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Drifting Crane: The Indian And The Pioneer
by [?]

Before them, surely, sullenly and slow,
The desperate and cheated Indians go.


The people of Boomtown invariably spoke of Henry Wilson as the oldest settler in the Jim Valley, as he was of Buster County; but the Eastern man, with his ideas of an “old settler,” was surprised as he met the short, silent, middle-aged man, who was very loath to tell anything about himself, and about whom many strange and thrilling stories were told by good story-tellers. In 1879 he was the only settler in the upper part of the valley, living alone on the banks of the Elm, a slow, tortuous stream pulsing lazily down the valley, too small to be called a river and too long to be called a creek. For two years, it is said, Wilson had only the company of his cattle, especially during the winter-time, and now and then a visit from an Indian, or a trapper after mink and musk-rats.

Between his ranch and the settlements in Eastern Dakota there was the wedge-shaped reservation known as the Sisseton Indian Reserve, on which were stationed the customary agency and company of soldiers. But, of course, at that time the Indians were not restricted closely to the bounds of the reserve, but ranged freely over the vast and beautiful prairie lying between the coteaux or ranges of low hills which mark out “the Jim Valley.” The valley was unsurveyed for the most part, and the Indians naturally felt a sort of proprietorship in it, and when Wilson drove his cattle down into the valley and squatted, the chief, Drifting Crane, welcomed him, as a host might, to an abundant feast whose hospitality was presumed upon, but who felt the need of sustaining his reputation as a host, and submitted graciously.

The Indians during the first summer got to know Wilson, and liked him for his silence, his courage, his generosity; but the older men pondered upon the matter a great deal and watched with grave faces to see him ploughing up the sod for his garden. There was something strange in this solitary man thus deserting his kindred, coming here to live alone with his cattle; they could not understand it. What they said in those pathetic, dimly lighted lodges will never be known; but when winter came, and the new-comer did not drive his cattle back over the hills as they thought he would, then the old chieftains took long counsel upon it. Night after night they smoked upon it, and at last Drifting Crane said to two of his young men: “Go ask this cattleman why he remains in the cold and snow with his cattle. Ask him why he does not drive his cattle home.”

This was in March, and one evening a couple of days later, as Wilson was about re-entering his shanty at the close of his day’s work, he was confronted by two stalwart Indians, who greeted him pleasantly.

“How d’e do? How d’e do?” he said in reply. “Come in. Come in and take a snack.”

The Indians entered and sat silently while he put some food on the table. They hardly spoke till after they had eaten. The Indian is always hungry, for the reason that his food supply is insufficient and his clothing poor. When they sat on the cracker-boxes and soap-boxes which served as seats, they spoke. They told him of the chieftain’s message. They said they had come to assist him in driving his cattle back across the hills; that he must go.

To all this talk in the Indian’s epigrammatic way, and in the dialect which has never been written, the rancher replied almost as briefly: “You go back and tell Drifting Crane that I like this place; that I’m here to stay; that I don’t want any help to drive my cattle. I’m on the lands of the Great Father at Washington, and Drifting Crane ain’t got any say about it. Now that sizes the whole thing up. I ain’t got anything against you nor against him, but I’m a settler; that’s my constitution; and now I’m settled I’m going to stay.”