Hand color tinted photo of Chief American Horse an Oglala Sioux Native American Indian Chief 1898
American Horse “Wasechum Tashunka” Oglala Sioux Chief (1840-1908)
Great warrior, orator and diplomat, American Horse represented his people in Washington, D.C. many times. In his later years he toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
American Horse (ca. 1820?-1876) was a minor headman of the Miniconjou Lakota during the Plains Indian wars of the last half of the nineteenth century. More commonly known as Iron Plume, he was probably present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Slim Buttes.
Following the native victory over General George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn in June 1876, the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne moved eastward where by early fall, many were encamped in the area of the Little Missouri River. A small group of about forty lodges, including minor headmen such as Roman Nose, Red Horse and Iron Plume, separated from the main villages and moved near Slim Buttes, South Dakota, apparently intending to quietly slip in to the Cheyenne River Agency to surrender. Unfortunately, they were discovered by a party of troops under Captain Anson Mills, an advance party of General George Crook’s column, and attacked.
During the battle, Iron Plume, four warriors, and fifteen women were backed into a cave, but refused to surrender. During the shooting, Iron Plume was mortally wounded by a shot through his bowels. After the battle, he was treated by an army surgeon, but little could be done for him and he died later that night.
Scout Frank Grouard identified the wounded man as American Horse, though later Lakota corrected his error, noting that the minor Indian headman was named Iron Plume. This has resulted in considerable confusion by later historians. Many have misidentified him as the Oglala American Horse and have even used portraits of him to represent Iron Plume. George Hyde, historian and author, incorrectly listed him as American Horse the elder, to distinguish him from the younger Oglala by the same name. Contrary to Hyde’s writing, these two men were not related.
The Oglala Lakota or Oglala Sioux (pronounced oɡəˈlala, meaning “to scatter one’s own” in Lakota language) are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota people, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, make up the Great Sioux Nation. A majority of the Oglala live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the eighth-largest Native American reservation in the United States. The Oglala are a federally recognized tribe whose official title is the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The Oglala Lakota, along with the six other groups of Lakota, had separated from each other by the early 19th century. By 1830, the Oglala had around 3,000 members. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Oglala, along with the Brulé, another Lakota band, and three other Sioux bands, formed the Sioux Alliance. This Alliance attacked surrounding tribes for territorial and hunting reasons.
Typically, in the Oglala Lakota society, the men are in charge of the politics of the tribe. The men were usually the chiefs for political affairs, war leaders and warriors, and hunters. Women are and always have been highly regarded and respected in the tribe. The Lakota are matrilineal and children belong to the mother’s clan. Chiefs were selected based on the mother’s clan. Women controlled the food, resources and movable property. When a man married, he went to live with his wife with her people. They could support her in childbearing and rearing and, if the couple separated, she would not be away from her people. This also helped control the men’s behavior toward women. The women elders of the clan were highly respected and had to approve the selection of chiefs of the clans. If they withdrew their support, a man could not continue as chief. Both genders were equal in decisions and power. There is also another significant people in this tribe called Winkte or in English “Two Spirit.” They are biological males that assume a non-male specific identity. Two Spirit people of the Oglala Lakota Society usually held a sacred and important role in the tribe. They often were healers healing both Natives and White soldiers and settlers. Their roles included naming the babies in naming ceremonies and performing healing through praying and cleansing ceremonies. In the late 1900s their roles changed from conducting sacred ceremonies to teaching the children and doing a variety of other important responsibilities. The two spirit’s mission then and now is to keep the sacred fire going and protect all people in many significant ways.
Family is of utmost importance to the Oglala Lakota, with loyalty to the tribe coming in close second. Each family had one or more tipi households. The women were critical to the family’s life: they made almost everything the family and tribe used. They cultivated and processed a variety of crops; prepared the food; prepared game and fish caught by the men; worked skins to make clothing and footwear, as well as storage bags, the covering of tipis, and other items.
Beyond the family was the clan. Inheritance of clan chief positions and the composition of the clans was matrilineal: only the males born to the clan could be life chiefs of it. Within the clan, relatives whom Europeans and Americans would call cousins were considered, and identified by titles, equivalent to brothers and sisters. Because of the importance of the clan, a boy’s maternal uncle, rather than his father, would often be the most influential male figure in his life. The uncle would integrate the boy into the clan’s male society.
Each of the twenty tribes were subdivided into bands (tiyośpaye), which consisted of a number of smaller family camps (tiwahe). During parts of the year, the small camps were scattered across the region; at other times, these camps gathered together as a tiyośpaye to cooperate on activities such as a large buffalo hunt. Each summer, usually in early June, bands from many groups gathered together for the annual sacred Sun Dance.
Writing in 1875, Dr. John J. Saville, the US Indian agent at the Red Cloud Agency, noted that the Oglala tribe was divided into three main bands: the Kiyuksa, the Oyuĥpe and the head band or True Oglala. “Each of these bands are subdivided into smaller parties, variously named, usually designated by the name of their chief or leader.”
In the years immediately following the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, these bands became increasingly polarized as they and their leaders struggled with decisions relating to the continued American encroachment on their territory. Some bands chose to come in to the Indian agencies (forerunner to the reservations), where they received beef and other rations from the U.S. government. Other bands decided to remain out, attempting to continue the traditional lifeways for as long as possible. Many bands moved between these two extremes, coming in to the agencies during the winter and joining their relatives in the north each spring. These challenges further split the various Oglala bands.
Just prior to confinement on the reservations, the Oglala bands included:
True Oyuȟpe (Big Road’s band). Other members include: Black Elk
Makaicu (Red Dog’s band)
Caŋkahuȟaŋ (He Dog’s band). Other members include: Short Bull; Amos Bad Heart Bull.
Hokayuta (Black Twin’s band)
Huŋkpatila (Little Hawk and Crazy Horse’s band)
Iteśica (Red Cloud’s band)
Payabya (Young Man Afraid of His Horses’s band)
Wagluȟe (Chief Blue Horse, American Horse and Three Bear’s band)
Kuinyan (Little Wound’s band)
Tapišleca (Yellow Bear’s band)
On the reservation
After being moved several times during the 1870s after the Great Sioux Reservation was broken up into five portions, the Red Cloud Agency was relocated in 1878 and renamed the Pine Ridge Reservation. By 1890, the reservation included 5,537 people, divided into a number of districts that include some 30 distinct communities.
The Rosebud Indian Reservation, to the east in South Dakota, also has residents who are enrolled Oglala Lakota members, but its population is composed primarily of Sicangu Oyate, or Brulé Sioux.
Oglala Lakota Wild Westers and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
Wild Westing and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, were portals to education, opportunity and hope, and came at a time when the Lakota people were depressed, impoverished, harassed and confined. Most Wild Westers were Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the first Lakota people to go Wild Westing. Known as “Show Indians”, Oglala Wild Westers referred to themselves as Oskate Wicasa or “Show Man”, a title of great honor and respect. On March 31, 1887, Chief Blue Horse, Chief American Horse and Chief Red Shirt and their families boarded the S.S. State of Nebraska in New York City, led a journey for the Lakota people when they crossed the sea to England on Buffalo Bill’s first international to perform at the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and tour through Birmingham, Salford and London over a five–month period. The entourage consisted of 97 Indians, 18 buffaloes, 2 deer, 10 elk, 10 mules, 5 Texas steers, 4 donkeys, and 108 horses. Since 1887, Wild Westing has been family tradition with several hundred Pine Ridge families. Between 1906 and 1915, 570 individuals from Pine Ridge went Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill and other shows. Often entire families worked together, and the tradition of the Wild Wester community is not unlike the tradition of circus families and communities. Frank C. Goings, the recruiting agent for Buffalo Bill and other Wild West shows at Pine Ridge, was a Carlisle Wild Wester with experience as a performer, interpreter and chaperon. Goings carefully chose the famous chiefs, the best dancers, the best singers, and the best riders; screened for performers willing to be away from home for extended periods of time and coordinated travel, room and board. He travelled with his wife and children, and for many years toured Europe and the United States with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real West and the Sells Floto Circus.
Many Oglala Lakota Wild Westers from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle was a unique school, and is considered by some Native Americans like going to Yale, Princeton or Cambridge. Carlisle Wild Westers were attracted by the adventure, pay and opportunity and were hired as performers, chaperons, interpreters and recruiters. Wild Westers from Pine Ridge enrolled their children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from its beginning in 1879 until its closure in 1918. In 1879, Oglala Lakota leaders Chief Blue Horse, Chief American Horse and Chief Red Shirt enrolled their children in the first class at Carlisle. They wanted their children to learn English, trade skills and white customs. “Those first Sioux children who came to Carlisle could not have been happy there. But it was their only chance for a future.” Luther Standing Bear was taught to be brave and unafraid to die, and left the reservation to attend Carlisle and do some brave deed to bring honor to his family. Standing Bear’s father celebrated his son’s brave act by inviting his friends to a gathering and gave away seven horses and all the goods in his dry goods store.