White Antelope's Scalp
This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
White Antelope was the war leader of a band of Southern Cheyenne Indians, who spent some time in Davenport, Iowa. Now that he has returned home to Oklahoma, it is safe to say that his trip home from Davenport was far more dignified that his voyage there.
White Antelope's trip to Davenport began at dawn on November 29th, 1864, when his band of Cheyennes was attacked by the First Colorado Cavalry and a company of New Mexico volunteers. Thinking there had been some mistake—the Cheyennes had just signed a peace treaty with the United States, White Antelope walked toward the troops holding an American flag. He and his whole party were massacred. White Antelope himself was hacked to pieces, save for his scalp, which was given to Colonel J. F. Pierson.
Pierson, in turn, passed the scalp on to his daughter-in-law, Mrs. J. R. Pierson of New York. Mrs. Pierson had a nephew, Danny Gabathuler, who lived in Davenport. Danny was a close friend of anthropologist John Bailey, director of what is now the Putnam Museum. Bailey found out about the scalp from Danny and wrote to Mrs. Pierson. "We do not have a scalp in our collection," he told her, "Many of our visitors ask if we have one."
Mrs. Pierson sent White Antelope's scalp to the museum where it was put on display to admiring crowds. When the museum moved to its present location in 1963, the scalp was stored away in a box.
Over the next thirty years, American Indians began trying to reclaim such exhibits, and American museums altered their attitude as well. That is what brought eight representatives of the Southern Cheyenne Nation to the Putnam Museum to return White Antelope to a burial ground in Oklahoma.
The Indian ceremony was solemn: the delegation lit sweet grass in a purification ritual. Those present were brushed with sage. A Cheyenne crier then entered the museum and called to the four sacred points of the compass. Priests offered prayers. With song, smoke, and ceremony, White Cloud was wrapped in a chief's robe and returned to his people.
The ceremony was not entirely Indian. This being the Midwest, the tribal representatives could not leave before a social hour of coffee and cookies.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.