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John Grass




John Grass

An article about the most important Sihasapa chief of the 1870-90s:

Grass, John (1837/1844-10 May 1918), leader of the Sihasapa (Blackfoot) Sioux, was born at a camp along the Grand River in present-day South Dakota. His father and grandfather were important Sihasapa leaders; no information has been found on his mother. The Sihasapa were probably the last of the Teton Sioux to migrate from the woodlands into the Dakotas and were closely connected to the Hunkpapa and Sans Arc bands. Catholic mission records state that Grass, or Charging Bear, as he was known as a young adult, was baptized when he was three by the peripatetic Jesuit Father Pierre-Jean De Smet. Grass fought in battles against tribal enemies in the 1850s and 1860s. He married Cecelia Walking Shield in a traditional ceremony in 1867; they renewed their marriage in a Catholic ceremony in 1894. The Grasses had four children.

Grass appears regularly in the reports of the Standing Rock Indian Agency in North Dakota, to which the Sihasapa were assigned along with bands of Hunkpapa and Upper Yanktonais Sioux, as well as in the records of the commissions who worked to obtain land cessions from the Sioux in the 1880s. Grass counseled peace in the 1870s and gained influence after 1876 as he accepted government policies encouraging farming and education. Recognition of his willingness to cooperate marked him as "progressive," and he was named chief justice of the Court of Indian Offenses for the Standing Rock Agency, a position he held until his death. By the early 1880s Grass's influence increased as the Hunkpapa bloutanka (war leader) Gall came also to accept assimilationist policies. Gall and Grass became close friends and worked to protect the lands and interests of their people. Grass's willingness to cooperate with the government led Agent James McLaughlin to name him head chief of Standing Rock but also placed him and Gall at odds with other leaders, such as Sitting Bull, who remained more suspicious of government intentions.

Grass resisted government efforts to take more Sioux land in the 1880s. He claimed that the 1882 Edmunds Commission had lied to the Sioux about government intentions, and he led a united Standing Rock resistance to the 1888 Pratt Commission efforts to break up the Great Sioux Reservation, an effort that was assisted by McLaughlin. Initially, Grass opposed attempts by the Crook Commission (George Crook, Charles Foster, and William Warner) to receive Sioux approval for the sale of Sioux lands in 1889. Grass noted that the government had failed in the past to fulfill its promises regarding payments for land and the creation of reservation schools, and he felt that the offered payment of $1.25 per acre was too low. But he eventually succumbed, along with many others, to severe pressure and to arguments that if the tendered agreement for the cession of lands were not accepted, the government might simply take the land without compensation, an argument made privately to Grass and other Standing Rock leaders by McLaughlin. Government failure to live up to its treaty and statutory obligations after the Sioux approved the 1889 agreement led to the Ghost Dance Crisis, based on a spiritual movement whose practitioners believed that they, through the Ghost Dance, could make the whites vanish and could be rejoined with the spirits of their dead. Attempts by the army to suppress this movement led to the killing of Sitting Bull and the Wounded Knee massacre. Throughout this chaotic time, Grass counseled peace and worked to calm the situation. Subsequently in 1904 Grass led a Sioux delegation to Washington, D.C., to assert Sioux claims and grievances. Despite the government's inept handling of the Ghost Dance and the uneven implementation of Indian policy, Grass remained committed to peace and accommodation. As with many Indian leaders of that time, he saw no real alternative. He died at his home near Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Agency.

The record of Grass's life is scattered through government records and recollection of individuals who knew him. Indian Agent James McLaughlin has high praise for Grass in My Friend the Indian (1910). Two recent biographies of Sitting Bull discuss Grass's role in the 1880s: Gary Anderson, Sitting Bull and the Paradox of Lakota Nationhood (1996), and Robert Utley, The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull (1993). Brief mention of Grass's role during the Ghost Dance crisis can be found in James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (1896; repr. 1991); Utley, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (1963); W. Fletcher Johnson, The Red Record of the Sioux Life of Sitting Bull and History of the Indian War of 1890-'91 (1891); and Mildred Felder, Sioux Indian Leaders (1975). A brief obituary appears in the Catholic Bureau of Missions, Indian Sentinel, Apr. 1919, Washington, D.C.

Douglas D. Martin

(From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies) — Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

— Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

John Grass is an interesting and controversial figure in Sioux history. The two most important books about the Hunkpapas by Utley and Stanley Vestal have few good words for him. He always seems a bit like the agent´s pet, who was too easy persuaded to sign every treaty presented to him.

An agency Indian most of his adult life, Grass emerged as [agent] McLauglin´s special favorite, the chief spokesman for all the Standing Rock Indians. “A good talker”, commented White Bull, “not a thinker or a smart man… could always say yes but never no. (Utley:The Lance and the Shield)

On the other hand, there must had been something about him. He was an outstanding warrior in his youth and later as a chief had a large following, dominating the Sihasapa and was influential in all tribes at Standing Rock.
— Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

John Grass was a member White Horse Riders Society
Fought in the Little Big Horn
Was with at Fort Rice when Gall was stab by a bayonet in 1965.
He was Blackfeet chief

He says that the Blackfeet and Two Kettles always camp together. They have intermarried with each other over the years.

Grandfather- Sicola

Father-Uses Him As A Shield

Charging Bear aka John Grass

Married Campeska Imanipiwin-Walking on Shells Woman
along with her two sisters ( Looking for their names)

Daughter of Chief White Swan, Campeska Imanipiwin and Drags Drown Woman.
Son of White Swan- Fine Weather

Fine Weather's daughter married Frances Bullhead.

Mother - Wawapilikiyewin (Many Thank you Woman)
of campeska and Drags Down Woman.

