Tag Archives: Iron Wristband

This Week in History: July 19

In this let­ter Robert wrote to his broth­er Hugh short­ly after the Bat­tle of Pier­re’s Hole, he describes his role in bro­ker­ing a peace between the Snakes and Crows as “Ambas­sador Extra­or­di­nary and Min­is­ter Plenipo­ten­tiary.”  Robert reveals a respect for “The Iron Wrist­band’s” polit­i­cal acu­men and a grow­ing fond­ness for Native Amer­i­cans in general.

Note par­en­thet­i­cal () ref­er­ences are Robert’s; brack­ets [] are editorial.


Green Riv­er in the Rocky Mountains

Green Riv­er

July 20th 1833

Dear Hugh,

…Yes­ter­day I met a part of the Shoshon­ee or Snake Indi­ans, with their prin­ci­pal chief “The Iron Wrist­band.”  We had a smoke and talk, as is usu­al on such occa­sions; in the course of which I dis­cov­ered that my new friend wished to employ me in the capac­i­ty of ambas­sador extra­or­di­nary and min­is­ter plenipo­ten­tiary, on a mis­sion to the Crow Indi­ans; through whose coun­try I intend to pass.  Much as I have been accus­tomed to the tact and shrewd­ness of Indi­an chiefs, I have sel­dom seen stronger proofs of polit­i­cal cun­ning, than on this occasion.

The Iron Wrist­band had late­ly suc­ceed­ed his father “Pet­ti­coat,” as chief of the nation.  It seems that a mis­un­der­stand­ing had arisen between the Snakes and Crows, not so seri­ous as to lead to imme­di­ate open hos­til­i­ties, yet suf­fi­cient to ren­der it doubt­ful whether they could meet as friends.  To ascer­tain the views of the Crows; and if hos­tile, to deliv­er a suit­able defi­ance, were to be the objects of my mission.

After some pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, the chief made me a speech, in which were con­densed his final instruc­tions.  I took notes of it at the time, and here­with give you the sub­stance.  The sen­ten­tious brevi­ty and emphat­ic point would have put some of your long-wind­ed ora­tors to the blush; and few of them could con­vey their mean­ing with more accuracy.

Write a let­ter,” said he “to the Crows.  Let it be in two parts.  Tell them my peo­ple wish to know their inten­tions.  We are anx­ious to go to war with the Black Feet Indi­ans (com­mon ene­mies to the Crows and Snakes).  We do not wish to fight with our for­mer friends and allies, the Crows; nor to divide our strength by keep­ing some war par­ties at home to pro­tect our squaws.  No we wish to be friends with the Crows; we wish to join them, against the Black Feet; we wish to smoke, trade and inter­mar­ry with their peo­ple.  If they will agree to this, we will be hap­py; we will love them as neigh­bors, as friends and as allies.”

Should the Crow Indi­ans reject these offers of peace, then the Snakes hurl defi­ance at them.  Let them come.  There are many heroes among us, who have nev­er known fear.  We will meet them with as much feroc­i­ty as ene­mies as we could have cor­dial­ly greet­ed them as friends.  We are not afraid.  We will nev­er call on our friends the Chiens, Ara­pa­hoes, Utaws and Nava­hos, before the snow comes, and this will grind them to death!”

Let this be your let­ter.  Divide it into two parts.  If the offer of peace be accept­ed, then destroy the oth­er.  If not, then give them our defi­ance, and tell them to come on.”

Eight years ago, when we first saw ‘the Long Knife’ [Gen­er­al Ash­ley], there had been war between us and the Crows.  We had killed many of them.  They were as chil­dren in our hands.  Your friend, the Long Knife, offered to make peace.  He gave us large presents.  We con­sent­ed; and since then, the tom­a­hawk has been buried.  Our wish is still for peace.  Let their answer be frank and can­did.  Peace or war, it is the same to us; only let them say which they prefer.”

I lis­tened with much atten­tion, and no small share of admi­ra­tion to this brief harangue.  Were you famil­iar with the posi­tion of the par­ties, you would see in every sen­tence, evi­dence of deep pol­i­cy, and con­sum­mate polit­i­cal skill.  The Snakes were deeply appre­hen­sive of the effects of a war with the Crows; for they could not wage war with that nation and the Black Feet [at the same time] yet an Indi­an well knows the dan­ger of admit­ting weak­ness; or ask­ing as a boon what he knows can only be held by his rifle.

On part­ing, I promised the chief to write and deliv­er the let­ter “in two parts” accord­ing to his wish­es; and hope to suc­ceed in estab­lish­ing peace between those nations.

Yours, etc.