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Across the Fence: Ah-ho-appa (fallen leaf)
September 28, 2012 M. Timothy Nolting   

Read more by M. Timothy Nolting

Courtesy photo The scaffolding that was built at Fort Laramie where Spotted Tail’s daughter was placed after her death.

In the bitter cold of late winter, 1866 a large procession of nearly 300 men, women and children of the Brule Sioux, under Chief Spotted Tail, trudged along the northern edge of the icy waters of the North Platte River. Two Sioux warriors led the procession, each holding the single rope-rein of the pure white ponies that followed behind them. Between the two ponies a soft buffalo robe had been lashed and upon this robe laid the cold and frozen body of Ah-ho-appa, (Fallen Leaf). Behind the ponies, with his wives and children, Spotted Tail followed. Unashamed of the tears that coursed down his weathered cheeks, his outstretched hand gripped the edge of the black-haired robe that cradled the body of his daughter.

The procession entered the parade grounds of Fort Laramie and proceeded to the wide stairway and pillared front porch of the officer’s quarters, ‘Old Bedlam.’ As the mass of mourners huddled together, their steamy breath rose above their heads and was whisked away by the bite of winter wind. The front door of Old Bedlam jerked open and Colonel Henry Maynadier, commanding officer of the fort, walked briskly across the porch and down the stairs as he motioned for a small number of enlisted men to follow. Colonel Maynadier extended his hand to Spotted Tail in welcome, friendship and compassion. The two men stood silent, hands clasped in quiet understanding while Sioux warriors and U.S. Cavalrymen, together, lifted Ah-ho-appa’s body from the buffalo-robe cradle and carried it through the open door of Old Bedlam.

While funeral preparations were being made Ah-ho-appa lay in state surrounded by U.S flags, rows of rifles and sabres. Her mother and sisters prepared her body, clothed her in her finest elk-skin dress and beaded moccasins. Her long, raven black hair was combed and braided with bright red ribbons and lay draped over her shoulders and across the soft white elk skin that covered her. Ah-ho-appa had lived only the short time of seventeen winters.

Colonel Maynadier instructed the fort carpenter to build a suitable casket while the post’s clergy, Chaplin A. Wright, prepared a fitting eulogy and service that would satisfy the requirements of a Christian funeral and also honor Lakota tradition.

What was it that brought Spotted Tail, with his family, his followers and young daughter’s body to Fort Laramie for burial? During a time that was arguably the height of the so-called Indian Wars, why would a leader of the Sioux bring his daughter to a U.S. fort for burial? The answer to that question goes back many years from that bitter day in the winter of 1866.

Some accounts list this daughter of Spotted Tail’s as Ah-ho-appa (Fallen Leaf). Others record her name as Hinziwin (Wheat Flower). Whatever her Brule Lakota name, the soldiers at Fort Laramie called her Monica. Long before Spotted Tail was a recognized chief of the Brule Lakota, he and his family were frequently found at or near the fort. Spotted Tail’s daughter, I prefer to use the name Ah-ho-appa, was exceedingly enamored with the white man’s fort and the constant activity there. Officers and their wives, enlisted men and civilian employees at the fort became quite fond of her, nicknamed her Monica and referred to her as ‘the little princess.’ Her father, Spotted Tail, was a frequent proponent for peace with the whites though later, as a chief, when his people favored war, he led them according to their wishes.

Ah-ho-appa grew up in the shadow of Fort Laramie. Born in 1849 she was only six years old when the first hostilities occurred between the Sioux and the U.S. Army. Ah-ho-appa may well have watched the events unfold that would be called the Grattan massacre. It was mid-August in 1854 that Lt. Grattan was dispatched with a company of soldiers, from Fort Laramie, to arrest whomever was responsible for the shooting death of a lame cow that belonged to a group of Mormons who were traveling through.

