Sioux War Mothers Meeting, Cannon Ball, Mid-Jan. 1921, Col. A. B. Welch invited. Re-living failures of the Government to live up to Treaty Obligations

Dakotah War Mothers at Standing Rock Agency. A letter by A. B. Welch to “Mrs. Jones,” dated January 26th, 1921:

I have your welcome letter of recent date before me and, in answering it, I though that you would, no doubt, be interested in some recent news regarding our Dakotah War Mothers at Standing Rock Agency.  I have just returned from a trip down there on their invitation to be present at a ‘function.’  This was in the nature of a ‘reception’ in honor of the representative of the Government, Mr. Kitch, of Fort Yates (Agent).

The affair was held at a round dance hall, built on the reservation “where many roads come together place.” It is a well-built structure about 50 feet in diameter and here take place the dances and other ceremonies of the Cannon Ball District Indians.  It is but a short distance from a hill which is a sort of a holy place with them, as it was upon its slopes where the last sacred “Looking at the Sun Dance” was held some years ago and I believe that the center pole, which was always selected with great ceremony, is still standing there.

Historic Cannon Ball Community Center and Dance Hall 1902s

Cannon Ball Community Center

I was expected to arrive at about 9:00 am but was detained until about 4:00 pm, so there was no one to meet me.  I walked out to the dance hall, a matter of a short couple of miles.  As I came near to the place some old man discovered me and, at once, cried out, “Mato Watakpe cooa” (Charging Bear comes), and the cry was repeated throughout the camp and a woman started to sing about me across the circle of tents which surrounded the dancing place.  It all sounded weird and, yet to me, so natural, just as though it was the usual thing.  The dusk was falling and it was chilly from the icy Missouri as the wind swept across the prairie and through the dead grass of the past summertime.

The “Sacred Hill” was at my back and across the camp and on beyond, rose the clear-cut, sharpely defined silhouette of the “Hill of the Twins,” just beyond which, flows the water of the “Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpe,” the Holy Idol Stone River, called by the whites, the Cannon Ball.

I passed through the herd of hobbled horses and, as I approached the dance place, several young soldiers spoke me and shook hands.  They were in uniform.  I pushed open the door and entered the dimly lighted place where the ceremony was about completed.  The “Honor Guard” had departed for Fort Yates, 35 miles away, and by that time, his auto was roaring over the splendid roads along “Battle Creek,” away toward the south.

In the hall were perhaps forty older men and many old women.  Three great roaring stoves heated the interior.  They had decided that I would not be present, and expressed their surprise as they came to shake hands.  Mrs. Two Bears, the newly-elected War Mother, said that I must be tired and hungry, and invited me to eat something.

And here is the surprise:  I seated myself to a real table, with a snowy-white table cloth and paper napkin; the service was a very pretty china and my super was of roast chicken, parker.  This feast had been prepared for the guests and party.  The people of the camp had all been fed, however, in their accustomed manner, with boiled beef and coffee, so, everyone had been satisfied.

After the supper was ended, the women started to clean up the dishes just as white women would have done, and the men gathered together at one side of the place to listen to a report of one of their number, who had gone as a delegate to a Council of all the Sioux Tribes, which had taken up the matter of the selection of a lawyer to represent the tribes, in the matter of the presentation of the Dakotah claims arising from the failure of this Government to fulfill the terms of the Treaty of 1868, better known as the Black Hills Treaty.

This claim amounts to many millions of dollars and it is my belief that the Indians are entirely in the right and that their suit will be won by them when it is heard by the Court of Claims in Washington.  The failure and downright refusal of the Government to live up to this agreement cost untold suffering; hundreds of lives and a series of Indian Wars which lasted nearly thirty years.  Clumsy attempts of the Government to evade this “scrap of paper” sent Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Gall, Mad Soul, Black Moon, Fast Bull, Scabby Head, Ice Bear, Inkpaduta (or Scarlet Point), Sitting Bull the Prophet, and other leading soldiers to the wilds of the Big Horn, together with their people, and directly resulted in the death of Custer and his men.

But my letter begins to take on the aspect of history and I will close.  At the new election, held at the ceremony mentioned, these new officers were duly elected:

Mrs. Anne Two Bears, War Mother

Mrs. Jerome Elk, Vice War Mother

Mrs. Samuel Eagle Boy, Secretary

Mrs. Paul Fast Horse, Treasurer

Mrs. Lucy LaFramboise, Seamstress

Basil Two Bears and Fast Horse, Men assistants to the officers.

During the meeting they took up a collection of money for to assist a poor, sick, white soldier living among them, and also gave him a sack of flour, potatoes, sugar and coffee.

Photos of War Mothers, Standing Rock, August 26, 1920