differences were to further dramatize their conflicting views over the land in the plains.
It would be over the land that the two groups would confront each other most bitterly. The
battles they fought would write some of the bloodiest chapters in western history.
COLD FACE MOON
Camp on the Tongue River on Full Alert, 1866
Camping along the Tongue River in the Winter of 1866 was not like any other
time in the Powder River country, as the tribes were on full alert. The Northern
Cheyennes, under Chief Morning Star (Dull Knife), and Chief Little Wolf, were watching the
Buffalo Creek Fort (Fort Phil Kearny). The fort was to protect people that were heading
west using the road (Bozeman Trail) through Indian buffalo country. The Indians had
decided to protect this country through the winter. The Sioux and the Arapahoe Tribes were
camping with the Northern Cheyenne, and their camps stretched some distance up the Tongue
River and adjoining streams.
A camp this large would afford the Indian people protection and concentrate
efforts to attack the Buffalo Creek Fort at every opportunity. The large camping grounds
could not properly feed the great horse herds and they were constantly being moved to find
feed. The nearby hills had bare slopes where the horses could find feed. At night the
horse herds were driven into camp where they ate cottonwood bark. Many young men were
constantly on herd duty. Horses were needed to carry warriors to the Buffalo Fort each
day; into the field to watch for movements of soldiers; and movements of the buffalo
and horses were needed throughout the winter to carry out the battle with the soldiers. To
support such a large camp, much buffalo meat was needed. Hunting parties were busy
bringing buffalo meat by pack horses from various distances along the Tongue River.
Sometimes the hunters were gone for several days at a time.
The winter camp life of the warriors was to be in instant readiness to defend
their camps. Their horses were always near the lodges at night. Horses were tied in the
front of the lodge so that they could be mounted on a moments notice.
The warrior horses and the buffalo horses were very valued animals and
special care was devoted to them. The war horses received ceremonial painting and
ornaments of feathers. They always seemed to trot with great pride. A warrior on a good
horse was a combination hard to beat. He was breathtakingly fearless and so was his horse.
The hunting horse was very swift and could run across uneven ground and dodge
prairie dog holes without slowing down. He could single out a buffalo and stay with it
during the chase. The horse was trained to stay on one side of a buffalo and dodge in and
out of danger while on the run.
The other family horses were mostly work horses. They packed the family
belongings and pulled travois and tepee poles. An average family had about forty horses,
and they were not branded but were known by sight.
Warrior scouts were coming and going from the camps as they were watching the
Army patrol movement along the Bozeman Trail. Scouts would be appointed by the warrior
chiefs and assigned to certain directions and distances of travel. Sometimes the scouts
would be away for several days. Usually three scouts would travel together, two sleeping
while one stood watch.
If a report was to be made, one scout would be sent back to the camp. If
important news was to be delivered to camp the scout would "wolf howl" alerting
the camp that he was bringing news. Scouts also went in all directions from camp looking
for the buffalo herds and their movements. It was a great honor to be appointed a scout.
As arrows were needed to carry out the winter battle with the soldiers, the
arrow makers were busy making arrows, ten at a time. These arrows were fashioned with
steel tips, often from frying pans and metal bands from wooden barrels. Choke cherry and
currant wood were used as shafts, hawk feathers usually completed the arrow and were bound
together with sinew. All arrows mere marked by colors indicating ownership. Upon
completion of the bow and arrow making, the warriors would ride to the wood train (from
the forts) to try the weapon and to see if the bowstrings were tight enough.
My Grandfather, Blue Feather (born 1834-died 1938), was the arrow maker for
the Elk Horn Scraper Warrior Society and he made many arrows for this battle. Little Wolf
was the Warrior Chief of the Elk Horn Society and my Grandfather, Blue Feather, rode into
this battle with him. Blue Feather rode a roan warrior horse that came from the Nez
Perce horse herd and the roan had the great stamina of the mountain horses.
