Monday, August 12, 2013

Standing Bear – A Western Superhero


Before Spiderman and Superman, America had Frank Grouard, a superhero before his time.

Frank Grouard was General Crooks most well known scout. Crook held him in such high regard he told his superiors he would not lead men into Indian Territory without Grouard as his scout. And latter said he would rather lose a third of his men before he lost Grouard. This didn’t set well with the rest of the scouts and might be why he is  somewhat misunderstood in history.

But this is not the entire story of one of the west’s most famous scouts. His life story reads more like mountain man fiction than the truth. Grouard’s father was a missionary from California who married a native islander while working in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. When Grouard’s father moved the family to Utah his mother became homesick and returned to the islands. Frank was left in charge of the family as his father was either off on a mission or trying to find his wife in the South Pacific.

This didn’t set well with Frank and he left for as the old-timers used to say, “For parts unknown.” He spent time as a bull-whacker and later worked for the Pony Express. History doesn’t say much about his time with the Pony Express but he likely worked for more than rode for them. Grouard, just in his late teens, was described as over six feet tall and around two-hundred pounds. He probably seemed a giant to most of the riders who weighed in closer to 100-120 lbs. But he did ride at least a few trips because on his fourth trip he was captured by the Crow. (Some sources report the tribe as Blackfeet)

He was tortured by the tribe who let him run for his life, naked and being beaten by any tribal member that could pick up a stick, as he ran.  But he outdistanced his captors and escaped, ending up at Fort Hall, nearly 70 miles away.

A year later he was captured by a band of Sioux as he rode along at a snail’s pace in a blinding Wyoming snowstorm. As his captors argued over who would get what of his possessions another man rode up. This person seemed to be most powerful and he took Grouard as his captive. Grouard learned during the three day ride to camp he was riding with, Hunkpapa Sioux holy man Sitting Bull. When Sitting Bull rode into camp hauling Grouard, Gall and No Neck, chiefs with as much power, in the tribe, as Sitting Bull insisted he be put to death, the sooner the better. Grouard with his long black hair and skin of a pacific islander looked to them like an Indian from another tribe, therefore an enemy.

Sitting Bull didn’t often, if ever, lose what he wanted in the tribe. He announced that he had made Grouard, his brother, renaming him Standing Bear. Because it was the dead of winter Grouard was wearing a full length bear-skin coat, towering over his captors by three quarters of a foot and looked, very much, the part of a bear.

Grouard stayed with Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa for more than six years, reaching near legendary status in the tribe for his strength, speed, size and look. All warriors within the tribe, who had ambition to lead, had to undergo the torture test and Grouard withstood the cutting of 400 pieces of flesh from his arms and allowed flaming sticks held against his body until they burned out and cooled. He endured the punishing torture for more than four hours.  Never crying out or flinching and was pronounced, “brave.”   

Depending on which western history authority is researched, Grouard either escaped or was left with blessings from the tribe after six or seven years with Sitting Bull. All of this and he had, by then, reached the grand old age of 25 or 26. He went on to become one of the most famous scouts in the west working for the U.S. Army and General Crook.

Grouard reached Little Big Horn shortly after Custer and the seventh were annihilated and was the first to report the news to Crook. He was present at Fort Robinson, Nebraska when Crazy Horse was murdered. He was also on the Yellowstone Expeditions and at the battle of Slim Buttes. He was assigned to the Pine Ridge Reservation during the Ghost Dance Uprising and was present at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Grouard later served as a U. S Marshal in Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Worming and was somehow connected to Wyoming’s Johnson County War of 1892.

Here was a man that made history and lived history.

You can get the full text of the, Life and Times of Frank Grouard, here-

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