My last blog shared Francis Parkman’s loving memories of my forebear Henri Chatillon, who served as Parkman’s guide on The Oregon Trail.
Chatillon embodied many fine qualities I hope one day to inherit.
His wife, my great-great-great grandmother Bear Robe, perished while Chatillon led Parkman’s entourage.
And while Parkman writes little of Bear Robe, he has much to offer for Bear Robe’s papa, the fearsome Bull Bear.
Bull Bear—Mahto Tatonka—is described through Parkman’s Anglo lens, as powerful “in a rude way.”
Indeed, Mahto Tatonka was quite politic, while, at the same time, opportunistic:
“His will was law,” Parkman writes. “With true Indian craft he always befriended the whites, well knowing that he might thus reap great advantages for himself and his adherents.
“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.”
But Mahto-Tatonka was also reviled. “His haughty career came at last to an end. He had a host of enemies only waiting for their opportunity of revenge, and our old friend Smoke, in particular, together with all his kinsmen, hated him most cordially.”
Smoke had it out with Mahto-Tatonka, who accused the younger man of being cowardly.
One day the two camps—Smoke’s kinsmen and Mahto-Tatonka’s lodge—began arguing. Parkman writes:
“The war-whoop was raised, bullets and arrows began to fly, and the camp was in confusion…[following] reports of two or three guns, and the twanging of a dozen bows, and the savage hero [Mahto-Tatonka], mortally wounded, pitched forward headlong to the ground.
“The tumult became general, and was not quelled until several had fallen on both sides. When we were in the country the feud between the two families was still rankling, and not likely soon to cease.
“Thus died Mahto-Tatonka.”
Parkman notes that the chief left behind an enviable legacy: “Besides daughters, he had thirty sons, a number which need not stagger the credulity of those who are best acquainted with Indian usages and practices.”
While my own legacy lacks warlike qualities, I like to think I have inherited bits of Bull Bear’s spirit: perhaps his ferocity for causes and, of course, a politic sensibility.
[Blog 17 of Native American Heritage Month.]