Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
June 17, 2000 - Issue 12

Who Was Rain-in-the-Face
by Vicki from various sources

Rain in the Face was one of the most feared and respected Native American warriors of the late 19th century.

A Hunkpapa Lakota, he was born in about 1835. In a narrative attributed to him, he says: "I was born near the forks of the Cheyenne river. I had some noted ancestors, but they left me no chieftainship. I had to work for my reputation."

His name is thought to have come from an incident when, as a young brave, he was fighting with another boy. The fight was fierce and his face became spattered with blood so badly, it looked like rain on his face, or itonagaju.

He has often been linked to the death of General George Custer, the United States Cavalry hero, at his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876.

There is much argument about who actually killed Custer, known to the Lakota as the Long-Haired Chief. The general's wife believed that Rain in the Face dealt the death blow and the American poet Longfellow wrote about his deeds in "The Revenge of Rain in the Face" (see below)..

Rain in the Face would only say: "Some say I killed the Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother [Tom Custer], because he had caused me to be imprisoned. In that fight the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognised our near neighbours. Everything was done like lightning."

He also said that another brave, Appearing Elk, might have had a claim to the kill.

"He had some of the weapons of the Long-Haired Chief and the Indians used to say jokingly after we came upon the reservation that Appearing Elk must have killed the Chief because he had his sword. However, the scramble for plunder did not begin until all were dead."

Rain in the Face died at his home on the Standing Rock Reserve in North Dakota on 14 September 1905.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In that desolate land and lone,
Where the Big Horn and Yellowstone
Roar down their mountain path,
By their fires the Sioux Chiefs
Muttered their woes and griefs
And the menace of their wrath.

"Revenge!" cried Rain-in-the-Face,
"Revenue upon all the race
Of the White Chief with yellow hair!"
And the mountains dark and high
From their crags re-echoed the cry
Of his anger and despair.

In the meadow, spreading wide
By woodland and riverside
The Indian village stood;
All was silent as a dream,
Save the rushing a of the stream
And the blue-jay in the wood.

In his war paint and his beads,
Like a bison among the reeds,
In ambush the Sitting Bull
Lay with three thousand braves
Crouched in the clefts and caves,
Savage, unmerciful!

Into the fatal snare
The White Chief with yellow hair
And his three hundred men
Dashed headlong, sword in hand;
But of that gallant band
Not one returned again.

The sudden darkness of death
Overwhelmed them like the breath
And smoke of a furnace fire:
By the river's bank, and between
The rocks of the ravine,
They lay in their bloody attire.

But the foemen fled in the night,
And Rain-in-the-Face, in his flight
Uplifted high in air
As a ghastly trophy, bore
The brave heart, that beat no more,
Of the White Chief with yellow hair.

Whose was the right and the wrong?
Sing it, O funeral song,
With a voice that is full of tears,
And say that our broken faith
Wrought all this ruin and scathe,
In the Year of a Hundred Years.

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