers palliated the wrong.

Within two weeks the soldiers had been ordered to their distant homes, the customary delegation of Indians was sent to Washington under the management of an Agent of the Bureau, who knew nothing of the parts taken by the individuals in the “outbreak,” except as he depended upon others for information, and consequently at this crisis “the greatest obstacle in the way of peace” (in the future) was the “lack of discrimination between the hostiles and the well-disposed.”[7]

Buffalo Bill's Indians at P.R. Agency S.D.

Clarence G. Morledge’s photograph “Buffalo Bill’s Indians at P.R. Agency S.D.” was taken on 2 March 1891 and depicts Miss Emma C. Sickels in the center. Major John Burke, manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, is kneeling to her right.


Born in 1854 in Massachusetts, Emma Cornelia was the fourth child and second daughter of George Edward Sickels.  Her mother, George’s second wife, was Maria Louisa, nee Smith.  By his first marriage George, a bank clerk, had two sons, George Edward, Jr., and William.  George’s first wife, Mary, died in 1847 a few months after William was born.  George married Maria Smith in late August or early September 1849 in either Brookline or Westminster, Massachusetts.  Together they had four daughters and two boys: Maria Louisa (later Mrs. George A. Tripp) born in 1851, Emma Cornelia–the subject of this essay, Harriet Elizabeth born in 1855, Ellen Maria born in 1857, Frederick Henry born in 1861, and Sheldon Sanford who died in 1865 in the first year of his life.  Maria died in November 1865 a few months after her infant son.[8]

Emma Sickels attended college at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, graduating in 1872 at the age of eighteen.  She moved to Chicago, Illinois, where a number of her siblings and her maternal grandparents were living and pursued a vocation in teaching.  Typical of teachers of the day, she never married. [9]

By 1884, the thirty-year-old teacher headed to the Dakota Territory where she spent at least two years working as the superintendent of the Pine Ridge Indian Industrial Boarding School.  It was there that she established a rapport with a number of the Lakota chiefs, including Little Wound and Red Cloud.  In an 1893 interview, Miss Sickels recounted a dispute between her and Red Cloud, chief of the Oglalas, and her rescue by Little Wound.[10]

I may be prejudiced, but perhaps I am justified, as Little Wound saved my life and the school during the insurrection of 1884. That outbreak was started by my telling the daughter of Red Cloud that if she could not obey the rules of the school she could leave.  She was a haughty girl, and left.  She went straight to her father, who thereupon made incendiary haragues to his people, denouncing the school and me.  After several months he took the field, sided by Little Chief, the fiery Cheyenne.  They came down upon Pine Ridge, about a thousand strong, with the avowed intention of burning it and killing me.  Dr. McGillicuddy, the agent then, did not believe in military defense, and it seemed as if we were doomed, but Little Wound had heard of Red Cloud’s design, and always having been a friend of mine, he gathered a force twice as strong as the other two chiefs’, and arrived at Pine Ridge the night before the projected attack.  Red Cloud saw that he was defeated and sullenly withdrew, and three weeks later sent his children back to the school.[11]

According to a 1910 address by E. C. Bishop, superintendent of Nebraska public instruction, under Miss Sickels’s management the Indian industrial school grew and became a model for other Indian schools.  Emma Sickels resigned within a couple of years and returned to Chicago where she furthered her own education and professional pursuits experimenting along industrial and pedagogical lines.  She took up educating young women in domestic sciences, that is cooking and housekeeping, and this work took her to New York, where she was engaged at the onset of the Sioux disturbances in the fall of 1890.[12]

Following the conclusion of the outbreak, Miss Sickels returned to New York and helped organize Indian exhibits for the New York Press Club and for the Chicago World’s Fair. This led to her taking a leading role in the education of Native Americans serving as Vice-President of the Indian Educational Congress and also as Commissioner for the Indian Exhibit of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  Her propensity to voicing her strong convictions in the press lead her into conflict with several leading voices in Indian affairs including Frederic Putnam, director of Indian exhibits, James Mooney, noted ethnologist, and even Thomas J. Morgan, former commissioner of Indian Affairs.  Such enemies could help to explain why Miss Sickles’s role during the outbreak received little attention following the actual events, save that of her own articles.[13]

In the latter 1890s Miss Sickels turned her attentions to agricultural nutrition.  She organized and served as the secretary of the National Domestic Science Association and later the National Pure Food Association.  She received a patent in 1899 for improvements in the rectification of vegetable oils, principally from maze, offering an alternative to olive oil.  Sickels remained active through the 1910s working with Congress on legislation to improve nutrition.[14]

By 1920 her health was failing and she was admitted to the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois. Emma Cornelia Sickels died there on 13 December 1921 at the age of sixty-seven. She was laid to rest at Albion, New York, in the Mount Albion Cemetery where her parents and three of her siblings were buried.[15]

