Reading history can occasionally slap one in the face.
The February 1913 issue of “The Monthly Historian,” authored by our great-grandfather A.L. Van Osdel, spoke of his 1867 visit to the grave of Chief War Eagle on the cliff overlooking the confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri rivers. We now know it as the bluff on our left as we pass into Sioux City on Interstate 29.
Chief War Eagle’s son-in-law was Theophile Brugier, a French fur trader. When Chief War Eagle’s youngest daughter passed, he asked that she be buried on that bluff. Many days he would sit on the bluff at her grave and mourn his daughter.
As he became ill in the autumn of 1851, the chief asked his friends to bury him with his favorite hunting pony next to the grave of his youngest daughter. The old chief wanted to continue to gaze at the mighty Missouri from the bluff.
Sioux City historians have placed a large statue of Chief War Eagle atop the bluff to mark his grave. When television came to our farm, we watched programming from Sioux City and they often mentioned Chief War Eagle’s monument. We looked for the monument as we passed on our way to Sioux City on rare occasions.
The name “Brugier” caught my attention. I used to visit with, and shoot snooker at Bud’s Snooker on Douglas Ave., now a restaurant called Happy Hourz, with a young man, Leonard Brugier, then a student at Yankton High School. He was a happy soul. He earned letters in football and track, graduating in 1963. He was a member of the VFW Teener team from Yankton in 1959 when they won the state Teener championship and later earned fourth place in the national tourney in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
He penned his biography and lengthy American Indian heritage, to Chief War Eagle and Theophile Brugier, for the Yankton County History, a bi-centennial project of the Yankton County Historical Society, of which our second cousin, Ben Van Osdel, was then chairman.
Looking for more information about Leonard Brugier, Google gave me the bad news that Dr. Leonard R. Brugier had passed in 2009. He trained as a Marine at Camp Pendleton in 1965 and served six years in the Marines, including a tour in Viet Nam. Another veteran said that Brugier was usually ordered to serve “point” at the head of his column, his commanders supposing he would be a “natural” as a Native American to serve as scout.
After his Viet Nam service, Leonard Brugier earned a degree and served as a professor of American Indian Studies at USD.
Somewhere in his writings, our great-grandfather wrote than he was very proud to have purchased Gayville Township Section 20 along the Missouri River. The county township plat book makes that section appear somewhat bland. But through his considerable experience, conversations with old settlers and his research, he was sure that is the area where Lewis and Clark camped on their way up the Missouri.
While camped there, the explorers visited with the Indians and wrapped a newborn son of a chief in an American flag. The child was given the name “Struck by the Ree.” In his waning years, the chief was referred to as “Old Strike.”
“Old Strike” was a friend to the white settlers and helped keep the peace among younger braves during the 1862-1863 uprising.
Section 20 was at the location of the mouth of the James River at that time. Prior to the county plats of 1910, the James made an elbow turn and ran close along current four-lane Highway 50. If one looks closely at the topography, one can see the old riverbed coursing off to the southeast from where my great-great-grandparents homesteaded seven miles east of the old Yankton Post Office, or one mile east of the bridge.
Our great-great-grandfather operated a ferry across the lower James, called the “lower crossing” where the four-lane bridge stands. His neighbors, John and Bridget Stanage, ran a ferry four miles upstream. And, to access wooded property and farmland to the south of their homestead, our great-great-grandfather used a ferry to cross the James just south of their homestead.
In the late 1890s, the Missouri River boiled its way through that elbow and the James has since emptied upstream into the Missouri, cause for its slow flow. Prior to Gavins Point Dam, that old riverbed flooded every year when the melting snow runoff from the mountains in Wyoming and Montana finally made its way to our area and was called the June Rise, because the phenomenon occurred in June.
Having been raised on the Jim and the Missouri, this writer took printed umbrage with the water experts in Omaha when they announced they would simulate a “June Rise in May.” Have not heard much about that plan lately.
Another point of interest in one of “The Historian” issues makes time seem to flow faster. One of Yankton’s earliest residents, J.R. Hanson, reported that, in visiting with Chief “Old Strike” at his residence in Yankton, Hanson lamented the loss of a fancy gold pencil case.
Fifty years later, crews excavating footings for the new Merchants Hotel, (which we remember as the Stetson Hotel, home of Our Place Cafe) which replaced the original Ash Hotel at the northwest corner of Third and Broadway, the ditch diggers reported they had unearthed a fancy gold metal pencil case. It seems “Old Strike” was the first resident of the Meridian District.
It would be very interesting to know if Dr. Leonard Rufus Brugier has had the opportunity to meet his ancestors, Chief War Eagle and Theophile Brugier. Some day, we may learn — but not for a while, we hope.