Plains Indian Ledger Art: Arrow's Elk Society Ledger - PLATE 92

Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Page No. 92
Dimensions: 8.5 * 14 inches inches


Cheyenne, Cheyenne - Southern


Various Private Owners


Collected in 1882 at Darlington, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by Sallie C. Maffet.
Descendants of Maffet sold the manuscript at Sotheby's auction in N ...More

Essays & Videos

by Mike Cowdrey


No keywords for this plate.

Ethnographic Notes

This is the same man who is shown in Plate 118. In both drawings he is hunting turkeys, but with a different and expensive shotgun in each instance. In both drawings he wears his hair long---an indication of Indian nationality; but is dressed in White clothing, including expensive, twill-woven tweed trousers. The English riding boots seen here, with red-stained side loops, and an embossed, blue-dyed front panel, are an expensive import, generally available only from urban haberdashers---or to the son of a wealthy family with wide trading interests.

This last clue is the key to the man's identity, for he can only be George Bent, son of William Bent. William and his brother Charles had built Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River, near present La Junta, Colorado, between 1829-1833. William married Owl Woman, daughter of White Thunder, Keeper of the Sacred Arrows, the most revered of Cheyenne talismans. George was the third child of William Bent and Owl Woman, born July 7, 1843. He was raised in the Cheyenne camps until the age of nine. Then his father sent him to Westport (now Kansas City), and later to St. Louis, for schooling. George was still there in 1860, when the Civil War began, and he enlisted at the age of 17 in the Confederate cause (Bent, 1904-1918: Feb. 26, 1906; April 12, 1906).

George Bent was one of the rebel soldiers who won the first battle of the war at Wilson's Creek, Missouri. During the next two years he was in many conflicts across the South, in General Green's cavalry regiment (Bent, 1904-1918: Jan. 12, 1906), but was made a prisoner-of-war during the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi in 1862. With several hundred other POW's, George Bent was interned at a prison camp at St. Louis. The day he arrived, however, he was recognized by friends in the city, who reported his presence to Gen. John C. Fremont, Union commander at St. Louis. Fremont was an old friend of William Bent, from whom he had received vast assistance during his famous explorations in the West during the 1840's. On the evening of his arrival at the St. Louis prison, George was pardoned by General Fremont, upon his promise not to take further part in the war (Bent, 1904-1918: April 25, 1918).

A week later in the autumn of 1862, at the age of 20, he was an ex-soldier on his way back across the Plains to rejoin his mother's people. Half a century later he would write: "From that time until today, fifty-one years, I have been with the Cheyennes" (Hyde, 1968: 110-112). Bent's mother had died when he was only three, and his father then married her sister Yellow Woman, who became George's step-mother. When he went back to the Cheyennes it was with his step-mother's band, the Hisiometaneo (Hill Band, or Ridge Band) that George stayed (Hyde, 1968: 121 & 123).

A "beaver" robe, or "silk" robe was the term for the finest grade of buffalo skin, with the softest fur. The Cheyennes called George, Hi-my-ike, Beaver, for his long, dark brown hair (Bent, 1904-1918: Dec. 11, 1905). There is no doubt that he was popular with the ladies. George's reputation as a soldier had preceded him (his Cheyenne nickname was "Texas", their term for all those who fought as Confederates---Bent, 1904-1918: April 12, 1906), and he was invited to join the Crooked Lance (Elk Soldier) Society (Hyde, 1968: 201). This made him a brother-in-arms to Arrow. It is clear from these drawings that George Bent and Arrow were on the closest terms, and often hunted together.

For the next two years George lived rather an idyllic life, hunting, courting (Bent, 1904-1918: March 13, 1914; May 4, 1906), and re-learning Tsistsistas, his mother-tongue. He accompanied Crooked Lance war parties against the Pawnees (Bent, 1904-1918: March 15, 1905), such as those shown by Arrow in Plates 7, 17 & 27. He recalled that while returning from one of these:

"When war parties had good luck in taking scalps, they set fires as they went along. Off [in the] distance, you could see smoke strung all along. In [the home] camps everybody could see these smokes coming towards the villages. Everybody could tell the war party was coming with good luck...I have been with war parties when they were setting grass on fire about every ten miles. War parties traveled very fast when having scalps (Bent, 1904-1918: May 12, 1911).

In response to questions from his correspondent, George Hyde, Bent added:

"You ask me [if] I wore Indian clothes. I dressed as [an] Indian while I was with them...