Medal for a Chicago Woman - NYTimes 19020418Emma C. Sickels’s role in bringing about a peaceful resolution during the 1890 – 1891 Sioux outbreak at Pine Ridge may indeed have been worthy of a medal.  Certainly she was instrumental in convincing her old friend, Little Wound, to abandoned the hostile camp and return to Pine Ridge in early December 1890.  She may also have played a significant part in convincing the hostile chiefs to return peacefully in the middle of January 1891. Although, more than likely she was yet another implement that General Miles utilized in convincing the Lakota to end the outbreak.  Her claim to have staved off an attempted assassination of the commanding general and thus averted an almost certain bloody conflict simply cannot be corroborated.  According to her account, Captain Ezra P. Ewers and the unidentified soldier were the only witnesses to the event, and they left no mention of the incident.

As for Miss Sickels’s view that Red Cloud was the mastermind behind a grand strategy to converge all the hostile camps onto Pine Ridge for one final decisive engagement, she was not alone in that perception.  It was widely publicized in many of the newspapers of the day.  Depending on the correspondent, Red Cloud was depicted as in the hostile camp at times and in the friendly camp at others.  Clearly Miss Sickels came to Pine Ridge in December 1890 harboring ill feelings toward Red Cloud based on their earlier dispute in 1884 over the chief’s daughter.  That explains her willingness to view Red Cloud as the manipulator of that winter’s events.  The historical record does not support Red Cloud having much of any role other than that of a very old, nearly blind chief, struggling to keep some semblance of control over events.

Miss Emma C. Sickels’s role has been all but overlooked or ignored by historians of Wounded Knee and the Sioux outbreak of 1890 – 1891.  Her efforts at bringing about a peaceful resolution are worthy of further study.  In her own time, she was formally recognized as the Heroine of Pine Ridge.  It is time that historians recognize her efforts among the Lakota and determine if the title is deserved.


[1] “Gossip About Noted People,” Omaha Daily Bee (5 Jan 1896).
[2] The Brownsville Daily Herald. (Brownsville, Tex.: 01 May 1902), 1.
[3] Robert M. Utley, Last Days of the Sioux Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 103; William S. Coleman, Voices of Wounded Knee (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 88; Richard E. Jensen, R. Eli Paul, and John E. Carter, Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 74.
[4] Leonard W. Colby, “The Sioux Indian War 1890-’91” in Transactions and Reports of the Nebraska State Historical Society, vol. 3 (Freemont, NE: Hammond Bros., Printers, 1892), 180-185.
[5] James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and Wounded Knee (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973), 655 and 797; originally printed in the Fourteenth Annual Report (Part 2) of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, 1892-93 by J. W Powell.
[6] “Heroine of Pine Ridge,” St. Paul Daily Globe (5 Jan 1896), 14.
[7] Sickels, Emma C. “Among the Sioux: A Woman’s Experience During the Pine Ridge Troubles.” The National Tribune, April 27, 1893: 12.
[8] Carlton E. Sanford, Thomas Sanford, the emigrant to New England; ancestry, life,and descendants, 1632-4. Sketches of four other pioneer Sanfords and some of their descendants, vol. 2 (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Co., Printers, 1911), 888; Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009), Year: 1850, Census Place: South Reading, Middlesex, Massachusetts, Roll: M432_324, Page: 259B, Image:186; Year: 1860, Census Place: Waukesha, Waukesha, Wisconsin, Roll: M653_1436, Page: 233, Image: 242, Family History Library Film: 805436; Year: 1880, Census Place: Chatham, Morris, New Jersey, Roll: 792, Family History Film: 1254792, Page: 70B, Enumeration District: 116, Image: 0647.
[9] Thirty-fifth annual catalogue of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, South Hadley, Mass. 1871-72, 13.
[10] Iowa State Education Association, Proceedings of the Fifty-sixth Annual Session of the Iowa State Teachers Association held at Des Moines, Iowa, November 4, 5 and 6, 1910,(Des Moines: Iowa State Teachers Association, 1910), 81-83.
[11] “Red Cloud and Little Wound; Emma C. Sickels on the Careers of the Rival Chiefs,” New York Times (19 Jul 1893), 9.
[12] Iowa State Education Association, Proceedings of the Fifty-sixth Annual Session, 83.
[13] Lee D. Carter, Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture (Durham, NC : Duke University Press, 2010), 104-111.
[14] United States Patent Office, “Refining Vegetable Oils,” Letters Patent No. 636,860 (14 Nov 1899).
[15] United States Federal Census, Year: 1920, Census Place: Elgin, Kane, Illinois, Roll: T625_375, Page: 20A, Enumeration District: 90, Image: 448; Ancestry.com, Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line] (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011), FHL Film Number: 1570230.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Emma Cornelia Sickels – Heroine of Pine Ridge or Self-Promoter,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-Jy) updated 15 Mar 2015, accessed date __________.

