By Morris Swett
Never to be retired on account of age, never to be reduced in rank, and for all the remaining years of his life to hold the rating of senior duty sergeant, United States Army. Somehow we seem to hear about 4,000,000 veterans of "this man's army" chorus "Not so bad." But this job was even better than that. Here was a soldier whose every material need had been provided for, a home to his liking, meals of his own choosing and as arduous or easy a routine as he saw fit to make it.
"For distinguished service as a peacemaker," has not yet appeared on the citation of a soldier, but it might well be set down on the service record of the one man in the army for whom army regulations and army routine had been thus set aside. For it was recognition of his efforts for peace, and not for gallantry on the battlefield, that an appreciative government had honored the veteran Indian Scout I-See-O.
The Indian wars have contributed their full share of gallant actions, instances of individual daring, courage and self-sacrificing heroism. Every schoolboy knows at least a dozen outstanding stories. But how many know of the higher, rarer courage, the greater daring, which was I-See-O's when he strode time and again before the council fires of his own and other tribes and eloquently, logically and with gifted diplomacy pleaded the cause of friendship instead of war between them and the oncoming whites. To his kinsmen he urged the futility of armed opposition; to the whites he gave a better understanding of the Indian nature and a closer, more discerning insight into the workings of the red man's mind.
So, in a lonesome tepee, far away from the roar and din of civilization, he lived at Fort Sill, and stood as a living monument of a critical period in American history. With his little family he lived in modern America but he was not a part of the present generation at all. He looked on in amazement at the automobiles that whizzed by him every day, great engines of war rambled past
him as the artillery maneuvered, roaring air planes darted across the sky, and they were to him as sparrows. He was simply stunned. He spent most of his time just gazing at the great expanse of prairie before him, wondering whether he was living in the same world as that in which he was born, whether it was all a dream, whether there was about to be ushered into his life a new era, whether modern science and its remarkable inventions are but forerunners of a Messiah.
It was hard to link up this old wrinkled octogenarian with the promise of a Messiah, and a life of perpetual happiness, yet it was he who a little more than forty years ago prevented his fellow Kiowas from being led astray by a false prophet who was being hailed as the deliverer of the red people who preached blood and thunder against the whites. It was of him that General Hugh L. Scott once said, "I-See-O, it was you who prevented bloodshed among the Kiowas and Apaches, and it is to you that the Indian people of Oklahoma owe a great deal of thanks."
I-See-O, or as he was more properly known in the military establishment, Sergeant I-See-O, held a unique position in the American army. No one, not even General Pershing, himself, is afforded the privilege that was I-See-O's. When General Pershing reached his sixty-fourth birthday he was automatically retired from active service. Not so with I-See-O. As long as he lived he was a sergeant in the army on the active list, with all the pay and allowances of a non-commissioned officer of that rank. He could not be reduced in rank either, which was a privilege shared by no other soldier in the army. I-See-O was thus the oldest soldier on an active status in the Army of the United States.
The American government could hardly have done less for the man who had done so much to keep peace in the Southwest when Indian troubles became threatening among all the tribes. His gallant services in the troubles of 1890 are remembered by the veterans of the Indian wars, and as long as he lived, his were recounted to all those who passed his little tepee or recognized his familiar figure on the Fort Sill reservation.
I-See-O was born on an Indian reservation near Fort Larned, Kansas, about 1851. At that time the Kiowas were allied with the Comanches and the Arapahoes, who were constantly fighting
their enemy tribes, the Cheyennes and Utes. When 15 years old, he went on the warpath against the Navajos in New Mexico. While on this expedition on the Rio Grande he came across a small Cheyenne village where he was told that "soldiers were coming with beef, sugar, and coffee and were going to have a big council." This council was the Medicine Lodge Council,1 and I-See-O told of it as follows:
"First, I went out on an expedition on the Rio Grande River and was returning home and found the camp at Medicine Lodge camp and all tribes were coming at same place and some announced they were meeting here for same purpose. That was when I first came in. It was in the early fall and I was just about eighteen years old at that time.
"I had been home about two, three, or maybe five days when I heard announcer calling in camp that the men and soldiers were coming. I heard great bunch coming over tomorrow and all the chiefs and everybody get together tonight and talk about something. This announcer said that the big party is on the road here to make this treaty. 'We want to appoint two delegates to meet commission coming out half-way tomorrow.' Of course, the chiefs and headmen meet that night and I was not present as I was a young man and was not a chief yet, but tomorrow morning I saw stage-coach coming full of men to meet the commission. The party, headmen, principal chiefs, got together in group and meet stage-coach and two delegates, Chief Satanta and Chief Stumbling Bear were there. Of course, I did not go along to see what took place then but the story I got from them that went.
