An amazing find — a little known Indian Scout Cemetery honors fallen U.S. Soldiers

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary's Photos)

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary’s Photos)

There’s no other place on earth like this place.  There is only one Old Scouts Society and this is the graveyard where the Society honors their war dead.  Here lay members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who served in the U.S. military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

The tradition of scouts from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara goes back nearly 200 years.  Today, the Society is a group of relatives of those historic soldiers.  They honor the U.S. Army veterans of the Indian Wars and other tribal members who served in all branches after the Indian Wars.old scouts_0005

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old scouts_0002Go back to the first Hidatsa scout, Sakakawea (Hidatsa pronunciation suh-CAG-a-wee-uh).  She and her husband Charbonneau helped the Corps of Discovery find its way west and back again.sagawea-picture-1

Later when the U.S. Army occupied this region to protect the railroad expansion to the west coast, Army commanders relied on scouts from these tribes to provide intelligence about the tribe’s hostile opponents, the warriors of the Sioux Nation. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara scouts carried dispatches, found food and water, tracked game and served as interpreters.

Several unrelated events converged to create the birth of the long-standing tradition of tribal members joining the U.S. military.  In 1873, Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were stationed at Fort Lincoln, south of Mandan, North Dakota.  The Seventh Cavalry was to protect the Northern Pacific Railroad Survey crews who had been attacked by hostile Sioux.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

Before Custer, hostile Sioux were at war with neighboring tribes, including the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who had withstood the Sioux attacks, at first.  Then, small pox wiped out nearly all the three tribes so they banded together to defend themselves against the Sioux.  Forming a confederacy between the three tribes, was insufficient, they were not strong enough to battle the Sioux, so they aligned themselves with the new and stronger opposition to the Sioux – the Blue Coats or the Seventh Cavalry – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

At first, the Arikara or Ree were the principal tribe to supply scouts for Custer.  From 1872 until the late 1800’s Arikara scouts were the backbone of the Army’s scouts.

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer's scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer’s scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

One of the earliest scouts was Red Bear who later was joined by his younger brother Boy Chief.  He was one of the first scouts to die in a skirmish with the Sioux while stationed at Fort Lincoln along the Missouri River south of present day Mandan.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer's favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer’s favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Boy Chief tells the story of his enlistment like this: “Bobtail Bull brought me to Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1872.  Bobtail Bull took me to headquarters to ‘touch the pen’ to my enlistment papers.  I thought the medical examination would throw me out, as I was very young.  But I passed.  In another building, an officer gave me a gun, clothing and two gray blankets.”

Bobtail Bull was one of the first Indian scouts to be promoted and receive a commission under Lt. Col Custer who often bragged of this Arikara scout when in Washington.  Custer said of Sergeant Bobtail Bull that he was a man of good heart and good character.  He promised that if anything happened to Bobtail Bull and his fellow scouts that “their reward will not be forgotten by the government.”

It is said that a good scout who was promoted as Bobtailed Bull was promoted, could earn more than the $13/month paid most soldiers and in some cases earned as much as $50/month

Sgt. Bobtail Bull was one of the first under Custer to fall at Little Big Horn. That was despite the fact that Custer would not use his scouts as a fighting force except for skirmishes. Bobtail Bull, however, boasted of his experience in fighting the Sioux and stood ready for whatever battle commands Custer ordered.

Custer used the scouts to find the enemy, report their movement and act as couriers.  On the day of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer ordered Bobtail Bull and other scouts to “take the horses away from the Sioux camp. Take away as many horses as possible.”  Custer knew that a warrior on foot was no match for a soldier on horse.

Bobtail Bull's grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull’s grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull got separated from the rest of the troops. Sioux warriors grouped behind him, separating him from help and from escape.  A dense swarm of Sioux rode against him and he attempted to fall back. He was left as a solitary horseman, surrounded by circling warriors.  He was shot off his horse and so became one of the first to fall at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Like Bobtail Bull, Red Bear, Boy Chief and others the scouts who served in the U.S. Army from 1866 to 1914 at most western forts, these scouts served with fidelity, placing their unique skills at the disposal of the frontier army.  To the shame of the U.S. Government, many of these brave soldiers were harshly treated after they served the U.S. Army.  For some, prison, poor health, disabilities or even death was the future they faced after serving the United States.  Many have been completely forgotten.

(A contemporary of Custer who worked with tribal members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara left an influence on the people who remains today.  To learn of Harold Case’ missionary work see this link: http://wp.me/pOdPo-HP )

In 1979 the Old Scouts Society of White Shield was established. The group cares for and maintains Post #1 Cemetery at White Shield where several of the scouts of the Seventh Cavalry are buried alongside veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.old scouts_0003

In 1983, the Fort McKeen Detachment, Old Scouts Society was officially formed. Organizers included the grandsons of Bears Belly who was one of the original scouts who served under Custer at Fort Lincoln.

