Sioux Tribal Memorial Day, Cannon Ball, May 29, 1920. Col. A. B. Welch hears the “Death Song” for the first time

A. B. Welch and twelve Sioux

who served with him in France, 1918,

were invited to this Ceremony


Upon invitation of Rev.A.S.Tibbitts, Indian Churchman at the Cannon Ball Presbyterian, I went down to speak to the people on above date.  Rode down with Howard Seaman, a stockman, by way of Solen, where we crossed the Cannon Ball upon the bridge, instead of the Van Solen Ranch where we would have to ford.  Arrangements had been made for the occasion and I stayed that night at the Van Solen Ranch.

Sam Kingran came for me at 9 am the next morning and I rode down to the church, about ten miles below the station at the Cannon Ball.  It is a beautiful place.  The church is situated upon a flat sort of a second bench above the Missouri river, and the view across and down the river is very fine.  There were several lodges already pitched and dozens of wagons and autos there. After a short prayer service in the church, which was crowded, and a solo by Claude Kill Spotted (Onward Christian Soldiers) and a song by the congregation (America), a procession was formed to go to the church graveyard upon a high hill to the west.

Eight little girl singes were first in column; then came the American flag, carried by Jerome Elk and the Service Flag carried by Bears Ghost; I came next, ahead of twelve men in uniform, ex-soldiers of the World War, and then came the people in a long column.  Looking back as we ascended the hill, it was a most picturesque sight, as all the people were dressed in their best and carried flowers of colored paper and painted sticks and flags.

At the graveyard we had a short payer and a song in the Dakotah language and then the people were told that they might go and place their decorations upon the graves.  All were decorated.  Many had flowers of paper placed upon them and the ground was aflutter with small flags.  I noticed many oranges and some candy and boxes of crackerjack placed upon the graves, which follows an olden times custom of having something to eat if the spirit returns.  Then I spoke to the people.  During the talk I mentioned the wounded and shattered dead upon the fields of France, and several old women and one young one sang the Death Song.  I have been among the Indians for a long time, but this was the first time I had heard this song to know it.  It is a weird thing and goes through one like a knife.  The cry of the old women was like that of a coyote, very high and sliding around in a fashion most ghostly.

As we left the yard several other women and children were mourning over certain graves.  We went to the church where a great circle was formed for the feast.  I ate in the log house (YMCA) with some service men and old warriors.  We had chicken and fried bread and coffee and pie and cake.  Then I went out in the circle and chased a dog which was running away with a pie in its mouth.  He dropped the pie and then I put it under my blouse and ran, and the women laughed loud and had a lot to say.  There was no dance or gift-giving at this ceremony and everything was very solemnly attended to.  These Indians are more patriotic than most of their white neighbors.  There were over thirty blue stars and five gold stars upon their service flag.