Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver.
On February 28th, 1876, four Crow Indians enlisted in the U.S. Army as Indian Scouts at Fort Ellis Montana. Those four men: Curly, Goes Ahead, White Man Runs Him, and Hairy Moccasin, were under the command of Colonel Gibbons when on June 21, 1876 near Rosebud, Montana, they were turned over to Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The rest, as they say, is history.
With the battle (of Little Bighorn, or Greasy Grass) behind them, the four men returned to the Crow Indian Reservation to live out their lives, as one sees when working in the Crow Indian Agency files contained within Record Group 75 at the National Archives at Denver. Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is a rich collection that often paints a full, cradle-to-grave snapshot of Native American life. These diverse documents chronicle the work of the agencies managing Indian reservations across the country. To demonstrate this, let us examine the historical record of Hairy Moccasin following that fateful afternoon Custer ordered him away before the famous last stand.
We first catch up with Hairy Moccasin 15 years later in an 1891 tribal census from the Census Rolls and Tribal Enumerations, 1889-1920 (NAID 1756288). He is married to Quick and the pair have two sons – Fire Head and Kills the Mud Thrower. Quick’s 70 year old mother also lives with them.
As the records show, the next ten years would be a tumultuous time for the young family. In the below entry from the series Registers of Indians by Families, 1901-1904 (NAID 1184790), 48 year old Hairy Moccasin is now listed alone with two different children. According to birth and death registers also maintained by the agency, both Fire Head and Kills the Mud Thrower passed away in 1893. Quick gave birth to Bird Eggs and Mary Hairy Moccasin before her own death on August 16, 1901 at the age of 40. The tragedies seemed to pile on as Hairy Moccasin lost his new daughter on March 7, 1902, followed by the death of Bird Eggs on October 1, 1903. Within 12 months of this 1902 family register entry, Hairy Moccasin was all alone.
Five years later Hairy Moccasin filed claim on a parcel of reservation land, as noted in this reservation tract book (from the series Tract Books, 1884-1907, NAID 1910428). The patent was granted in December 1907 and later records will indicate he remained a farmer for the rest of his life.
From a 1912 ledger in the Allotment Registers, 1907-1922 (NAID 1803560) we see an example of Hairy Moccasin’s “signature.” In the early 20th century it was found that many American Indians who could not write did not feel the traditional marking of an “X” was definite, personal, or binding when signing documents; as a result, the Bureau of Indian Affairs switched to using an individual’s thumbprint in some situations.
In 1921 the Crow Indian Agency took an interest in ensuring that the veterans of the Indian Wars were accorded any due benefits and a flurry of correspondence over the next 20 years was sent between Montana and Washington DC – such as this 1921 letter from the Correspondence Files, 1910-1958 (NAID 1135936) discussing the pension applications of the scouts still alive, including Hairy Moccasin.
Any relief Hairy Moccasin might have received from a military pension was short lived, however, as only 11 months later he succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 68. We also note here that at some point he remarried, now leaving behind a widow named Strikes First.
Even after death the record trail continues as the Crow Indian Agency approved, recorded, and saved wills of tribal members. Here is the final will of Hairy Moccasin, disposing of his land, horses, and finances (Copies of Wills and other Heirship Documents, 1911-1939, NAID 1807683). While we now recognize Strikes First as the widow, there is nothing here indicating the relation, if any, of the other three beneficiaries.
This is just one of the many stories that can be found in Record Group 75. Recognizing the tremendous historical value of these records, National Archives Research Services staff across the country have been working on a multiyear project to create a new website better detailing these holdings nationwide and how to find them. To access the website and learn more information about American Indian holdings at the National Archives, check out the webpage Researching American Indians and Alaska Natives.