Returned Sioux Soldiers Day, Solen, ND, July 2-5, 1920. Col. A. B. Welch observes treatment of old enemy, songs, games, medicine stone conversations

Red Tomahawk greets old enemies at the instigation of Col. Welch but the greeting has a biting quality to it: They had been enemies (Pawnees). He had fought them, himself.  He thought they had not been very brave, that, if he had coughed in the night-time, they would have run away.


I went down to Solen to make a speech on the 5th of July.  There was quite a large camp about a mile and a half east of the depot there with about 100 tents and six ceremonial tipis.  The Committee had a large tent-top rented in which to have the dances and there was a regular ceremonial enclosure in the center of the circle, where I made my speech.

Photo of Red Fish, Welch, Chasing Fly, Holy Horse in front row, Mrs. Red Fish, Mrs. Crow Ghost, Mrs. All Yellow in back row


There were many Gros Ventre, Mandan and Arikara visitors and one old man named Walking Sun and two other men and a woman, Pawnees from Oklahoma.  I told the Committee to treat them kindly as they were afraid they would not be treated well as they were old enemies of the Dakotah.  So, shortly after I arrived, I was asked to go with Red Tomahawk to visit these people.  They were in a large ceremonial tipi, belonging to Brave Bull, and we entered and sat down.  The old Pawnee signified his desire to talk in the sign language and, in that way, told them that he had been a scout under General Miles when they took the ponies from Red Cloud (1876); that he had fought with the Sioux and that this was the first time he had ever been in a Sioux camp.  Tomahawk gave him ten dollars in money and told him that they would have meat; that the tipi was theirs to sleep and stay in; they would have bed clothing and should make themselves at home in the camp and ceremonies.  Soon Basil Two Bears came in and we had an interpreter by him through the young Pawnee.  I introduced Tomahawk as the slayer of Sitting Bull and Two Bears as the son of the great Chief Two Bears who fought General Sully.

Tomahawk told them there had been a great Chief among the Dakotah.  His name was Mato Watakpe.  When he wanted to eat or smoke that was all right.  If he said to move camp that was all right.  If he went to war that was all right.  He was wise and they all listened when he spoke to them and treated him with great respect.  He had adopted a son.  He sat there, (pointing at me).  Now that the old Chief was gone to Wakantonka, his son was now Chief.  What he said they would do.  He was a soldier and an orator.  He had said to treat the visitors kindly.  They would do that then.  No one would hurt them now.  They had been enemies. He had fought them, himself.  He thought they had not been very brave, that, if he had coughed in the night-time, they would have run away.  They would have meat and tobacco and gifts.

An old crier was then sent around the circle and told the people where the visitors were camped.  That evening a crowd of singers went to that tipi and serenaded them first, after which they went clear around the circle and sang at each tent, generally receiving some gift when they had finished.  Women went along and danced also.  Two nights later the visitors did the same thing and sang at each tent.  This took them until about midnight.  The singing and dancing of the northern visitors from Berthold Reservation was very much like the Dakotah singing and dancing, but I noticed some difference in the drum beats, that being generally but one strong beat where the Dakotah give one strong and one light beat, and sometimes the beating of the drum was stopped for quite a number of measures but the singing continued.

While there this time, they had several games called Moccasin Games, with the stick in hands, guessing.  This is a favorite game and cause much excitement.

Also a game where they blindfolded women and turned them straight toward a stick placed in the ground.  The women would then walk toward the stake, trying to walk into it. The one who walked into it was the winner. This stick was placed about fifty feet away from the starting place.

Another game was to find a piece of money hidden in the thick grass.  Women were blindfolded and placed in a ring about the place where the money, or large bead, had been hidden.  The one who found it kept it.  The woman who did find it held it for quite a while and had fun while the other still hunted.

The men had a game where twenty stood in a line and, leaning over, passed a stick between their legs to the rear.  When it got to the last man he ran to the head, and so on until every man had been to the head.  The side which got through first was the winner and took the money.

There were running races and roping contests to jerk a roped barrel the farthest.  Dancing was going on all the time and many young men were painted and in costume.

I was asked by Chief Fire Heart to visit a tent and went with him.  He went to the tipi of Yellow Fat.  I sat down and they served me coffee in a tin cup, building a separate fire for the making.  Then they told me that their son was dead.  He had been a soldier in France and was badly gassed, settling in his lungs.  He had been brought back to America but died on the way home, at Aberdeen, S.D.  They showed me all his papers.  He had been wounded twice and was insured for $10,.000.  He had been with the First Division through all its engagements and had a splendid record.

That night I sat and talked to Chasing Fly and Fire Heart and another old man, whose name I did not know.  I had a good interpreter.

