With Love From Fort Yates
The man known as the first white accepted into the Yanktonai Sioux Nation penned a letter to relatives on this date in 1913, describing his experiences at Fort Yates, North Dakota. Alfred B. Welch, a North Dakota National Guard commander, was given the name Charging Bear by Chief John Grass, who a few months earlier had also adopted Welch as his son in a ceremony with over 500 in attendance.
In his letter, Welch described his experiences as a member of the Rodman Wanamaker expedition, an excursion that visited several Indian reservations in western states in 1913. He describes raising the flag at Fort Yates, eating dog, dancing, and his wife’s encounter with a rattlesnake. Welch wrote: “We went on a picnic some time ago, and a big rattler crawled right up to Addie while we were eating in the grass on the Cannonball River. We killed it.”
On one occasion they were met by 400 Indians, who presented the expedition with beadwork and other Indian art. Welch also wrote about meeting men who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn nearly 40 years prior. The old warriors swore Welch to secrecy regarding their story of Custer killing himself after his all men lay dead. The warriors told Welch they wanted Custer alive, as they believed he would be the next president and would treat them fairly. The warriors also named Welch as chief councilor in a secret meeting.
The Indians’ generosity didn’t end there. He wrote of a root sent to him, the presence of which in the bedroom was said to promise children. The 40-year-old Welch wrote that he and his wife Addie were too old to have children. He offered the root to any of his relatives who might want it.
Welch also made mention of the first hard freeze at Fort Yates the night before, and his dread of the long North Dakota winter ahead. He signed his letter “Love from the Dacotahs.”
A.B. Welch would go on to serve in the 1917 Mexican Campaign, chasing Pancho Villa. He also served in France during World War I. Welch was discharged in 1919, at age 45. He lived in or near Mandan for the balance of his life as storekeeper, postmaster, Friend of the Indians, and El Zagal Shrine founder. He died in 1945, remembered for his extensive knowledge of Sioux culture.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura