Post by Californian on Nov 27, 2020 15:01:03 GMT -5
Los Angeles Times article (May 28, 1997)
A Stranger Hears Last Wish of a Sioux Chief
by William D. Montalbano
BROMSGROVE, England — After a restless century in a melancholy English graveyard, the remains--and the spirit--of a Sioux chief named Long Wolf are returning to his ancestral home in America because one stranger cared. The stranger is a 56-year-old English homemaker named Elizabeth Knight, who lives in a small row house with her husband, Peter, a roof repairer in this Worcestershire village near Birmingham.
“I am a very ordinary sort of person,” she said. The sort who writes letters, not e-mail, who makes no long-distance phone calls, has no fancy degrees, has little worldly experience, who never gets her name in the papers. The sort who turns detective and historian and raises a transatlantic fuss because her heart is moved and her sense of fair play is outraged.
This is the story of how heirs of Middle England and the Wild West have joined forces to fulfill a dying wish made more than a century ago.
For Knight, the story began the day in 1991 that she bought an old book in a market near her house. There was a 1923 story by a Scottish adventurer named R. B. Cunninghame Graham that began this way: “In a lone corner of a crowded London cemetery, just at the end of a smoke-stained Greco-Roman colonnade under a poplar tree, nestles a neglected grave.”
In the grave, under a stylized cross and the howling image of his namesake, lies Long Wolf. He died at 59 in a London hospital on June 11, 1892, the victim of bronchial pneumonia contracted in what was then a crowded, dark, gloomy, industrial city as far as anywhere on Earth from the Great Plains of North America.
“I was moved. I kept taking the book down, imagining Long Wolf lying there amid the ranks of pale faces, the grave desolate and unkempt. It was so sad I said to myself, ‘I have to do something,’ ” Knight said.
She went looking for his grave.
Long Wolf died in Victorian England, when the sun never set on the Union Jack. London was the capital of a great empire and an international magnet for capital, knowledge--and curiosities like what Britons knew as “red Indians” to distinguish them from more commonly seen natives of India.
In the 19th century, British explorers, traders, naturalists and adventurers prowled the world. They stole rubber plants from the Amazon, shipped back strange beasts for London zoos and crated archeological treasures from ancient civilizations.
Fallout of the empire, such as the imminent return of colony Hong Kong to China, is a lingering fixture of British life today.
This month, a new British government refused Greece’s demands for the famous Elgin Marbles, classical sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Athens by a 19th century British ambassador. Last week, Britain also rebuffed an Australian aborigine supported by his government who demanded the return of an ancestor’s severed head, brought to England as a trophy at the dawn of the Victorian era.
Usually, it is foreign governments and institutions with special interests who rake through Britain’s past. What makes Long Wolf’s case so remarkable is that it was waged as the crusade of one British homemaker.
Family legend says that Long Wolf, an Oglala Sioux, fought at Little Bighorn and in later battles. A British physician, one Dr. Coffin, remarked on the scars from saber and bullet wounds on the body of a man formally identified on his burial certificate as Schoongamoneta Hoska (Wolf Long).
It was not as a warrior, though, but as a performer that Long Wolf came to England. It is unclear exactly when he joined, but by 1892, he was chief of the Sioux braves who noisily, dramatically and profitably lost all the battles--two performances a day--in Col. William Cody’s Wild West Show.
Cody may have started as a buffalo hunter, but he ended as a consummate showman, star and impresario for a show that toured more than 1,000 cities across the United States and Europe for nearly three decades. Buffalo Bill’s romanticized vision of the American West became the international stereotype, eventually borrowed whole cloth by infant Hollywood in the early days of this century.
The Sioux were Cody’s principal foils for many of those years and among them he found friends. In comparison to the hardships they might have found on their reservations on the Plains, he offered them a life of relative comfort and adventure.
There are photos of Cody’s Sioux troupers--like Long Wolf--in Venetian gondolas; one contemporary account tells how a London performance of Goethe’s dark drama “Faust” left them “greatly scared at its horrors.”
Cody brought his troupe to England for the first time in 1887 during jubilee celebrations marking Queen Victoria’s 50th anniversary on the throne. A special grandstand big enough for 40,000 spectators along an arena 1,200 feet long was built on a 23-acre site at Earl’s Court served by three Underground stations. A Daily Telegraph reviewer called the 1887 shows “an exact reproduction of the scenes of fierce frontier life, vividly illustrated by the real people.”
Victoria was First Fan, telling trick shooter Annie Oakley after one special performance, “You are a very, very clever little girl.” Her Majesty was amused, she confided to her diary, at the way “wild painted red Indians on their wild bareback horses of different tribes [sic] . . . all came tearing round at full speed shrieking and screaming which had the weirdest effect.”
“Attack on the Deadwood Stage” was always a showstopper. And how lucky that Wild Bill was able to drive off Sioux marauders one afternoon when the imperiled stagecoach carried a royal flush: the kings of Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Saxony, and the Prince of Wales.
