A heavy snowstorm had set in early in the afternoon, and the night was so bitter and the Indians so weakened by their campaign that Johnson felt safe to leave them free to take the best shelter they could find in the brush along the deep valley of Chadron Creek.
This leniency he was not long in regretting.
Dull Knife and his band had been feeding liberally for two days on troopers' rations, and had so far recovered strength of body and heart that when morning came on the twenty-fifth the sentries were greeted with a feeble volley from rifle pits in the brush, dug by Dull Knife in the frozen ground during the night!
And here in these pits indomitable old Dull Knife fought stubbornly for two days more - fought and held the troops at bay until Lieutenant Chase brought up a field gun from Fort Robinson and shelled them to a final surrender!
Thus ended the first episode of Dull Knife's magnificent fight for liberty and fatherland, and yet had he had food, ammunition, and mounts, the chances are a hundred to one that his heroic purpose would have been accomplished, and the entire band that left Reno, barring those killed along the trail, would have escaped in safety to freedom in the then wilds of the Northwest Territory.
And that, even in this apparently final surrender to hopeless odds, Dull Knife was still not without hope of further resistance, was proved by the fact that when he came out of his trenches only a few comparatively old and worthless arms were surrendered,while it later became known that twenty-two good rifles had been taken apart and were swung, concealed, beneath the clothing of the squaws!
After taking a day's rest Johnson marched his command into Fort Robinson, arriving in the evening in a heavy snowstorm, where the Cheyennes were imprisoned in one of the barracks and their meagre equipment dumped in with them, without further search for arms or ammunition. Later it was learned that that night the Indians quietly loosened some of the flooring of the barrack and hid their arms and ammunition beneath it, so that when a more careful search of their belongings and persons was made two days later, they were found to be absolutely without weapons of any description.
Dull Knife and his people were confined in the log barrack at the southeast angle of the parade ground [at Fort Robinson]. No doors were locked or windows barred. A small guard patroled the barrack prison night and day.
What to do with these indomitable people puzzled the Indian Bureau and the army.
In December a great council was held in the barrack prison. The Sioux chiefs, Red Cloud, American Horse, Red Dog, and No Flesh, came over from their agency to attend it. The Government was represented by Captains Wessells and Vroom and their juniors. The Cheyennes were gathered in a close circle, the officers and visiting chiefs near its centre, the bucks back of them, and farther back still the squaws and children.
Red Cloud was the principal Sioux speaker. He said in substance:
"Our hearts are sore for you.
"Many of our own blood are among your dead. This has made our hearts bad.
" But what can we do? The Great Father is all-powerful. His people fill the whole earth. We must do what he says. We have begged him to allow you to come to live among us. We hope he may let you come. What we have we will share with you. But, remember, what he directs, that you must do.
"We cannot help you. The snows are thick on the hills. Our ponies are thin. The game is scarce. You cannot resist, nor can we. So listen to your old friend and do without complaint what the Great Father tells you".
The old Cheyenne war chief, Dull Knife, then stepped slowly to the centre of the circle, a grim, lean figure.
Erect, despite his sixty-odd years, with a face of a classical Roman profile, with the steady, penetrating glance and noble, commanding bearing of a great leader of men, Dull Knife stood in his worn canvas moccasins and ragged, threadbare blanket, the very personification of the greatness of heart and soul that cannot be subdued by poverty and defeat.
Never when riding at the head of hundreds of his wild warriors, clad in the purple of his race - leggings of golden yellow buckskin, heavily beaded, blanket of dark blue broadcloth, warbonnnet of eagles' feathers that trailed behind him on the ground, necklace of bears' claws, the spoils of many a deadly tussle - never in his life did Dull Knife look more a chieftain than there in his captivity and rags.
He first addressed the Sioux:
"We know you for our friends, whose words we may believe. We thank you for asking us to share your lands. We hope the Great Father will let us come to you. All we ask is to be allowed to live, and to live in peace. I seek no war with any one. An old man, my fighting days are done. We bowed to the will of the Great Father and went far into the south where he told us to go. There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. Sickness came among us that made mourning in every lodge. Then the treaty promises were broken, and our rations were short. Those not worn by disease were wasted by hunger. To stay there meant that all of us would die. Our petitions to the Great Father were unheeded. We thought it better to die fighting to regain our old homes than to perish of sickness. Then our march we begun. The rest you know." Then turning to Captain Wessells and his officers: "Tell the Great Father Dull Knife and his people ask only to end their days here in the north where they were born. Tell him we want no more war. We cannot live in the south; there is no game. Here, when rations are short, we can hunt. Tell him if he lets us stay here Dull Knife's people will hurt no one. Tell him if he tries to send us back we will butcher each other with our own knives. I have spoken".
Captain Wessells's reply was brief - an assurance that Dull Knife's words should go to the Great Father.