Grattan took with him a pair of mountain Howitzers, a chip on his shoulder and an irrepressible urge to fight Indians. Chief Conquering Bear refused to turn anyone over to the soldiers and offered to replace the old cow with a pony from his herd. Grattan would not negotiate. Taunted by the group of soldiers, the gathering of Sioux warriors was becoming quite agitated. As the argument escalated and the Sioux pressed closer to the contingent of soldiers a nervous enlisted man discharged his weapon and killed one of Conquering Bear’s people. The ensuing battle left Lt. Grattan and nearly 30 of his men dead.

A year later, September 1855, Ah-ho-appa was with her people at a place called Ash Hollow, near the Blue River in Nebraska Territory. It was there that General William S. Harney, in command of 600 troops, surrounded and attacked a small Sioux encampment of no more than 230 people, including old men, women and children. Harney was on a retaliatory expedition to punish the Sioux for the Grattan massacre and had declared, “By God, I’m for battle – no peace!” The ensuing battle was little more than wholesale slaughter with nearly half, mostly women and children, of those in the village killed. Correspondents from eastern newspapers witnessed soldiers repeatedly firing into caves, along the rivers edge, where women and children hid.

Ah-ho-appa, members of her family and Spotted Tail survived this attack and still, Spotted Tail espoused peace and his daughter ‘the little princess’ wished to be like the white people she so admired at the fort.

A year later, Spotted Tail and two other warriors turned themselves in for the killing of the Mormon cow and served one year in prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. His family went with him for that time and returned to Wyoming Territory, near Ft. Laramie, when he was released.

Ah-ho-appa continued to be found at the fort watching the soldiers in their fascinating and regimented drills. She sat at the feet of officer’s wives and listened to their chatter as they passed the mundane days of Army life at that remote western post. She was exceedingly vocal in her desire to adopt the ways of the whites and in the short years of her life saw the potential for good in being at peace, not war, with them. This strong conviction came even after the terrible atrocities she had witnessed as a young child.

Legend tells that Ah-ho-appa, as a young maiden of seventeen fell in love with a young officer and though she tried to entice him with all of her dark-eyed charm, the young man refused her forward advances. Spotted Tail was displeased with his daughter’s shameless pursuit of the young soldier and though she might well have been his favorite daughter, he sent her away with relatives who lived in the Powder River country, two hundred miles northwest of Ft. Laramie.

It is said that shortly thereafter, a Sioux courier rode in to Spotted Tail’s camp with news that his daughter Ah-ho-appa was near death. Because of her separation from the young soldier she loved so deeply she had pined away with a broken heart, refused to eat and had taken ill. Spotted Tail left immediately to be at his daughter’s side and to make all efforts to see to her recovery. However, his arrival was nearly too late as he knelt at her side to hear her final request. She begged him to continue in his pursuit of peace with the whites and asked that he would promise that she would be buried on the hill beside the fort that she loved so much.

Spotted Tail made that promise and during the fifteen-day journey from the Powder River, through the snow-blanketed plains, he led the ponies that carried the body of his daughter. When he returned, the people of his village joined the funeral procession and stood with him at the steps of Old Bedlam in Fort Laramie. Spotted Tail had received permission from his old friend, Colonel Maynadier, to bury Ah-ho-appa at the fort.

Ah-ho-appa’s body was wrapped tightly in a buffalo robe and then in a bright red blanket. Her body was placed in the casket made by the fort carpenter then lifted to the top of a scaffold that had been built on the hill overlooking the fort. Her two ponies were killed and their heads and tails severed and hung on the scaffolds poles. Beneath each ponies head a barrel of water was placed to quench their thirst as they carried Ah-ho-appa to her final rest.

Shortly after his daughter’s death, Spotted Tail attended a council of peace. Long regarded as a natural orator and one of the Sioux nation’s most gifted speakers, Spotted Tail spoke at that council.

With great emotion he said, “Were not the hopelessness of resistance and the dictates of policy sufficient to deter me from committing acts of war, the pledge I made my child in her dying hour would cause me to keep at peace with your people.”
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