During the arrow making around
the winter fire it was learned that the medicine men had guaranteed victory over the
soldiers and that one medicine man had given 100 soldiers to the warriors. This news went
from one warrior society to the next. All of the warriors cried "Thank you",
"Thank you". They knew that sometime that winter they would kill all the
soldiers in the field and would destroy the fort.
The tribe consists of four warrior societies and not all were assigned to
attack at once. Protection of the camp was the most important duty, and one of the warrior
societies would remain in camp to guard it against enemy attack. Hunting and caring for
the horse herds was the second most important duty and was carried out by another of the
warrior societies. The remaining warrior societies were assigned attack duty at the
Buffalo Creek Fort.
A warrior society of fifty men would be assigned to attack the wood trains
and harass the Buffalo Creek Fort. The group would divide into small groups for the actual
attack. Others would wait for an opportunity to make a mass attack.
It was many miles of hard riding in the winter to attack the fort. Horses
would become tired. Many small dome-like shelters were made in the bush bottoms to hold
the warriors while the horses ate and rested to and from the camps. The shelters became
covered with snow and were hard to locate. A dome shelter held five people and a small
fire could be made to cook and warm themselves. They were made between the camp on the
Tongue River and the Buffalo Creek Fort. Many were constructed that winter as the carrying
of the dead and wounded would be a constant duty.
The dead were never left on the
battlefield but were taken some distance for burial. Wounded were returned to camp where
the doctoring took place by the medicine men. Snow blindness and frost bite were the most
common winter health problems. These would be cured by the medicine men in camp. Many
medicine men could cure snow blindness and frozen feet instantly.
Twice the Indians attacked Buffalo Creek Fort (Fort Phil Kearny), but were unable to
overwhelm the defending troops. Then on the morning of December 21, 1866, a lone Indian
appeared outside the fort, curious, the officers let him enter. This was Two Moons, a
Cheyenne warrior asking for ammunition so he could hunt. Two Moons noted the heavy
fortifications and the number of soldiers. He returned to meet the Cheyenne and Sioux
leaders. He stated that there was no way they could take the fort without heavy losses.
Little Wolf, a Cheyenne leader, and Sioux leaders, Hump and Crazy Horse, together devised
Decoys were selected by the chiefs, two from each warrior band. The decoys
were selected to bring the soldiers over the ridge out of sight of the Buffalo Creek Fort,
this method was one of the oldest Indian strategies. The soldiers fell for the decoy plan
and followed the decoys between the waiting groups of warriors. The decoys would be just
ahead of the pursuing troops firing at the soldiers and riding back and forth and leading
them into the trap.
The trap was
set beyond a ridge north of the Buffalo Creek Fort. The decoys had let the soldiers
well into the trap where the main body of warriors waited for a signal to attack. The
Cheyenne and Arapahoe were on one side of the trap and the Sioux were on the other.
Everyone watched one noted warrior who was to give the signal to begin the attack. Upon
the signal all horses and warriors began running to close the trap. The Cheyenne and
Arapahoe were attacking from the west and the Sioux warriors were attacking from behind
the hills to the east and the serious fighting began.
The troops began to fire at the attackers and move back up the ridge. Not
many guns were available to the Cheyennes. The bow and arrow along with war clubs were the
main weapons for close fighting. During the firing of arrows, the numbed fingers were
slapped together so as to hold the arrows properly.
During the battle the cavalry horses were being hit by shell fire and arrows,
and they would become hard to control and would break loose from the soldiers and the
warriors would give chase. Soldiers began to fight on foot, fortifying themselves with
dead horses on the ridge. Arrows were being concentrated on the infantry as they moved up
the ridge and they were finally completely surrounded and cut off from further retreat.
As the attack was made on the ridge the horses used by the decoys were tiring and would
not reach the top of the ridge where the main battle was taking place. Little Wolf's
brother, Big Nose, an original decoy, was riding Little Wolf's black horse up the ridge
when the horse became exhausted. He had come back to help in the main battle lead by
Little Wolf. It was at this time that he was shot from his horse and badly wounded. A
friend came to help him as he was still alive. He said, "I have trouble breathing.
