Many people who love the era of the Cowboys and Indians, also find themselves intrigued by the Mountain Men. These men were the epitome of the “wild” west. The Mountain Men were often what many might call “social rejects,” because they lived in the wilderness, hunted and fished to sustain themselves, and were often trappers who sold their furs to supplement their living. All that seems rather normal, but they were also reclusive, and often had long hair and a bushy beard. I suppose that many people would think that our opinion of the mountain men was discriminatory, but we have always had some concerns over those who were so very different. Maybe we even associated the mountain men with lawlessness. They often lived in the wilderness, because the were non-conformists when it came to the law. It wasn’t that they wanted to rob banks and kill people, but rather that they wanted to be free to live their lives the way they saw fit, without all the rules and regulations of society.
One such mountain man, was Joe Meek, who was born in Virginia in 1810. Meek was a friendly and relentlessly good-humored young man. Unfortunately, Meek did not have a the same interest in school, that he did to be a friendly, funny guy. In reality, his biggest problem was that he had too much energy to sit still and learn. After finally giving up on schooling, at 16 years old, Meek moved west to join two of his brothers in Missouri. Meek later found a need to read and write, and so taught himself, but his spelling and grammar were said to be “highly original” throughout his life.
In early 1829, Meek joined William Sublette’s ambitious expedition to begin fur trading in the Far West. This was the perfect lifestyle for Meek, and he found himself flourishing. Meek traveled throughout the West for the next decade, thoroughly enjoying the adventure and independence of the mountain man life. Meek was an average man, standing 6 feet 2 inches tall. He wore a heavy beard, and became a favorite character at the annual mountain-men rendezvous, where he regaled his companions with humorous and often exaggerated stories of his wilderness adventures. Meek, who was a well known grizzly hunter, claimed he liked to “count coup” on the dangerous animals before killing them, a variation on a Native American practice in which they shamed a live human enemy by tapping them with a long stick. Meek also claimed to have wrestled an attacking grizzly with his bare hands, before finally sinking a tomahawk into its brain. I suppose it might have been a tall tale, but more than one mountain man hs fought a bear. Some have won, and some have not had the same outcome…sadly.
Meek may have been a misfit in society, but he had good relations with many Native Americans, and in fact, he married three Indian women during his lifetime, including the daughter of a Nez Perce chief. Still, that good relationship didn’t prevent him from getting into some squabbles with the tribes. Many of the Indians didn’t like the incursion of the mountain men into their territories, and periodically, things got hostile. In the spring of 1837, Meek was nearly killed by a Blackfeet warrior who was taking aim with his bow while Meek tried to reload his Hawken rifle. Luckily for Meek, the warrior dropped his first arrow while drawing the bow, and the mountain man had time to reload and shoot.
Finally, in 1840, Meek saw that the golden era of the free trappers was ending. He decided that it was time for a “career change.” Meek and another mountain man, along with Meek’s third wife guided one of the first wagon trains to cross the Rockies on the Oregon Trail. Once there, Meek settled in the lush Willamette Valley of western Oregon, became a farmer, and actively encouraged other Americans to join him. He could see that times were changing. In 1847, Meek led a delegation to Washington DC, asking for military protection from Indian attacks and territorial status for Oregon. After the long journey, Meek arrived in Washington DC “ragged, dirty, and lousy.” Nevertheless, he became something of a celebrity in the capitol…maybe a little bit like “Crocodile Dundee.” Meek was a novelty, and the Easterners relished the boisterous good humor Meek showed in proclaiming himself the “envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States.” The trip was quite successful, and Congress responded by making Oregon an official American territory and Meek became a US marshal.
Strangely, considering his anti-social beginnings, Meek returned to Oregon and became heavily involved in politics, eventually helping to found the Oregon Republican Party. He later retired to his farm, where he died on June 20, 1875 at the age of 65.
Unfortunately, there are among us, people who are corrupt and ruthless, and sometimes, things happen because of corruption, anger, or even stupidity. William Tilghman was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa on July 4, 1854, at the height of the “Wild West” era. He was a man who wanted something more, so at 16 years old, he moved west. As sometimes happened, men who went west, toyed with the wild life that was brought about by the lawless area. Tilghman was no different. He fell in with a bad crowd of young men who stole horses from the Indians. After several narrow escapes with angry Indians, Tilghman decided that rustling was too dangerous and settled in Dodge City, Kansas, where he briefly served as a deputy marshal before opening a saloon. He was arrested twice for alleged train robbery and rustling, but the charges did not stick. It was a shaky start, but Tilghman gradually built a reputation as an honest and respectable young man in Dodge City. Before long, he became the deputy sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. Later, he was offered and accepted the job of the marshal of Dodge City…a real life Matt Dillon, from Gunsmoke.
Tilghman was one of the first men into the territory when Oklahoma opened to settlement in 1889, and he became a deputy US marshal for the region in 1891. In the late 19th century, lawlessness was still very much a part of Oklahoma. Tilghman helped to bring order the to area by ridding Oklahoma by capturing some of the most notorious bandits of the day. While locking up many criminals, Tilghman, nevertheless, managed to earn a well-deserved reputation for treating even the worst criminals fairly and protecting the rights of the unjustly accused. Any man, who found himself in Tilghman’s custody, knew he was safe from angry vigilante mobs, because Tilghman had little tolerance for those who took the law into their own hands. In 1898, a wild mob lynched two young Indians who were falsely accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Tilghman arrested and secured prison terms for eight of the mob leaders and captured the real rapist-murderer.
In 1924, after serving a term as an Oklahoma state legislator, making a movie about his frontier days, and serving as the police chief of Oklahoma City, Tilghman might well have been expected to quietly retire. However, it was the height of the Prohibition era, and the old lawman was unable to hang up his gun. He still felt a calling to keep law and order in his town. He accepted a job as city marshal in Cromwell, Oklahoma. On November 1, 1924, William Tilghman, who was known to both friends and enemies alike as “Uncle Billy” was murdered by a corrupt prohibition agent who resented Tilghman’s refusal to ignore local bootlegging operations. The Prohibition officer was drunk, and in his anger, made the worst mistake of his life.
My great grandfather, Cornelius Byer was a kind and a fair man. He was generous and honest. It was these qualities that earned him the respect of the Indian tribes in the Gordon, Nebraska area. Great Grandpa passed away on October 23, 1930, but the celebration of life, really began before the day of the funeral, and even before he passed away. Over the years of his life, my great grandfather became a great friend of the Indians. He was invited to their pow wows, he was asked his opinions on things…and they listened when he spoke. He was helpful to the Indian tribes, and they, in turn treated him with great respect.
The Indians would often show up at his home…something that would most likely panic most people. Most often the women and children would stay outside, while the men went in to visit with Great Grandpa. It was another show of respect. The Indians often camped near the house when the men were visiting. I’m sure it was a very interesting lifestyle for my grandmother.
While all that was interesting, probably the most interesting thing happened as Great Grandpa was dying and after his passing. When he lay dying, the Indians came…long lines of them. Each one, including the women and children, passed by his bed. They spoke words of respect and admiration. I’m sure it took hours, but none were turned away. Great Grandma knew how much they loved him, and how much they needed to say goodbye. I would love to have had the chance to see that scene. These were two groups of people who normally didn’t get along, and yet they showed so much love and respect for one another. There was no warring with, no stealing from, no depriving of one another. There was simply love and respect. I’m sure it made my Great Grandmother Edna (Fishburn) Byer and their children feel very safe over the years.
My grandfather, George Byer arrived at the homestead on October 20, 1930. My grandmother, Hattie Byer stayed home with their newborn daughter, Virginia, who was just 4 months old at the time. Grandpa brought almost 2 year old Evelyn with him. His letter at the time said that all the children were there, or soon would be. Three days later, Great Grandpa Cornelius Byer passed away. I’m so glad my grandpa got to see his dad before he passed. When it was time to have the funeral, they would have to travel into Gordon, Nebraska. We would never think of transporting our own loved one to the funeral, but those were different times. Nevertheless, the Indians would not leave their dear friend to go alone. With the casket in a wagon, and his son driving, Great Grandpa went to his funeral. Little Evelyn sat in the back of the wagon, wide-eyed in wonder as a long line of Indians followed the procession to the cemetery. In death, as in life, their respect for this man, who was my great grandfather, was on display. I can’t think of a greater honor than this. Cornelius Byer was truly loved and respected by all who knew him.