"In these fights all of us painted up our faces. We were told by Medicine Men that were along with us how to paint our faces. For this we had to pay them, or promise them presents. All those that had shields and war bonnets painted as they were instructed. I wish you could have seen those things, when the warriors had on their war rigs" (Bent, 1904-1918: May 7, 1906; May 11, 1906).

In 1864, the world changed drastically for the Southern Cheyennes, including George Bent. In the spring, several Colorado militia units were ordered to the East, for active duty in the Civil War. Almost immediately they began to attack Cheyennes wherever they found them, to foment an excuse for remaining at home (Hyde, 1868: 127). In April, militia units attacked and burned the camps of Crow Chief, and Raccoon---more than 100 lodges. In mid-May, the same troops approached the camp of Lean Bear, who had visited President Lincoln in the White House only the year before. Confident in the promises Lincoln had made to him then, and wearing the peace medal the President had given to him, Lean Bear rode out to meet the soldiers, and see what they wanted. When he had approached to within about twenty yards the troops all fired at once, murdering him in cold blood. The Cheyennes then attacked these soldiers, defeated them, and chased them nearly to Fort Larned (Hyde, 1968: 131-133).

There were many small fights throughout that summer and autumn---see the fine synopsis by David Halaas, in Afton, et. al., 1997: 288ff. At dawn on November 29, 1864, Colorado militia troops under command of Col. John M. Chivington attacked the winter encampment of Black Kettle's Cheyennes at Sand Creek, butchering more than 150 people, mostly women and children. Earlier (Plate 21), the account of Little Bear was given, wherein Chivington's troops chased him for two miles along Sand Creek, and shot nearly every eagle feather out of his headdress, without being able to harm him. George Bent was not so fortunate. He, too, was forced to run that murderous gauntlet. Two miles from the village, the survivors had hastily dug rifle pits in the creek bed, under an overhanging bank.

"Just as our party reached this point, I was struck in the hip by a bullet and knocked down; but I managed to tumble into one of the holes, and lay there among the warriors, women and children...all that bitter cold day, from early in the morning until almost dark, with the soldiers all around us, keeping up a heavy fire most of the time" (Hyde, 1968: 152-155).

At darkness the militia withdrew. The Cheyenne survivors---many wounded, and all but naked, having been roused from sleep by the dawn attack---then had no choice but to walk fifty miles through the snow and a freezing gale to the nearest Cheyenne camps on the Smoky Hill. Bent recalled that as "the worst night I ever went through." All would surely have perished, except that early in the attack a few Cheyennes had managed to escape on horseback, and had ridden all through the day of fighting to alert these same Cheyennes on the Smoky Hill. Rescue parties had started back immediately with horses, robes and food, riding through the same frigid night. By midday of November 30 they reached the half-frozen, stumbling survivors, and then brought them fifty miles back again to the allied camps on the Smoky Hill.

After that calculated atrocity, nearly all the Cheyennes were for war. War pipes were sent north to enlist the Oglala and Brule Sioux, and the Northern Arapahoes. On January 7, 1865, the combined tribes attacked the stage station at Julesburg, on the South Platte River, and the nearby garrison at Camp Rankin, later renamed Fort Sedgewick. Eighteen soldiers were killed, primarily by Crooked Lance warriors, and a large warehouse was looted. For three weeks the Indians raided along the South Platte, burning every ranch and stage station within a hundred miles, and severing the telegraph link between the East and West coasts, during a critical month of the Civil War.

On February 1, 1865, a large war party struck Gillette's Ranch, nine miles west of Julesburg. The residents held out until nightfall, then escaped to Camp Rankin in the darkness. According to Army reports:

"These fugitives told of an Indian with the attacking party who wore a hat, blanket cape and high-top cavalry boots, and who shouted loud swear words in English, and had a rifled musket of the new United States pattern" (Ware, 1911: 377-78).

This must certainly have been George Bent, as he relates that he had obtained an officer's uniform during the attack on Julesburg, "and later wore it during the fighting" (Hyde, 1968: 173). During the attack on Gillette's ranch this same man had scrawled on some abandoned machinery, "Go to Hell" (Ware, 1911: 377).

