Lot 2011: George A. Custer, Fort Berthold Dakota Territory, and Sioux Indian Archive From William Courtenay
24th June 2017
One-of-a-kind archive of material from the collection of William Courtenay, who served as a clerk and Indian Agent at Fort Berthold in the Dakota Territory during the 1870s and early 1880s. He became one of the most trusted white men among the Native American Indians in the region during an era when the federal government was promoting a policy of assimilation; Courtenay seems to have been aided, in part, by his sincere appreciation for their culture. He was an avid collector of Indian artifacts and materials, and usually obtained items from the Indians themselves. In 1882, Courtenay moved to Miles City, Montana, where he became involved in the livestock business in addition to real estate and insurance. Courtenay took on a role in Custer lore when, in 1881, the New York Times reported that he had been thumbing through Whittaker's Life of Custer when Lakota warchief Rain-in-the-Face caught a glimpse of Custer’s image. Rain-in-the-Face became excited and exclaimed that he was the one to have killed Custer, though the truth of his story is questionable. At the time, this was said to be the first authentic account of Custer's death ever given. As a whole, this is a remarkable and historically significant archive that provides enormous insight into the goings-on at the Fort Berthold Indian Agency during its most important years. Among the highlights are: * An ALS by George A. Custer, signed “G. A. Custer, Bt. Major Genl U.S.A.,” one page, 7.75 x 9.75, April 15, 1875. Custer writes to Courtenay from Fort Lincoln, in part: “Mrs. Custer has this day received the three beautiful specimens of Indian handiwork which you were so kind as to procure.” * An LS by Custer, signed “G. A. Custer,” one page, 5 x 8, May 13 [no year]. Custer writes to Courtenay from Fort Lincoln, in part: “On my return from the East…I found your letter and the two beautiful and acceptable gifts for Mrs. Custer and myself. Will you accept our sincere thanks and be assured we appreciate most highly the robe and the slippers.” * Two original manuscript Indian treaty documents from July 1870: one made between the Sioux and the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan, signed by seventeen Indian leaders using their “x” marks, and twelve American witnesses; and one made between the Sisseton Sioux and the Arikara, Hidasta, and Mandan, signed by nine Indian leaders using their “x” marks, and four American witnesses. * An eight-page manuscript report on issues brought up by Lean Wolf, chief of the Gros Ventre tribe, with portions discussing Sioux violence. * Several photos, including: a stereoview by William R. Pywell of Sioux Indian scout Bloody Knife; cabinet photos of Courtenay and his family; and photos of Courtenay’s real estate office. * A collection of handwritten letters to Courtenay and his wife by “Wolf Chief” of the Gros Ventres, concerning his peoples’ poverty, their distrust of a new Indian Agent, business transactions, and various struggles. * Hundreds of other pages of material, including: various letters to and from Courtenay; documents related to his career; an 1875–1876 ledger from Courtenay’s time as postmaster at Fort Berthold; manuscripts handwritten by Courtenay including a travelogue, poetry, and prose; a few pages related to his collection of Indian artifacts, plus an auction catalog from his 1881 sale; and much more. A more comprehensive listing of items in the archive: ALS signed “G. A. Custer, Bt. Major Genl U.S.A.,” one page, 7.75 x 9.75, April 15, 1875. Custer writes to Courtenay from Fort Lincoln, in part: “Mrs. Custer has this day received the three beautiful specimens of Indian handiwork which you were so kind as to procure for her and desires me to express to you her grateful appreciation of your generosity and to thank you in her name, to which I desire to add my own personal acknowledgments.” LS signed “G. A. Custer,” one page, 5 x 8, May 13 [no year]. Custer writes to Courtenay from Fort Lincoln, in part: “On my return from the East…I found your letter and the two beautiful and acceptable gifts for Mrs. Custer and myself. Will you accept our sincere thanks and be assured we appreciate most highly the robe and the slippers.” An original manuscript Indian treaty document, three pages on two adjoining sheets, 8 x 12.5, July 17, 1870. A treaty between the Sioux and the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan. In part: “A treaty of the peace amnity and concord made by and between the principal men and Chiefs of certain bands of the Sioux Nation and the Arrickarees, Gros Ventres and Mandans dwelling in the vicinity of Fort Berthold…The bands of Sioux mentioned consisting of a portion of the Upper Yanctonais, the Lower Yanctonais, the friendly Unkpapas and Blackfeet and a Sans Arc Chief whose band is at present encamped at the Cheyenne agency. The Chiefs and principal men of all the bands now represented here in council do mutually and severally agree that from this day forth they will hold each other as friends. That they will neither make war upon each other nor in any way manifest enmity by any action…They agree to discourage all hostile acts and intentions…The bands who are parties to this mutual agreement have for a long time been at war. Many injuries have been inflicted. Many lives have been lost. Many hearts have been made sad and much mourning and sorrow been occasioned. They now desire to put an end to all such practices. They desire to live in concord hereafter, to rejoice and sorrow with each other and to be bound to each other by they same friendly sentiments which now unite them to the Whites. On witness whereof we have set our hands and seals at the post of Fort Stevenson, D. T., on this 17th day of July 1870.” Signed at the conclusion by seventeen Indian leaders using their “x” marks, and twelve American witnesses. The folds are split in several places, with some partial splits and a few complete separations. An original Indian treaty document, three pages, 8 x 12.5, July 11, 1870. A treaty between the Sisseton Sioux and the Arikara, Hidasta, and Mandan. In part: “For the purpose of better fulfilling our duty to the Government of the United States and with a desire to live on terms of amity and good will with each other, we the chiefs and head men of the bands of Sisseton Sioux located near Fort Totten, D.T. and we the chiefs and head men of the