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Interview With Author/Historian Mark van de Logt

By Candy Moulton 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: February 03, 2011 
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Van de Logt gives Pawnee Scouts their just due in his new book War Party in Blue.
Van de Logt gives Pawnee Scouts their just due in his new book War Party in Blue.
It is a long way from the Netherlands to the Pawnee Nation, but Mark van de Logt made a connection while attending graduate school in Oklahoma. Born and raised in the Netherlands, where he graduated from Kruisheren College and earned a master's degree in history from Utrecht University, he completed additional studies at the University of Oklahoma and then went to Oklahoma State University for his Ph.D. While Van de Logt was at OSU, Pawnee tribal members Ramona Osborne and Mattie Fish asked him to research the Pawnee Scouts, and he spent a summer poring over archives in Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska. He turned his report for the Pawnees into a doctoral dissertation and then into War Party in Blue: Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

Van de Logt has consulted linguist and Pawnee expert Douglas R. Parks, and with Pawnee civil rights attorney Walter R. Echo-Hawk he has visited key sites where Pawnee Scouts fought during the Indian wars, including the Battle of Summit Springs site in Logan County, Colo., and the Dull Knife Battlefield in Johnson County, Wyo. Now assistant professor of history at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., Van de Logt is working on a collection of documents about the Pawnee Scouts for the Arthur H. Clark Co. and writing a tribal history of the Arikara Indians. He recently spoke with Wild West about the Pawnees..

'Without the Pawnees the [1865 Powder River Expedition] would probably have entered the history books as a costly failure'

Describe Joseph McFadden, first commander of the Pawnee Scouts.
General Samuel R. Curtis appointed Joseph McFadden to lead the Pawnee Battalion in 1864. McFadden had been a clerk in the trader's store at the Pawnee Agency, and he had married a Pawnee woman. He had some military experience, having served under [Brig. Gen.] William S. Harney against the Sioux at Ash Hollow in 1855, and that led to his appointment as captain of the scouts. At the same time Curtis appointed 24-year-old Frank North as lieutenant of the battalion. Ordinarily, the Pawnees would have been willing to serve under a capable man. But McFadden, who had lived with the Pawnees for years and who had been fully integrated into one of the bands, was considered a "commoner," not a warrior. He thus lacked the authority to command the men in his company. Perhaps as important was the fact that because of his close association with one of the Pawnee bands, the scouts belonging to the other bands did not accept his authority.

What traits did Frank North bring to the scouts?
Among the Pawnee people today Frank North is still considered a great man. He certainly earned the respect of his scouts. Still, Frank North's role has been exaggerated. This is primarily because most of our information on the scouts comes from Luther North, Frank's younger brother, whose writings were intended as a kind of monument to his older brother. Luther tended to magnify the accomplishments of his brother rather than those of the scouts. It was my intention with War Party in Blue to highlight the contributions of the scouts rather than of Frank North and his fellow white officers.

Did the Pawnees respect North?
North had learned the Pawnee language while working at the Pawnee Agency. The Pawnees first gave him the title Skiri taka ("white wolf"). Later they gave him the honorary title Pani resaru ("Pawnee Chief"). Part of North's success might have stemmed from his personality. But the key to understanding his success, I believe, lay in his connection with the Army, which allowed him to serve as a mediator between the Army and the Pawnee leadership. Appointed by the Army, North supplied the Pawnees with guns, horses and ammunition. In return the Pawnees accepted him as a war leader and his battalion as a war party. North's authority may have had not only a material basis but also a supernatural one. Because he miraculously escaped death on several occasions, many scouts were convinced he was under the protection of the sacred powers.

What is the significance of the wolf in Pawnee culture?
The Pawnees are known among other Plains tribes as the "Wolf Indians." Only one of the four Pawnee bands, the Skiri ("Wolf"), actually carried the name. In Skiri Pawnee cosmology the wolf symbolized the god of war (Morning Star). According to James Murie, the son of a Pawnee woman married to a white officer of the Pawnee Scouts, the Skiris adopted this animal as their tribal emblem because of its "intelligence, vigilance and well known powers of endurance." The wolf had the ability to sneak up on an enemy and get away without being discovered. Hence, the Pawnees always invoked the power of the wolf when they went on the warpath.

When Pawnee military societies combined to go on military expeditions together, they usually formed new temporary societies called araris taka, or "white wolf societies." Before such a war party set out, its leader had to obtain wolf power for his men. He would go to the village bundle keeper and ask for a number of articles related to the specific powers of the wolf. A four-day ceremony followed in which the warriors sought the sanction of supernatural powers. The party carried these objects with them on the warpath in a special war bundle.

What role did the scouts play in the 1865 Powder River Expedition?
Without the Pawnees the campaign would probably have entered the history books as a costly failure. Two of the columns in the field, one commanded by Colonel Nelson Cole and the other by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Walker, got pinned down by the Sioux under Sitting Bull. Only the timely discovery of their camps by two Pawnee Scouts and Sergeant Charles L. Thomas led to their rescue from starvation. Sergeant Thomas was awarded a Medal of Honor for this deed. The two Pawnee scouts who escorted him received no such honors.

The main battlefield successes could also be credited to Connor's Indian scouts. A major battle took place on August 17, 1865, when a unit of Pawnee Scouts surprised and killed 24 Cheyennes near the present-day town of Sussex, some 30 miles east of Kaycee, Wyo. The Pawnees also played a critical role in the largest battle of the campaign against a band of Arapahos under chief Black Bear on the Tongue River on August 29, 1865. In this battle the troops killed 35 Arapahos, destroyed 250 lodges and captured some 500 horses. Although Connor's expedition was heavily criticized in the newspapers for its extraordinary expense, the campaign did establish the reputation of the Pawnee Battalion as a highly effective fighting force.

What relationship did Pawnees have with Union Pacific work crews?
The Pawnee battalion was called up in 1867 to help defend railroad construction crews of the Union Pacific Railroad against hostile tribes. Relations between the scouts and the crews were good, even though the sudden appearance of the scouts occasionally caused panic among the workers. Crews often attended evening dances and ceremonial performances staged by the Pawnee Scouts. Workers and scouts sometimes formed friendships that involved sharing food and mutual gift giving.

The scouts also staged dances and performed mock battles at the request of UPRR officials taking eastern dignitaries and sightseers to the end of the railroad. Such performances were not merely entertainment—the Pawnees considered them opportunities to display their rich cultural heritage to non-Indians.

Did the Pawnee Scouts embrace standard military tactics?
The Pawnees did not really adopt the tactics of the white soldiers. They thought their own tactics were much better. The element of surprise was crucial in their operations. While they scouted the land, they wore disguises to avoid detection by the enemy. During a battle at Plum Creek, near present-day Lexington, Neb., in 1867, they deceived Turkey Leg's band of Cheyennes by pretending to be white troops. When they suddenly threw off their uniforms and attacked as Pawnees, they confused, scared and routed the Cheyennes. The scouts' first target was always their opponents' horse herd. Capturing the horses not only added to their own wealth but also prevented their enemies from escaping.

Were they effective?
Occasionally, white officers insisted the Pawnees ought to be drilled like white soldiers. The scouts and Frank North resisted this. Ultimately, the Pawnees tended to be effective because of their experience with Plains Indian warfare. They were a highly mobile light cavalry force able to live off the land while penetrating deep into enemy territory. Any attempts to force the Pawnees to fight in European warfare would have severely diminished their effectiveness as a light cavalry force.

How much control did Frank and Luther North really have over the Pawnee Scouts?
Frank North had to grow into his leadership role. Early in the history of the Pawnee battalion the Pawnees accepted North's authority only conditionally. As soon as he overstepped his authority, the scouts did not hesitate to correct him. In accordance with Pawnee tradition, the scouts would accept punishment, but only if it was deserved and only if the form of punishment was fitting. When North attempted to punish a few scouts too harshly in 1867, a number of scouts simply left his command and returned to their reservation. The army, recognizing the importance of continuing Pawnee support, wisely refrained from pursuing this "mutiny."

Although Luther North usually depicted his brother as leading the charge, it appears that the scouts themselves generally took the initiative. On more than one occasion they urged Frank North to push ahead in order to overtake a hostile party in a surprise attack. The Pawnees also insisted on using their own tactics. Understanding his limits as the leader of a Pawnee war party, Frank North did little to change the ways of the men under his command.

How did North interact with the scouts?
Refusing to drill his men like white soldiers, North instead adopted many of the customs and attitudes of his scouts. He sang with them during their celebrations, and when his men bestowed honors upon him, he reciprocated the honor by presenting gifts to them. He did not interfere with the practice of taking enemy scalps either. Like the leader of a traditional Pawnee war party, North divided the spoils of war among his men after a successful campaign. Perhaps he was aware that the practice of distributing captured horses and other spoils gained him more respect as war party leader. Thus North ensured the trust and loyalty of his men for future campaigns.

What about Eugene Carr's attitude toward the Pawnee Scouts?
Eugene Asa Carr, commander of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, had fought a series of battles with the Cheyennes before he embarked on the Republican River campaign with the Pawnee Scouts in 1869. Carr had not commanded Indian scouts before and was skeptical of the usefulness of the Pawnee scouts. He preferred to rely on white scouts such as William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and was quite disgusted when one of his regular companies was replaced with another unit of Pawnee Scouts. Carr was not happy to see these troops replaced by Pawnees. Not only were the Pawnees miserably mounted, but Carr also found his scouts "rather lazy and shiftless." He reported that their knowledge of the country was "vague and general" and that he would like to exchange all but "30 of them for good cavalry soldiers."