The next day, February 2nd, the Cheyennes attacked Julesburg for the second time. Later in the day, Bent relates that he went east with some Cheyennes who had burned the stage station, then crossed to the north side of the Platte (Hyde, 1968: 182-83). At precisely the same time Eugene Ware, then a lieutenant, was leading a small relief force up the south bank of the river. He relates:

"We saw ten or fifteen Indians on the other side of the river. Having a very fine Smith & Wesson target rifle, I thought I would go down towards the river and give them a trial shot...After I had made my shot, an Indian rose out of the willows on the bank on the other side of the river, and pulling a revolver fired six shots, and then he pulled another and fired six shots more, and then he fired a gun at me. It was evidence that the Indian was better armed than I was, and as I stopped to reconnoiter, he began to fire a lot of good American words at me, and they were shot in such good English that I became satisfied the Indian was not a Cheyenne or a Sioux, and I concluded that he was one of the Confederate emmisaries sent from the Indian Territory. I was afterwards confirmed in the supposition" (Ware, 1911: 362-63).

George Bent was exactly there, on the north bank of the Platte, during the hour that Lt. Ware had this confrontation. It is rare in historical accounts to find such a clear conjunction of recognizable figures.

Following the second battle at Julesburg, the combined Indian army moved north into the Powder River country of northeastern Wyoming, between the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountains, to join the Northern Cheyennes. From this stronghold they launched a series of famous attacks throughout the summer of 1865. George Bent participated in many of these battles, including the Platte Bridge fight, and attacks on a number of other Army units.

Circumstances also first thrust Bent into the role of interpreter during this summer, when the Dog Soldier chief Bull Bear asked him to perform this service during a conference with Col. James A. Sawyers. When Sawyers inquired what the government might do to ameliorate Cheyenne hostility, Bent shot back that the Cheyennes would stop fighting "provided the government hangs Col. John M. Chivington", leader of the attack on Black Kettle's village (Bent, 1904-1918: Sept. 21, 1905; Hyde, 1968: 232; Afton, et. al., 1997: 301).

In the autumn of 1865, the Southern Cheyennes returned to their own country between the South Platte and Canadian rivers. They found a new stage line, with stations built every twenty-five miles, laid out along the Smoky Hill, all the way to the Denver mining camps. It was the precursdor of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, but none of the Cheyennes could even dream what that would mean. They had been attacked unjustly, had fought and defeated the White soldiers along the Platte and on the Powder River, and now they only wanted to go home and be left in peace. They made a few, desultory attacks on some of the stage stations, but mostly they tried to keep away from the roads the immigrants were carving. The Dog Soldiers stayed north of the Smoky Hill, on the upper reaches of the Solomon; the other Cheyennes moved south of the Arkansas.

For the next year and a half---October 1865-April 1867---the only complaints raised against the Cheyennes IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY were six missing cattle in June, 1866, and six missing horses in March, 1867. In the same period, October 23, 1866, soldiers of the 2nd Colorado Infantry attacked a peaceful Cheyenne camp on the South Platte River, killing four people and wounding seven, but the Cheyennes did not respond to this provocation by making any attacks (Afton, et. al., 1997: 303-04).

George Bent remembered:

"General Hancock came out with a lot of troops to Ft. Larned in the spring of 1867...the Plains Indians were at peace then. Several Indian traders were trading in different Indian camps that winter [1866-67]. I was trading in the Kiowa village on Bluff Creek. After trading for about two months in the Kiowa village, I moved to Black Kettle's village to trade with the Cheyennes, twenty miles east of the Kiowas' village. After trading for three weeks, we heard of General Hancock coming to Ft. Larned...David Butterfield, the trader I was trading for, sent word to me to bring the teams with all the goods, and what robes I had traded for right away, as there was some trouble ahead" (Bent, 1904-1918: Dec. 17, 1913).

Hyde (1968: 276-68, n. 2) indicates that Butterfield was trading rifles and ammunition, and his license to trade was in jeopardy. Since Bent was his trader, it was George Bent personally who was supplying his Cheyenne relatives, as well as the Kiowas, with the munitions necessary to preserve their lives. The Winchester rifles which Arrow depicts in this record were almost certainly obtained through his relative George Bent. In this same period the Denver newspapers often were fulminating against the Bent family, particularly George, calling him a "war chief" and a "gun runner", and urging that he be hanged.

