Black Elk Speaks
The Fight with Three Stars
We stayed at the Soldiers' Town this time until the grass was good
in the Moon When the Ponies Shed [May]. Then my father told me we
were going back to Crazy Horse and that we were going to have to
fight from then on, because there was no other way to keep our country.
He said that Red Cloud was a cheap man and wanted to sell the Black
Hills to the Wasichus; that Spotted Tail and other chiefs were cheap
men too, and that the Hang-Around-the-Fort people were all cheap
and would stand up for the Wasichus. My aunt, who was living at
the Soldiers' Town, must have felt the way we did, because when
we were breaking camp she gave me a six-shooter like the soldiers
had, and told me I was a man now. I was thirteen years old and not
very big for my age, but I thought I should have to be a man anyway.
We boys had practiced endurance, and we were all good riders, and
I could shoot straight with either a bow or a gun.
We were a small band, and we started in the night and traveled
fast. Before we got to War Bonnet Creek, some Shyelas [Cheyennes]
joined us, because their hearts were bad like ours and they were
going to the same place. Later I learned that many small bands were
doing the same thing and coming together from everywhere.
Just after we camped on the War Bonnet, our scouts saw a wagon
train of the Wasichus coming up the old road that caused the trouble
before. They had oxen hitched to their wagons and they were part
of the river of Wasichus that was running into the Black Hills.
They shot at our scouts, and we decided we would attack them. When
the war party was getting ready, I made up my mind that, small as
I was, I might as well die there, and if I did, maybe I'd be known.
I told Jumping Horse, a boy about my age, that I was going along
to die, and he said he would too. So we went, and so did Crab and
some other boys.
When the Wasichus saw us coming, they put their wagons in a circle
and got inside with their oxen. We rode around and around them in
a wide circle that kept getting narrower. That is the best way to
fight, because it is hard to hit ponies running fast in a circle.
And sometimes there would be two circles, one inside the other,
going fast in opposite directions, which made us still harder to
hit. The cavalry of the Wasichus did not know how to fight. They
kept together, and when they came on, you could hardly miss them.
We kept apart in the circle. While we were riding around the wagons,
we were hanging low on the outside of the ponies and shooting under
their necks. This was not easy to do, even when your legs were long,
and mine were not yet very long. But I stuck tight and shot with
the six-shooter my aunt gave me. Before we started the attack I
was afraid, but Big Man told us we were brave boys, and I soon got
over being frightened. The Wasichus shot fast at us from behind
the wagons, and I could hear bullets whizzing, but they did not
hit any of us. I kept thinking of my vision, and maybe that helped.
I do not know whether we killed any Wasichus or not. We rode around
several times, and once we got close, but there were not many of
us and we could not get at the Wasichus behind their wagons; so
we went away. This was my first fight. When we were going back to
camp, some Shyela warriors told us we were very brave boys, and
that we were going to have plenty of fighting.
We were traveling very fast now, for we were in danger and wanted
to get back to Crazy Horse. He had moved over west to the Rosebud
River, and the people were gathering there. As we traveled, we met
other little bands all going to the same place, until there was
a good many of us all mixed up before we got there. Red Cloud's
son was with us, but Red Cloud stayed at the Soldiers' Town.
When we came to the ridge on this side of the Rosebud River, we
could see the valley full of tepees, and the ponies could not be
counted. Many, many people were there-- Ogalalas, Hunkpapas, Minneconjous,
Sans Arcs, Black Feet, Brules, Santees, and Yanktonais; also many
Shyelas and Blue Clouds had come to fight with us. The village was
long, and you could not see all the camps with one look. The scouts
came out to meet us and bring us in, and everybody rejoiced that
we had come. Great men were there: Crazy Horse and Big Road of the
Ogalalas; Sitting Bull and Gall and Black Moon and Crow King of
the Hunkpapas; Spotted Eagle of the Sans Arcs; the younger Hump
and Fast Bull of the Minneconjous; Dull Knife and Ice Bear of the
Shyelas; Inkpaduta with the Santees and Yanktonais. Great men were
there with all those people and horses. Hetchetu aloh!
About the middle of the Moon of Making Fat [June] the whole village
moved a little way up the River to a good place for a sun dance.
The valley was wide and flat there, and we camped in a great oval
with the river flowing through it, and in the center they built
the bower of branches in a circle for the dancers, with the opening
of it to the east whence comes the light. Scouts were sent out in
all directions to guard the sacred place. Sitting Bull, who was
the greatest medicine man of the nation at that time, had charge
of this dance to purify the people and to give them power and endurance.
It was held in the Moon of Fatness because that is the time when
the sun is highest and the growing power of the world is strongest.
I will tell you how it was done.