Photo of A. B. Welch and Chasing Fly


They said they wanted to tell me about some Medicine Stones.  These were small ones that they had in the olden times.  They were very holy stones.  They would build a small sweat lodge and cover it to make it dark there.  Then the man would go in with the stones and place them upon the ground where it had been fixed nice (mellowed and cleared of grass  -W).  Then, if anyone had lost a horse or a child had strayed away and been lost or they wanted to know where the enemy was, the man inside went to sleep.  The stones soon began to move and swing around the lodge.  If anyone looked in they were often struck with the stones. After a while the stones would go away, sometimes very far they thought.  Then they would come back and tell the sleeping man where the things they were hunting were, and they were always right, too.  Sometimes they would bring the thing back with them.  Once they brought a man back with them and when they looked into the lodge, he was there with the other man.  The stones would not tell anyone but the man who was asleep but he could tell the people.  They thought that the Government should have had these stones with the soldiers in Europe and then they could have captured the enemy and the Kaiser that way.

Note-Mr.A.McG.Beede of Yates told me, July 11th, 1920, that he had seen some of these stones and had seen them move.  He said they have them yet, safely hidden in a place known only to a couple of old men.  He had also seen the wooden medicine bowls swing round in a circle, three feet from the ground, and unsupported by any human agency.

During the festivities we had a soldier’s parade on horses around the camp and I had soldiers from 12 different divisions.  Many horses were given to us, and many of the soldiers also gave presents away.  They had a white horse which represented Albert Grass’ horse, which they gave to me and I gave it away by turning it loose and letting the first man who caught it keep it.  Several soldiers were given sticks which represented horse gifts and they threw them away.  The first man to pick them up owned the horse.  There was no unseemly scrambling, but someone would talk up and pick it up and shake hands with the giver.  About fifty horses were given away besides much money and several head dresses and clothing, etc.

Speech given by A. B. Welch

I do not believe that I need an introduction to this gathering.  Among the white people I am fairly well-known as Captain or Major Welch and to my Indian relatives I am better known as Mato Watakpe, the son of Pezhi.  I believe that you know me now as one who is interested in all things which are of interest to you and that your problems and efforts are also studied by me in order to be in a position to assist you in any manner I may.

I am certainly glad to be with you today and to see such a large and happy crowd.  I notice many visitors from Fort Peck and others of the Mandans, Rees, and Gros Ventres.  I have been to many of your celebrations and have taken part in your sports, pastimes and ceremonies.  You have always treated me well and accept me as your brother.  I thank you for these honors.

You very happily call this day “Returned Soldiers Day.”  To many of you this may appear to related to those men who were in the World War, but to me it means more.  I see, sitting all around me, many old men of the Dakotah people.  Some of these men were born many winters ago.  Some, perhaps, as far back as “When the Stars changed Places Winter (1833-1834)” or the “Winter when they had red cloth for doors (1843-1844)” or “When Buffalo Head was killed Winter (1846-1847).” These old men are all returned soldiers and these visitors sitting with them are also.  They were good enemies in the old times, these Palani were, and it is a good thing to see you sitting together today in safety.  The old men from the north do not have to sit with eyes in the back of their heads to keep some young, ambitious Dakotah from burying an axe in their heads and the Dakotah do not have to tie their horses to their hands when they lie down to sleep to keep the Palani from riding them away.

You old Indian warriors – I have often tried to picture to myself your return from the war trail.  It is easy for me to see you as your war party started off on its mission.  I can even see you as you entered the country of your enemies and located the camp of the Crows or other people you were going after.  I can see you waiting behind some hill, for the time when you shall ride into their camp.  And I can see you as you rush through their village; I can hear the screams of the children and the yells of the startled men as they poured out to meet you.

And I can picture to myself the fight and the tipis afire and the horses running and I can see your wounds and bleeding men lying on the ground or crawling out of the way of the horses.  And, in the morning, I can see you far away, driving with your party a great herd of captured horses and you are going fast to get away with your war prizes from that country.  And you push on for several days until you recognize certain buttes and rivers and then you slow down and finally come into the country of your own people.  And that day, perhaps, you killed some game and you camped there for a while to eat and take care of your wounds and refresh your horses.  And then you went on and finally came upon a hill from which you could see the camp of your own people.  And I can see now the feasts and dances and hear the women sing about your brave deeds against the enemy.  Then followed the time when you were to fulfill your vows and bleed in the dance for honor.  I can see the good man select the pole, and watch it as it is carried to the place where the hole had been prepared for it to rest in.  I can picture to myself, now, the old men cut your and insert the raw hide ropes and tie you to the pole.  I can see you surge back against the ropes or drag the heavy buffalo skulls through the grass and I can hear the drums and the singing as you glared straight at the sun and danced, and I can see the blood run from your arms and breasts and all the people were proud of the Returned Dakotah Soldier and many presents were made then.