The Fort McKeen Detachment of the Old Scouts Society is dedicated to correcting misconceptions about the scouts who served in the U.S. Army.  Members educate the public about the military scouts and work to keep alive the stories of how the historic scouts influenced American and North Dakota history.  They work to preserve and honor the gravesites of the scouts buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan.  They also help maintain the Old Scouts Cemetery west of Garrison, North Dakota on Highway 1804.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

As often as possible, I go past the cemetery, usually on motorcycle. I stop to tend to fallen flags and other markers left to honor this group of war dead who contributed much but received so little recognition for their sacrifice.  old scouts_0001Have you taken the scenic drive past Garrison, up to Parshall on 1804?  Did you see the Old Scouts Cemetery?

(This article is excerpted from a script I wrote for a documentary on the Old Scouts Society — yet unproduced. It is the product of months of research at the Fort Berthold Library, the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum and the North Dakota State Historical Society. For more information see http://www.mhanation.com/main2/history.html)

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December 25 – Lonely Capitol Grounds at Christmas

All Veterans Memorial

Christmas night I headed back home to Wilton after sharing a Christmas dinner and gifts with a friend in Bismarck.  As I drove by the State Capitol I swung in to the building that glowed in the trees — the All Veterans Memorial.  It wasn’t planned, it’s not even a tradition, but I felt touched at that moment to give thanks for the gift these men and women have given me — their service, their lives for my freedom, for America.  Yes it was cold. I didn’t stay long.  I didn’t have my tripod.  I used a slow shutter speed and braced the camera on a nearby tree. It seemed to work.

When I turned to go back to my truck I saw the moon was rising on this sub-zero night, illuminating the air over the sidewalk lights.  Again, bracing my camera, I tried a couple of different shots, slung my camera back over my shoulder and walked to the truck. I am thankful not only for the Gift God has given me, but the blessing of living in a free country where I can walk around the capital complex on a holiday night without thought to my safety and without the hassle of soldiers and guns.  America, a gift.

July 28

Susan and Norm Westbrook

Here is a father/daughter team that has the priorities right. (The father is the one with the hair on his lip, the daughter has the hair on her head.)

Norman and Susan Westbrook have thrown themselves in to being patriots. They stand with the Patriot Guard Riders every chance they get. In this case, it was the welcome home of soldiers from Kosovo.  Imagine the closeness of this team focused on a good cause such as service to country and patriotism.  They both ride their own bikes and fly their 3×5 flags from their bikes in escorts and parades where the PGR is invited.  Susan is going to be a very well-grounded and confident woman. She is already, though she’s only in high school.

Norm and Susan visit with Vernon

The PGR rally gives people such as Norm and Susan a chance to meet with other like-minded people such as Vernon Bjerke a Marine who is from the eastern part of the state. He stands with patriots every chance he gets.  These are not noisy outspoken in-your-face people. Their quiet upright strength is the kind of position that we could all emulate.

May 31

Dedicated to those who are still prisoners of war or are missing in action

This year, a new twist, a dedication to the Prisoners of War and the Missing in action. The table with the flag, the vase, the lemon, the place setting, and all are part of a ceremony to remember the POW and MIA. It was part of the dedication of the Freewheelers mc clubhouse.

The annual Memorial Day ride collects bikers from all the clubs who share a common passion for the United States of America. I feel honored to ride this annual ride with other patriots, with veterans and those who love these United States.  It’s an annual ride to honor those who have served and died.

For those who are combat vets from Vietnam and other military actions, this is a day of fellowship for them, a day of closeness.  Often during the day I saw evidence of a brotherhood, a bonding between vets.

Saluting at Taps

After the ride left The Shop in Bismarck, we rode out to Veterans Cemetery for the annual service.  There, patriotism and respect was thick, shared not only by an off-duty soldier but also the young man who stopped at every grave marker to salute the dead.  The young man was very careful not to step on the gravesite of any of the dead whom he saluted.  Through the entire ceremony he worked his way through the markers, stopping at each one.

A young man's salute

Flagpoles ring the center courtyard of the cemetery, and bikers manned their station to raise the flags to full mast, then lower them to half-mast to honor the war dead.  In the last two or three years, bikers have contributed time and money to honor those who are currently serving and those who have served in the past. It’s not a new thing, but it has become recognized as an essential part of military and veteran services.  So, they are invited to ceremonies such as this, and take an active role in the ceremony.

Meanwhile, families gather to remember those whom they love and have died.  Their private grief at is off to the side of the ceremony where they can enter in to their own memories.

I get very immersed in the story of the day, paying attention to the activities, but also the atmosphere of the  setting.  I hope these photos give you a sense of the deep gratitude which we share for those who have served in the military. Without them, we’d not be who we are.

