Chief John Grass talks to Col. A. B. Welch about life in the 1800’s including Little Big Horn participation

Chief Grass speaks to Welch, about 1916:

“These men, Red Cloud, Gall, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, had they been permitted to grow and expand, would have held up our Dakotah Nation to the admiration of the world, I believe.  But they are all dead now.    

It is my opinion that, if this nation had been left alone, had been permitted to work out their own salvation as other young nations have done before and since, when they first came into touch with the effects of civilization, they would have produced some fine specimens of mental manhood.    

They would have become capable of seeing their destiny and the responsibility of government and advancement along the lines of civilized customs, and seeing it, they would have developed the power of thought and mentality which would have carried this nation to an apex of respect and admiration among the great nations and peoples of the world.    

I am sure of this.

I am sorry we were not permitted to do this.

We wanted to.”


Adoption of Welch as his son

Advice on Whiskey and Women

Brilliance attested to by Indian Agents


Chieftancy: John Grass’  and his Father’s warrior shields

Defense of his country

Fanny Kelly Story

Genealogy,  developed from interviews with family members 1915-1941

House Location of John Grass

History: Fort Phil Kearney fight

History: Rosebud fight

History: Custer smoked with Grass in the Spring before the Little Big Horn Battle

History: John Grass may have laid the Plans for the Little Big Horn Battle

Loses faith in White Man’s religion

Judge of Court of Indian Offenses

Marriage Ceremony (Catholic)

Old time Indians talk about Grass

Obituary Information

Photos of John Grass

Philosophy about Dying

State Visit by the Gros Ventres

State Visit with Welch

Sioux Great Men

U.S.Flag, emblem of mistreatment

Support of World War I war effort

White Man…his first meeting

White People … his last message

Albert Grass, his grandson

Amanda Grass (Ina), his wife



Adoption of Welch as his son


“Bismarck N.D., June 18.  Novel in conception, historic in significance and dramatic in setting, was the formal adoption of Captain A. B. Welch of Bismarck into the family of Chief John Grass and therefore into the Sioux nation.  Chief Grass, a man of power both with the Indian and the white man, holds the distinction of being the only hereditary chief, as to family, in the United States.  In the annals of Indian history, nothing surpassing the ceremonial in picturesque effect and tribal importance has been enacted with a period of fifty years.”

“Accompanied by his “official staff,” Chief Grass came to Bismarck and sought out Captain Welch to apprise him of the desire which lay in the heart of the chief, which was no less than to make him his son.”

“At a banquet here several years ago, Chief Grass spoke, through an interpreter, of the burdens of his people, of their former prestige, of their depleted numbers and their lost and broken spirit.  The old warrior told a simple story and dignified it with commanding oratory.  And among those who listened and who heeded was Secretary Alfred B. Welch of the Bismarck Commercial Club.”

Warm Friend of  Indians

“Now it so chanced that since boyhood Captain Welch had felt stirring within him a deep sympathy for the Indian people, whose faces were strong and whose arms were steady.  He desired to do something to ameliorate their condition and to help brighten their lot.  Born in Iowa, of Scotch-American parentage, he moved at an early age to South Dakota.  The free, wild life of the plains planted within him a determination to be a part of it, and  he resolved to adopt as his brothers the young Indians with whom he every day came in contact.  He studied their lives and haunts, became familiar with their bows and arrows, conquered their history, such as he could command, through tradition and book-lore, with the result that a purpose was born within him to do whatever it might be given to him to do, to show his faith and his friendship for these once mighty children of nature, now shorn of their ancient rights.  And so, when it was decreed that Captain Welch was the man to reply to Chief Grass, he knew exactly what he wanted to say.”





“The acquaintance thus began ripened into friendship and then into something warmer.  And so, when Chief Grass told him he wanted to adopt him as his son and to make this adoption official with his nation, and furthermore, that it was his desire to bestow upon him his war name, that of Ma-to-wa-tak-pe, or Charging Bear, Mr. Welch signified his acceptance.  He told Chief Grass he would provide a feast, or barbeque, for the occasion.  Thereupon Chief Grass and his attendants returned to Standing Rock to make ready for the ceremonial, the greatest honor that can be paid to a white man by the Indian race.”

Ancient Ceremonial

“This ceremonial is an ancient institution, and is known to and understood only by the old men, who have learned by word of mouth from their fathers the ritual of their faith; and only the old men who have been wise in council and brave in war are allowed to participate in it.  Runners were sent out and word was passed around that Chief Pezhi (pronounced Pay-zhee) was about to take a son into his family, provided it met with the approval of the Sioux Nation, and thus was the council call together.”

“Curator H. C. Fish, of the State Historical Society, was a member of the party leaving for Fort Yates, and Dr. A. McG. Beede, Ph.D., was chaplain for many years at Fort Yates and a distinguished student of Indian affairs, pointed out the various sites and scenes along the route.  Sibley Island, to the east, was passed, and there the rifle pits may still be seen that were dug by Sibley’s soldiers along in ‘63.  To this day relics are picked up there.  It was there the first Masonic funeral in North Dakota was held.  A scout sent out to reconnoiter was killed by one of the followers of Little Crow, and a captain of the regiment, with a few of the men buried him with Masonic honors.  The Masons of Bismarck hope to erect a monument there some day.”

“All along the bluffs of the river, sites of villages of the Mandans and Rees (Arikaras) are to be seen, some of them plainly marked by fortifications of deep ditches and walls.  Each had its history, with its tragic story of gradual but sure retreat in the face of their implacable foe, the Sioux, until 1838, when the dreadful plague (smallpox) so decimated their numbers that a truce was declared.  There are said to have been only 137 Mandans left.”

Surrounded, Taken Prisoner

“Upon arriving at Fort Yates the entire plan was carried out with as much smoothness as if enacted upon the stage of a model opera house.  Not a hitch occurred, not a line went wrong.  As the party advanced, it was noticed that the camp had been lost sight of, and that the party was ascending a rather steep slope.  When the crest was reached such a sight burst upon the beholders as will never be forgotten.  Here was the great circle of teepees, pitched about the sides of a great natural bowl  – the very site where Chief Grass’ father had won a great battle  – a sort of valley, through which flowed a limpid, wooded stream.”

“Some half a mile below them was to be detected a great war party moving upon, keeping time to the beating of a drum and to the music made by sounds upon hollow eagles’ bones.  One hundred  and fifty old men, in regalia, came marching, dancing and chanting, and as they bore down upon the party they streamed out into a half circle, into which, it soon transpired, Captain Welch was to be ambushed and taken prisoner.”


“Behind the warriors march a phalanx of women in gorgeous apparel, singing and dancing.  For the space of half an hour the great war party drew closer and closer, sending out skirmishing parties now and then to bring back reports of the enemy.”


“All the time Chief Grass rode, silent and grim, far behind the prisoner, making no sign, except to the runners, and all the time the drums rolled louder and the distance became shorter and the situation more tense.  Then, with a rush, the whole part closed in and separated the prisoner from his party.”


This war party was composed of Sihasapas, the band to which Chief Grass’ father, Chief Pezhi, belonged, and all of whom had followed father or son in battle.  All had real war records and all were entitled to coups, and to them Chief Grass now came forward and made it known that the prisoner was his friend.  Had Captain Welch flinched during the ordeal, it is probable he would have been repudiated; but no such contretemps occurred, and upon hearing the chief’s proclamation, the party formed in line, behind while two superbly mounted warriors fell in at right and left, slightly behind the candidate, to act as orderlies.”


“The circle of tents was now entered, and barely was the candidate within its confines when a second great war party  – this time composed of Hunkpapas  – charged down upon him, closing in with terrific war-whoops and beating of drums and with every evidence of extreme hostility.  Again, Chief Grass called out in sharp tones that the prisoner was his friend and he now told them he wished him to become a member of the Sioux Nation; that he wanted to adopt him as a son and to give him his war name, but that he wished the sanction of his father’s people in order that the adoption be legal and binding.  With great dignity a vote was thereupon taken, and as the ancient form demands that the vote be unanimous, here was presented a chance for a blackball.  The candidate, however, had passed the ordeal with honor.”

Bower for “Ceremonial Square”

“Thereupon the war party and Captain Welch proceeded to the middle of the great bowl, or valley, around the sides of which the tents were pitched, and approached the “Ceremonial Square.”  This was composed of trees with interlacing boughs stuck into the ground to form a rectangle and enclosing a space about 65×85 feet.  In one corner a booth had been made of poles, over which a canvass was stretched like a canopy, and which was reserved for Captain Welch and his friends.”


When the candidate reached the square, entrance was made, according to time-honored custom, from the east.  Chief Grass escorted the visitors to the northwest corner, and here was enacted the climax of this extraordinary drama.  Chief Grass presented John Brown, of Irish and Sioux extraction, as official interpreter.”

“But now a feast was to be partaken of, a barbeque, the gift of Captain Welch.  There were two steers, a hundred pounds of coffee and a hundred pounds of sugar, besides a wagon-load of hardtack, and other edibles prepared by the Indian hosts.”

“But soon the drums struck up a war song, and the singing continued until Chief Grass and his son-to-be, escorted by Tom Frosted, master of ceremonies, All Yellow and other worthies, crossed to the west side of the square, and were seated with solemn dignity under the canopy, with their faces to the east.  Immediately an Indian cried out that the dance was to begin, and almost at the sound of his voice one old warrior after another leaped up and fell in with the dancing step until all the Sihasapas and the Hunkpapas joined in the dance and, by so doing again, signified their agreement in the adoption.  All must dance and all were agreed.”


“When the dancing was over, some of Captain Welch’s gift of tobacco  – of which he brought 100 pounds  – was passed around among the participants, who accepted it with  stately dignity, no one pushing, no one betraying eagerness.  Then Chief Grass told of his father’s deeds, and of his own, and said that his father had told him many years ago not to fight the white man, but to help with white man, to give to him honor and respect and then the white man would honor and respect him.  He said he had always tried to do as his father had commanded, and that he had many friends among the white men and his own people.  He had given the government all the true facts he could; he believed in education for the young Indian and had studied how to best command the attention and retain the confidence of the old men  – those who were too old to learn the news ways  – who were too old to learn to till the soil or become farmers as the government wished, so that many of them, although rich in allotments, were still poor and ofttimes suffered for the necessities of life.”


“Still I have always smiled through it all, and hoped for the best,” he said.  “I like to see the old men dance.  It is their custom, their bread, their life.  They cannot change.  I like to see the young people go to school, and learn the white man’s ways.  I have tried to live up to my father’s instruction, and have set my feet in the paths of peace.”

Loves His White Brother

“And now Chief Pezhi says he is conferring upon the man beside him the greatest honor in his power, or that of the Sioux Nation to bestow.  “And because my heart has warmed toward you,” he says, “I wish to make you my son and to give to you my warrior’s name  – Ma-two-a-t ak-pe, or Charging Bear.  And because you, too, are entitled to coups, it is the privilege of the Sioux Nation to ratify the adoption.”


Chief Grass declared this was the first time in history that any white man had been adopted into the Sioux Nation by bringing to bear the full tribal ceremony.

There are three ways of making coups.  The first is to take a man in battle.  The second is to lay hands on a man before he is killed, and the third is to lay hands on an enemy after he is killed. This is the heraldry of the Sioux Nation.

Chief Grass then took the peace pipe, touched it twice to his lips and then turned the stem to Captain Welch, and, still holding it in his own hands,  touched the candidate’s lips twice, as the same time saying that this was a most solemn oath, and must never be broken.  It had all the significance of a seal, he said, and is the strongest evidence of faith and friendship that can be expressed.  He then presented Captain Welch with the pipe, and told him to take it with him in his travels and to always keep it.

This pipe was made from pipe-stone which had been brought to Chief Grass from the quarries of Pipestone, Minnesota.  It is catlinite in origin, which has been traded about among the Indians to the Pacific coast. Their tradition is that it was colored by the blood of the people destroyed during he flood.  With it was presented a remarkably handsome tobacco pouch, heavily embroidered in porcupine quills and beads outlining a pictograph on side and Captain Welch’s name on the other.

In the photograph of the squaw dance, taken by Frank Fiske, an artist of Fort Yates, Captain Welch stands between the two squaws holding coup sticks and is carrying the tobacco pouch.  Beautiful “spirit moccasins,” supposed to have winged heels, were also presented to Captain Welch, and a “waukan,” or small beaded turtle, symbol of eternal life.


   After the courtesies of acknowledgment were exchanged came another dance of the warriors, this time with a different rhythm and accent   The intonation was milder and the step slower, gradually increasing in motion and fervor until a pandemonium reigned.


And then came the crowing event in the singing of a son composed in honor of young Charging Bear, an overwhelming compliment, indeed.  The theme was always … “I am a soldier of Charging Bear.”

The dancing continued until the warriors were exhausted with the heat and the sun had begun to hang low.  Through it all Captain Welch participated, and in the squaw dance he and his wife and Miss Aldyth Ward were invited as a special honor to enter the circle and join in the steps.  Rarely do the squaws permit a man to enter the charmed circle, and there are certain rigid conditions to be observed concerning his right to be asked.

And then Captain Welch made his speech of acceptance of membership in the Sioux Nation, in the course of which he told some incidents of his own life, and of his claim to two, four, six coups while serving with the Washington troops during the Spanish War and the insurrection in the Philippine Islands  – two of which are on record at Washington. His address was impressively delivered and he was accorded the closest attention.  In part he said:


“What I desire to say to you, Matowatakpe, and to the chiefs and warriors of this council, many of whom bear the scars of fierce battles  – many of whom have undergone the ordeal of the sun-dance, and whose truly noble faces bear the marks of many winters; to the younger generation and the whole Dakotah Nation, wherever scattered over the earth, that just so long as my heart knows love and hate; as long as my life knows joy or sorrow; as long as the clouds drift across your sunny summer skies; as long as the winds of winter are armed with the weapons of the frost; as long as these thousands hills grow green in the springtime and as long as this great river flows down to the sea, just so long will I remain faithful to this adoption among you, my brothers, and cherish, maintain and protect to honor of the name which you have given me today, the name of your great chief.  Matowatkpe.  I have spoken.”

Mr. Welch then presented to Chief Grass a handsome gold watch, a gift that appealed strongly to his new foster father.  Other dances and other speeches followed, Red Tomahawk attracting to himself much attention by his reference to the status of the Indian people at Washington and elsewhere.  He passionately disclaimed the idea that the Custer Battle was in any sense a massacre.  He said that General Custer had smoked with them the pipe of peace and accepted with open mind its conditions and that this sacred oath had been violated.  And, painful as it is to record, Red Tomahawk declared that Indians think that Mrs. Custer is responsible, more than any other person, for the present humiliating condition of the Indians in reducing them to the ignominy of becoming wards of the government, unable to in any degree to think or to act for themselves.

Tomahawk continued….Sitting Bull, the night before the battle, while “making medicine” (understood as a trance) predicted that Custer would divide his forces into three parties; and that the party attacking the Indians led by General Custer  – who had his men throw away their guns at the mouth of the Knife River, going into battle “light”  – would be killed within a time period equating to a white man’s thirty minutes, a prophecy proving all too true.  Sitting Bull is greatly revered in the Sioux nation, not so much as a warrior, but as their medicine man, or prophet.  He is also known as Waukan, or Mysterious Spirit, Man of Mystery.

And so ended the rites.



Advice on Whiskey and Women

Talks with Welch, 1915:

Two Indian men and one woman were in the penitentiary at Bismarck: one of the men for horse stealing, and the other and the woman for adultery.  After we had gone through the pen and were again at the office, John Grass sent for the Indian inmates and the Warden had them brought to the office.  Grass gave them a good lot of advice.  In his talking to them he told them that:

“There are two things which the Dakotah people should be careful about.  They are the two worst evils of all: running off with another man’s wife and whiskey.”

“If a man did not drink whiskey, he probably would not run off with another man’s wife, so drinking is perhaps the worst evil of the two.”

“When you feel like you want another man’s woman,” he said, “go down into the timber where the little trees grow.  Cut a nice little one, and then switch it a while and it will  not be so anxious to go.”

Grass gives further advice, 1915:

The Chief once told me that when a man drank whiskey they thought that the spirit left him and went away for a time, and evil spirits took their places in him as long as he was under the influence of the drink.

The Tetons kept out of the Minnesota massacres of 1862 and 1863 because the Santees would not promise them to abstain from whiskey during the campaign. (Rev. A. McG.Beede)

Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, May 1, 1921:

“John Grass did not drink whiskey much.  I saw him drunk twice.  Once we went into Fort Yates and he got drunk that time.  The drunk men commenced to shout and make a loud noise and there was some confusion.  When I knew that he was there and drunk, I was very much humiliated.  I cried then.  We went home and I told him that we would never go to Fort Yates again.  But we did.”

“Another time John met an American Officer of soldiers.  He had some whiskey.  He asked John to drink.  He told him he did not want to.  He told him that he would give him a handful of money if he took one drink.  He did that.  Then he told him he would give him another handful if he took another drink.  He did that.  He came to the tipi and laid down.  I thought he was sick.  When I found out that he was drunk, I went into another tipi and cried.  He came to me and told me that he had a lot of money for me.  We counted it and it was sixty dollars.  We thought the officer had made a mistake and took it back to him at Fort Yates.  He said it was no mistake and for us to keep it.  John Grass said he did not want it.  The officer then said he would give it to me.  So I took it and bought the most beautiful shawl I ever had.  It was a lovely shawl.  Those are the only times I knew of John Grass being drunk.”



Brilliance attested to by Indian Agents

Col. Steen, Mandan, N.D., Dec. 17th, 1919, talks about Grass:

This gentleman formerly was Agent on the Standing Rock Reservation and knew the Indians and their customs well.  He says:

“I knew him very well, indeed.  In fact I built his log house for him.  I felt that the Government owed him that much.  I put labor at work on the logs as well as to look after his stock, as both the old Chief and his woman were sick in bed.  For that I got into all sorts of trouble and investigation from the Government and they held up my pay for several months on account of it.”

“Kind nature gave to John Grass a wonderful mind.  He was a leader of great influence and did it with no flourish or calling attention to himself or his greatness.  If he had had the chance of a white man he would have been a really great man anywhere and with any company of men.  He was far above the common run of men.  He always had a great following among the best class of the Indians and was a man of wonderful influence and the people relied upon him.”


“He was the first man to sign the Crook Treaty and when he did so there was a regular rush among the other head men to do the same.  When he signed, Sitting Bull came in and tried hard to stir up trouble at that time.  But old White Bull horsewhipped him as he sat on his horse and he shut up for a while.  That was a Fort Yates.”




Requirements for being a Chief

A meeting with Indian individuals at the home of John Cadotte, Wakpala, S.D., had previously been made, so, with Angela Boleyn of Fargo, N.D., the writer drove down from Mandan, May 5-6, 1941.  The meeting took place at the old Meeting House on the banks of Oak Creek, S.D.



John Cadotte, Sr. (Indian name Standing Alone) and his wife.

High Reach, called Abraham Buckley, Little Eagle, S.D.

Kills in the Water, called Isadore Waters, from west of Wakpala, S.D.

White Cloud, often called End of Cloud (his father’s name), Wakpala, S.D.

Drags Down Enemy Woman. This is Theresa Cross, widow of Cross Bear and the sister of Chief John Grass.

Mrs. Honer, sister of Mrs. John Cadotte.

Angela Boleyn, writing autobiography of Chief Grass.

Col. A.B.Welch  – this recorder.

Purpose:  Historical research relating to John Grass. Requirements necessary for being a Chief…High Reach is the authority for the following “Ten Points” … all the others agreed thereto:

1– He must first be wanted by the people.

2– To have been wounded in battle.

3– To have made “First Coup” –  which is to be the first to strike an armed enemy before his death.  (Indicating actual contact with a quirt, bow, coup stick, gun or the hand).

4– To have stolen enemy horses (High Reach used the expression “escape horses with”)

5– To have made first coup by closing with an enemy armed with a gun being used against him (and striking enemy).

6– To have taken second coup.

7– To have made third coup.

8– To have made fourth coup (Note: The second, third and fourth coups may be made upon a dead enemy, but the first coup is always upon a living enemy.  W.)

9– To be so “brave” that he is master of jealousy.

10- The above must all have been performed before the subject is 20 years of age.  The training of a youth for warfare was begun at a very early age and the common objective was that of bravery and fortitude.  A Chief’s son, by reason of being a member of “the family of the ruling class,” no doubt received more strenuous discipline than sons of other families.  Frequently this period covered 15 years of the youth’s early life before reaching 20 years.



