Col. A.B.Welch Visit to Fort Berthold, and the ruins of old Fishhawk Village, Oct. 12-15, 1921.

Welch was asked to speak at this heretofore rare Joint-Meeting of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes with their old enemies, the Sioux

 

A few weeks before the above time, I received word from an Indian, Claire Everett, Elbowoods, N.D., by letter, that they wanted  me to come up and speak to them when they dedicated a certain new dance hall – that they would let me know the date later.  I consented.  Early in the month I received a well-worded invitation and the date was for the 13, 14 and 15 insts.  I was to go to Garrison on the east side of the river and be met there by an Indian who would take me to the place.

On the train up, I met a man named Joe Packinaugh, Indian with French ancestors, and two other men, one who was named Little Crow, coming from a visit to the Crows.  They wanted to be sure and get there to hear me speak.  Said they knew I was to be there.

At Garrison I left the train and was met by Joe Young Hawk and his brother in a Ford.  Joe was a soldier whom I enlisted and who lost a leg at Soissons, France.  After mid-day dinner we started the 28 miles to the place.  Crossed two creeks where I was told the Arikara formerly came to hunt antelope.  None there now and had not been since about 16 years before this.  Soon came into the reserve and the grass was thick and heavy, cattle and horses ranging all looked well.  Dropped down into the valley of the Missouri river and the desolate point of land where Old Fort Berthold used to be situated, covered with rank, dark weeks from the old habitations, could be seen.

The burials of the people were made along the hills, on top and at the foot, where they simply laid the body and went off and left it.

Several splendid springs ran out of the hills and at one of these, nicely located, we came to a modern house, porch and all, and I was told that this was the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Wild, and I would stay all night there. Mrs. Wild is a Hampton graduate and her husband is a well-educated Indian, also.  The view from the house is across the valley to the south to old Berthold and on to the high bluffs on the southern side of the river.

All arrangements had been made for me to go to the old Fort site in the morning and back to dinner and then to the dance hall, where the ceremonies of the Dead Grass Society were to be held. We sat and talked very late and the man, Wild, was very well versed in old time history and his stories are told in this manuscript.

In the morning Joe and myself started for the old Fort and village of the Arikara.  Catlin made several sketches of this old village in 1832 as did Maximillian, Prince of Wied, when he visited there in the early days of 1800.  The village had been located in a strategic location.  The Missouri comes (or did then) from the west and strikes the bank which sweeps it to the south and at the point where the old village stood it took an abrupt turn toward the east again.  The bluff is about 50 feet high and gravelly.  The site was flat and ran clear to the hills a couple of mile more to the north, out of which wound a little river called Two Bear Water.  Protection was needed only on the east and north side as the river was an almost impassable barrier on the west and south. Here were erected the dirt and wood lodges of the Arikara.  Each location may yet be made out by the mounds of dirt and color of the grasses and weeds.  The old U.S.Fort was at the south end of the village as were also the early trading posts of the fur companies.  I didn’t find pottery among the ruins, but picked up a rib which was pointed and carved and which they used to play a game on the ice.  Also an old steel knife with a blade about eight inches long and iron handle.  Dug it out of the bank.

Fort Berthold, Federated Village, 1872

ce37arikara-village

After walking through the ruined village we went to the graves of the Scouts to the northeast of the old site.  These graves of 102 Scouts, who served the United States Army in the early days, all lie together in a well-kept plot.  The flag flies on important days from a tall staff and each grave is marked by a U.S.headstone.  The Scouts Little Brave, Bob Tail Bull and Bloody Knife were all killed with Custer and their bodies were buried where found.  The stones, however, are erected at Berthold.

Later in the ceremonies, the people sung a song about Little Brave, which runs something like this:

The pinto horse came home alone.

Little Brave never came again.

They told me that Little Brave had ridden a pinto pony which, long after the fight on the Little Big Horn, came into camp from across the river and walked around, neighing and seemed to be hunting for the Indian Scout.  They treated the horse very well and never allowed anyone to ride it but a brave man after that.

Close by the cemetery is a strange monument to the memory of a brave fight and the death of brave men.  We build monuments of stone; we make great memorial avenues and bridges and buildings; we commemorate great events in oil paints and tablets of bronze, but this true monument is the strangest one of all.  The following story is told by Young Hawk, Wild and Red Fox, all Arikara:

“The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived together in friendship at the ‘Fish Hook Village’ for a long time.  They stayed together to be better prepared to resist the continual harassment of their enemies, but more especially of the Sioux.  Sometimes the Chippewa came in too, to fight us.  But we feared the Sioux and our women used their name to still the children, as every one feared them.  They were so bold that they sometimes came right into the village.  Sometimes the enemy would come from the hills to the north and follow down the little creek called ‘Two Bears Coulee’ and get close before we were prepared.  Once there was a great fight in that coulee and the Sioux got clear to the walls of the United States Fort there and built fires against the palisade.  One man killed seven Sioux that day (this was the Uncle of Mrs. Wild.  He was afterwards the official interpreter for Custer on his last trip and escaped, with Young Hawk…his name Girrard.  He was a Frenchman).

“About 65 years ago the Sioux made such a raid upon the people there.  In the fighting very near the village, right where the cemetery is now, two Mandans were cut off from the village and it looked like they would die there.  The Sioux were all around them.  One was named Left Hand and the other one was named Red Leaf.  They had lost their horses.  They had a brother who saw them that way.  His name was White Crow and he went out to help them.  Left Hand had been killed when he got there and Red Leaf was trying to keep the enemy from taking his scalp.  White Crow was afoot.  The Sioux horseman came along, lying low over his horse’s neck, and shooting from under his neck.  When he got within 10 feet White Crow killed him and he fell off his horse with a thud upon the ground there by Left Hand, Red Leaf and White Crow.  The two brothers then carried Left Hand back to the village with his scalp safe on his head.  It was a very brave thing for White Crow to do and Red Leaf was brave also.  To always remember this thing they had done, the people decided to draw the pictograph of it upon the ground.  This they did and took out the sod so it would always remain that way.  They are there.  I will show you.”

We then walked to the place where the monument is.  There were six gigantic tracks of a horse coming from the southeast.  These tracks are about two feet across the heel and the track is made by cutting out the sod six inches wide and the same deep.  From the direction of the village were foot tracks,  a foot long and six inches wide and deep.  There were sixteen of these great steps.  At the closest place of approach to the horse trail (10 feet) there were two foot prints set side by side and three feet apart.  This denotes the place where the brother Red Leaf was standing over the dead body of Left Hand and also denotes the place where the reckless Sioux warrior met his death.  A broken iron kettle, a stick with some faded artificial flowers upon it and a stick with a rag of red cloth, were at this place, denoting prayers and songs.  A hole in the ground also denoted the place where the shot fired at White Crow by the advancing Sioux warrior, hit the ground.  These marks commemorating the entire action, which took place in 1853, are plainly marked and as soon as filled with flowing dirt or growth of grass, they are carefully renewed by the Arikara in order to preserve this story of the brave Mandan ally and the death of the reckless, hard-riding Sioux.

 

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