The Cheyennes sat silent throughout the council, all save one, a powerful young buck named Buffalo Hump, old Dull Knife's son. With a thin strip of old canvas, that served as his only covering, drawn tightly about his tall figure, his bronze face aflame with sentiments of wrong, of anger, and of hatred, Buffalo Hump strode rapidly from one end to the other of the long barrack room, casting fierce glances at the white men, the very incarnation of savage wrath. From beginning to end of the council I momentarily expected to see him leap on some member of the party, and try to rend him with his hands.
Of course nothing came of the council. The War and Interior Departments agreed that it would be imprudent to permit these unsubduable people to be merged into the already restless ranks of the Sioux. It was therefore decided to march them back south to Fort Reno, whence they had come.
January opened with very bitter weather. Six or eight inches of snow covered the ground. The mercury daily made long excursions below zero. Even the troops in cantonment at Canby were suffering severely from the cold - some with frozen feet and hands. It was all but impossible weather for marching.
Nevertheless, on January 5th, Captain Wessells received orders from the War Department to immediately start Dull Knife's band, as quietly and peaceably as possible, and under proper escort, on the march to Fort Reno, six hundred miles away in the south! This was the decision of the Indian Bureau, and the Secretary of War was requested to have the decision immediately enforced. Hence the order which reached Captain Wessells.
Captain Wessells sent a guard to the barrack and had Dull Knife, Old Crow, and Wild Hog brought into his presence at headquarters. On the arrival of the Indians a council was held. Captain Wessells advised them of the order of the Department that they were to return to the Indian Territory.
Dull Knife rose to reply. His whole figure trembled with rage; his bronze cheeks assumed a deeper red; the fires of suppressed passion blazed through his eyes until they glittered with the ferocity of an enraged beast at bay. Nevertheless, he spoke slowly and almost calmly. He did not have much to say. He made no threats or gestures.
He said he had listened to what the Great Father had ordered. It was the dearest wish of him and his people to try to do what the Great Father desired, for they knew they were helpless in his hands. But now the Great Father was telling them to do what they could not do - to try to march to the Indian Territory in such weather. Many would be sure to perish on the way, and those who reached the reservation would soon fall victims to the fevers that had already brought mourning into nearly all their lodges. If, then, the Great Father wished them to die - very well, only they would die where they then were, if necessary by their own hands. They would not return to the south, and they would not leave their barrack prison.
Captain Wessells knew that Dull Knife's complaint was well founded. Still, bound by the rigid rules of the service, he had absolutely no latitude whatever. He therefore directed the interpreter to explain to Dull Knife that the orders were imperative and must be obeyed, and to assure him that the cavalry escort would do all in their power to save the Indians from any unnecessary hardship on the journey.
Dull Knife, however, remained firm, and his companions, when appealed to, only growled a brief assent to Dull Knife's views.
"Then, Interpreter," said Wessells, "tell them their food and fuel will be stopped entirely until they conclude to come peaceably out of their barrack, ready to march south as ordered".
The three chiefs silently heard their sentence, and were then quickly marched back to their barrack prison by a file of soldiers.
All this occurred shortly after "guard mount" in the morning.
Apart from its inhumanity, Wessells's order was bad policy. Hunger drives the most cowardly to violence. Then, to add to the wretched plight of the Indians, they we all but naked. No clothing had been issued to them since their capture, and they were clad only in tattered blankets and fragments of tent cloth. Requisitions for clothing had been sent to the Indian Bureau, but none had come.
Thus, half naked, without food or fires, these miserable people starved and shivered for five days and nights, but with no thought of surrender!
Captain Wessells sent the interpreter to propose that the children be removed and fed, but this they refused; they said they preferred to die together.
For five days and nights the barrack rang with shrill, terrible death chants. It was clear that they had resolved to die, and weakening fast indeed they were under the rigors of cold and hunger, weakening in all but spirit.
The morning of the ninth of January, the fifth day of their compulsory fast, Captain Wessells again summoned Dull Knife, Old Crow, and Wild Hog to a council.
Only the two latter came.
Suspecting violence, the Indians refused to let their old chief leave the barrack.
Asked if they were ready to surrender, Wild Hog replied that they would die first.
The two chiefs were then ordered seized and ironed. In the struggle Wild Hog succeeded in seriously stabbing Private Ferguson of Troop A, and sounded his war cry as an alarm to his people.
Instantly pandemonium broke loose in the Indian barrack.
They realized the end was at hand.
The war songs of the warriors rang loudly above the shrill death chants of the squaws.
Windows and doors were quickly barricaded.
The floor of the barrack was torn up and rifle-pits were dug beneath it.
Stoves and flooring were broken into convenient shapes for use as war clubs.
The twenty-odd rifles and pistols which had been smuggled into the barrack, by slinging them about the waists of the squaws beneath their blankets, at the time of the capture, were soon brought from their hiding place and loaded.