Observations regarding Chieftainship, especially the “Great Coat” or “Great Robe”

At the ceremony of Alowanpi (Adoption) of myself in 1912, one of the gifts presented to me then, was the hair-fringed shirt of John Grass.  Perhaps the significance of this gift was not realized at that time by me and it may have been that Grass, thinking that I did not fully realize it, made no special reference to it.  But the Sioux always have said that I was a Chief  –  “taking my father’s place,”  and the people have always called me Chief  –  but I know of no other white men (adopted as I was) who had that distinction.

Whenever I have pitched my tent or my tipi in the circle of a camp   –  disputes and other troubles have been brought to my attention and, at times, I have decided disputed questions among them; said whether or not there would be a dance, and decided the locations of such when two bands wanted in in their own particular part of the camp; in councils and visiting groups I have been given the place of honor opposite the door or entrance and the pipe has first been smoked by me, and in many other ways I have sensed the distinction accorded to a Chief.  Especially did I notice this while engaged in selecting a war party from among a large camp in 1917 (This was selecting about 75 Sioux to enlist and go against the Germans in France)

It appears to me that the statements of the meeting with the Sihasapa at Cadotte’s log house on the Oak Creek (down “Mowbridge way”  –  a nice little city by the way) was corroborated by that of White Bull’s statement to Vestal  –  and that the Great Coat or Big Robe might well be the “buckskin shirt decorated with fringes of human hair”  The shirt given to me by Chief Grass, is still in good condition and among my prized possessions.



May 6, 1941 meeting at Wakpala, S.D.: Welch relates story that Grass could not be ‘soldier killed,’ as given to him by All Yellow.  Those present confirmed it without hesitation:  It is as follows:

“There were several Societies or Soldier Organizations.  Cante Tinze or Brave Hearts (sometimes called Strong Hearts  – but literally Genuine Hearts or True Hearts).  These societies were in charge of the camp and, during movement across country, often slashed an offenders lodge or gave away his horses, burned his provisions or killed his dogs.

This thing which placed Grass above this soldier punishment was this:  Swift Bird was an Oohenopa (Two Kettle Teton).  He led a war party away out west.  They followed the Hehaka Wakpe (Elk River, the old Indian name for the Yellowstone River).  They came to the mountains beyond there.  The party was made up of 16 men from the Oohenopa and Sihasapa (Blackfeet Tetons).  Sicola (Barefoot), John Grass, Fire Heart, Two Packs, Circling Eagle and Stops the Bear were Sihasapa; No Heart, Four Bears and Spotted Horse were there besides Swift Bird.  Seldom did anyone who entered a Shoshone camp return alive.  Those people always killed them.

The Sioux discovered a camp of Shoshones; there were thirty enemy.  The Dakota had made a promise not to retreat; they tied their horses in the timber.  One horse was tied to a log which would take four men to carry; another tied his horse to a cherry tree which was about four inches thick.  When they were ready, the Dakota entered the camp, but the Shoshones wanted to fight.  John Grass did something very brave then; he whipped the head man of the Shoshones by whipping him with his horse whip (quirt  – really a dangerous weapon  – W).

There was a bad fight.  No Dakota were killed, but most of them made coup upon the enemy.  There was much excitement; the Dakota came close to where they had tied their horses; one was so excited that he broke the hammer of his gun as he cocked it; one carried away the big log to which he had his horse tied and yet another one broke the big cherry tree and carried that with him.

When the party returned home and the story of Grass’ bravery became known  – it was then that he attained such honor that he was not subject to the Soldier’s Punishment as other people were; he became above the law of the camp or trail and could not be “Soldier Killed.”

That winter is on the Winter Count  – and is called “The Sihasapa and Oohenopa Chiefs carried the logs winter.”




Chieftancy: John Grass’  and his Father’s warrior shields

Welch conversation with Leo Cadotte, May 5-6, 1941:

 We were extremely anxious to know more about the shields of Uses Him as a Shield and that of Chief John Grass and approached the subject with some trepidation as the subject of ‘medicine’ is almost taboo.  However, the old men were very courteous and said that I was the adopted son of Grass, although a white man, it would be all right to tell me what the medicine was, if they knew.  However, they did not know and explained that medicine was selected by the party, himself, according to some dream or vision; that the matter was not talked about much; that the women folks did not ever know a thing about it; that it was tied in little sacks and tied to the shield or about the owner’s horse’s neck  – as protection in war.  It might be a small stone; a shell; a feather; a bone and was generally either buried with him at his death or destroyed.  However, they did tell us about his shield as follows:

Question:  We would like to know how the shields of John Grass, Uses Him as a Shield and Sicola were decorated, if you are permitted to tell us.  Sicola was the grandfather of John Grass.

Answer:  The first shields were plain.  Later they were painted and decorated.  Only two birds are used on shields; the eagle and the hawk.  Sometimes the tail of a black-tailed deer is fastened to the lower bunch of medicine.  In that case a spider web is placed in the center of the shield instead of the eagle or hawk.  Sometimes the moon and stars are used (the stars above the moon).  They go together.  Sometimes the eagle is used alone; no other symbol.

The shield of John Grass was yellow.  The hawk was pictured in the middle.  The “great swallow” was in four places around the edge, inside the four bunches of medicine tied with eagle feathers (for the four winds or directions).  Black lightning was there.  The hawk was dark blue with lightning (influence radiations) in his mouth.  Red Beak and red on the wings.  White breast.  The great swallows were blue.

Shield of  John Grass grass14-john-grass-shield-no-1

An eagle riding a deer was on the shield of Grass’ father. For that is the way he looked when he was riding in battle on his “medicine horse.”  The tail of a black-tailed deer hung from the lower bunch of medicine, there were four bunches of medicine and three eagle feathers, one from each bunch of medicine except the lower one.  The spider web was in the center of the shield.  The moon and stars were also pictured on the upper part of the shield.  Deloria’s father made the medicine that went on this shield.  One might ask three different people for their medicine and could put the symbols on his own shield.

“Shield of Uses Him as a Shield:”  When he was a young man he was with a war party.  They discovered the enemy and made contact at once.  He rode a ‘Medicine Horse’ which had been trained by his father, Sicola.  This horse was very swift and had never been punished with a whip or quirt. It was said of him that if anyone ever struck him he would be killed (Note: this actually happened to a man who did so  – ABW).  This day in this battle Uses Him as a Shield was riding this horse.  He was very brave and rode the entire length of the enemy line alone, calling upon them to shoot.  But, to their consternation, all that they could see looked like a black-tail deer with an eagle upon its back.  Thereafter, Uses Him as a Shield always carried a shield with four medicine bags, one deer tail and three eagle’s feathers  – one each to every medicine bag, except the bottom one, to which was tied the deer tail; his shield was yellow; in the middle was a drawing of an eagle, above which was an inverted quarter moon, while over that were two stars  – five-pointed to indicate the five members of man  – the arms, legs and head.  The moon and stars were blue.  Around the perimeter were ten black dots with represented small stones.”

Shield of Uses Him as a Shield, John Grass’ father grass15-uses-as-a-shield-shield

Shield of John Grass:  All shields at first (early times  – W) were plain hide affairs of the neck hide of the buffalo, shrunken by holding over a fire, which contracted the raw hide. Then people began to decorate the shields with pictographs representing some vision or dream.  This might be a spider’s web in the middle or a dream horse or other animal or bird.  The eagle was the principal bird ruler of the upper air and was often used but no man was supposed to have pictographs or more than one vision on any one shield.  John Grass’ shield was all yellow; it had four buckskin medicine bags tied to the outside, one at both top and bottom and one on each side, to which he always had a large eagle feather tied by a thong so it would flutter as he rode.  Around the circle was black lightning; in the middle was an eagle pictograph ‘with power,’ below that was the ‘great swallow,’ which was very dark blue, with a forked tail, long, narrow wings; the bill was that of a hawk.  Red showed at the fleshy base of the bill and also in the under part of the wing pinions; the breast was said to have been ‘very white.’  this shield was generally hung before his own lodge on a tall pole.  What the medicine was in the bags is not known to anyone now.  The eagle and the ‘great swallow’ must have been in the same vision he had.  The old men said that this great swallow was always very high in the air and was not often seen by man; that it was very swift, strong and rapacious.  White Cloud said that he had once seen a bird of this variety strike a jack rabbit and throw him over and over four times.  (I thought at first that they were describing some legendary bird which might be a variety of Thunderbird, but was convinced that they were talking of some member of the Falcon family  – W).

Welch notes  – Angela Boleyn’s notes say that there were four of these birds upon the shield, and no eagle, and she may be correct, for she was very careful in taking her notes  – while I may have been influenced by the Dakotah language before it was translated, for I understood much of the native conversation.  There was the usual deviation from the original during the translation.




Defense of HIS country

John Grass was a thorn in the side of Lt. Col. W.P.Carlin shortly after the Little Big Horn Affair: 


Lt. Col. W.P.Carlin reports on a meeting at the Lodge of Chief Grass

2415 DD 1876, Standing Rock, D.T., August 28, 1876

Carlin, W.P. Lt. Col. 17th Infy. Commdg.


Reports that, at a gathering of Indians at the lodge of Chief “Grass” of the Blackfeet Sioux, one who had returned from Sitting Bull’s Camp, stated that Sitting Bull says he was now willing to return to an agency of the Govt, if we insist, and also advised those who had assisted him in the fight of June 25th 1876, to return to their agencies &c.

Says Chief “Grass” has remained at the Agency and professes great friendship for the whites;  – believes he is treacherous.  Have ordered him to move his camp nearer the post, which he reluctantly did  – Learns that Grass has sent several messages to “Kill Eagle” to go back to the hostiles &c.


Headquarters U.S.Military Station, Standing Rock, D.T. Auigust 28th 1876

Major George P. Ruggles, Assistant Adjutant General,

Department of Dakota, St. Paul, Minn.


I have the honor to report for the information of the Department Commander and Lieutenant General Sheridan, that at a gathering of Indians at the lodge of Chief Grass of the Blackfeet band of Sioux last night, a man, who has just returned from Sitting Bull’s camp made the following statement to the meeting:  Sitting Bull called a council sometime since and addressed them substantially to this effect:-

That he did not bring on this war with the whites, but that the whites had attacked him, but now, that as he had punished the whites to his satisfaction, he was willing to go to an agency if the Government should insist on his doing so.  He also advised the Indians, who had come from the agencies and had assisted him in the fight of June 25th, to return to their agencies.

After this returned Indian had finished his remarks, Chief Grass remarked that the cause of the Indians might not yet be lost; that if there were men enough here and if they were brave enough, they might seize the arms, ammunition and provisions at this agency and join the other hostiles.  He remarked afterwards, however, that the Indians were not brave  enough and that it would be useless to undertake anything of the kind.

The suggestion that hostilities might be prolonged was with the idea that terms might be forced from the government and not with any expectation of independence of its control.

This Chief Grass has remained permanently at the agency and lived at the expense of the government.  He professes, when speaking to the officers of the government, great friendship for the whites and is fully trusted by the agent.  I had an interview with him about a week ago and was convinced that he is treacherous.  I ordered him to move his camp near the post, from a point ten miles below, which he did very reluctantly.  I learn also that he has sent several messages to Kill Eagle to go back to the hostiles.

I am, sir, very respectfully, Your obedient servant, W.P.Carlin, Lieut Col.



Lt. Col. Carlin reports unable to meet with Kill Eagle due to Chief Grass’ interference. 

2545 DD 1876, Standing Rock, D.T., Sept. 5th, 1876

Carlin W.P., Lt. Col. 17th Infy. Commdg.


Reports that the military interpreter of that post, in attempting, under his instructions, to go to Kill Eagle’s Camp, was deterred by Indian sentinels, saying he could not go without obtaining permission of the Blackfeet and Uncpapa Chiefs, &c.

States there is a feeling of hostility to the military throughout most of the bands of the agency.

Says, as soon as garrison increased he will visit their camps with the view of impressing the Indians with the supremacy of government over them.


Headquarters U.S.Military Station, Standing Rock, D.T. September 5th 1876

Major George P. Ruggles, Assistant Adjustant General,

Headquarters Department of Dakota, Saint. Paul, Minn.


I have the honor to report for the information of the Brigadier General Commanding the Department and the Lieutenant General Commanding the Division, that last night my interpreter, E.N.Allison, attempted under my instructions, to go to the camp of Kill Eagle, a hostile chief belonging to this Agency, and who is now encamped on one of the tributaries of Grand River.  When about one and a half miles from the Post, Allison ran into, what appeared to be, a line of Sentinels of Indians, mounted; two of whom approached him and demanded to know where he was going.  He told them, that he was going to see Kill Eagle.  They informed him that he could not go there until he had been to the Camp of the Blackfeet and Uncpapa bands and obtained permission from the Chiefs.  These camps are about four miles, perhaps five, south of this post and near the direct line to Kill Eagle’s camp, which is believed to be less than thirty miles distant.  Allison was interrogated by Grass and Antelope, Chiefs respectively of the Blackfeet and Uncpapa bands, and they assumed the most lofty grounds that independent sovereigns could claim.  They expressed their surprise, that the Military Commander should attempt to send a message to Kill Eagle without the approval and consent of the Chiefs here, who owned this Country and informed him (Allison) that he could not proceed.

Grass further demanded for Kill Eagle, that he should be allowed to come in to his (Grass’) camp, but not to the Post, and if necessary, surrender his arms, but not himself or his horses.

I believe it will be necessary to chastise these Indians before they will ever understand, that the Government, the white people and the troops of the United States are not their inferiors.

Since writing the foregoing, Captain R.E.Johnston, 1st Infantry, has reported to me that Grass called on him and asked him to see me and inquire if I had sent Allison to Kill Eagle’s camp and stated further, that he did not like such things to be done without consulting him and the other Chiefs.

These Indians have evidently been deceived and spoiled by the late Agent Burke and the people he has had about him.  They are insolent, defiant, and in reality as hostile at heart as Sitting Bull. Their subsistence alone keeps them quiet and their agent has taught them, that they can have that regularly however hostile they may be to the Military.  Indeed nothing but a severe punishment will subdue them.  I refer exclusively to the Blackfeet and Uncpapa bands of Sioux, now here on the Westside of the Missouri, not to the Indians who have been with Sitting Bull.  This feeling of hostility is common throughout all the bands at the agency, except perhaps Two Bear’s and Big Head’s (Upper and Lower Yanktonais) where it is confined to the minority.  The Agent reports them all peaceful, and respectful towards him. Of course they will treat him with respect generally, because he has control of their rations.  When the three companies of the 11th Infantry arrive, I will be able to leave the guard at the Post and Agency, and will make a visit to these camps with my command, with the view of impressing the Indians with the supremacy of the Government over them.

I am, Sir, Very Respectfully, Your Obedt. Servant, W.P.Carlin, Lieut. Colonel 17th Infantry, Commdg Post.



Lt. Carlin relays a message from The Man that Smells His Hand, an Uncpapa

2546 DD 1876, Standing Rock, D.T., Sept. 7, 1876

Carlin, W.P., Lt. Col. 17th Infy. Commdg.

Headquarters U.S.Military Station, Standing Rock, D.T. September 7th 1876

Major George P. Ruggles, Assistant Adjustant General,

Headquarters Department of Dakota, Saint. Paul, Minn.


I have the honor to transmit herewith a statement made to me last night by an Indian known as ‘The man that smells his hand,’ including a message sent by Amputated Finger of the Ogallalla Sioux and other ‘hostile Chiefs.”  This man left this post eighteen days ago  – through fear of his own people.  He being suspected by them as a spy upon them and an informer of the Military Commander on their movements.  He left the hostile camp on Broken-legged Woman’s Creek near Powder River on Aug. 30th and was eight days on the road,  – but lost one day by rain.  I have perfect confidence in his statement about the location of the hostiles.  The remainder of his statement is forwarded for what it is worth  – it is interesting, if not important.

I am, Major, Very Respectfully, Your Obedt Servt.

W.P.Carlin,   Lieut Col 17th Infty, Commdg Post.


Statement of “The man that smells his hand” an Uncpapa Sioux to the Commanding Officer at Standing Rock Agency, Sept. 6th, 1876, including a message from the assembled Chiefs of the Ogallalla, Minneconjou, Brule’s, Sans Arc and other Sioux Indians encamped on Broken-legged Woman’s Creek near the head of Powder River Aug. 29, 1876 —- Three men spoke but they all saw the same thing.  They began by saying “We are representatives of many bands, and what we have to say is for all these bands.  We have heard of your difficulty with the Indians at Standing Rock  – that is, you have turned white man.

For that reason we should detain you one year; but as we have something to say to the whites we will use you as a courier to them  –  This land belongs to us.  It is a gift to us from the Great Spirit.  The Great Spirit gave us the game in this country.  It is our privilege to hunt the game in our country.  The white man came here to take the country by force  – He has brought misery and wretchedness into our country.  We were here killing game and eating, and all of a sudden we were attacked by white men.  You will now depart and return to Standing Rock.  Tell the Commanding Officer that we are tired of fighting, and that we want the Soldiers to stop fighting us.  Tell him to repeat these words to the Great Father:  The Great Spirit above us gave us this Country.  It is ours, and he is looking down on us today.  He sees the bloody deeds going on in this Country.  Though he gave us the Country he did not give us the right to dispose of it.  It is our duty to defend our Country.  We did not say to the white man come out and fight us;  we did not ask them to come out at all.  We did not want to fight them, but now if they wish to withdraw they may.  We do not wish to fight them.  What we have said is the sentiment of Sitting Bull.  He is not here, but if ye were here he would say the same words to you.

Sitting Bull says he was out there because there was game, but that he did not want to fight.  He had to fight because he was attacked.  Perhaps the whites think they can exterminate us, but God, the Great Spirit, will not permit it.

The above is the message.  The Messenger states that Sitting Bull, has all his own followers, and many Indians from the Agency with him.  His camp on the 30th of August was on Tongue River, nearly in sight of the Post now being built at the mouth of that River.

He is so near that he can see the soldiers anyday by riding a short distance.  He is on or near the road made by the troops in going out.  He was expected, however, to join the other bands on the head of Powder River soon as he had been sent for.  A small body of troops had marched near their camp and they could have massacred them all, but they preferred to let them leave the Country, as they seemed to be doing.

The Indians had “any quantity of ammunition and more guns than they needed  – Most of them ‘Needle Guns.’  They had mules with galled necks and shoulders and many of them died since the Indians got them  They had many American horses, but they had nearly all broken down.  The Indians said if the white persisted in keeping up the war they could stand it for three years.  They had plenty of game and everything else.

The above statements were drawn out in reply to questions asked him by the undersigned and other Officers in my presence.

Very Respectfully, etc.,



Lt. Col. W.P.Carlin reports arrest of John Grass

2595 DD 1876, Standing Rock, D.T., Sept. 12, 1876

Carlin, W.P., Lt. Col. 17th Infy. Commdg


Reports he has arrested and holds custody, “John Grass,” head chief of Blackfeet Sioux, for influencing hostiles against coming to Agency to surrender.  Has directed a Board of Officers investigate charges against him.  Says the absence of “Grass” not of sufficient importance to justify his removal to Fort Snelling, &c  —-


Headquarters U.S.Military Station, Standing Rock, D.T., September 12th, 1876

Major George D. Ruggles, Assistant Adjutant General

Department of Dakota, Saint Paul, Minn.


I have the honor to report, that on the 10th instant, John Grass, head-chief of the Blackfeet Band of Sioux, was arrested by my order for exerting all his influence to prevent the hostile Indians from coming in to surrender, and for special offences set forth in a letter from the undersigned to Captain R.E.Johnston, 1st Infantry, Acting Indian Agent.  I have directed a Board of Officers to investigate the charges against him and to report their opinion, and in the meantime, I will hold him in custody at this post.  I am not fully prepared to send him to Fort Snelling as I am not sure that his absence is sufficient importance to justify the expense of moving him.  Besides his health is bad and confinement would probably kill him in a short time, if he were not very kindly treated.

His arrest has had a marked effect on the behavior of the Indians, here and for the better.  Their conduct is now very respectful and friendly when they come about the Post or Agency.

I will decide what to do with John Grass after receiving the report of the Board of Examination.