Little Wolf was a Cheyenne Indian who was often called “the greatest of the fighting Cheyenne.” Little Wolf was the chief of an elite Cheyenne military society called the Bowstring Soldiers. Little Wolf had demonstrated a rare form of bravery and a brilliant understanding of battle tactics from a very early age, which led to him becoming a trusted leader. His prowess showed first in conflicts with other Indians like the Kiowa, but even more in disputes with the United States Army, Little Wolf led or assisted in dozens of important Cheyenne victories.
While it has not been confirmed, most historians agree that Little Wolf was probably involved in the disastrous Fetterman Massacre of 1866. In that battle, the Cheyenne lured the 80 American soldiers out of the fort in Wyoming, and wiped them out. Cheyenne attacks also forced the United States military to abandon Fort Phil Kearney along the Bozeman Trail, and Little Wolf is believed to have led the war party in torching of the fort. He was also a leading participant in the greatest of the Plains Indian victories, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Even with such an impressive list of victories to his credit, Little Wolf, like many of the other Plains Indian warriors, was finally forced to make peace with the White Man. After the horrendous loss at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the army launched a major offensive. In 1877, the government sent Little Wolf to a reservation in Indian Territory. Little Wolf was disgusted with the conditions and the lack of supplies the Indians were forced to endure. In 1878 Little Wolf made up His mind to leave the reservation. His plan was to head north for the old Cheyenne territory in Wyoming and Montana. Chief Dull Knife and 300 of his followers went with him.
Little Wolf and Dull Knife made it clear that their intentions were peaceful, but the settlers in the territory we’re afraid they would attack. So, once again, the government sent cavalry forces that assaulted the Indians. Little Wolf’s skillful defensive maneuvers kept Cheyenne casualties low. When the band neared Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Dull Knife and some of his followers stopped there, but Little Wolf and the rest of the Cheyenne continued to march north to Montana.
In the spring of 1879, while still traveling north, Little Wolf and his followers were overtaken by a cavalry force under the leadership of Captain W.P. Clark, who happened to be an old friend of Little Wolf’s. The confrontation could have easily turned violent, but with his force of warriors diminished and his people tired, Little Wolf was reluctant to fight the more powerful American army. Clark’s civilized and gracious treatment of Little Wolf helped convince the chief that further resistance was pointless, and he agreed to surrender.
After returning to the reservation, Little Wolf briefly served as a scout for General Nelson A. Miles. However, during this time he disgraced himself among his people by killing one of his tribesmen. The formerly celebrated Cheyenne warrior lived out the rest of his life on the reservation but had no official influence among his own people. After all of his honorable leadership and years of respect among his peers, Little Wolf was, in the end, taken down by his one dishonorable act. People always remember the things you do wrong, but the things you do right seem to fade quickly away.
People of different, religions, races, and geological locations have been battling it out since time began. When the first white men came into the Western wilderness of America they found the tribes of Shoshone and Comanche Indians already at odds. It seems that their differences began at Manitou Springs. This “Saratoga of the West” is nestled in a hollow in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. It was in old days a common meeting ground for several families of Indians…possibly bringing about the fights over it. While there were fights over the area, councils were held in safety there, for no Indian dared provoke the wrath of the Manitou whose breath sparkled in the “medicine waters.”
As the story goes, “centuries ago a Shoshone and a Comanche stopped at Manitou Springs on their return from a hunt to get a drink of water. The Shoshone had been successful, but the Comanche was empty-handed and ill-tempered, jealous of the other’s skill and fortune. Flinging down the fat deer that he was bearing homeward on his shoulders, the Shoshone bent over the spring of sweet water, and, after pouring a handful of it on the ground, as a libation (an act of pouring a liquid as a sacrifice) to the spirit of the place, he put his lips to the surface.”
The Comanche saw an opportunity to vent his anger. His quarrel began like this, “Why does a stranger drink the water at the spring that his children may drink it undefiled. I am Ausaqua, chief of Shoshone, and I drink at the head-water. Shoshone and Comanche are brothers. Let them drink together. No. The Shoshone pays tribute to the Comanche, and Wacomish leads that nation to war. He is chief of the Shoshone as he is of his own people. Wacomish lies. His tongue is forked, like the snake’s. His heart is black. When the Great Spirit made his children he said not to one, ‘Drink here,’ and to another, ‘Drink there,’ but gave water that all might drink.”