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Henry’s Brunettes

Occasionally, a historical photograph surfaces from an old trunk in an attic that piques the interest of historians and enthusiasts alike.  Such was the case this month when a picture of ten non-commissioned officers of Troop G, 9th Cavalry, came to light and was published in the Taos News under the title, “Mystery of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ photo.” According to the article, Taos resident Gloria Longval wishing to honor Black History Month brought the photograph to the attention of the local news outlet.  Mrs. Longval intimated that she came into possession of the photograph entirely by accident about fifty years ago.  After buying several frames at an auction, she discovered the photograph under an illustration in one of the frames.

A historian and blogger by the name of Luckie Daniels has taken up the cause to identify the men in the photograph.  One of her readers, William F. Haenn, a retired army lieutenant colonel and published author opined:

The medal five of the soldiers are wearing shows they are members of the Society of the Army and Navy Union of the United States. Badges of Military Societies were first authorized for wear in the 1897 Army Uniform Regulations. Typically uniform regulations served to catch up with what was already a common practice. Safe to say the photo is early to mid-1890s. The other badges are marksmanship badges.

The two soldiers in the upper left are wearing sharpshooter badges (maltese cross) and the soldier second from the left is [also] wearing a distinguished marksman badge. The solider with a cravat bottom row second from the right is wearing a marksman silver bar. All the soldiers are non-commissioned officers, six sergeants and four corporals.
The leggings worn by the soldier in the front row far right were not adopted for wear by cavalrymen until 1894. Leggings replaced the traditional cavalry boots in that year. The photo had to be taken after 1894.
The 9th Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska throughout the 1890s until deployed to Cuba in the War with Spain in 1898.

Based on Haenn’s assessment, the photograph most certainly dates from the mid-1890s at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  These same cavalrymen very likely participated in the Pine Ridge Campaign of 1890-1891.  Named for their commander, Major and brevet Colonel Guy V. Henry–perhaps the most renowned Indian fighter in uniform at the time–the 9th Cavalry during that campaign were dubbed “Henry’s Brunettes.”

A 26 January 1891 article in the Omaha Bee, detailed Major General Nelson A. Miles’ review of all the soldiers gathered in Pine Ridge at the end of the campaign. The article mentions Troop G as being under the command of Lieutenant Grote Hutcheson, who later served as the regiment’s adjutant and wrote the first history of the 9th Cavalry for the book, “The Army of the United States, Historical Sketches of the Staff and Line.”  Bee correspondent Ed O’Brien wrote:

Then came the Ninth, the fame of which in this campaign is the subject of general conversation. In a certain sense it was the leading feature of the parade. The troopers are colored. They wore buffalo overcoats. Long or short, light or heavy, they sat there on horses like Neys. They seemed to glory in the soldier’s life, to take to it as kindly as do the savages to the warpath. They looked like Esquimaux rigged out for an active campaign and demeaned themselves as if they were alike fearless of the elements and storms of shot and shell. At their head rode Colonel Henry, the fearless man who has led them in their rides over these hills and valleys and both into and out of the mouth of hell, which they have experienced on several occasions. Lieutenant W. Finley acted as adjutant, Dr. Kane as medical officer and Lieutenant Bettens as quartermaster.
The First battalion was commanded by Captain Loud, A troop by Captain Garrard, I troop by Lieutenant Perry, G troop by Lieutenant Grote Hutcheson, in the absence of the veteran Captain Cusack, who was seriously ill. The guidon of this troop was badly punctured with bullets.
The Second Battalion was commanded by Captain Stedman, K troop being led by “Light-Horse Harry,” Captain Wright, the young gentleman who has just received the spurs of his present rank which even was celebrated on the field of battle. F troop was led by Lieutenant McAnany and D troop by Lieutenant Powell. A Hotchkiss battery brought up the rear.

A more famous narrative of General Miles’ review written by Charles Seymour appeared in Harper’s Weekly:

…..And when the black scowling faces of the Ninth Cavalry passed in close lines behind the glittering carbines held at a salute, General Miles waved his gloved hand to Colonel Henry, whose gaunt figure was almost lost in the folds of his buffalo overcoat. Three weeks before, these black troopers rode 100 miles without food or sleep to save the Seventh cavalrymen, who were slowly being crushed by the Sioux in the valley at the Catholic Mission. Then they dashed through the flanks of the savages, and after sweeping the ridges with carbine and pistol, lifted the white troopers out of the pocket with such grace that after the battle was over the men of both regiments hugged one another on the field.

Henry later wrote a detailed account of the 9th Cavalry’s actions during the campaign including the famous 100-mile ride that culminated with the rescue of the 7th Cavalry at the Drexel Mission fight on White Clay Creek, 30 December 1890.  Following is Henry’s narrative printed in the 4 January 1897 edition of the Omaha Daily Bee.



