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Richard Jepperson

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The Indian Wars
By Richard Jepperson   

Last edited: Monday, August 12, 2002
Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

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On August 19th one hundred and forty eight years ago an incident occurred that destroyed the fragile peace between the Indians and white emigrants and set the stage for more than a decade of "Indian Wars."

Were the "Indian Wars" triggered by conditions imposed by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund of the Mormon Church?

From: Comprehensive History of the Church, Volume 4/Chapter 95 Miscellaneous Events, 1851-7, page 51
August 19th, 1854: At Sarpy’s point, eight miles east of Laramie, while a company of saints was passing a camp of Sioux of about one thousand lodges, a lame cow belonging to the company, became frightened and ran into the Indian camp where she was left. Some of them killed and ate her, which circumstance was reported at Fort Laramie. Lieutenant Grattan, with twenty-seven soldiers and an interpreter, repaired to Sarpy’s point to arrest the Indian who killed the cow, but he refused to give himself up. The Lieutenant then ordered his men to fire upon the Indians, which they did. The Indians then charged and routed the soldiers, who were all killed but one, who was dangerously wounded… All this for the killing of an old cow!
Known by "our" historians as the Grattan Massacre, the Sioux called it The War of the Mormon Cow.

The "company of saints" noted above was a participant in the Perpetual Emigrating Company that was incorporated on September 11, 1850 "…to assist the poor in emigrating to the Great Basin." The Company charter provided that, "All persons receiving assistance from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund for the Poor, shall reimburse the same in labor or otherwise as soon as their circumstances permit." In the first year of the program money was raised ($6,000) and a Salt Lake bishop was appointed as Emigrant Agent to carry the sum east to expend on the purchase of wagons, livestock and provisions. By 1854 the Company was fully organized and the needs of emigrants well planned. When they arrived at the Missouri River camps their outfits had been purchased by the Emigrant Agent and were waiting for them. An "outfit" consisted of one wagon, two yoke of oxen, two cows, a tent and foodstuffs and cost from $250 to $500. This outfit served ten emigrants. A typical P. E. Company was made up of 60 outfits (600 emigrants). Since emigrants were held responsible for the goods assigned to them this likely elicited the "hard nosed" response over "the loss of a lame cow" for the full price was owed on the cow when embarking from the Missouri River to the Great Basin.

What has been left out of "our" history is the story from the point of view of the Sioux: (The following was excerpted and edited from Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglala by Mari Sandoz (1942, MJF Books).

When we first gathered at Fort Laramie it was good. Every year since the Peace Paper we would rendezvous in the spring. There was much trading and dancing and meeting with old friends. But this year it was near summer’s end and each day the old ones looked to the east waiting for the agent of the Washington Father.
One day a Mormon, walking far behind a train on the Road was using a stick to beat an old cow with bleeding feet. The cow spooked, flipped its tail and ran into the camp of the Brules. It ran kicking its back legs up, scattering travois and parfleches and knocking down one lodge then got stuck with its horns in the skins of another. Straight Foretop, a Minneconjou, caught the cow and held it by the horns. The Mormon chased after the cow until he saw the great Indian camp. Straight Foretop waved and shouted to the Mormon to come and get his cow. But the man left the cow. We thought it was to pay for the trouble it caused. It was of little value because it was old and dry and had bleeding feet. Straight Foretop killed the cow and we ate it.
Conquering Bear and Man Afraid smoked and talked into the fire late that night. They thought there might be a little trouble so they said, "Let us go to the fort and talk with the Soldier Chief in the morning." The next morning Conquering Bear and Man Afraid prepared to go to the fort but before they could leave a Little Soldier Chief, called Grattan, came with twenty-seven soldiers and two wagon-guns.
There was a trading post nearby owned by Frenchman known as Louis Bordeaux. He was little, squat and hairy, with a Brule wife and a friend of the Sioux for more years than the fort had stood. That morning, at the fort, Bordeaux had talked with Grattan and offered the Mormon ten dollars for the cow, of his own money, to avoid trouble. But the Mormon wanted twenty-five dollars and Bordeaux said he would not pay that much for a strong cow. Bordeaux smelled trouble and would not come with Grattan. Grattan left Bordeaux and came to the camp with Wyuse, demanding the cow killer.
Wyuse was the White-to-Indian speaker. He was always drunk and lied but the Soldier Chief would use no other. Conquering Bear and Man Afraid went back and forth between Grattan and Straight Foretop, trying to get Straight Foretop to surrender. Straight Foretop would not go with the whites over the killing of an old cow. Conquering Bear then offered a good mule and sent the camp crier to get more from the tribes and the crier returned with five sticks, meaning five good horses, and placed them on the ground before Grattan even though the cow was worth nothing.
Grattan wanted to put Straight Foretop in the iron house and demanded that Conquering Bear make the Minneconjou come. Conquering Bear could not make him do that because Straight Foretop was a guest. Each time Conquering Bear said, "Wait, wait," and asked to sit and smoke and settle the trouble, Wyuse changed the words and Grattan got redder in the face, roaring and stomping his boots.
Grattan turned and walked to the line of soldiers, pulled his long knife and shouted and the soldiers fired the wagon-guns at Conquering Bear, Man Afraid, Big Partisan and the brother of Conquering Bear, who stood wrapped in council blankets. The brother of Conquering Bear fell dead. Grattan again called out and the wagon guns roared and Conquering Bear fell, wounded.
Straight Foretop lifted his rifle and fired through clouds of foul smelling black smoke and Grattan fell. Spotted Tail whooped and a hundred warriors shot a flood of arrows into the soldiers at the wagon guns. With lances and war clubs they charged like a buffalo herd trampling the soldiers into the ground. More warriors than you could count came from every direction, crying war whoops, kicking their ponies, leaning forward, waving lances, clubs and axes. A few soldiers got away and they tried to stand and fight but were soon dead.

Once the trouble started the great camp dissolved like sugar in a rainstorm. There was now a great river of men, women, children, dogs, horses and travois moving north under a cloud of dust stretching over many miles. Man Afraid, other chiefs and Ice, the holy man, made a covered sling for Conquering Bear and carried him gently on their shoulders, walking fast enough to keep ahead of the people with horses and travois, all the way to the north country and there we made camp.

The next morning, at daybreak, the herald came for Man Afraid to go to the lodge of Conquering Bear. The other headmen of the Oglalas and the Brules were there. When they came in the Great Chief called to Man Afraid in a voice they could scarcely hear. Such a small voice from the chief who had filled the camp with roaring so even the dogs ran for the hills. When Man Afraid was near he told him to always remember the treaty of the Big Council. The treaty was of things that belonged to their children, goods to be sent them for giving up the wars on their enemies and for making the trail by the fort a Holy Road where no one who walked on the Road would be killed. There were annuities for fifty-five years and protection by the soldiers for all people, from every enemy, Indian or White.

"It was the white soldiers who came to our peaceful village," one growled. But Conquering Bear said there had been a mistake and he did not want the people to get angry at the whites when he was dead.

"There were wild young men among the Sioux who did not do right, too. I am killed and in my place I give my people to Man Afraid, all the Teton Lakotas I give him."

With the death of Conquering Bear, Man Afraid tried to fill his moccasins but was not respected enough to take his place. The Sioux fractured into many camps that attacked the whites at will, effectively sealing off travel to the west, unless accompanied by the U.S. Calvary, making commerce and travel to and from Salt Lake City a high risk venture. For more than a decade many battles were won and lost on both sides until the introduction of the railroad sealed their fate and the Sioux Chiefs signed the treaty of 1868.

Web Site: String of Beads Publications

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Reviewed by Jim Dunlap 11/7/2003
Wonderful writing, and a great story. Too bad the history books only tell the story from the point of view of the conquerors (see my "Winds of War" poem on Authors' Den. You are a terrific writer, and you have picked a fabulous subject.

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