State of Nebraska - Genealogy Trails





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 To Freedom.


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 years.


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 Bravest-of-the-Brave."


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,

Nebraska, the 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 captive.


"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 30, 1922