Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blue Thunder: Profile of a US Indian Scout's Service

Blue Thunder: A U.S. Indian Scout's Service
Yanktonai Dakota Man Enters Military Service

By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - The role of the US Indian Scouts consisted of four duties: to gather intelligence about the land and people therein, to interpret languages when or if needed, to run down deserters, and to deliver correspondence between the forts on the frontier, and to & from the campaign trail. 
Brigadier General Alfred Howe Terry is pictured above.

On March 6, 1873, Brigadier General Terry issued General Orders No. 19:

During the last five years, “Indian scouts,” enlisted under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved July 28, 1866, have been employed at many of the military posts of this Department. As a rule, they have renounced entirely their former habits and modes of life, and in assuming the uniform of the military service, they have conformed to its requirements in a manner worthy of all praise and of the emulation of their white comrades. They have performed the same duties as are imposed upon white soldiers serving on the frontier, with a prompt obedience, with a cheery alacrity, courage, skill, and intelligence which have won the highest applause from their military superiors. The Department Commander desires that his high appreciation of their services in the past shall be made known to every scout in the command, accompanied by the assurance that their good conduct has been brought to the attention of those still higher in military rank and command, and is duly appreciated by them. To this end he directs that each and every post commander where scouts are employed, shall cause this order to be, under his personal supervision, so read and in interpreted to them that all shall fully understand the degree of commendation intended.

In addition to the commendation, hereinbefore expressed and intended to apply to all the scouts, the following instances of good conduct have attracted the Department Commander’s attention, and are by him worthy of special mention, viz.:

Extract from the report of Colonel D. S. Stanley, 22nd Infantry, commanding the “Yellowstone Expedition,” dated October 28th, 1872:

“First Lieutenant Eben Crosby, 17th Infantry, left his camp to hunt, and when about one and half (1 ½) miles from camp, was surrounded and murdered by 100 mounted Sioux. The day before this murder, this same party had discovered the five Santee scouts who had served me during the summer, and whom I had sent to Fort Rice with dispatches. The wild Sioux attacked these brave fellows at sunrise, at Heart Butte, and kept up the fight for nearly fifty miles and during the entire day. The Santees [sic] were well armed, had 100 rounds each, and they kept their assailants off and came off themselves with the loss of two of their horses, and their blankets, clothing, and some accoutrements, which they dropped to lighten their horses. I recommend these brave Santees [sic] to the notice of the Commander of the Department.”

Captain Seth Eastman painted this scene of Fort Rice.

The names of the scouts above referred to are, Chaska [Firstborn Son], Hepkakwajidan, Kapojan, Omanisa [Walks Red, or Walks White (note: without a diacritical accent mark, translating the name correctly poses a problem) [smudge], Waakakahan. 

Extract from the report of Colonel T. L. Critenden, 17th Infantry, commanding Fort Rice, dated November 11th, 1873:

“A Sioux Indian by the name of ‘Goose’, “ “ “ “ “ [quotations in reference to scouts already listed by Brigadier General Terry] carried the dispatch, to Colonel Stanley, commanding the Yellowstone Expedition, and brought back an answer in eight days from his departure. It is needless to speak of the extreme peril he encountered, or to any that except through Indians no such rapid communication could have been had with Colonel Stanley. 

Attention is also [unreadable] to the conduct of “Cold Hand,” also a Sioux scout at this post. Some time last summer, during my absence from the post, a party of Indians stole most of the horses belonging to the scouts at this post, and carried them beyond to the Yellowstone. Cold Hand accompanied by four Indians that he induced to follow him , pursued and overtook these robbers, recaptured his horses, and brought them safely back. 

Only about ten days since, Cold Hand, with three other scouts, all Sioux, left here with the mail for Grand River. On the way, they were attached by a party about thirty strong. Cold Hand and his party repulsed these Indians, wounding one badly, and capturing two horses, which, together with the mail, they delivered safely at Grand River. 

When it is remembered that the Indians who attacked these scouts belong to the Sioux tribe, and live at Grand River, when not at war, and that they duty of the scouts requires them to go to Grand River weekly, I think the conduct of these scouts can only be regarded as very remarkable for fidelity and courage. I even think it worthy of some notice from the War Department, and I am sure that such notice would do good.