Move me up the hill". He was moved up the hill and left there as fighting was still
quite heavy all along the ridge. Later they found him still alive and he was moved from
the battlefield after all the soldiers were killed.
A BRAVE SOLDIER IS HONORED
On this ridge one soldier fought with whatever he could use as a weapon and
he fought like a lion. MAny arrows began to appear on his body and he finally died
fighting. This man had shown great courage and fought bravely in a hopeless battle and he
won the admiration of the fighting Indian men. After the battle they found him covered
with arrows and they respectfully covered his body with a buffalo robe. Great honor had
been extended to this one brave soldier named Metzger.
AFTER THE BATTLE
The return to the camp after the battle was an arduous one as most of the
horses were tired from the battle. The horses were lead on foot by the men taking turns
breaking trail. The wounded were moved slowly as they had been placed on travois, and some
of the wounded died on the way back to their camp.
Most of the warriors
were singing songs of warriors and displaying captured horses and army weapons. Many
arrows, ammunition and weapons were retrieved from the battlefield.
Many days of celebration was carried out in camp following this battle
because they had successfully wiped out an entire military command. Victorious warriors
were honored for individual feats and deeds. The woman prepared feasts that would bring
the old warriors and relatives together. Brave deeds were told over and over and would
become part of the tribal history.
Women attended the victory dances and displayed captured items of war. Many
hides were tanned and made into decorated clothing for the warriors. Fine quilled
moccasins were placed on his feet and fine robes were brought to him by relatives upon his
safe return. A war bonnet was usually given by an older warrior at this time along with a
In the midst of the wars, women, who occupy so few pages of western history
were yet so involved, as Indian camps were so relentlessly attacked by the military.. The
women displayed their unbreakable determination and their strong will to survive along
with their willingness to meet death with their people. They were to remain even stronger
within their family and tribal roles and responsibilities.
The wars were unable
to break the female habit of automatically making room in their hearts to adopt orphans of
war. The orphans were never without a family or human shelter. No Indian person is ever
completely left alone for the tribal structure had long guaranteed that a child or a
person would never be without a family.
The battle preparation made by the woman for the warrior was to make sure his
pipe and food were packed and the fine quilled or beaded buckskins that he would wear into
battle were placed in his war bag.
The woman often went out into the horse herd and chose the warrior horse that
would carry her husband or son into battle. She placed the saddle upon the horse and let
it to her husband or son who was waiting at the lodge. She did this to honor them as she
knew they might not return and she would be left without a husband to provide for her. At
this point she would reassure him that everything would be fine until his return. She did
her best to take care of the family while the warriors were away. Many prayers were said
for their success in battle and their safe return.
Only the grandmothers were allowed to show emotion and so they reminded the
young warriors that they should not turn back once on the war trail. Women warrior songs
were sung when the men rode away. The grandmothers would also sing the victory songs upon
the return of the warriors.
While the warriors
were gone, the women would take this time to prepare their herbs and medicines for the
return of the wounded. The wounded would become their responsibility along with the
gathering of the wood for the fires which became more difficult the longer they stayed in
My grandmother would say many years later that no one ever had a good nights
rest at this camp. The women were in constant readiness to flee with the children because
of the possibility of attack on the camp. They usually fled on foot as the horses were
stampeded when firing into the camp would begin. It was a difficult winter for all.
AFTERMATH: THE TREATY OF 1868
Indian resistance to the presence of troops in the Powder River country
continued into the summer of 1867. On August 1st, 500 warriors attacked a detachment of
troops near Fort C.F. Smith during the Hayfield Fight. The following day Red Cloud led
some 1500 warriors in an attack near Fort Phil Kearny, the Wagon Box Fight.
A growing concern over the safety of the railroad into Platte River Valley
led the government to seek again peace with the Cheyenne, Sioux and the Arapahoe. If peace
could be made, a railroad branch line then could be built into what is now Southwestern
Montana. This would bypass the Powder River country and allow the Bozeman Trail to be
Under the treaty of 1868, the Indians were to withdraw all opposition to the
construction of the railroad. In return, a permanent reservation was to be set aside for
them in South Dakota. The United States further stated that the country north of the North
Platte River, from east of the summit of the Big Horn Mountains, eastward to the Missouri
River, would be "unceded Indian territory" upon which no white person should be
permitted to settle or to pass through without the consent of the Indians.