Arickarees, Gros Ventres and Mandan…bind ourselves and our respective bands to the due fulfillment of the following agreement…Should any member of our bands steal or destroy any property belonging to any member of the aforementioned bands, we agree to make restitution twofold in kind, should any member of our bands without just cause beat, maim or kill any member of the aforementioned bands, we agree to make such compensation as shall be satisfactory to the injured party.” Signed at the conclusion by nine Indian leaders using their “x” marks, and four American witnesses. An eight-page manuscript report on issues brought up by Lean Wolf, chief of the Gros Ventre tribe. In part: “There was no large game on our Reservation, in seeking for Buffalo we arrived at the Camp of the Unckpapa Sioux, we remained with them a short time and then moved to the Missouri River…a large Party of Sioux passed in sight of our camp, and went into camp a few miles below us, about the same time it happened that a Trader was passing with a train of goods the Sioux attacked the train killing one man and capturing the goods. The leader of the Sioux was a man who had had one of his sons killed by a white man near the Yellow Stone last fall…No member of our band, nor of the Mandans or Arrickarees, participated in the commission of the outrage, or in any share of the resulting spoils.” Several photos, including: a stereoview by William R. Pywell of Sioux Indian scout Bloody Knife on horseback and holding a rifle; two mounted albumen photos of William Courtenay’s real estate office; a cabinet photo of Courtenay, his wife, and their young child; a cabinet portrait of William Courtenay in Bozeman, Montana, in 1892; a small mounted photo of the Courtenay family in Miles City in 1896; and a few others. Among the more interesting personal items is a cabinet photo of Courtenay and his wife Fannie Patterson on their wedding day, as well as two 1879 ALSs from Courtenay to Patterson’s father asking for her hand in marriage: “I have had the honor and pleasure of making the acquaintance of your daughter, Miss Fannie, and that acquaintance has ripened into a warmer feeling—in short, I love her passionately and devotedly, and venture to ask you to do me the greatest favor that one man can do to another—to give her to me as my wife.” Eleven handwritten letters (and letter fragments) sent to Courtenay and his wife by “Wolf Chief” of the Gros Ventres. One reads, in part: “Friend William Courtenay. sir. Will you Please will you give. We want another store here. and we want some other man to keep store…We want you to keep store…With this store W. B. Shaws. He told me about it. but I do not believe it. Perhaps it is a lie: We do not like agent shaws. because he tells lies. I want you to tell the truth…Friend William Courtenay Sir Will you please help us to make to large houses…We want houses like the White people. there are 600 of us Gros Ventres and Mandans. and we want to live together. We are poor. We want houses like the Whites. the Gros Ventres Indians all good men.” It seems that Courtenay’s wife, who was indeed a schoolteacher at the Fort Berthold Reservation, may have tutored Wolf Chief in English. His other letters state, “my teacher going away I am Sorry my teacher Mrs. Wm. Courtenay away I do not like,” and, “Mrs. Wm. Courtenay give me Book good. I like and every thing I want to know soon Book Big good.” Several of his letters mention American presidents, for example: “President Garfield talk I hear and I am glad. White man good I think and issue all I want soon. White man I think and wagon I like.” Also includes two letters to Mrs. Courtenay concerning education from an Indian named “Eagle,” mainly asking for paper and supplies. One of these, in part: “Mrs. Courtenay if you know I have two names Eagle and Red Turtle I can write some book and I can not do to some…I wise very much. I saw old man very white hair is your father man I like very Mrs. Courtenay much…please give me ink to day I want to write in Red ink I am Eagle yourself Mrs. Courtenay.” A thick ledger (partially disbound) containing approximately 250 true ink transfer copies of letters and documents pertaining to the Fort Berthold Post Office, dated 1875–1876, most of which were originally written by William Courtenay. Documents including: Courtenay’s 1874 appointment as postmaster at Fort Berthold, signed by Postmaster General Marshall Jewell; an 1879 certificate confirming Courtenay’s honorable discharge from the US Infantry; an 1879 Fort Berthold receipt roll; a series of Courtenay’s own handwritten copies of letters recommending him for the Indian Agent position; and thirty manuscript 'true copies' of receipts for transactions made with Indians, with subjects named including "Little Bull," "Little Shield," "Womans Ghost," "Stuttering Mandan," "Gros Ventre Pete," "Sharp Horn," and "Walking Bull." Twenty pages of manuscripts of Courtenay’s original writing, most written on both sides, consisting of poetry, prose, diary entries, and speeches or addresses; and nine pages of a travelogue written by Courtenay. An auction catalog for the October 11–12, 1881, sale of “Indian Curiosities from Fort Berthold, Dakota, Collected by Mr. William Courtenay,” held at the Clinton Hall Sale Rooms by George A. Leavitt & Co.; two pages of Courtenay’s handwritten inventory lists for his collection of artifacts; and a document from the Smithsonian acknowledging his gift of “specimens of natural history,” signed by Joseph Henry. Two printed documents from the Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology concerning communicating with Indians via sign language, including one page with diagrams of hand gestures for each letter of the alphabet, and one blank worksheet for recording arm positions and ideas expressed by Indians using the language. Other items include: a number of newspapers and newspaper clippings, one printed page of a document about how to pronounce Indian words, and numerous other letters sent to Courtenay concerning general affairs, with one of the more interesting examples including an 1874 letter saying, “I cannot tell when W. Matthews dictionary of the Gros Ventre will be ready for distribution”; an 1882 folding pocket map indexed township map of Montana published by H. R. Page & Co.; a section of a map showing the “Arikares, Gros Ventre and Mandan Reservation”; and more. In overall very good to fine condition.
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