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The Grattan Massacre
Martin Ainscough takes a look at the battle which helped ignite the Plains Indian Wars and a new range of figures which have been made to represent it
From the very earliest encounters between the Lakota Tribe and the Whiteman, keeping the Oregon Trail safe for travellers was of utmost importance to the US Army.
In 1851 due to the pressures brought on by the gold rush, the Fort Laramie treaty was signed. The treaty granted the Lakota Tribe much of the Northwest plains together with annual payments of food and supplies if they allowed safe passage to travellers following the Platte River.
Not understanding the reasons why the Americans placed such importance on the trail it became known as the Holy Road to the Native American Indians.
It was in the August of 1854 as the tribes peacefully waited for their supplies, and perhaps most importantly food, near Fort Laramie that the story of the Grattan Massacre starts to unfold. It took place on August 19, 1854. Thirty US soldiers, led by Second Lieutenant John Lawrence Grattan (a recent military graduate with no Indian experience) and a civilian were killed by Oglala and Brule Lakota (Sioux) after one of the soldiers had shot their Chief Conquering Bear in the back. It was an early and significant event in the Plains Indian Wars ending the peace between the Laramie soldier fort and the surrounding Sioux tribes.
On August 17 a cow, belonging to a Mormon who was travelling on the Oregon Trail nearby, wandered into the Sioux camp, and was killed. Grattan along with a sergeant, a corporal, 27 privates and a French-American interpreter named Luciene Auguste, plus artillery were detailed to arrest the ‘cow killer’! However, by the time Grattan’s detachment reached the Indian encampment, Auguste was drunk, forcing Grattan to break the translator's bottle against his saddle. Had Lt. Grattan taken charge of Auguste at that point, and sent him packing back to the fort, it may have prevented the tragedy that was about to unfold. However, instead, Grattan merely reprimanded him, and continued on into the Indian camp. Auguste was not well liked by the Sioux, and spoke only broken Dakota, with his other dialects being poor to nonexistent.
As they entered the encampment, he began to taunt the Sioux, calling their warriors women, and stating that the soldiers were not there to talk, but to kill them all a scene that was witnessed by James Bordeaux a local trader and trading post owner. Conquering Bear refused to hand over the individual responsible for killing the cow and when negotiations failed to find a solution he made to leave whereupon he was shot in the back by one of Grattan’s men. This started a volley of fire from both sides. Grattan and the 30 men with him were quickly wiped out, with Lt. Grattan being one of the first killed. A group of some 18 soldiers did manage to break away in an attempt to reach a small group of rocks so they could form some sort of defensive action, but they too were cut off and annihilated by warriors led by Red Cloud, then an up and coming war leader within the Sioux.
The events of that August day in 1854 have now been captured in a series of matt finished 54mm scale figures produced by South Lands Miniatures based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. South Lands are yet another company with links to the likes of Beau Geste and Honour Bound. The company’s sales manager is Fedirico Colucci, who also works for Beau Geste where he is responsible for the moulding and casting sections. He began as a painter about eight years ago, and then he settled into the casting and moulding areas of the figure production process which he now ably manages.
A total of 20 figures are planned for release that will depicted the major personalities from this early and significant event in the history of the Plains Indian Wars. There are currently nine figures available with two more due for release shortly. The latest figure, just released, is a Sioux Warrior of the Wiciska Society. Warrior Societies were a common aspect of the Sioux culture. Dividing a tribe’s fighting men into distinct units. Each society had its own songs, dances and costume. This particular Society had a head dress consisting of split horns and an eagle feather crown and a hooked lance as a mark of membership. This figure is priced at $70 and should be in stock by the time that you read this article. The previously released figures consist of Lt Grattan himself, a member of 6th US Infantry, Luciene Auguste and assorted Indians on foot all priced at $34. A mounted Oglala Sioux Warrior on a rearing mount further compliments and completes the available range and retails at $68 plus the usual post and packing charges. These figures are well researched and designed while exellent sculpting skills are to the fore with the figures all being produced in realistic poses. The Sioux Warrior on a rearing war pony is a particularly eye catching example. Unlike Beau Geste releases South Lands figures are produced with a matt style finish, however this some how enhances the overall appearance of the finished pieces.
Following on from the incident that would in time become know as the Grattan Massacre, the US Army was naturally intent on reaping revenge on the Native Americans. News of the massacre reached the War Department and plans were made for retaliation. William S. Harney was recalled from Paris and sent to Fort Kearny where he was put in command of elements of his own 2nd Dragoons and units from the 6th and 10th Infantry and the 4th Artillery Regiments. They set out on August 24, 1855, to find and exact retribution on the Sioux. On September 3, on the Blue Water Creek, near Ash Hallow, the 600 soldiers found the 250 Sioux men, women and children. Harney had declared days earlier "By God, I'm for battle – no peace". It was with these thoughts still in his mind that he ordered his men to open fire on the community of Sioux. 85 Brules were killed, including some women and children.
Afterwards the Army made a wide sweep of the surrounding Sioux country but encountered no further resistance. For his handling of the battle at Ash Hollow, Harney was known afterwards among the Sioux as ‘The Butcher.’ For military officials and the increasing numbers of emigrants travelling the Oregon Trail, the battle bought them 10 more years of relative peace. However, history would show that the Grattan Massacre and the subsequent revenge action by the US Army would also mark the beginning of nearly a quarter of a century of intermittent savage warfare on the American Plains.
Finally, an interesting fact about the revenge attack at Blue Water Creek by the US Army was that Crazy Horse was a mere six year old boy at the time and witnessed the Massacre at Ash Hollow where he had a vision of himself becoming a warrior. Years later he was recognized among his own people as a visionary leader committed to preserving the traditions and values of the Lakota way of life and leading his people into a war against the 'White Man'. Maybe his most well-known fight was the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 26, 1876, in which Crazy Horse joined forces with Sitting Bull and led his people in the counter attack that destroyed and ultimately completely wiped out Custer's Seventh Cavalry. Crazy Horse also took part in the Fetterman Massacre some ten years earlier in December of 1866.
It will be interesting to see what other figures will be released over time to complete this new South Lands series and whether they decide to produce other ranges, based on this period of history on indeed any others.
Date Published Sun, 06/06/2010 - 07:48
Author: Martin Ainscough
South Lands Miniatures
248 Sandstone Drive NW
Tel: +1 507 545 2500
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