During the latter part of July, 1870, a contingent of soldiers under the command of Major C.J. Dickey, of the 22nd U.S. Infantry, was accompanying a paymaster between Fort Buford and Fort Stevenson, in what is now North Dakota.
About twenty soldiers were in the contingent. On their first day of travel, they camped near a stream called ‘Rising Waters’, about twenty-five miles upriver from Ft. Berthold. While there they were met by two half-breed mail carriers—Scotty Richmond and George Keplin—who usually transported the mail between the various forts along the Missouri. These men were considered quite fearless in their jobs because they were from the region and knew most of the local tribes quite well. Keplin himself was quite a character. He was born the son of one of the original Scotch founders of the Selkirk and a Cree woman. He was reputed to speak Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, Mandan, and many other tribal languages. Because of this, Keplin was considered one of the most trustworthy mail carrier's on the northern plains.
Just around noon, the soldiers spotted three Indians coming over the bluffs from the direction of the Fort Berthold agency. They were mounted and riding at full speed. Not knowing what to make of this, the soldiers mounted their horses, but upon seeing this the Indians quickly turned down a draw and hid themselves in a wooded area. Major Dickey sent a few men, accompanied by Kelpin, to investigate. Keplin was to serve as interpreter. Unfortunately, Keplin and Scotty Richmond has spent most of the night and part of the morning drinking whiskey. Keplin and was heavily under the influence and instead of staying with the soldiers, he fool heartedly rushed ahead and reached the tree-line.
One of the Sioux men stepped forward and Keplin yelled to him in Dakota, “Who are you?” The man looked at Keplin and said, “I am Bad Hand of the Sissetonwan”. He turned and motioned to his friends standing behind him in the trees and continued, “These men are my friends. I see that you are with some white soldiers. This is good because my people are friends with the whites.” Wobbly in his saddle, Keplin stared at Bad Hand, who continued speaking, “Why do you and the soldiers chase us? We have done nothing wrong.” With the whiskey talking, Keplin called out, “I have come to fight you!”
Bad Hand didn’t seemed upset by this, instead he simply raised his gun and said, “Then fight it is.” With that, Bad Hand pulled the trigger and shot Keplin straight off of his horse—dead. Bad Hand then ran forward, grabbed Keplin’s gun and belt of cartridges, and ran back to the shelter of the grove. Just arriving, the soldiers took up positions and surrounded the grove of trees.
Almost as if by some twist of fate, a party of Mandan and Hidatsa came riding over the hill. They had been in pursuit of Bad Hand and his companions. Once they arrived they informed the soldiers that they were following the Sioux, seeking vengeance for killing some of the people at Ft. Berthold and stealing some horses. The Mandan and Hidatsa also took up positions around the trees and their leader, Poor Wolf, shouted to the Sioux: “We have come to kill you, Bad Hand. You killed our people and you stole from us. You do not deserve to live. Prepare to die!” Upon this, the Mandan and Hidatsa warriors began firing into the trees.
After a few volleys had been fire, Bad Hand spoke up from the tree cover: “You will kill us because you are hundreds in number, and we are few. My friend is dying, but I refuse to die without taking one of you with me to the spirit lands.” It was finally decided that one of the Mandan warriors would walk out into the open to draw the fire of the Sioux. In this way they could see exactly where they were hiding and put an end to them once and for all.
A young Mandan warrior volunteered for this task. He was given various charms, smudged by one of the older warriors, and they sang a song together before he walked out to his suicide task. Striking up his courage, the young warrior walked bravely out and was almost immediately shot. In response, about 200 shots were rained down on the spot where the killing shot came. Bad Hand was no more. The body of Band Hand and another of his companions were then scalped. Bad Hand’s head was cut entirely off as a war trophy. One of the Hidatsa warriors noted that they only had two bodies here, but they had been chasing three men. They searched the area, but no trace of the third man was found.
About three days later, a young Dakota lad arrived exhausted at Fort Buford. He was briefly detained by the soldiers, but he escaped in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Taylor, J. H. (1897). Sketches of frontier and Indian life on the upper Missouri and Great Plains: Embracing the authors personal recollections of noted frontier characters and some observations of wild Indian life during a twenty-five years residence in the two Dakotas. Bismarck, ND: Self Published.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities