Chief Drags Wolf
The death of Hidatsa Chief Drags Wolf took place on this date in 1943. Only months before, he had vowed he would die before he watched his people’s land destroyed by the Garrison Dam – and he was true to his word.
Drags Wolf was born in 1862 to Chief Crow Flies High and Peppermint Woman, who were members of the Water Buster Clan. Crow Flies High was a radical chief who – along with others on the Ft. Berthold Reservation – saw his people’s quality of life collapsing. He refused to accept the traditional authority of the medicine bundle holders, and when Drags Wolf was about seven years old, Crow Flies High and Bobtail Bull led the Hushga band away from Like-A-Fishhook Village and went into self-imposed exile near Fort Buford. It wasn’t until Drags Wolf was about 32 that his people were forced to return to the Ft. Berthold Reservation, where they settled primarily in the Shell Creek District.
So it was that Drags Wolf came of age while living in the traditional ways – hunting, trading and growing a few crops. When the band returned to Ft. Berthold, Drags Wolf was already a strong leader – one who many consider to be among the last great Hidatsa chiefs.
In 1934, government officials met with delegations of Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish in Rapid City to discuss the impending Wheller-Howard Act, commonly known as the Indian Reorganization Act (or IRA). As one of the delegates, Drags Wolf didn’t speak English. But, he knew what his people wanted, and after some of the reforms were rewritten, he supported the Act. When the legislation was implemented two years later, Drags Wolf was the first councilman to represent the Shell Creek District. The position provided no salary, and he had to travel many miles by horse and buggy to attend meetings.
Drags Wolf held the office for five years. It was a time when Native American children were commonly being forced to attend distant boarding schools, where it was intended that they lose their traditional cultures. Yet Drags Wolf was able to convince the Bureau of Indian Affairs to start a day school right there at Shell Creek, so the children could stay in their own community while getting their education.
The following year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held public hearings in a Ft. Berthold classroom to negotiate ways of dealing with the aftermath of opening the Garrison Dam floodgates. The Pick-Sloan Plan called for a series of five dams on the Upper Missouri that would prove disastrous for the reservation. The tribes’ priceless river-bottom lands, as well as villages and homes, were about to be washed away forever, and tribal members were enraged.
Drags Wolf came to the meeting dressed in traditional regalia and war paint. When talking proved pointless, he said, “You’ll never take me from this land alive!” Lt. General Pick was furious and called the people “belligerently uncooperative.” As the Chief Engineer, Pick left the meeting with a “take it or leave it” attitude.
Drags Wolf left it. Just a few months later, he passed away with his land still firmly under his feet, and his body would later need to be exhumed and moved before the floodwaters advanced.
President Franklin Roosevelt once met Drags Wolf in Washington and later said, “This man Chief Drags Wolf is a wise old man if he only could speak English... oh, what he could do for his people...”
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm