Dakota Datebook

Chief Gall, Part 2

Monday, December 6, 2004

Yesterday was the 110th anniversary of the death of a Lakota man, Chief Gall; Sitting Bull relied on him for their war maneuvers, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Dr. Charles Eastman, a Wahpeton Sioux physician, historian and author, wrote, “Gall was considered by both Indians and whites to be a most impressive type of physical manhood.” Gall was also legendary for his aggression and fearlessness – traits that showed up early, before his parents died.

Eastman said that when Gall was about three, his Blackfoot band was moving their camp to follow the buffalo. Gall’s mother was packing her household items onto pack ponies after strapping her young son, then called Matohinshda, into a travois pulled by an old Eskimo dog. They were moving up the Powder River, where the women could dig a sweet edible root called teempsinna. Then suddenly an old jackrabbit sprang up in front of them.

“A whoop went up,” wrote Eastman. “Every dog accepted the challenge. Forgotten were the bundles, the kits, even the babies they were drawing or carrying. The chase was on, and the screams of the women reechoed from the opposite cliffs of the Powder, mingled with the yelps of dogs and the neighing of horses…and the confusion was great.
“When the fleeing (rabbit) cleared the mass of his enemies, he emerged with a swiftness that commanded respect and gave promise of a determined chase. Behind him, his pursuers stretched out in a thin line, first the speedy, unburdened dogs and then the travois dogs headed by the old Eskimo with his precious freight. The youthful Gall,” Eastman wrote, “was in a travois, a basket mounted on trailing poles and harnessed to the sides of the animal.

“‘Hey! Hey! They are gaining on him!’ a warrior shouted. At this juncture two of the canines had almost nabbed their furry prey by the back. But (the rabbit) was too cunning for them. He dropped instantly and sent both dogs over his head, rolling and spinning, then made another flight at right angles to the first. (Gall’s Eskimo dog) gained 50 yards, but being heavily handicapped, two unladen dogs passed him. The same trick was repeated by the Jack, and this time he saved himself from instant death by a double loop and was now running directly toward the crowd, followed by a dozen (or) more dogs. He was losing speed, but likewise his pursuers were dropping off steadily. Only the sturdy Eskimo dog held to his even gait, and behind him in the frail travois leaned forward the little Matohinshda, nude save a breech cloth, his left hand holding fast the convenient tail of his dog, the right grasping firmly one of the poles of the travois. His black eyes were bulging almost out of their sockets; his long hair flowed out behind like a stream…

“The Jack now ran directly toward the howling spectators…” Eastman wrote. “Each leap brought him nearer, fiercer and more determined. The last effort of the Jack was to lose himself in the crowd, like a fish in muddy water; but the big dog made the one needed leap with unerring aim and his teeth flashed as he caught the rabbit in viselike jaws and held him limp in the air…!”

Eastman wrote that the boy’s frantic mother tried to scoop him up, but he was more interested in the victor. “Mother!” he cried, “my dog is brave: he got the rabbit!”

“How, hechetu,” pronounced an old warrior… “This may be only an accident, an ordinary affair; but such things sometimes indicate a career. The boy has had a wonderful ride. I prophesy that he will one day hold the attention of all the people with his doings.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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