An Extraordinary Experience - Unbelievable Really!
John staggered out of bed and sat at the kitchen table, head in hands. He had the most terrifying dream. He'd had dreams before, but none like this. Well, no time to ponder on it now, work was waiting.
"Morning, John. You out drinking last night? You don't look good."
John smiled, "No, I was home all night, guess I didn't sleep very well."
"Better drink lots of coffee, we have a lineup of cars waiting to be fixed."
"Don't worry Boss, I'll get right on it."
John worked in the local body shop. He enjoyed the trade. He started in high school, liked it, and now worked there full time.
As he worked, he thought about his family. He had great memories. Growing up, the Webster family was close and still were. Every year they would load up the camper for vacation and off they went to some new destination. Mom and Dad usually picked a place that would educate them.
One year stood out for him, he couldn't erase it from his memory. His recent dream brought it back to him as he worked on a car. They went to South Dakota and visited the Pine Ridge Reservation where Wounded Knee had taken place. He could never reconcile how the Government systemically got rid of Native Americans. It was the first time he remembered crying unashamedly in front of his family. He recalled his Mom's reaction.
"Don't take it so hard Johnny, hopefully we learned something from this."
"I know Mom, but think what this country would be like if we hadn't done that to them? What we could have learned?
"You're absolutely right dear but we can't change history."
December 25, 1890
Shrieks and pounding drums assailed their ears on the hill.
"Will it ever stop," complained General James Forsyth. "It's gone on for days and nights, seemingly getting louder. More Indians are joining in the damnable Ghost Dance. I can't take it much longer."
"If I might voice an opinion," replied Sergeant George Lloyd, "It was unfortunate that Sitting Bull was killed during the attempt to arrest him. It only stirred the Sioux up more."
In the Sioux camp they were dancing the Ghost Dance. Tales that the dead would join the living and once again there would be plenty of game for them to hunt spurred them on. They believed the white man would disappear and the prairies would be restored. It became a religion for them.
The army was provoked by this behavior, thinking that the Sioux were ramping up to do battle with the white man. They were frightened by what they did not understand and sent a message to Washington asking for help. Washington responded stating that the leaders should be arrested which then resulted in the death of Sitting Bull.
The white man was now on the hunt for the warrior Big Foot. Big Foot was aware that Sitting Bull had been killed and he took his tribe to the Pine Ridge Reservation thinking that they would be safe there under the leadership of Red Cloud. He was very ill with pneumonia and dying; not a threat to anyone.
Back on the hill a shout went out for General Forsyth to come forth from his tent.
"What's going on? Why have I been summoned out here?"
"Take a look, General. See those wagons coming over the far side of the hill?"
"Who in the blazes are they," yelled the General. "Give me the binoculars! It's not the army! Good God, it's those interfering Quakers, somebody ride over there and tell them to get the hell out of the way."
A party of three soldiers took off in the direction of the wagons who had now all raised white flags and were circling the Sioux encampment.
"Who's in charge here," asked Private Johnson.
Standing up in the first wagon was Quaker leader John Webster. "I am sir, what can we do for you?"
"General Forsyth has ordered that you get your wagons out of here immediately, you are putting yourselves in danger."
"Tell the General that we will do no such thing! We are here to bring medical aide and food to the Sioux who have been mistreated and lied to by the Government. You know that we are a peaceful people. Quakers do not bear any arms but we will not stand by and see these people treated inhumanly just because you do not understand their ways. We will not be leaving until we are sure that our demands are met and these people finally get what they have been promised. Go back and report that to your General."
The soldiers turned their horses and rode back up the hill.
Meanwhile, John Webster, carrying a white flag, stepped down from the wagon and made his way into the Sioux camp. The dancing stopped and the Sioux stood quietly, watching and waiting.
Stepping forward, John extended his hand.
"We are here with food and blankets for you. I would like to speak to your leader, Red Cloud, if I may."
Nodding, a Sioux warrior beckoned him to follow. Walking to a tee-pee, he raised the flap and John walked inside where a sickly and gaunt Big Foot was lying. John knelt down by the man and placed a hand on his forehead.
"He's burning up with fever and having trouble breathing. May I bring the women in here to help him? We have medicine," he asked Red Cloud.
Red Cloud nodded.
"Red Cloud, I know that you have been lied to and have no reason to trust me. I am on your side and will do my best to see if we can get the soldiers to leave. I won't make any promises to you that I cannot keep.
Once again the soldiers made their way down the hill and summoned John.
"General Forsyth would like to speak to you."