Campeska Imanipiwin sister's is Drags Drown Woman both daughters of Chief White Swan

Drags Down Woman married Mato Ocinsica (Cross Bear)
Son- Makaska Najin (Standing Alone) aka John Cadotte

Sister of John Grass is Tawaci Waste Win (Thoughtful Woman)

Son of John Grass, Own's Spotted


Grass Family as written in 1939 by A.B.Welch:

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 CloudWoman)
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)
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 Grass has an unpublished bio by AB Welch.
We have just gotten this history return to the tribe.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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.

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.
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.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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
Other Children of Uses Him as a Shield, continued:
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.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

Other Children of Uses Him as a Shield, continued:

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.

Children of Chief John, continued:

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.”
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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).
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

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 .. but, cannot locate this ‘book’)

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.’

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

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.
— LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

Here's a Bell photo of Gall and Grass from 1888.

Seeing it, makes me wonder about the dates of the photos Dietmar posted. Interestingly, he looks youngest in the third photo down (by Bell) from 1880 if the SIRIS info is right; he seems to have grown his hair long after this period through the 80s, at a time when you'd expect the reverse to be the case. I post the Gilbert photo which I'm guessing comes from the mid 80s, later than Dietmar's Scott photo.

— Grahame Wood

I know that Welch understood Grass was at the Little Bighorn, but I have some doubts about it. If he was, he must have come in to Standing Rock immediately afterward (as one of the sources above suggests). This certainly deserves some more study. — Ephriam Dickson

It is said that he return the same time as Kills Eagle. — LaDonna Brave Bull Allard

To the
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Washington, D.C.

I have the honor to state that on my assuming control of this Agency, I immediately called a council of the chiefs, and from 30 to 40 of the principal ones responded thereto. I told them that their Agent, Mr. Burke, had been relieved, and that I had been detailed as their Agent. I gave them to fully understand that the "Great Father" was very kindly disposed towards all peaceable Indians, and that I was directed by him to do everything in my power for their protection and comfort. I told them that he was angry with the young men that had gone off to the Hostile Camp to fight his soldiers, and that I had been directed to say to them that all these young men must come into the Agency, lay down their arms and surrender themselves to the Military Authority.

After I had completed what I had to say to them, "John Grass," the leading chief of the "Black Feet," and one who has a number of young men out with the hostiles, spoke about as follows: -- "That his young men would not come in and be arrested by the military; that they would not be slaves; that he had never had anybody talk to him before as I had done; that he was a great chief and could stand up and look any one in the face; that he had expected soft words; that he did not believe that the "Great Father" had sent any such word; that if he had, his young men would not come in; that they would go to Cheyenne [River] Agency where they would receive better treatment; that he had heard from there that the young men that had been out with the hostiles and had come in and laid down their arms had been given traionts and were allowed to go where they pleased, and that they had not been made slaves."

R. E. Johnston
Captain 1st Infantry
Acting U.S. Indian Agent

— Ephriam Dickson

I think I remember that John Grass should be in this photograph, taken around 1890 by Trager, Morledge or some other.

If he is (the photo must have been made at Pine Ridge!), he must be the man standing second from left with big hat. American Horse, Young-Man-Afraid and Bill Cody are also in the photo. — Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

Here's another article about John Grass with a photo I haven't seen before: https://sdexcellence.org/Chief_John_Grass_1978

Chief John Grass from Standing Rock Reservation
Inducted in 1978
Category: Indian Heritage

DOB: 1837
POB: Along the Grand River, SD
DOD: 1918
Buried at: Ft. Yates, ND

Chief John Grass was born in 1837 near the Grand River in South Dakota. He became Chief of the Blackfoot Sioux. The surname Grass was dynastic and was born by his father and grandfather, both of whom were with the Sioux allies in the expedition under Colonel Henry Leavenworth against the Arikaras in 1823.

Young Grass was baptized and received into the Roman Catholic Church, according to tradition. Early in life he distinguished himself in battle; and at seventeen, for exploits performed against the Crows and the Mandans, he received his warrior name, Mato Watakpe (Charging Bear) which also had been born by his ancestors. About the same time, to prove his endurance, he underwent the extreme ordeal of the sun dance.

Although Chief Grass was later to become one of the leading exponents of a peace policy, he probably took part in some of the conflicts with the whites in the 1850's and 1860's.

Fanny Wiggins Kelly, in an account of her captivity among the Sioux in 1864, mentions Chief Grass as Jumping Bear. She gratefully credits him with having saved her life on one occasion and with having subsequently aided in effecting her ransom.

In his youth Grass became noted as an orator, and in the agitation against the whites during the early 1870's, he made full use of his powers. He strongly opposed war, which he declared would be ruinous, and urged upon his people the necessity of gradually abandoning the chase for more settled occupations.

Though Chief Grass' counsels for the time went unheeded, after the conflict of 1876-77 his prestige returned. A few years later, with Gall, the former chief at his side, Grass became a dominant influence among the Sioux.

At Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Agency Chief Grass served for many years as Chief Justice of the Court of Indian Offenses, an office that he held until his death. He also took part in many treaty councils with the whites, stoutly defending the rights of his people. As an Indian Commissioner at the Council of 1888, relating to the cession of certain lands in the present South Dakota, Grass brought the proceedings to a close when it appeared that the government commissioners were seeking an unfair advantage.

A new commission, headed by Charles Foster, former governor of Ohio, offered more favorable terms the following year. Grass, though for a time demanding further reconsessions, in the end encouraged his people to accept the proposed treaty.

When the U.S. entered World War I, Grass advised the young men to enlist. His grandson, Albert Grass, was killed at Soissons, one of the first of the American Expeditionary Force to fall in battle.

Chief John Grass died after a winter’s illness at his home south of Fort Yates and was buried in the local Catholic cemetery. — Dietmar Schulte-Möhring


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