Brave Scout, Brave Wife

Bull Bear, painted by Alfred Jacob Miller

Our tour guide Kevin O’Neill told captivating stories about my great-great-great-great grandfather Henri Chatillon when I visited the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion in St. Louis. My ancestor met Francis Parkman because the writer wanted to hire Henri as a scout for his venture to Oregon.

Henri, who was about 30, was stately and tall, “very powerfully and gracefully moulded.” Parkman wrote that although Henri could neither read nor write, “the prairies had been his school” and “he had a natural refinement and delicacy of mind, such as is very rarely found even in women.”

I warmed to Parkman’s descriptions, particularly the note that Henri had a kind heart and “an easy excess of generosity.”

Chatillon’s bravery “was as much celebrated in the mountains as his skill in hunting.” The common report, Parkman writes, is that Henri had killed more than 30 grizzly bears.

My tour guide said Henri’s skills were in demand because he spoke several languages and was diplomatic. He was married to Bear Robe, the daughter of Oglala Chief Bull Bear.

Parkman described Bull Bear (Mahto Tatonka) as a ferocious warrior. “No chief could vie with him in warlike renown, or in power over his people. He had a fearless spirit, and a most impetuous and inflexible resolution. His will was law.”

Bull Bear had more than 30 children, mostly boys, Parkman writes. And the small army of brothers gave pause to potential enemies because the clan would have swift revenge for any mischief.

But little is written of sister Bear Robe, who died while Chatillon and Parkman headed west.

Historians insist that Bear Robe and Henri were married; that their relationship was a product of love rather than a passing fancy. Parkman adds:

“I have never, in the city or in the wilderness, met a better man than my noble and true-hearted friend, Henri Chatillon.”

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Francis Parkman, Henri Chatillion, Indian, Lakota, Osage. Bookmark the permalink.

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