Young Man Afraid of His Horses and Board of Councilmen

Published on March 15, 2011 by Amy

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Young Man Afraid of His Horses – Oglala – 1891-a

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Young Man Afraid of His Horses
Oglala – 1891

The one hundred councilmen, elected from different camps at Pine Ridge, selected Young Man Afraid of His Horses as president, with George Sword as secretary. Red Cloud refused to participate in the board, which he considered an infringement on his and the tribal council’s authority. During its brief, three-year existence under Young Man Afraid’s leadership, the Board of Councilmen fairly dispensed justice at Pine Ridge. For example, the board sentenced three men who shot some cows to fifty days at hard labor or a fine of thirty dollars each, which the men paid; it did not fine a man whose cattle destroyed another man’s garden, because the gardener had failed to maintain a strong fence; and the board recommended the release from the stockade of a young boy who served two months for a shooting, because he was repentant and promised to behave.

The Board of Councilmen also served a legislative function, enacting regulations that challenged Lakota customs. In the area of marriage, for instance, the board made it a crime, punishable by a thirty dollar fine or fifty days in jail, for any Oglala man to entice an Oglala woman to desert her husband without cause. The board also arrested and fined any Oglala who threw his wife away as customary in the social dances. Even more controversial, Young Man Afraid of His Horses and the Board of Councilmen decided on November 11, 1884, that an Indian proved guilty of murdering another Indian on the reservation should be punished by death, the sentence to be carried out by the agent. The board’s ruling, which followed the white man’s form of justice, challenged the traditional Lakota custom whereby the chief’s council and the families involved worked out a settlement to reconcile the parties and keep the peace.

Young Man Afraid and the Board of Councilmen were aware of the famous case involving Crow Dog, a Brulé Lakota, who killed Chief Spotted Tail at the Rosebud Agency in 1881. Though the Brulé chiefs helped the Crow Dog family work out a settlement with the Spotted Tail family, the agent arrested Crow Dog, who was tried for murder in the territorial court in South Dakota. Found guilty and sentenced to hang, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Ex-Parte Crow Dog (1883) that courts did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed by one Indian against another on the reservation, where individuals were subject to tribal justice. Young Man Afraid and the board’s decision to have a convicted murderer executed by the agent represented a serious break from an ancient form of tribal justice, clearly recognized by the Supreme Court. Even McGillycuddy was startled by the board’s decision and when he arrested Kills Enemy at Night for murder, he wrote the commissioner of Indian affairs for guidance.

Fortunately for McGillycuddy, Congress had passed the Major Crimes Act on June 30, 1885, whereby Indians could be tried in United States courts for major felonies, such as murder. McGillycuddy sent Kills Enemy at Night to the territorial court for trial and punishment, thereby avoiding a clash with Red Cloud, who continued to maintain that tribal law should prevail. Despite McGillycuddy’s praise that the Board of Councilmen was doing good work in punishing offenders, Young Man Afraid and some leaders of the board shared their doubts about its viability with Nebraska Senator Charles F. Manderson. After two years of administering justice on the reservation “our court do[es] not seem to stand solid,” and they requested Manderson’s help in Washington.

The leaders of the board enclosed a note for the secretary of the interior requesting funds to come to Washington to discuss the board’s work. With the secretary of the interior they struck a more positive note, declaring: “If it had not been for us, that these Indians would not have been in a peaceable way. We are the only ones that were trying to adopt the habits, customs, ways of the white man’s ways, the civilization.” Manderson praised the Oglala leaders for “voluntarily imitating the white man’s method of producing order and obedience to law,” and he recommended that the Office of Indian Affairs pay their way to Washington, where they could present their case for official recognition of the board. Government officials did not respond favorably to these requests.

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