While George Bent was in Black Kettle's village, runners brought news that General Hancock's troops had burned the Dog Soldier village on Pawnee Fork (see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 34). The other Cheyennes moved to the head of the Washita River and went into camp. From this location:

"...war parties started in different directions to make raids on Arkansas River. I went with a war party of about 70 or 75, under a Medicine Man named Lame Bull (see Nagy, 1997b) strike near Cimarron Crossing...That evening we attacked a mule train going west, and took about 50 head of mules...

"Next day we left the Arkansas and followed the Cimarron route going west to [New] Mexico. We met a mule train coming [and]...waited till they turned out the mules to graze...we cut off about 22 head of mules and 4 horses. Howling Wolf, now living, was shot through the thigh...

"When we came back from those raids we found the big village on the North Fork of Red River" (Bent, 1904-1918: Dec. 17, 1913).

"I don't believe the Cheyennes had ever camped so far south before; but troops were forcing us further south every year" (Hyde, 1968: 270-71).

In the spring of 1866, when he was twenty-one, Bent had married Mo-he-by-vah, or Magpie, a beautiful niece of the Council Chief Black Kettle (Hyde, 1968: 248, 253). An early photograph of George and Magpie Bent, which George many years later gave to the historian George Hyde, has appeared in numerous volumes of Cheyenne history (Grinnell, 1915: 175; Hyde, 1968: following 102; Afton, et. al., 1997: 101). This marriage made George Bent (Beaver of the Southern Cheyennes) and Black Kettle close relatives and associates, because in the typical Cheyenne custom, Bent moved in with his wife's family.

When Lame Bull's war party returned to the Cheyenne village on the North Fork of Red River, Black Kettle came immediately to talk with Bent. A Mexican courier had brought a letter from Col. J. H. Leavenworth, Agent for the Kiowas and Comanches, and no one else among the Cheyennes could read it. George read and translated the communication, which was a proposal to arrange peace. Leavenworth was then stopped at the Wichita village (present Wichita, Kansas), because of the conflict raging along the Arkansas, and further north along the Platte, where the Dog Soldiers and Oglalas were retaliating for Hancock's attack. Leavenworth wanted Cheyenne emissaries to come to HIM. Most of the Cheyenne chiefs and warrior society headmen considered it a fool's errand, since the Wichitas were enemies, relatives of the hated Pawnees, and almost certain to massacre any Cheyennes who fell into their hands. No other leaders would risk the journey.

The next day Black Kettle went anyway, accompanied only by his Nisson relative Lone Bear, an old couple whose daughter was married to a White trader at the Wichita Agency, the courier who had brought Leavenworth's message, and the young George Bent to translate for them all. On the way they met a village of Osage enemies hunting buffalo, and another village of Sauks and Foxes. Black Kettle's courageous personality, and George Bent's diplomatic skills got them through.

After a journey of more than a week they arrived at the Wichita Agency, where Col. Leavenworth explained that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and other government officials wanted to stop the fighting, and were coming to meet with the tribes to arrange peace. Black Kettle took this message back to the Cheyennes, while Bent remained with Leavenworth to act as courier when the commissioners' arrival date was known.

Thus was the famous Treaty of 1867 planned and prepared, in courage, great hope, and good faith on the part of the Plains tribes. George Bent rode hundreds of miles to villages of the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Kiowa-Apaches and Comanches, bringing chiefs from each tribe back to Fort Larned to meet the commissioners. Save for his aging father, no other man on the Southern Plains could have done it.

These chiefs selected a site for the council in the beautiful valley of Medicine Lodge Creek, about seventy miles southwest of Ft. Larned. There, in mid-October, the Treaty of Medicine Lodge was agreed to by the tribes. The Cheyennes ceded the Denver road along the Smoky Hill---a fait accompli they could not undo---in exchange for a promise that they would be allowed to live and hunt unmolested south of the Arkansas. The Dog Soldiers thought they retained their country along the Solomon and Republican rivers. They agreed to allow "emigrant travel" on the Smoky Hill corridor. What they got instead, and unbelievably soon, was the Kansas Pacific Railway dumping trainloads of well-armed gangsters on their doorsteps every week to decimate their buffalo herds, and hunt down their families.

As the "head of track" moved relentlessly westward, the Dog Soldiers fought a courageous but doomed strategy of harrassment and delay, until the Army caught them at Summit Springs in July 1869, and destroyed their village. Thereafter, the same onslaught turned south of the Arkansas, eventually dragging the Southern Cheyennes into the "Buffalo War" of 1874-75, which Arrow has chronicled in this record.