(General Guy V. Henry in Harper’s Weekly.)

While seated in my office at Fort McKinney, Wyo., on the 19th day of November, 1890, the following telegram was handed to me:

“Move out as soon as possible with the troop of cavalry at your post; bring all the wagon transportation you can spare, pack mules and saddles; extra ammunition and rations will be provided when you reach the railroad.—By Order of the Department Commander”

What possible cause for this interruption of our peace and happiness and the breaking up of our homes, settled for the long and usually trying winter, and the leaving of our families could not be imagined.  A distance of nearly 200 miles from the railroad, uncertain mail and telegraphic facilities, or at least much delayed news, kept us ignorant of outside troubles.

Preparations were at once made, and the following day I marched out of Fort McKinney with troop D, Ninth cavalry, Captain Loud, Lieutenants Powell and Benton.  Turning the point of a hill, after crossing the beautiful Clear fork of the Powder river, the post and our families were soon lost to sight.  Little did we suspect at the time that we were never to return to Fort McKinney as a station.  This is a peculiarity of army life—to leave on twenty-four hours’ notice a place, possibly never to be seen again, or maybe only when, after a lapse of years a similar notice may as suddenly return you to your old station.  Nearing the railroad, we began to hear all sorts of rumors of the Indians being on the warpath—the murder of settlers, the starting of a party of Indians in the direction of Fort McKinney so as to obtain a refuge in the Big Horn mountains; these and other reports found us mentally prepared for a winter’s campaign, so that on reaching the railroad we were not surprised to find cars in readiness to carry us to Rushville, the nearest point to the reported place of trouble—Pine Ridge agency, South Dakota.

We arrived at Rushville at night, and immediately detrained, and started early the following morning on our march to the agency, where we arrived early in the afternoon of the same day.  Contrary to expectations we met with no hostile Indians or resistance.

We found all the troops camped close about the agency, and made our own camp in the bottom, about half a mile away, on White river.  The next day we were joined by troops K, F and I, with Captains Wright and Stedman, and Lieutenants Guilfoyle, McAnaney and Perry, Dr. Keane being the medical officer; the four troops constituted the Ninth cavalry squadron.  Our time was fully occupied in daily drills and in getting our pack-mule train in order, for upon this we depended for rations and forage when absent from our wagons.  Rumors came often to us that the Indians were keeping up their ghost-shirt, or Messiah dances; that they considered these shirts, when worn, to be impervious to the bullet; of their desire to clean out the whites and to occupy the promised land; of their having occupied an impregnable position in the Bad Lands, so fortified and difficult of approach that an attempt to dislodge them would result in the annihilation of the whole army—these and many other rumors gave the Indian, who is a great braggart, an abundant opportunity to air himself, and left us plenty of leisure to prepare ourselves for our future state.

The afternoon of December 24 an order reached us to move out at once to head off Big Foot—an Indian chief—and his band, who had escaped from our troops, and, it was supposed, would join the hostiles in the Bad Lands; and this we were to prevent.  So at 2 p.m. the “general” sounded—a signal which meant to strike our tents and pack our mules and wagons.  The latter were to follow us, escorted by one troop.  Soon “boots and saddles” rang out, when horses were saddled, line formed, and then, with three troops and with two Hotchkiss guns of the First artillery, under Lieutenant Hayden, we commenced our march of fifty miles, expecting to reach our goal before daylight.  Only a half-hundred miles!  It does not seem far on paper, but on the back of a trotting horse on a cold winter’s night it is not to be laughed at.  On we dashed through the agency, buoyed by the hearty cheers and “A Merry Christmas!” given us by the comrades we were leaving behind to revel by the camp-fires, while we rode on by moonlight to meet the foe.  Every heart went out in sympathy with us, every one waved his hat and cheered as we rode out on the plains—perhaps to glory, perchance to death.  Proud and gallant the troopers looked, more as if going on parade than like men riding forth, it might be, to meet a soldier’s death.  It made one’s heart beat quicker, and brought to mind the words:

To sound of trumpet and heart-beat
The squadron marches by;
There is color in their cheeks,
There is courage in their eyes;
Yet to the sound of trumpet and heart-beat
In a moment they may die.

Little did we think at that time that within less than one week some of the gallant men we were leaving behind would be killed by the very band we sought, while we should be saved.  After riding for two hours, alternately at a trot and a walk, a short halt was made for the men to make coffee and to give the horses a feed.  Then the march was continued, and on and on we sped, that cold, moonlit Christmas eve.  The words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” rang in our ears as we pushed on with hostile intent toward the red men.  The night was beautiful with the clear moon, but so cold that water froze solid in our canteens, notwithstanding the constant shaking.  Crossing a narrow bridge, a pack-mule was shoved off by its crowded comrades, and, falling on the ice of Wounded Knee creek, broke a hole, smashed a box of hardtack, but gathered himself together and ambled off, smiling serenely at having received no damage to his body.

Here we passed abandoned ranches, the owners driven off by threats or fear of the Indians; here we were at the scene of the ghost dance, where the Indians were taught that the Messiah would appear, rid the country of the white man, and bring plenty to the Indian; that the common cotton ghost shirt worn was bullet proof; while in every other possible way the medicine-men worked upon the fanaticism of the deluded creature.  We saw at a distance stray cattle, whose spectral appearance almost led us to believe in ghosts, if not in ghost shirts, and an examination was made to see whether or not they were Indians waiting on their ponies to attack us.

To cross White river we had to take a plunge from solid ice to mid-channel water, and then rode to Cottonwood springs, at the base of the position of the Indians in the Bad Lands.  We reached this place at 4 a.m., and threw ourselves on the ground for rest, knowing that to obtain wood and water for breakfast Christmas morning we should have to march eight miles.  And this is the way the Ninth cavalry squadron spent Christmas eve of 1890.  Christmas day we proceeded to Harney springs, a place where I had encamped during my winter’s march on seventeen years before, and finding wood and water, we made our breakfast.  We scouted the country for several days to find Big Foot’s trail, but he had passed east of us.  We discovered the tepees of the Indians, but finding no trace of the former occupants, we returned to White river.  The next day we made a reconnaissance of the Bad Lands.  Instead of narrow trails or defiles of approach accessible only in single file, where we could have been shot down by the Indians at will, we found a broad open divide; instead of impregnable earthworks, only a ridiculously weak pile of earth existed, here and there, filled in by a dead horse.  The Indians occupied a narrow position, from which they could easily have been shelled.  They had taken one military precaution, however, that of preparing for retreat, and had cut openings in the bluffs, which on their side were abrupt, so that they could slide down and escape.  The reality, as compared with the reports of Indian guides and interpreters, was greatly exaggerated, all brag and bluster, and but for the existence of high hills, little more than a “bluff” on the part of the Indians.  I had spent many a moment, when I supposed we should have to make an assault on this position, thinking how it could be done, and worrying over the probable loss of life, such perhaps as had occurred in the Lava beds when troops were opposed to the Modoc Indians; but when I saw this burlesque I could only laugh, and I made up my mind that it was best not to cross Fox river till it was reached.

It was not 10 o’clock at night, the wind was cold, and as it howled out of the canyons and swept over the valley, it carried with it the crystals that had fallen the day before.  There was no moon, the night was inky dark, even the patches of snow which lay here and there on the ground gave no relief to the eye.  Muffled in their shaggy buffalo overcoats, and hooded by the grotesque fur caps used by our western troops, the negro troopers looked like meaningless bundles that had been tied in some way to the backs of their horses.  Through canyons whose black walls seemed to be compressing all the darkness of the night, over buttes whose crests were crowned with snow, and across the rickety bridges which span Wounded Knee and Porcupine creeks the command sped at a pace which would have killed horses that had not been hardened by practice, as ours had been.  Nothing could be heard but the clatter of hoofs and the clanking of the carbines as they chafed the metallic trappings of the saddle; silence had been ordered, and the usual laugh and melodious songs of the darky troopers were not ours to beguile the march.  Now and then came the reverberation of the mule-whacker’s whip as he threw his energy and muscle into a desperate effort to keep the wagon train near us; figures could be seen flitting across the road and on the bluffs, and we knew not at what moment we might be fired upon; accordingly, the effort was made to reach the agency before daybreak, in the hope that darkness and the Indians’ superstition would protect us from attack in the meantime.

As we neared the agency the country became more open, hills easy of occupation commanding the road if the occasion required.  So, in order to enable us to get our horses into camp, and the riders and saddles off our weary animals, we left the wagon train a short distance in the rear, guarded by one troop, and the column moved on, entering the agency at daybreak, men and horses much tired after our long day and night ride of about 100 miles.  Reaching our old camp we all sought rest at once by throwing ourselves on the ground, but we had been resting only a short time when Corporal Wilson of the wagon train guard, who had volunteered at the risk of his life to reach us, rode rapidly into camp and reported that the train beyond the agency was surrounded and one man already killed.  In a moment the command, many not waiting to saddle, galloped to the front and quickly occupied the hills, whereupon the Indians retreated and the train moved in.

