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Rain in the Face

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On this date in 1905, North Dakotans learned that a well-known figure had passed away. The Hope Pioneer reported that Chief Rain in the Face had died at the Standing Rock Agency where he spent his final years. The Sioux Chief had been a prominent figure at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or Greasy Grass.

Rain in the Face was a Hunkpapa Lakota chief born about 1835. He did not inherit his position as chief. He earned his standing with his reputation for bravery. An adversarial connection that ended at the Little Big Horn began years before during the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873. Two civilians left camp to get water. They were attacked and killed. A year later, Army scout Charlie Reynolds was at the Standing Rock Agency. He saw Rain in the Face performing a dance that reenacted the killing. Reynolds rode to Fort Abraham Lincoln and reported what he saw to Lieutenant Colonel George Custer.

Custer sent his brother Tom along with Reynolds to Standing Rock with four troopers. They were able to capture Rain in the Face and return him to the fort. Rain in the Face subsequently bore a grudge against Tom Custer, and promised he would someday kill him.

Rain in the Face was held in the guardhouse at Fort Abraham Lincoln, but escaped after three months. Before the escape, he repeated his threat to kill Tom Custer. Tom would indeed meet his demise at Little Big Horn. His body was found near that of his famous brother. While Rain in the Face may have recognized Tom during the battle, he never took credit for the killing.

In 1877, Rain in the Face retreated into Canada with Sitting Bull. After several years in exile, he finally led his band back to surrender, and he was transferred to Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Agency.

Until 1890 he fought against ceding any reservation land, but he eventually relented to the pressure and signed the agreement that reduced Sioux land by more than half and led to the five reservations with boundaries we know today.

In his final years, crippled by old wounds, Rain in the Face walked with crutches. He was 69 or 70 years old at the time of his death in 1905.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “Rain in the Face Dead.” Hope ND. 9/28/1905. Page 3.

National Park Service. “Rain in the Face.” https://www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/rain-in-the-face.htm Accessed 8/26/2021.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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