Early Life Among the Indians Battle of the Brule Copyright January 1891 B. G. ARMSTRONG AND
T. P. WENTWORTH ASHLAND, WIS. Contributed by Timm Severud
From the Life Of
Benj. G. Armstrong
1835, 1837, 1842
Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest
Incidents, Biographical Sketches,
Battles & c.
Dictated to and written by
Thomas P. Wentworth,
Press of A.W. Bowron
Chapter 5, subchapter Battle of the Brule
The whole country from this point to Lake Superior was an unbroken forest, inhabit exclusively by the Chippewa, but their right to this country was strongly contested by the Dakotas, (Sioux), leading to many bloody battles, one of which I witnessed at Stillwater on the west side of the lake. Many were slain on both sides, but it resulted in a victory of the Chippewas. This, I think, was in 1841. I also witnessed a battle on the Brule River about October 1st of the following year, a true version of which I will give you, the Sioux were headed by Old Crow and Chippewas by Buffalo, each having a number of sub-chiefs to assist them. The battleground was about midway from the source of Brule River to its mouth and about fifteen miles from Lake Superior. Buffalo's people at this time were settled over quite an extensive territory, consisting of the Apostle Islands and the whole country surrounding the Chequamegon (Cha-ga-wa-muk) Bay. When Buffalo received the news that they were coming to give him battle and learned how near they were, and knowing the necessity for him to start at once in order to intercept them and choose his position for a battle, he only had time to gather a portion of his warriors. When he started he knew that the force of the enemy far outnumbered his own; that they were coming with coming with the intentions of catching the Chippewas in disconnected parties and thereby be able to annihilate them in detail, as warlike portion of the Chippewas were over near the Mississippi under Hole-in-the-Day. Act quickly he must. He collected two hundred warriors and leaving his women and children he hurried to met the Sioux the first evening just before sunset at the Brule, the Sioux on the west side and the Chippewas on the east, their pickets eyeing each other until dark, knowing that daylight would find them in mortal combat. The west bank of this river running back quite a distance is level and swampy, while the east side slopes down from the river and it is only about 150 to an almost perpendicular rocky bluff rising from fifty to eighty feet in height, and the slope from the river bank to the bluff gave Buffalo's men a hidden position from the Sioux on the west side. It was not until dark that Buffalo made any show of strength in numbers, for he well knew he was over matched, but as soon as it was dark he had fires built along the river bank for nearly an eight of a mile, to give the Sioux the impression that his strength was ample to cope with them. These fires were kept briskly burning all night. Just after dark Buffalo came to me in my hidden retreat in the rocks on the bluff where I had gone by his direction, and laid his plans before me, which plans were to divide his force into three parts and at about midnight to send a third of them up the river a safe distance and cross and come own as near the Sioux as they dared without being observed, and there await the opining of the fight in the mourning, which he would begin with his center men. The other third were to go down river and cross over, and like the band up the river, move up to a striking distance and then keep quiet until the battle should begin. In those days fire arms were not plenty with the Indians and ammunition scarce and they did not like to use it in battle but kept it for hunting, and the war club and knife were the instruments of death relied upon for this fight. The center position of his men were concealed near the river bank at a point where the Sioux must cross, and as the ground receded back from the river bank to the bluff their position and numbers could not be detected by the enemy. All the maneuvers of Buffalo's men were completed before daylight and at early dawn the fight began with a few gunshots from Buffalo's center, which was to be a signal for his flanking forces to close in. As soon as these shots had been fired, some of his center men, by a prearrangement, began running towards the bluff to show weakness, and the Sioux, quick to discover their apparent fear, dashed into the river in great numbers, expecting to have an easy victory and be able to take what scalps there were between the river and the bluff with the utmost ease an dispatch. The water in the Brule at the east bank was about three feet deep and the bank two or three feet above the water. Whether or not the Sioux had taken this fact into consideration I cannot say, but that the Chippewas depended upon this condition of these things for their victory was certain. The Brule was now filled with a howling, surging mass of Sioux warriors, each trying to gain the lead for the distinction he proposed to get by the addition of numerous scalps to his belt. On they came, clubs and knives aloft, yelling they made and with a dozen or more imaginary Chippewa scalps already in their belt, began to climb the bank. All this time the braves of Buffalo lay hidden and with hurried breath awaited they appearance of the scalp lock above the bank. They were now in sight and if never before had met a foe that was worthy the name they faced them now, for all the Sioux in the river then, not a one set his foot on the east bank. Being in the water they were impelled to scale the bank before their clubs and knives were of any use, and the Chippewas brained them as fast as they came in reach. Of all the thrilling stories I ever read of slaughter and carnage, I now witnessed a greater one than all. The river ran red with blood and the Sioux warriors that had not reached the shore eagerly pressed forward but as fast as they approached their doom was sealed. The flanking forces of Buffalo were now and had been, since the signal gun fired, cutting their way into the Sioux right and left wings, and the war-whoops of the victorious Chippewas could be heard on their right and left and in their rear. The case in front of them was a hopeless one and they did the only thing that remained for them, to get away and save as many of their scalps as they could and let the Chippewas have the scalps of the dead, which were floating down or lying at the bottom of the Brule. I witnessed this masterpiece of Indian warfare from the afternoon previous to the ending of the fight, and from my safe position, having nothing to fear whichever way the battle went, the impression made upon my mind was lasting, and is as vivid today as it was upon that bright October morning, nearly fifty years ago, and I would go a thousand miles to see it repeated if another massacre were pending and could not be avoided. Those Sioux that got away made the best time possible to reach their own country beyond the Mississippi and were followed by the victors to their boundary line. Only a few were overtaken who were wounded and they were dispatched and scalped as soon as found. After the pursuers had returned the Indians were all called to count the dead and ascertain the result of the battle. This was done by counting all the men that were present, and all that were missing that were counted as slain in battle. Their losses being thus accounted for, the scalps that had been taken from the Sioux were counted and their losses thus ascertained. The count in this case was very satisfactory to the Chippewas as it showed their loss thirteen and the loss of the Sioux one hundred and one. This mode of counting up the results of battle has been their custom for hundreds of years, according to their tradition. The scalping practice has been in vogue by all tribes of Indians as far back as tradition goes, and the object of scalping was for a two-fold purpose. First for counting the results of battle, and next to show the personal bravery of individual warriors, as each brave kept his scalps as record of his valor until such time as he delivered them up to his superior in tribal rank, in return for which he received eagle feathers, one for each scalp he turned in, and these he wore in his cap or turban as a mark of distinction.