Special to Indian Country Today
ROSEBUD INDIAN RESERVATION — Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull) just wanted to go home.
After being ripped from her family in South Dakota at 16 and shipped 1,500 miles to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879, she asked to be sent home in January 1881 because of illness.
Just three months later, she was dead. It would take another 140 years before she returned to her family and her homelands, wrapped in a buffalo robe in a cedar box.
“My sisters, brother and I are the fifth-generation descendants of Her Pipe,” Bernadine Red Bear, daughter of the late Christine Crow Dog-Red Bear, told a group gathered Saturday, July 17, at the public burial service for the children.
“We didn’t know we had a relative in Carlisle. We are the only living family members to take care of our relative, Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull).”
Dora, the daughter of Brave Bull, was among nine Sicangu ancestors to make it home last week, more than a century after they died at the notorious boarding school. They were escorted home to Rosebud Friday, stopping first at Whetstone Bay, where they had taken a steamboat to Pennsylvania in 1879.
On Saturday, they finally were laid to rest at the Rosebud Indian Reservation with public and private ceremonies, prayers and honor songs.
“When I went to Whetstone Bay, they told me this was the last time they saw their relatives,” Red Bear said at the service. “I could only imagine her saying in Lakota, ‘Mother, I don’t want to go. Father, help me, I don’t want to go.’
“We have our children and grandchildren here with us today,” Red Bear said. “How would you feel if someone just came and took them away from you? They [the wasicu] are cowards; they take children and they do this to them.
“Today, I’m happy for my mother’s tribe, the Sicangu Oyate, and what they did for these children.”
The children ranged in age from 10 to 18 when they left for Carlisle. Most of the girls went for three-year terms; the boys, for five-year terms, according to school records.
In addition to Dora, there was Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Lucy Take The Tail (Pretty Eagle); Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder); Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear); Friend Hollow Horn Bear; and Alvan (Roaster), who was also called Kills Seven Horses and One That Kills Seven Horses.
Six of the children — Dora, Dennis, Maud, Rose, Alvan and Ernest — were in the first group from Pine Ridge and Rosebud to be sent to the school. They arrived Oct. 6, 1879, and within two years, five would be dead from pneumonia, measles, infections or other causes.
The return this month of the ancestral remains comes as international scrutiny has focused on the history of Indigenous boarding schools in North America. Nearly 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential schools in Canada, and researchers in the United States are now working to find graves at boarding schools here.
Details are sketchy in the U.S. about the number of schools and students who attended. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, has launched an initiative to cull through government records to identify the children who attended and find those who were buried without their families.
The Carlisle school became the prototype for both the U.S. and Canadian boarding schools. The founder of Carlisle was Army Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt, whose infamous comment, “kill the Indian, save the man,” defined the assimilationist policies and militaristic system that forced children to cut their hair, abandon their Native clothing and disavow their language.
The Rosebud children were among 10 students whose remains were disinterred at the school; the remains of an Alaskan Aleut child were returned home earlier this year. The return followed years of work by Sicangu Youth Council members, who visited the school then pushed to have their relatives returned.
In all, more than 190 children died at Carlisle from the time it opened in 1879 until it closed in 1918.
The first deaths
Ernest and Maud were the first of the Rosebud group to die at Carlisle, passing within hours of each other just 14 months after they arrived at the school.
School records indicate that Ernest, 18, had a sore throat and was sent to the hospital in October 1880. Officials reported that he did not want to take the “disagreeable” treatment, and refused medicine and food, according to a report on the two deaths. He died Dec. 14, 1881.
Maud, 17, died the same day — the first girl to die at the school, according to the report.
Officials at the time reported she died of pneumonia, saying she had weakened lungs and could not resist infection. But that’s not the story tribal members learned when they visited the school site last month.
Ione Quigley, the tribal historical preservation officer at Rosebud who helped prepare the remains for the trip back to South Dakota, said officials told them there were three bodies in the grave — Maud and two younger, unidentified children.
There is no record at Carlisle of three children buried in one grave, and a ceremony was later held at Rosebud seeking spiritual guidance.
“We were told after ceremony that she took two little ones with her and ran away,” Quigley said. “They froze and were all buried together… I reminded the Army officials that they give their word that they won’t leave a comrade behind, but they separated the three sets of remains of our ancestors.”
Quigley said the deaths of the three children are evidence that conditions at the school were very poor. She believes the other two children are also Rosebud children.
“She would not have left the school unless something was wrong,” she said. “She wouldn’t have taken just any child; she would have taken her own relatives. I was frustrated that we couldn’t bring them back with her. The Army would not let the remains go because they were named as ‘unknown.’”
She continued, “There are six graves in the cemetery at Carlisle that are labeled Sioux, so they could be from any one of our tribes. There are also 16 children buried in graves who are listed as unknown.”
Dennis, 13, died less than a month after Maud and the children, on Jan. 10, 1881, of what was reported as typhoid pneumonia.
The day after Dennis died, Dora was admitted to the hospital with chest pain and fever, according to a physician’s report included among school records collected from the Carlisle school at the Cumberland County Historical Society.
