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W. R. Cross Photo

Kill Eagle

Wanbli Kte

Blackfoot

Kill Eagle's Story of the Battle:
A Blackfeet Sioux's Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
Part 1 ~ Part 2

 

Kill Eagle (Wanbli Kte) was a Blackfeet Lakota headman. Census records disagree as to his age, giving a range for his year of birth sometime betweeen 1816 and 1827. He left the Standing Rock Agency in April or May 1876 with about 26 lodges to go hunting and had joined the northern bands on the Little Bighorn by June 25, 1876.

After the Little Bighorn, he returned to Standing Rock, surrendering to military authorities at Fort Yates on Sept. 15, 1876. He was interviewed several times by military authorities, the text of which has been published.

As to portraits, there is a drawing of him that you can see on the Library of Congress website. Photographer D. F. Barry also produced a protrait of him -- at least, it is listed in Barry's catalog -- however, I have not yet been able to find a copy of the image.

At Standing Rock, Kill Eagle was generally listed in Goose's band of Blackfeet Lakota and then as leader of the band himself. In the Sitting Bull Surrender Census, September 1881, Kill Eagle is shown as head of his band, with 25 families (99 people). In 1885, his band included 19 families. He disappears from the census records about 1886; may have died at that time though I am uncertain about this right now.

His wife was named First Born and he had at least three daughters. I have not yet tracked down any descendants at Standing Rock. Ephriam Dickson

Kill Eagle's story was written by Edward A. Milligan, High Noon On The Greasy Grass. Kill Eagle had 12 lodges of his band and 14 others belonging to other bands: Dog from Running Antelope's band, Scarlet Thunder from Iron Horn's band, Eagleman belonging to Wounded Head's band, Bull belonging to Bad Hand's band, Bearking belonging to Medicine Man's band, Brave Hawk and Man Who Walks Close to His Dogs from Belly Fat's band, Two Strong and Scarlet Bear from Two Heart's band, Little Eagle from Plenty Crow's band, Afraid of Eagles and Bear Ears from Bear Rib's band, Blue Cloud from Gall's band, and one unknown who did not return. Ladonna

I disagree with the suggestion that Kill Eagle was considered a traitor. He was a very influential Blackfeet Lakota headman who considerable influence among the tribe. Remember that by 1876, Lakota politics had become highly polarized, with some Lakota leaders believing that coming in to the agencies was the best solution for their families and other Lakota leaders equally passionate that they should remain away from the agencies. Perhaps their debates might sound something like the polarization we see today between the Republicans and Democrats about the war in Iraq. So while there was deep disagreement between the Lakota leaders, I do not think of either side as traitors to their people. Ephriam Dickson

I'm in agreement on this one: the times and the issues at stake to Indian people in the late 19th century were just momentous and beyond easy comprehension - Ephriam's analogy is a good one. What was also increasingly obvious to most Lakota people in 1876 was that the old buffalo hunting life was coming to an end, and some sort of accommodation would simply have to be made with the USA.

Kill Eagle is a good example of these processes. The earliest record I've so far found is his involvement in the freeing of captive Fanny Kelly in fall 1864. He was then an akichita or warrior policeman in the Sihasapa tribal division. Mrs Kelly's liberation was the first indication that a significant number of Sihasapa, including one of the two leading chiefs Used As A Shield (or Grass, father of John Grass), were willing to break with the Hunkpapa and seek an accommodation with the Americans. For more than a decade the Sihasapa had been aligned with the increasingly isolationist majority of Hunkpapas in rejecting treaty relations with the USA.

In June 1867 we find Kill Eagle mentioned as the chief of twenty lodges camped near Fort Rice and in dialogue with peace commissioners. This is his own band of Sihasapa, the Wazhazha band - an offshoot of the parent band of that name among the Brules and Oglalas. Subsequently Kill Eagle signed the treaty of 1868 at Ft Rice as Sihasapa signatory no. 2. He settled at the Grand River Agency (established fall 1868), but was a regular summer visitor to the hunting grounds and his non-treaty relatives. As his account of summer 1876 indicates, he did this to hunt buffalo, to trade agency goods - doubtless including some firearms and ammunition - to the people that stayed away from the agencies, and generally to keep up with his relatives. He left Standing Rock Agency about April 16, 1876, and joined the non-treaty villages about May 5. Because this year was turning into one of all-out war, he found himself in a very unenviable position. Refusing on principle to join in hostilities against the Americans he had accepted as allies and as relatives-through-alliance, he was 'soldiered' into staying with the non-treaty people, right through the battles of the Rosebud and the Little Bighorn. In a nutshell that means that the village akichita refused to let him leave and applied punitive measures to keep his people in camp until they made a break late in July.

We shouldn't take sides on these issues - the times were incredibly complex and Kill Eagle was acting according to high ethical standards in resisting pressure to fight at the LBH. That doesn't mean that I don't respect the brave resistance of the villagers in defending their people on June 25, 1876. Kingsley Bray

The following publication contains information about Kill Eagle:

Article: "Prisoners in the Indian Camp" by Ephriam D. Dickson III • Kill Eagle's band went out hunting from Standing Rock Reservation but found themselves caught up in the action at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. • Greasy Grass, Annual of the Custer Battlefield Historical & Museum Association, Vol. 27 •  May 2011.

 

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