Within ninety days
after the conclusion of peace, the forts guarding the Bozeman Trail were to be abandoned
and the road closed.
Soon after, the Cheyenne Chief, Little Wolf, went into the abandoned Fort
Phil Kearny and torched every building until there was little left of the fort.
TALL BULL LINEAGE
My biography really needs to start out from a long time ago. The Tall Bull
legacy must start with Chief Tall Bull. He was a Chief of the Dog Soldiers and was killed
during the Battle at Summit Springs in 1869. He was among 52 Dog Soldiers killed in that
battle from which my grandmother escaped.
Chief Tall Bull's son was Jacob Tall Bull (1856-1928) who mainly traveled
with Dull Knife. He was not a part of the Northern Cheyenne "Trail of Tears"
from Oklahoma to Fort Robinson and beyond because he had stayed with a small band in the
northern region. The band hid out but would make occasional trips to Pine Ridge
He also was a Dog
Soldier and was to play an important part in the victory at the Battle of the Little Big
Horn. Jacob Tall Bull found his brother-in-law, Chief Lame Whiteman, killed in the
fighting on the hill (Custer Ridge) and reported this to his relatives in the camp. He saw
soldiers using their last bullets on themselves. He saw three soldiers kill themselves in
Jacob spent 5 or 6 years at Pine Ridge before going to the Northern Cheyenne
Reservation. In 1914 he was a part of a delegation that was sent to Washington, D. C., to
check on the school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Jacob Tall Bull's son was Charles Tall Bull who was my father. He had learned
the trades of carpenter and a baker. My father, Charles Tall Bull passed away in 1930 and
I went to live with my grandparents.
BLUE FEATHER LINEAGE
Arthur Brady-Blue Feather (1834-1938) belonged to the Elk Horn Scraper
Society and was an arrow maker. Chief Little Wolf was the Chief of this warrior band of
Cheyennes. My grandmother and grandfather had survived the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado
in 1864. They were with Morning Star (Dull Knife) and Little Wolf when they were sent
south to live in Oklahoma, with the Southern Cheyenne, in the summer of 1877.
In the early hours of September 9, 1878, they left with Morning Star (Dull
Knife) and Little Wolf and 297 other Northern Cheyennes, to march back north to their
homeland. This became the Northern Cheyennes' own "Trail of Tears". My
grandparents were to stay with Little Wolf's band when the tribe separated, Dull Knife
taking one group and Little Wolf the other.
They spent the winter on Lost Chokecherry Creek in Nebraska, starting north
again the following spring. They would return north to their homeland even though 12,000
troops tried to stop them. My grandfather fought along side of Little Wolf in many battles
and was there to watch Little Wolf finally burn down the Buffalo Creek Fort (Fort Phil
I learned many things from this great man. He was my early history teacher.
Many old men and women would camp with my grandparents and I was an errand boy during this
time. I listened to the war stories from these old warriors.a They always welcomed me to
BILL TALL BULL--FEATHER WOLF
I was born on Muddy
Creek on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. I attended a government boarding school
at Busby, Montana. In September of 1942, I went into World War II and became a radio
operator in the Army Air Force. I went overseas to England and was placed on detached
service with the British Air Ministry, Royal Air Force. Later I was assigned to the
American 9th Air Force, 357th Fighter Group, 366th Fighter Squadron. I served in the Army
during the occupation after the war.
After returning to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation after the war, I have
had various duties with the Tribe. I have served as a juvenile officer, social worker and
transferred to the Indian Health Service. I retired from civil service in 1972. I've
served on various boards and commissions within the tribe.
Since my retirement I have gone back to public service at Dull Knife College
as a Tribal Historian, and I'm the Chairman of the Tribal Cultural Protection Board.
served as an at-large member of the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association practically
since its' beginnings.
Bull later became a member of the President's Council on Historic Preservation)