bear out

Conquering Bear

Mato Wayuhi ("Conquering Bear") was a Brulé Lakota chief who signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1851. He was killed in 1854 when troops from Fort Laramie stormed his encampment to arrest a Sioux who had shot a calf belonging to the Mormons. Little Thunder took over as chief after his death.

Conquering Bear was born around 1800 a Brulé Lakota otherwise a Sioux. At the Fort Laramie treaty council in 1851, the Americans demanded the name of the head chief of each tribe who could sign for his people. However, none of the tribes responded with a single name of a leader, so the white men arbitrarily picked chiefs for them. Conquering Bear was chosen to represent the Lakota.

Conquering Bear was a man of peace, but that did not prevent his death at the hands of a U.S. Army officer. The advent of the white men into the Native American ancestral homeland was at first just a nuisance to the original inhabitants. The Indians only wanted to live in peace and tolerated the first white men. Given the encroachment of white settlers with their wagon trains and disease, the Native Americans feared the loss of their way of life and culture. So over and over again the signed the white men's treaties to try and slow the flow of white men onto their land.

Conquering Bear and his people were living near Fort Laramie in a state of strained peace, adhering to the treaties as they understood them. Misunderstanding and racism were common realities in the relationship between the two cultures. Even in the process of maintaining peace, life was uncertain for the Indian.

Unfortunately, the wayward cow was killed and eaten by a hungry Miniconjou Lakota warrior and his family who were visiting Conquering Bear’s camp. The Mormons reported to the army at Fort Laramie that the animal had been stolen by the Native Americans. Conquering Bear attempted to negotiate compensation for the cow, offering several of his own horses in exchange. The Mormons refused, and the fort’s commanding officer demanded that Conquering Bear turn over the guilty warrior. Conquering Bear refused.

The commander of the garrison then ordered Lieutenant John Grattan, to take men to the Indian camp and arrest the offending brave. On August 19, 1854, accompanied by 30 men, an interpreter, and two cannons, Grattan set out for the Brulé camp to take the brave into custody.

With cannon trained on the Indian encampment, the fragile peace was about to shatter. Lieutenant Grattan ordered Conquering Bear to surrender the Miniconjou Lakota warrior and Conquering Bear refused, turned, and began to walk away. A shot rang out and Chief Conquering Bear lay on the ground, dying. Angered by the shooting, the Lakota rose up and counterattacked the troopers and with the aid of warriors like Spotted Tail, the Lakota surrounded and killed the entire group.

Out of respect, the Brulé took the dying Conquering Bear out into the vast prairie, far away from white people, to die with dignity. It was there on his prairie that they buried him, laying to rest a leader, warrior, and peacemaker.


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