You were young then.  Your hair was black;  and you wore paint and your step was springy as the antelope in the dance and you were strong with the strength of the buffalo and you were swift as the eagle whose feather you wore in your air and your eyes were bright as you looked into the sun.  But now your hair is graying and some of you walk with canes and you cannot leap in the dance as you once did, but are careful not to punish your muscles.  And your eyes are dimmed with many winter’s snows and summer’s glare.  And you sit together and tell of the olden time and retell the stories of the hunt and wars.  Yes, you men are getting old and every year someone goes to join his fathers.  Your wars and battles are not told in histories, but you know them and you are honored men among your people, and I, as the son of your great Chief Pezhi, honor you and respect you, and as a young soldier, I salute you.  May you live many winters yet and see your sons take a position of honor and trust among their white brothers around them.

Then there are some other returned soldiers here today.. You all know John Leach and William Zahn.  They are soldiers of ‘61.  They fought in a war when brother was arrayed against his own brothers, and fathers often against their sons.  Both sides fought for a principle which they thought was right.  My own relatives fought in that war and many of them died on the fields of battle then.  And the homes of the people were filled with crying women and sorrowing children for several years.  But all wars end sometime, and the soldiers marched home again after a time and started once again to cultivate their farms and attend to other businesses.  And now those young men are rapidly coming to the end of their lives.  But, while they live among us, they, too, are honored men and we treat them as the saviors of our government.

And then, twenty years ago, we were in war with Spain, and the young men flocked to the flag.  I was quite young then, but I went to this war.  It was my first war and I was thirsty for war honors.

Photo of Ist Washington Volunteers Guard, somewhere on Luzon, Philippine Islands, 1898, during the Philippine Insurrection.  A. B. Welch is shown on the inset.


We crossed the ocean and fought the Spaniard in Cuba and the Filippine Islands.  The city where I first fought was surrounded by a great stone wall forty feet high.  But we captured this city and took about twenty thousand prisoners there and only lost thirteen men in the fight.  And this ended the war there with the Spanish, but soon the people of the Islands went to war with us and there were six to our one, and we fought to keep our heads upon our shoulders.  These people were very fierce savages and ate the flesh of their enemies, and we lost many men killed and fought them for a year in the jungles and swamps before we beat them.  And then, one day, we went aboard a vessel and started home, many thousands miles away.  When we reached San Francisco and landed one more upon our own shores, the people gave us a wonderful welcome, and we, like the boys of ‘61, went to our homes with our war honors and to tell the stories of our battles fought.

(Note:  Welch penciled in the word “Mexico” after the above paragraph… but nothing else … he had served on the boarder in 1917  chasing Pancho Villa, etc.)

And since that time this country has been in another war, and I see young men before me in the uniform of the present day.  You all remember that momentous day in the spring of 1917 when this country declared that civilization had been so terribly outraged and we, as a people, had been so causelessly punished, that a state of war existed between Germany and the United States of America.  Other nations had been at war for three long, bloody years when we entered it.  We did not want to fight and did everything we could to keep out of it.  But this peaceful nation of working people, which desires nothing but to be let attend to her own business, was goaded and forced by rapidly occurring events both in Europe and upon the free high seas, which threatened our future security and prosperity, to light the blazing torch of red war.

Then things commenced to happen.  The young men of this nation, both red and white, black and yellow and brown, flocked to the colors.  Great camps were formed in a night of time and hummed and throbbed with war preparations.  Ships were prepared to cross the ocean; food for millions of men was gathered together and clothing was made and weapons built; money had to be had and you people gave your wealth and horses and cattle as did thousands of others all over the land;  Red Cross societies were formed and raised money and prepared clothing and hospital supplies were gathered together.

At that time I came down on the reservation to see my old father, Pezhi, and listen to his words of good advice.  He told me that, if he were a young man, he would go to war for we had been struck.  He said that Dakotah meant the ‘friendly people,’ and that they never went to war unless they had been struck first.  And now we had been struck and the man who could, and did not go, was a coward.  The grand, old man turned his face from me to hide his tears as I rode away, for he had said he would never see me again and my Indian mother covered her head with her shawl and sang a weird song as I went rapidly away.  I never did see my father again, for he was called before I returned, and I understand that you are raising a fund with which to purchase a stone for his grave.

Germany said, “Oh, America is not prepared and she can’t fight anyhow.  What good can a lot of farmers and Indians do against a well-trained army like ours.  We will sink them in the ocean and cover the floor of the sea with their bones, and, after we have whipped the French and the English, we will cross over there and take their homes away from them and rule the world.”  And they preached cruelty in war and tortured men and ravished women and killed children.  I once was with a party of officers who were studying the ruined fortifications of Belgium.  We were shown an underground hospital where over four hundred wounded men were walled up alive and left to die there.  But I will not go into these cruelties or attempt to describe the ruined cities, for my tongue is not capable of it.

