Broadcast: September 19, 2004
Now, the VOA Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA.
I’m Steve Ember.
In the early days of the last century, an American doctor wrote about the Native American people called the Lakota or Sioux. His name was Charles Eastman. He was one of the few people to ever win the trust of the old people. He could do this because he too was a Lakota, Sioux. His Lakota name was Ohiyasa.
As a child he learned to ride a horse. He learned to hunt. And he learned other skills that made the Sioux great.
When Ohiyasa was fifteen years old he was sent to an American school for Indian children. He was given the English name Charles Eastman. He did very well in school. He was chosen to go on to college and then to medical school. He returned to his tribe as their medical doctor.
In the early part of the past century, Charles Eastman saw that many of the old people were dying. He feared their history and culture would die with them. He talked to many of the very old members of the Sioux. He put their words down on paper.
One of these stories was about a famous Indian fighter named “Rain-in-the-Face.” This is the story that Doctor Eastman wrote.
About two months before the great Sioux warrior, Rain-in-the-Face, died, I went to see him for the last time. “Friend,” I said, “at home when the old men were asked to tell the brave things they had done, the tobacco pipe was passed. So come, let us smoke now to the memory of the old days.”
He took some of my tobacco and filled his long pipe. The old man lay upon a small bed covered by a red blanket. He was all alone that day, only an old dog lay silent by his feet. Finally he looked up and began telling me about his long life.
“I was born near the Cheyenne River about seventy years ago. My family were not great chiefs, but they were good warriors and great hunters.
I was given the name “Rain-in-the-Face” as a young man. This was after a great battle when we were on a warpath against the Gros Ventres tribe.
I had painted my face with warpaint that day. I had wished my face to represent the sun when partly covered with darkness. So I painted it half-black, half red.
We fought all day in the rain and some of the war paint on my face was washed away. Much of the black and red paint had run together. So I was given the name “Rain-in-the-Face.” We Sioux considered it an honorable name.
As he told his story old Rain seemed to come alive. He smiled as he talked. He seemed younger and his eyes shined.
One of the most daring attacks that we ever made was against the army base called Fort Totten in North Dakota. The fight took place in the summer of Eighteen-Sixty-Six. I had a special friend then. His name was Wapaypay. He was known to the white men as Fearless Bear. He was the bravest man among us.
In those days Wapaypay and I called each other “Brother — Friend.” This was a life and death promise among the Sioux. What one does the other must do and that meant that I must be with him in the attack. And, if he was killed, I must fight until I died also.
I prepared for death. I painted my face with my special sign -- half red, half black. Now the signal for the attack was given. My horse started even with Wapaypay, but his horse was faster than mine.
This was bad for me. By the time I came close to the fort, the soldiers had somewhat recovered from the surprise of our attack. They were aiming their guns more carefully.
Their guns talked very loud but hit few of us. Their guns were like an old dog with no teeth who makes much noise and becomes more angry the more noise he makes. How much harm we did I do not know. When the fight was finished I saw blood on my leg. Both my horse and I were wounded.
I knew that Rain-in-the-Face had taken part in two of the most famous fights with white soldiers. One of these fights was near an army fort named Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming.
The other was the most famous battle between the Sioux and the American Army. Rain-in- the-Face was in the battle against the famous army general, George Armstrong Custer. That great battle took place near the Little Big Horn River. I asked him to tell me about these two great battles.
We attacked a fort west of the Black Hills. The white soldiers called it Fort Phil Kearny. It was there we killed almost one-hundred soldiers. They were commanded by a captain named Fetterman.
It was a big fight. Many famous chiefs were there -- Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud. And many young warriors -- Sword, American Horse, Crow King.
The plan for the battle was decided after many meetings. The main group would stay hidden from view and a few of the bravest young men were chosen to attack a group of white men. These men were cutting wood for the fort. We were told not to kill these men, but to chase them back to the fort and then ride slowly away.
We did this. A large group of soldiers commanded by Captain Fetterman followed us. They thought we were only few in number. We led them into the trap. It was a matter of a very few minutes before every soldier lay dead.
The very next year we signed a peace treaty at Fort Rice in North Dakota. Almost all the Sioux chiefs signed the treaty. The treaty said all the country north of the Republican River in Nebraska, including the Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountains, was to be always Sioux country. No white man could go there without our permission.
After the treaty was signed, the white men found the yellow metal they call gold in our country. They came in great numbers. They chased away all the animals we hunted for food. We had no choice, so for the last time we took up arms against them. No one honored the treaty.
When the treaty failed, many hundreds of Sioux families moved north to an area of what is now in the State of Montana. Rain-in-the-Face described what happened then.
In the Spring, the Sioux got together near the Tongue River. It was one of the greatest camps of the Sioux that I ever saw. Some Northern Cheyennes were with us. And there were Santee Sioux from Canada.
We had decided to fight the white soldiers until no warrior should be left. We crossed the Tongue River to the Little Big Horn.
I was eating my food one day when suddenly the Long-Haired Soldier Chief called George Custer began to attack us. It was a great surprise.
I heard a Sioux war cry. I saw a warrior riding his horse at top speed giving the warning as he came. Then we heard the sound of soldiers’ guns. I seized my gun, my bow and arrows and my stone war club. As I was about to go join the fight, I saw a group of soldiers near us at the edge of a long line of cliffs across the small river.
We all got on our horses and immediately started toward those soldiers. We quickly began to surround the soldiers. When the soldiers were surrounded on two sides, with the river on the third, the order came to attack.
The soldiers tried to ride the other way, but they could not leave. They fired their guns at us as fast as they could. We mostly used bows and arrows.
The soldiers fought very bravely until they were killed. I had always thought that white men were not brave, but I had a great respect for them after this day.
No one knows who killed the soldier chief Long-Hair Custer. Many lies have been told about me. Some say I killed Custer or his brother Tom Custer that day.
Why, in that fight the excitement was so great that we could not recognize our nearest friends. Everything was done as fast as lightning.
But that was long ago. I have lived in peace now for many, many years. No one can say Rain-in-the-Face has broken the rules. I fought for my people and my country.
When we lost, I remained silent, as a warrior should. My warrior spirit died when I put down my weapons. Now, there is only my poor body that has lived on. Now that too is almost ready to lie down for the last time.
Ahhhhhh… It is well.
Rain-in-the-Face, one of the last of the great Sioux warriors, died at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota on September Fourteenth, Nineteen-Oh-Five.
This Special English program was taken from the book “Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains” by Doctor Charles Eastman. Doug Johnson was the voice of Doctor Eastman; Shep O’Neal was the voice of Rain-in- the-Face. Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.