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Rain in the Face, Part 1


Ohiyesa, which means “The Winner,” was raised in the traditional Sioux manner by his paternal grandmother after the Minnesota Conflict of 1862. His father, Many Lightnings, was presumed dead until he resurfaced ten years later under a new name – Jacob Eastman. Eastman renamed Ohiyesa “Charles” and set about getting him a good education. Charles got a medical degree from Dartmouth in 1886 and moved back to Dakota Territory.

Among many other accomplishments, Eastman recorded the history of his people. Among the many people he interviewed was a Hunkpapa Chief named Rain in the Face. Eastman visited him at his home on the Standing Rock Reservation – it was two months before the death of Rain in the Face on this date in 1905.

“It had been my experience,” Eastman wrote, “that you cannot induce an Indian to tell a story, or even his own name, by asking him directly. ‘Friend,’ I said, ‘even if a man is on a hot trail, he stops for a smoke! In the good old days, before the charge there was a smoke. At home, by the fireside, when the old men were asked to tell their brave deeds, again the pipe was passed. So come, let us smoke now to the memory of the old days!’

“He took of my tobacco and filled his long pipe, and we smoked. Then I told an old mirthful story to get him in the humor of relating his own history. The old man lay upon an iron bedstead, covered by a red blanket, in a corner of the little log cabin. He was all alone that day; only an old dog lay silent and watchful at his master’s feet. Finally he looked up and said with a pleasant smile: ‘True, friend; it is the old custom to retrace one’s trail before leaving it forever! I know that I am at the door of the spirit home.’”

And with that, Rain-in-the-Face told Eastman his life story: “I was born near the forks of the Cheyenne River, about seventy years ago,” he said. “My father was not a chief; my grandfather was not a chief, but a good hunter and a feast-maker. On my mother’s side I had some noted ancestors, but they left me no chieftainship. I had to work for my reputation.

“When I was a boy, I loved to fight,” he continued. “In all our boyish games I had the name of being hard to handle, and I took much pride in the fact. I was about ten years old when we encountered a band of Cheyennes. They were on friendly terms with us, but we boys always indulged in sham fights on such occasions, and this time I got in an honest fight with a Cheyenne boy older than I. I got the best of the boy, but he hit me hard in the face several times, and my face was all spattered with blood and streaked where the paint had been washed away. [My friends] whooped and yelled: ‘His enemy is down, and his face is spattered as if with rain! Rain-in-the-Face! His name shall be Rain-in-the-Face!’

“Afterwards, when I was a young man, we went on a warpath against the Gros Ventres. We stole some of their horses, but were overtaken and had to abandon the horses and fight for our lives. I had wished my face to represent [an eclipse of the sun], so I painted it half black, half red. We fought all day in the rain, and my face was partly washed and streaked with red and black: so again I was christened Rain-in-the-Face. We considered it an honorable name.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm