This article originally ran in the Dec. 1, 1965, Sioux City Journal.
DESCENDANTS of Chief War Eagle, "numbering in the hundreds" on Cheyenne, Yankton and Standing Rock Indian Reservations in South Dakota, would like to see his monument and grave as well preserved as Sgt. Floyd Monument, according to Mrs. George Nicholas, St. Francis, S.D., great-great-granddaughter of the famous chief who claimed the hunting grounds at the mouth of the Big Sioux River.
"If it hadn't been for War Eagle at the time of the 1862 Minnesota Indian uprising there wouldn't have been a white settler left in Dakota," she claimed. "War Eagle refused to join the war of white extermination because two of his daughters married a white man, Theophile Bruguier and had grandchildren who were part white and part Indian," Mrs. Nichols explained. War Eagle was born a Santee Sioux in 1785 in Wisconsin or eastern Minnesota, but was later adopted into the Yankton Sioux tribe. Indians knew him as Little Eagle (Huya-na), not War Eagle.
In September Mrs. Nichols visited the gravesite owned by the city of Sioux City on a hilltop and found the grave marker defaced, beer cans strewn about the bluff in weeds below the grave and the nearby embankment beginning to fall away. She described the monument area as "a disgrace."
Promises from ghosts of the past continue to come back each time the gravesite is abused to haunt the city.
The unveiling of the memorial and dedication of War Eagle park took place in 1922, backed by the War Eagle Memorial Association, a composite group of several historically oriented organizations. The Sioux City Council purchased the site in 1920 and voted to make it a park. The association placed the marker at the grave "so that in future years the location will always be known." They hoped "some day to see erected there a monument commensurate with the Floyd Monument."
Commanding Scenic View
Councilman P. J. Dalton., speaking in behalf of the City in 1922, called attention to the view of Sioux City in the distance and declared, "it is fitting for the city to honor the chief, whose counsel to his people had been a large factor in the settlement of Sioux City and whose race had given its name." Mr. Dalton also spoke of the improvements contemplated by the city to make the spot an accessible and beautiful park.
Today there is an unpaved road from West Fourth Street leading to a parking area below the monument, sidehills in the park gouged with scars made by motorcyclists, a decaying stone with the words ."Eagle" and the date defaced by vandals. Under these conditions, the site, overlooking the mouth of the Big Sioux River and the states of Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa, is ludicrous -- the only visible message there for strangers who someway find their way over the confusion of roads is "War, friend of White Man."
Mrs. Nichols says a road should be constructed "so people could get up there. Steps should be constructed so people can walk to the monument.
"The area west of the monument should be planted with grass, flowers and trees and benches set in cement should be placed there for the people to sit. The bluff over Interstate 29 should be shored up."
She said, "I had to tell the motorcyclists zooming around up there when I visited the grave to go drive their motorcycles in their own cemetery!"
Since Mrs. Nichols' indignant commentary the latter part of September, there has been limited reaction. Boy Scouts from Troop 101 have picked up the trash and beer cans and shored up the loose boards in the retaining wall around the shrine and they have offered to clean up the grounds for the city for a year.
The Sioux City Lewis and Clark Association, the Convention Tourism Bureau of the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce and the Recreation Committee of Sioux City all have discussed the monument and expressed concern about the deterioration of the tourist attraction. The Convention Tourism Bureau discussed the situation with the Parks and Recreation Department of the City Council.
Study Park Possibility
Bob Eldridge, director of Parks and Recreation, said Newell Guernsey, landscape architect for the city, and his department this winter intend to do a preliminary study as to the feasibility of park development near the War Eagle Grave. He indicates that by spring his group will probably present a plan to the council.
"We will have to determine what value it has in the entire park system," he said.
"I frankly feel some of the other projects are more important," he said. "I question starting new parks when so much is left undone -- there is a limit as to how many projects you can be involved in without calling it dabbling," he added.
Eldridge said he could only make recommendations to the council concerning the park, but declared it ultimately was a question of whether taxpayers wanted to pay for areas people will use again and again like baseball fields, swimming pools and picnic areas or places that are used less frequently.
He recalled in earlier years several metal plaques had been placed on the War Eagle Monument only to have vandals steal them -- usually within three days. The fence around the monument has several occasions been ripped out and thrown down the hillside by vandals until the city welded the gate shut and anchored the iron fence in concrete.
The city doesn't mow the grass on the hillside, he said, because "it is one of the very few patches left of native buffalo grass."
A major problem of control comes from the remoteness of the site, he said. The city has posted off one long area with cable posts in an attempt to reduce motorcycle travel on the hills and retard erosion from their trails, but cannot even hope to protect the area, not unless a full-time guard is posted.
Not only vandalism, but unintentional misuse of all parks in the city, he said, has placed a burden on park maintenance crews. "If the park areas were treated by users like their own back yards, there would be less maintenance on improvements," he said.