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    A "Letter from Sitting Bull"
    Extensive Pictographic Drawings by the Hunkpapa Lakota Leader Sitting Bull
    Collected and Annotated in Dakota Territory, 1879

    together with various newspaper clippings regarding these drawings, pencil, red and yellow colored pencil, paper

    This two-sided document, drawn by Sitting Bull, depicts himself next to Lean Canadian (NWMP Supt. James Morrow) at a council with 25 others, including Afraid of His Horses and Red Cloud. It is set into the surrounding ledger paper, annotated by Eli B. Vincent in the early 1880s.

    Dimensions: 8 x 12 ½ inches

    A 90-year-old, hand-written note in pencil, accompanying this lot, gives the brief family history:

    "Eli B. Vincent was a boyhood friend of J.W. Anderson's in Washington Co., Ohio; he served as a government employee at various Indian agencies and thus became their friend. He obtained the Indian writing for his friend J.W. Anderson who was a pioneer settler for several years in Potter Co., S. Dak."

    The drawings have descended in the Anderson family to the present time.

    A newspaper clipping from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 1935, gives a further history:

    "[85]-Year-Old Visitor Here is Veteran of Indian Service at Cheyenne River Agency , by Fred C. Henson.

    Talk of Custer's 'last stand' was still rampant in the spring of 1877, when Eli Bacon Vincent of Williamstown, W. Va, a Cedar Rapids visitor since Tuesday, arrived at Cheyenne river agency to take charge of distributing government supplies to the Sioux Indians in that section of the Dakota territory, fifty miles from Pierre.

    Mr. Vincent has been visiting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. E.S. Smith, 2223 B avenue NE. Mrs. Smith is a daughter of J.W. Anderson, boyhood companion of Mr. Vincent in Ohio and later his neighbor on a Dakota claim. Mr. Vincent, who was 85 on May 19, left Cedar Rapids Saturday...

    Among the Indians whom Mr. Vincent met at the Cheyenne river agency were several who had participated in the Custer massacre the previous June near the junction of the Big Horn and Little Big Horn rivers in Montana territory nearly 400 miles away.

    Directed 3 Govt. Warehouses. Mr. Vincent was placed in charge of three warehouses containing government Indian supplies at the agency and was assigned an interpreter. Within a year the Ohio man had dispensed with the interpreter and could speak with the Indians fluently. More than 2000 Indians were supplied from the agency warehouses.

    Mr. Vincent related that the Sioux were given a regular food ration every two weeks. This included sugar, coffee, smoked bacon and ten and one half pounds of meat per person. In addition 'annuities' of clothing, blankets and shoes were allotted. The Ohio octogenarian related that some difficulty was experienced with 'squaw men' and petty traders who would gain tremendous advantage of the red men by trading trifles for valuable necessities.

    The Cedar Rapids visitor narrated that on one occasion an Indian was known to have paid $15 for a toy umbrella with a bright cover of red, white and blue. Before Mr. Vincent arrived at the agency the allotments had been made to the tribal chiefs, who dispensed them to their people. Under the new system each family was allowed an 'issue' book, which was presented when supplies were to be drawn. Four companies of troops were stationed at a nearby fort to protect the warehouses. Mr. Vincent became acquainted with Gen. William T. Sherman, when the latter made an inspection visit to the fort.

    Custer Battle Their Last Fling. The Custer affair was the last fling of the Sioux against the advancing white men, as Mr. Vincent explains the Indians settled down to peaceful ways of living on government bounty and learned the white man's arts of cabin building and farming.

    The Cheyenne river post near the mouth of the Cheyenne river was along the route taken by the river craft that plied upward toward the Montana country. Mr. Vincent recalled the large stacks of cottonwood logs, hewn and piled in cords along the river bank, to serve as fueling stations.

    After four years and a month in government service Mr. Vincent took up claims in the territory by homesteading and purchase, and engaged in ranching for several years. Later he returned to southern Ohio, where he bought a farm. He retired several years ago and moved across the river to West Virginia. His children are now operating the home farm.

    Mr. Vincent as a youth attended Beverly Academy at Beverly, Ohio, with Mrs. Smith's father. Later, he served as an instructor in mathematics in the same school for two years, and was graduated from the University of Michigan law school in 1873. He engaged in practice in Oskaloosa for a year and returned to Ohio. Two years later he went to the Dakota territory."

    A second newspaper account, from The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, ca. January, 1940, documents existence of the Sitting Bull drawings at that date.

    "Pictograph Drawn by Sitting Bull Tells of Fourteen-Lodge Council at Which Lean Canadian presided , by K.C. von Lackum.

    To Mrs. Leonard P. Kurt, 306 Kenilworth road, the slaughter of the United States Seventh Cavalry under the command of Gen. George A. Custer on that disastrous day in June, 1876, on the Little Big Horn, by the war power of the Sioux nation, holds more than passing interest, for she has an original pictograph, drawn by the hand of a prominent figure in that battle---Chief Sitting Bull.

    The pictograph came to Mrs. Kurt from her grandfather, the late J.W. Anderson who in turn procured it about 1885 from an Eli Vincent, who was in government service in various Indian agencies, and was well acquainted with Medicine man Bull.

    Anderson, a physician, and Vincent, a lawyer, had been boyhood chums in Washington county, Ohio. Vincent induced his friend to take up government land in Potter county, South Dakota, just across the Missouri river from the Sioux Indian camps. Thus Anderson became interested in the Indians and expressed a desire to Vincent that he might have some Indian picture writings.

    Outstanding Example. Vincent selected the 'letter' reproduced in this feature [see attached] as an outstanding example of pictography and presented it to Anderson. To whom the 'letter' was addressed is not known.

    The crude pictures originally were drawn with pencil and red and yellow crayon on coarse white paper. Particularly interesting are the names of different Indians as they appear in figures above their heads.

    Names among the tribes were sometimes handed down from ancestors, given from encounters, personal appearances, childish pranks in play, and numerous other things. That two men are brothers cannot be told from their names The method of distinguishing them in conversation is by speaking of them as certain persons' relatives, unless it be some prominent person.

    The 'letter' translated tells of a council, of which Sitting Bull was a part, presided over by a Canadian (man with the hat).

    Pictures Show Names. The pictures above the Indians' heads explain their names. Third from the left is Black Fox, or in Indian, 'Sun-ghie-la-sapa.' Next is the 'Lean Canadian,' and what a name in Indian he has---'Ta-ma-he-cha sha-gla-sha wicha-sha.' Next to the Canadian is Sitting Bull himself (note the figure that is supposed to represent a bull sitting, above his head). If you had had business with Sitting Bull back in the long ago, and you wanted to inquire for him in the Sioux tongue, you would have said 'Ti-tan-ka I-yo-ta-ka.'

    Next to Sitting Bull is Horn Cloud, 'Mahk-pi-a He-ton,' and next Knife or 'Mena,' and Flying Past, "Ki-yan Hi-ia." [In addition to the Lakota names, the following section was quoted directly from the hand inscription added by Eli Vincent in the 1880s---compare the Lot.]

    The circles with the crosses represent tepee poles on lodges, 14 of them, and the tracks leading to the Canadian show that he presides over the council.

    Triangles for Big Hearts. The triangles under each of the Indians show that they have big [next page] hearts, for the Indians based their philosophy on the theory that the brain was the seat of the intellect, and the heart the seat of the affections.

    The two lines joining the Indians indicate that they are bound together by a strong cord. The figure of the horse conveys the idea of a good supply of stock." [There follow the reporter's malicious distortions of Sitting Bull's life and character, not germane to his pictographic message.]

    J.W. Anderson and Eli Bacon Vincent, the two names associated with the provenance of the Sitting Bull drawings, were real men who were in Dakota Territory, late-1870s - early-1880s. Before homesteading near his friend in Potter County, S.D., Anderson was a commercial buffalo hunter.

    "Later that summer [1883]...Vic Smith, 'the champion buffalo hunter of the northern ranges' came in with his partner J.W. Anderson. They had several thousand buffalo to their credit since the previous fall...
    At the beginning of the hunting season in 1883, about ten thousand remaining buffalo roamed [in present eastern North Dakota] between the Moreau and Grand Rivers in the Dakota Territory. Smith and numerous other hide hunters quickly reduced this herd to about twelve hundred. When Sitting Bull learned of the herd's location, he and one thousand Sioux Indians came up from Standing Rock Agency to kill the remainder. Within two days, the last of the northern herd was slaughtered by both whites and Indians," (Victor Grant Smith, Jeanette Prodgers, ed. The Champion Buffalo Hunter: The Frontier Memoirs of Yellowstone Vic Smith: 5. Globe Pequot Press, 2008; from an original manuscript in the Houghton Library Special Collections, Harvard, University).

    Eli Bacon Vincent, the collector and annotator of the Sitting Bull drawings, is listed in the Official Register of the United States, 1879: 336, as a farmer at the Cheyenne River Reservation, at a salary of $900 a year. He was the #3 man at the agency, after the Agent & Chief Clerk.

    An historical website for Gettysburg, S.D., the seat of Potter County, due east of the Cheyenne River Reservation, says: "The first non-native settler in Potter County was Eli Bacon Vincent, who was born in Ohio in 1850, and graduated from Michigan University Law School in 1873. Starting a law practice proved too slow for him, so he pulled up stakes and moved west. He landed at Fort Sully and afterwards at Fort Bennett across the Missouri River from Fort Sully. The year was 1875.

    For four years after that he worked for the U.S. government as the Boss Farmer at the Cheyenne River Agency. The native people nicknamed him u Enochenee /u , which meant 'Hurry up,' because hurrying to get things done was his principle of life.

    He then bought 700 acres on the Missouri River bottom and tried his hand at ranching, but by 1884 he had sold out and returned to his hometown in Ohio, where he married and raised his children. He died there in 1939."

    Mr. Vincent explained in a hand note on the document, when he obtained Sitting Bull's drawing: "When he visited this agency in the fall of 1879, to talk of coming in from the hostile camp." It is well known, now, that Sitting Bull did NOT leave his Canadian exile, and visit the Cheyenne River Agency in 1879. It should be equally clear that Mr. Vincent believed he, or someone representing Sitting Bull, had made the visit. During the five years that Sitting Bull was in exile, he sent emissaries several times back into Dakota Territory, to communicate with the leaders of other Lakota tribes, in an effort to unite and present a common front against the incursions of the U.S. government. This pictographic document appears to be one such diplomatic message, which apparently was confiscated when the courier was at Cheyenne River, then came into Mr. Vincent's possession as an official at the agency. It appears that he must have interviewed the courier, in order to to have obtained the very accurate "reading" of most of the pictographic names.

    The pictographic letter is addressed from Sitting Bull and his camp chiefs at Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, to the leaders of the Oglala and Brule tribes. A total of 27 names appear on the document. The letter actually has the nature of a Visa, which was intended to verify and introduce the courier to the southern Lakota chiefs. The courier then would have verbally explained the details of the actual message Sitting Bull intended to convey. The "Lean Canadian" shown as in charge at Wood Mountain, was NWMP Supt. James Morrow Walsh. He is identified in very clear Lakota: Tamahecha (lean, skinny) Shaglasha (Red Coat---Canadian Mountie) Wichasha (man). Sitting Bull respected Walsh, and they got along well while the Lakota were in Canada.

    The Lakota language was not codified, and a useful dictionary produced until 1970 (Rev. Eugene Buechel, S.J., A Dictionary of the Teton Dakota Sioux Language, Vermillion, University of South Dakota). A dictionary of the eastern Dakota dialect had been produced in the 19th century, but many of the words are different from the Teton, or Lakota dialect. The fact that Eli B. Vincent was able to flawlessly render the names of 27 Lakota leaders in 1879, is direct evidence that he was a fluent speaker, as he claimed.

    The several clippings from Ohio newspapers, more than 80 years ago, one with a clear copy of the Sitting Bull drawings, and a verbatim quotation of the hand-written explanatory text Eli Vincent added in the early-1880s; as well as the impeccable Lakota annotations of the 27 names, many decades before the publication of a dictionary of the Lakota language, all tend to verify the Anderson family history, as well as the claims by Eli B. Vincent about his linguistic capabilities, and his personal history. We believe the annotated drawings by Sitting Bull, and the accompanying documents verify each other.

    Mike Cowdrey
    San Luis Obispo, CA

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2020
    20th Friday
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