Remembering alone

May 15

Getting ready to ride

Yesterday it was the Patriot Guard Riders honoring returning soldiers. Today, it is the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club honoring all vets but especially those in the First Brigade, our peers who served in Vietnam and were not well received when they returned in the 60’s and 70’s. (There was no Patriot Guard Riders in those days.)  That generation is honored these days by clubs such as the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club, Vietnam Vets motorcycle club and Legacy Vets motorcycle club.

On this day, May 15, all who served were honored in the annual Armed Forces Day ride, and it would appear that there may be hope for the next generation to honor veterans as well. A young pair of boys waved and saluted as the riders started their ride.  Personally, I found it very touching.

The day was perfect for a spring ride and so more than 100 riders covered Burleigh and McLean counties on their fun run, a ride of fellowship and of fundraising.  They hit Washburn, Mercer, Wing and ended in Bismarck where they started.

Mercer

The day was not only about remembering vets and socializing, it was also to raise money for the POW/MIA monument to be erected at North Dakota’s Veterans Cemetery at Mandan.

By day’s end, nearly $3,000 was raised in the fun run, the silent auction and a large personal contribution from the owners of Lucky’s in Bismarck where the ride ended.

I don’t know if this is just a local phenomenon or if it’s happening elsewhere, but I know in the Bismarck/Mandan area veteran and military support motorcycle clubs are becoming more visible and more popular.  What do you see in your area?

May 14

Patriotism and motorcycles. They seem to go together, especially those whose ride is American-made.  But even if the ride is made in Japan, bikers seem to be a patriotic lot, and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with age. Take Bob and Susan for example. Bob, a veteran and Susan a high school student post the colors in flag lines welcoming home soldiers who have been fighting the Global War on Terror.  They’re both part of the Patriot Guard Riders, the group that was formed to shield grieving families from the evil people in that congregation in Kansas that loudly spews its hatred at military funerals.  The PGR, stands shoulder to shoulder to shield the grieving families when called upon. But at all times, they’re there to show their support for returning soldiers at the Bismarck airport or wherever the PGR is organized.

Apart from the PGR, though is a strong thread of military and veteran influence. Take these three riders, members of the Viet Nam Vets mc club and Legacy Vets mc club.  After a short cruise on this day to Wilton, these three headed south to Bismarck at sunset, riding in formation, enjoying North Dakota’s excellent highways and great motorcycle riding opportunities.

April 13

Memorial spires at Memorial Bridge, Bismarck

I’m proud of the honor that Bismarck shows to veterans who have served the country, some paying the ultimate sacrifice.  At both ends of Memorial Bridge stands a plaza with flags, plaques and the 11 spires signifying Armistice Day, all facing the center where the flags are displayed.  Memorial Bridge, built in 1922 as  a  final connection on the transcontinental Red Highway, which later became Highway 10 and was replaced then by I-94.    The old bridge was replaced in 2008 with a newer more modern span.  You can see photos of it here on North Dakota 365, back in January.  The new bridge, dedicated to veterans has five piers, each with an overlook dedicated to 5 branches of the military.

Memorial to those killed in the GWOT

Nearby is the historic and still operating Fraine Barracks, home of the North Dakota National Guard.  Just outside of Fraine Barracks is a tribute to the men who have been killed in the line of duty while serving in Iraq.   Any time you pass through Bismarck, and are headed across the Memorial Bridge, you can pause one block north of the east end and pay your respects to those who died for your freedom in response to the attacks on America that culminated with the World Trade Center attack.

March 26

It took too long, but finally a group of men and women who did the right thing by serving their country, fighting for freedom were finally recognized. Vietnam vets have not gotten the welcome home that they deserved. They didn’t start that crazy Asian war, but they fought it because they were assigned that duty.  They came home to an ugly homecoming.

The State of North Dakota, thanks to the legislature, set aside this date to recognize and honor those men and women who deserved it, Vietnam vets. Many are my friends and neighbors. They are dads, grandfathers, businessmen, farmers.  Many don’t tell you their story until they feel comfortable with you.

I shoot as many Patriot Guard Rider events as I can, as many events that honor veterans, as many military support functions as I can, and this was one I was not going to miss.

Welcome home, brothers.

January 2, 1010

January 2, 1010

Bismarck's Liberty Memorial Bridge at night

Bismarck’s Liberty Memorial Bridge is an aesthetically pleasing replacement to the old through-truss bridge that stood here since 1923.  I was fortunate to work on this historic replacement as the public information officer.  The glow of the bridge itself was a tedious design process, getting the lights to shine enough to light up the bridge, but not so much as to disturb the neighbors.  On the opposite shore, the Mandan side of the bridge is the memorial plaza, the 11 white spires surrounding the flag.

Memorial Bridge plaza, a tribute to veterans