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Chief Gall's Grave

10/4/2005:

Gall was a Hunkpapa Lakota chief who Sitting Bull relied on for his skill as a warrior and leader. As a child, Gall was called Matohinshda, which means Bear-Shedding-His-Hair. One of the child’s earliest adventures took place when he was just three years old. His mother strapped him into a travois pulled by a trustworthy pack dog, but when a jackrabbit suddenly popped up, all the dogs in the camp took off after it. After a bumpy harrowing chase, the little boy’s dog outran the others and caught the rabbit as it leaped into a crowd of alarmed bystanders. Gall’s mother snatched her son from the travois, but he was too excited to be fussed over.

“Mother,” he said, “my dog is brave: he got the rabbit!”

An older warrior said, “...such things sometimes indicate a career. The boy has had a wonderful ride. I prophesy that he will one day hold the attention of all the people with his doings.”

The prophecy came true. His name was changed to Gall – or Pizi in Lakota – when he ate the gall of a slain animal, and he became one of the most skilled and aggressive braves in the tribe.

Historian Charles Eastman writes, “It was his habit to appear most opportunely in a crisis, and in a striking and dramatic manner to take command of the situation. The best known example of this is his entrance on the scene of confusion when Reno surprised the Sioux on the Little Big Horn. Many of the excitable youths, almost unarmed, rushed madly and blindly to meet the intruder, and the scene might have unnerved even an experienced warrior. It was Gall, with not a garment upon his superb body, who on his black charger dashed ahead of the boys and faced them. He stopped them on the dry creek, while the bullets of Reno’s men whistled about their ears.

“‘Hold hard, men! Steady, we are not ready yet! Wait for more guns, more horses, and the day is yours!’ They obeyed,” Eastman wrote, “and in a few minutes the signal to charge was given, and Reno retreated pell mell before the onset of the Sioux.”

Previously, Gall had fought U.S. troops at Fort Buford. When commissioners tried to convince him to sign a peace treaty, Gall said, “Suppose the people living beyond the great sea should come and tell you that you must stop farming and kill your cattle, and take your houses and lands. What would you do? Would you not fight them?”

After the battle of the Little Big Horn, Gall went with Sitting Bull to Canada, where they hoped to achieve justice by way of the British government. It wasn’t to be. Gall returned in 1881 and was taken prisoner. When he was released from Ft. Buford in June, he and others Hunkpapas were sent to Standing Rock Reservation.

Still a leader, Gall became an activist for his people. On one occasion, he was in Washington, D.C., where he was found giving his spending money to the poor instead of using it for himself. “I went about your great city and saw many people,” he said. “Some had fine clothes and diamonds; others were barefoot and ragged. All people are alike among the Indians. We feed our poor.”

Gall died in December 1894. Nearly a hundred years later, a Utah organization claimed it had his skull in its collection. This was unwelcome news, and on this date in 1991, his remains were exhumed, and archaeologists were able to prove them wrong. Gall’s body was still intact and has been re-buried at Wakpala, on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Sources:

Eastman, Charles A. (Ohiyesa). Indian Heroes & Great Chieftains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. (Originally printed in 1918.)

Gipp, Robert. “Chief Gall.” Standing Rock History: The Chiefs of Standing Rock. <http://www.standingrocktourism.com/history/chiefView.asp?ID=8>

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm