Description

    BULL SNAKE AND HALF-YELLOW FACE
    c. 1882 Bull Snake (left) and Half-Yellow Face, Crow heroes of the 1876 battles of the Rosebud and Little Bighorn, by D.F. Barry, at Fort Custer, M.T., c. 1882; printed at his later studio, West Superior, Wis. A printed caption is pasted below the image, "Snake and Big Belly." Albumen cabinet card.

    "Big Belly" is the name by which the Arikara who scouted for George Custer in 1876 knew the senior Crow scout also with the expedition, whose actual name was Half His Face Painted Yellow (Ischu Shi Dish), called Half-yellow Face (see Orin G. Libby, "The Arikara Narrative," North Dakota Historical Society Collections, Vol. 6, 1920: 96-97). On another D.F. Barry image of Crow scouts at Fort Custer, probably made on the same day (National Anthropological Archives, Neg. No.56563 ), the man at the right, here, is standing in the foreground and in a hand inscription by Barry is called "Bad Belly," typical of Barry's later garbled identifications. Half-Yellow Face is known to have been senior among the Crow scouts later enlisted at Fort Custer, with the rank of Corporal. The other Crow scouts were all Privates. The man called "Bad Belly" in Barry's group portrait of the Crow scouts, who is the same man shown here with Bull Snake, wears a military fatigue blouse with Corporal's chevrons.

    We believe, therefore, that this is a previously-unrecognized portrait of the man who first sighted the Lakota village, from the "Crow's Nest" lookout at dawn on June 25, 1876, and who, when Custer announced his plan to attack the huge encampment immediately told the commander, "That plan is bad, it should not be carried out;" for which frank advice Custer called Half-yellow Face a "woman," and assigned him thereafter to accompany Major Marcus A. Reno (Libby, 'Arikara Narrative': 86-93). Early in the afternoon, during Reno's initial attack on the Hunkpapa end of the huge, Lakota village, Half-Yellow Face twice saved the life of his cousin and fellow-scout White Swan. While Reno's troopers were surrounded and fighting for their lives in the wooded river bottom, White Swan was lanced in the forehead by the Cheyenne Brave Bear, then shot in the hand and knee by other Cheyenne. The injuries left him crippled and deaf for the rest of his life. When Reno was forced to precipitously retreat from the river bottom, his Crow and Arikara scouts were left behind to fend for themselves. Half-yellow Face managed to get the barely-conscious White Swan onto his horse and together the two Crow men followed four Arikara scouts after the fleeing soldiers. Hundreds of enemy Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were on the plain, firing at them.

    After running this gauntlet for more than a mile, as the scouts approached what later would be called the "Reno Crossing," where more than 30 soldiers were killed at the river, they could see a huge melee in progress, with swirling dust and crashing gunfire. About 200 yards from the crossing, therefore, the scouts swung to their left and swam the Little Bighorn, taking cover in a small patch of brush and cottonwood trees protected by a steep bluff. As their horses struggled up out of the river, White Swan lost consciousness and fell, right at the edge of the water. Under heavy fire from the opposite shore, Half-yellow Face and one of the Arikara scouts dragged White Swan into the covering brush. There, they were surrounded and pinned down under enemy fire for about fifteen minutes, when suddenly all of the attackers left them.

    Later, it was learned that news had reached the Lakota besiegers of a second body of soldiers, the much-larger force under Custer, sighted downstream. This gave the scouts about an hour's respite, during which they were able to climb the steep bluff with the injured man. Even so, they had barely gained the top when hundreds of the warriors who had just wiped out Custer's force charged back upriver to engage the men then digging in on Reno Hill. The refugee Crow and Arikara scouts raced into the army position literally yards ahead of the charging Sioux and Cheyenne. White Swan was placed with the other wounded, protected by surrounding packs of supplies. Half-yellow Face helped to defend the position for the next two days, until the soldiers were rescued on June 27th. Several of the officers of the 7th Cavalry commented on his particular courage. Thereafter, Half-yellow Face nursed White Swan's wounds, stayed with him during an arduous evacuation on a pony drag to the Bighorn River, and two weeks later brought his cousin home to the Mountain Crow village alive. White Swan survived the Battle of Little Bighorn by more than a quarter century, dying in 1904 .

    In this only known, studio portrait of the Scout-leader, Half-yellow Face has combed his hair in tribal fashion, the forelock roached upward, with tight side-braids. He wears typical, Crow man's leggings of dark-blue blanket cloth with inset panels of red wool at the cuffs, partially-beaded moccasins, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, probably red in color, with brass armbands and a typical, Crow loop necklace. Discs of conch shell hang from his pierced earlobes. Suspended from the leather thong crossing his torso is the claw of a grizzly bear, an indication of the visionary source for his fierce and tenacious battle prowess.

    Seated beside Half-yellow Face is another Crow who gained lasting fame in June, 1876. Bull Snake, his name said to evidence a particular prowess with the ladies, was the focus of one of the most memorable incidents that occurred during the Battle of the Rosebud, a mere eight days before the Little Bighorn battle. A war party of nearly 200 Crow men, with some girlfriends along for the adventure, had joined the force led by Gen. George Crook as scouts and auxiliaries. On the morning of June 17, 1876, near the present town of Sheridan, Wyoming, as the soldiers were resting after an early march, with the officers playing cards and many of the soldiers actually swimming naked in Rosebud River, the Lakota army under Crazy Horse made its surprise attack. Many of the officers acknowledged later that if the Crow and Shoshone scouts had not boldly charged out to confront the Sioux, Crook's force---less numerous than Custer's---might have met a similar fate.

    During the early fighting, Bull Snake decided to demonstrate his courage by making a "strong-heart" charge across the front of the Sioux line. He was half-way along their position when a volley of gunfire killed his horse and also shattered his left femur, throwing the young warrior to the ground in agony. Horses immediately charged out from both sides, sprinting for the fallen man. Four Lakota were racing for the kill and Bull Snake's scalp; two riders from the Crow side were racing to his rescue. Surprisingly, these were not prominent warriors, though Bull Snake was a well-respected fighter. Instead, the Crow who reached him first was a bade (Bah-day), or "half-man, half-woman," a person born genetically male, but who chose to live life in female clothing and following female pursuits. Crow people recognize the bade as a third gender. This bade was in "her" early twenties, handsome as well as brave, and known by the name Finds Them and Kills Them (Osh-tisch), which she immediately honored in full. Leaping off of her horse, Osh-tisch stood over the fallen man and shot down the leading Sioux attacker. Riding right behind Osh-tisch was an unmarried woman named The Other Magpie, who may have been one of Bull Snake's girlfriends. Although unarmed, she ran to the fallen Sioux and scalped him in sight of his friends, screaming at them in contempt: "My spit is my arrows!" Other Crow arrived to provide support as the two, heroic "women" managed to get Bull Snake onto the horse of Osh-tisch and evacuate him safely from the field. In honor of this daring rescue, the Crow name for the Battle of the Rosebud is "When Osh-tisch Saved Bull Snake."

    Bull Snake survived the injury, though his leg healed badly and he always walked with a cane thereafter. This did not deter him from further war parties, or enlisting later as a scout for the army. On horseback, a bad leg was irrelevant. Here, he is posed bare-chested early in his Scout career, wearing a loop-necklace and a white felt hat with an ostrich plume, probably dyed red. A muslin sheet is wrapped around his waist. His brass arm bands have each been ornamented with brass figures of the federal eagle, re-cycled from their intended function as helmet facings for U.S. Cavalry parade headgear.

    Dimensions: image 3 ¾ x 5 ½ inches


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    Auction Dates
    June, 2010
    12th Saturday
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