The Winnebagoes Steal Horses from the Omaha

The following is a set of excerpts from letters sent from Omahas to friends among the Ponca and Yanktons. At the time (1878) the Omaha were undergoing a great mortality from disease coupled with neglect by the white authorities. The Hocągara, ever of a warlike spirit, took the opportunity to raid the Omaha and steal away their horses.

No Date.

(494) My household is doing very well; no one is sick. I sit thinking, "The Ponka people were truly good, and their departure was hard!" Some of these people with whom we dwell are very bad. They do not leave us any horses. It is difficult for us to do anything to them; in vain are we angry. We are very poor. The Winnebagoes took four of our best working-horses yesterday.

October 14, 1878.

(497) The white people are not apt to give us anything; therefore we are very poor. There is plenty of news yonder where you are. I wish to hear of the ways of the many Indians who are your friends. It is very hard for you to be without food. Do make an effort. The Winnebagos have deprived us of all our horses.

Notes by J. O. Dorsey

1 Standing Buffalo Bull is one of the Ponka head-chiefs. He is commonly called by his Pawnee name, Acáwage, "Spotted Horse."

October 25, 1878.

(509) As I remember you to-day, I send you a letter. My household is without sickness. I have told you again and again of one thing in this land which is somewhat hard for us. The Winnebagos are hard for us to bear.

  B. H. Gurney
  Henry Rice


(647) You who are the Winnebago agent,2 one of your Indians has gone back to you after talking with me. He is one who knew two of my horses which I have lost, and as he found out about them; he spoke to me on the subject. And at length he called to me (to go to the Winnebago Agency) and promised to join me in speaking about the matter if I went to (see) you. It is he who knows the Winnebago Indians that are the thieves; but since I have no interpreter I am not going to see you, so I send you a letter. But I hope that you will summon him and question him very particularly. He is (Henry) Rice.3 I hope that I may hear (what he says), if he tells you a straight story. If it be just so, send a letter to the Omaha agent.

Notes by J. O. Dorsey

1 Two Crows, or ʞaxe ¢aⁿba, is a leading man of the Omaha Hañga gens.
2 The Winnebago agent was Howard White.
3 Henry Rice, a half-breed Winnebago, who had learned where two of the stolen horses were secreted.

October 3, 1878

(660) Two very stout-hearted men have died, so I am crying incessantly. Wacuce (or, Brave), the mother's brother of your Mawataⁿna, and the one who has been the keeper of the sacred pipes, is dead. The other dead man was named Little Elk. I regarded them as very stout-hearted men, but they are dead. You ought to know one of them, Little Elk. When we dwelt on this side of (Omaha Creek?) you brought a horse to give to him. It was a dun horse. The Winnebagos have stolen from me all the horses which the Omahas received from you and brought back to yonder place (?).

October 16, 1878

(670) The sickness is continually bad! And, moreover, we have not received money; we are very poor. The Winnebagoes have made away with our horses; they have stolen them; therefore I am wishing to fight them; I am displeased at present. With reference to the (other) nations, over a hundred Ponkas have died; and the Iowas, Sacs and Foxes, Otos, and Pawnees have had much sickness among them.

January 16, 1879.

(718) Grandfather, we wish pay for the horses which the Winnebagos have stolen from us. They have stolen from us more than a hundred horses. Grandfather, we also desire pay for the hundred and eighty horses which the Santees stole from us formerly. (The former agent, Dr. Graff, wrote to Washington about it; and he said to us, "You shall be paid; the Grandfather has promised it." We have been expecting it ever since, and if it ever came we suspect that the chiefs devoured it.) O Grandfather, we wish to hear correctly about it.

Notes by J. O. Dorsey

1 This letter was sent by ... Omahas of the civilization party, to A. B. Meacham, editor of "The Council Fire," at Washington, D. C. Though addressed to Colonel Meacham, it was intended for the President, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

No Date.

(761) Two Crows said: — My friend, you wish to hear from us what we are doing and how we are progressing, therefore we will send to you to tell it to you. We have much trouble in this land, but we have no one to help us. The President placed some Winnebago Indians near the land where we dwell. The proximity of these foreigners has been a source of great trouble to our people. The Winnebagos have stolen three hundred horses from us. The agents have known all about our trouble, but they have not shown any desire to act in our behalf. Notwithstanding we have told the agents to inform the President of the matter, I think that they have not even sent him any letters on the subject. For this reason the President has not heard it. But when white men lose even a very small thing, it is always regarded as a great wrong, and as the President does not take any steps to correct our troubles when we lose what is of very great importance, we are displeased. Do you think that the President would consider it good if I returned the injury by stealing from them? Heretofore I did not repay them for their crimes against me, as I thought that it was right not to (762) give blow for blow. (But that is all a thing of the past.) I am displeased because the President does nothing to right my wrongs. I did think heretofore that he would give me damages out of the Winnebago funds. But he has not done so. The President has not given me the damages because he wishes me to repay the Winnebagos with injury for injury. (I am forced to this conclusion.) I hope that you will send those words in a letter to the President.1


Rev. James O. Dorsey, "¢egiha Texts," Contributions to North American Ethnology, 6 (1890): 494, 497, 509, 647, 660, 670, 718, 761-762.