I am, Sir, etc., W.P.Carlin



Article, Chief John Grass,  taken from the McLean County Mail, Sept. 1st, 1888

A dispatch from Pierre, dated August 24th, says:  Chief Grass was about to leave Standing Rock Reservation and head off the Commissioners when the Agent ordered him to stay, and, on his refusal, locked him up.

Now a word about this Indian Chief.  Some thirty years ago there resided at the mouth of the River Moreau, a band of two thousand Indians, known as the Blackfeet Tetons, a branch of the Sioux Nation.  The Chief of this band was known as “The Grass.”

The principal Indian Trader along the Missouri in those days was Maj. Galpin, who had probably more influence among the Sioux than any white man before or since that time.  In one of his business trips to St. Louis, he took the old Blackfeet Chief along to show him the sights.  It seems the Indian was well taken care of on the trip, for on his return, he became a friend and protector of the scattered whites that were passing up and down along the river.  His speeches in the general Sioux councils are still remembered for earnest efforts to lead his people to respect the whites and fear their power.  The old fellow had several children, one daughter of his being the maiden to which the romantic Lieut. Geo. P. Beldon, the author of “The White Chief” and other writings, who on the last day of July 1869, started out from the old Grand River Agency with his mule laden with calico to please and captivate the heart and claim the hand of Miss Grass, but who was followed by an Uncpapa and slain near the bubbling spring which still bears his name.

The Chief’s oldest son, who was quite a favorite among the Agency employees for aptness and interest in learning English, was dubbed “John” and was designated as the successor to the old man’s moccasins.  To try his capacity as a leader while yet a boy, he was sent with a war party of two hundred, in the winter of 1869, to attack the Ree village at Fort Berthold.  The military at Ft. Stevenson, however, hearing of their coming and knowing the principle part of the village inhabitants were out on a hunt, hastily sent up a part of a battery and masked it in the houses and repulsed the charging Sioux, killing several horses and wounding several of the party.  The scattered woodyard men between Fts. Stevenson and Rice, hearing the artillery firing and knowing the soldiers were taking a hand, justly feared the return of the defeated war party.  But in each instance young Grass appeared before their shacks and assured them that not a hair of their heads should be harmed or a pins worth of property taken or destroyed.  It will be remembered that the Indians were masters here in early days.

About fourteen years ago, young Grass succeeded his father as Chief, and, on his appeal in the public council with the military at Standing Rock in Sept. 1876, asking clemency for Kill Eagle, who had taken part at the Battle of Little Horn, the officers and others well-versed, who watched the effect on the red hearers of the eloquent Chief, pronounced John Grass the ablest and most eloquent orator of his color, a reputation he still sustains, as will be remembered by those who have watched him in his recent bout with the commissioners at Standing Rock where he held the bands solid against the selling of their lands and of the great fear they have of his influence at other agencies, a fear and an act that has caused his arrest and imprisonment, which is a disgrace to those engaged in it.

John Grass is working harder against the Dawes bill than his companion Chiefs.  He has a higher motive than they, be their joint opposition be ever so just in the patriotic sense.  With them and their bands they have little claim to the lands being bargained for.  The principal part belongs by hereditary right to his own band, the Blackfeet Sioux.  The beautiful valley of the Moreau, the garden spot of the Sioux Reservation is theirs.  The bones of their people for generations lie buried there.  It contains the graves of Chief’s parents.  His people are appealing to him to save their homes from what seems to them to be desecration and robbery.  He is trying to do this and do it peacefully.  He offers but argument that justice is theirs.  Let him free.



An editorial on Chief Grass’ statesmanship by Delorme Robinson, 1902, for S.D.Hist.Soc.

Subsequent to the councils held at Standing Rock Agency to consider the provisions of the Treaty of 1889, Hon. Chas. Foster, Chairman of the United States Commission said:

At the Standing Rock we met a man whose strong sense would be considered anywhere, and who struck me as an intelligent giant in comparison with other Indians.  He is known to the white men as John Grass and to the Indians as Charging Bear, and by reason of his superior mind is the most prominent Indian on the reservation.  He could not be the leader he is, however, were he knot known also to be brave.  His speech, in answer to the proposition we made submitted to his tribe for possession of a part of their territory, was by far the ablest we heard by any chief of any following at all, addressed to us.  His speech shows that he understood the treaties and acts of congress with a regard to detail beyond the grasp of most Indians.

Charging Bear or John Grass was born on the Grand River about 1837.  He was the son of the older Charging Bear, Chief of the Sihasapa or Blackfeet band and his mother was the daughter of a chief of the Oohenopa or Two Kettle band of the Teton Sioux.  Prior to the death of the older Charging Bear, which took place late in the 1870’s, the son was looked upon as the worthy successor by the Blackfeet.  Though, up to this time he had acted in a subordinate position to his father, he already had gained enviable reputation among his people for wisdom in council and for his ability as a orator.

Map of Dakota Territory, 1861grass20-his-lands-1861

Map of John Grass’ “neighborhood,” 1861grass22-his-lands-1861-immediate-neighborhood

Map of Sioux Territory, 1861grass24-his-lands-1873

During the exciting and turbulent period among the Dakotahs from 1876 to 1880, he opposed contention with the Government on the ground of expediency and the best interests of his people.  Though his bravery was not questioned by them, he frequently incurred the enmity of the warlike element by his able and often effectual opposition to the more warlike chiefs.

Like Spotted Tail, he felt that war with the Government was folly, that the Indians were not strong or numerous enough to contend with the whites, that the inevitable results would be greater suffering and hardships and, if long continued, the final defeat, if not the entire annihilation of his race.  He argued that since the game was gone the Indians, of necessity, would be compelled to change their mode of living, and by council and peaceful measures instead of war, the Government would finally recognize their rights.  He opposed any further disposition of the Indian lands and advised his people to retain their remaining possessions and use them for grazing purposes, and should they desire to sell any portion of them, to demand of the Government a compensation equivalent to their real value.

He became the leader of the peace element of the northern Sioux and, when joined by Gall and his people in 1881, his position became fixed as the leading exponent of progress among his people.  In this position he was earnestly supported by Gall who, though differing with him in his earlier careers, was ever his life-long friend.

He became the Chief Justice of the Indian Courts at Standing Rock Agency, which position he still holds (1902).


Copy of Commission of John Grass from Welch Archive, mentioning that he loaned this framed commission of John Grass as Judge of Indian Offenses on the Standing Rock, to the North Dakota Historical Society at Bismarck, N.D., in 1921.  That is was given to me after his death by Mrs. Grass in 1920. That it may be taken back at any time.  He also noted that Gall held the office with him for years.

In the attempt of the Government in 1888 to secure the consent of the Indians to cede their lands between the White and Cheyenne rivers and east of the 103rd degree of latitude, it was thought best to come first to Standing Rock and induce such leaders as Grass and Gall to agree to the terms presented by the Commission in the hope that his might favorably influence the Indians at other Agencies.

The Indians in their preliminary councils had chosen the Chiefs John Grass, Gall, Mad Bear and Big Head to represent them before the council with the Government representatives.  The Commissioners, finding these chiefs unyielding in their opposition to the terms offered, undertook to break the power of these chiefs with their tribe.

John Grass, on this occasion, was the first spokesman and addressed the Commission on the subject as follows:

You have said many things to shame the Indians.  You accuse us of saying that the Great Father in Washington lies.  We did not say that.  We say that the Commissioners whom he sends to us are liars.  We have told you that we do not want to sign these papers and we mean it.  We do not want to sign for we are not getting enough for our lands.  That is just what we mean.  You talk too much to us.  You tell us many things that are not in the bill.  You say that I am not authorized to talk for the Indians.  I say that I am, and I stand here now talking for all these Indians.

At the close of his speech, John Grass called upon the Indians to disperse and leave the agency.  The Commission failed in their efforts.

The following year, however, a new Commission, headed by Gov. Foster of Ohio and of which General George Crook was a member, met these chiefs in council and secured their consent to the terms of a treaty, which gave the Indians greater recompense for their lands.  On this occasion John Grass mad an exhaustive and able speech, during which he astonished the members by his force and logic and gained the admiration of all his hearers.


Map of diminished Sioux Territory per treaty of 1889grass25-his-lands-1889

The Charging Bear, the name by which he is known to all the Indians, is still alive at the age of 65 (in 1902) at his home near St. Francis Mission, between Grand River and Oak Creek.  He has a good home, is a good neighbor and friend, and is a member of the Catholic Church in which organization he is an active member.

Though never a warrior, John Grass is a strong character.  He is, and has been distinctively, the statesman of the Northern Sioux.  In his negotiations with the whites he has shown a keen sense of values, a mature judgment, a profound understanding of the necessities of his people that he surprised every official of the Indian Department who has undertaken to deal with him.

His judgment upon what would be for the greatest good for his people is remarkable and, generally speaking, he has been successful in every undertaking he has set out to accomplish for them. The Indians have a most profound respect for him and have for twenty years or more relied upon his judgment whenever any negotiations that might effect them were to be carried on.

It is said that even the non-progressive followers of Sitting Bull, during this chieftan’s lifetime, would solicit the opinion of John Grass before the final decision (Little Big Horn???).

Though probably eclipsed as an orator, in the opinion of the Indians, by Running Antelope of the Sioux, from the white man’s point of view, Charging Bear or John Grass was among the greatest, if not the greatest, living Indian Orators.

Welch note: Mrs. A.B.Welch was present at the Treaty and heard Chief Grass’ speech mention by Robinson.


Fanny Kelly Story

Told by John Grass to Welch, about 1915:

“A long time ago I was a sub-chief of a band of Sihasapa.  We were south of here and on Moreau creek in camp. A large band of Hunkpapa, with many tipis, came to make us a visit.  We made a great feast for them for there was much game and we had made a good killing.  We saw a woman standing apart.  She had a light skin and we thought that she was white, but, until we heard her voice, we could not be sure.

Uses Him as a Shield, father of John Grassgrass19-uses-as-a-shield-photo

“That night my father, who was head chief, had a man crawl around to where we saw her go into a tipi, and he listened there.  By and by he want in by crawling.  She talked white talk.  He came back and said so.  Then we were afraid.  We wanted that white woman but we did not want to fight for her if we could help it, for there were more Hunkpapa men there than we had Sihasapa.  So we did not know what to do.

“But we called several warriors and wise old men into my father’s tipi after it was dark and they came easy and talked low voice.  It was decided not to fight right away but to try another plan.

“The next day we sent for eight of the best warriors of the Hunkpapa to come to my father’s tipi.  They did not know what it was about, but they came.  They were brave men for they could see that we were uneasy about something.  When they came we gave them much to eat and some fine clothes and some feathers and we smoked some tobacco.  We did not have much tobacco then and it was good to smoke.

“When we smoked my father said, “We want that white woman.”  They said that she did not belong to the people but to one man who owned her.  Then they made this plan:  We would give each one of these brave eight men a horse.  They were to help get her for us.  So they said, “Yes,” and went away.

“They went to this one man who owned her and the head man said like this, “We want that white woman and will buy her.”  He said, “No, you can not have my white woman.  One of them get lonesome and die.  I want to keep this one.”  Then they said, “You give us this woman.  We will give you eight horses for her. There is one other thing you can do.  You can keep the white woman and we will bury you today (ostracize him).”  The he said he did not want to die that day, and that he would trade.  So we got the white woman for sixteen horses.  These horses were all my own horses and they were good ones, too.  We did not have to fight anyone.  We had very wise men with us.

“After a long time we took the white woman to Fort Sully and gave her to the white people there.  She was glad to be with white people again and talk her own tongue.  She stayed there some time and then, once she was gone, and I did not see her there again.”

“The Hunkpapa had attacked a wagon train to the west of the Black Hills and killed all the people but two white women.  One got lonely and died after a while.  The other one we bought as I have told you about.  She had been with them for about one summertime.  One time when I was in Washington to see the President, and my picture was in the paper there, this woman came to see me.  I knew her.  She was happy.  I cannot pronounce her name very well.  My father and I did this thing.  I am glad about it.  Men know of it.”   END.

Welch Note:  A.C.Wells, part Dakotah, tells me that Fire Heart and Mad Bear were both with Grass when they did this.

Welch Note:  This was Fanny Kelly, who has written a book upon her experience while with the Sioux as a captive.  She pays high tribute to John Grass as a savage gentleman.

Mrs. John Grass talks to Welch, April 28th, 1921:

Welch Note:  Mrs. Grass had been telling me about the purchase and liberation of Fanny Kelly by John Grass and his father…..

“John Grass had the Indians when they fought those soldiers between the forks of the Cannon Ball (“Fight of the Corral”).  He had the white woman there.  She wrote a letter.  They sent it with Porcupine as the messenger. John Grass wanted to give her to the soldiers to take home.  She cried about that.  I had that letter.  I had other things she wrote when she was with the Indians.  When I came up here this time (to the hospital) I thought I was going to die, I did not know what was in the writing so I put them all into the fire.  I did not know you wanted them.”

“When the warriors captured the two women in the wagons, John Grass got one of them for a lot of horses and gave her to the government.  When he and Swan went to see the Ate Itancan at Washington, once, this woman came and shook hands with him and called him Kola Mitawa (my Friend) and was glad to see him.  He was not bad to her but the other Indian men had been bad to her and she cried much.”

Welch note:  At the Battle of the Corral, John Grass had Fanny Kelly write a note to the C.O. of the besieged U.S. forces, asking that a white flag be honored and she would be allowed to come in.  The officer in command thought that a trap was to be sprung and refused.

John Cadotte talks to Welch, May 6, 1941 at Oak Creek, S.D.:

Sitting in the Sky Woman sewed the clothes that Fanny Kelly, the white captive, wore when she was taken by the Indians to Fort Sully in the winter of 1864.  Dresses, leggings, moccasins, robes.  This was in the lodge of Used as a Shield.



Genealogy,  developed from interviews with family members 1915-1941

1940…White Cloud’s History of the Blackfeet

John Cadotte (Standing Alone) read from White Cloud’s History of the Blackfeet.  White Cloud is 79 years old.  He remembers many things.  He has kept in his mind the stories of older men.  Mrs. Cadotte and her sister were interpreters.  Sept. 29-30, 1940

Until 1868, the Sihasapa were known to themselves as the Sauoni (the whites spell this different ways) which means “Wears Red.”  “They Wear Red,” is implied.  One time in 1867, or early 1868, a Sauoni went to get a woman on the James River.  She was dressed beautifully and wore white moccasins. They walked all the distance and part of the prairie was burned over from a fire.  When they reached the Sauoni camp, her moccasins were entirely black.  From that time, the Saouni were known as the Blackfeet, or Blackfooted Ones.

Running Antelope, c.1880customs173-running-antelope-photo

Among the Blackfeet were four chiefs beside Used as a Shield, the head chief.  They were Long Mandan, Fire Heart, Kill Eagle and Running Antelope.  Long Mandan’s band was called the “Two Kettles.”  Fire Heart’s was known as the “Crow Feather’s Band.” Kill Eagle’s was “Wajaje,” which means “to make clear” (like understanding a thing).  Running Antelope had the “Bad Moccasins.” (meaning they did not tie and keep them neat).


Once, while the Sauonis were camped on the Missouri near Buffalo Hump Hill, a boat stopped there.  They sign-talked and the white men wanted to go up the river.  Then they smoked together the pipe of peace and the whites gave them some tobacco.  The Saounis allowed them to pass.  The man’s name was Clarke (Lewis and Clarke, 1804).

Kill Eagle, c. 1880grass28-kill-eagle-photo

Grass No. 2 (John Grass) and old Fire Heart allowed the white soldiers to build Grand River Agency at the mouth of Oak Creek where it flows into the Grand River near the Missouri.  The next year John Grass gave them trade permission.

When the Agency was moved to Fort Yates, the Indians went to the agent for a talk about conditions they did not like.  He would not listen.  Long Soldier and Kill Eagle, with some others, put him in a blanket and carried him to the dump heap, saying, “What is bad, we condemn.”  The agent reported this indignity to the Commanding Officer who advised him to remain at his desk.  The officer wrote to Washington and the agent was removed and a new one sent.  The agent was ………………..

When Red Horse became a chief, his band was known as “Long Fringes,” for they were tall, thin, stringy people.  They lived on the Moreau River.  Two Packs, also known as Hawk Shield (a brother of Used as a Shield) had a band.  They were often called the “Lower Blackfeet,” although all the Blackfeet were together.

John Grass succeeded his father as chief of the Blackfeet.  His plans were always for his people so they would not suffer.  He tried to make things right.  When the Agency was moved to Fort Yates, and along about 1881, the whites wanted some of the Indian lands.  Grass said, “No.”  In 1888 fifty-two Teton Sioux chiefs, in a great council on Standing Rock, gave John Grass all the power.  He did not want it.  But they gave it to him.  He spoke for all the Sioux.

And again he said, ”No,” to the Commissioners.  Then, in 1889, the Commissioners came again to Standing Rock and offered $3,000,000 and John Grass signed.  He got many other things for the Indians.  The pony claim, $40 a head for the ponies taken after the Custer Battle.  And many other things.  He did not do this for himself, but for his people.  After he is dead, the Sioux have High Schools, talk English, and have other things he knew they needed in the changed life.



Amanda Grass (Mrs. John Grass) talks, Fort Yates, October 15, 1919:

John Grass’ father was….Grass, also Uses Him as a Shield, died 1873.

John Grass’ mother was ….Wawapilakiyewin…Woman who does many Favors, died 1905.

They were married Indian custom before there was any church.

Their children were as follows:

1. Man Child, name unknown, died single.

2. John Grass (Peji)

3. Woman, name not known, died long time.

4. Woman, married, name Iteyuwintapiwin, married brother of Little Eagle, no children, both dead long time.

5. Boy child, name not known, died when Agency was on Grande River, unmarried. (Agency moved to Fort Yates in 1873).

6. Boy child, no name, died year Agency was moved, 1873.

7. Woman child, name not known, unmarried, died three winters after Reservation started at Yates, 1876.



Uses Him as a Shield’s second wife was sister to the one named above (i.e. John Grass’ mother) and they were plural wives.. Her name was Mahpiyatakiyotakewin (Went to Heaven and sat Down woman), is alive at this time October 15, 1919.  This woman had a number of children, all now dead but Mrs. Louis Cross (Auntie Cross), whose daughter, Mrs. Nick Cadotte (dead) has children living, John and Ben Cadotte.

Uses Him as a Shield’s third wife has one child living on Rosebud, name Minapiji (Grass Knife), born 1871.

John Grass and Amanda were married by the church the ‘Winter Sitting Bull was Killed (1890).’  They had seven issues:

One of the twins named Rose and Charity.

One son lived to marry the woman who is now Mrs. Two Bears, and two children were born:

Anne, died at Fort Yates Hospital about 1916.

Albert Grass, killed on the Champs d’Honour in France in July 1915, buried in National A.E.F.Cemetery at Romagne, France (later body returned to Cannon Ball).



1939…. Interview with John Grass’ immediate relatives. Interview with Aunty Cross, Cousin John Cadotte (Standing Alone) and relatives…Wakpala, S.D., June 14-15, 1939

Grandfather and Grandmother of John Grass:

Grandfather was Sicola/Sicolaun (Barefooted), also called Atkuku (Grandfather).  He was a  chief of the Blackfeet.

Grandmother was Wihustawin (Lame Woman).

Father and Mother of John Grass:

Father was Wahachankayapi (Uses Him as a Shield).

Mother was Wawaapilakeyewin (Many Thank You Woman).

John Grass was their first born of this union.  His baby name was Hehaka Ite Waste (Good Face Elk).  He had a nick-name Siyowipi (Full of Prairie Chicken).

John Grass’ wives:

The first woman he married was a Sicangu (Burnt Thighs), (a west of the river Teton Tribe).  Mother of John Grass, Jr., She went away (home).

Second wife was Kampeskaimanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman).

She was Ina (mother) to Welch after his adoption.  She died at White Swan’s house.

Ina had a brother, His Wound, and he had other names: Fine Weather and  Ista Sapa (Black Eyes).

Third wife was Ptesanmaniwin (White Cow Walking Woman/White Buffalo Cow Walking woman).

Uses Him as a Shield wives:

Three wives were sisters, their father was White Swan, a great chief of the Minniconjou.

Second Wife was Mahpiyanta Keyopakewin (Goes to Heaven and Sits on a Cloud Woman).

Third Wife was Wiceqawin (Little Woman). One son, Andrew Knife.

Three Wives were all sisters and Blackfeet.

