Was justice served by the hanging of Oglala Lakota warriors Two Face and Blackfoot at Fort Laramie?
The punishment defined the term “cruel and unusual”: Authorities sentenced each culprit to be hanged by the neck with a chain, rather than a rope, left to dangle for 20 minutes and then riddled with bullets by a firing squad. The soldiers had already beaten them and had been bent on lynching them before the popular commanding officer at Fort Laramie (in what is now Wyoming) arranged for the radical execution. Finn Burnett, new to the West after fleeing his native Missouri to dodge the Union draft, was an eyewitness to the May 24, 1865, execution at the fort. Years later he recalled the highly disturbing scene:
The wagon drove across the parade ground between the silent ranks, the rattling of the wheels sounding loudly in the ominous air. The doomed chieftains began to chant their hideous native death-songs to add to the horror of the scene.
Halting between the gallows posts, the driver sprang to assist two noncommissioned officers who climbed into the wagon box, there to throw the …chains which hung from the crossbeam overhead around the necks of the stolid prisoners.
“Sergeant, are you ready?” called the officer of the guard.
“Yes, sir,” came the reply, as the driver leaped to his seat, and the sergeants jumped from the wagon to take their places beside the upright posts.
“Go ahead,” rang out the order, and with a snap of the driver’s whip, the mules plunged forward to drag the footing from beneath the captives, to leave them plunging and twisting in the air.
The lines of soldiers, noted Burnett, stood tense and white as the chieftains swung above them. He continued with the gruesome tale:
To kill a man in battle was to every one of them a duty, but to put to death a bound and helpless human being in a precise, cold-blooded execution was an act which chilled most of them with horror and made them turn their eyes away from the desperate, diminishing struggles of the dying Indians to where the officer of the day stood, watch in hand, awaiting the passing of the necessary 20 minutes.…
Finally, the lieutenant closed his watch with a snap and wheeled upon his squad.
“Attention.” The soldiers stiffened more.
“Load.” There came the rattle of 20 breeches.
“Aim.” A line of guns sprang to shoulders.
“Fire.” There came a roar, as relieved bullets tore their way into the dangling, strangled bodies of the savages to complete the final humiliation.…
The … bodies hung in their chains, swaying slowly in the hot prairie winds. As the months passed, the long, thin forms became mummified and dry until their bones rattled in the fall blizzards, disturbing many a lonesome sentry at his post.
It remains unclear whether the Indians executed committed the crimes of which they were accused. The Japanese short story “In a Grove” centers on accounts of a rape and murder given by seven different people, one of them the murdered man speaking through a spiritual medium. Not one of the stories agrees. Such is the case with stories of the rape of Lucinda Eubank (or Eubanks) and the executions of Two Face and Blackfoot, the Oglala Lakota warriors put to death on May 24, 1865, for her rape.
In his account of the executions, for example, Burnett recalled Chief Little Thunder also being hanged that day. But Little Thunder was a Brulé not an Oglala, and he was still alive a decade later on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Most sources describe two Indians being hanged. Many sources suggest Two Face had never raped Eubank but, in fact, had gone to considerable trouble and expense to save her life and the life of her infant son, whom he had handed over alive a few days before the execution. Whether or not Blackfoot was a rapist or a hapless victim of his own good nature is a matter of speculation. White spectators did agree that both Indians died sullen and defiant rather than terrified, despite the horrific nature of their execution—perhaps because the Lakota leaders disagreed with the verdict.
In the summer of 1864 the Joseph Eubank family came to Nebraska Territory from Missouri to settle near Joseph’s adult son Joe Jr., who had a ranch west of Kiowa Station along the Little Blue River (in present-day Nuckolls County). On August 7 the elder Eubank was en route to son Joe’s ranch in a wagon with another son, 13-year-old James, and a 7-year-old grandson, Ambrose Asher, when he stopped to share some tobacco with a Cheyenne man. The Indian, according to one story, suddenly fitted an arrow to his bow and idly pointed it at Eubank’s oxen. When Joseph objected, the Cheyenne swung the bow and sent the arrow into the white man instead. (The Cheyenne people had a tribal taboo against murder, and provoking the white rancher to protest may have been a deliberate excuse for his killing and those that followed.) Other Cheyenne warriors suddenly showed themselves. They shot down James as he fled from the wagon and captured young Ambrose.
That same morning 16-year-old Laura Roper, whose family also had a ranch on the Little Blue, hitched a ride with neighbors a mile to the Eubank place to visit with friend Lucinda Eubank, the 23-year-old wife of William, another of Joseph’s sons. After Laura’s visit, Lucinda and William agreed to walk her home, taking along their two children —3-year-old Isabelle and 6-month-old Willie. They didn’t get far before they heard the screams of William’s mentally impaired 16-year-old sister, Dora. William rushed back home and found Dora staked out in a grotesque ritual called “putting a woman on the prairie”—rape by every member of the Cheyenne war party. Brother Henry, 11, tried to protect Dora, but the warriors mortally wounded him and then killed Dora. William made a run for it, but they killed him, too. Hearing a cry, the Cheyennes discovered Laura Roper, Lucinda Eubank and her two children hiding in a thicket. They took the quartet captive.
On September 18 Major Edward W. Wynkoop of the 1st Colorado Cavalry wrote from Fort Lyon in Colorado Territory that he had recovered four captives, handed over by Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyennes as part of a peace initiative—one that ended in the bloody massacre at Sand Creek two months later. Black Kettle had been able to ransom or hornswoggle from other Indians Laura Roper, Isabelle Eubank, Ambrose Asher and a captive boy named Danny Marble. Danny died soon after his rescue, and 3-year-old Isabelle lasted only a few more months, but Ambrose and Laura lived out full lives (Laura married twice and died in 1930). Remaining in Cheyenne hands were Isabelle’s little brother, Willie, and mother, Lucinda, along with another woman, Nancy Morton.
Lucinda Eubank did not cooperate with her captors, who beat and repeatedly raped her. On or about May 18, 1865, she and Willie turned up alive when Two Face (and possibly Blackfoot) showed up at Fort Laramie with mother and child. Just how this transpired is uncertain. The most probable story is that Two Face had traded horses to obtain Eubank and her son from the original Cheyenne raiders who had murdered so many members of her family. Lucinda testified that during the winter Two Face had traded her to fellow Oglala warrior Blackfoot. She claimed that the latter had raped her, and that he and his wives had beaten her and worked her like a slave.
“The Indians generally treated me as though I was a dog, on account of my showing so much detestation toward Blackfoot,” she said. Two Face then wrested Eubank away from Blackfoot and turned her over to the soldiers, possibly as proof of his good intentions or perhaps for whatever reward might be offered. Another version has Indian scouts under Army orders tracking down both Two Face and Blackfoot and bringing them in under arrest. Alternatively, Two Face either towed Eubank across the Platte River at the end of a rope or booked passage for her on a raft. The rope story implausibly suggests that Two Face secured her infant son, Willie, to his horse with lariats. Regardless, both were alive and in reasonable health when Two Face either handed them over or was captured. And Two Face and Blackfoot were soon in custody.
When the soldiers at Fort Laramie learned that “the Indians” had raped Lucinda Eubank, they stormed the guardhouse and beat Two Face and Blackfoot savagely on the way to what looked like a lynching. “They had little opportunity for affecting a dignified stride, as they were pushed, mauled and kicked from all sides by the hoarse and red-eyed soldiers,” Finn Burnett recalled.