George Hyde's biography of George Bent ends abruptly in 1875, although the subject lived another forty-three, productive years. Here, we can do no more than sketch a few of Bent's activities. As long as there were buffalo for the Cheyennes to hunt, George Bent probably followed his father's profession, working as a trader. He told George Hyde:

"I have traded robes from Kiowas, Comanches, [Kiowa-]Apaches, Sioux, Cheyennes and Arapahoes. In my time in trading for robes, I have traded for four white buffalo robes. I guess no other trader ever done this" (Bent, 1904-1918: April 17, 1905).

His skills as an interpreter were probably often in demand. A photograph made in 1879 (see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 38) shows Bent accompanying the Northern Cheyenne survivors of the Fort Robinson massacre, as their interpreter when these men were tried for murder in the Kansas courts. The Cheyennes were acquitted, no doubt in part because of George Bent's skill in articulating their defense. His very presence at that trial was a sign of great personal courage, for he was a marked man in many frontier towns. Bent's friend and associate, Silas Soule, who had publicly condemned Col. Chivington's conduct in the Sand Creek massacre, was assassinated on a Denver street corner, shot in the back of the head by one of Chivington's thugs (Afton, et. al., 1997: 141).

By the early-1880's, George Bent certainly was working as an interpreter. The 1885 census of Darlington Agency, headquarters of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation, shows Bent so employed (Oklahoma Historical Society). By 1894, he had moved his family to the sub-agency at Colony, where he would remain for the rest of his life. He may have met the ethnologist James Mooney about the same time, during that scholar's first trip to Indian Territory. In 1903, Bent translated for Mooney while he gathered volumes of information about Cheyenne shield heraldry (Bent, 1904-1918: Sepr. 22, 1915). These unpublished manuscripts, now at the National Anthropological Archives, have been a rich source of information for this author, among many others.

In 1902, George Bent began a long friendship with George Bird Grinnell, then the editor of "Field and Stream" magazine, and an amateur historian and ethnologist. In the summers Grinnell, his wife and assistants would travel to Oklahoma, where Bent arranged interviews with elderly Cheyennes, tribal priests and historians. During the rest of the year Bent would conduct follow-up interviews, and track down needed information. Although he received precious little, printed acknowledgement, it is certain that none of the titles in Grinnell's extensive bibliography could have existed without George Bent's help and direction. Most of Cheyenne ethnology is founded on the manuscript material assembled by Mooney and Grinnell. George Bent assisted them both.

Bent's letters to Grinnell, and later to his research assistant George Hyde, amount to more than two thousand pages, in an elegant, copperplate script (Bent 1902-1918; 1904-1918). George Bent, called Hi-my-ike (Beaver), grandson of the Sacred Arrow Keeper, is the most important figure in both Cheyenne ethnography and historiography. Without his tireless efforts at preservation, much of what had existed in Cheyenne society before 1875 would be lost to the world, and to the Cheyennes as well.

When Bent was six years old,

" 1849...Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Comanches...Apaches and a big camp of Osages attended [a Kiowa] Sun Dance. Right at this dance, cholera broke out. Indians scattered in every direction...Our grandmother died with cholera the next day...Charley [Bent's younger brother] and myself rode on a travois. A big mule was dragging us all night, as [the] Indians were stampeding..." (Bent, 1904-1918: Feb. 10, 1915).

In less than a week, half of the Southern Cheyennes died from this unheard of Whiteman disease---more than 1500 people. But the boy, son of Owl Woman and William Bent, survived.

In 1918, as the First World War dragged into a fifth year, once again disease stalked the world. Bent wrote to Grinnell in April. His last letter to Hyde was on May 8th, as always providing answers to the obscure questions no one else remembered: the site of Chouteau's trading post on the Arkansas in the 1850's; the location of anecdotal, geographic terms, like "Pawnee Forts", and "Where Many Oxen Heads are Lying". Hyde had asked about one of the partners of William Bent:

"I remember seeing [Ceran] St. Vrain when I was a small boy at Bent's Fort. He came by himself on a winter...wearing an overcoat made of a white blanket. He came for some goods, as Bent's Fort was the headquarters for Indian traders..."

And as always, he subscribed himself: "Your Friend, George Bent."

The following month an untreatable pulmonary virus, soon styled the "Spanish Influenza", swept around the world killing more than twenty million people. One of them may have been the Cheyennes' greatest historian.


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