Newspaper Page Text
o Ö o o m □ 9 Fifty-three years ago, in 18 66, the principal topic of conversation in Montana for several months was a "peace commission," which had been appointed by the government to end all Indian disturbances in the north west, and which became one of the standing jokes of that period of western history. It was composed of four politicians, and one of these was a clergyman—the Rev. Henry W. Reed, who so long figured as an In dian agent on the upper Missouri. Far from putting an end to any of the Indian troubles with which the government was threatened, the com mission made matters much worse than they had been before and stirred up the tribes along the river to such an extent that much fighting and bloodshed between whites and reds followed. Besides the minister-politician, Reed, the members of the commis sion were Newton Edmunds, govern or of the territory of Dakota; Gener al S. R. Curtis, a well known officer of the Iowa volunteers in the Civil war; and Orrin Guernsey. It was officially known as the Northwestern Treaty Commission, but was always referred to as the Peace Commission of 186 6. General Curtis was chair man of the commission, and he was about as well fitted to negotiate treaties with the plains Indians as a Sioux brave would be to teach higher mathematics. The commission assembled at St. Louis in the spring of the year and spent some weeks in lengthy de liberations, concerning themselves mostly with the manner of travel that would be most luxurious in their western journey, and how best to get rid of the large appropriation that had been set aside for them. They gave out many flamboyant notices to the newspapers, setting forth with much confidence how they proposed to make the troublesome red men of Dakota and Montana contented and loyal wards of the government. They proved very amusing to the veterans of the plains who read them and who knew the Indians. Charter a Steamer. >> The commission finally decided to charter a steamer to take them up the Missouri to Fort Benton and back, and they made a deal with Captain Joseph La Barge, veteran Missouri river pilot, who knew the Sioux, the Crows, Gros Ventres, Blackfeet and other tribes thoroughly. Captain La Barge agreed to transport the com missioners for a price of $300 a day on the fine new steamboat Ben John son. At the last moment a son of one of the commissioners put in an appearance and wished to go. His father asked Captain La Barge to hire the boy ini some capacity at a salary of $5 a day, but the captain intimated that he would almost be willing to pay $5 a day not to have the youth along. The commissioners insisted, however, so the captain agreed to pay the lad provided the contract price was raised to $305 a day, and this was done. Captain La Barge was much disgusted with the arrangement, but the young man en joyed a sinecure during the trip and the government paid the freight, as it were. Captain La Barge in his memoirs declared that the whole voyage seemed more like a pleasure trip— which it really was intended to be by the commissioners—than a business enterprise. The boat moved up stream by leisurely stages, always tying up early in the evening and starting late in the morning, as the commissioners did not wish to be un duly fatigued by travel. Long stops were made at all points of interest, and between these whist and other card games served to while away the hours. Expedition is Ridiculed. The people along the river looked upon the expedition as a farce from the start, and no end of ridicule was poured upon it wherever the boat tied up. The Indians were quick to see that the white men considered it as a joke, and they acted according ly. Captain La Barge wrote the fol lowing account of one incident that came near ending seriously for the whole party: "Some 20 miles below the mouth of White Earth river I saw two In dian hunters on the hills. I hailed them and invited them abroad to learn whether they were Yankton Sioux, as I suspected. They proved to be of this tribe—the most relent lessly hostile of all the Sioux bands— and said their camp was 10 miles off, on White Earth river. General Cur tis asked them to go to camp and tell their chiefs to move the whole village down to the mouth of White Earth river, and there await the boat for the purpose of holding a council. I asked the size of the village and was told that there were 600 lodges, which meant not less than 3,000 In dians. "I remonstrated at this proposi tion, strongly urging that only the chiefs be asked to a council. I knew that should so powerful a band of these hostile Indians get any advan tage of us they would certainly use it. We had no power of resisting them, having only 30 people in all, and they were poorly armed. I feared the Indians would make a rush and attempt to capture the steamer as soon as we landed. Our interpret er, Zephyr Rencontre, who was a seasoned plainsman, seconded me in this opinion. I had been in the pow er of these Yanktons before, and it was only due to Rencontre that I now wore my hair. La Barge Called a Coward. "General Curtis said he perceived that I was afraid of the Indians, but not to be alarmed, as he would answer for all harm. He said the Indians would never dare to molest a government officer. "To me. who had spent all by life among the Indians, this gratuitous Insinuation from a mere novice in Indian experience cut me to the quick, and I replied: 'Very well, will land as you say, but before we get.through we will see who is afraid of Indians.' "This was another instance of the mistakes made by our government in the selection, to treat with Indians, of men without knowledge of the In dian character. It was a universal rule that such men would treat with contempt the cautious bearing of those who knew the Indians; and this ignorant bravado many times led to disastrous consequences. It w r as very unpleasant to act with such men, who ridiculed one's honest knowledge of peril, and who were powerless to help when they got you into danger. It was also a common observation with me that the volun teer officers of the war were always more haughty and overbearing than those bred to the profession. Warns the General. "I said to General Curtis on this occasion: 'This course is contrary to my judgment, General; and in order not to be responsible for the consequences I desire a written order from you before I adopt it.' He gave me the order. The Indians arrived just as we were tying up the boat at the mouth of the White Earth river. "The women immediately began setting up the lodges and the men be gan to rush on board. They were all armed. General Curtis had said, when I foretold this: 'We will keep them off, only letting on board those we want.' I replied: 'You will see. General, that it will be impossible to keep them off.' "Unfortunately, as the Sioux rush ed aboard, they did not congregate at any one place but scattered them selves in every direction. Matters at once became serious. I was thor oughly alarmed for the safety of the boat and her passengers, but remain ed cool and indifferent to all outward appearance, and did not permit my self to resent the actions of the In dians. An act of that sort might have precipitated trouble. We were over a powder mine and a spark was liable to fall at any moment. Commissioners Sneak Away. "The Indians became more and more insolent, would elbow us around and sneer at us, displaying their muscular arms and trying in every way to provoke us to action, YANK In the old river boating days it was customary to find out, soon after a steamboat left St. Louis for Fort Union or Fort Benton, who was the champion with fists among the crew, and pioneers who saw some of these battles used to tell of historic fights that were the talk of the river folk from Missouri to Montana. The steamboat captains used to like to have the point settled beyond dispute, for if a series of battles were held, whereby contenders were elim inated and the superiority of one man established, much quarreling and bickering was done away with for the rest of the trip. It was the custom, therefore, for the captain, within a day or two of the time the steamboat set out on its voyage, to call for all who claim ed to be fighters to step forward, and a series of battles would be held until one man had proved his right to be called champion. A ring would be formed in the forecastle and each braggart had to meet a shipmate and conquer or be defeated in a fight to a finish. The cham pion, after winning the last fight, would be awarded a red belt, which he proudly wore during the remain der of the trip, but if his supremacy was challenged, it was up to him to defend his title at all times and against all comers. Many were the savage and bloody battles thus fought on the decks of the old river steamboats, much to the delight of the rough mountain and river men in the audience. Captain Joseph La Barge, the most famous of the old steamboat tains, used to tell of one champion who was only known by the name of "Yankee Jack." It was aboard the Robert Campbell, bound for Fort Benton, in 1863, that he won the belt. Irishmen Were Quarrelsome It happened that there were a number of Irishmen in the crew who made life far from agreeable to the men of other nationalities aboard, and who especially delighted to pick upon this well-built, raw-boned American who refused to give any other name than that of Yankee Jack. He took their gibes and their offen sive actions good-naturedly for some time until the captain of the boat called him into his cabin and asked him why he did not stand up for him self. Jack said he was willing to fight, so the captain called in the two leaders of the Irishmen and asked them to select their two best fight ers. Each of the Hibernians claimed to be chief of the gang, so a ring was immediately formed and Jack and one of his opponents were soon strip ped for action. The big Irishman made some in sulting remarks to Jack and rushed in with a Celtic battle cry of rage. Jack met his onslaught with a ter rific straight-arm jolt to the jaw that sent the Irishman to the deck, where he lay unconscious for 15 minutes. The other Irishman swore that it was sheer luck on the part of Yankee Jack, and stepped into the ring with plenty of confidence. He also rushed Jack and the latter parried two or three fierce swings with much cleverness. Then seeing an opening, he stepped in and drove his right like a piledriver to the Irishman's \ X \\ i A • £ Jy y-É . * P! as L ' H.. V r ' ' Si $1 Jj* « tv? vrf v m m \ > ■Ik 111 : A v? À - ■rV, Wê -V. ?, > m Captain Joseph La Barge, Whose Steamboat was Chartered by So-Called Peace Commission in 1806 to Come up Missouri River to Negotiate Treaties With Plains Indians; The Rental of the Boat was $305 Per Day. One Sioux, an ugly fellow and a not ed villian named Crazy Wolf, follow ed me everywhere, fully armed. He X Æm b. 