The Ballad of Wilson Graham

by zunguzungu

When Henry Morton Stanley began his career as a journalist, one of the first things he did was follow General Hancock’s “peace commission” in the West, and I’ve been reading through his correspondence in odd moments. Here, for example, he describes a little boy the commission expects to trade for white captives:

“Accompanying the expedition, under the special charge of the commanding General, is a little Indian boy, about five years old, the son of a chief who fell at the Sand Creek massacre. He is a boy of extraordinary intelligence, and shows the true spirit of the savage by drawing his jack-knife on any one who attempts to correct him. He is called Wilson Graham, and was for a time with Wilson and Graham’s circus, where he was exhibited as a curiosity. The Indians, before assenting to a meeting, expressly stipulated that this boy should be delivered up to them.”

But when the time comes to trade him, Hancock’s offer

…I have an Indian boy with me, whom the Cheyennes claim. We had made a promise to find this boy and a girl, who were somewhere in the United States. We have found the boy—and here he is, ready to be delivered to his nearest relative. I will leave him at Fort Larned with the commander. He will deliver him up to them…You see the boy has not been injured…Look out that any captives in your hands be restored to us equally unharmed.

gets only this response:

This boy you have here, we have seen him; we don’t recognize him; he must belong to some tribe south of the Arkansas.

Hancock wants nothing to do with the boy from this point; as he puts it in his official report:

The Cheyenne boy, Wilson Graham, was shown to them, but was not recognized as belonging to any hands north of the Arkansas. They supposed him to be a member of Black Kettle’s band, which was then in Texas. (I left the boy the next day at Larned, when I marched from that post, in charge of the commanding officer, with instructions to deliver him to his relatives when they came for him.)

But apparently they did. We have to go to Peter Cozzens’ Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars to  get Stanley’s account of catching up with the boy later:

In Little Raven’s lodge, I encountered the young brave, the lost Arapaho child, Wilson Graham, whom Sherman found dressed as a gymnast in a circus, the boy who accompanied Hancock on his expedition and was left by that general at Fort Larnod, to be delivered ovwer to his kindred. Two months ago his friends applied for him, when he was given up with great regret, having made many friends during his sojourn among the whites. This boy is rapidly forgetting the English language. He is efficient in the use of the bow and arrow and has acquired prominance among his many playmates on account of his various accomplishments, His feats of leaping and wrestling command the respect of the Arapaho elders. His knowledge of the English language is a source of constant admiration, and his many-bladed jacknife is an object of envy to his brother braves.”