First Person by Ross Frank, Professor of Ethnic Studies

Inside the Fales-Freeman Brulé Ledger

He Dog Counting Coup on Pawnee Woman Fales-Freeman Ledger, Plate 22

During the 1860-1900 period, Plains Indians created drawings on paper, often in accountant's ledger books acquired by trade, purchase, or as spoils of combat, hence the name "ledger books."  I started the Plains Indian Ledger Art (PILA) Digital Publishing Project (plainsledgerart.org) in 1995 to assemble a digital record of complete ledger books scattered in museums, libraries, and private collections all over the country and beyond. The PILA project has become a public digital museum and database for ledger art, as well as a vehicle for the digital preservation of these scarce manuscripts.  During the last two years, PILA has acquired the largest collection of complete original ledger books held by any institution in the country, outside of the Smithsonian.  

One of these new acquisitions, the Fales-Freeman Brulé Ledger, contains 22 drawings by a number of Brulé (Sicangu) Lakota that lived on the  Rosebud Agency, Dakota Territory.  The album was a Christmas present from Joseph W. Freeman to his wife, Elizabeth K. Fales, residents of Deadwood, Dakota Territory.  

In one of the drawings, He Dog (Suŋka Bloká) looks back at one of his military exploits during a raid on a Pawnee village, striking a woman with his crooked lance wrapped in buckskin.  The lance signifies his membership in one of the important Lakota warrior societies.  His war pony has been specially decorated with wrapped tail and a scalp lock hanging from its bridle, and He Dog displays his powerful Thunderbird Shield.  The caption, in Fales' handwriting, mistakenly identifies the woman's death using a common 19th century racist term.  In fact, in the midst of this raid in the middle of a Pawnee village, He Dog earns great honor by counting "coup," touching an enemy without intending to kill in the midst of battle.  He Dog's rifle is held unused in his left hand.

He Dog fought as a Brulé warrior during the 1870s in most of the major battles resisting US military and settler pressure against Plains Indian lifeways, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn that destroyed General Custer's command.  However, Elizabeth Fales sought out his "autograph" here for a different reason; He Dog testified as one of the Indian witnesses during the March 1882 trial of Crow Dog, a leader on the Rosebud reservation.

Crow Dog (Kan-gi-shun-ca) was tried for the 1881 murder of Spotted Tail (Siŋté Gleská), Chief of the Brulé.  Since the death of Spotted Tail took place on the Rosebud Reservation, and both men belonged to the tribe, punishment or restitution followed Lakota tradition, not that of the US justice system.  Trying Crow Dog in Dakota Territory under Federal jurisdiction represented the culmination of concerted plan by officials to take the responsibility of crimes committed by Indians within the reservation out of the hands of tribal members.  They believed that Federal judicial jurisdiction over internal Indian cases would bolster the other programs to civilize and deracinate Indians, such as the suppression of ceremonies like the Sun Dance, and coerced enrollment of Indian youth in Federally sanctioned boarding schools far from home.  

Elizabeth Fales filled her album of "Indian Autographs" because of her interest in Crow Dog's case.  A Brulé Lakota witness from Crow Dog's trial created each of the 22 drawing in the  Fales-Freeman Brulé Ledger.

The trial in Deadwood resulted in the conviction of Crow Dog and the sentence of death by hanging.  An appeal to the US Supreme Court ended in overturning Crow Dog's conviction and affirmation of the right of the Rosebud Agency Lakota to dispense their own justice in ex parte Crow Dog.  The decision prompted Congress to pass the Major Crimes Act in 1883, reserving Federal jurisdiction for seven categories of criminal offence when committed by an Indian on a reservation. 

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