The Department Commander takes great pleasure in recommending all the above named scouts to the notice of the President of the United States, and in requesting for them the “Certificate of Merit” authorized by the 17th section of the Act of Congress, approved March 3d, 1847. 

By Command of Brigadier General Terry.

O. D. Greene,

OFFICIAL: [signed O.D. Greene]

Captain, 6th Infantry
Blue Thunder sits outside his lodge down by the Missouri River near Fort Yates, (Dakota Territory) North Dakota. Photo by Frank Fiske.

On July 2, 1873, Brigadier General Terry sent another letter, this time to Edward Parmelee Smith, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, requesting recognition of service of two more US Indian Scouts:

To the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington DC


Recently, at Fort Rice, I was informed that each of the Indian Scouts mentioned in the enclosed copy had been furnished a Medal from the Indian Bureau or by some one of its agents. I am just in receipt of a Communication from the War Department informing me of the decision of the Honorable Secretary of War that the “Certificates of Merit” asked for by me on behalf of these Indians could not be under the law, made to apply to them. In view of this decision I have the honor to request that you will give such instructions, if prachcable [sic, practical?], and you think proper, as will insure. The issue of medals to “Blue Thunder” and “Bear-Coming-Out” Sioux Indians employed as Scouts at Fort Rice and referred to in the enclosed Copy of an Official Report from the Commanding Officer Fort Abraham Lincoln. I am reliably informed these Indians were much incited to their meritououes [sic, meritorious?] Conduct by the hope of receiving Medals and I am satisfied such Award to them would have a beneficial effect not only upon the particular Indians but upon all others in the Military Service.

I am Sir Very respectfully Your obedient Servant

[signed Alfred H. Terry]

Brigadier General, USA Comm
On August 15, 1873, Captain William Thompson Commander of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Rice, sent the following letter to Captain O. D. Greene:


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 29th ultimo [of last month] enclosing two Silver medals for presentation to “Blue Thunder”and “Bear-Comes-Out,” Indian Scouts, and to report that the medals were duly presented by me today to the scouts to whom they were awarded, with a full and clear explanation as to why the presents were made.

The recipients were highly pleased with the medals and adhered fully to appreciate the commendatory nature of the correspondence on the subject – all of which was carefully interpreted to them – as well as the explanatory remarks made by me. A copy of the correspondence referred to was also given to each Indian in consideration of the high estimation in which a testimonial of this character is always held by their race.

Very respectfully your obedient servant
[smudge; signed –smudge – Thompson, Captain –smudge – Cavalry]

Blue Thunder pictured here old and blind when this was taken. He still maintained a tipi behind his cabin by the river's edge down by Fort Yates, ND. When he went on his last journey isn't known, but he took it sometime in the early 1920s. 

Blue Thunder enlisted as a US Indian Scout at Fort Rice for a couple of years before transferring to Fort Yates where he served a few more years. He wasn’t accorded the Certificate of Merit as requested by General Terry because Blue Thunder wasn’t a US citizen. 

Blue Thunder later fought in a three-day gun fight at the Little Heart Butte fourteen miles southwest of Fort Abraham Lincoln, in 1874. He held off an estimated 100 “wild” Sioux from attacking Fort Abraham Lincoln. 

The Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1916. Blue Thunder died a US citizen sometime in 1922-23. Blue Thunder so impressed the citizens of Mandan, ND that they put his image above the Mandan Fire Department which can still be seen today, bottled a soft drink they called “Blue Thunder,” and used his imagery to represent the city. 

This image of Blue Thunder was carved out of granite by Mandan artist Hynek Rybnicek. 

Some might regard the US Indian Scouts as “sell-outs” or “traitors” but the times were that a man would do what he had to do to feed his family. With the bison disappearing across the Great Plains, many native men enlisted not just because it afforded a chance to take revenge on an enemy tribe, but to provide for their loved ones. 

Above is the cover of Traditional Lakota Songs by the Porucpine Singers. Their music can now be purchased on iTunes. Go support these traditional singers and buy their CD and listen to the history in these songs.  

The Porcupine Singers in South Dakota recall a song Our Friends Came With The Soldiers on their CD Traditional Lakota Songs. The lyrics go:

Wayankiye Lakota kol miye
Kola Lakota kol
Nape wayelo
“Our Friends came with the soldiers,
So I chased my friends away.”


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