Sunday, April 14, 2013

Watonga Indian Cemetery

I yearn for time on the water, but we’re not seeing any weather fit for such a pursuit. We’re jumping directly from tornado watches, to ice storms, to 25 mph winds currently gusting to 36 mph. This weather may be something one may be forced to deal with while on a trip, but certainly not suitable for starting one. To be fair, we did have one decent paddling day this past week, actually in the past three weeks. ONE DAY!

The grave of Chief Henry Caruthers Roman Nose.
Chief of the Southern Cheyenne. 
If you haven't seen it, be sure to go back and read the March 16
post on this interesting man's life.
To get out of the house, we decided to take a road trip that turned into two really fascinating experiences. The first was a visit to the Indian Cemetery at Watonga. I wrote a post on March 16, 2013, titled “Lake Watonga.” Most of the post was about Chief Henry C. Roman Nose. In it, I wrote that both he and his wife were buried at the Indian Cemetery at Watonga. What I read at that time was that no headstone remained at the chief’s grave site, which I felt was a huge shame. I tried to explain to Jean where the cemetery is, but she couldn’t visualize the location, so suggested that since we had to go through Watonga anyhow, we should find it and visit. I was pleased to find that contrary to some of the now dated and inaccurate information that had been posted on the web, a fairly new headstone now stands over his grave.

Walking through the cemetery produced some interesting revelations. As you’d expect, we found any number of the fascinating Native American names, like Bear Going Up Hill, Yellow Eyes, Little Cup, Rat Woman, Standing On The Cloud, Bald Eagle, Antelope, Big Medicine, Bear Man, Good Killer, Little Hawk, Rearing Bull, White Buffalo, Touching Ground, and many, many others. There are 214 identified graves there, and I’m sure many more that have remained unidentified, as their graves are now just marked with pieces of pipe driven into the ground.

The cemetery dates back to the early-to-mid-1800’s, so it’s easy to see a number of examples of the Native American experience from those times. Many graves identified the person as an Indian Scout for the U.S. Army, and included their ranks. Others served in WWI, and those with more current military experience were noted, like John Littlehawk, a young man killed at age 19 in the Korean War. Yet another had served on a hospital ship during World War II. There were those who lived through the forced relocations to the Indian Territories, from the Dakotas and Montana. One showed not only the ‘white’ name he was forced to adopt at his Christian baptism, but his original given name, that of “Hisskovisszi”, meaning Porcupine. He was a teacher, lay minister, and composer of church music, and served as an interpreter for Mennonite Missionaries that worked on the reservations.

Grave of Warpath Arapaho.
Since there were often no records of dates of birth, many just
reflected their time of death and age then.
What seems too bizarre for me to comprehend is how twisted the paths were that some of their lives took. One, Little Beaver, was a victim of the forcible relocations from Montana to the Indian Territories. He then survived the massacre at Washita in which 110 Cheyenne women and children were murdered while the tribe’s warriors were off hunting. Their horses were corralled and butchered, and their village was destroyed. Yet, Little Beaver would become an Indian Scout for the U.S. Army. Also present at Washita was Sioux Woman, who lived to be 103. She was the fourth and final wife of Chief Black Kettle. Black Kettle, two of his wives, and some of his 17 children, were all murdered at Washita.

Just a short distance from Chief Roman Nose’s grave is one for David Pendleton Oakerhater. His life is an extremely interesting biography, and too involved to be incorporated here. I’ll write a separate post on his life that I guarantee you’ll find as fascinating as Roman Nose’s.



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