Here again was displayed the genius of these people. From the Indian Territory to Dakota is no short dash for freedom. They knew what they were facing. Their line of flight lay through a settled country and they would be closely pursued by the army. No sooner had they started than the telegraph wires sang one song: “The panther of the Cheyenne is at large. Not a child or a woman in Kansas or Nebraska is safe.” Yet they evaded all the pursuing and intercepting troops and reached their native soil. The strain was terrible, the hardship great, and Dull Knife, like Joseph, was remarkable for his self-restraint in sparing those who came within his power on the way.
But fate was against him, for there were those looking for blood money who betrayed him when he thought he was among friends. His people were tired out and famished when they were surrounded and taken to Fort Robinson [Nebraska]. There the men were put in prison, and their wives guarded in camp. They were allowed to visit their men on certain days. Many of them had lost everything; there were but a few who had even one child left. They were heartbroken.
These despairing women appealed to their husbands to die fighting: their liberty was gone, their homes broken up, and only slavery and gradual extinction in sight. At last Dull Knife listened. He said: “I have lived my life. I am ready.” The others agreed. “If our women are willing to die with us, who is there to say no? If we are to do the deeds of men, it rests with you women to bring us our weapons.
As they had been allowed to carry moccasins and other things to the men, so they contrived to take in some guns and knives under this disguise. The plan was to kill the sentinels and run to the nearest natural trench, there to make their last stand. The women and children were to join them. This arrangement was carried out. Not every brave had a gun, but all had agreed to die together. They fought till their small store of ammunition was exhausted, then exposed their broad chests for a target, and the mothers even held up their little ones to be shot. Thus died the fighting Cheyenne and their dauntless leader.
Editor’s Note: Dull Knife did not actually die in this last battle, but was able to escape with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, who made their way to the Sioux Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota. Later, he lived on a reservation assigned to the surviving Cheyenne in the Rosebud Valley. He died in 1883 and was buried on high ground near his home.
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 Indian Affairs later that year. He worked at the Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, 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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