Father’s Brother was Hawk Shield

Four Sisters of John Grass (editor’s note…but the list contains five names):

Tawaci Wastewin (Kind Hearted Woman/Thoughtful Woman).

Mother of John Cadotte (Standing Alone/Makaska Najin).  Also mother of Ben of Mowbridge and Albert in the U.S.Navy and Mrs. Hohner and Mrs. Nick Cadotte.

Pejuta Sapawin (Black Medicine Woman).

She was married to John Dailing, a white man, cutting wood for the steamboats.  Indians called him Chakaska (He cuts Wood).

Iteywintapiwin (The Gracious Faced Woman).

Hard to translate name, on account of the movement of the two hands down the body, asking a favor, and the one asking is entitled to this favor….’Hands before the face Plea’ for great Favor.  At the time one asks, relatives are all mentioned, asking in their names, also.  This name was given to her by her father because of an incident:

Some Sioux women were with a war party and in the Crow Country.  The Crows chased them four days and overtook the woman who lagged behind, because they were not mounted as well as the warriors, and captured them.  They were carried into the Crow Country with the exception of this one, who made this sign, naming the enemies’ relatives, and was spared.  According to custom he could not kill her.  Returned her back to her people.  Other women lived with the Crows and this is why there are Sioux relatives among the Crows.

This is the woman that Lieut. Belden wanted.  But she didn’t want him and married a Hunkpapa, Kaptanyan (Turn Over).  Belden married Black Medicine Woman.  Later, she married Dailing.

Oyuhpewin (Drags Down Woman/Pulls down from a Horse)

aka Aunty Cross…84 years old.  Only sister of John Grass still living. Born near White Clay Buttes, south of Lemon, S.D..  She was born when the Blackfeet were out hunting Buffalo.  She was sold Louis Cross (Mato Ocinsica/Sanica/Cross Bear) for one horse and one rifle.  He was an Indian.  He was a Heyoke (a kind of medicine man, doing things by opposites…slept outside when others slept inside, dressed for winter in the summer, wept when others laughed, etc).

Ite Wakanwin (Holy Faced Woman).

Married to Noel Burshia, a half-blood.  They had two children.

Four Brothers of John Grass:

Two died in infancy.

Hoksila Waste (Good Boy).

Wamiyacekapi (Jerked with Arrows).

Named because it was impossible to remove the arrows he had in his body from the enemy.  They didn’t know, but it was probably Crows. The men  pulled and jerked on the arrows all day.



Stories about John Grass and the Blackfeet Tribe:

John Grass was the first child, and a boy, born to Uses Him as a Shield.  Friends and relatives presented 40 postahs and 12 spotted horses.  Some of the postahs were beaded and others were decorated with porcupine quills (ed note: can’t find a definition for Postah/Postan, but it sounds like a hood of some sort).

How Blackfeet got their name:  A Blackfeet Woman married a man of another tribe, and went to live with his people.  Sioux, being great visitors, they get back to see their own people.  They were walking and passed over an expanse of burned prairie.  Then they finally arrived at the Blackfeet camp, her white doe-skin moccasins were black from the ashes.  Cadotte or Cross mentioned that Grass (ed note: must at least mean Grass No. 1) had the Blackfeet camping on Gross Creek about 20 miles south of Fort Yates, in the Blackfeet Country, their ancient habitat and the country he asked for in 1868, pointing in the general direction on his famous trip on the steamer, Agnes, on the Missouri River. In 1884 the camp moved to what is now Wakpala on Oak Creek.  This vicinity was first known as Sione, then as Sihasapa, and now as Wakpala.

John Grass was once lost in a blizzard while on a hunt.  Was in charge of a party.  Stuck his gun rod in the snow and spread his buffalo robe over it like a tent and this made his only shelter for the many days during the storm.  The falling and drifting snow made it warm.  He was a good hunter.  After his father’s death (early 1870’s) he had to provide for his family, as well as his own.  And he gave away much meat to those who could not hunt.  On this hunt they were out a week.  He brought the entire party back to camp.

John Grass once lost his temper.  It was while they were living on Grass Creek (1883-1884).  They lived next to the Cadottes with a fence of cottonwood between.  Ian was cooking meat in a large pot.  Grass came home tired.  Sat down on the bed.  It had a tick (mattress) of corn husks. Ina had thrown the curved knife she had been using on the bed.  Grass sat down on it and it stuck in his thigh.  He was so disturbed that he reached for his tomahawk that hung on the wall and smashed the kettle all to pieces.  Next day some Crows, Gros Ventres and Rees arrived.  These were enemies but when they called they were treated as friends.

They camped there and a dance circle was made.  Food must be prepared and there was no pot to cook it in.  Ina used a tub.  Two Crows, Gros Ventre and Palani came in to smoke. John Grass’ son took his father’s coup stick and struck each one, counting coup on the enemy.  Ina sang and gave away moccasins.  John Cadotte struck them all, too, and his mother had to sing and make presents.



1939…Welch’s interpretation of Grass Family genealogy

Grandfather Sicola (Barefooted) Chief

Grandmother Wihusta Win (Lame Woman)

Father Wacanka yapi (Uses Shield)

Mother Wawapi lakiyewin (Many Thank you Woman)

Father’s 2nd wife Mahipyanta Keyeta Kewin (Goes to Heaven and Sits on Cloud Woman)

Father’s 3rd wife Wiciqa (Little Woman)

Wiciqa Family Gilbert Cadotte (in U.S.Navy)

John Cadotte (Standing Alone) at Wakpala

Ben Cadotte at Mowbridge

Mrs. Hoehner at Wakpala

Mrs. Nick Cadotte (Makaska Najin)

Tawaci Waste win (Kind Heart Woman)

 John Grass’ sisters:

Pijuta Sapawin (Black Medicine Woman) married Belden and married John Darling, a timber contractor (Chakaska, Wood chopper).

Ite ywintapi win (Gracious Face Make woman), Belden wanted her…she married a Hunkpapa named Kaptan yan (Turn Over).

Oglala Win … given by Oglalas … single.

Auntie Cross (Oyuhpewin … Drags Down Woman) is 84 years old, lives in South Lemon, married to Louis Cross (Mato Ocin sica…Cross Bear) who paid one horse and one gun for her.

Ite Wakan win (Holy Face Woman) married Noel Burshia, 2 children died.

 John Grass’ brothers

Hehaka ite waste (Good Face Elk), nicknames Siowipi

(Body Carrier), Postah (Load). Married Sicangu (1st wife), 2nd wife Ina Kampeska imanipiwin

(Walking White Buffalo) a Minneconjou

Tlek sila Waste

Waniyacekapi (Jerked Him Arrow).



John Cadotte writes a strange, disjointed letter to Welch, March 26, 1940:

Col. A.B.Welch, Matowatakpe

My Dear Cousin Tankansi

Te Anpetu ake wowapi cicukta

I am going to write to you today again.  First we all well and getting along fine and Auntie Cross she is well and she had to be out at where one of my daughter’s farm and ranch about 1½ mile from town northwest for a while to visit them.  But before she left from here where she stay with my sister Mrs. R.L.Hoehner, we were talk over about this great father, Sicola or Sicolamani, also his nick name was Herekawicasta, that means Old Man.  He was a great Chief of Sihasapa’s tribe of the Sioux’s.  Also he was a medicine man and what they call Miracle Man.  Well our great grandfather Sicolaun or Sicola, he was a real Sihasapa Blackfeet Chief so he was always in where they make treaties with the other Chief.  This other’s Chiefs they are all in One Sioux’s Nations or Tribes but they are all have what they call Bands.  This Sioux’s Band’s have one Chief in their band, or they have two Chiefs in their bands.  Some have three chief’s in their band’s, where they are little more people in their bands and they all have named to it in their bands.  So this Sicolaun or Sicolamani or Hereawicasa, he was a chief in the Blackfeet’s bands. And this Lone Horn or Hewanjca, he was Oglala or Hunkpapa’s chief of band’s. Also Pipe or Canupa he was Rosebud Chief of bands.  And Young Elk or Herakacinca he was chief of the Two Kettle’s and Minikowapi bands.  And Grass, he was a great chief of the Blackfeet’s Sioux’s tribes of their days, especially, of course when the great Sioux, of Indians, when they are going to make agreements of treaty, they have to invited each other for together, so they have to talk over their matters or their business.  So that is why all this chief’s meet at one place to signed the treaty’s with some of their own band’s, where they meet together.

Sicolaun or Grass’ first son was John Grass or Wakacankayapi (Peji) No. 1, next John Grass or Matowatakpe No. 2. John Grass or Gliskaynka No. 3 was Albert Grass’ father.  Well, Uncle John Grass (Matowatakpe) he was never in the Gen. Custer’s fight at all.  He was down to along the Missouri river south below the Fort Pierre and round where the Cheyenne Agency now stand.  Also at the mouth of Moreau river below where Four Bear’s camp and up here at where the Old Agency use to be mouth of Oak Creek or Grand river.  Usually when the Agency here move up to Fort Yates in North Dak he was still here too.  Never go any other place.  They all in South Dakota all the time till they all died.  This Sicolaun or Herekawicasa, Chief Sioux of Blackfeet’s they are all stay for a while down below Fort Pierre in South Dakota when he was old age that time so I think he died down there at that place also was burial down there too where they called little bend and Big Bend.  Sicolaun or Herakawicasa, he was the one that have he’s people of the Blackfeet’s bands make them to carried to his own great tepee’s by his own nice Buffalo Robe to Father DeSmet’s up here along this Oak Creek from here where we are now living Wakpala, four miles north of here.  There’s where the Blackfeet’s Sioux’s of bands are camping big circle that time.  Well Tanhansi, when you come over we want to see you for good and I might you some more things about our Uncle Matowatakpe also Sicolaun and others Chief’s.  So we sure very anxious you to come and see you and see us.  We are send to you our best wishes and regards to you.

Yours respectfully, John Cadotte, Sr., Makoskaunaji



Grass talks about ancestors, about 1915:

Chief Grass told me that he could count many grandfathers; that they had borne the name of Mato Watakpe or Charging Bear, because it was a good name and through their works had now become famous in Indian History.  He had always remembered that his name was Mato Watakpe, and so had tried to live right and not bring dishonor to the name and thus to his father’s fame and memory.

Grass talks about his Father, 1915:

Chief Grass said to me, “My grandfather was born somewhere in Nebraska.  The time those men fought the Rees with the soldiers was about 91 years ago (Blue Thunder Count 1831-32 “Below Fort Yates above Grande river, Mandan Gros Ventre and Ree had a village, a double one there. Soldiers and Dakotah attacked village.  Eight Dakotah dilled.  Soldier French and Dakotah”).  My grandfather was one of the leaders in that time.  I got my name by fighting the Rees when I was seventeen years old.  My grandfather gave me his name with a dog feast and the sun dance was made then.”

Welch note:  He also told me that the Hunkpapas came into this prairie country about ninety five years before.

Cloud Bear talks to Welch, undated:

“Chief John Grass’ own father’s name was Wahacankayapi (Shields All…also Peji  or Grass).  Grass’ grandfather was Oglala Teton.  I do not think his name was Mato Watakpe.”

Fire Heart talks, undated:

His mother was a sister of Chief Grass’ father (Oglala) so these two noted old Dakotah men are blood cousins.  He said Grass’ father and grandfather were both great chiefs and that Grass was too.

Red Tomahawk note, undated:

Red Tomahawk’s grandmother and Grass’ grandmother were sisters.

Angela Boleyn (writer friend of Welch) notes, late 1930’s or early 1940’s:

Amanda, or Cecilia Grass, was known as Shell Woman, Red Cloth and Mrs. John Grass.  The only marriage contracted by this decedent was that to John Grass, to whom she was first married by Indian custom about the year 1874 and later, by ceremony, with whom she lived until his death on May 10, 1918.  By him she was the mother of several children all of whom died at early ages and without issue.

This fixes the date of at least two of Grass’ marriages, since he married these sisters on the same day.  We do not know about the first one.  But Eagle Horn said Grass had several wives, he, however, could only remember 5. How is that for your Ate?  And his children?  They were everywhere, he said, spreading his fingers.  Now, Senor, this is almost too much.  But think we had better stick to the admitted records.

Amanda Grass was the daughter of Chief White Swan and Blue Thunder.  Her brothers were John Fine Feather; William White Swan or Puts on His Shoes; White Swan (who died and the older brother took his name).  Sisters were: Red Buffalo Woman, Unnamed child who died when young, Wasula, a half sister.  There were others who died many years before without issue.

John Grass, Jr. died in 1910.  His mother was Little Eagle (This must have been another name for Cecilia Grass’ sister.  For you remember that your relatives said he married two sisters the same day.  Then the above paragraph showing the brothers aznd sisters of Mrs. Grass, does not give this name).  Eagle Horn says he was buried as the old Indians were, although the young Indians wanted a military funeral, such as all soldiers are given.  He was buried with his horse and gun.

Albert Grass was the son of John Grass, Jr. and Annie Two Bears was the mother.

Children of Chief John Grass’ son, John Grass, Jr. (died 1901):

Albert Grass, killed in action in France, 1918.  His mother, Mrs. Basil Two Bears

(Annie), was his only heir. Annie was married to John Grass, Jr. about 1897.

Annie Grass, died in July 1916.  She was a half-sister, being daughter of Little Eagle.

John Aloysuis Grass, died when small.

Ernest Grass, died in infancy.



Frances Zahn talks with Welch, January 6th, 1941:

Welch notes:  This man is quite an authority in Indian History and events on the Standing Rock Reserve.  His father is dead, but was a character in this area.  He came to this country with the 17th Infantry and assisted in establishing and building Fort Rice.  He belonged to “G” Co., and his Captain’s name was L.E.Sanger.  When the order was issued that all soldiers should discard or marry their Indian women, he took his discharge and stayed with his Sioux woman.  Frances Zahn is his son by his last wife.  He said:

“My father was married, Indian fashion, to the daughter of Chief John Grass.  Her name was Wia Waste (Pretty Woman).  They had several children, my half sisters and brothers. No, not sisters, just brothers, three.  The first was named Joe.  He died in 1883 at Fort Yates.  John still lives at Shields on the Standing Rock Reservation.  William, Jr., now lives at Grants Pass, Oregon.  They are the children of my father and Pretty Woman.  Father married her in 1879.  He bought her from John Grass, and paid for her: one Henry rifle; an American (large) horse and quite a lot of calico.  That was the way then.  Pretty Woman died August 2nd, 1886.  So that makes us relatives to the Grass family.”

“I was interpreter for Grass when he was Judge of Indian Affairs at Fort Yates.  It was always said of him, that he was honest in his hearings or trials, but pretty hard on a criminal.  He always gave them a good talk whether innocent or guilty and advised them in how to act and live.  Judge High Eagle was a more lenient judge.”



June 14, 1939, Wakpala, S.D.   Present:

Angela Boleyn, Fargo, N.D.

Auntie Cross, own sister of John Grass  84 years of age.

John Cadotte, nephew of John Grass, and his wife, a good interpreter

Mrs. Hoehner, sister of John Cadotte.

Meeting Purpose: Ancestors and descendants of Chief John Grass

Grandfather of Chief John Grass:

A Blackfeet (Sihasapa) Lakota Teton, whose name was Sicola (Barefooted)  – took a woman to wife named Wihustawin (Lame Woman) (all dates unknown).

Father of Chief John Grass:

Sicola and Wihustawin begat a son whose name was Wacankayapi (Uses Him as a Shield), who became Chief of the Blackfeet (dates unknown).  This Chief is said to have died about 1874.  Wacankayapi also became known as Pezhi (Grass) and  had three wives

Wives of Uses Him as a Shield:

Wawapilakiyewin (Many Thank You Woman), his favorite woman.

Mahpiyanta Keyotakewin (Goes to Heave and Sits on a Cloud Woman).

Wicikawin  (Little Woman)

Parents of Chief John Grass:

Uses Him as a Shield and Many Thank You Woman, begat a son who became a Sihasapa Chief.  His first name was Hehake ita waste (Good Face Elk).  Later, he was given the name of Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear) and the name of John Grass was his baptismal name when baptized by Father de Smet, the historical priest.  He also had a nick name, used by his particular friends, Siyowipi (Full of Prairie Chicken).  He was also known as John Grass (Pezhi) from his father.

Other Children of Uses Him as a Shield (he was the father of several  – but the name of every mother is not known):

Tawaci Wastewin (Kind Hearted Woman, literally Her Good Wish Woman):

She married an Indian whose name was Cadotte and this union resulted in the following family

John Cadotte, whose Indian name is Makaska Najin (Standing Alone)…witness at this council of Wakpala, N.D.

John Cadotte has a son, now in the U.S.Pacific Fleet, Gilbert Cadotte.

Ben Cadotte, Wowbridge, S.D.

A daughter who married Mr. Hoehner, Wakpala

Pejuta Sapawin (Black Medicine Woman) was another daughter of Uses Him as a Shield and one of his wives.  She married a white man named John Dailing, who was a cordwood contractor for steamboats along the Missouri river.  His name among the Lakota was Chakaska (Wood Chopper).  She also married another white man, a Lieutenant of the U.S.Army. by the name of Belden.

Iteywintapiwin (Gracious Face Woman … this is a hard name to translate)  It was given to her in commemoration of an episode of her father, who, having dragged a Crow woman from her horse in a fight in Montana, was going to kill her, when that woman made the sign of greatest thanks across his face and down his body with her two hands, and named some of his relatives.  This saved her life.  This Crow woman was desired by Lieut. Belden, but did he not arouse her romantic desires, and she married a Hunkpapa named Kaptanyan (Turn over).  Belden then married Gracious Face Woman.

Oglalawin (Oglala Woman) was another daughter.  Her name was given by their close tribesmen.  She died single.

Oyuhpewin (Drags Down Woman).  Name given from an incident in which her father pulled an enemy from his horse in a fight.  She was born in the vicinity of the present Lemon, S.D., at White Clay Butte, while her people were on a buffalo hunt  – in 1855.  Her own statement was that she was 84 winters.  According to the Hunkpapa Winter Count, this was the winter when “A White Man named White Beard held the Indians in camp all winter at Pierre.”  Drags Down Woman married Louis Cross, whose Sioux name was Mato Ocinsica (Cross Bear) and sometimes called Sanica (On One Side).  He was a Sihasapa.  He paid her father one horse and one gun for her, in the custom of the Sioux at that time.  She was present at this interview, has a keen mind and a store of historical events in mind, which she freely related to me. She is quite well-known among her relatives as Auntie Cross; has a typical, creased, but kindly, face and, at the gathering for the dance that evening, made speech regarding her famous brother, Chief John Grass, making the statement that, “he was the friend and protector of the whites, always.”

Ite Wakanwin (Holy Face Woman) was another daughter of Uses Him as a Shield.  She married Noel Burchia (unknown to me) and they had two children, both of whom died in infancy.

Hoksila (Good Boy) was another son of Uses Him as a Shield, long since dead, without issue living.

Waniyocekapi (Jerked with Arrows) was another son.  He received his name from a war incident, in a running fight with the Toka (enemy) which was probably a Crow Indian.  This fight and flight was of four days duration, during which he was shot with several arrows which could not be immediately removed, and they jerked him severely before they had an opportunity to cut them out.  Several Sioux women were captured and kept by the Crows in this fight.  Drags Down Woman told us that that was the reason why there were some good people among the Crows  – descendants of these captured Sioux women prisoners.

Uses Him as a Shield was the father of two other children, both of whom died in infancy.

Chief John Grass (Pezhi), also called Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear) and Siyowipi (Full of Prairie Chicken) married three women as follows:

The first wife was a woman of the Sicangu (Brules or Burnt Thighs), a tribe of the Tetonwanna or Tinton (People of the Prairie) Dakota.  Little is known of her, except that “she went away.”

The second plural wife was Ptesanmaniwin (White Cow Woman Walking).

The third plural wife was named Kampeskaimanipewin (Walking the Shell Woman).  She was the sister of White Cow Walking Woman and they were daughters of a famous Miniconjou Chief named Mga Ska (White Swan).  They were taken at the same time by Chief Grass  – White Cow Woman Walking being but seven years of age at that time.  This little girl never knew that she was the wife of John Grass until one day, she was told to accompany her husband for Fort Pierre, with pack horses loaded with buffalo hides dressed for the St. Louis trade.  Walking on the Shell Woman was the only wife known to the writer, and was called Ina (Mother) by him.