The highest ranking officer at Laramie was Colonel Thomas Moonlight, a headstrong, honest Scotsman who had a good Civil War record and was popular with his men. Months earlier, amid the controversy surrounding the Sand Creek massacre, he had replaced Colonel John Chivington as commander of the military subdistrict. Moonlight had the two luckless Lakotas separated from the lynch mob and reported to his superiors that he had questioned them:
Both of the chiefs openly boasted that they had killed white men and that they would do it again if let loose, so I concluded to tie them up by the neck with a trace chain suspended from a beam of wood and leave them there without any foothold.…On the person of Two Face was found $220 in greenbacks, which I gave to Mrs. Eubanks; also $50 taken from another of the band. This lady was captured by the Cheyennes on Little Blue last fall, where her husband was killed along with several others. She was treated in a beastly manner by the Cheyennes and purchased from them during the winter by Two Face and Blackfoot, who compelled her to toil and labor as their squaw, resorting in some instances to lashes. She was in a wretched condition when she was brought in, having been dragged across the Platte with a rope. She was almost naked and told some horrible tales of the barbarity and cruelty of the Indians.
Brigadier General Patrick Edward Connor, commander of the District of the Plains, initially approved the execution of Two Face and Blackfoot as Moonlight had proposed. Then Connor reportedly changed his mind. He telegraphed the fort: COLONEL, I WAS A LITTLE HASTY. BRING THEM TO JULESBURG AND GIVE THE WRETCHES A TRIAL. The reply, which some sources say came from the secondranking officer at Fort Laramie, Lt. Col. William Baumer, not Colonel Moonlight: DEAR GENERAL, I OBEYED YOUR FIRST ORDER BEFORE I RECEIVED THE SECOND.
What really happened? The corpses of the Eubank men and the pathetic stakeout of Dora Eubank are ample evidence for what would be considered a war crime, and hanging those responsible would certainly have been appropriate. But the war party responsible had been Cheyenne. Two Face and Blackfoot were Oglala Lakotas who had purchased Lucinda Eubank months later. In her own testimony Eubank insisted that Two Face had never raped her but rather traded with the Cheyennes to rescue her, either as a friendly gesture to the whites or because he hoped for some sort of reward. Blackfoot likely used her as a “squaw,” but he may have perceived intercourse, forced or not, as his right as a temporary husband. According to one account Lucinda claimed to have been pregnant with his child, aborted it and remained childless, possibly sterile, for the rest of her life. Moonlight, who wanted to put the best possible face on the double hanging without a trial, never specifically accused Blackfoot of rape and never accused Two Face even by inference.
George Bird Grinnell wrote in his 1915 book The Fighting Cheyennes: “The two Sioux, Two Face and Blackfoot, were friends of the whites. They had bought the woman and her child at their own expense from the Indians who had captured them and had brought them to the fort and given them up to prove their friendliness. The drunken officer in command of the post ordered the two Indians hanged in chains, and this was done.”
Moonlight was neither a known alcoholic nor an admirer of Chivington, whom he had replaced, but he was a soldier-politician, who later served as adjutant general of Kansas and governor of Wyoming Territory. Moonlight’s volunteer California and Colorado troops at Laramie, knowing that the Civil War in the East was over, wanted to get home. They also wanted revenge on Indians for the rape of white women. Defiant once they realized their fate, Two Face and Blackfoot probably did brag about having killed settlers, though they never admitted to—and were clearly not responsible for—the murders of the Eubank men and Dora Eubank in August 1864. They were warriors, not known rapists or child-killers, but they served as convenient stand-ins for the cold-blooded raiders from another tribe.
The facts appear to be that in one or possibly both cases Moonlight appeased a volatile lynch mob of his own unruly enlisted men by hanging the wrong Indian or Indians. A case could be made that if not for Two Face, and perhaps even Blackfoot, captives Lucinda and Willie Eubank would never have made it back to white civilization. As it was, young widow Lucinda married two more times and lived until 1913. At the end she lived with Willie, who had married in 1895 and had eight children of his own. Willie died in northern Colorado in 1935.
John Koster is the author of Custer Survivor and the forthcoming Sneak Attack.
Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.