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Wild Women of the West: Mochi

April 27, 2017

In the spring of 1875, a locomotive pulling several freight cars left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas bound for Fort Marion, Florida.  Thirty-three Cheyenne Indian prisoners were on board, only one was a woman.  Her name was Mochi, which means Buffalo Calf Woman.  She made the trip shackled and chained to her husband, a warrior named Medicine Water.  The irons affixed to the thirty-four-year-old woman’s wrists and ankles were so tight they cut into her skin and made them bleed.  Her flesh would be permanently scarred by the time the six-week journey to Florida came to an end.

Hundreds of curious men, women and children witnessed the Indian captives being taken away.  Some of the onlookers shouted at the prisoners and called them “murderers” and “savages.”  Neither Mochi nor the other Indians responded.  They didn’t consider the settlers they had killed during their raids on homesteads in Nebraska and Kansas as criminal.  Driven by the desire to stop pioneers from taking over their homeland and by revenge for Plains Indians that had been slaughtered by the invading force, Mochi went to war.  She would suffer the consequence.

The prison that would be Mochi’s home for more than two years was the oldest fortification on the western continent.  It covered an acre of ground and would accommodate a garrison of one-thousand men.  Building of the fort began in 1620 and was completed in 1856.  A Spanish coat of arms and the name of the chief engineer of the structure, along with the date of when the fort was completed were carved into the stone above the entrance.

Cheyenne Indians were relegated to the north side of Fort Marion along with Arapaho inmates.  The Comanche, Kiowa and Caddo shared the west side.  Mochi and Medicine Water were assigned to an area away from the rest of the Cheyenne captives because they were considered too dangerous to be with the other Indians.  Mochi was the only Native American woman to be incarcerated by the United States army as a prisoner of war.  There were other female residents at the fort, but they were wives of the prisoners who didn’t want to be without their husbands.

Mochi contemplated escaping when she first arrived, but the fort walls were sixteen-feet thick and thirty-feet high in spots.  She slowly surrendered her physical self to the sentence she was given, but her mind and heart could not be contained.  The tragic circumstances that led to a prison in Florida haunted her.  For Mochi, hardship and heartache began at a place in Colorado called Sand Creek.

Mochi was born in 1841 in Yellowstone, Wyoming.  Her parents, whose names have been lost with time, adored their daughter.  According to Cheyenne Indian historian Ann Strange Owl-Raben, Mochi’s childhood was not unlike that of any other Cheyenne.  As was the custom, paternal elders named Mochi and blessed her life at a traditional naming ceremony.  At the age of nine Mochi began learning how to skin and tan the hides of the animals hunted for the tribe.  She was also taught how to sew, bead, identify herbs and manage a lodge along with a number of other tasks specific for Cheyenne girls.

By the time Mochi was a teenager she was well acquainted with all the tasks Cheyenne women were responsible to do.  In addition to cooking and cleaning women built their family’s lodge and dragged the heavy posts used to make the tepee with her whenever the tribe moved.  Cheyenne women took part in administering traditional medicines, artwork, music and storytelling.

Mochi married her first husband when she was in her early teens.  As custom dictated she was carried into the wedding lodge by her new husband’s best friend.  “She was dressed in clothing her husband had brought her, and his other gifts covered her arms and legs,” Ann Strange Owl-Raban noted about Mochi in her book Four Great Rivers to Cross.  Mochi also wore a protective rope around her waist under her clothes.  The rope was wound around her thighs and extended to her knees.  This rope was worn for the first few nights of a marriage so the newlyweds could get to know one another well without relying solely on the physical aspect of a relationship to sustain them.  “The rope was to be respected by the groom as long as the bride decided to wear it,” Ann Strange Owl-Raban noted about the Cheyenne marriage ceremony.

Chastity was highly respected by both men and women.  Great respect was given to men and women who after a marriage ceremony did not consummate their marriage until months later.  Consequently, women placed a high value on chastity as an expression of sacrifice and renewing.  Cheyenne law notes that “the woman is above everything because the creator has given her power to spread people to cover the face of the earth.”

Mochi and her husband lived among their people with no other hope than that possessed by their ancestors, to live happily raising children of their own on the land that had been occupied for centuries by the Cheyenne Indians.

Sixteen-year old Laura Louise Roper hoped for roughly the same in life as Mochi.  Born in Pennsylvania on June 16, 1848 to Hon. Joseph and Sophia Roper, Laura was considered by friends and neighbors to be a beautiful girl.  In early 1864, she accepted the proposal of a young wagon train driver named Marshall B. Kelley and the couple planned to build a homestead for themselves along the Little Blue River in southern Nebraska.  Marshall had already established a settlement several miles from a military outpost near what is now the town of Oak, Nebraska.  Once they were married, Laura and Marshall were going to live in a log house and farm.  On August 7, 1864, a band of Cheyenne Indians attacked the pioneers in and around the settlement.  Among those assaulted was Laura Roper.

An article in the December 2, 1926 edition of The Marysville Advocate-Democrat newspaper reported that the great “western migration of settlers prompted the Little Blue River tragedy as well as many other like it.”  Indians could see that with the increase in white sojourners the buffalo would either be exterminated or driven way and the red man left without food.  “The total population of the Plains tribes was around 60,000,” the newspaper noted.  “The coming of the white man drove the Indians to inaugurate defensive measures to save their ancient home and hunting grounds.  And it so appears that the Kiowa, Apache, Cheyenne, with the Brule, Oglala and Missouri Sioux agreed to drive the white man out of their domain by any means that they could devise.”

Laura and her family had experienced difficulties with the Indians prior to August 7, 1864.  In late June several of Joseph Roper’s horses had been stolen along with supplies from his ranch house.  “My father told me as I left to visit neighbors the day tragedy struck – not to come home alone as the Indians might be lurking around,” Laura explained to a reporter at the Beatrice Daily Sun in January 1927.  Her father was right.  At four o’clock in the afternoon Laura was on her way back from visiting with neighbors when a band of Cheyenne warriors overtook her and the friends with her.  “Mr. Eubanks, his wife and two children and myself started for my home which was about a mile and a half away,” an article in the November 5, 1884 edition of the Logansport Journal noted.

“At the same time Mr. Eubanks’s father and his little nephew nine-years of age started the opposite direction.  Before they reached their destination the Indians killed the old man and took the boy prisoner and also killed their team.

“We had gotten about one-half mile when we came to a place in the road which would round the bluff and was called “The Narrows” because the road was so narrow at the place.  Mr. Eubanks was bare-footed and got a sliver in his foot and said he would stop and get it out and for us to walk on, and he would overtake us.  We had gone about fifty yards around the bluff when we stopped to wait for him.  Just then we heard terrible yells.  I said I thought it was Indians.  So we turned and ran back until we came in sight of Mr. Eubanks and he was running toward the house.  We could not see the Indians at the house and they were chasing Mr. Eubanks’s sister – a girl of about seventeen-years-old.  Then Mr. Eubanks turned and ran toward the river.  And just as he got to the edge of the sand bar the Indians shot and killed him.  His two brothers that were in the house started to run up a draw and they were both killed.  The sister started to run toward us and they tried to take her prisoner and she fought them and they stabbed her and killed her.

“By this time we had gotten into the timber.  I was carrying Mr. Eubanks’s little girl about four-years-old and Mrs. Eubanks had her baby boy who was six-months-old.  We ran right into buffalo wallow and sat down at the edge of the wallow.  By this time the Indians had killed everyone at the house and started for my father’s place.  They raced their horses and came right at us.  I had taken off my slippers and was carrying them in my hand.  They charged at me and knocked me down and draped a chain around my neck several times.  Then they took us all by the hand and told us to come and picked us up and put us on the horses and took us back to Mr. Eubanks’s house.

“On the way back we saw this girl – Mr. Eubanks’s sister lying beside a path about one-hundred yards from the house.  We could see where they had stabbed her but she was not quite dead then.  We saw her throw her arm over her head.  We then went on to the house.  We had not been there but a few minutes when an Indian rode up with this girl’s scalp on a spear.  We knew it was hers because it was still dripping with blood.  He was yelling like a mad man.

“When they got to the house they got us off the horses and began destroying everything in the house.  They broke the stove, dishes, guns, and emptied the feather beds.  They were there about an hour.  While we were there they let us wander around and didn’t seem to pay much attention to us.  In the meantime we went over to a little draw close to the house and I took my chain off my neck.  Mrs. Eubanks got the baby two dresses while we were there, also a sunbonnet for herself.  By that time it was about six o’clock.  Then they put us on the horses behind them and started south and my father lived west.

“We crossed the Little Blue River and still went south.  Traveled all night.  About the middle of the night an Indian rode up behind me and asked me if I was afraid the Indians would kill me.  I said:  “No. I wasn’t, because I thought if they intended killing me they would have done so at the start.”  He said, “No, I don’t think they will kill you.  I don’t think they will keep you long before they will give you up.”

“We rode all next day.  There were just seven Indians that had captured us but that afternoon about five more joined us and then I got a horse by myself.  The second night we went down a deep ditch and my saddle came off and the pony in trying to get up hit me with his hoof and broke my nose.  The Indians had taken a sheet they had gotten at Mrs. Eubanks’s and wiped the blood from my face, and nearly whipped the pony to death.  Then the Indian that captured me took me on the horse with him and we rode the rest of the night and the next day until about two o’clock.  In the meantime we had only had dried buffalo meat to eat.  Eventually they killed a turkey and fed us.  By this time my face had swollen until I could scarcely see.  They unsaddled their horses and motioned for us to lie and rest.  Here they painted my face with red paint and by the morning the swelling had gone down.

“They separated Mrs. Eubanks from her daughter and she screamed and cried the whole time.  When we got ready to leave the Indian that captured the little girl wanted to take her on his horse with him and of course she screamed and wanted to go to her mother.  The Indians grabbed her by her hair and he drew out his hunting knife and I thought he was going to kill her.  I ran and grabbed the knife and they just laughed.”

Laura, Mrs. Eubanks and the two children were taken to the Indian’s camp and delivered to the squaws.  The four were held hostage at the camp for two months.  Because Laura had stopped the Indians from scalping the Eubanks’s child, the Indians assumed the Mrs. Eubanks’s daughter belonged to her.  During the time Laura was with the Indians she learned they were Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians and that the Cheyenne Chief was Black Kettle and the Arapaho Chief was Left Hand.

Lucinda Eubanks’s account of her captivity among the Indians was as frightening as Laura Roper’s.  According to the statement she made to army officers on June 22, 1865, prior to her children, nephew, Laura and she were kidnapped her home was robbed and burned.  “When first taken by the Cheyenne,” Mrs. Eubanks reported, “I was taken to the lodge of an old chief whose name I do not recollect.  He forced me, by the most terrible threats and menaces, to yield my person to him.  He treated me as his wife.  He traded me to Two Face, a Sioux, who did not treat me as a wife, but forced me to do all menial labor done by squaws, and he beat me terribly.

“Two Face traded me to Black Foot who treated me as his wife, and because I resisted him his squaws abused and ill-used me.  Black Foot also beat me unmercifully, and the Indians generally treated me as though I was a dog, on account of my showing so much detestation towards Black Foot.  Two Face traded me again.  I then received better treatment.  I was better treated among the Sioux than the Cheyenne, that is, the Sioux gave me more to eat.  When with the Cheyenne, I was often hungry.

“My purchase from the Cheyenne was made early last fall and I remained with the Sioux until May 1865.  During the winter the Cheyenne came to buy me and my son for the purpose of burning us, but Two Face would not let them have me.  During the winter we were on the North Platte, the Indians were killing the whites all the time and running off their stock.  They would bring in the scalps of the whites and show them to me and laugh about it.  They ordered me frequently to wean my baby, but I always refused for I felt convinced if he was weaned they would take him from me and I should never see him again.”

News of the tragedy at the Little Blue River horrified pioneers and warfare between the Indians and the whites escalated.  In 1864, Major General G.M. Dodge, who was in charge of all the military forces in the west, wrote to Washington:  “I desire that the government may understand that it has either got to abandon the country west entirely to the Indians or meet the war issue presented; there are 25,000 warrior in open hostilities, and never before have we had so extensive a war on the plains and an enemy so well supplied as now.”

However savage the treatment on white settlers, Mochi and other Cheyenne Indians believed the action was justified.  According to the treaty between the United States and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians drafted in February 1860, the Indians were persuaded to sell the government their land twelve miles below Fort Wise, Colorado at the mouth of the Big Sandy, running to the Arkansas River one hundred miles to within five miles of the mouth of the Huerfano River.  In exchange the two Nations were to maintain an area of their native land one-hundred miles long and fifteen miles wide and no whites would be allowed to settle there.

“This treaty has been in contemplation by our Government for a number of years,” an article in the March 23, 1861 edition of the Indiana State Guard noted about the agreement between the United States and the Indians.  “The purchase and treaty secured to our Government Pike’s Peak and all the gold fields of the region.”