Children of Chief John Grass …four boys (only one of which is mentioned herein):

Hoksila Waste (Good Boy) who married a woman from among the Yanktonaise.  This woman gave birth to a son whose Sioux name was Hehaka Mani (Walking Elk) and called, by the whites, Albert Grass.  He enlisted in the World War (WWI) as a volunteer, under the wrtier, A.B.Welch, who was the commanding officer of Co. “A”, 1st N.D.N.Guard.  This regiment was reorganized and combined with the 2nd N.D.N.G. to make a war-strength regiment known as the 164th Inf., and which was made a replacement, mainly to the 1st Div., and, in action at Soissons, France, in June 1918, Hehaka Mani was killed in action in the wheat fields there; buried where he fell.  After the war, his body was disinterred, returned to the Cannon Ball river, and buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Cannon Ball Station, North Dakota.  His mother, after the death of her husband, married the grandson of the famous Yanktonaise Sioux named Mato Nopa (Two Bears).  She still lives.  Her name is Anne Two Bears.

Chief John Grass and Ina (Walking on the Shell Woman) had several other children, all dying or being killed in early youth.  Among these was a set of twin girls of which they were exceedingly proud.  They were named Wacinyanpi Win (Faith Woman) and Wacatkiyapi Win (Charity Woman).  Both died in early childhood.

More Comments by Leo Cadotte, talking to Welch at Mandan, September 6, 1943:

“We can trace our family far back.  We have made a study of this thing.

“It is a kind of tradition that the Grass family was started by Oompah, which means Moose.  They got it wrong in the archives (i.e. Treaties) and the clerk put it down as Big Deer.  Maybe that’s the way the interpreter said  – that it was a big deer.

“Then his son was Tatonka tonka (Big Buffalo); that was a very long time ago.

“Then came Sicolau, which means Barefooted.

“Sicolau’s son was Uses Him as a Shield.

“Grass (Pezhi) known also as Charging Bear, was the son of Uses Him as a Shield.

“Grass had a son named Many Spotted (Horses), whose son was Albert Grass, known to the Indians as Hehaka Mani (Walking Elk), who was a soldier who volunteered under Capt. A.B.Welch in the N.D. 163-164th Infantry for the first World War and was killed in action at Soissons, France, 1918.

“War Eagle in the Air was also a relative and is frequently confused with another Indian named High Eagle.  But they are two different men, although the names are spelled identical.  They kept them apart with nick-names, so they would know which man they meant.  War Eagle in the Air was known as Big Rim or Thick Seam (like in the edges of cloth when it is turned back and sewed).

“Another relative of Chief John Grass was the Oohenopa (Two Kettle) named Black Moon.  Auntie Cross says that he and John Grass were cousins by blood.  These Two Kettles and the Blackfeet were closely related and nearly always camped together and took part in each other’s undertakings.

“Another Two Kettle relative by blood of John Grass was the influential man named Tall Mandan.”

Genealogy, odds and ends!

Notes on John Grass, as given by some of the Sihasapa who knew him, Wakpala, S.D.,  May 5 and 6, 1941:

Bird Flying Over (Swiftly) was Lame Woman’s name (she was the wife of Sicola).

Used as a Shield had eight wives.

Two Packs was also called Hawk Shield.  He was Herbert Welch’s father.  Mary Pleets is a half-sister of Herbert Welch

Tall Mandan is an uncle of Mrs. Theresa Cross.  He was Sihasapa.

Leo Cadotte says, that at Washington (Indian Bureau Department), Indians are still considered ‘hostile’ if they had relatives in the Custer Battle

John Grass ‘sold’ his sisters so they would live a long time.  He ‘sold’ Drags Down Woman to Cross Bear, who was a medicine man.

John Grass went to Oklahoma (The Indian Territory) to look over the land when the Government wanted to send all the Indians there.  He reported that our Dakotas could not live there.

White Cloud (or, End of Cloud)’s mother was a first cousin of John Grass’ mother

The Calf Robe Pipe was brought to the Indians before Columbus touched the shores of the American Continent.

Good Voice Bull is a first cousin to Mrs. Theresa Cross.  Thomas Good Voice Bull (his son) is still living.

Sitting in the Sky Woman would not sell her allotment.  Had heard her husband say there would be many whites, and that land would be needed.  She saved it for her children.

Sitting in the Sky Woman sewed the clothes that Fanny Kelly, the white captive, wore when she was taken by the Indians to Fort Sully in the winter of 1864….Dresses, leggings, moccasins, robes.  This was in the lodge of Used as a Shield.

The Sihasapa think the picture of Barefoot with the three other Sioux was taken in 1864 at the Black Hills Treaty.  They will find out.  (Note: picture was apparently never in Welch’s possession).

1940…Interview with Drags Down (The Enemy) Woman

In the home of Mr. & Mrs. John Cadotte, Wakpala, S. D.  Present: Col. A. B. Welch, Mr. & Mrs. Cadotte, Sister of Mr. Cadotte, Sister of Mrs. Cadotte, and Angela Boleyn, September 29 and 30, 1940.

Interpreters: Mrs. John Cadotte and her sister

Question: Will you tell me something about John Grass, Jr., who was also known as Owns Spotted and as Cheek?

He was also called Gray Spider because he was handsome and had nice ways.  It was a nickname.  He was the son of John Grass’ first wife, the Siconjou woman who took her tipi and went home while John Grass was on a war party.  She left the child and he was raised by Many Thank You Woman, the mother of John Grass.  John Grass, Jr. was born near the mouth of Oak Creek where it flows into the Grand River near the Missouri.  John Grass and old Fire Heart had given the white soldiers permission to build the Grand River Agency there and we were camped around it.  That was also the year the Sioux made a treaty with the whites and John Grass spoke for his people.  (His speech on the Steamer, Agnes, going down the Missouri River, 1868).  When this child was born, his relatives and friends gave away 30 postans and 13 spotted horses and some other horses.  It was considered a great event.

Question:  When did Used as a Shield, the father of John Grass, die”

He died at Grand River Agency before it was moved to Fort Yates, 1873.  The soldiers buried him with bugles.  They buried him in the ground, although we wanted him placed in a tree.  I was there.  I got there just as they were going to put him in the ground.

One time he got shot with an arrow. It went into his neck and down and pierced his lung.  No one could draw it out.  They finally got a Medicine Man whose power was from the bear.  In a dream the bear told him what to do and he took the arrow out with his teeth and my father got well.  He had been on the war path against the Assiniboines.  This was when he was young and had only three children, I cannot remember the exact year.

He (Used as a Shield) had a wonderful horse.  The Indians called it a Medicine Horse, for it had been raised on Indian Medicine.  It ran under the sun and nothing could harm it.  It could not be whipped nor treated unkindly.  My father called it Never Whipped.

In battle it saved my Father’ life, carrying him to safety.  Then right among the enemy it raced back and forth, bringing out other Sihasapa who were surrounded there.  Once a man rode this horse and beat it and he was badly injured, his arm broken and other hurts.

Question: How did Used as a Shield die?

He was poisoned.  A Ree did this to him.  He used bad medicine against him.  It was like this:  When he smoked, the bad influence, the will to kill, was in his pipe.  This man was Wiceyalo (the tribe, not his name, a division of the Yanktonaise).  Something Like Hairy Chin but not the man who was the friend of John Grass.

My father went to Washington three times.  He wanted the Sihasapa to live in the Black Hills but died before he could carry out his plans.  Long Soldier differed with him. He though they should stay along the Missouri River where there was game and good water.  He argued that the Sihasapa would have an interest in the Black Hills, anyway.  But Used as a Shield wanted the Black Hill.

Question:  Do you remember John Grass’ wives?

He was married seven times that I know about.

Question:  Did Grass bring home scalps for his mother to dance over?

Yes.  And once he brought an ear and again he brought a hand.  He did what other warriors did when he went on the war path.

Question:  How many battles was John Grass in?  I mean Indian battles.

Between 12 and 15 battles.  He was going to war all the time.

Question:  Why did Custer want John Grass and High Eagle to go with him, after smoking with him?

He wanted them to go to the ‘hostile’ camp.  To talk to Sitting Bull or to act as scouts.

Question:  Do you remember what your father’s (Used as a Shield’s) medicine was?

No.  His father, Sicola, made medicine for him.  John Grass’ medicine was the hawk (on his shield).  Used as a Shield had two Medicine Men.  They were Smoke Tanned Leggins and Elk Man.  He also had his father’s medicine.

Question:  How did Sicola (Warrior Who Walked Barefoot) die?

He died of old age.

Notes:  Fool Soldiers (or The Crazy Band Soldiers) were young men who wanted to do something to distinguish themselves.  They rescued the white captives (above the present town of Mowbridge, S.D.) from Inkpaduta after the Minnesota trouble in 1862.  They were:  Four Bear, Swift Bird, Sitting Bear, Pretty Bear, Mad Bear, One Rib, Charging Dog and Strikes Fire.



Genealogy, Grave of Used Him as a Shield

A visit to the Old Arikara Village at the site north of the mouth of the Grand, Oct. 14-15, 1939.

On the 14th I drove to Wakpala, S.D., where live the Sihasapa (Blackfeet) Dakota, where I called to the group of tents and log houses where lives John Cadotte (whose Indian name is Standing Alone) and who is the nephew of Chief John Grass, being the son of his sister.  Also here I met, again, his own sister, Mrs. Cross Bear (who goes by the name of Auntie Cross).  She is 84 years old now.  I made arrangements to come again the next day and take her over to the Missouri River to point out the spot where her father lies buried in the ground.  I then drove on to spend the night at Mowbridge, S.D.

In the morning of the 15th, I went to the Sihasapa camp again, picked up Auntie Cross and a good interpreter whose name is Brown Wolf (the last of his family, by the way) as well as Mrs. Angela Boleyn who is writing the story of Chief John Grass, and we went via little-used trails through the hills and arrived at a point a short distance from the mouth of Oak Creek, where the aged Indian woman pointed out the site of the old Grand River Agency (previous to establishment of Fort Yates).  I had her describe the place where her father was buried first, and then we drove to a spot on the edge of the hills overlooking the wooded valley of the Missouri.  Here had been buried soldiers of the U.S.Army and it was plainly to be seen that bodies had been disinterred (and removed to the grave yard at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  Later they were taken up again and found final resting place in Arlington at Washington.


She stood on the edge of the hill, her calico dress whipped by the wind, her hair done up in a black cloth; slowly she turned her head and her eyes riveted upon a certain spot, partly down the hill; she stood for a few moments with her hand covering her mouth, her thin nostrils dilated, then motioned with her flat hand to a certain spot where there was a two-foot ring of stones almost covered with sod and grass.

“There,” she said, “He was sick.  The soldiers liked him.  They took him to the hospital then.  He died there.  They buried him in the ground (This was rather unusual as the Sioux buried on scaffolds or in the forks of trees)  They blew a horn, too. (Taps?) They put stones on him.  I was not there.  I was away toward the Black Hills for meat.  When I returned I saw this place then.  He was my father.  His name was Wahacankeyapi (Uses Him as a Shield).  He was the father of John Grass, too.  There’s where he is.”

I placed many other stones upon the grave.  Then we drove away, going north a short distance; opened a wire fence and came upon a flat space where the hill dropped down toward the river and there were two ravines running east and west.  Between these ravines lie the remains of a prehistoric village enclosed by a circular wall and ditch.  The ditch is well-preserved and in places is five feet deep.  Originally it must have been 20 feet wide and at least six feet deep.  Probably had a palisade as additional protection.  I did not count the earth lodge sites, but there were well-defined, and the diameter of the circular village from ditch to ditch was about 150 paces.  The site has not been plowed and it is very little disturbed by amateur digging.  It has the appearance of being too high above the water for a long defense, as attackers could keep them within the walls and from obtaining water.




Farewell Council for Major Belden, Standing Rock Supt.

Indian Dance and Feast, April 1, 1911

This gentleman could well be the Lieut. Belden who married Black Medicine Woman, a sister of John Grass




House Location of John Grass


John Grass cabin, just south of North/South Dakota line.




History: Fort Phil Kearney fight

c. 1939-40 … Angela Boleyn query to Welch on Grass’ possible part in Fort Phil Kearney fight

From INDIAN HEROES AND GREAT CHIEFTANS by Chas. A. Eastman. Pp 93-95

“Young Crazy Horse was twenty one years old when all the Teton Sioux chiefs (the western, or plains, dwellers) met in council to determine upon their future policy toward the invader.  Their former agreements had been by individual bands, each for itself, and everyone was friendly.  They reasoned that the country was wide, and that the white traders should be made welcome.  Up to this time they had anticipated no conflict.  They had permitted the Oregon Trail, but now, to their astonishment, forts were built and garrisoned in their territory.

Most of the Chiefs advocated strong resistance.  There were a few influential men who still desired to live in peace, and who were willing to make another treaty.  Among them were White Bull, Two Kettle, Four Bears and Swift Bear. Even Spotted Tail, afterwards the great peace chief, was at this time the majority, who decided in the year 1866 to defend their rights and territory by force.  Attacks were to be made upon the forts within their country and on every trespasser on the same.

Crazy Horse took no part in the discussion, but he and all the young warriors were in accord with the decision of the council.  Although so young, he was already a leader among them.  Other prominent braves were Sword (brother of the man of that name who was long captain of police at Pine Ridge), the younger Hump, Charging Bear, Spotted Elk, Crow King, No Water, Big Road, He Dog, the nephew of Red Cloud, and Touch the Cloud, intimate friend of Crazy Horse.

The attack on Fort Phil Kearney was the first fruit of the new policy, and here Crazy Horse was chosen to lead the attack on the woodchoppers, designed to draw the soldiers out of the fort, while an army of six hundred lay in wait for them.  The success of this stratagem was further enhanced by his masterful handling of his men…………………..”

Now, if the Charging Bear mentioned above is John Grass, then we know some more about where he was during those ten years before the Custer Battle.  I asked you once if you believed John Grass was in this attack on Fort Phil Kearney.  You said he might have been for those warriors got about a good deal.  Do you think this account is true?  This is from the chapter on Crazy Horse.  We know that John Grass admired Red Cloud above all others.  All underscoring is mine.  This looks as if Grass was as eager as the rest to drive the whites out of the country…..of course, I like him for this.  Now, with all the evidence we are piling up in proof of his being a “hostile,” I marvel at his being able to cover it up so well. (AB)



History: Rosebud fight

c. 1939-40 … Boleyn query to Welch on Grass’ possible part in Rosebud fight

From INDIAN HEROES AND GREAT CHIEFTANS by Chas. A. Eastman. Page 96:

“Early in the year 1876, his runner brought word from Sitting Bull that all the roving bands would converge upon the Upper Tongue River in Montana for summer feasts and conferences.  There was conflicting news from the reservation.  It was rumored that the army would fight the Sioux to a finish again, it was said that another commission would be sent to treat with them.

The Indians came together early in June, and formed a series of encampments stretching out three or four miles, each band keeping separate camp.  On June 17, scouts came in and reported the advance of a large body of troops under General Crook.  The council sent Crazy Horse with seven hundred men to meet and attack him.  These were nearly all young men, many of them under twenty, the flower of the hostile Sioux……………..”

I am wondering if John Grass was in this affair, too.  If he were in that council in 1866, ten years before, and was in agreement with them, and, if, as we have pretty good proof coming from the National Archives, he made a hostile speech……well, there is no end to things he might have been doing.  I’ll keep looking.  You know, of course, that Eastman always says Crook was a coward and that he, instead of Reno, betrayed Custer.  Says he was afraid of Crazy Horse and the other Sioux who were gathering for their last stand…and, after his defeat by Crazy Horse, ran away. And, of course, Eastman always states that the Sioux were preparing for a big battle, for they knew the white were hunting them. (AB)



History: Custer smoked with Grass in the Spring before the Little Big Horn Battle

1940…Interview with John Cadotte (Chief Standing Alone)


In the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Cadotte, Wakpala, South Dakota.

Present:  Col. A. B. Welch, Mr. and Mrs. Cadotte, Mr. Cadotte’s sister, Mrs. Cadotte’s sister and Angela Boleyn.  Interpreters: Mrs. Cadotte and her sister.

Question by Angela Boleyn:  John Grass once said he smoked with Custer.  Do you know when and where that was?

Answer by John Cadotte:  That is in this book, which is a record made by Ignatious White Cloud and witnessed by old Iron Eyes, Good Voice Bull, Eagle on High, End of the Cloud, Wind Soldier, John Bay and Catch the Bear.  White Cloud is 79 years old now.  He says it was at a Council which was held at Fort Yates early in the spring of 1876.  There were many Indians present but there were thirteen selected to talk with Custer. They were John Grass, Fire Heart, Kill Eagle, High Eagle, Thunder Hawk, Bear Face, Broken Rib Bear, Two Bears, No Heart, Big Head, Black Bull, Red Fish and Dog Hide Necklace.

Real Buffalo had charge of the peace pipe.  He fixed it for smoking and said, “Long Hair, watch what I do.”  He made the pipe ceremony and continued, “You may not understand why I am doing this.  I have pointed the pipe in four directions.  Bad things can come in those directions and the pipe will hold them back.  I pointed it to the heavens, to the One Above, where truth comes from.  I have pointed it to the earth, that if the promise made is broken, it is buried there.  The pipe is straight.  That is how your words should be.  If you break your word with the pipe of peace, to the earth you go.”

Real Buffalo took a few puffs on the pipe and presented it to Long Hair (Custer), saying, “Whoever smokes the pipe of peace must stand by his word.  Some of our people are hunting meat far to the west and north.  If you are not going to harm them, we wish to hear you say it.”

Long Hair answered, “Hao,” and took the pipe and smoked it.  He said, “I am here to protect the Indians from bad white men.”

Real Buffalo answered, “Wherever there is trouble, if the peace pipe is brought there is no trouble.”

Then Custer said he was going on a trip to the west and asked John Grass and High Eagle to accompany him.  They said, “No. You have smoked.  You go alone.”

Custer twice broke his promise made in that council.  He killed a boy who was with his father hunting horses and he went against the Sioux on the Greasy Grass and for that he was killed.  For the man whose son was killed told the Sioux and they got ready to fight.

In the fight there was much dust.  No one can say who killed Custer.  A son of Inkpaduta’s brought back some of his clothing.  That is how we identified him.  An Indian named Spotted Rabbit caught a horse that, it is said, Custer rode in the battle.

Once (during the battle), when the Indians hesitated for a few seconds, an Indian girl ,who fought with the soldiers, rode back and forth.  Her father said, “You are running away.  Leaving a woman to fight.”  The Indians charged then.. One warrior called, “All act as one shot.”  And they  did and knocked the white soldiers from their horses.  Then it was over.

Before the battle, there was a council held in which all the tribes took part.  Gall’s people got together with Sitting Bull’s and there were Santees, Cheyennes and others near the Greasy Grass.  They were going to have a big Sun Dance.  10,000 people.  Custer ran to the Sun Dance place.  Buffalo Cloud, a Ree scout and Carrier (known also as Hoop Cloud), who was a Blackfeet scout, both felt of the ashes.  They were warm.  Custer decided to camp in the abandoned camp.  He (Carrier) counted all the lodge places, figuring two warriors to each large tipi and one warrior to each small one.  Carrier said to him, “There were a lot of men.”  The next day he started on his way against the Indians and was killed.




 History: John Grass may have laid the Plans for the Little Big Horn Battle

Welch and Angela Boleyn interview  Leo Cadotte (son of Grass’ sister), Mandan, N.D., September 6th 1943:

(Angela Boleyn was a writer-friend of Welch creating a life story about John Grass )

Now this is what I want to talk about:  You have said that Chief John Grass was the man who planned the campaign when they killed those men in Montana (W-This refers to the Custer affair).  You are writing a book about our relative Grass.  He has told you what part he played in that.  I have talked with many people, old ones, who knew.  They always denied that thing.  But you know.

Now they think that they are placing John Grass in a bad position before you.  They say: “He (Welch) has the truth now.  If he has the truth, and does not tell it – what is the use of having it if he cannot tell it.” That was a long time ago; the archives cannot be changed now; We think that it is time to tell it now.  It cannot hurt anyone now.  The claims we have against the Government will be put off from time to time anyhow.  Auntie Cross is very old and will die pretty soon. She wanted Charging Bear to know but was afraid of punishment by the Government.  She wanted to tell him (W-Welch) but was fearful of consequences.  etc., etc.