It is said, that the Shoshone didn’t answer, but as Ausaqua stooped toward the bubbling surface Wacomish crept behind him. He jumped on him and pushed his head under the water, holding it there until he drowned. It is said that as Wacomish “pulled the dead body from the spring the water became agitated, and from the bubbles arose a vapor that gradually assumed the form of a venerable Indian, with long white locks, in whom the murderer recognized Waukauga, father of the Shoshone and Comanche nation, and a man whose heroism and goodness made his name revered in both these tribes.” The face of the patriarch was dark with wrath, and he cried, in terrible tones, “Accursed of my race! This day thou hast severed the mightiest nation in the world. The blood of the brave Shoshone appeals for vengeance. May the water of thy tribe be rank and bitter in their throats.”
“Then, whirling up an elk-horn club, he brought it full on the head of the wretched man, who cringed before him. The murderer’s head was burst open and he tumbled lifelessly into the spring, that to this day is nauseous, while, to perpetuate the memory of Ausaqua, the Manitou smote a neighboring rock, and from it gushed a fountain of delicious water. The bodies were found, and the partisans of both the hunters began on that day a long and destructive warfare, in which other tribes became involved until mountaineers were arrayed against plainsmen through all that region.”
Of course, all this is folk lore, but the springs are real. They are Iron Spring, Twin Spring, Stratton Spring, Shoshone Spring, Wheeler Spring, Cheyenne, Soda and Navajo Springs, and Seven Minute Spring.
Deadwood, South Dakota maybe started out as an illegal town, but once it was established, there came a need for things like mail, supplies, and transportation, the latter of which brought the need for a stagecoach. The biggest problem with the stagecoach was the fact that the lawless element in the area thought it would be an easy target for robbery. The stagecoaches became a ride for the very brave. Soon it became apparent that the stagecoaches were going to need some protection.
Daniel “Boone” May was born in Missouri in 1852. Going by the name of “Boone,” he was the son of Samuel and Nancy May, the seventh of nine children. Later, he moved with his family to Bourbon County, Kansas, where his father worked as a farmer. In 1876, “Boone” and his older brother moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they worked in the freight business. During this time, the Black Hills were crawling with road agents and hostile Sioux Indians.It was a dangerous time to be working along the roadways in that area. Nevertheless, May did very well there, and he decided to buy a ranch between the Platte River and Deadwood by the end of that year.
“Boone’s” bravery and work ethic soon came to the attention of the stagecoach service, and he was soon recruited as a shotgun messenger for the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage & Express Company. He also served as the station keeper at Robbers’ Roost in Wyoming Territory. Within just a few years, “Boone” was thought to have been in at least eight shooting incidents with outlaws. Many people said that he was the fastest gun in the Dakotas. His adventures soon became well known.
One of the first hold-ups “Boone” was involved in was in August, 1877, when a Deadwood Coach was intercepted at Robber’s Roost. On this occasion, even though “Boone” wanted to fight it out, he decided to lay down his weapons, because a woman and child were in the coach. The robbers made away with the passenger’s money, weapons and personal property. While they lost their things, I’m sure they decided that it was best to walk away with their lives. A short time later, “Boone” ran into one of the bandits, a man named Prescott Webb, in Deadwood and within no time, gunfire erupted between the two men. Though “Boone” was hit in the left wrist, he returned fire as Webb jumped on a horse to make his getaway. “Boone’s” shots hit Webb in the shoulder, and the horse several times, bringing it down. Webb was quickly arrested by Sheriff Seth Bullock and later that day, Webb’s companions who had aided in the robbery, were also arrested.
In 1878, stagecoaches known as “treasure coaches” were running regularly between Deadwood and Cheyenne. Their cargo was strong boxes filled with gold, as well as the U.S. Mail. These “treasure coach” stages often became the target of bandits, and after one of these coaches was held up on July 2, 1878, the U.S. Postal Service appointed a number of special agents to bring the outlaws to justice. “Boone” and ten other men were soon appointed as U.S. Deputy Marshals and equipped with good horses and ammunition. One of “Boone’s” first encounters with bandits as a U.S. Deputy Marshal occurred on the night of September 13, 1878. He and another messenger were trailing a Cheyenne bound coach which was approached by bandits near Old Woman’s Creek in the Wyoming Territory. “Boone” and another deputy, Zimmerman surprised the outlaws and shooting erupted. “Boone” wounded one bandit named Frank Towle and the others fled empty handed. Leaving their Towle wounded on the ground, the two messengers went after the other bandits but were unable to capture them. When they returned to the robbery site, Towle was gone.