'i \ l\V\ im H« V* u m r PaA Ik ** x - m % \ : V f, 7 4 \ > - / < /« i Before the Irishman Could Recover Himself, Jack's Fist Flattened His Enemy's Nose Against His Face. The Irishman Fell, and Seizing His Pistol, Jack Tossed It Into the Fire. wind, and while the latter reeled back, gasping for breath. Jack liter ally lifted him off his feet with a ter rible uppercut and the fight was over. defi to any man on the boat to step forward and meet him, but the belt was awarded without his challenge being accepted. Jack then issued a general Wins Against a Gun The Irishmen let Jack alone un til the boat pulled up to the levee at Fort Union, but the unloading of freight bound for that point had no more than been unloaded before the first man he had knocked out, whose anger had been smouldering for sev eral weeks, threatened to "get" Jack before they left port. Jack laughed and told him he could have a fight any time he wanted it, but he did not take the Irishman's threat seriously. That evening the crew all drank lot of fighting whisky around the fort, where a dance was in progress, the men dancing with a number of Sioux women, some of whom were living as wives of employes of the fort. The Irishman who had threat ened Jack was particularly boister ous and repeated his boast that he would get the Yankee. Jack, despite his prowess with his fists, was not quarrelsome, and toward morning he decided to go aboard the boat and go to bed to avoid trouble that he saw was imminent. He started for the gate of the stockade around the fort, but the big Irishman stepped forward and blocked his way. The enclosure was lit up with the glare from a bonfire, and a crowd of ex cited faces quickly formed a ring j tried in every way to make me notice him and to provoke me. I finally went to Zephyr Rencontre and told about the pair. Jack stepped back and prepared to defend himself, when the Irishman drew from his shirt a pistol and fired point-blank at his foe. As luck would have it, the bul let just grazed Jack's right ear, and before the Irishman could recover. Jack's fist flattened his enemy's nose against his face. The Irishman fell and, seizing his pistol. Jack tossed It into the fire. The Irishman was on his feet in a second with a bellow of rage, but the now thoroughly infu riated Jack tore into him and nearly killed him with his fists before he finished with him. That was the last trouble Jack encountered on the river steamers, for his reputation as a fighter was secure and none cared to try conclusions with him. The battle was watched by a number of Blackfeet chiefs, who made much of Jack after the encounter, flattered by their praise and stimu lated, too, by plenty of whisky, told the head chief that he would fight any four men in the town. A couple Wins Admiration of Blackfeet Yankee Jack, it appears, became a noted figure at most of the forts of the American Fur Company, for the admiration he was sure to win by his fighting prowess made him un duly fond of taking parts in encoun ters of this kind, and when he could not get a single man to face him, he would offer to take on two at a time and whip both of them. Benton one 4th of July in the late 60's, he won a fight with a huge negro from Texas who had come up the river and who considered him self Invincible in the game of fists. At Fort Jack, him I feared trouble was brewing. He thought so too and said I had better prepare for prompt measures. I had kept steam up. Pilot and engineer remained at their posts and the mate was kept forward. He had been instructed to cut the line at a signal of one tap of the bell. "Meanwhile the commissioners had been attempting negotiations with the Indians, but to little purpose. In front, on the boiler deck, there were a table and seats for the prin cipal Indians. Curtis tried to call them to order, but without success. He then summoned Rencontre and tried to talk to them. He told them he was about to roll some bales of goods on shore and asked them to withdraw and distribute them. The Sioux chiefs answered that he could roll them ashore; the women would take care of them; as for them, they would remain on the boat. "Nothing whatever could be done. The situation looked worse as the Sioux became more insolent. One by one the commissioners slipped away and locked themselves in their state rooms. General Curtis was finally left alone, and after awhile he also withdrew, telling me to get out of the scrape as best I could. He fully realized the gravity of the blunder he had made and his own inability to cope with the situation. Sioux Are Outwitted. "The Indians as yet had made no attempt to enter the staterooms, but they were angry at the withdrawal of the commissioners and might do so at any minute. Rencontre said to me, 'The Indians don't like this and will give us trouble. We had better do something right away.' " 'Is it time to cut loose?' I asked. " 'I think so, 'he replied. I gave the signal and the line was cut, the wheels began to turn backw-ard and the boat slid quickly from the bank. "The sudden move astonished the Indians. Those on shore seized the line and began pulling before they discovered that it was cut. I knew they would not dare to fire for fear of shooting their own people. Those on the