First a holy man was sent out all alone to find the waga chun,
the holy tree that should stand in the middle of the dancing circle.
Nobody dared follow to see what he did or hear the sacred words
he would say there. And when he had found the right tree, he would
tell the people, and they would come there singing, with flowers
all over them. Then when they had gathered about the holy tree,
some women who were bearing children would dance around it, because
the Spirit of the Sun loves all fruitfulness. After that a warrior,
who had done some very brave deed that summer, struck the tree,
counting coup upon it; and when he had done this, he had to give
gifts to those who had least of everything, and the braver he was,
the more he gave away.
After this, a band of young maidens came singing, with sharp axes
in their hands; and they had to be so good that nobody there could
say anything against them, or that any man had ever known them;
and it was the duty of any one who knew anything bad about any of
them to tell it right before all the people there and prove it.
But if anybody lied, it was very bad for him.
The maidens chopped the tree down and trimmed its branches off.
Then chiefs, who were the sons of chiefs, carried the sacred tree
home, stopping four times on the way, once for each season, giving
thanks for each.
Now when the holy tree had been brought home but was not yet set
up in the center of the dancing place, mounted warriors gathered
around the circle of the village, and at a signal they all charged
inward upon the center where the tree would stand, each trying to
be the first to touch the sacred place; and whoever was the first
could not be killed in war that year. When they all came together
in the middle, it was like a battle, with the ponies rearing and
screaming in a big dust and the men shouting and wrestling and trying
to throw each other off the horses.
After that there was a big feast and plenty for everybody to eat,
and a big dance just as though we had won a victory.
The next day the tree was planted in the center by holy men who
sang sacred songs and made sacred vows to the Spirit. And the next
morning nursing mothers brought their holy little ones to lay them
at the bottom of the tree, so that the sons would be brave men and
the daughters the mothers of brave men. The holy men pierced the
ears of the little ones, and for each piercing the parents gave
away a pony to some one who was in need.
The next day the dancing began, and those who were going to take
part were ready, for they had been fasting and purifying themselves
in the sweat lodges, and praying. First, their bodies were painted
by the holy men. Then each would lie down beneath the tree as though
he were dead, and the holy men would cut a place in his back or
chest, so that a strip of rawhide, fastened to the top of the tree,
could be pushed through the flesh and tied. Then the men would get
up and dance to the drums, leaning on the rawhide strip as long
as he could stand the pain or until the flesh tore loose.
We smaller boys had a good time during the two days of dancing,
for we were allowed to do almost anything to tease the people, and
they had to stand it. We would gather sharp spear grass, and when
a man came along without a shirt, we would stick him to see if we
could make him cry out, for everybody was supposed to endure everything.
Also we made pop-guns out of young ash boughs and shot at the men
and women to see if we could make them jump; and if they did, everybody
laughed at them. The mothers carried water to their holy little
ones in bladder bags, and we made little bows and arrows that we
could hide under our robes so that we could steal up to the women
and shoot holes in the bags. They were supposed to stand anything
and not scold us when the water spurted out. We had a good time
Right after the sun dance was over, some of our scouts came in
from the south, and the crier went around the circle and said: "The
scouts have returned and they have reported that soldiers are camping
up the river. So, young warriors, take courage and get ready to
While they were all getting ready, I was getting ready too, because
Crazy Horse was going to lead the warriors and I wanted to go with
him; but my uncle, who thought a great deal of me, said: "Young
nephew, you must not go. Look at the helpless ones. Stay home, and
maybe there will be plenty of fighting right here." So the
war parties went on without me. Maybe my uncle thought I was too
little to do much and might get killed.
Then the crier told us to break camp, and we moved over west towards
the Greasy Grass and camped at the head of Spring Creek while the
war parties were gone. We learned later that it was Three Stars
who fought with our people on the Rosebud that time. He had many
walking soldiers and some cavalry, and there were many Crows and
Shoshones with him. They were all coming to attack us where we had
the sun dance, but Crazy Horse whipped them and they went back to
Goose Creek where they had all their wagons. My friend, Iron Hawk,
was there that day, and he can tell you how it was.
Iron Hawk Speaks:
I am a Hunkpapa. I was fourteen years old that summer, and I was
a big boy. Two war parties went out, a very large one from the south
end of the camp, and a small one from the north end. I went with
the small one, and there were only about forty of us. The big party
got there early in the morning, and when we came, they had been
fighting a long while. There is a wide valley there at the bend
of the river with some bluffs and hills around it, and it looked
as though people were fighting all over that place. There were Crows
with the soldiers, and we began fighting with some of them. It looked
as though we were getting the best of them. Then the soldiers began
to advance on the other side of us, and we had to retreat. We were
heading for where the big party was, but the soldiers were after
us, and the Crows got braver and fought harder because of the soldiers.
When we got to the bend, the Crows were right among us, and it was
all mixed up fighting there. I don't know whether I killed anybody
or not, but I guess I did, for I was scared and fought hard, and
the way it was you couldn't keep from killing somebody if you didn't
get killed, and I am still alive. There was a Lakota with me by
the name of Without-a-Tepee, and a big Crow pulled him right off
his horse and he disappeared. Of course, me - I ran for my life,
because we could not fight all those Crows and the soldiers too,
and I was scared. But I was not running alone. We were all running,
with the Crows after us. Then all at once we saw a band of cavalry
coming right ahead of us - about thirty of them. I do not know how
they got there. Maybe they were returning from a scouting trip.
It looked bad for us. Then I heard voices crying in our language:
"Take courage! This is a good day to die! Think of the children
and the helpless at home!" So we all yelled " Hoka hey!"
and charged on the cavalrymen and began shooting them off their
horses, for they turned and ran. They were running toward their
big party, and I could see many people were fighting over there,
but everything was all mixed up, and you could not tell what was
happening. It was a pitiful, long-stretched-out battle. They fought
all day. Then the Crows were on us from behind, and we turned around
and charged back on them. But many soldiers were behind them, coming.
So we all had to run, crying "yea-hey" because there were
not enough of us. By now I was very scared, and I ran for my life.
I came to a rocky place, and my pony stepped between two stones
and nearly tore his hoof off.
There was a very brave Shyela by the name of Sitting Eagle. He
was a friend of mine and he had been with me in the fight. When
I got off my pony to look at his hoof, a single Crow was coming
after me. Then I saw my friend, the Shyela, going to meet the Crow.
They fought hand-to-hand, and the Crow went down. I wish I had stayed
with Sitting Eagle, because then I could have been the first to
coup that Crow. But another man did it.
I ran on foot, leading my horse, who was hopping on three legs.
Then I saw smoke coming out of a deep gully where there was a creek.
I went over to the smoke, and there were three Lakotas who had killed
a bison and were having a feast right there while all the fighting
was going on over the hill. They invited me, so I sat there and
ate, for I was about fourteen years old and I was always hungry.
We had to watch out while we ate. One of the men took some clotted
blood from the bison and put it in some raw bison hide and fastened
it around my pony's hoof so that I could ride.
After we had been eating there a long time, a Lakota came upon
his horse with blood and dirt all over his face, and he was angry.
He said: "What are you doing here? We're fighting! All you
think of is to eat! Why don't you think about the helpless ones
at home? Come, make haste! We have got to stand our ground!"
I felt ashamed, so I got on my horse and we started. My horse could
go better with his hoof tied up that way. We came to a ridge, and
I could see all over the valley of the Rosebud where the fighting
was going on. You could not tell who was getting whipped. It looked
all mixed up. Some Crows attacked us there and I never got to the
big party that was doing the hard fighting, but it was bad enough
where I was, except when I was eating. I must have eaten a great
deal, for it was evening now. Of course when we got there, they
had been fighting a good while already.
We all came away when it was dark, to guard the women and children,
and the enemy did not follow us. Of course I thought the Wasichus
had whipped us; but I learned it was not so. It was not a finished
battle because the night stopped it, but the Wasichus got whipped
anyway, and did not attack our village. They went back to their
wagons on Goose Creek and stayed there.
Standing Bear Speaks:
I was not in that fight. There were many who were not. The warriors
came back in the dark, and everybody was so excited that nobody
slept all night.
The next morning, about twenty of us young fellows started out
to see where the fight had been. First we saw a dead horse without
shoes. Then we saw a dead horse with shoes, and near this one was
a soldier full of arrows. We got to where the soldiers had camped
after the fight, and there was a place where the ground was fresh
and a big fire had been built on it. We started to dig there to
see what was hidden. We got down on our hands and knees and dug
in the loose ground. After a while we came to a blanket and there
was a dead soldier in it, and it was tied around his legs and waist
and neck. We pulled him out, and one of the men said: "This
is my blanket. I have been looking for this blanket. I will have
this blanket." So he took it.
Under that was another dead soldier tied up in a blanket, and then
another and another under that. The fourth one was a black Wasichu
[Negro]. Each time somebody said, "This is my blanket,"
and took it. I got the fifth one, and the man inside was young,
and he had a ring on his finger with a white stone in it that sparkled.
I cut off the finger and I had the ring for a long time. One of
our men scalped a soldier and started home with the scalp on a stick.
When we got on top of the ridge we could see the soldiers of Three
Stars retreating toward Goose Creek a long way off. A big dust was
rising there. Then we went home.
The village stayed at the head of Spring Creek several days. Then
we all broke camp and moved over to the Greasy Grass.
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