On September 26, 1878, when “Boone” and other messengers were waiting to escort a coach at Beaver Station on the Wyoming-Dakota border, but the stage failed to show up. They went in search of the coach, and met another messenger who told them it had been robbed and a passenger killed. “Boone” quickly joined a posse to go after the outlaws, but they escaped. The following month, “Boone” learned of the hiding place of a robber named Archie McLaughlin and quickly went after him and his gang. Capturing them north of Cheyenne, the outlaws were sent under guard to Deadwood on the northbound coach. Unfortunately, the stage never make it, because on November 3, 1878, it was stopped by vigilantes who hanged Archie McLaughlin and another man named Billy Mansfield. The next month, “Boone” was in a posse that brought in a robber named Tom Price. The bandit tried to escape, and was wounded, and then was brought in. Late in 1879, “Boone” was sent to assist Special Agent William Llewellyn in the capture of a mail robber named Curley Grimes. They tracked the outlaw to Elk Creek, located halfway between Rapid City and Fort Meade where they arrested him. That night, as the group neared Fort Meade, Grimes attempted to escape and was shot and killed by “Boone” and Llewellyn. By this time, “Boone” had made such a reputation for himself that he became a target for many of the outlaws who repeatedly tried to assassinate him, unsuccessfully. “Boone” also worked as a messenger for the Black Hills Placer Mining Company in the summer of 1880, and was said to have killed at least one robbers during this time. A short time later, “Boone” resigned from the company and left the Black Hills. He turned up in Santiago, Chili in 1883. He shot an army officer in 1891, he fled to Brazil. He died of yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro in 1910.
There is a wall that lots o people might have known about, or maybe few people know about, but while I’m sure I’ve seen parts of it in movies, I didn’t really know about it. The series of walls, known as the East Bay Walls or the Berkeley Mystery Walls. Of course that doesn’t really apply to one area, because the reality is that there are many of the crude walls throughout the hills surrounding the San Francisco Bay area. In some place the walls are as much as 3 feet tall, and 3 feet wide. The walls are very old and they were built without mortar. The walls run in sections, and they can be a few feet to over a mile long. Even more odd, is the fact that the rocks are a variety of sizes ranging from basketball-sized rocks, to large sandstone boulders weighing a ton or more. Parts of the walls seem to be just piles of rocks, but in other places it appears the walls were carefully constructed. No one knows the exact age of the walls, but they have an old appearance. Many of the formations have sunk far into the earth, and are often completely overgrown with different plants. The walls are not continuous, so they are not fences. They are not tall enough to have been used as defensive walls. The East Bay Regional Park District simply calls them “rock walls” and insists that they are not mysterious. Livestock, such as cattle, have grazed in the east and south Bay Area hills since the arrival of European settlers. Clearing land of scattered rocks would have eased the ability to move livestock. Placing the rocks into walls would have helped to guide the movement of the animals or to help corral them. That makes sense, but some of those rocks were very heavy. So how did they do that.
There is no written documentation to identify when they were built, by whom, or why. So, some people consider them mysterious. It has been suggested that the Ohlone Indians might have been the builders, but in reality, they were hunter-gatherers, and didn’t build permanent structures. Some specialists have mentioned that the walls look similar to structures found in rural Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, but they are different in that those walls were built around farms by the early setters, and these don’t have the same kinds of layouts. In 1904, UC-Berkeley Professor John Fryer suggested that the walls were made by Mongolian Chinese who traveled to California before the Europeans. Unfortunately, there is little evidence for this or for pre-Columbian Chinese influence in America. Forensic geologist Scott Wolter has theorized that the wall is only two to three hundred years old, suggested by the thick weathering rind on the limestone rock he was authorized to sample. Recent testing of lichen on the rocks suggests that they were probably built between 1850 and 1880, the early American era in California. Settlers might have built the walls using Chinese, Mexican, or Native American laborers, although specifically who built them has not been determined.
One of the many old stone walls that appear around the San Francisco Bay area is in the foothills of eastern Santa Clara County. The stone walls are accessible in several area parks, including Ed R. Levin County Park in Santa Clara County and Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Alameda County, as well as many other parks. As of 2016, archaeologist Jeffrey Fentress has been measuring and mapping the walls, hoping to eventually gain protection from development or other destruction. Additional stone walls with unclear origin or purpose occur in other places near the San Francisco Bay, and researchers continue to discover more information about the walls. Whether these walls had a purpose at one time or not, they are certainly strange to those who try to look into them these days.
When the colonists left England to form America, they were like the younger sibling, at least when it came to language and much of how they ran the country. Nevertheless, like that younger sibling, things began to change pretty quickly. Part of the change was due simply to distance. When you don’t hear a language all the time, you begin to vary in your own speech. I didn’t really realize there was such a difference between American English and British English, other than the accent of course. Still, I noticed that more and more forms were asking which of the two I spoke. I always thought that it was an odd question, because English is English…right? Well, the correct answer is…wrong!! And when I thought about it, I knew that to be true.
The changes began almost immediately after the first Englishman set foot on American soil. It all started with “Americanisms.” These “Americanisms” have been created or changed from other English terms to produce a language that differs from our forefathers, signifying our uniqueness and independence. I’m sure our founders were rather pleased with themselves with this process, if they realized it at all. By the time of the first United States census, in 1790, there were four million Americans, 90% of whom were descendants of English colonists. When I think of the speed of that growth, it strikes me as phenomenal to say the least. Because of the large English background, there was no question that our official native language would be “English,” but it would not be the same as that spoken in Great Britain. “Americanism” means a word or expression that originated in the United States. The term includes outright coinages and foreign borrowings which first became “English” in the United States, as well as older terms used in new senses first given them in American usage.
In fact, by 1720, the colonists knew that we did not speak the same language as the people in England. The most obvious reason was, of course, the sheer distance from England. Nevertheless, that was not the only reason. Over the years, many words were borrowed from the Native Americans, as well as other immigrants from France, Germany, Spain, and other countries. We had to communicate with the people around us too, and other words that became obsolete “across the pond,” continued to be utilized in the colonies. In other cases, words simply had to be created in order to explain the unfamiliar landscape, weather, animals, plants, and living conditions that these early pioneers encountered. These things might not have existed in England.
By 1756, the English would make the first “official” reference to the “American dialect.” Samuel Johnson made note of it a year after he published his Dictionary of the English Language. Johnson’s use of the term “American dialect” was not meant to simply explain the differences, but rather, was intended as an insult. It was rather like calling our language the “low class” version of the English language. Remember if you will, that there were those who did not think the United States should ever be a sovereign nation. Years earlier…as early as 1735, the English were calling our language “barbarous,” and referred to our “Americanisms” as barbarisms. The English sneered at our language, something that continued for more than a century after the Revolutionary War, as they laughed and condemned as unnecessary, hundreds of American terms and phrases.
Our newly independent Americans, were proud of their “new” American language, wearing it, as a badge of independence. In 1789, Noah Webster wrote in his Dissertations on the English Language: “The reasons for American English being different than English English are simple: As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.” Our leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, agreed. It was not only good politics, it was sensible. The feelings of the “rest of the world” didn’t matter. The language changed even more during the western movement as Native American and Spanish words became a part of our language.
In 1923, the State of Illinois General Assembly, passed the act stating in part: “The official language of the State of Illinois shall be known hereafter as the “American” language and not as the “English” language.” A similar bill was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives the same year but died in committee. Now, after centuries of forming our “own” language, the English and American versions are once again beginning to blend as movies, songs, electronics, and global traveling bring the two “languages” closer together once again.
The other day, while reading an article about notable Native Americans, I came across a name that was familiar to me, but really didn’t seem like a Native American name. The name was Renville, the same name as my grand-nephew, James Renville. Immediately, I wondered if there might be a connection between Chief Gabriel Renville and my grand-nephew. The search didn’t take very long, before I had my answer. Gabriel Renville is my grand-nephew, James’ 1st cousin 7 times removed. I find that to be extremely amazing to think that James is related to an Indian chief. With that information, I wanted to fine out more abut this man.
Chief Gabriel Renville was a mixed-blood Santee Sioux—his father was half French and his mother half-Scottish. He was born in April of 1825 at Big Stone Lake, South Dakota. Renville was the treaty chief of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Santee tribes and signed the 1867 treaty, which established the boundaries of the Lake Traverse Reservation. One source called him a Champion of Excellence.
He was careful to protect his people as much as he could, and was also instrumental in saving the lives of many white captives. During the 1862 Uprising, Renville opposed Little Crow and was influential in keeping many of the Santee out of the war. He lost a large amount of property, including horses appropriated by the hostile savages, or destroyed in consequence of his position to their murderous course. Renville served as chief of scouts for General Sibley during the campaign against the Sioux in 1863.
Even though Chief Renville was an ally of the whites, it didn’t help him when he settled on the reservation. The government agent there, Moses N. Adams, considered him hostile. Renville was the leader of the “scout party” which was in conflict with the “good church” Indians. I’m sure that was common in those days. Renville preserved many of the traditional Santee customs of polygamy and dancing, and he ignored Christianity, but he was not opposed to economic progress and he and his followers became successful farmers on the reservation. However, the Sisseton agent favored the “church” Indians.
Renville and other leaders of the traditional Indians accused Adams of discriminating against them in the disposition of supplies and equipment. He said Adams favored the idle church-goers instead of encouraging them to work….a situation not unlike the current welfare system. Agent Adams considered Renville a detriment and removed the chief form the reservation executive board which Adams had organized to carry out his policies. It was a move that was considered extreme. In 1874 Renville was finally successful in securing a government investigation of the Adam’s activities. The outcome of the investigation was an official censure of Adams. Chief Renville continued to practice the old Santee customs, yet he encouraged the Indians to farm. This progressive influence was greatly missed after his death in August 1892.
Most often, when we think of the early Americans, and their settlements, we think about the settlers who came over from Europe, but there were, of course, the many Indian tribes that existed here first. I’m not going to dispute whether the Indians or the White Man have more right to be here, because I truly believe that we should all be able to co-exist here after all these years, and that while treaties were broken many times, we have more than likely paid for this land a number of times, given the money that has been, and continues to be paid to the Native Americans. The oldest known culture in the United States was the Pueblo Indians, who lived in the Southwestern United States. Their name is Spanish for “stone masonry village dweller.” They are believed to be the descendants of three major cultures…the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) Indians. I’m not sure how they would have come to be here, unless their ancestors were here first, but that is how the historians see it.
Over the years, the Ancient Puebloans, who had been a nomadic, hunter-gathering society, evolved into a sedentary culture. They made their homes in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The Puebloans continued to hunt, but they also expanded to agriculture. They grew maze, corn, squash, and beans. They also raised turkeys and even developed a fairly complex irrigation system. They took up basket weaving and pottery, and became quite skilled in both. About this time, they began building the buildings we think about when we think of the Pueblo Indians…villages, often on top of high mesas or in hollowed-out natural caves at the base of canyons. These multiple-room dwellings and apartment like complexes, designed with stone or adobe masonry, were the forerunner of the later pueblos.
Sadly, even with their successful life changes, the Ancient Puebloans way of life declined in the 1300’s, probably due to drought and inter-tribal warfare. They migrated south, primarily into New Mexico and Arizona, becoming what is today known as the Pueblo people. For hundreds of years, these Pueblo descendants lived a similar lifestyle to their ancestors. They continued to survive by hunting and farming, and also building “new” apartment-like structures, sometimes several stories high. These new structures were made of cut sandstone faced with adobe, which is a combination of earth mixed with straw and water. Sometimes, the adobe was poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks to build walls that are often several feet thick. The buildings had flat roofs, which served as working or resting places, as well as observation points to watch for approaching enemies and view ceremonial occasions. For better defense, the outer walls generally had no doors or windows, but instead, window openings in the roofs, with ladders leading into the interior.
Each family unit consisted of a single room of the building unless the family grew too large. Then side-rooms were sometimes added. The houses of the pueblo were usually built around a central, open space or plaza in the middle of which was a “kiva,” a sunken chamber used for religious purposes. Each pueblo was an independent and separate community. The different pueblos shared similarities in language and customs, but each pueblo had its own chief, and sometimes two chiefs, a summer and winter chief, who alternated. Most important affairs, such was war, hunting, religion, and agriculture, however, were governed by priesthoods or secret societies. Each pueblo was almost a separate country.