Bruce Brown's 100 Voices...
Spotted Wolf's White Handled Pistols
By Renee Sansom Flood
Before the Cheyenne attacked, Spotted Wolf stopped at the mouth of Trail Creek and here he painted his son White Shield with yellow paint. He sang a courage song for his son, and then drew a picture of a kingfisher on the shoulder of the boy's horse with blue clay: "My son, if the kingfisher dives into the water for a fish, he never misses his prey. Today, I wish you to do the same thing. You shall count the first coup. Drink plenty of water and let this be your last drink until the fight is over."
Another brother, White Elk, wore a long war bonnet with his special medicine attached: a swallow, butterflies and dragonflies.
The unprecedented courage and persistance of leaders like Spotted Wolf and Crazy Horse brought a new spirit and purpose to the Battle of the Rosebud and it marked a new method of Indian warfare unseen by United States troops. The Indians fought like cornered grizzlies and General Crook was no match for the combined horse soldiers of the plains.
Eight days later, on June 25, 1876, General Custer and the U.S. 7th Cavalry attacked Indian villages camped along the Little Bighorn River. Spotted Wolf and his sons, now including his adopted Ute son, Yellow Nose, made their famed "brave runs" in front of the cavalry without being hit. The Spotted Wolf men fought with suicidal intensity to destroy the invaders on Last Stand Hill. Historians and Indian eyewitnesses would later recount their brave deeds in books and paintings.
After the Bighorn fight, both Spotted Wolf and his son White Elk came away with interesting, white-handled pistols and Yellow Nose captured the 7th Cavalry Guidon. [Note: Bobtailed Horse said White Elk accidently shot himself in the leg at the Battle of the Rosebud, and was convalescing on June 25, 1876. It is ulikely therefore that he would have been actively involved in the Battle of the Little Bighorn or dispatching Custer.] On the day following the battle, the Northern Cheyenne held a special honoring ceremony in which Spotted Wolf was made a War Chief. Still dusty and covered with blood, he stood to receive this honor, although one of his eyes had been shot out by a soldier's bullet at point blank range.
The matching, white-handled pistols were secreted away and after the tribe returned to live on their ancestral lands along the Rosebud and Tongue Rivers in southeastern Montana, Chief Spotted Wolf went to Washington to meet with President Garfield. He then retired to a well deserved obscurity and died in 1896, but not before he had taught his youngest son, Patrick, born in 1888, all that he knew about horsemanship.
Patrick Spotted Wolf helped bury his father in the hills and often went there to pray with his mother, Yellow Woman. Grief consumed her and she took her son to be raised by the Ursuline Sisters at St. Labre Mission. Patrick was among the first Cheyenne children baptized there. He graduated from the mission school and worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for many years. In the 1930s, he took over the ID (Indian Department) wagon for the tribal cattle operation. People were astounded when they saw that Pat had memorized over two thousand cattle by their color markings and characteristics. When an owner came to look at his animal, Pat quickly jumped on his horse and cut the steer from the huge, moving herd.
Patrick acted as a banker, giving tribal members permits to butcher. He made decisions in the field because the agent trusted him. In 1938, Pat, John Stands In Timber and several others bought nearly 2,000 head of cattle in the southwest and the following spring, sold cattle at a profit of $30,000. They turned a profit several years in a row and this was a source of great pride for the men who had worked hard to make the tribal cattle program a success.
John Stands In Timber called Pat: "...the best roper and rider on the reservation. He's better than the young men." Early tribal livestock movies show Patrick on his white horse, dashing in and out of the herds with the agility of the old time warriors. The program was successful until 1946, when as President of the Cheyenne Indian Livestock Association and Steering Enterprise, Pat attempted to improve the cattle program. The new government agent disagreed and ruined the program. Due to government mismanagement, Pat became disgusted and retired. He had served as Tribal Councilman and now he was through with government red tape.
Like his father before him, Pat taught his son Clarence, or "Bisco," all that he knew about horses and ranching. He took the boy up in the hills and showed him his grandfather's grave. As a young man, Bisco had already distinguished himself as an expert horseman and roper. At the age of seven, he astonished his father by roping an elk on the run. The furious elk turned on the boy and tried to kill him but Bisco stayed on his horse and brought the animal down. He then helped his dad butcher the elk and they distributed the meat to relatives. Unfortunately, Pat was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1968. Upon the famed horseman's death, his son Bisco Spotted Wolf became a chief of the Council of 44.
In the 1930s a movie called, "The Plainsman," starring Gary Cooper was filmed on the reservation. A movie company scout saw Bisco and tried to take him away from the reservation so that he could live with Bing Crosby and make movies with the famous singer. But when Bisco's grandmother heard about the plan, she nearly "jumped out of her moccasins" and ran the man off.
Bisco's skill with a rope became so well known that white ranchers came to pick him up in an airplane. They wanted Bisco to help during branding time in Wyoming and the young man didn't let them down. During one branding, Bisco roped 400 calves in a row without a miss.
In the 1950's, Bisco served as Tribal Councilman and during that time, Fr. Emmett Hoffmann asked the rancher to work for him at the mission. Father told him he wanted a man he could trust. He handed Bisco the keys and told him jokingly that he could keep the keys until he could find a better man. That day never came and today Chief Bisco Spotted Wolf has served St. Labre Indian School in a variety of positions for nearly forty years.
The history of the Northern Cheyenne tribe reflects a proud cultural heritage. The Spotted Wolf men were among those who fought for their people and who ultimately left a legacy of trust to be handed down through three generations. From the great War Chief Spotted Wolf, who fought alongside his friend, Crazy Horse, at the Battle of the Rosebud and the Little Bighorn, to his son Patrick Spotted Wolf -- and now to Bisco -- all chiefs have left a proud record of sacrifice and service for future generations.
Soaring Eagle, soaringeagle.org/elders/bisco_legacy.html
This "Elder Story" is not an eye-witness account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but the most important detail here -- that Spotted Wolf and his son White Elk came away from the battle with two white-handled pistols -- is based on eye-witness testimony, that of the Northern Cheyenne elders who were Renee Sansom Flood's informants.