boat were panic-stricken and of gamblers heard this boast and they gathered together four of the husk iest river men to be found there and faced Jack with them. Jack agreed to should be a strictly rough and tum ble fight with nothing barred except ing guns, clubs, rocks or other weap ons. This being understood, Jack I went to the trading post and bought I a pair of heavy boots, with which he replaced the moccasins that he usual ly wore. It was decided to hold the battle in a small corral adjoining the fort, and around this gathered the 4th of July celebrators, including fifteen Black feet chiefs and head men. Jack's op ponents were burly river men, and the fight opened with a rush of the four at Jack. Agile and quick as cat, Jack side-stepped the leader and caught the second man witn a right swing to the jaw that knocked him cold. In an instant Jack's right foot had caught another a terrific kick in the stomach that put him out of the fight. The other two were on Jack like a pair of wolves and fists and feet were going like flails. Sudden ly one of Jack's opponents, leaning forward with his head down, looking for a chance to get past Jack's guard, caught the latter's knee under his chin with such force that it broke his jaw and nearly dislocated his neck. The fourth man, seeing himself left alone, leaped over the corral fence and ran away, while Jack, victorious but bloody, received the plaudits of the crowd. The Blackfeet were so impressed with Jack's prowess that they offered to make him a war chief of the tribe if he would come to live with them, but he declined the offer and shortly after went back down the river, not to return to Montana. No race with Coffee prices! POSTUM Cereal is still selling at the same fair price, and is better for you. Try it! JWo size's, usualprice 15# and 25$ Made hy Postum Cereal Co. Battle Creek, Mich. began to leap overboard. I caused the nose of the boat to be held close to shore so that they could get to land without drowning, and in a few minutes we were clear of them. Then, reversing the engines, -we steer ed for the opposite bank and made the boat fast. "The danger being over, I went to General Curtis' room and told him it was safe to come out. I said: "Who is afraid of Indians now. General Curtis?" "His only reply was: 'Who would have thought the rascals would dare to molest a government officer?' "The Sioux cared a lot about a government officer! His remark showed how little he knew about the Indian character. "No further attempt was made to treat with these Indians and we went on up the river. As on a previous occasion, the Indians followed us. Durfee & Peck at this time had a trading post on the site where Fort Buford later stood. The Indians made a signal from the opposite side of the river that they had robes to trade, and the agent at the post wanted to borrow our yawl to go across and get them. I consented, but advised against it. The traders crossed and actually bought several hundred robes, but just as the boat was about to put back the Indians jumped on the crew', killed one, badly wounded another and would have killed all had I not promptly crossed the river with the steamboat to their assistance. "The commissioners then went on to old Fort Union, at the mouth of the Yellowstone river, where they re mained for a time treating with the Assinniboines, Crows and Gros Ven tres. The Crows and Gros Ventres came down by the steamboat Miner under promise that they should be taken back to their camp on the Musselshell by boat. The river be ing to low to take so large a boat as the Ben Johnson farther, the com mission seized a small boat, the Amanda, employed by the war de partment. The Amanda was headed up the river to meet Colonel Reeve, who was on his way back from the Judith river, where he had estab lished a post. The Crows and Gros Ventres, with their presents, got on board and started up the river. The agent for the Blackfeet, George B. Wright, was also on board on his way to Fort Benton. "At the mouth of the Milk river the Amanda met Colonel Reeve, who promptly took the boat, put the In dians ashore and left them to walk home. The anger of the Crows was fired to a desperate pitch by this action. They refused to take their presents, tore up the treaties and swore that they would fire on every boat going up the river. Wright was afraid to return overland to Benton, so he went back with the boat and went all the way around by Omaha and Salt Lake to reach Fort Benton. "The commissioners and Wright had a wordy battle before they de cided to get together and send in re ports of the incidents of the Crow and Gros Ventres treaties that would agree. "The commissioners were afraid to go further up the river and the prow of the Ben Johnson was turned down stream again and pursued her way leisurely. The property bought by the commission as treaty presents was put off, partly at Sioux City and partly at Omaha." There is no doubt but that the property referred to was stolen by the commissioners and sold by them at Omaha and Sioux City. The cost of the boat hire for nearly 100 days was about $30,000. The peace commission of 1866 cost the government upward of $50, 000 and not only accomplished noth ing of good, but did no end of harm in inflaming the Indians along the Missouri against the whites. -o Asiatic Russia has 168 rivers with a navigable length of 13,558 miles.