Scarcely had we returned to camp when orders were received to proceed to the Mission, the smoke from whose buildings indicated Indian depredations.  By request, owing to tired men and horses, we were allowed to rest longer, the Seventh cavalry going out.  Later we went to the Mission as rapidly as our wearied horses could carry us, and, after accomplishing the purpose for which we had been urgently called, returned, reaching our camp about dusk.  We had marched some 103 miles in twenty-two hours, and, although one horse had died, there was not a sore-backs horse in the outfit; men and horses were fatigued, but all were in good condition.  The following day, December 31, we remained in camp, with a howling snow storm prevailing, and amid these gloomy surroundings the Seventh cavalry buried its dead.  January 1, again under orders, we left the agency to combine with other troops in forming a cordon to drive back the hostiles who had fled from the agency, or to follow them if depredations upon the settlements were commenced.  Finally the Indians were forced back to the agency, not, however, until Lieutenant Casey had been killed by them, nor before they saw that resistance was useless, and that the ghost shirt was not impervious to the bullet.

Preparations were then made for a final review of troops.  We were encamped in line of battle, extending nearly three miles, which made a great impression upon the Indians, many of whom looked on from a distance in amazement and distrust, fearing that our arrangements might mean an attack instead of a peaceful march in review previous to the return of the troops to their posts.

The morning broke with a pelting flurry of a combination of snow and dirt.  A veil of dark clouds hung suspended above the hills, which surrounded the camp ground like a coliseum, and a piercing breeze swept from the north, making the contrast with the previous Messiah weather we had been having anything but agreeable.  We were fearful that a Dakota blizzard might strike us, meaning death to our animals in their exposed position and probably serious results to the soldiers.  Accordingly we all were anxious that the review ordered by General Miles be not postponed.

General Miles, after passing along the line, took position opposite the center, so that the troops, all of whom had participated in or rendered service during the Pine Ridge troubles, might march past him.  They moved in column of companies, troops, or platoons, and by infantry, cavalry, and artillery corps, respectively, and in order as above.  General Brooke and staff headed the column, followed by the band of the First United States infantry.  When opposite General Miles the band wheeled out of the column, playing, or attempting to do so, during the passage of the troops—a difficult matter, as the fierce wind almost prevented any musical notes being made or heard.

Then came 100 mounted Ogallala Indian scouts, commanded by Lieutenant Taylor of the Ninth cavalry.  Their precision of march was noticeable, and in various ways they had rendered valuable service during the campaign.  General Wheaton, as a brigade commander, followed with his staff.  The first regiment of his command was the First United States infantry, under Colonel Shafter, whose martial appearance and indifference to the cold—the men not wearing overcoats—suggested blood warmed by their California station.  Then came the Second United States infantry under Major Butler.  Their marching showed service, and they had recently lost Captain Mills, whose sad death in his tent as reveille sounded was fresh in the minds of his comrades.  Next followed six companies of the Seventeenth infantry, under Captain Van Horne, who marched well; then two companies of the Eighth infantry with a Gatling gun, under Captain Whitney; then Captain Capron with his light battery of the First United States artillery, which had distinguished itself at the battle of Wounded Knee creek during the fight with Big Foot’s band on December 29, and afterward at the Mission.  Next in order came General Carr, commanding the cavalry brigade, followed by the historic and veteran Sixth cavalry and the Fort Leavenworth cavalry squadron, composed of one troop from each of the First, Fifth and Eighth regiments of cavalry, followed by a Hotchkiss battery; then came the scowling black faces of the Ninth cavalry squadron, with three other troops, A, C and G of the same regiment, who passed at “advance carbine” and whose gallant and hard service is of official record; then the Seventh United States cavalry, whose fine appearance attracted attention, and whose losses in action were attested by the vacancies in the ranks made by the gallant men killed or wounded.  The ambulance wagon and pack-mule trains brought up the rear, making a total in passing of about 3,600 men and 3,700 animals.

The column was pathetically grand, with its bullet-pierced gun carriages, its tattered guidons and its long array of cavalry, artillery and infantry, facing a pitiless storm which caused the curious Indians who witnessed it to seek protection under every cover and butte which could be found.  It was the grandest demonstration that had ever been seen by the army in the west, and when the soldiers had gone to their tents the sullen and suspicious Brules could be seen going to their tepees in ill-disguised bad humor.  The forces disbanded in a few days, the First infantry remaining at the agency for one month, while the Ninth cavalry squadron was ordered to select a comfortable winter camp, and to remain till spring.

Our comfortable camp was located on a small stream under cover of a high bluff, which, like a snow fence, secured and held the drifting snow from the plain above and caused a bank of snow twenty feet high and ten thick to form beyond and near our camp.  The men had stoves in their tents, but their beds were on the ground; the officers were a little better off.  The animals had canvas blanket covers.  But with all this there was suffering in various ways.  There were damp, cold nights; many had colds and pneumonia; there were few comforts.  But yet our soldiers did not complain.  On the contrary, it would have been difficult to find a more truly happy lot than those colored troopers.