Chief Long Wolf was the oldest performer for the 1892 season, when Cody’s 200-member troupe, complete with 100 Texas ponies, included almost 100 Indian warriors, among them 11 Sioux “prisoners of war” released by the U.S. government to his custody.
It is 117 miles from Bromsgrove to London, but it can seem much farther if you venture from a suburban village to a 40-acre London cemetery where there are 200,000 graves.
Elizabeth Knight took walking shoes, many questions and plenty of patience to the graveyard on May 1, 1992. The poplar tree was gone and so was his name from the rough white stone.
But the neophyte historian eventually found Long Wolf’s grave, confirming it in cemetery records. Still visible is the image of a lone wolf--just like the one the chief sketched as his epitaph before he died.
Knight remembers standing by the grave and silently vowing that she would find the forgotten chief’s family. She has read about the American West for many years, and she knows some things.
“It was the custom to return a body home because the Sioux believe that otherwise a person’s spirit wanders without rest,” Knight said firmly amid years of research in her living room in Bromsgrove.
His descendants say that as Long Wolf’s illness worsened and he realized that he would die, he told his wife, Wants, that he wanted to be buried at home. Nonetheless, he ruled out any attempt to take his body back: Three Sioux had died on the voyage to Europe and were buried at sea; Long Wolf believed that a sea burial would mean his spirit would wander forever, his descendants say.
In the end, it fell to Cody to do what could be done for a chief whose people were a mainstay of his show.
“Bill said he would take care of Long Wolf, and he did,” Knight said.
Long Wolf was laid to rest at 10:30 a.m. June 13, 1892, in a grave that Cody had purchased for the princely sum of 23 pounds and three shillings in the fashionable “grand circle” at Brompton Cemetery. Cemetery Supt. Murdo MacMillan says Long Wolf was buried a prestigious 13 feet under. In those days, when there were 20 shillings to a pound, a British worker earned about one pound a week and spectators paid one to four shillings to see the Wild West Show.
After finding Long Wolf’s grave, Knight began to search for his family with Holmesian zeal and the help of George Georgson, who publishes the quarterly magazine American Indian Review in London.
From Bromsgrove, Knight spread the news to societies and journals in America that a Sioux chief lay unclaimed in London. She heard nothing for a long time and began to believe that she never would. Then one day in 1993, her mail campaign paid off. “I remember that when the letter came one Saturday morning after months of silence, I was really surprised. It was a magic moment,” Knight said.
John Black Feather, a great-grandson of Long Wolf, read of Knight’s quest in a South Dakota newspaper. Long Wolf’s family was as eager to find the old chief as Knight was to reunite them.
“Mrs. Knight is a blessing for us. My mother, Jessie, is 87, and all these years she’s been trying to find Long Wolf,” said Black Feather, 60, who ranches buffalo on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“My mother’s mother, Lizzie Long Wolf, was in London, about 12 years old, when Long Wolf lay dying. She heard him say how much he would like to come home, but there was no way at the time,” Black Feather said by phone. “Medicine men and holy men say that the spirit doesn’t rest until the body is brought home. My mother believes it too.”
The family knew that Long Wolf had been buried in London, his great-grandson said, but that was scant comfort. “We checked it out and found London was a big town. There must be so many cemeteries. We had no money to go over there, and we didn’t know how to go about tracking a body down. Suppose it wasn’t a marked grave?” asked Black Feather, a retired mechanic who spends his winters in Tempe, Ariz.
In fall 1993, Knight and her husband visited Long Wolf’s family at Pine Ridge, bringing soil from the grave. A few months later, great-granddaughters Martha and Mary Ann Black Feather visited their ancestor’s grave.
Now, a long paper and money chase is at last ending. Knight and Georgson organized the fund-raising. There were evenings of song and readings in the Bromsgrove library. Black Feather won official permission to return the remains to America.
This month, Georgson, acting as expediter here in Britain, received final approvals for transport and exhumation from the British government and the Archdiocese of London, which is responsible for the cemetery.
Knight is quietly amazed at the international flurry. “I had no idea it would escalate so,” she marveled.
Organizer Georgson is counting the days. Some sponsors remain to be found. But a London funeral director has volunteered to exhume Long Wolf, an American airline says it will fly the remains home without cost, and Black Feather says he has an offer of transportation to London for the family, tribal leaders and a shaman.
“This summer the family will be able to come to take Long Wolf home at last,” Georgson said.
Long Wolf will be reburied at Wolf Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, isn’t it?” said Knight, who will join her Sioux acquaintances in London to witness the first steps in Long Wolf’s last journey.
“Hou, kola.” Hello, friend.
That is how she will greet Long Wolf’s kin, for Knight is the only homemaker in Bromsgrove who is studying the Sioux language to better reach out to Americans whose lives she has already touched so deeply.