Unearthed Medal Recalls Bravery of Indian in Rescuing Maiden
From Funeral Pyre
Young Warrior Prepares Two Fleet Horses, springs from Seat,
Rushes Through Crowd, Liberates Victim and Carries Her Off
The Numismatic society of New York
has recently come into possession of a medal, the story around which harks back to the days of
chivalry. But instead of the heroine being a beautiful maid of the mediaeval
ages, she was an Indian girl of the Missouri
territory, now Nebraska, who
lived in that country 100 years ago, and the hero was an Indian boy of 17
History has recorded incidents of bravery among Indians,
such as Pocahontas saving the life of John Smith. The story of "The
Bravest-of-the-Brave" has as much dramatic color as that well-known act,
and the medal acquired by the Numismatic Society is one of the connecting
links which marks a fight between barbarism and civilization.
Away back in 1817 the Pawnee Indians of Nebraska, then the Missouri
territory, had a custom of burning a human victim at the stake as a sacrifice
to the Morning star. The son of the chief of the tribe, Petaleeshrau, or Knife
Chief, was the cause of abolishing this horrible custom, when he rescued a girl
who had been taken captive from the Comanche tribe.
Instead of being
punished for his daring act in frustrating the plans of this sacred rite of his
people, he was not molested and received the name of "The
Four years later, in 1821, when this same young Indian
accompanied 16 Indian chiefs of the
western plains country to Washington,
D. C, and the story was told of the heroic act, and young
women of Miss White's seminary of that city presented to
him a. silver medal.
The young son of the chief returned to his people, and his life thereafter
most have been the
ordinary life of the Indian, bunting the buffalo, the deer
and antelope, but there was no written
history to record it. Only
an occasional fur trader visited the village to obtain the beautifully
tanned hides, done by
the women, in exchange for tobacco, whisky or small trinkets.
When an Indian died his history died with him, so far as the
written language is concerned. His
people would put his beloved trinkets, porcupine-quill-embroidered
tobacco pouch, beaded
moccasins and feathered bonnet, perhaps, in his grave with
him, so that he might take them
to the happy hunting ground.
It was just such a grave as this that was plowed up one
summer in 1883 in Nance County,
former home of the Pawnee before they were removed to Oklahoma.
The Indian cemetery was being transformed into fields of
corn. The white man had taken over
to his use the vast lands of the once powerful nation of the
Pawnee, numbering at one time
more than 8000 people.
One grave contained trinkets, and among them was a silver
piece having the appearance of
a one-dollar coin flattened by pounding. A hole at the top
had been used to insert a string, and on one side were the words: "To the
Bravest of the Brave." A rack, with fire beneath, and Indians standing by,
is crudely engraved on one side, while a man carrying a woman, swiftly moving
toward two horses standing in the distance, is on the other side of the silver
piece. This is the medal now in the keeping of the Numismatic Society.
All these years, since 1883, when it was taken from the
unmarked grave, it was only a trinket to the owner, a curious coin found In an
Indian grave. Then it was loaned to the Nebraska Historical society, and it was
soon connected with the heroic act of the son at a chief.
The story of the sacrifice at which "The Bravest of the
Brave" rescued the girl is told in a report given by Rev. Jedediah Morse,
who made a research under the commission of the president of the United
States to ascertain the state of the Indian
tribes in our country. His book was published in 1822. Mr. Morse tells the
story of sacrifice as it was repeated to an eyewitness of the transaction to
the Indian agent of the district. Major O'Fallon. He also records the
presenting of the medal. Mr., Morse's story is as follows:
"The fatal hour had arrived. The trembling victim, far
from her home and her friends, was fastened to the stake; the whole tribe was
assembled on the surrounding plain to witness the awful scene.
"Just when the funeral pile was to be kindled and the
whole multitude of spectators were on the tiptoe of expectancy this young
warrior, having unnoticed, prepared two fleet horses, with the necessary
provisions, sprang from his seat, rushed through the crowd, liberated the
victim, seized her in his arms, placed her on one of the horses, mounted the
other himself and made the utmost speed toward the nation and friends of the
"The multitude, dumb and nerveless with amazement at
the daring deed, made no effort to rescue their victim from her deliverer. They
viewed it as the immediate act of the Great Spirit, submitted to it without
murmur, and quietly retired to their village.
"The released captive was accompanied three days
through the wilderness toward her home. He then gave her the horse on which she rode,
with the necessary provisions for the remainder of her journey, and they
parted. On his return to the village, such was his popularity, no inquiry was
made into his conduct, and no censure was passed on it. And, since this
transaction, no human sacrifice has been offered in this or any other of the
Pawnee tribes. The practice is abandoned. Of what influence is one hold act in
a good cause!
"The publication of this anecdote at Washington led the
young women of Miss White's seminary in that city, in a manner highly
creditable to their good sense and good feeling, to present this brave and
humane Indian with a handsome silver medal, with appropriate inscriptions, as
a token of their sincere commendation-of the noble act of rescuing one of their
sex, an innocent victim, from a cruel death.
Morning Oregonian – July