Each of the big Sibley tents held fifteen or sixteen men, and when supper was over (bread and coffee, and sometimes a little bacon), these little communities settled down to have a good time.  Song and story, with an occasional jig or a selection on the mouth-organ or the banjo, with the hearty laugh of the darky, occupied the night hours till “taps” sounded for bed; and the reveille, or awakening, seemed to find these jolly fellows still laughing.  The Indians seem to hold the darky in reverence, if not awe.  The doctrine of the Messiah religion is that all the whites are to be cleaned off the earth—and this leaves the negro.  The Indians have a superstition that the bullet cannot kill the darky; but this, as with the ghost-shirt “not-kill” theory, had been dispelled by actual experience.

The negro is not easy to scalp—I have never heard of one being scalped, their wool not giving so good a hold as the hair of the white man—and the theory is that only those who are scalped are kept from the “happy hunting grounds,” where the fighting unfinished on earth is continued.  It is certain that the treatment of the black by the Indian is different from that given to the white, and when thrown together the red man seems to hold the black in greater respect.  I recall an instance in my youth when a band of Indians attacked a party of whites, killing the men and children, but keeping a white woman were obliged to change clothes, showing the greater respect for the black, who was treated then and afterward with consideration, while the white woman was killed when on the eve of recapture by our troops who had pursued the Indians.

The colored troops make excellent soldiers; in garrison they are clean and self-respecting, and proud of their uniform; in the field patient and cheerful under hardships or deprivations, never growling nor discontented, doing what is required of them without a murmur.  Arriving in camp after hours in the rain or cold they will sing and be happy; an enforced reduction of rations is received with good humor.  The peculiar owl-like character of the negro, who apparently does not need so much sleep at night as the white man, makes him a good and vigilant sentinel.

If properly led he will fight well; otherwise, owing to his habit of dependence upon a superior, he is more liable to stampede than the Caucasian; nor has he, as with the white, except in exceptional cases, the same individuality or self-dependence—he goes rather in a crowd and you seldom see a negro by himself.  He is generous to a fault and has but little regard for the care of the United States property, for which neglect he pays, but in this respect he is much improved over former years.  He is like a child, and has to be looked after by his officers, but will repay such interest by a devoted following and implicit obedience.  It would not be safe to suggest to some of these black troopers your desire that one of their comrades, whose conduct had not met with approval, should be hung before daylight, for it would very likely be an accomplished fact.  Drunkenness is not one of his vices—it is seldom you see one under the influence of liquor; his loyalty to the flag is unquestioned, and the desertion of one is almost unknown.

The above are some of the virtues of the black trooper, all necessary attributes of a good soldier.  Card playing—and he is an inveterate gambler, as is also the Indian—is one of his vices, if such it may be called.  His defective education leads him to indulge in it largely as a means of whiling away the time.

Our service with such men made the disagreeable camp surroundings endurable, even pleasant, and imparted to the white officers a more contented feeling, or at least an acceptance of the situation in a more equable manner than would otherwise have been the case.

Spring came, and with it our orders to march to Fort Robinson, a station where I had been seventeen years before, when on my winter’s march to the Black Hills.  I was now to return to it under very different circumstances.  Leaving our winter camp, and marching through deep snows, we made the town of Chadron, on the railroad, the first day, our men sleeping in a building loaned by the citizens.  The second day we marched nearly forty miles through deeper snows up to the girths of the saddles, in drifts much deeper, and, as the snow began to melt, through lakes of slush and bog, many of the men and animals becoming snow blind.  As the retreat gun fired, with the band playing a welcome, we entered Fort Robinson, thus ending the duties of the Ninth cavalry squadron in the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian campaign.

For further reading on the amazing military career of General Guy Vernon Henry, Sr., I recommend Cyrus Townsend Brady’s, “What They Are There For” in the October 1903 edition of Scribner’s Magazine.

Daniels, Luckie, “Military Mystery: U.S. Cavalry 9th Regiment Company G?” Where Honor Is Due: Our Men of Military Service (https://wherehonorisdue.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/military-mystery-u-s-cavalry-9th-regiment-company-g/), posted 16 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Haenn, William F., from comments posted on “Are Our Soldiers Wearing GAR Medals? #BuffaloSoldier,” Where Honor Is Due: Our Men of Military Service (https://wherehonorisdue.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/are-our-soldiers-wearing-gar-medals-buffalosoldier/) posted 20 Feb 2015, comments 26 and 27 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Henry, Guy V., “A Sioux Indian Episode,” Omaha Daily Bee (4 Jan 1891), 7.
Hutcheson, Grote, “The Ninth Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States Historical Sketches of the Staff and Line With Portraits of Generals-In-Chief by William L. Haskin (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1896), 280 – 287.
O’Brien, Edward A., “The March of Forces,” Omaha DailyBee  (26 Jan 1891), 2.
Romancito, Rick, “Mystery of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ photo,” The Taos News (http://www.taosnews.com/entertainment/article_2891a05a-b9d8-11e4-b7f2-4b042719192c.html), posted 21 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Seymour, Charles G.,  “The Sioux Rebellion, The Final Review,” Harper’s Weekly, vol. 35
(7 Feb 1891), 106.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Henry’s Brunettes,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-Jg), posted 28 Feb 2015, accessed date __________.

