In early February 1893, just over two years after the Wounded Knee Massacre, Chief Cha Nopa Uhah (Two Sticks), an elderly Sioux who led a group of Ghost Dancers, committed a serious crime on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota that had the potential of bringing even more violence to the troubled region. A February 11, 1893, article in the Black Hills Daily Times reported that Two Sticks and his followers were ‘Uncompapas.’ According to the article, these were people who, when in council with other Plains Indians, always sat together near the opening or exit of the circle so that they could run away whenever danger threatened. They were also described by the paper as blanket Indians who were just as nomadic in their habits as they had been 25 years earlier and whose progress toward becoming ‘civilized’ was exceptionally slow.
The Uncompapas’ predominant trait was said to be sneakiness — doing everything in a stealthy, underhanded way. It was in this fashion that Two Sticks’ small band conducted a raid on a herd of cattle belonging to Humphrey’s cattle ranch, on the White River about 30 miles west of the Pine Ridge Agency. The cattle were part of a herd being held on the reservation pursuant to a contract to furnish beeves to the Sioux, or Lakotas. The cattlemen immediately sent word of the crime to Pine Ridge’s acting Indian agent, Captain George LeRoy Brown of the 11th Infantry. Brown telegraphed Fort Meade, asking the soldiers there to remain on the alert but to refrain from any action. Brown then dispatched six tribal police to arrest the culprits.
Things hardly went according to plan, just as they hadn’t back on December 15, 1890, when tribal police tried to arrest the famous Hunkpapa Sioux Sitting Bull. In that earlier confrontation, Sitting Bull was killed and many other casualties followed, including six dead Indian policemen. When the tribal police came to Two Sticks’ encampment and attempted to place the raiders under arrest, Two Sticks’ followers opened fire, killing five of the policemen and wounding the sixth. Two Sticks himself, unlike Sitting Bull two years earlier, escaped unscathed.
Now feeling unconquerable and still thirsting for revenge for the shooting of Sitting Bull and the many killings by the soldiers on December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee, the 1893 Ghost Dancers went to the Humphrey ranch and killed four cowboys, probably the first white men killed on the reservation since 1876. In addition, the Indians shot down 30 head of cattle and three horses.
As soon as Captain Brown received word of the killings, he sent out from Pine Ridge a party of 25 Indians, under the command of tribal policeman Joe Bush, to bring in the culprits, who were reportedly holed up at the camp of Chief No Waters. Two Sticks apparently told an Indian man named Crow that the hearts of his young Ghost Dancers were bad. They had been dancing in their sweathouses when the Great Spirit told them to go exterminate the white men because the whites had killed the buffalo and had taken the Indians’ possessions from them.
When Joe Bush ordered the killers to surrender, they refused. A fight ensued in which First Eagle, Two Two and White Faced Horse were killed. Two Sticks was badly wounded. No Waters became indignant and immediately worked his followers into a frenzied state. They seemed ready to annihilate the tribal police and avenge the death of the fallen Indians. However, Oglala Sioux Chief Young Man Afraid of His Horses, who opposed the Ghost Dance fervor, and his followers intervened by positioning themselves between No Waters’ Indians and the police. Young Man Afraid of His Horses told No Waters’ group that the police were right — that Two Sticks and his followers were murderers. Young Man Afraid of His Horses then warned No Waters that his people would be wiped out of existence if they harmed the Indian police.
The old chief’s speech temporarily prevented further bloodshed. Still, Captain Brown and others feared that the clash between Two Sticks and the police would arouse the latent fires of rebellion that had been smoldering in the breasts of the Sioux since December 1890. Unless some powerful influence was brought to bear on the disgruntled Indians, the chance of a disastrous outbreak — perhaps even on the scale of the 1890 outbreak that led to Wounded Knee — was great.
On February 6, 1893, Brown met with more than 50 chiefs at his quarters to discuss the murders and subsequent apprehension of Two Sticks. Most of the chiefs agreed that Two Sticks was the instigator of the troubles and that he was always one of the first to join insurrection crowds. The consultation lasted two hours and was pleasant and harmonious. Several of the chiefs assured Brown that they were friendly and represented peaceable tribes.
Two Sticks’ wounds proved so severe that reservation officials agreed to let him stay until he recovered enough to make the trip to Deadwood S.D., for trial. Several weeks later, Marshal Chris Matthiessen journeyed to the reservation to bring Two Sticks to justice. Two Sticks refused to cooperate and called upon his friend Chief No Waters to protect him. Two Sticks held out for more than a month, but after No Waters himself was arrested, Two Sticks finally gave up the fight. While in the Deadwood jail, Two Sticks had a relapse from his wounds and remained seriously ill for several months.
He recovered, only to face the white man’s justice. On December 29, 1894, the Black Hills Daily Times, under the bold headline ‘A GOOD INDIAN,’ reported that on the previous afternoon Two Sticks had been hanged in the Lawrence County jail yard in Deadwood.