But the scouts prevented the premature end of the expedition when they successfully repulsed a Cheyenne attempt to steal the expeditions' horses. Later Carr observed that the Pawnees "are improving somewhat in discipline and general usefulness; and [I] hope to get good service out of them."

The expedition climaxed with the successful attack against the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers at Summit Springs on July 11, 1869. Carr, who had previously called the Pawnees "lazy and shiftless," re-evaluated his impression of them after the fight. "The Pawnees under Major Frank North," he wrote in his official report of the expedition, "were of the greatest service to us in the campaign. This is the first time since coming west that we have been supplied with Indian scouts—and the result has shown their value."

How did Mad Bear earn the Medal of Honor?
Sergeant Mad Bear was a scout in Carr's Republican River campaign. Early on in the campaign he distinguished himself in a number of skirmishes with the Cheyennes. But he earned his Medal of Honor on the night of July 8, 1869, when five Cheyennes tried to stampede the command's horse herd. Mad Bear gave chase, saved the herd and thus prevented a premature end to Carr's expedition. But as he chased down a Cheyenne who had fallen from his horse, he was shot by someone from his own command, either a soldier or another Pawnee. Fortunately, Mad Bear survived this "friendly fire" episode and continued to serve during the campaign. On Carr's recommendation Congress awarded Mad Bear the Medal of Honor on August 24, 1869.

Was he the only Pawnee so recognized?
According to Luther North, Carr had intended to award another Pawnee scout by the name of Traveling Bear for his actions at Summit Springs. During the battle with the Dog Soldiers, Traveling Bear entered a small canyon where chief Tall Bull and several other Cheyennes made their stand. Traveling Bear soon emerged from the canyon with four enemy scalps. No other Pawnee Scouts earned a Medal of Honor, although some, Like Traveling Bear, were clearly deserving of the honor. The Pawnee battalion did receive honorable recognition from the state legislatures of Nebraska and Colorado for their role in the campaign.

What were the effects of President Ulysses S. Grant's 1869 peace policy and Quaker administration of the Pawnee Agency on the Pawnee Scouts?
The purpose of Grant's "Peace Policy" was to transfer control of Indian agencies from civil appointees (who were often very corrupt) to religious denominations. These Christian agents would also attempt to acculturate the Indians under their charge and integrate them into American society by peaceful means. The new policy was unofficially dubbed the "Quaker Policy," because Quakers had been the principal advocates of the program and came to occupy many of the positions. The experiment with Quaker agents on the Pawnee reservation was not very successful. The Pawnees resisted attempts to undermine their cultural practices, and they did not appreciate the agents' meddling in tribal affairs. Armed with good intentions, Quaker agent Jacob M. Troth and his superintendent Samuel M. Janney, outlined a three-step program to "save" the Indians under their care. They hoped to establish peace on the Plains by ending Pawnee horse raids, dismantling the Pawnee battalion and commencing peace negotiations with the Oglala and Brulé Sioux.

Why did the Pawnees leave Nebraska voluntarily for Indian Territory?
The main reason was the constant pressure of enemy tribes, especially the Sioux. But there were other reasons. Diseases, introduced by settlers and travelers, weakened the tribe. Overhunting depleted the buffalo herds. Drought and grasshoppers destroyed crops and, in the absence of adequate rations or buffalo meat, caused hunger and poverty. Another contributing factor was the tragic event at Massacre Canyon, near present-day Trenton, Neb., on August 5, 1873, when a group of Pawnee hunters and their families were attacked by a large group of Sioux warriors. An estimated 69 Pawnees died while their agent watched helplessly. After the tragedy, the Pawnees began to move down to Indian Territory, where they first settled on the Wichita Agency prior to receiving their own reservation in Indian Territory in present-day north-central Oklahoma.

Candy Moulton is the author of Valentine T. McGillycuddy: Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux, due out this spring from the Arthur H. Clark Company.


3 Responses to “Interview With Author/Historian Mark van de Logt”


  1. 1
    Brian King says:

    Good interview!

  2. 2
    Frank R. North says:

    Thank you Mark for your research and for revisiting Frank Joshua's military record (and exploits.) His participation with and contribution to the accomplishments of the Pawnee Scouts remains an interesting topic. I will buy your book.

  3. 3
    Bruce E. North says:

    Thank you, Mark V. Interesting perspective on Frank J. North. Although Frank was born in New York he moved with his father to Richland, County, Ohio where his younger brother, Luther was born. My grandfather gave me a leather wallet said to have been made by Frank, who gifted the item to my grandfather (Tunis V. North 1893-1969) via Luther North.

    Bruce North
    Ashland, Ohio
    2 cousin 3 times removed



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