Cadotte continued:  So I believe it is all right for you to write it.  The truth cannot hurt now.  The archives have the Sihasapa as a ‘peaceful Teton tribe.’  Too much has been written and is now in the archives and they will remain that way.

Asked about details, he continued:  The Oohenopa (Two Kettles) and the Sihasapa were together there.  They nearly always camped together.  Black Moon was with them – he was Headman of the Brave Hearts (Police). (W-the Brave Hearts was the largest of the Soldier Societies, and there were members in every tribe of the Tetons and even in the Isanti Division of the Dakota).  Tall Mandan was also a Head Man of the Brave Hearts and was with the camp.  They broke camp down somewhere along the Padani Wakpe (W-Grand river – meaning the River of the Arikara on account of their villages being at the mouth of that river) and went west into the valleys of the rivers flowing northward into the Hehaka Wakpe (W-Elk river, as they called the Yellowstone).

Before this time, General Custer had seen Grass and some other powerful men and wanted them to go with him into Montana country.   Chief Grass told him like this: ‘You have smoked with me  You have said that as long as water flows there will be peace between us.  Therefore, you will not need me with you because you are going in peace.  You have Padani Scouts with you who know the trails that way.’

But, he could not believe that Custer would take so many soldiers with him if he was really going in peace.  He did not want to be identified with a war expedition against his own people.  When they broke camp they moved west to be out there.  We believe that Grass laid out the general plan to congregate in the valley of the Greasy Grass.  (W-This is the Big Country).  Crazy Horse was a young man.  He could not have made the plan or he would have kept away from Gen. Crook. No one ever said that Sitting Bull laid out the plan.  Gall was doing just what Sitting Bull wanted him to do.  Therefore, Gall did not do it.  It was not Black Moon because he was not a Chief, but a Head Man of the Soldiers Society.  Then came the battle.  Crazy Horse obtained much notoriety because he was where Custer came into the valley and started for the ford.  Gall was fighting at the south end of the village and did not reach the Custer ground until the battle was almost over.  Sitting Bull did not fight.

After the battle Chief Grass went back fast to the Grande River.  Tall Mandan probably went with him because he appeared there too.  You ask who Scabby Head was and I cannot tell you because I do not know.  Black Moon talked much after that and it is said that he was a great warrior at that fight.  The old people never did call him Scabby Head.  But the Sihasapa, nearly every young man among them, were there together with the Two Kettle fighting men.  Their camp was about in the middle there.  They probably fought with those of Crazy Horse.  As the camps came in, they extended the camp line from Sitting Bull’s camp toward the north – so Chief Grass’ Sihasapa and Two Kettle must have appeared there and camped about the third in line toward the north.  Crazy Horse’s band must have come in at the about the same time as the Cheyenne, and camped at the far north.  (W-This seems logical according to the ‘map’ made by One Bull which shows the arrangement of the camps just before Custer struck them.  It also agrees with the map made for me by Red Fish, a hostile Yanktonaise Chief, who made a mark on it and said ‘Chief Grass sat here.’  This last mentioned map shows the Council held after they had left the battlefield as troops started up the Big Horn after ferrying across the Yellowstone).

During this long conversation, Cadotte said several times, that he thought it would be all right now to tell the truth about it, and that it should be written by Mato Watakpe (Welch) and Mrs. Boleyn.

Excerpt from Angela Boleyn letter to Welch, referring to the foregoing conversation:

…Most interesting about Tall Mandan and Black Moon.  But I think Scabby Head was Grass.  A name he took or thought up at the moment he needed one, for Leo said it was not Black Moon.  So Grass must have said something like this, ‘Say Scabby Head was in charge of the Sihasapa.’ Yes? and we have the story of the chiefs who smoked with Custer before he went after Sitting Bull and his hostiles and which culminated in the Custer Battle.

Welch interview with Grass, c. 1915:

Some one has said this: ‘We think of the Indian as of a mysterious, stern, unforgiving, dim silhouette upon a hill; the grey light of a departing day and setting sun in the west shows their shadow for a moment and they are gone.’

They who said that were almost right.  But with our back burdened with the labors and griefs of a people just emerging into the light of hope; when we who reasoned deeply could see a better way than the superstitious and blind wanderings of the past; just as we could begin to see a grand future for our people and our loved Nation, we were rushed, too fast for us to understand, over the top of the grey hill spoken of and into the disturbed shadows of the dim lighted ‘beyond.’

But I do not answer you.  In the presence of my son, Mato Watakpe, I speak what is in my mind.  He told me you were a great friend of ours, so I speak to you as to him. Those were all great men I told you about.  Red Cloud was perhaps the greatest.  Gall was the second one.  I, who am chief  today, have problems as great as they had then.  I am through.  Tomorrow I will speak again. Hao.




Question – What do you think of General Custer?

Answer by Grass – I have heard it said that he was a great man.  Many white people have said so. But the white people always want to get ahead when they tell stories about anything or anyone.  They lie many times.  I heard that he was a great horse soldier in the big war about fifty years ago.  I do not know.  I never knew him doing any thing big.  I was a scout under him once.  I was the head of the scouts, but they would not do right as I wanted them to, so I quit being scout.  I do not think that he was a great man.  The Indians were not afraid of him.  He was brave but he made a bad mistake for a head soldier to make.  He battled without the correct knowledge of the enemy.  He got killed.  Since he died I have heard that he was a very great man.  I never thought so.  I do not think so now.  We know many greater white men.




Chief Grass told the writer that the Indian loss at the battle of the Little Big Horn was about sixty five warriors.  That the order was given directly after the death of Custer to all rush in from every side and kill the soldiers with their clubs for there was danger of the Indians killing some of their own numbers by shooting arrows clear across the circle.

Map of Little Big Horn Battle,  John Grass locates key areasgrass32-battle-plans-and-commanders



Loses faith in White Man’s religion

John Grass, dying as told by Dr. A. McG. Beede, July 11th, 1920;

“During the last three months of the chief’s life I called upon the old gentleman every day or two at his brick house near the Government Hospital at Fort Yates.  I noticed a great mental or, rather, spiritual change in him during that time, and he reverted to almost savagery toward the last.  He said that he had been mistreated and misled by the white and was disappointed in everything.  He looked at times like he would like to go on the warpath against them and was quite bitter.  He said that he was aware that he had been misinterpreted many times and his words misconstrued and turned against his people and himself.”

“He told me that he had lost faith in the Catholic religion and that he wished he could get back to the old time Dakotah worship.  He said that that was real religion of spirits and that the spirit of a man simply lived in a man.  After the body died the spirit liked to stay around for a time with those it loved and live in the body with the spirit of another person.  But he said he was not able to quite grasp it (the old-time religion) now that he was so weak.”

“His funeral was unfortunate.  He had a sore on his body which broke during the burial ceremony and the blood ran out upon the floor from the box.  This was taken as an omen of misfortune among the old Dakotah.  Father Bernard had anointed his feet with oil and had performed the other rites of the last Sacrament, and he was laid to rest in the ground of the Catholic Cemetery at Fort Yates  – a great man among men of any color or degree of education, respected by diplomatic men at Washington and well-beloved by his own people, but, at the end. He was disappointed, heartsick and sore because of the treatment of his people and he died as he was born….an Indian.”



Judge of Court of Indian Offenses

From Report of Agency for fiscal year ending June 30, 1886.


There are regular bi-weekly sessions of the Indian Court held at the Agency police quarters in a room set apart for that purpose, and the importance of this Court is now such that it would seem almost impossible to do without it.  Offenses of every character committed at the Agency are brought before this Court for adjudication, and it has relieved me of much annoyance in trivial matters and aided materially in the more import cases.  The Judges, who are the two officers of the Indian Police force and John Grass, an intelligent Indian who speaks English, are men of excellent judgment whose decisions, impartially rendered, have been accepted in all cases the past year without any complaint, except the three instances of appeal was made, and in two of which a rehearing was ordered upon additional testimony being produced.

If the Judges of this Court were separated from the Police Force and paid salaries of about $20. a month, it would add to the usefulness of the Court by the increased dignity that such separation would establish.



Standing Rock, July 28th, 1886

Hon. J.D.O.Atkins,

Commissioner of Indian Affairs,

Washington, D.C.


I have the honor to submit for approval the following names for Judges of the Court of Indian Offenses for the current fiscal year, viz: Crazy Walking, Bull Head and John Grass.

It may be proper to here state that Crazy Walking and Bull Head are the two officers of the Indian Police force, and that John Grass is the most intelligent Indian at this Agency, who makes an excellent and impartial Judge of our Indian Court, and I pay him a salary of ten dollars ($10.) per month from funds of “Class IV” now on hand, which has been received from fines imposed for Indian Offenses.

The intelligence and judgment of John Grass is such that it adds materially to the dignity and standing of our Indian Court, and I trust that his appointment will be approved and the pay here recommended be allowed.

I am Sir,

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

James McLaughlin,

U.S.Indian Agent.

Welch undated Comments (most likely directed to his fellow-writer friend, Angela Boleyn in the 1930’s):

I think the report and letter are the opinion of all the Agents with the exception of Father Stephan, who could not get along with Grass.

Mrs. Schoenut tells me that Grass could understand English — at least some, but that he answered in Indian always.  Anyway you heard him say, “Me  — I’m tire.”

Stephan asked to have him deposed as Chief.

Of course the trouble was really between Col. Carlin and the Agent (McLaughlin)  — the Military did not want to be moved.  And the Col. Invited the Indians to Councils and set them against the Agent  — at least it seems that way to me from the reading I have done.

Grass, as a Judge, was severe, I think, but they say he was a well-behaved man, himself.  So, perhaps he expected the same from others.

Father Bernard tells me he was most polite, dignified and also kind.  Truthful, too.



Captain I.P.Baker comments about Grass, July 18, 1913

“There is the greatest Indian that the Standing Rock Reservation every saw,” said Capt. Baker, as Chief John Grass, the head of the Sioux Nation, passed along the street.  “For constructive statesmanship, for far-sighted estimate, for toleration and for loyalty to his own people, while kindly regarding the whites, there has been no man approaching Chief John Grass.  The great Sioux Chieftan had been to Berthold Reservation to visit the Indians there and had come down on the North Soo train.  When he looked at the great metal wheel carrying people high in the air he shook his head.  There was to be none of that for him.”

Welch comments … This is a newspaper clipping, but I do not know from what paper.  And I suppose the wheel was a Ferris Wheel.  A fine tribute to the old chief.  I have heard of Baker but cannot recall what it was.

Grass talks about Capt. I.P. Baker to Welch (undated):

…Chief Grass said, “We know Capt. I.P.Baker and he is a great man.  But he talks too much.  He talks down many roads at the same time.  We do not like to hear him talk.  All the Indians like to hear you make a speech.  We like your way of speaking.  You talk down one road at a time and we can understand you easily that way.”



Marriage Ceremony (Catholic)

Welch notes:

At the Grass’ house at fort Yates I took the following notations from original paper:

John Peter Grass married Campeskaimanipiwin

(Chief Grass)                 (Walking on Shells woman  – Mrs. Grass)


At Oak Creek, S.D., June 18th, 1894, by

Rev. Fr. Bede Marty, O.S.B.

Mrs. Louise McLaughlin, witness (Major McLaughlin’s wife)

Note  – This must have been the church ceremony for they had been married according to Dakotah custom many years at that time.

Father Marty was called “Wicasa Tomaci” or Lean Priest.



Old time Indians talk about Grass

Sam Halsey talks to Welch, 1915;

“He good man, too.  Long time ago he fight all time, Crows.  He fight the Knife River people, too (Mandans, Rees and Gros Ventres).  He got great head.  He talk good talks, too.  He like it, to do that way.  He make big speech at councils.  Everybody like him.  He sick, too, today.  Last wintertime he died, almost.  He got one granddaughter and one grandson.  That all people he got now.  Got no more.  Got a wife, too.  Good woman.  I like her.  They both come my place sometimes.  Visit me, too.  He’s big chief of Sihasapa and Hunkpapa.  His father good man, too.  He’s chief old times.  Good warrior man, too.  Good head him.  Talk good.  Rees and Mandans afraid his father and him, too.  Think he die pretty quick now.  He’s old man.  Too bad.”

Note:  This granddaughter died in the Fort Yates hospital since this conversation and the grandson, Albert, was killed on the field of honor at Soissons, France in July, 1918.  Welch.

Note:  Grass died in summer of 1918, while I was in France.  Welch.

Bill Zahn talks to Welch, June 4, 1921 about New name for John Grass:

“The Indians used to call Grass Shiowipi, which means Wounded Chicken.”  At this point he was interrupted by his wife who said it meant Full of Prairie Chicken.  This is a new name for him to me.

“I helped bury the father of Chief John Grass, your father.  I was Company Artificer and we made a box out of cottonwood boards.  That’s all the timber we had in those days.  We buried him, all right, down on the Grand River Country.  The Indians wanted to tie him in a tree or on a scaffold but we buried him the way we wanted to.  He was a chief all right. You bet.”

Indian tells me of Six Coups of John Grass, in same day, Shields, N.D., Apr. 6th, 1923:

While talking to a lot of old men here today, one said:

“Your father (Grass) was a great soldier.  He did six great thing in a single day:

1– He counted coup on one, as fourth man.

2– He counted third coup on another enemy that day.

3– He was shot in the foot and his horse was killed.  He killed the enemy then and took first coup.

4– He was charged by an enemy and stood there.  He did not go back, but struck the enemy then.

5– He charged the enemy alone, took coup and returned.

6– He took coup first upon another enemy.

“If you did not do that, he is a better soldier than you are.”

I told them the best I ever did in one day was to take two prisoners, counted first coup on any enemy and took a friend captive and released him, making three, only.  So, Father was a better man than I was.  They told me then that I could paint a red hand upon my horse for making peace with an enemy (Anicito Faa).

His young son (about 5 yrs old) counts coup on Mandan, Gros Ventre & Arikara visitors:

June 14. 1939, Wakpala, S.D.

Present:  Leo Cadotte, nephew of John Grass, and his wife, a good interpreter

John Cadotte, Sr., told this story (Leo relates it):  ‘In 1883-84 John Grass lived on Grass Creek.  That is south of Fort Yates.  It is on the North and South Dakota line.  It is by the Dead Village.  My father and mother (the sister of Grass)  lived close there.  There was a fence between our lodges.  It was made of cottonwood posts set in the ground.  Kampeskaimanipewin (Walking on the Shell Woman  – John Grass’ wife, whom I call Ina or Mother) was cooking much meat.  She had a metal pot.  It was a very good pot to cook in.  They had a bed on posts in the corner.  There were skins on that.  Ina cut meat.  She threw the curved skinning knife on the bed.  John Grass came in.  He sat down on the bed.  The knife cut him in the thigh.  It made him very mad.  There were corn husks on the bed for sleep on.  John Grass sprung up.  He had s stone-headed club on the wall.  He grabbed the club.  He leaped at the pot.  He struck it many times.  He broke it up that time.  There was no more pot.”

The very next day there were visitors come.  They were old enemy Mandans, Gros Ventre and Arikara.  They came in John Grass’ lodge.  They sat down.  They expected to eat.  Then we built a dance circle of boughs, for dance.  Ina had no pot to cook meat in.  Then she took a metal tub for that.  She cut of much meat.  She cooked.  John Grass and the enemy visitors smoked then.  John Grass had a coup stick in the corner.  His boy son came in then.  He grabbed the coup stick.  He struck each of the visitors.  He made coup.  Ina sang a brave song for him.  She was glad.  The enemy were mad.  Ina gave them moccasins for that.  It was all right.  He told me that he had struck the enemy.  I went into the lodge.  I grabbed the same coup stick.  I made coup too.  Then my mother went to them and sang a song.  She gave them moccasins, too.  It was good.  We boys were brave to do that thing.  The presents and meat made it all right, too.

“Gall takes the entire turkey off the table” story:

June 14, 1939, Wakpala, S.D..  Auntie Cross (John Grass’ sister),  talks to Welch

“John Grass went to Washington.  White Head (Major McLaughlin) took them.  He had many Chiefs with him.  Gall was with Grass then.  In a big city White Head took them to a great place.  It cost four dollars to stay there.  White Head told them that he would feast them good.  They would eat what the white people ate.  They went in.  They sat down at a table.  Someone brought them a big bird (turkey).  They put it down in front of Gall.  He said, “That’s mine now.”  He wrapped it up in his robe.  John Grass said, “Tansi (cousin) give me some.  “No,” said Gall, “This one is mine.”  So Gall took it all.  The people did not bring any more birds.  I think something is wrong with that.  Maybe that was all the birds they had. Gall walked away with the big bird.  The other chiefs had none.  White Head laughed about that thing.  The Chiefs did not understand.  They had nothing to eat.  But it cost much money.”

Auntie Cross (Sister of John Grass) tells some stories, June 14, 1939, at Oak Creek, Wakpala, S.D., John Cadotte, interpreter:

Frozen Hand Story

“One time my brother had a party out hunting for meat.  It was winter time.  It was very cold.  It was a long distance from camp.  He froze his hand holding his bow.  They could not loosen his fingers.  They killed a buffalo then.  The split open its stomach.  They put his hand and bow inside the animal.  That way they warmed his hand.  They got his fingers loose that time.”

Driving Oxen Story

“One time the Government gave John Grass a wagon.  They gave him some oxen.  These animals had been trained to obey certain words.  My brother had them and the wagon crossing a bridge.  He didn’t know how to ride in the wagon then.  He walked.  He said something to the oxen.  They turned that way.  They crowded him off the bridge.  He fell into the water then.  That was very funny and everyone laughed.”

Survived a Winter Storm Story

“One time we had a party hunting.  They were a long distance from camp.  They got caught in a very bad blizzard.  He stuck his ramrod into the ground.  He put his buffalo rover over it like a tent.  He crawled under that.  They all did it what way.  They would get out and walk around their robe tents for exercise.  Then the snow drifted all over them and they kept warm.  The storm in winter dept up for about a week.  They all lived.”

Captured White Woman Story

“Yes, he was with the band which captured the white woman.  Her name was Kelly  – yes.  He gave her back to the Government.  This place was about seven miles from here. It was where the wagons tried to cross the Oak Creek.  We do not know where they were going.  They should not have been there.  They got into trouble that time.”

 Her Father’s Very Fast Horse Story

“Our father, Wahachankayapi (Uses Him as a Shield) had the fastest horse among the people.  It was bay with a blazed face.  He was looking for Crows that time.  His war party discovered them.  They charged them at once.  Our father looked back to see if they were coming along with him.  He found that his fast horse had carried him far to the front.  The Crows were all shooting at him.  He rode along the entire front of the enemy.  He then turned and rode back again in front of them.  He was very brave that time.  Neither he nor his horse were killed.  When the Crows came visiting once, the talked about that thing.  They said he was going to fast that he looked more like a deer.  They could not hit him.  He never used a quirt on this horse.  The horse was never beaten in a race by other horses.  He was a famous hourse.  That’s what the people called the horse  – ‘Never Beaten.’  Our father was very proud of that horse.  He treated him like a brother.”

Chief Grass leads a Hunting Party Story

“It was a long time ago.  We lived here on Oak Creek then.  I could talk some English.  Siowipi (Grass) went to the Agency and got permission to go hunting with a party.  He also asked that I go with them as an interpreter.  There were white people in the country.  We took wagons.  They were the first we had issued to us.  We took horses.  Each man took three.  We went out west.  It was at the Magazu Paha (Rainy Buttes).  We killed deer and elk only.  One man killed forty; another killed 50; Siowipi killed fifty that time.  We had the wagons all full of meat and hides.  The women went along to cut the meat and dry it in the air.  We didn’t get many elk that time.  Just for a few hides for winter.  Deer meat is better than elk, so we got deer meat, plenty.  I remember that hunt that time.  Some white hunters and cattlemen came to camp.  I talked English with them.  I was very proud of that.  I could talk their language some.  I was interpreter.”

Buckley talks to Welch, undated:

Question:  Did Sicola ever go to Washington?

Answer: Yes.  Six went to Washington following a treaty (Prairie de Chein  oe des Sioux 1825?).  They were Sicola, Man from Lower Brules, All Red. (These were Sihasapas). Inkpaduta, Core of Flesh and Red Leaf. (These were Santees.)

Question: How many times did Uses Him as a Shield go to Washington?

Answer: Twice.  The first time, when they were living at the mouth of the Grande River (1857?).  He came home with guns, hats, coats and medals.  He was given a ring by the President.  This ring was buried with him.  He last trip was in 1872 (According to information at Washington and the picture we have of him was taken then).