Westward pioneers were not satisfied to hold to the area allocated to the United States and it proved too hard for the few government officials available to patrol the boundaries.  White settlers encroached on Indian land and threatened the Native American’s way of life.  They killed and drove off the buffalo the Indians used to survive.  The Indians left the area where they agreed to stay in order to hunt.  Peace did not last and both conventional and guerilla warfare broke out between the Indians and the United States military.

The Dog Soldiers, a band of Cheyenne Indian warriors who refused to submit to any treaty, became a force to reckon with for United States troops on the plains.  The Dog Soldiers raided settlements in revenge for the white man pushing their way onto Indian land.  Among the members of the Dog Soldiers that distinguished themselves among all others were warriors such as Roman Nose, Dull Knife, Tangle Hair, and eventually Mochi.

The raid on the Little Blue River reached an end for Laura Roper in mid-September 1864 when she was turned over to the United States Cavalry.  Laura was taken by the troops to Denver where she remained until a wagon train could transport her back to Nebraska.  Mrs. Eubanks and her son were with the Indians for three years before she escaped.

According to the March 20, 1907 edition of the Beatrice Daily Sun, Dog Soldier Two Face and two of his men escorted the captive to Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  A deal had been struck with the Cheyenne to surrender Laura in return for ponies, blankets and sugar.  “But when it was found how cruelly she and the others had been treated the armistice was violated and the three Indians were arrested and hanged in chains on a bluff north of the fort,” the Beatrice Daily Sun noted.  “The bodies of Two Face and his men remained there until the crows picked the flesh from their bones,” the article concluded.

Black Kettle, one of the Cheyenne Indian’s most respected leaders recognized there would be further retaliation for the Indian if a peace agreement was not reached.  John Evans, Governor of the territory of Colorado was disinclined to make peace.  In addition to the blood raids made on white settlers the Cheyenne had disrupted mail services, stage travel and prevented food and other provisions from reaching military outposts.  Governor Evans sought permission from the federal government to organize a volunteer cavalry regiment to deal with Indians who refused to conform.  The Third Colorado Cavalry was born.  Later known as the “Bloodless Third” the regiment was commanded by Colonel George L. Shoup and assigned to the Colorado district commanded by Governor Evans’s dear friend, Colonel John M. Chivington.

Regardless of the influx of troops to the area Black Kettle believed that peace was still a possibility and trusted that the government would ultimately honor the Fort Wise treaty which granted Indians protection on designated land.  The Cheyenne left the Little Blue Valley and went west.  Black Kettle and the other Indians settled in an area called Sand Creek.

According to the memoirs of George Bent, a Cheyenne Indian who was an interpreter for the government and who later chose to fight as a Cheyenne warrior, “Sand Creek heads in the ridge country to the southeast of Denver and flows in a great half-circle toward the east and then toward the south, entering the Arkansas River some miles below Fort Lyon and near the west line of Kansas.”  The Cheyenne referred to the spot as “Poeneo o’hee” or Dry Creek.  The Indian village consisted of one-hundred and thirty lodges scattered irregularly for about a mile along the northern bank of the dry creek bed.  A team of five to six hundred ponies were on one side of the Cheyenne Indian camp with a smaller team on the opposite side.

In September 1864, less than year prior to the Cheyenne moving to Sand Creek, Black Kettle had visited Washington D.C. and met with Abraham Lincoln to discuss the trials the Cheyenne Indian faced at the hand of the United States Government.  At that time politicians assured Black Kettle that they had every intention of protecting friendly Indians who remained on the triangular section of territory bound by the Sand Creek and the Arkansas Rivers.

During Black Kettle’s time at the capitol, the president gave him medals to wear and Colonel A.B. Greenwood, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs presented Black Kettle with a large United States flag.  Colonel Greenwood told the Indian chief that as long as the flag flew above him no soldier would ever fire upon him.  According to the September 15, 1917 edition of the North Hill Record, “Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp always mounted it to a pole above his tepee.  It was flying over his tepee at Sand Creek.”

The U.S. flag was flying over Fort Marion the day Mochi was deposited at the Florida prison too.  It fluttered from the staff in the breezy, warm weather in much the same way Black Kettle’s flag had the last cold, windy Colorado winter Mochi spent at Sand Creek with her family before they were killed.

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