When the war broke out I had written to Washington, asking for authority to raise a battalion of Indians.  This was denied me and they stated that they were not in favor of having Indians serve alone, but that they might enlist together with the other men.  And when I left Bismarck with 295 men, I had many of your young men and some from the Rees and Mandans and Gros Ventres with me, and they were safely landed in France late in 1917.

They landed at Brest.  This city was the base of Julius Caesar’s invasion of the British Isles, 56 B.C., and the old cisterns he built and the roads he made and the walls he built are still there.  We were put into little box-cars which held just forty men by crowding the men so they could not sit down, and went across France for three days.  The men were all off to the ward and there was no one to be seen but women and old men and children and wounded men and soldiers who had business there.  We saw soldiers of all colors and religions.  Black men from Africa, yellow men from China and Japan, brown men from the South Seas and Red Men from America.  Russians, Italians, French, British, Belgians and dozens of other nationalities were all about us, and all engaged in fighting the Germans.  Within ten days many of our boys were on the line.

I was on the staff of one of our generals and I well-remember an incident which showed how badly we were needed there.  A French general called upon the American general and, when introduced, kissed him on both cheeks, as is the custom of that people, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “General, you have come too late.  We are very tired and our soldiers have been killed by the hundreds of thousands.  The Germans are driving on Paris and we shall be lost.”   How well we saved them and held the Germans from entering Paris, is known to the world.  In July, at Soissons and other points, we stormed them, but at terrible loss to us.  We met the best soldiers of the German army there, and beat them.  A long time later I heard that two of our boys from this reservation, Albert Grass and Blue Earth, had laid down their lives in that district and my heart became bitter.  I was on the staff but at once requested that I be sent to the front and did go then to the Third Division Artillery service.  This was a regular army division and took a very active part in the entire campaign.  At Chateau Thierry it bore the main attack of the hordes of Germans for three nights and days and forty thousand of the enemy were killed at that bloody point.  After those days in July the enemy never went forward, but their attacks failed at point after point until, at last, in September, under the combined attacks of the French, English and American Armies, they broke and retreated all along the line from Metz to the North Sea.  Two weeks more and an army of one million men would either have been annihilated or captured, but they sued for peace on the basis of an Armistice, and this was granted on Nov. 11, 1918.

The next day many of these men here started for Germany, following at the tail of the retreating German Army.  They reached the great river, called the Rhine, on Dec. 14th, 1918 and took charge of all the country west of the river and for a considerable distance on the right bank, or the east side.  The war was over.

Then came the great work of bringing these soldiers back home.  When we signed the armistice, this government was landing on the shores of France 20,000 men every day and it took over a year to get them all back home.  Do you know what is the hardest thing a soldier has to do?  It is to come home.  There is something in that which tears the heart strings.  When we first sighted the shores of America, as we neared New York City, there was not much yelling or noise.  The men were silent and many eyes were filled with tears.  Thoughts of the hardships which were now past; remembrance of the death of boys now sleeping under the poppies of France; many changes had taken place in our own country since we had left; death and disease had stalked through the land and many homes were desolate back here, while the boys were over there;  all these things tended to arouse the emotions. And then the yelling hysterical crowds which welcomed them home and the victory parades and ceremonies which followed.  And, at last, they came over the hills yonder, back to the pleasant valleys and grass-covered hills of their birth place and to the homes of their own people and they are with us today.

Did I say they were with us today?  Yes, but not all of them.  The U.S.Government has purchased from France three plots of ground.  One is at Surenes near Paris, another is nearby that little village where the most momentous battle of history was fought, Chateau Thierry. The other one is on a gently-sloping hill. In the banks of the Meuse river in the Argonne.  In each of these lie the brave boys who did not return and who are not with us today.  In the last few days of the war we tore from the possession of the enemy, the green hill at Romagne sur Mountfaucon and drove him in confusion into the river.  It was a terrible battle there on that hill.  Today there are rows upon rows of small white crosses there, and a great American Flag floats from a tall staff there over them.  33,000 American Soldiers lie there in their last sleep and their graves are kept green by the tears of America and the gentle, loving hands of the people of France.  They whose stars are upon these flags, sleep there today, having died upon the fields of honor.

Then, let us not forget those ideals for which they died and for which these returned soldiers fought.  Remember always the principle of freedom and tolerance which this country has established and keep ever-burning before you, the fires of patriotic love which caused these men here, today, to leave their own homes and people and engage an enemy upon a foreign shore, that you and yours might live in peace and security.