"They went in stage coach and met party several miles away. It happened to be at noon when they met delegation and took dinner on that place. We learned that they were big men detailed from headquarters in Washington. Everybody said, 'Tell big men to get through with their dinner.' After lunch they got back in stage coach and the party moved to camp. Some time after noon, later in the evening, we can see the coach returning bringing back the delegates that went to meet the party and the rest of them.
"I do not remember at what time they came, [This was in October 1867.] but they came and came in, part of the evening and all night. I did not know when they stopped coming in. They were whole lot of soldiers. Next morning I looked over the hills and nothing but camps.
"I would not say exactly when the council took place, but I remember young men clearing trees away where the council was to take place. It was in early fall, still warm, and they held it in the shade. Had lots of seats. They put down canvas for floor and then put seats all around as far as canvas was put down. Early evening the announcer-crier came out in camp announcing that after breakfast to-morrow morning everybody go to the great council.
"Next morning you can see bunches going to the council ground. Everybody going to council for curiosity. I went along to see what was going to take place.
"There were many tribes of Indians. I guess they cooked dinner for each tribe. I could see soldiers preparing lunch for the council. I could see by the side of each fireplace big piles of wood, big stacks of crackers and tin cups and lots of things. When all the Indians got there each tribe grouped in a separate group until their commissions came up. They brought the commission that was delegated to make the council treaty, they brought him over in big blue wagon to council grounds. When the party arrived everybody was quite anxious to know what was going to happen. I do not know who the chairman was but one man got up and announced that he was telling what the Kiowa said. Our interpreter came from the Comanche language. They called him "Mack" (McCusker).
"We did not have anyone to interpret the English language. The president of the council announced that he did not want anybody to go back to camp—that they had plenty of lunch for everybody there and wanted them all to have lunch. 'There are quite a few of you and you all will not return promptly after noon, so we will just stay here and eat together.' The president of the commission said that he would take his lunch in camp but will return right away. 'When I return I will tell you what my mis-
sion is for afternoon; what I came for. I have a little message I want to give before noon and I will tell the balance afternoon. With this party of men, soldiers and everybody, the commission appointed at Washington to come before you to make a treaty here with you Kiowa in this reservation. You all have wars with all the tribes around you. We have been trying to get a peace treaty with you people for a long time and you never paid any attention to us because you never saw us. Now, we came here from Washington so we could talk face to face. For one reason we have failed to stop you from enemies because we understand you were short of some things. That is the reason you all are having wars with other tribes and people and I want to straighten this trouble up at this mission. If you will submit to my peace treaty and sign peace with me, in a year or two after I return to Washington and hear that you have been peaceful for three years, I will issue you horses and things and there will be no reason for trouble. I will issue horses and you will be on good terms with me and you can raise your own stock. This noon I will go take my lunch and you will take lunch here and leave us at noon.'
"The wagons came up and they crowded back in wagons and had not seats and had to stand up, and went back to camp. Of course, at lunch time, you know how people get. We wanted to get ourselves filled up.
"After noon they came back and got in groups according to tribes again. Commissioner did not eat much lunch he was afraid they would go away, so he hurried back.
"It seems to be that the Kiowa was spokesman for the other tribes. Treaties were made by the Kiowas—they did all the talking.
"Big groups of Comanches and Apaches were always together with the Kiowas; they submitted to what the Kiowas wanted; they were one. They took two chairs and set them in the middle of the council next to the commission. One gentleman got up—Army officer, had eagles on—and sat in one of these seats, an old gray-head man. Another old man got up and occupied the other chair in civilian clothes. It was for the tribes to votes which one of these gentlemen they wanted to live with.
"If you pick the man up on this side, you live on the Arkansas River and the other one, your reservation will be in the mountain at Fort Sill. What ever man you pick the most people on one side will win.
"I cannot give you all the small details of the council. Interpreters and each tribe talked which one they should vote for and each tribe was discussing among themselves. One Indian jumped up. Indian Chief Black Eagle commenced talking to his men Kiowas near the Washita River is taking place today. Black Eagle says, 'Now, we are to make our selection of the two men. One of them, the selection of the man, our reservation will be in Kansas. You know our reservation is very cold and we have no fuel and it is cold up there and if we pick out the other man it is not cold in the south, and our reservation will be in the south.'
"Different ones got up and spoke for the south reservation, so they picked out the south reservation man. So they picked out the man in the military uniform with eagles on. He was one of the first agents (Col. Jesse H. Leavenworth). Kiowas were the first to make the suggestion of Colonel Leavenworth, and each tribe was asked who they wanted and each tribe voted and picked out the same man. They all picked out the same man the Kiowas picked out.
"'Now, you all agree and pick out same man and all together now I want to tell you now you picked out the man you wanted to be under. This man you have picked out now will fix your boundary line as not very far from these mountains on the south and east side, and I want to pick out the North Fork of Red River for the boundary on the west, the Cimarron for the north boundary. You will understand now that your boundary on the south line joins Texas.'
"After the council, the crier announcer went all through the camps announcing that the border line and this southern line on Red River they were talking about extended to Texas.
"'How many years you want the government protection and all these rations to run, as I propose to issue annuities?'
"There was discussion among the different tribes as to how long they want the rations. One Indian Chief got up and say,
'They are waiting on us to give this answer. It is our privilege to say what we want—why not say 100 years? Whatever years you select as long as your annuity runs.' So we talked among ourselves and we all agreed on thirty years."
Sixty years later (1926) when the Medicine Lodge Indian Peace Council Treaty Memorial Association desired to place a memorial marker on the spot where the treaty was held, I-See-O was sent for to assist in locating the exact spot, and, on Monday, April 5, 1926, I-See-O arrived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, definitely to fix the exact spot where the council was held and the treaty signed.
I-See-O left Kansas shortly after the Custer Massacre took place and arrived in Fort Sill in 1889, when he was enlisted as scout by the commanding officer, and also acted as courier between Fort Sill and other posts. Later he was enlisted for five years in Troop L (Indian), 7th Cavalry, and with but very few interruptions he made his home in Fort Sill.
Shortly after his arrival at Fort Sill, he became acquainted with Lieut. Hugh L. Scott, of the 7th Cavalry, who spent nine years at Fort Sill, as lieutenant and captain, and later became Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Lieutenant Scott became greatly impressed with the loyalty and devotion of I-See-O; appointed him First Sergeant of his Indian troop, and there grew up between them a warm friendship, which both warriors cherished. In addition to assisting in organizing Troop L, I-See-O also assisted in organizing an Indian company of infantry. The infantry company was not a success, was disbanded, and the members who desired it were discharged, the others transferred to the cavalry troop.
Lieutenant Scott was in command of Troop L for five years. This troop was composed of Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches, and whenever it was called upon to perform some hazardous duty connected with the Indians it was always to his trusty I-See-O that Scott looked for help and council.
I-See-O was Scott's teacher. It was he who taught him the ways of the Indian, his language and customs. Scott became very proficient in the use of the Indian sign language, and nothing so
pleased I-See-O as to tell how he taught Scott the Indian signs. The language is dead, of course, but I-See-O never tired of showing the signs and their meanings.
When in 1891, trouble broke out at the Anadarko Agency, I-See-O was sent in advance to reconnoiter the situation. When again in the same year the killing of an Indian by a white man threatened to cause a serious disturbance at the North Fork of Red River it was I-See-O who was sent ahead again by Scott to counsel moderation among the red men. In each case matters were amiably settled without any recourse to force.
I-See-O's work was always of the quiet kind. His services have never been measured by heroism in the face of hostile fire, nor by the prowess of his rifle or pistol, but by the struggles that he averted and consequently the lives that he saved. He was usually the intermediary—the man who was Indian at heart, familiar with his vices and virtues, well aware of the power of the American soldier and the futility of struggle when the same ends could be obtained in a peaceful manner. It seems as though his whole life has been dedicated to create better understanding between the white and red men. Wherever I-See-O appeared bloodshed and struggle were conspicuously absent.
In 1890, when the Ghost Dance craze spread among the Indians, a craze that threatened to light the embers of hate that had been dormant in the hearts of many Indians, and cause a national conflagration, it was Lieutanent Scott and the faithful I-See-O who prevented the Kiowas and Apaches from following the example of their Indian brothers to the north. Scott and I-See-O went together wherever the excitement was greatest; sometimes in the Wichita Mountains, sometimes in the Caddo country, or sometimes 150 miles up the Washita. Between them they pulled the southern Indians through that period without the firing of a single shot.
The outbreak of 1890 seemed to come simultaneously all over the country. Religious fervor, including the belief in the advent of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, the return of the buffalo. and the departure of the white man seized the minds of the Indians. It manifested itself in the Ghost Dance and similar ceremonies. The cult is said to have had its origin among the Piutes
of Nevada where the alleged Messiah lived. His teachings were spread to the tribes of Idaho, Wyoming, and Dakota. The Sioux of Dakota spread the belief to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes of Oklahoma, thence to the Kiowas and Comanches of Oklahoma.
The rumblings of an undercurrent were felt by all men familiar with Indian manners. How to avoid what seemed to be cataclysmic eruption among the red men occupied the minds of the leaders of the American army. Up north the Sioux had already shown their hostility, and an actual battle had been fought, known as the Battle of the Wounded Knee, at which a considerable number of Indians as well as Americans had lost their lives. In Oklahoma, however, the uprising never took place, and it was largely through the efforts of Scott and I-See-O that the Indians of the southwest failed to take up arms in what promised to be a general uprising against white supremacy in North America.
When I-See-O's enlistment period terminated, he requested that he be enlisted as a scout. This request was granted and he was enlisted for a period of five years. During most of this period he was courier and messenger for Gen. Nelson A. Miles. On one occasion, General Miles instructed him to guide a band of music from Fort Sill to Cobb's Creek. When he arrived at Cobb's Creek orders were waiting for him to proceed to the Keechi Hills. While returning from Keechi Hills he was injured by his pony which caused him to spend about six months in the Post Hospital at Fort Sill. When he recovered he resigned and remained out of the service for about a year. The Indian troubles were about over now, and he prepared to return to his tepee and live in peace and comfort. The Spanish-American war soon broke out, and I-See-O was among the first to return to the colors. Unable to speak English he could hardly be of much use at that time so he was kept back at Fort Sill during the entire war. He had quite a responsible job, however, looking after the horses on the reservation. He held the status of scout until 1913 when all the Indians at Fort Sill were transferred to the Mescalera Reservation in Arizona. I-See-O then left the service and went to live with his family in the Big Bend of the Washita.
I-See-O, however, had become old in the service. He could no longer live by the sweat of his brow. He was stunned by the
complexities of modern economic life, was unable to render to the country he had served so well any further aid and seemed destined to end his days in poverty. It was then that his old commanding officer and loyal friend, not Lieutenant Scott now, but Major General Scott, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, who came to his assistance. He had heard about I-See-O's difficulties and made a personal appeal to the Secretary of War in his behalf. As a result I-See-O was re-enlisted at Fort Myer, Virginia, as a sergeant, and assigned to the Fort Sill Detachment, Indian Scouts. He was the only member of the organization and was the last living Kiowa Indian Scout.
General Scott, in a letter to Col. Granger Adams, commanding officer at Fort Sill, dated February 1, 1915, said: "I would like to have you let him live on the reservation or out among his people, as he elects, and see that he gets pay, clothing, and rations from your Quartermaster, and that when his time expires he be re-enlisted as a sergeant until he dies. He is old and mediaeval, his mind is back in the middle ages, and he has simply been stunned by civilization. I do not see how he survived this long. When the government needed him he was supremely loyal, against the wishes of his own people."
Another letter from Colonel Brewster to General Scott, said: "I-See-O is doing well. He has been living on the post. He is fixed up with a nice little house on Medicine Creek, east of the railroad. He has everything he needs and a few things he does not. For example, a range was put in the house but I notice he does all his cooking out of doors."
This letter from General Scott which is on file at Headquarters, Fort Sill, describes in detail the services of I-See-O to this government and explains why he has been made a sergeant for life in the United States Army.
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL
Camp Dix, New Jersey.
July 8, 1918.
Brig. General E. H. Plummer, Fort Sill, Okla.
My dear Plummer:
Your letter of July 1st was duly received, in which you enclose me a letter from my old friend, I-See-O. I fought for those people for seven years with all my time, money, effort and influence, a fact which they all recognized, and I know that I still have many friends among them. I find that they keep in rather close touch with my comings and goings and ups and downs, and it is very grateful to know that there are so many persons, interested in one, especially after such a long absence from them. They are people that never forget those that they believe are their real friends.
