On this date in 1894, Sioux Chief Cha Nopa Uhah (“Two Sticks”) was hanged in Deadwood, S.D., for instigating the murder of white ranchers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The story begins little more than two years after one of the most tragic and emblematic events in the white conquest of North America — Wounded Knee:
By early 1893, the “Ghost Dance” religious movement that had animated the Lakota people had not disappeared … nor had the futile dream of armed resistance to white domination.
A band under Chief Two Sticks, a leader described as resistant to settled white civilization and inclined towards retaining the traditional nomadic life, raided a white cattle ranch. The raid was not deadly, but its consequences were.
Indian police dispatched to arrest the raiders were killed in a shootout, after which the raiders again attacked the ranch — looking this time for men, not cattle. Four white cowboys were killed.
A number of additional Indians died when tribal authorities deployed in force to stop Two Sticks’ followers, perhaps narrowly averting much worse — as it’s a given that federal authorities would not have countenanced Two Sticks’ continued liberty.
The chief himself was severely wounded in the process, and only after a lengthy recovery was he well enough to stand trial in the white men’s courts in Deadwood.
His last words, according to an impressive HistoryNet retelling of Chief Two Sticks’ tale with a great deal of detail about his last hours (including an attempted suicide, so that he could die by Indian hands), denied responsibility for the violence.
My heart is not bad. I did not kill the cowboys; the Indian boys [meaning White Faced Horse, Fights With, Two Two and First Eagle] killed them. I have killed many Indians, but never killed a white man; I never pulled a gun on a white man. The great father* and the men under him should talk to me and I would show them I am innocent. The white men are going to kill me for something I haven’t done. I am a great chief myself. I have always been a friend of the white man. The white men will find out sometime that I am innocent and then they will be sorry they killed me. The great father will be sorry, too, and he will be ashamed. My people will be ashamed, too. My heart is straight and I like everybody. God made all hearts the same. My heart is the same as the white man’s. If I had not been innocent I would not have come up here so good when they wanted me. They know I am innocent or they would not let me go around here. My heart knows I am not guilty and I am happy. I am not afraid to die. I was taught that if I raised my hands to God and told a lie that God would kill me that day. I never told a lie in my life.
The killing and execution are related (from the white settlers’ point of view) in The Black Hills trails : a history of the struggles of the pioneers in the winning of the Black Hills by Jesse Brown and A.M. Willard.
* Earlier that day, Two Sticks had received word that President (and former hangman) Grover Cleveland had denied him clemency.