Chief Drifting Goose and Taps
A legend by Mick Zerr ©2010
Part One, Taps
During the Civil War, in 1862, General Daniel Butterfield, of the Union Army, was recuperating with his troops from a major battle. It was getting close to sunset, and soon the call for bed time would be given. Not liking any of the calls given for this time, especially when troops might die the next day, General Butterfield and his bugler altered different calls to create what he called “Taps”. Taps was a combination call and prayer that became instantly popular in both the Union and Confederate armies. The words often used are:
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.
To the soldiers, the last line indicates that God is watching over them. To this day, Taps is played by Scouts at sunset, at funerals of firemen and policeman, and by the military at some sunsets, funerals and special times of remembrance.
Part Two, Captain Butterfield
It is said that the General had a favorite nephew, named after him, who became a Captain in the 7th Calvary. In the Fall of 1868, Captain Butterfield was being sent to join General Custer at the request of his friend, Colonel Frederick Grant, son of President Grant, who was to join General Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln, where they were to get ready for an expedition to the Black Hills.. The Captain took with him the prized bugle that his Uncle had first played taps on, as a good luck charm, since it was his most prized possession. Captain Butterfield was to spend the winter at Fort Dakota, on the Big Sioux River (now Sioux Falls), before heading to Fort Abraham Lincoln.. Upon arriving at Fort Dakota, he was recognized by one of the fort's musicians, Charles Ramsey, of Butterfield’s home state of New York, whom he had met at a military marching festival a few years back. When Ramsey told the soldiers of how Captain Butterfield’s famous Uncle had invented Taps, the men asked the Captain if he would play that wonderful tune at sunset. The Captain, pulled out his prized bugle, and told them he would be proud to play taps for them at sunset.
The prairie sun started to sink in the western hills of the Big Sioux River, sending golden shadows flying every which way from the fort. Captain Butterfield took his beloved bugle out of its case and climbing to the highest rampart of the fort, as all 40 of the soldiers watched, he prepared to play the beloved Taps.
Part Three, Magabobdu’s camp
Unknown to the soldiers, camped up river about ten miles, was the Great Chief of the Lower Yanktonai Dakota Indians, Magabobdu (Drifting Goose) and his band of 200 braves.
One of the reasons Fort Dakota was built was that Drifting Goose’s band had run off settlers near the Big Sioux River, so he was well known in the area.
It was a very beautiful sunset, with fireflies signaling to each other, crickets serenading them, and a nice warm breeze from the south blowing their chirps along the river. The chief had just told a story about waawaatesiwag (fireflies) to his braves. He had said that the fireflies blink to show departed souls their way to heaven. As he told his story amid the flashings of the fireflies, he threw some stones into the fire, and many sparks flew upward toward the heavens, disappearing into the last golden rays of the sunset. “My braves”, he said, “each spark leaving the fire is the soul of a departed brave going to ishpiming (heaven), and if a great, flashing, giant spark flies up, it is the spirit of an ogimaa (chief)”. His loyal braves looked at each other and nodded. As the braves thought of this great event, the chief, who was a very good bibigwan (flute) player, picked up his flute and played a wonderful tune. As he put his flute down, he could hear a Wood Thrush singing his flute song in the distance. It is said the Indian flutes were made to sound like the beautiful song of the Wood Thrush.
Back at the fort, the Captain faced the northwest into the setting sun, and played the most beautiful Taps any of the soldiers had ever heard. The southern breeze picked up his wondrous notes and carried them for miles up the Big Sioux River. The fading notes reached the Indian camp just as the Chief put his flute down. Upon hearing these strange, beautiful notes, he jumped up and said, “My braves, I have never heard such a wonderful flute song”. “Quickly!”, he shouted, “we must follow the song and find who is playing this strange flute”. The chief jumped on his giant golden Palomino horse, his most prized possession, and headed off toward the direction of the fort, followed by his 200 braves.
Part 4- The Great Chief at the Fort
Back at the fort, the soldiers were all congratulating Captain Butterfield for playing such a wonderful Taps, when the lookouts shouted that a storm was coming, for a great cloud of dust had appeared on the northwest horizon. The soldiers looked and were puzzled, as there was not enough wind to blow so much dust. Suddenly, one of the lookouts who was watching with a telescope, hollered down that the dust was from hundreds of horses carrying Indian braves. Quickly the soldiers took their defensive positions as the cloud of Indian braves came closer. Some of the soldiers were frightened because they were outnumbered by the 200 Indian braves approaching. Suddenly, the great dust cloud stopped, and the hundreds of braves were all lined up with a tall chief on a large golden horse at the center. As the frightened soldiers watched, two braves and the chief on the Palomino slowly came toward the fort. As the three Indians came closer, one of the soldiers shouted, “It’s Drifting Goose! It’s Drifting Goose!”. The commander of the fort, Major Knox, knowing the danger of starting hostilities, told the troops to hold their fire unless attacked. Suddenly, the great chief held his hand up in the sign of peace and hollered in his fierce, deep voice, “Aaniin! Mookomaanag!”(greetings white soldiers) Major Knox’s eyes lit up in relief, as he shouted back, “Aaniin Magabobdu!”
The Major quickly told his troops to stand at ease, for the great chief had greeted them in peace. He shouted down to the chief to come in and they would talk. As the great chief rode in on his giant golden horse, the soldiers were awed at how tall and fierce looking the chief was. Drifting Goose, who spoke English, French, his native Dakota, Lakota, Ojibwa, Ree, Cheyenne, Ponca, Mandan, and Nakota, indicated that he has an important question for the soldiers. He told of the beautiful flute music he and his people had heard up river, and wondered if he could meet the fine flute player and see his flute. At this point, the soldiers were puzzled, for no one had played a flute today. Corporal Ramsey stated that the chief might be talking about Captain Butterfield’s playing of taps. Hearing this, the Captain came forward, and said, “Oh great Drifting Goose, chief of the Yanktonai, It was I who was playing the “flute”, which we call a bugle”. Upon hearing this, the Chief asked for a demonstration, and the captain obliged by playing a few notes for the Chief. “It is magic”, said the chief, “I must have this flute/bugle”. He asked to play it, so the Captain let him try, but it is difficult to learn to play a bugle, so the Chief just sputtered into it. As he took the flute back, Captain told the Chief that it would take many tries to learn to play it.
Part Five- The Trade
The Chief wanted to know more about the bugle, so he asked Captain Butterfield where he had obtained it. The Captain told of how his favorite uncle had invented the song and gave him the bugle, and that it was a lucky charm and his most prized family possession. At this point, the soldiers started to look very nervous, for they were worried if the chief did not get the bugle, there would be trouble. Sensing this, the Captain, even though the bugle meant so much to him, felt he must give it to the Chief to prevent his fellow soldiers from being harmed. As he started to hand the instrument to the Chief, Major Knox grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. He told the Captain that it would be an insult to the Chief if he gave his most prized possession away without asking something in trade for it. He held the bugle out to the Chief, and asked what the Chief could trade for such a valuable prize. Now Drifting Goose and his people had the greatest respect for family, especially for magic possessions that are handed down as elders became old. The great Chief looked back at his two braves, and they both nodded, for they knew what the Chief was going to offer in trade. He turned around and took his fine blanket and rifle off his giant horse. The soldiers whispered that the Chief was going to give his fine rifle and blanket for the bugle, but to the surprise of the soldiers, he handed the Captain the reign of his giant golden Palomino horse to trade for the bugle. He told the soldiers how the golden horse was his people’s symbol of the setting sun. The Captain was very honored by the Chief’s offer, and he gave a little speech, telling Drifting Goose how he is a fair man and all white men will hear of his honesty and fairness for years to come.
Final Chapter- the Chief’s Last Years
The Chief loved speechs, and in the years to come, he would go to the white men’s capital and give a speech to congress. President Hayes wrote an executive order (*below) giving Drifting Goose’s band their own reservation, the only such decree ever done by a president for a specific chief.
*EXECUTIVE MANSION, June 27, 1879.
Drifting Goose Reserve
It is hereby ordered that townships numbered 119, 120, and 121 north, of range 63 west, in the Territory of Dakota, be, and the same are hereby, set apart as a reservation for the use of &$147;Mag-a-bo-das” or “Drifting Goose” band of Yanktonais Sioux Indian.
R. B. HAYES
Unfortunately, as with many agreements with American Indians, the president, under pressure from land hungry settlers, took the Drifting Goose Reservation away from the Yanktonai.
For many seasons, as the Drifting Goose band moved up and down the James and Big Sioux Rivers, the great Chief tried endlessly, but unsuccessfully, to play the flute/bugle. It was now a new century, and all Indians had been placed on reservations which were mostly poor land that no white men wanted. Drifting Goose would leave the reservation often to visit his beloved homeland along the James and Big Sioux. In the year 1909, the great Chief was sitting with his braves around a campfire when he told them that he was close to leaving them and going to the great afterlife, ishpiming, where gichi-manidoo, the Great Spirit, would greet him. The great Chief was now 88 years old, and had outlived most other chiefs. He told his braves he wished for their children to have an education in the modern ways so they could survive in the changed world. Earlier, he told this to the famous missionary priest Father Pierre De Smet when he met with him on his (Drifting Goose’s) land, which was now on the Crow Creek Reservation, and later, the priest founded the Stephen Mission Indian School on the site.
The Great Chief Drifting Goose, Magabobdu, Chief of the Lower Yanktonais of the Dakota peoples, lies buried in the Immaculate Conception cemetery in back of the Stephan Indian school where his pillared gravestone rises above all others.
Legend has it, that around the campfire that night, the Chief told his loyal braves, after he dies, to take his prized possession, the bugle/flute, to a secret spot along the James or Big Sioux Rivers, and bury it. The braves agreed to this. The Chief’s face broke out in a broad smile of contentment, and he lay down on his blanket and departed to the Spirit World. Suddenly, a giant spark left the fire and headed straight up to the heavens, and the braves looked at each other and nodded. Quickly, they took the great Chief’s bugle/flute and rode without stop to the two sacred rivers of the east and buried it in the sands. As the loyal braves headed back to their horses, they saw thousands of fireflies making paths of light in the heavens.
It is said that if you are near that spot, you too will see the fireflies, and if the wind is right, you might hear, in the distance, the sound of the beautiful song of Taps being played by the spirit of the Great Chief Drifting Goose.
Mick Zerr, ©2010