Question:  When did John Grass have his hair cut?

Answer: In 1894 for Episcopal Church reasons. Speaks Walking, who was a Catechist, was camped on Oak Creek.  Grass had his hair cut then.

Question:  Where is Hidden Creek?

Answer: Near Fargo. In that part of the country.

Question:  What kind of earrings did John Grass wear?

Answer:  His ears were pierced in two places.  He wore disks of shell like this (showing abalone ornament).

Question:  Who were the Dog Soldiers?

Answer:  They were a society like the Fox, Has Crows, Brave Hearts Societies.  Dog Society originated when the first treaty was made.  There were four societies

Question:  How did the Strong Hearts come into being?

Answer:  First originated with the Hunkpapas.  It was when a man had his daughter stolen. He went for horses and when he returned, found her gone. Should he kill the girl?  This was when a group was formed to stand by the man.  Be brave enough to defy the demand that she be killed.

c. 1939-40 … Boleyn records a ‘talk’ with Mr. and Mrs. Standing Soldier

At their home, north of Fort Yates.  Mrs. Nellie Schoenhut, interpreter.  There were other Indians present.  White Cloud and his wife and others.  Mrs. Standing Soldier was ill.

Q: Do you know about the dances they used to have, 1873 to about 1881? The ones the Agents tried to stop?

A: Yes, there were many.  But while the Agents did not like them, there was a tall, white-haired Colonel who had the Indians dance.  The Agent did not like this.  But the white officer made big feasts and asked the Indians to dance.  Then after they were all through dancing he would ask Shaved on one Side and Thunder Bear to get up and dance by themselves.  They were the best dancers.  The officer liked that.  (This was Colonel Carlin..AB)

Q: Did John Grass take a leading part in these dances?

A: No. He was often present but he did not lead them.  He was a dignified man.  He did not dance a great deal.

Q: Do you know about the Kiss Dance?

A: That was one of the danes that the Indians were put in the guard house for.  And they would be now.  The Agents did not like that.  But the white officer had the Indians dance that.  I tried to do that, myself, but I did not know the steps and everyone laughed (This was Jerome Standing Soldier speaking).  A man and a woman danced toward another man and woman.  Then the woman offered the man a dish of food, he kissed her.  Then she took off the nicest thing she was wearing and gave it to him.  If he offered her food, she kissed him and he gave her the finest thing he was wearing.  (Right here I wondered what happened if the same people were selected many times).  Sometimes they were embarrassed and did not really kiss.  Just put their cheeks together.  Then they were taken into the light and made to kiss full on the mouth.  The drums were beating and the singers were singing and everyone was having a good time.

Q: Did they pour the food on the woman’s head if she refused to be kissed?

A: No.  That was another dance.  The men asked the women to dance with them.  He asked her by touching her feet with his.  Then he started to dance alone.  If she did not follow him, that meant she refused his offer and she was taken in the center of the circle and the food poured on her hair.  I do not know the name of that dance.  But it was done a great deal.  The steps were different in this dance.

Q:  I have always read that the women used either red or yellow paint.  Did it matter which color they used?

A: They chose the color they liked better.  The one that made them look nice.  They painted to be beautiful.  Then there were honors that were painted on the face.  Mrs. Standing Soldier and her brother were honored.  They were seated on a bed of sweet grass.  A buffalo head (skull) was placed in front of them.  This had painted designs on it.  Then a dancer danced and made motions with his hands above their heads.  After that they could paint in lines down their foreheads and eyes, onto the cheeks.  Few were allowed to do this.  It was an honor and the paint was red.  The Indians all recognized this sign.  Their parents gave away horses.  And other presents.

The warriors painted, too.  And they did that when they went into battle to ready for death.  They always wore their best clothes.  Every warrior took his best moccasins with him and, just before he went into the fight, he put them on.  They wanted to die in the best.  And who knew when he would die?

Q: Do you consider John Grass a severe judge?

A: No.  He was just and fair.  He was a great man.  I have his picture here on the wall. (This was one I had not seen, in citizens clothes).

Q: Did you witness the Sun Dance?

A: The Agents did not like that one, either.  They stopped it in time.  But many Indians took it.  One time a half-blood took it and the Indians were glad.  They piled gifts at his feet until there was a tent full.  He took it through the breasts and the flesh would not break.  They swung him around and he leaned far back on the thongs.  It was hard to break his flesh.

Q: Did you know the Agent who did not like John Grass…Agent Stephan?  He tried to have him deposed as a Chief.  He said Grass was a leader in that Kiss Dance.

A: I never knew about that. John Grass never was a leader in that dance or any others.  He danced, sometimes, but he was an orator, not a dancer.  He did not do anything to annoy the Agent, I am sure. Now, I want to tell you about the Agent the Indians did not like.  He was here before Stephan.  I do not remember his name.  But he was afraid of the Indians and never allowed them in the same room with him.  When they came to see him, they had to talk through a small opening in the wall.  He kept the door locked.  One day the Indians broke the door in the took him.  They were going to throw him in the river.  He was no good.  But his wife sent word to the soldiers and she ran after the Indians and she kissed each one and begged them to let him to.  But the Agent had to leave the Agency that very day.

Jerome Standing Soldier speaking: I will show you some papers I have.  (These were the Commissions of his father, Standing Soldier, as 5th Sergeant of the Indian Police on Standing Rock, Dated Sept. 12, 1879; Sept. 8, 1880: Oct. 1, 1881; 4th Sergeant, dated Sept. 23, 1882; 1st Sergeant, dated July 1, 1885; Oct. 1 1886: and Sept. 23, 1887.  Also two Commissions as Judge of the Court of Indian Offenses, dated Feb. 13, 1889 and July 31, 1889.  The first one is signed by Jn. H. Oberly, Com. And the second by T. J. Morgan, Com.  The Police Commissions were signed by Agents Stephan and McLaughlin.)

Standing Soldier said, that 16 years ago, he was chairman of a committee to raise money for a big Council to be held at Standing Rock. While he was at Elbow Woods to collect, they had dances and among them, the Kiss Dance.  He had watched the others but did not know the steps, but a woman asked him to dance and so he had to or pay a fine.  He tried (here his wife interrupted to say she was ashamed of him.  He did not know enough to put his arm around the woman’s neck and one of the floor managers had to put his are there).  He was going to tell me some more about dances and just got started on the Buffalo Dance, when people came.  After they left, he said, “I want to tell you about the Black Crow that would talk.”  I got set to listen when many people came to pray for his wife who was quite ill.  So we left.

Mrs. Standing Soldier said, “You and Nellie come out again.  I want to tell you about Indian courtship, but I can’t tell you now.”  When we went there, she said, “I want to talk.”  And she filled per pipe with kinnikinick and tobacco and I lighted it for her.  Then she said, “Now you all smoke, too.”  We lit our cigarettes.  But too many people kept calling and we did not get many things said.

1941…Letter from John Cadotte in answer to the questions I asked him.

“Question: Where was John Grass camping when he had his vision?

This uncle, John Grass No. 2, and his father, mother and all the whole camping was always along the Missouri River from south down to Fort Pierre at the big bend and little band to North Grand River from here to Agency to Rocky Mountains.  He go up for the enemy.

Who was the Medicine Man who helped him?  (John Grass said he was 17 when this happened).)

Sicolaun (Barefoot).  He was a Great Medicine Man so he made the medicine for first son, Used as a Shield (John Grass No. 1).  Then he made some for his grandson, John Grass No. 2. That’s where Uncle Grass No. 2 got his medicine.

Question:  What tribe did he go against to win his warrior’s name?

Grass No. 2, he was against the Crow Indians.  The most longer fighter.  And he got wounded on his right foot while he was on his own horse in the war path.  And the bullet went through his foot and also wounded his horse on the right side toward the shoulder of his horse.  Not deep hole but wounded.

Question:  I have a story that John Grass told.  That his grandfather, Barefoot, gave him his warrior’s name, Charging Bear.  That Barefoot made a great ceremony—-feast—-and gave away horses. Is this true? Please tell me as much as you can.  Maybe it was his father, Used as a Shield.  I would like to know the true stories.

My uncle, John Grass No. 2, he was older enough to know lots of things.  He done it and he sees it, so he got his name Charging Bear by his great Medicine Man, Sicolaun, and also his father, Used as a Shield, so are gave away four horses, good horses, and gave him the name Charging Bear. He always wins the game of wars.  He was brave.

Question:  What was the name of the minniconjou woman, the mother of Owns Spotted?

John Grass No. 3, or Owns Spotted.  His mother I cannot located.  Even I ask my aunt, Mrs. Cross.  She could not remember her name.  She was a Rosebud woman.  I did not have in my big book. I might tell you later on.

Question:  Will you tell me something about the battle John Grass was in when he got his warrior’s name?

John Grass No. 2 when he got his warrior’s name he fought Rees Indians and Mandans.

My uncle, John Grass No. 2, he was one of the bravest men in the Sioux Blackfeet camping along the Missouri River up and down to on the other side of Pierre, or sometimes go near Sioux City and some back to Grand River Agency.  They are not much travel.  Only go to Black Hills for tipi poles every year before fall.  But when war time, they start from little band near Cheyenne River, south of the Agency now stands.  That time there was no Agency.  Only great once in a while when they got the rations of everything, maybe once a year.  Lately, they built the Agency for the Indians.  Mostly they were out northwestern all the time where there was lots of buffalos, and deers and bears.  Of all kinds of wild animals for good meat.

My uncle, John Grass No. 2, families and all their relatives and friends never go out much in the North Western Country, only when the big wars with the other tribes of Crows or the other tribes of their enemies.  That’s the times they are ready to go to the wars.  That’s where they got their big names and big chiefs of the tribes.

At this point Angela Boleyn adds her notes to Welch’s comments on Cadotte’s letter:

If I get the name of that mother of Owns Spotted, I will send it to you right away.  If I can’t get it, why it will be a later on. We all well, only its hot days. Thank you.”  (that’s for the carton of Old Gold Cigarettes. AB (Boleyn))

Dear AB (Welch):  Now you will understand this better than I do, I think. But if Sicolaun (Barefoot) were a great Medicine Man as well as a chief (that could be, I suppose) would that be why I do not find his name attached to any treaty?  He must have been important.  Yet there may have been a greater chief than himself.

And where he says “:little bend” in this letter, does he mean “Little band?”  Or does he mean the Indians camp together…the little bands and made big bands for war parties or large hunting parties…bends of the river or bands of Indians?

In writing that chapter where John Grass got his vision…I put it on the Powder River, where Barefoot’s band was hunting buffalo.  Perhaps I should change it to somewhere along the Missouri?  Otherwise, I have it right.

What he says about John Grass going on his war party to earn his name coincides with your story of one of his battles.  But now I am inclined to think that was where he sang that song, “I am wounded, Brothers, do not run so fast (too fast).”  And that must have been the same time he took the Crow’s things, tobacco pouch, and so on, and said he had a right to have them, and to paint the episode on his lodge and so on?

I have read that “Thunder Dreamers (usually they were the heyokas, the clowns or funny men, like Cross Bear)” were often fine warriors as well as Medicine Men.  It makes me wonder if Barefoot was a Thunder Dreamer.  But at all events, he was a Medicine Man and a Chief.  I suppose when I get to working on the Blackfeet history when this book is completed, I’ll find out a lot of stuff about those old men, and especially Barefoot.  For the purpose of this story, I need not go into that.

I know you are too busy to answer now, but when you get time, analyze this letter like a nice person.  I’ll correct any mistakes I make in this particular chapter.  But it is a very interesting one.  From the very first, John Grass goes ‘famous’ and keeps right on.  “To be brave is the greatest thing.”  And he surely lived up to that adage.

I think John Grass earned his name in June or July because he said, “After that the sun dance was made.” and that was in one of those months, I seem to understand from my reading.  So it would not have been near the Black Hills.  Place is not so important, only I would like to be as accurate as possible. AB.

Boleyn answers Welch request for background on Grass’ battle participation:

“….it was arranged that, in the summer of 1863, General Sibley should lead an expedition into the Sioux Country…General Sibley should conduct a cooperating column by boats up the Missouri……

Sibley struck the Sioux at Big Mound, July 24, 1863 (Here the soldiers destroyed stores and equipment which the Indians had abandoned in their precipitate and unexpected retreat).

Dead Buffalo Lake Battle was fought July 26, 1863.

Battle of Stony Lake was fought July 28, 1863.  (Sibley was pursuing them and the Sioux finally crossed the Missouri about five miles below present site of Bismarck near Burned Boat Island, now known as Sibley Island). Here is where the women crossed on rafts and bull boats and wrote ….. “…..driven in confusion and dismay, with the sacrifice of vast quantities of subsistence, clothing and means of transportation across the Missouri River, many, perhaps, most of them, to perish miserably in their utter destitution during the coming fall and winter…..”

As I understand from your notes, John Grass was in these three battles.  I suppose Used as a Shield was, too.  Therefore, Many Thank You Woman fled before the white soldiers, enduring terror, hardship and the ills that were part of such a campaign.  Yes?

After a delay, owing to low water, Sully arrived, found Sibley gone, but many of the Indians back on the east side of the Missouri and went after them.  The Battle of White Stone Hill resulted.  (Indians were close enough to use their bows and arrows and other primitive weapons.)  Sully returned to his base on the Missouri and then went down the river to Missouri…..

It was thought that the Sioux should be punished some more, so in 1864, Sully lead another expedition into the Sioux Country and carried the war west of the Missouri River.  Sully built Fort Rice in July 1864, after crossing the river July 9th.

Battle of Killdeer Mountain was fought July 28, 1864.  In this surprise attack the Indians lost everything…soldiers destroyed tons of food, etc.  Great suffering ensued and hatred for whites was mounting.

Battle of the Badlands was a sort of running fight, I take it.  The Indians fighting to allow the women, children and the aged to escape, August 8, 1864.  On August 9, the Indians showed fight but to hold the soldiers while their people escaped as the day before.

After Killdeer Mountains fight, Indians broke up into bands to hunt and cure more meat and make more robes for the rigors of the coming winter.  One of these bands under the leadership of John Grass.  And he met Capt. James L. Fiske, September 1, 1864.  Held him there 17 days.  This place of siege was named Fort Dilts. (I have been there, but at the time I did not know I would one day write about it. AB)

Concerning Fire Heart:

If Fire Heart was four years younger than John Grass, then he was but 15 in 1856 when he was chief of the Sihasapas by Harney.  That does not seem plausible, does it?  Grass was 19 then, a warrior of two winters.  Used as a Shield was chief, sort of taking things over from Barefoot (his father).  (Senor, I grow confused when I try to place all these people.)  I have always thought of young Fire Heart, the one who was at Pierre in 1856, and the son of the one who signed at Hidden Creek in 1825 (or 1828, I cannot remember without consulting my notes) as being a bit younger than Used as a Shield, but I guess he was more John Grass’ (your Ate’s) age. Well, he was there and he did not become the great leader Harney planned but was, as you say, a fine man and a chief.  But he was not a chief in 1856 for Bear Ribs said to Harney, “My brother, Fire Heart, who has just spoke, is like me…nobody.  I say so because you thin I am somebody; you will know from traders and interpreters who I am….”  Bear Ribs was ‘nobody’ either, but Harney made him the chief of the Hunkpapas.  Little Thunder said he was not a chief, but Harney gave him a ‘chief’s’ paper, too.  I have a copy of that so I suppose that he gave the same kind of papers to all his hand-picked leaders.



c.1941…Angela Boleyn reveals titles of first two chapters of her bio of John Grass in this undated page of a letter to Welch (pages before and after missing):

“Writing this, keeping the Indian point of view and that of Used as a Shield, the father of John Grass; getting in the necessary information, without getting myself into it (the historian’s observations and comments) is the great problem.

Miss Phillips (candidate for Agent?) says I have a splendid beginning and should keep the whole story in the same vein.  (So I take myself out of the narrative, but am soon back again).  But that I shall have to step in, perhaps, in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, because this is important to set up the conditions that influence his actions as the story unfolds.  But perhaps you have an idea on this, if I explain a little of what I am trying to do.

In the first chapter, A CHIEF IS BORN, I get him into the world in the proper manner, I think, with the picture of his mother, her surroundings and the necessary background.  Miss Phillips says, “with fine interest for the reader.”  Then in the second, HIS DESTINY IS FIXED, I have tried to set up the reasons for all he does in the future, for in looking back over his life, it seems to me that the colorful fragments all fit into a mosaic of definite pattern. And as if that pattern had been previously set or drawn for him.

These, it seems to me are the things that “fixed his destiny.”  The time had come for the settling of the land, the day of the wild, free Indian was done.  It was the method that made the trouble….the broken treaties and promises, and so on. The Indian must meet and take on the white man’s civilization.  His sun was setting, on the brink of the horizon, but to rise in greater glory if he escaped utter destruction.  He was painted for death , as a nation.  The very year Grass was born, the Sioux sold and parted with the first of their territory that was to grow less and less.  When they touched the pen to that treaty, they…………………………

Grave of John Grassgrass37-tombstone

Chief Grass’ monument over his grave, had been the point of interest all day to the people of the camp.  It had been set up the day before.  After dinner, I went to Ina Grass’ tent.  She asked me if I had had dinner and I said no.  She then gave me a dish of Wasna, two boiled eggs, pilot bread and cold coffee.  I ate this in the tent.  Several people came while I was eating and entered the tent, shook hands with me and went out.  Soon I heard someone singing close by.  He was singing about Chief Grass.  I heard people gathering around for the feast which Mrs. Grass was to give.  When I had finished and went out there were about 150 people sitting in the circle with their cups and pans and buckets.  In the center of the circle was the food prepared.  I sat in the circle.  Soon, Mr. Tibbits made a rather long prayer, followed by Little Crow in a speech.  After this they told me they would like to hear me talk, and I told them about John Grass and his far-sighted friendly policy toward the whites in the early days.  Mrs. Grass then talked, after which she and several other old women served the eats.  First came boiled mean and soup; then a large handful of wasna; pilot bread and great slices of soft bread; a slice of bacon; stewed tomatoes and coffee.



Obituary Information

John Grass obituary article







Photos of John Grass







Philosophy about Dying





A ‘State Visit’ by the Gros Ventres, 1913

While present at a large camp of Dakotah during the early fall of 1913, at Fort Yates, I noticed quite a large number of Gros Ventre visitors.  They were taking part in the dances and feasts.  A number of Rees were also present.  I could tell them from the Sioux by the pompadour hair they wore, in a great sweeping wave back from their foreheads.  They had received an invitation to be present.  The head chief among them and a number of men were from Fort Berthold.  I was sitting in the tipi of Chief Grass and we were talking.  His woman was also there preparing food.

The flap over the entrance was opened and in came the head man and several others of the Gros Ventres.  They all shook hands with Chief Grass and sat down.  Mrs. Grass went out at once.  Chief Grass filled his pipe from his own tobacco pouch and I lit it with a coal from the fire in the middle of the tipi.  After getting it to draw well, he passed it to the head man of the Gros Ventre, who slowly and deliberately took the smoke in in long deep draws and finished the draw with a hissing sound.  He then handed it back to Grass who smoked a few draws and tapped the kinikinick down solid with the pipe stick and passed it to me.  I smoked then a few draughts and passed it back to Grass.  He then passed it to one of the other men present and after he smoked, he, in turn, passed to another of the visitors, and after they had all smoked, it was back again in the old Chief’s hands.

Grass then said: “This is my son, Mato Watakpe.”

Then all came and shook hands with me and returned to their places and sat down and said, “Hao.”  The pipe was again passed around the circle: the Gros Ventre chief then said a few things to Grass in the sign language, inviting him to return the call at some future time.  They then all left the tipi, Grass and myself remaining seated.  They each shook hands with each of us as they went out.  Mrs. Grass then came in and went at her interrupted work.

The Gros Ventres were all dressed up in their best regalia.  Their hair was stiff in pompadour in front and the back hair was decorated with black, red and yellow-painted sticks about six inches long in the braid.  I afterward saw them in all their old clothes for travel.



State Visit with Welch

I arrived at Fort Yates late one day, with the intention of visiting my foster father, Chief John Grass.  I sent word by a young man mounted, together with a present of a small portion of smoking tobacco for the Chief, and to say that I would be pleased to make a call upon him in the evening if he so desired.  The Chief’s tipi was out upon the bare prairie some distance from where I was staying at the Major’s Headquarters House.  The young messenger soon returned with a present of tobacco, mountain again and galloped away.