It was about that time that she asked to go home to her family, Red Bear said.
“Our little grandmother got sick several times,” Red Bear said at the burial Saturday. “She requested to come home in January 1881 because of her illness, but they didn’t let her come home. When she died, they kept her there and buried her there when they could have brought her home.”
Dora had seemed to improve at first, and then worsened. She was assumed to have contracted measles, since the school was in the midst of what the doctor described as a “measles epidemic.” She later developed bronchitis so severe that she had “suffocation attacks,” and died April 24, 1881, the doctor said.
“The succession of diseases, pneumonia, measles, bronchitis, proved more than she could endure,” the doctor concluded in his letter notifying the commissioner of Indian Affairs of her death.
Rose died just five days after Dora.
The doctor notified Pratt of Rose’s death in a letter dated May 4, 1881. The doctor reported she started treatment March 29 for congestion and pain in her chest, but did not have obvious signs of measles.
She began to run a high fever, and the doctor suspected she had pneumonia. Within a month, she was dead.
“She became weak and much debilitated and died suddenly and unexpectedly,” he wrote. “The immediate cause of death being, as I believe, congestion of lungs, brought on by sudden chill.”
‘He is better now’
Alvan, who was 12 when he arrived, lived more than two years at Carlisle. Although the cause of his death on March 29, 1882, is not known, the newspaper of the Carlisle Barracks printed a note from another tribal citizen reporting the boy’s death.
“Day before yesterday one of the Sioux boys died,” wrote Luther Standing Bear on March 31, 1882. “We were very glad for him. Because he is better now than he was on Earth.”
Quigley, the Rosebud historical preservation officer, said Standing Bear’s comments offer another look into the grim conditions at the school. He was a Carlisle survivor who later recounted the story in a book.
“I cried,” she said, “because when a child says of another child that ‘he is in a better place,’ something horrible must have made them think that way.”
The last three ancestors came to Rosebud over the next two years. Warren arrived on Nov. 30, 1882, at age 15. Lucy and Friend arrived on Nov. 14, 1883.
Lucy was just 10 when she arrived at Carlisle. She died just four months later, on March 9, 1884. A note in the newspaper said she “was not in health” when she arrived, but additional details were not provided.
Warren died six months after Lucy, on Sept. 30, 1884. He had been sent out in April 1884 to work with a Pennsylvania farmer, described as a “patron” in school records, but returned in August.
There is no mention in school records whether Warren was sent back because he was sick, though he died just a month after returning to the school. A line in a school ledger notes only, “Warren Painter died.”
Friend, who was 17 when he arrived, stayed with the school system for more than two years before he died on May 21, 1886. Little information is available about his death, but it was also noted in a school ledger, “Friend H.H.B. died.”
A final homecoming
Sicangu tribal and spiritual leaders, along with several young Lakota adults, worked together Saturday to give the ancestors a traditional burial.
Quigley worked ahead to prepare them for the journey, carefully wrapping each child’s remains in a buffalo robe and placing them in a cedar box. Earth from the grave was also included in the box, in case bone fragments had fallen loose into the ground.
Quigley expressed gratitude to Sicangu medicine man Waycee His Holy Horse, as well as the late Chief Leonard Crow Dog, for preparing her to bring the ancestors home.
“Grandpa Crow Dog told me about Dora,” Quigley said. “She was meant to come home and hold the pipe for her people. She never got the chance to do that.”
Crow Dog, who has since died, left instructions for how the relatives should be cared for, she said.
And so they were.
On Saturday, a military color guard of eight Native women soldiers assisted with the funeral and public burials. They stood guard by the small graves, holding an American flag, a Rosebud Sioux Tribal Flag and an orange flag made especially for the occasion.
Several young people, including members of the Sicangu Youth Council, oversaw the burial at the veteran’s cemetery, stepping into the open graves to lower the remains inside.
The first item put into the ground was dirt at the bottom of the cedar boxes. Then came the buffalo robe bundle that held the remains. Gifts provided by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, family members and others were placed on top of the bundle, then covered with a specially made star quilt. Soil that had surrounded each grave at Carlisle was poured on top.
Each ancestor was gifted a Rosebud Sioux tribal flag and a prayer flag. The Army also provided an American flag for each child. The flags were presented to family members or the young people who sparked the return of the nine ancestors.
Prayers were offered at the public gravesites by medicine men Richard Moves Camp and Keith Horse Looking. The Red Leaf singers sang the Little Big Horn memorial song, as well as a prayer and honor song.
“Today is a day of healing. I’m very proud to be Lakota,” Moves Camp said.
“We can’t be sad anymore,” he said. “Today, we proudly bring our relatives home. Now, let’s take better care of our children, so that they are not running around in the street, drinking alcohol or using drugs. Let’s prepare our children for a good future. Now it’s time for us to learn our ancestors’ teachings. We must learn to speak the language. We must learn about our culture.
“Bring the old teachings to the modern world.”
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 contribution today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.