Christmas Eve, 1890

Christmas Eve of 1890 saw the nation still riveted by events unfolding in the Dakotas. Sitting Bull had been killed nine days earlier, Big Foot’s band had just eluded capture from Lieutenant Colonel Sumner and were presumed to be headed to the Bad Lands to combine forces with Kicking Bear in the stronghold, and Major Guy V. Henry’s buffalo soldiers of the 9th Cavalry had just taken to the field heading north down the Wounded Knee Creek to the White River in hopes of capturing the Miniconjous.  Correspondents of varied newspapers recorded a few of the season’s events including the winter ride of “Henry’s Brunettes,” a Christmas Ghost Dance among the tribes in the Oklahoma Territory, and the 7th Cavalry’s celebration on Christmas Eve in anticipation of taking the field the following day.

Pine Ridge Agency, S. D., Dec. 24.—There was mounting in hot haste here today when the news came that 200 of the Sioux braves who surrendered to Col. Sumner had escaped and were on their way to the Bad Lands. Gen. Miles heard the news first, and wired Gen. Brooke to send out troops to head them off.  In just an hour four companies of Ninth Cavalry, with pack animals, two Hotchkiss guns and one mortar, were trotted down the road and were soon lost to sight over the hills to the north.  A wagon train and escort followed tonight.  Col. [Guy V.] Henry is probably too late to prevent the union of the warriors, and will go into camp on White river, twenty miles east of the Bad Lands.  If these bucks unite with Kicking Bear’s band in the latter’s stronghold, there will be a bloody fight before the redskins are induced to surrender again.  The Indians who got away from Col. Sumner were a part of Big Foot’s band, and included many of Sitting Bull’s followers.
A squad of Indian scouts was sent after the four troops of the Ninth cavalry to assist in the movement against the escaped hostiles.  The Seventh cavalry is under marching orders and will move before daylight.  Seven friendly Indians have just returned from the Bad Lands, and report that Short Bull’s band refuses to come in and defies the troops.[1]

Guthrie, O. T., Dec. 24.—White Cloud, Hatch-e-She and Running Deer, known as Gen. Grant, were in this city today.  They came for the purpose of inviting some of their friends and their legal advisor, W. P. Thompson, to meet them nine miles east of this city to participate in what is commonly known as the ghost dance.  The Iowas are entertaining many Indians from neighboring tribes, namely, the Kickapoos, Ottoes, Sac and Fox.  There are also representatives from the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Creek, and two messengers from the Sioux.  The white visitors will do all in their power to allay so far as possible the Messiah craze.  It is believed that they will have very little difficulty, as most of these tribes are friendly and of a civilized nature.  The dance will commence on Christmas day, nine miles east of Guthrie.  To most people a ghost dance means a preparation for taking scalps.  The territory Indians, however, are engaging in it simply as a commemoration of the birth of Christ.[2]

Pine Ridge Agency, S. D., Dec. 27.—{Special to The Bee.}—A bright particular star shown down upon the camp of the famous old seventh cavalry Wednesday night, and its beams met and blended with an unusual illumination that glowed through the big double tent of Lieutenant Herbert G. Squiers.
The lieutenant was giving a Christmas eve reception to his brother officers and a few other friends, including some of correspondents.
A handsomer, more thoroughly Christmas-like interior would be difficult to produce within the four duck walls of a soldier home in the field.  Boughs of fresh, green pine suggested Christmas tide as you entered, and a center pole wound with the same and literally loaded with Christmas toys—jumping  jacks, rubber dolls, tin horns, etc.—left no doubt as to the particular character of the event.  Cots covered with blankets made by various tribes of the red children were arranged about the sides of the tent and formed unique divans.  At one end of the tent stood a camp table piled high with all varieties of the rarer fruits, confections, etc.  At the other was a new wash tub holding delicious Roman punch made by the master hand of Major Whitside.
When the guests arrived and a round of Christmas eve greetings had been exchanged, we were served with a royal luncheon of salad—made by the skillful lieutenant, “Pansy” Brewer—water crackers, Roquefort cheese, the tenderest of dried beef, pickles, with ginger confectionery, fruit and cigars to top off on.
Toasts were both proposed and responded to by nearly every one present, General Forsyth and Major Whitside, who are about the same age, officiating as leaders in this feature, which was varied by “something that everybody could sing.”
The distribution of presents resulted in every guest getting a toy which will undoubtedly be borne home to distant states as a souvenir of the most unique and royally complete soldier Christmas eve ever spent.[3]

Officers in tent by fire during the Pine Ridge campaign, circa 1890-1891. From the National Archives “Photographs of the American West.”


[1]  Associated Press. “Indians Break Away,” St. Paul Daily Globe, 25 Dec 1890, 1.
[2] Associated Press, “Christmas Ghost Dance,” St. Paul Daily Globe, 25 Dec 1890, 1.
[3] Charles H. Cressey, “Christmas Eve in the Field,” Omaha Sunday Bee, 28 Dec 1890, 1.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Christmas Eve, 1890,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2015,, posted 24 Dec 2014, accessed date __________.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation retired Army officer with twenty-nine years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over eighteen years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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