In the evening I walked toward the tent of the Chief in the camp circle. A large ceremonial tipi had been erected about in the middle of the Hunkpapa part of the great camp.  It was set in toward the center of the line of tipis about 100 feet away from the line of other tipis.  A large American Flag flew at the entrance from a high pole and a fire in the open burned about twenty five feet in front of the entrance.  The entire camp appeared to be very quiet with the exception of the drums and tom-toms throbbing across the circle, nearly a mile away at the camp of the Bull Heads.  It was very dark.

As I walked along seeking out the proper place of reception a dog started after me, but the sharp hissing sound of some woman called him back.  Inside the ceremonial tipi before mentioned a small fire threw reflections of sitting men and I made my way toward it.  As I approached I passed several men sitting on the ground, but they made no movement and did not speak.

Presently some men started to sing.  I had already passed the singer.  I listened and soon recognized the son as being about myself, as my name was repeated several times.  The singer was also walking toward the ceremonial tipi and reached it before I did.  He stood with his back to the entrance and continued his song in a low voice.  Presently some man spoke a few words inside the tipi before which I stood and the singer motioned my entrance.

I lifted the lodge flap and entered.  I passed toward the back side of the tipi with the fire in the middle, at my right hand, and took a seat upon the Blanket at the left side of Chief Grass, where a vacant place had evidently been left for me to occupy.  There were about fifteen men sitting around the tipi, facing the fire.  They remained silent and the Chief shook me by the hand and motioned me to be seated.

After a few minutes (haste is deemed impolite in any ceremony) silence, the Chief reached for his pipe and tobacco bag and proceeded to fill the pipe and light it with a flowing stick which he plucked from the fire.  In this he was very particular to get one with a flowing end, and not with a flame upon it.  After he got the pipe going well, he handed it to me, stem first.  I took it and took two sucking draws, expelled the smoke, held it for a few seconds and then handed it back to him.  He then took a couple of draws with the same sucking sound.  No one had paid me the slightest attention up to this time except Grass.  He then said something to the men in his ceremonial voice, which is so different from that of the common conversational note.

He passed the pipe to a man clear across the ring by the entrance, who smoked it and then it passed from hand to hand until it finally got around to him again.  Then all the present got to their feet, one at a time, and came across to me and shook my hand with the common salutation, ‘Hao,’ and then went back to his own place.

The singing man outside  had been joined by others until there were at least eight men singing outside in the darkness.  Then I noticed the singing of an approaching band of women, coming from some distance.  These women formed a circle around the tipi and danced and sang during the balance of the visit, except during the speeches when they came close to the canvas and listened.

After several speeches had been made by myself and the Indians, a woman entered bearing a boiler of coffee.  Soon another brought a lot of fried bread and soon thereafter, a man entered with a large dishpan full of meat.  Conversation at this time was all of a ceremonious nature and inclined to be flattering.

The Chief was helped presently to a piece of the fried bread and a cup of coffee, which was placed on the ground by one of the men at the foot of Chief Grass.  He, himself, then took a sharpened stick and helped himself to some of the meat from the kettle.  I was the next to receive bread and coffee, and I followed the Chief’s example and took out a piece of the meat with a sharp stick.  Then the rest of the party helped themselves as they desired.  The meat was rather dark, but not ill-tasting at all and was boiled very tender.  The portion I happened to draw from the kettle was a shoulder blade, and I soon identified it as that of a dog.  Our feast was of dog meat, a ceremonial feast dish.  It was eaten in silence and, after another smoke around, each talked as he desired and the conversation was not deep, but mostly of olden times.

We finally were addressed by the Chief who said how glad he was that his son was there with them, too, etc., and then we all went out into the open air and joined the dancing which had, by this time, developed into a large gathering of dancers and many who did not.  After a couple of dances with them, I said that I would now go.  The same man went ahead of me, singing, and when I reached the outside of the camp circle he shook hands with me and went back to the dance.

I returned to the Major’s house and, for a long time after that night, I could hear the throb of the drums and the voices of the singers and dancers occasionally reached me, borne upon the wings of the night wind.  It had been an interesting ceremony, evidently done according to due ‘form and ceremony’ in accordance with time-honored method.



Sioux Great Men

When the Wanamaker Expedition came to the Standing Rock I was asked to accompany the party by Dr. J. Kussuth Dixon, Archeologist in Charge.  When we reached Fort Yates, Chief Grass came to pay his respects to the Doctor.  The following conversation took place during the visit:


Question  – Chief Grass, in your opinion, who is the greatest Sioux Indian of history?

Answer  – The Sioux have produced some very great men; Red Cloud was a great orator and warrior and statesman;  Gall was a splendid general and organizer;  Sitting Bull was a man of much personality for force;  Crazy Horse was a dashing but thoughtful solider.  We now have living, men of splendid perception and power of reasoning, however, sorrowful it is that they are not endowed with a great amount of executive ability.


“These men I have mentioned, had they been permitted to grow and expand, would have held up our Dakotah Nation to the admiration of the world, I believe.  But they are all dead now.  It is my opinion that, if this nation had been left alone, had been permitted to work out their own salvation as other young nations have done before and since, when they first came into touch with the effects of civilization, they would have produced some fine specimens of mental manhood.  They would have become capable of seeing their destiny and the responsibility of government and advancement along the lines of civilized customs, and seeing it, they would have developed the power of thought and mentality which would have carried this nation to an apex of respect and admiration among the great nations and peoples of the world.  I am sure of this.  I am sorry we were not permitted to do this.  We wanted to.”

“We were not permitted to, however, and today there is no hate in my heart for the white people, but a great and sorrowful anguish for my own people.  Their past was a glorious one.  Their history was a story of the overthrowing of many serious obstacles and the perpetrating of very great wrongs against my people.”


“I never went to war then I did not think that I was entirely in the right.  As the running deer in the deep snow is ham-strung by the wolf; as the drifting log is grounded along the bank by the swift currents which make whirlpools; as an old man is caught among the tipis when the camp is rushed by a hostile force; as the strong, old, gnarled mountain cedar is at last snapped off by the swiftly sliding snow, inevitable as the advance of the storm clouds, as surely as the coming of the night time, my people have gone, borne down by the great Captains of the Army and the Power of Washington.”



U.S.Flag, emblem of mistreatment

John Grass talks to Welch, undated:

“The United States flag is very pretty.  I have known the flag for a long time.  But it never stood for liberty for the Dakotah People. When the soldiers were here at Fort Yates, the common soldier used us very badly.

“I can count many grandfathers. My family were noble people and were chiefs always.  I am proud myself and always try to be an honorable man.  I represent the ruling class of Indians and men who like to see the people advance.  I have always stood for peace and harmony.  Yet the soldier would kick me out of his pathway, because I was an Indian.

“The flag always flew above the soldier.  We could not see much good in the soldier, so we grew to look upon the flag above him as the emblem of his mistreatment of us, for wherever the flag flew, we knew there was trouble for us.”



Support of World War I war effort





White Man…his first meeting

Grass talks to Welch about the first white man he ever saw (Spring 1841):

“One spring when we were still in winter camp, about ‘They wear snow shoes winter (see Blue Thunder Count for 1841),’  we were on Palanki Wakpe (Grande River).  I was  a small child then. “

“One morning there was a great excitement.  The people were all running to one side of the camp.  A man came walking.  Another came with him, an Indian (interpreter). I was very ‘scare.’  It was the first time I had ever seen a man who was white.  I had heard about them and was afraid.  My grandfather was head chief and he treated him very well and slept him on soft robes in a separate tipi.  He was a ‘black robe’ man.”

(The sign language for a priest or black robe man, is for the first two fingers of the hand to be carried to the lips and the fingers worked rapidly back and forth in and to the front of the lips at an angle of about 45 dgs.).

“The next morning he called all the children of the camp together and poured water upon them.  I did not know then just what this thing meant, but we thought he wanted to make ceremony.  I do know now.  It was what we call baptized.  I was a Catholic now.  He was a very good man.  He stayed with us only a day or two and then walked away somewhere.  His name was Smith (note:  this was Father De Smit).

(Note:  Little Chief says, “This great explorer and influence for good among the Dakotah was known to them as Chanopa Yuha (Carries the Pipe)…probably for his good intentions and counsel toward them.)


c.1940 discussion about John Grass probably meeting Father DeSmet in 1841:

Father DeSmet writes from St. Louis University, on Feb. 4, 1841…….”On the ninth day we were in the lands of the Blackfeet Sioux; the country is undulating and intersected with numerous small streams.  For greater caution we traveled in ravines.  Toward dinner time, a fine landscape, near a delicious stream, seemed to invite us to take some repose.  We had scarcely alighted, when all of a sudden a tremendous yell alarmed us, and from the top of the hill under which we were, the Blackfeet darted upon us like lightning.  “Why do you hide yourselves?” asked the Chief in a stern voice.  “Are you afraid of us?”  Dressed in my cassock with my crucifix on my breast….a costume I always wear in the Indian Country….it appeared to me I was the subject of his particular enquiry.  He asked the Canadian (interpreter) what kind of a man I was.  The Frenchman said I was a Chief, a Black-Gown, the man who spoke to the Great Spirit.  He assumed immediately a milder countenance, ordered his men to lay down their arms, and we preformed the ceremony of shaking hands and smoking the calumet of peace.  He then invited me to accompany them, to the village, situated only a short distance.  It consisted of about a thousand souls.  I pitched my tent at some distance, in a beautiful pasture, on the margin of a fine stream, and invited the great chief to partake of a fine supper with me.  As I said grace before meal, he enquired of the Canadian what I was about.  “He is addressing the Great Spirit,” was the reply,” for the food he has granted us.”  The Chief nodded a sign of approbation.  Shortly after, twelve warriors, seizing in each a piece of the robe, took me up, and headed by their chief, carried me in triumph to their village.  In the lodge of the great chief the most conspicuous place was reserved for me and he addressed me thus: “This day is the happiest of my life.  For the first time do we behold among us a man who is closely united with the Great Spirit.  Black-Gown, you see before you the warriors of my tribe; I have invited them to this feast, in order that they might keep the remembrance of your coming among us as long as they shall live.” Then he invited me to speak again to the Great Spirit (to my grace).  I began in the name of the Father and of the Son, etc., and immediately all present lifted their hands toward heaven; when I concluded they all struck the ground.  I asked the chief what they meant by this ceremony.  “When we lift up our hands,” said he, “we signify that all our dependence is in the Great Spirit, and that he, in all his fatherly care, provides for all our wants;  we strike the ground to signify that we are only worms and miserable creeping things in his sight.”  He asked me in his turn what I said to the Great Spirit.  Unhappily, the Canadian was a poor interpreter, still I endeavored to make them understand, as well as I could, the Lord’s Prayer.  The Chief showed great eagerness to know what I said…..He ordered his son and two other very intelligent young men to accompany me to the fort, in order to learn the principles of the Christian Doctrine, and to be at the same time a safeguard against the Indians who might be inimically disposed toward us……………….”

Angela Boleyn comments to Welch:   In one of your notes I took, I believe Grass (that is, John Grass) says that his grandfather carried him to the missionary.  But I seem to get the idea, or feeling, that both his father and grandfather were there at the time. This sounds like the grandfather (Sicola) for he says “He sent his son and two other intelligent men “… John Grass was only 4 or 5 years old.  If this were the son of Sicola, then Used Him as a Shield was a sub-chief, instead of the real chief of the Sihasapa in 1841.  Of course it could have been the son of one of his other wives (not Many Thank You Woman).  At all events, we know that Sicola and Used Him as a Shield were both big men among the Sihasapa and no doubt among the Teton Sioux.  (AB)

NOTES:  This story was given to me by Auntie Cross (Bear), the sister of Chief John Grass, without prompting, in the fall of 1939.  There can be little doubt but that the episode took place on Oak Creek, near the present Wakpala, and indicates that John Grass’ grandfather was principal chief, and that his son, Used His as a Shield (John Grass’ father), was one of the young men sent to guide him.  Grass would be about 5 years of age then, and was probably baptized by Fr. DeSmet at that time.  Sicola (Barefoot) was the grandfather referred to above.  The camp to which they carried DeSmet was at a favorite camping spot of the Sihasapa and well within their area or habitat. Mrs. Cross mentioned the fact that his party were following the gullies and low places, as though they were afraid (Welch)



White People … his last message





Albert Grass, his grandson



Address by A. B. Welch, Maj. F.A.R.C., Funeral Ceremonies of Albert Grass, Co. “A,” 18th Inf., 1st Div., Cannon Ball, N.D. May 19, 1921


“In the cemetery at Fort Yates stands a stone.  It is erected over the body of your great Chief, John Grass.  On it is written “Remember me at your gatherings.”  We do remember him today for today we bury his grandson.

“Today, by the hands of former comrades, has been laid to rest, the body of a brave man: a soldier killed in battle.  Reverently, sorrowing friends and blood relatives have followed the casket up the virgin slopes of this green, grassed hill and have seen the broken body lowered into its last resting place.  The bosom of his own lived country has at last received him and like a fond mother, the soil from which he sprung, has tenderly gathered him to herself in death.

“Only a soldier dead.”  – an Indian boy, Albert Grass, whom the old people call Hehake Mani (Walking Elk)  – but what a splendid soldier and what a glorious death he met.  We honor him today and we are not ashamed of the tears which may fall or the voice which may tremble with emotion.  Our thoughts come faster than words as we remember that he was probably the first Indian in the United States to volunteer for service in the Great War, and that he and other comrades who are here today, received their first soldier’s training and instructions from us in the early spring of 1917.

“But however well-trained, no cool skill or frenzied personal bravery could save him on that July day in 1918, when savage death rode through the air and tore at the earth, upon the wings of a swirling tornado of infernal destructiveness and fierce Hunnish frightfulness, which swept the hills and wheat fields west of the Paris-Soissons Road.

“For three days he had fought with his Battalion in such a battle as the Americans had never known before then.  With roar of hundreds of heavy guns in his ears; the stunning crash of rending shells; the maniacal chatter of machine guns; the steady undertone of rifle fire; with the ever-present danger of low flying enemy planes and with the grass bending low before the sweeping deluge of sudden death  – this man volunteered to supply his few remaining living and wounded comrades with water.  In this he undertook an act of valor to perform, beyond that which could be expected from any brave man.  And in that self-imposed mission of loyalty, he heroically lost his life.  With the battle cry of his fathers upon his lips and with his rifle hot in his hands, his life was torn from him as swiftly as by a stroke of lightning.  And there upon the shell-wrecked ground, made sacred to us by the very fact of his blood thus shed for principle and freedom, he lay dead upon the altar of devotion and sacrifice.

“But we declare to you that he did not die in vain and today we feel inclined to renew our friendship with our brave allies who fought by our side that day  – and to permit the blood of this fallen hero to cement us even closer to our beloved country, and to pledge that this Nation shall receive our best efforts of devoted loyalty.

“But our enemies must not expect us to clasp their barbarian hands, so recently raised to slay the civilization of the world, while we still hear the death song of the Dakotahs, nor to sit down and smoke calmly with them while some of our young men lie in nearby tents with the rattle of death in their throats from lungs weakened by poisoned gas.  We Indians must not be expected to bury our differences before we have finished burying our dead.

“Let our despised enemies first indicate a disposition to be truly honest; let them show to us a repentant spirit for the horror of the ghastly crimes which this dead body of our typifies  – then, only then, can we be expected to think about forgiveness.  They must first realize that, by their lawless acts which sprung from an egotistical desire for world power, they have placed themselves outside the circle of comradeship of the Nations and the confidence of this People, even as in the olden days, you drove men out of the camps and into the wilderness, to live alone, for some crime by them committed.

“These impressive ceremonies of today bring again to our hearts, the griefs of the yesterdays, when you received word that this young man and his comrade, Blue Earth, had perished in battle.  Our hearts bleed afresh and we mourn with those to whom they were so dear.  It is well, however, lest we forget too quickly, the sacrifices others have made for us all.  And hereafter, when we see the morning sun touch, with a finger of golden fire, the summit of this empurpled holy place, and the flaming banners of the new day flash from the thousand hills of this, your home, may we not forget that heroism is not along of the battle field, but is an attribute which may be cultivated and practiced in the common events of our every-day lives.  Let the memory of this scene and of this young soldier’s life and heroic death, be an inspiration to us and to the generations which come after us.”

Interpreter  – John Brown







Albert Grass funeral procession






Amanda Grass (Ina), his wife

Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, Nov. 28, 1919:


Back of Photo



Mrs. Grass talks to Welch, Nov. 28, 1919

“I am 67 years old now (born on Niobrara river, south of Black Hills, 1852).  My Ate (father) died when he was 56 years old.  The soldiers were after us all the time then, but he died and was buried on the Taca Wakpe.  He died of a sickness and was not killed by the soldiers.  That place is about 25 days walk from here (Mandan).  The Sihasapa camped in the winter time, many times on the Chon Shoke Wakpe (Little Missouri river) where there was much timber and water and game.

“John Grass always had much meat for the cold times and many people would come to our tipi to eat.  I always used 12 or 13 buffalo hides for my tipi and it was warm there.

“My father and mother were both Minneconjou, and he was Itancan Ota among our people. There were five children in my father’s family.  One, Waga Ska (White Swan), was a great warrior against the Crows.  My father was a very good talker and all the people listened to him.  When he died, all the people were very sorry and cried and wept.  My mother is buried in the Holy Ground at Wakpala, S.D., and my relatives named Swan live there.  My father was Makpiya Maza (Iron Cloud).”

Mrs. Grass tells of a love affair to Mrs. Welch, Mandan, N.D., May 1st 1921, with Vivian Gayton as interpreter:

“My Indian name before I married Chief Grass was Campeska Imanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman).  When I was a young girl I was good looking and had very many beaus.  I had a hundred.   Some of them were white men, too.  I had one who wanted to marry me at once.  I had a sister, too.  John Grass went with her for seven years before he married her.  He bought her for seven horses and two guns.  They put up their own tipi then.  She was not very well.  She did not want to marry him very bad.  She wanted me to have him.  So he bought me, too.  He paid seven ponies, one gun and a revolver for me.  So were both with him them.  He was very good man.  He never spoke harsh word to me as long as he lived.  We had children, too.  We used to dress up and go to the white dances.  We sat and watched them.  We did not know how to dance with them.  When they got through and blew out the lights we went home then.

Mrs. Grass talks about her name, undated:

“My name was Campeska Imanipiwin (Walking on the Shell Woman).  It was my aunt’s name and was a good name.  My English name is Cecelia.  There was some mix in the names and on some of the Government rolls I am called Amanda Grass.  It should be Cecelia Grass.”


I was in the office and ask again about your father’s land and I have found out the truth of it.

It is realy so that he has taken that good land away from me it is all fixed in the office for him.  The quarter that is sold he gives me 40 acres towards the house and he takes on towards the river that is all of the timber and hay land and leaves me 19 acres of sandbar.

That’s no good to me.  Now I wished you….(second page follows)


Reversed note at top:  I ate up the meat that you gave me and have no more to eat.

…would write to the first man Butterfield that bought the quarter and find out from him if he bought the hole quarter or if it as it is drawn.  I know my self it is the hole quarter.  You many be able to make out the picture of the land that 40 acres is what they give me after it has been sold and he takes the rest of the good land and timber and where it is marked 19 acres is left for me.  I want that man to take just the quarter that is sold and not any of the other.  Walter Swan’s boy is very sick and he want to see me so I may go after New Years.

Love to you both….Mother …. Mrs. Grass.


I was very glad to hear from you, I am staying at Mrs. La Monte’s place one north of Moreau Jct.  I’ve wrote to the New Agent for money but instead of sending it, he wants me to go back up there and stay at the Hospital but I’ve stayed there before and they never helped me & I don’t care of staying at any Hospital.  I’ve been in every hospital around here, even down on Cheyenne River Agency and I don’t want to stay at any more hospitals……..


….so when you come at Fort Yates I wish you would speak to the Agent about sending me some money.  I haven’t gotten any money ever since I seen you last, and I haven’t got a cent now, but I’m getting good care here and I would rather stay here than at a Hospital.

I’ve got two hundred fifty dollars in the office and I wish you can get him to send it to me

Your loving Mother, Mrs. John Grass.

Welch with his Indian mother, Amanda Grass, seated, 1921