Thanking you for your letter, and with best wishes for yourself, I am
Very sincerely yours,
HUGH L. SCOTT,
"P. S.—I-See-O writes me in his letter that he feels happy over the treatment that he gets at Fort Sill. You may not know about him, but you will remember the time when Ghost or Messiah Dance spread all over the Plains in the North and South, and culminated in the Wounded Knee fight in '90 or '91. The Southern Indians had the same dance and I was put in charge by General Merritt, in command of the department at that time, and I led through those Southern tribes without a fight. It was largely through I-See-O that I got underneath the surface of affairs. He and I went about together wherever the excitement was greatest, sometimes in the Wichita mountains, sometimes in the Caddo country, or sometimes 150 miles up the Washita, and between us we pulled the Southern Indians through that troublesome time without firing a shot. When I left Fort Sill in '97, I left I-See-O Sergeant of the Scouts, but he got discouraged there with the treatment by some of the people of the post and resigned. He is one of the old time Indians, who are dazed by civilization and do not know how to make a living and never will. I represented his service, to the Secretary of War, although he cannot be of use, yet his services in the past have been such that any pay that he receives has been more than earned years ago. General Mann took an interest in him when he was at Fort Sill, and I am very glad to
see that you are doing the same thing. I know a great deal about your services in the Navajo country and passed through various sections where they still speak of you with affection, and I am glad to see that you are taking an interest in the Kiowas and Comanches also.
—H. L. S."
In spite of what the army tried to do for I-See-O he preferred to live in the good old fashioned Indian way. The howling winds of the prairies which rocked even the permanent dwellings of the Fort Sill reservation held no terrors for the hardy old Indian. The army built I-See-O a comfortable little cottage and equipped it with many modern conveniences, including a range. I-See-O was pleased and gratified-but the old tepee still stood on the prairie where I-See-O slept in comfort as he did thirty years ago. He still cooked his meals in the open in the oldfashioned way, and frequently showed up at one of the army mess halls for a change. His cooking range he used as a chiffonier and as for his little cottage in the woods, he found that it served a much more useful purpose as a storeroom. He refused to cut his hair, and wore it in two long braids over his shoulders. He balked at heavy shoes, preferring his moccasins instead.
His sole duty in later years was showing up on payday. Payday with I-See-O was a time of rejoicing for many of his old comrades, for when the scout had money, he distributed it freely among his friends. Usually his guests would stay until the money ran out, then they would likewise depart. However, I-See-O was never in want, for the officers and enlisted men looked after his needs.
In writing to I-See-O, General Scott commended him for his efforts in preventing the uprising, as follows:
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL
Camp Dix, New Jersey.
May 8, 1919.
My dear I-See-O:
I have your letter of May 1st about the death of my son, Hunter. I knew you would feel badly about it, because you used to know him when he was a little boy and he thought so much of
you and the Kiowa Indians. He was out at camp with me and with you at the time of the Ghost Dance when we were trying to keep the Kiowa and Apache Indians out of trouble. You did good work at that time, as you brought things about so that there was no one killed as there was in the North among the Sioux. You and I worked well together at that time, and the Indian people of Oklahoma owe you a great deal of thanks.
"If it had not been for you in those days there would have been great bloodshed among those people, as there was among the Sioux of the North, simply because they didn't have anybody who understood both sides of the Indian and white man, and who was interested enough in the Indian to lead them quietly out of the trouble that was going on there. That is where I have been most useful to my Indian friends. The government wanted to disarm the Kiowas and Caddos and take their rifles and ammunition away from them, but I stood in between them and the government and it was not done, and you and I together brought all those Oklahoma tribes through the same excitement which brought about the death of so many Sioux Indians without firing a single shot, so the white people owe much to you as do your own people.
"The Navajos owe you something also, because we were enabled with Toclanny to keep quiet over in that country, and since then I have been able to do the same thing among the Navajos twice and the Piutes of Utah. It needs somebody who understands both races and is interested in both and is determined on their welfare.
"I am going to leave here in a few days and I will go on the retired list of the army. I have a farm at Princeton, N. J., where I was brought up as a boy and intend to make a home for my family there. I have 263 acres. There is good rainfall in that country, and I have many thoroughbred pigs. Pigs are very high now, and I hope to do well with the farm. I am glad to know that you and yours are well and happy.
"I have been appointed on the Board of Indian Commissioners. They are gentlemen who go around through the Indian country and see that the Indian is treated justly. There are ten members on the Board, and when I can get around to it I want to
stop and see you. I am going to stop and see you and my other Kiowa, Comanche and Apache friends every chance I get. In the meantime, I thank you for your letter about my son. I have shown it to his wife and his mother, and they deeply appreciate the feeling that you have for him.
With best wishes for you and yours, I am
Always your friend,
HUGH L. SCOTT,