Posted in Enlisted, Newspaper Articles, Reminiscences | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Letter from Private Thomas McGuire, D Troop, 7th Cavalry

My Dear friend we had a pretty hard battle with Big foots band on the 29th Dec. We killed over 300 of them.

Private Thomas McGuire was a twenty-four-year-old Irish immigrant in Captain Godfrey’s D Troop.  He enlisted in New York City in April 1888 and served three of his five years, being discharged in July 1891 with a characterization of service of excellent.  A native of Leitrim, Ireland, McGuire stood just under five feet, seven inches, with blue eyes, light hair and a fair complexion.  Writing two letters from the Pine Ridge Agency in January 1891, Thomas McGuire related to a friend in Topeka, Kansas, his experience in the battles at Wounded Knee and the Drexel Mission, and about some of the curios he collected from the Wounded Knee battlefield.  He also describes the fear and animosity with which the Lakota viewed the 7th Cavalry three weeks after the tragedy.

page 1 - 10 Jan 1891

(Click to enlarge) page 1 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

 South Dakota
I do not know the name of
this place it is 18
miles from Pine R. agency
January 10th, 91.

My Dear
Friend, I received your kind letter yesterday as was glad to hear by it that you are better of your sickness.  My Dear friend we had a pretty hard battle with Big foots band on the 29th Dec. We killed over 300 of them.  The 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavy, went out scouting and captured the Band and when the[y] brought them into camp the[y] sent a courier for the 2nd Battalion and we went out to help to disarm them.  There was 4 troops in a circle around them and the other 4 troops went into

(Click to enlarge) page 2 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 2 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

there [sic] camp to take there arms every thing was going fine only for a medicine man commenced to preach to them saying that a white man bullets could not kill them and then all at once he threw up a hand full of sand in the air and like a flash of lighting all the Indians men, women & children started firing on us.  I thought that it was the last of me right there but I came out safe.  There was bullets cuting [sic] the ground right around me.  I felt nervous at first but I got over it after I fired 5 or 6 shots and we gave them all the[y] wanted of lead.  We had another fight

(Click to enlarge) page 3 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 3 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

on the 30th, but we had a hard crowd to tackle.  There was about 1200 warriors and about 388 of us and the[y] had us in a pretty hard place to fight them. The Indians will never fight except in ravines or holes of some kind where the soldiers cannot get a shot at them. The[y] are a hard crowd to deal with but I guess the war is about over now.  We heard that the Indians was going into the agency today to give up. We have them surrounded like a horse shoe and the only way that can get out is to go into the agency and if the[y] raise any noise going in the artillery & Infantry is ahead of them there

(Click to enlarge) page 4 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 4 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

I must close this not as there is a party going into the agency from here and that is the only way that we can get mail in to get it posted.
You must excuse my writing as I am writing this on my knee.

Yours Truly
Thos. McGuire
Troop E, 7th Cavy
Pine Ridge Agency
South Dakota





(Click to enlarge) envelope of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) envelope of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page one of Thomas McGuire's letter to Mr. Zeller.

(Click to enlarge) page one of McGuire’s 20 January 1891 letter.

Pine Ridge agency,
January 20th 1891

My Dear Friend, Mr. Zeller

I received your welcome letter on the 18th and was glad to hear that you are well. You asked me if I could get you a bow & arrow or a tomahawk.  I am sorry that I cannot get one for you as we are not allowed to go into the hostile camp.  The only things that I got is a squaw knife & scabbard & a pair of moccasins that I got on the battle field.  I will send them to you but I will try and find something else before I send them and send them all together.  It is pretty hard to get anything from

(Click to enlarge) Page two of Thomas McGuire's letter to Mr. Zeller.

(Click to enlarge) Page two McGuire’s letter .

the Indians as the[y] hate the soldiers. The[y] are turning in there [sic] arms every day here but the[y] want the Seventh Cavalry sent away from here.  The[y] are afraid of us.  The[y] say that the Seventh is on the war path and not them.  We got orders tonight to move camp in the morning, we do not no where we are going to camp but it is believed that we are moving towards Rushville and then to go home from there.  You must excuse me for this writing as the men in this tent is [sic] packing up some of there [sic] stuff.  The[y] say that I am in the way.

Yours Respectfully,
Thos. McGuire

This letter was provided courtesy of Ms. Pat Carney.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Letter from Private Thomas McGuire, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-It), updated 24 Feb 2015, accessed date __________.

Posted in Enlisted, Personal Letters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments