Chief Gall - Aggressive Sioux Leader
Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa), 1918
Chief Gall was
one of the most aggressive leaders of the
in their last stand for freedom.
The westward pressure of
civilization during the past three centuries has been tremendous. When our
hemisphere was "discovered”, it had been inhabited by the natives for
untold ages, but it was held undiscovered because the original owners did
not chart or advertise it. Yet some of them at least had developed ideals
of life which included real liberty and equality to all men, and they did
not recognize individual ownership in land or other property beyond actual
necessity. It was a soul development leading to essential manhood. Under
this system they brought forth some striking characters.
considered by both
and whites to be a most impressive type of physical manhood. From his
picture you can judge of this for yourself.
Let us follow his
trail. He was no tenderfoot. He never asked a soft place for himself.
He always played the game according to the rules and to a finish. To
be sure, like every other man, he made some mistakes, but he was an
Indian and never acted the coward.
The earliest stories
told of his life and doings indicate the spirit of the man in that of
When he was only
about three years old, the
band of Sioux
were on their usual roving hunt, following the
buffalo while living their natural happy life upon the wonderful
wide prairies of the Dakotas.
It was the way of
mother to adjust her household effects on such dogs and pack ponies as
she could muster from day to day, often lending one or two to
accommodate some other woman whose horse or dog had died, or perhaps
had been among those stampeded and carried away by a raiding band of
Crow warriors. On this particular occasion, the mother of our young
brave, Matohinshda, or Bear-Shedding-His-Hair (Gall's
childhood name), entrusted her boy to an old Eskimo pack dog,
experienced and reliable, except perhaps when unduly excited or very
On the day of
removing camp the caravan made its morning march up the Powder River.
Upon the wide table-land the women were busily digging teepsinna (an
edible sweetish root, much used by them) as the moving village slowly
progressed. As usual at such times, the trail was wide. An old jack
rabbit had waited too long in hiding. Now, finding himself almost
surrounded by the mighty plains people, he sprang up suddenly, his
feathery ears conspicuously erect, a dangerous challenge to the dogs
and the people.
A whoop went up. Every dog accepted the
challenge. Forgotten were the bundles, the kits, even the babies they
were drawing or carrying. The chase was on, and the screams of the
women reechoed from the opposite cliffs of the Powder, mingled with
the yelps of dogs and the neighing of horses. The hand of every man
was against the daring warrior, Lone Jack, and the confusion was
When the fleeing one cleared the mass of his
enemies, he emerged with a swiftness that commanded respect and gave
promise of a determined chase. Behind him, his pursuers stretched out in a
thin line, first the speedy, unburdened dogs and then the travois dogs
headed by the old Eskimo with his precious freight. The youthful Gall was in a
travois, a basket mounted on trailing poles and harnessed to the sides of
"Hey! hey! they are gaining on him!” a warrior
shouted. At this juncture two of the canines had almost nabbed their furry
prey by the back. But he was too cunning for them. He dropped instantly
and sent both dogs over his head, rolling and spinning, then made another
flight at right angles to the first. This gave the Eskimo a chance to cut
the triangle. He gained fifty yards, but being heavily handicapped, two
unladen dogs passed him. The same trick was repeated by the Jack, and this
time he saved himself from instant death by a double loop and was now
running directly toward the crowd, followed by a dozen or more dogs. He
was losing speed, but likewise his pursuers were dropping off steadily.
Only the sturdy Eskimo dog held to his even gait, and behind him in the
frail travois leaned forward the little Matohinshda, nude save a breech
clout, his left hand holding fast the convenient tail of his dog, the
right grasping firmly one of the poles of the travois. His black eyes were
bulging almost out of their sockets; his long hair flowed out behind like
a stream of dark water.
The Jack now ran directly toward the howling
spectators, but his marvelous speed and alertness were on the wane; while
on the other hand his foremost pursuer, who had taken part in hundreds of
similar events, had every confidence in his own endurance. Each leap
brought him nearer, fiercer and more determined. The last effort of the
Jack was to lose himself in the crowd, like a fish in muddy water; but the
big dog made the one needed leap with unerring aim and his teeth flashed
as he caught the rabbit in viselike jaws and held him limp in air, a
people rushed up to him as he laid the victim down, and foremost among
them was the frantic mother of Matohinshda, or Gall. "Michinkshe!
michinkshe!” (My son! my son!) she screamed as she drew near. The boy
seemed to be none the worse for his experience. "Mother!” he cried, "my
dog is brave: he got the rabbit!” She snatched him off the travois, but he
struggled out of her arms to look upon his dog lovingly and admiringly.
Old men and boys crowded about the hero of the day, the dog, and the
thoughtful grandmother of Matohinshda unharnessed him and poured some
water from a parfleche water bag into a basin. "Here, my grandson, give
your friend something to drink.”
"How, hechetu,” pronounced an old warrior no longer in active service.
"This may be only an accident, an ordinary affair; but such things
sometimes indicate a career. The boy has had a wonderful ride. I prophesy
that he will one day hold the attention of all the people with his
This is the first
remembered story of the famous chief, but other boyish exploits foretold
the man he was destined to be. He fought many sham battles, some
successful and others not; but he was always a fierce fighter and a good
Once he was engaged in a
battle with snowballs. There were probably nearly a hundred boys on each
side, and the rule was that every fair hit made the receiver officially
dead. He must not participate further, but must remain just where he was
Gall's side was
fast losing, and the battle was growing hotter every minute when the
youthful warrior worked toward an old water hole and took up his position
there. His side was soon annihilated and there were eleven men left to
He was pressed close in the wash-out, and
as he dodged under cover before a volley of snowballs, there suddenly
emerged in his stead a huge gray wolf.
His opponents fled in every direction in
superstitious terror, for they thought he had been transformed into
the animal. To their astonishment he came out on the farther side and
ran to the line of safety, a winner!
It happened that the
wolf’s den had been partly covered with snow so that no one had
noticed it until the yells of the boys aroused the inmate, and he beat
a hasty retreat. The boys always looked upon this incident as an omen.
Gall had an
amiable disposition but was quick to resent insult or injustice. This
sometimes involved him in difficulties, but he seldom fought without
good cause and was popular with his associates. One of his
characteristics was his ability to organize, and this was a large
factor in his leadership when he became a man. He was tried in many
ways, and never was known to hesitate when it was a question of
physical courage and endurance. He entered the public service early in
life, but not until he had proved himself competent and passed all
When a mere boy, he
was once scouting for game in midwinter, far from camp, and was
overtaken by a three days’ blizzard. He was forced to abandon his
horse and lie under the snow for that length of time. He afterward
said he was not particularly hungry; it was thirst and stiffness from
which he suffered most. One reason the
Indian so loved his horse or dog was that at such times the animal
would stay by him like a brother. On this occasion Gall's pony
was not more than a stone’s throw away when the storm subsided and the
sun shone. There was a herd of
buffalo in plain sight, and the young hunter was not long in
procuring a meal.
This chief’s contemporaries still recall
his wrestling match with the equally powerful
Nose, who afterward became a chief well known to American history.
It was a custom of the northwestern
Indians, when two friendly tribes camped together, to establish
the physical and athletic supremacy of the youth of the respective
The "Che-hoo-hoo” is a
wrestling game in which there may be any number on a side, but the numbers
are equal. All the boys of each camp are called together by a leader
chosen for the purpose and draw themselves up in line of battle; then each
at a given signal attacks his opponent.
In this memorable contest, Matohinshda, or Gall, was
placed opposite Roman Nose.
The whole people turned out as spectators of the struggle, and the
battlefield was a plateau between the two camps, in the midst of
picturesque Bad Lands. There were many athletic youths present, but these
two were really the Apollos of the two tribes.
