Accounts of the Grattan massacre -
resulting from a deadly dispute over an ox that wandered away from
a Mormon wagon train, were first published in the Missouri
Republican: "Following a period of mounting depredations by the
Indians, a poor emigrant complained on August 18th that one of his oxen had been
shot down by an Indian. The commandant (at Fort Laramie) had
sent out a detachment of about thirty men, under Lieutenant
Grattan, to apprehend the Indian offender.
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As head chief
of the Sioux, the Bear "had expressed a willingness to give up the
offender," and, along with the interpreter, accompanied the detail
to the Indian encampment. When they did, the entire
detachment was massacred, and the head chief was among the Indians
that were killed.
With no other
information available, editors concluded that Grattan's soldiers
"were victims of a deliberately contrived plot on the part of the
Indians." But once again, the retelling acquired a
mythological patina, for as later investigations would prove, the
Indians did not instigate the conflict.
At the time,
newspaper editors called for revenge. "A state of war now
exists between the United States and the powerful, warlike nation
of the Sioux." But when the national press took up the story,
responsibility for the tragedy was an open question ranging from
"the rebellious Indians" to "the greedy traders on the scene," and
even "the incompetently-led military."
For his part,
Jean Pierre deSmet, on hearing of the incident, composed a
sarcastic version of the account, and asked "Will you, in Europe,
believe this tale of a cow? And yet such is the origin of a
fresh war of extermination upon the Indians which is to be carried
out in the course of the present year."
It turned out
that one of the most important spokesmen for the Sioux at the Horse
Creek treaty council was the dead chief, Frightening
Bear. A.B. Chamber's, an official government witness at
the treaty council, memorialized the young man with a tribute in
his newspaper, theMissouri Republican:
"We knew him
well, and a better friend the white men never had. He was
brave, and gentle, and kind - a wise ruler, a skillful warrior, and
respected chieftain. Even in accepting his position, assigned
to him some four years ago at the treaty of Laramie, he only
consented after much persuasion, and then remarked when he did so
that he gave his life to the great spirit. So far from any
charge of treachery attaching to his conduct, his own fate is a
sufficient proof of his fidelity; in recording it, we feel like
inscribing a worthy memorial of one of the most high-toned and
chivalric of all the Indians we have known."
AFTERMATH OF GRATTAN - A familiar pattern now emerged, a pattern
established by settlers fifty years earlier in the Ohio Valley:
provoke an attack by tribes, fight back, then force the tribes to
the council table for concessions.