On the day of the hanging, the 28th, curious people began gathering about the jail as early as 8 a.m. Everything was in readiness. The gallows stood in the center of a 40-by-60-foot space between the jail and the stable. A 16-foot solid board fence surrounded the perimeter. At 9:30 a.m., those with admission tickets were permitted inside. By 10:15 there were at least 200 people packed into the enclosure. Many of those with no tickets climbed on top of the adjoining stable and sheds.
Inside the jail, amid the preparations for the execution, Two Sticks appeared bright and calm. He had passed the night sleeping, walking the floor, singing and talking. He had eaten a hearty breakfast of steak grilled over live coals, two cups of strong black coffee and several slices of bread.
Soon after breakfast, Two Sticks’ spiritual adviser, Father Digmann, and his attorney, W.L. McLaughlin, entered with the message that President Grover Cleveland had refused to intervene and that he must go to the gallows. The announcement did not startle or unnerve Two Sticks, but he became more serious and thoughtful.
A U. S. marshal named Peemiller, accompanied by other officials and members of the press, entered the corridor about 9:30 a.m. As they approached, Two Sticks arose and extended his hand to all. When told that the marshal would read the sentence of the court, Two Sticks merely grunted, and he was quiet while the death warrant was read. But when he was asked if he had any reason to give why the sentence should not be carried out, he grabbed the opportunity he had been waiting for. He turned to Marshal Peemiller and spoke in a clear, resonant voice.
‘My heart is not bad,’ he reportedly said. ‘I did not kill the cowboys; the Indian boys [meaning White Faced Horse, Fights With, Two Two and First Eagle] killed them. I have killed many Indians, but never killed a white man; I never pulled a gun on a white man. The great father and the men under him should talk to me and I would show them I am innocent. The white men are going to kill me for something I haven’t done. I am a great chief myself. I have always been a friend of the white man. The white men will find out sometime that I am innocent and then they will be sorry they killed me. The great father will be sorry, too, and he will be ashamed. My people will be ashamed, too. My heart is straight and I like everybody. God made all hearts the same. My heart is the same as the white man’s. If I had not been innocent I would not have come up here so good when they wanted me. They know I am innocent or they would not let me go around here. My heart knows I am not guilty and I am happy. I am not afraid to die. I was taught that if I raised my hands to God and told a lie that God would kill me that day. I never told a lie in my life.’
Two Sticks then raised both hands and sang his death song, which was not very musical but fervent and impressive. He had a very strong voice with a melodious tone. The song — a strange affair to those not familiar with the language and sentiment — meant that his heart was good toward God and everybody and that God must take him when he died. He was permitted to go on for a few minutes and became so enthusiastic that Father Digmann had to quiet him. The condemned chief grasped the priest’s hand and said he was a good man, adding that his attorney and the marshal had been good to him and had done all they could. He removed an old red handkerchief from around his head and was assisted in putting on his coat.
A number of leather straps lay on a nearby chair. Two Sticks quickly snatched up a strap, put the end through the buckle, and slipped it over his head. At first he tightened the noose around his neck with violent jerks. Then, looking for help, he handed the end through the bars of a cell occupied by another Indian, Eagle Louse. The white men present came to pull away the strap. But while the strap was still around his neck, Two Sticks gave it several more hard jerks. Finally the strap was removed, and Father Digmann told the chief that God would want him to be resigned to his fate and have a good heart. Two Sticks said he was only trying to make sure that if he had to die, he would be put to death by his own people, not the white men. He added that his heart had gone bad just for a minute, but he was sorry. After that he was calm and cool, if not in a happy mood.
His hands were tied behind him, and the march to his death began. He walked with a firm, steady step, smiled and insisted on shaking hands with everybody who stood near enough. Upon entering the gate of the enclosure he caught sight of the gallows and said ‘washta you bet,’ meaning ‘good you bet.’
After ascending the steps to the platform, he was placed on the 3-foot-square trapdoor and Father Digmann read a prayer. Two Sticks’ head was bowed, and he nodded his approval of the prayer. Then he raised his head and in a loud voice sang the death song again. As the noose was adjusted around his neck, Two Sticks stood steady and exhibited remarkable nerve. His only appearance of emotion was a slight flush when the noose was drawn up. The black cap was pulled over his head. After a slight pause there came a grating sound, a bang and then a thud. Two Sticks dropped 7 feet, 4 inches. His neck was dislocated, and death was instantaneous. He fell straight and did not swing. There was scarcely a movement for several minutes before two or three muscular contractions drew the legs up and raised the shoulders. He was allowed to hang 15 minutes before being pronounced dead by four local doctors. The body of Two Sticks was placed in a coffin and taken to the undertaking establishment of S.B. Smith. Marshal Peemiller and his deputies were congratulated for a job well done.
Two Sticks’ blue cloth leggings and a photograph of himself were left to his wife; his old red-cotton handkerchief to his attorney; his old white felt hat to a Sheriff Remer; and his sacred pipe to Alex Bertrand, the friendly warden at the jail. More than 100 years later, the incident was once more in the news. In October 1998 at a special repatriation ceremony at the Adams Museum in Deadwood, the cannumpa (‘sacred pipe’), which had been stored in the museum’s vault, was removed and returned to Two Sticks’ family.
This article was written by G. Sam Carr and originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of Wild West.
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