In this kind of sport it
is not allowed to strike with the hand, nor catch around the neck, nor
kick, nor pull by the hair. One may break away and run a few yards to get
a fresh start, or clinch, or catch as catch can. When a boy is thrown and
held to the ground, he is counted out. If a boy has met his superior, he
may drop to the ground to escape rough handling, but it is very seldom one
gives up without a full trial of strength.
It seemed almost like a real battle, so great
was the enthusiasm, as the shouts of sympathizers on both sides went up in
a mighty chorus. At last all were either conquerors or subdued except Gall and
The pair seemed equally matched. Both were stripped to the breech clout,
now tugging like two young
or elk in mating time, again writhing and twisting like serpents. At times
they fought like two wild stallions, straining every muscle of arms, legs,
and back in the struggle. Every now and then one was lifted off his feet
for a moment, but came down planted like a tree, and after swaying to and
fro soon became rigid again.
All eyes were upon the
champions. Finally, either by trick or main force, Gall laid the
other sprawling upon the ground and held him fast for a minute, then
released him and stood erect, panting, a master youth. Shout after shout
went up on the
Sioux side of the camp. The mother of
came forward and threw a superbly worked
robe over Gall,
whose mother returned the compliment by covering the young
with a handsome blanket.
Undoubtedly these early
contests had their influence upon our hero’s career. It was his habit to
appear most opportunely in a crisis, and in a striking and dramatic manner
to take command of the situation. The best known example of this is his
entrance on the scene of confusion when Reno surprised the Sioux on the
Many of the excitable youths, almost unarmed, rushed madly and blindly to
meet the intruder, and the scene might have unnerved even an experienced
warrior. It was
Gall, with not a garment upon his superb body, who on his black
charger dashed ahead of the boys and faced them. He stopped them on the
dry creek, while the bullets of Reno’s men whistled about their ears.
"Hold hard, men! Steady,
we are not ready yet! Wait for more guns, more horses, and the day is
They obeyed, and in a few
minutes the signal to charge was given, and Reno retreated pell mell
before the onset of the
had confidence in his men so long as Gall planned
and directed the attack, whether against United States soldiers or the
warriors of another tribe. He was a strategist, and able in a twinkling to
note and seize upon an advantage. He was really the mainstay of Sitting
Bull's effective last stand. He consistently upheld his people’s right
buffalo plains and believed that they should hold the government
strictly to its agreements with them. When the treaty of 1868 was
disregarded, he agreed with Sitting Bull
in defending the last of their once vast domain, and after the
Custer battle entered Canada with his chief. They hoped to bring their
lost cause before the English government and were much disappointed when
they were asked to return to the United States.
reported at Fort Peck,
1881, and brought half of the Hunkpapa band with him, whereupon he was
soon followed by Sitting Bull
himself. Although they had been promised by the United States commission
who went to Canada to treat with them that they would not be punished if
they returned, no sooner had Gall come down
than a part of his people were attacked, and in the spring they were all
brought to Fort Randall and held as military prisoners. From this point
they were returned to Standing Rock agency.
When " Buffalo
successfully launched his first show, he made every effort to secure both
and Gall for
his leading attractions. The military was in complete accord with him in
this, for they still had grave suspicions of these two leaders. While
reluctantly agreed, Gall haughtily said: "I am not an animal to be exhibited before the
crowd,” and retired to his teepee. His spirit was much worn, and he lost
strength from that time on. That superb manhood dwindled, and in a few
years he died. He was a real hero of a free and natural people, a type
that is never to be seen again.
Charles A. Eastman, 1918. Compiled and
of America, updated August, 2017.
Proverbs & Wisdom
Myths & Tales of Native Americans
Native American People
About the Author:
Excerpted from the book Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, by
Charles A. Eastman, 1918. The text as it appears here; however, is not
verbatim as it has been edited for clarity and ease of the modern reader.
Charles A. Eastman earned a medical degree from Boston University School
of Medicine in 1890, and then began working for the Office of
Affairs later that year. He worked at the Pine Ridge Agency,
and was an eyewitness to both events leading up to and following the
Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890. Himself part-Sioux,
he knew many of the people about whom he wrote.
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