"Very well then." John mounted his horse and made his way through the line of soldiers.
Noting that Thomas Tibbles of the Omaha World Herald was still lurking about, John beckoned him.
"Come with me."
Together they entered the General's tent. Turning to the pressman, John said, "I know you have been sympathetic toward the plight of the Ponca Indians, I am hoping you will feel the same toward the Sioux."
Now addressing the General he said, "Greetings, General. Mark my words. The Sioux are merely retaliating to all the lies and deception they have been told by Washington. I am here to tell you General that if you insist on pursing this mockery, your name will go down in history as the General who massacred the Sioux. Over half of the tribe are women and children. Are you certain that is how you want to be remembered? Those people down there are half starved and sickly, they are no match for the American Army nor do they have any desire to wage a war. Our demands are simple. Talk to Washington. Tell them the Sioux are no longer a threat. Tell them you want a property title made out to the Sioux for the Pine Ridge Reservation with no stipulations. The Quakers will see that they have adequate housing built and are taught how to farm. We will see that they have livestock to raise. The Government has allowed the Buffalo to be nearly eliminated taking away their livelihood. We want a ban put on buffalo killing until the species can once again thrive. Once the Sioux have a permanent place to live they will not need to roam the country in search of food. Oh, and give them the courtesy to practice their religion as is their American right. Tell Washington no more broken promises."
He turned and left the tent, mounted his horse, and made his way back down the hill.
All the General could do was sit at his desk, mouth gaping open.
"The nerve of that saucy Quaker," was all he said.
"He has a point," said the reporter. "One-half of that tribe down there are women and children. I don't think the public would look kindly on the massacre of them. The other half is, as John Webster said, starving and sickly. Think hard about this, General. My conscience cannot report anything favorable about this situation."
Slamming his fist on the desk he yelled, "Get me the telegraph and get Washington on the wire!"
Back in camp John reported to Red Cloud. He simply stated, "We'll see what happens, I've made my case."
Turning, he patted Red Cloud on the back and left the tent. No one saw the single tear running down Red Cloud's cheek.
The Quakers and Sioux supped together with the food that had been brought. You could see a sense of relief in the Indian's faces knowing that their tribe had full bellies for the first time in many months. Some of the fear had disappeared and there was even some laughter from the children as the Quaker and Indian children played together. However, still mistrusting the army above, the Quakers were afraid to leave the camp unprotected so they hunkered down for as long as they needed to.
Three long days they waited. Then, December 29th, the Quakers and Sioux watched the General, accompanied by three soldiers, and the reporter Thomas Tibbles, make their way slowly down the hill. The General dismounted and walked over to John Webster.
"Well, John, you spoke and Washington listened. May we meet with Red Cloud, Big Foot, and yourself?"
"Wait here General, let me check."
He returned from the tent. "Red Cloud will meet with you and he would like Thomas Tibbles and myself to be present. Big Foot is near death with pneumonia, the women are tending him."
General Forsyth spoke: "Red Cloud, John Webster has made a case with the Government, you are fortunate to have a friend like him. This time there will be no broken promises; John and this reporter will see to it. These are our terms. The soldiers will leave here today. John has offered to build housing for you and the Government will deliver enough lumber by train for 30 homes. We will also deliver rice and corn for the tribe. Our friends in Omaha will bring 30 cattle, 20 sheep, and 75 chickens along with the grain to feed them. No words will make up for what you have suffered. I have something else for you."
The General reached into his jacket and pulled out a rolled up document.
"This is a temporary title to the Pine Ridge Reservation and 1,000 adjoining acres. As soon as it can be certified in Washington it will be delivered to you. I am sure John will make sure it happens. All we ask is that the Sioux live in harmony with the white man. Your tribe will be subject to all the laws the white man must follow. We will be breaking camp shortly, good luck to you."
All Red Cloud could do was nod, had freedom finally come? He wanted to believe but time would tell. Now he would have to talk to the Sioux and caution them not to stir up any trouble.
John followed the General outside.
"Thank you General, you have done the right thing today."
"Take care John, you are a remarkable man."
After work John headed to his mom's house.
"Mom, are there any Quakers in our history?"
"On your father's side, why do you ask?"
"Just a dream I had, see you later Mom."
Home again, John scanned Wounded Knee. No record of a massacre but there was one article he found about land being given to the Sioux at Pine Ridge Reservation and another about the comeback of the great buffalo in the plains.
All he could do was shake his head. How history had changed, he didn't know.........but there was that dream.