Bill Rowland

One day, as a young boy, I visited an old family cemetery with my father. I asked Dad a typical childs’ question, “Do I have any relatives who were famous, from back in the old days?”  Dad’s response was uncertain.  “Well, your Grampa Rowland was supposed to have done something with the army during the Indin wars.  He was a scout, I think.”  That was it.  There was no more he could tell me.  The story was one of those old ones that, over time, had started to slip away.  It happens.

A few years back, as an adult, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the rich history of an organization I had become involved with. In the process of learning that history, I happened across the names of several friends and relatives who had also been involved with that organization, years before I came along.  This inspired me to begin exploring more of my family’s history and heritage which, I have come to find, is exceptional.

“Well, your Grampa Rowland was supposed to have done something with the army during the Indin wars.  He was a scout, I think.”

 

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It seems I can go back along any branch of my family tree and find remarkable individuals who have contributed great things to their family and their communities.  One of the most remarkable was indeed, as my father had indicated, my great-great grandfather, William Young Rowland, a.k.a. Bill Rowland, a.k.a. Bill Roland, a.k.a. Long Knife.

My initial intent was to discover what role Bill Rowland played in the overall history of our tribe, the Northern Cheyenne.  I found bits and pieces of his story scattered around in different publications, which told me that he was one of those integral, behind the scenes, players, who likely never sought, nor was given, the spotlight in any event or developing situation.  He had moments though, where it was clear, he was the one people turned to for information or help.  I had to learn more.

I am so grateful that I live in a time and place where access to sometimes very archaic  information can be had at the touch of a computer mouse, or via a short email.  So much of what I have learned has come in such a fashion.  That’s not saying it all came that way however.  I have traveled thousands of miles visiting battlefields, forts, and state historical societies, spent days sifting through various repository records including the National Archives, researched hundreds of books, talked with countless historians and relatives, and spent seemingly endless hours scanning, writing, and researching Cheyenne history and Grampa Bill.

A clearer picture of Bill Rowland emerged in front of me with each click of the mouse, each mile on the road, each step in his footprints.

A clearer picture of Bill Rowland emerged in front of me with each click of the mouse, each mile on the road, each step in his footprints.  I’ve often wondered, with each turn in my investigation of his life, if he had any suspicion that his involvement in the grave and life-changing events of his time, would someday be of such pressing interest to any of his descendants – even a hundred and forty years later.  After learning what I have in this process of discovery, I would venture to say that, far more than his thousands of descendants will be fascinated by the part he played in one of the most tumultuous periods in our nations history.

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I am also grateful to, Rick Ewig, editor for Wyoming’s history journal, Annals of Wyoming, for publishing the  article I wrote on my great-great grandfather, in which I relate the fascinating story of his life.  My current project is, Only the Stones Last Forever, a three volume novel which tells the story of the Northern Cheyenne people, from shortly after the fight at Little Bighorn to the establishment of our reservation.  It draws heavily on the research I’ve done for this article, as well as so much more I’ve dug up along the way.

Grampa Bill is a co-protagonist in the story, which provides me the opportunity to explore in greater detail, who he was and what role he played in the amazing story of the Cheyenne and their heroic fight to stay in their homeland.  That story has always been a great source of pride for myself and many others.  To know that I am a product and beneficiary of that struggle, that heroism, leaves me with gratitude beyond words.  By my ancestors brave example, I have learned that, even though something seems impossible, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

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Only the Stones Last Forever

is intended to be a three-part novel, anchored in historical fact, that relates the remarkable story of the Northern Cheyenne people, beginning shortly after the fight at Little Bighorn and continuing to the establishment of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The story is written from the point of view (POV) of my great-great grandfather, Bill Rowland, in first person, as well as from the POV  of Little Wolf, the Sweet Medicine Chief of the Cheyenne, in third person.  I feel comfortable using first person for Bill Rowland because 1. I am a direct descendant of his, and 2. for the simple fact that one of his major roles, throughout much of this time period, was that of interpreter. His job was to explain the story to whomever it was being told, in a way that would help them understand.

After being persuaded by his old friend, George Bird Grinnell, to share the story, we find Bill in the middle of the Powder River Basin, which will soon become eastern Wyoming.  He is riding as a scout with General Crook’s 2nd Powder River Expedition.   They are out searching for Crazy Horse, but the recalcitrant Lakota leader has caught wind of their presence and has moved off north, to the Yellowstone, or what the Cheyenne called the “Elk” River.  However, intelligence has been gathered from a Cheyenne spy that the main camp of the Cheyenne is located in a secluded valley of the Bighorn mountains, a little over a day’s ride west of their location.

Bill soon finds himself riding toward the camp in the company of 1,100 soldiers and Indian scouts under the leadership of one Colonel Ranald Mackenzie a proven and accomplished Indian fighter. Bill is fearful of what might happen if the camp is found. He is befriended by a young lieutenant named William P. Clark who seeks to learn the Indian sign language from him.  Bill tries to use that friendship to find some way to stop what he knows will be an all out attack on the camp.  Clark makes no promises, other than to try his best to help his new friend.

The story shifts to the Cheyenne camp, located in a valley the Cheyenne called Willow Creek, which is now called the Red Fork of the Powder River .

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The camp was located, bottom center, at the base of what is now called “Mackenzie Hill.”

I will share more of the story, and more pictures, in future posts.

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Invitation

I attended the Western Writer’s of America Conference in Cheyenne WY, this last weekend and was inspired by many of the good people there to make a new beginning.  I have continued to write, over the years, about the amazing story of my ancestors and their brave fight to return to their home, but I have done little to get the story out there where others can read it and appreciate this remarkable tale.  I hope to rectify that and begin sharing that story here, along with some of the personal growth I have enjoyed as a result of my own journey back to where I come from.

To begin, there are those who know far more than I about the story of the Cheyenne, and far more than that who know the traditional ways, songs, and language of our people.  I profess to know only a little, and do my best to remain in a constant state of willingness to learn more from those who are willing to teach me.   I, in turn, am willing to share here what I have learned from my friends, my relatives,and my research about these things.

I think that anyone who makes the effort to either learn, or share, this story, certainly goes about doing so with a good heart and in a good way.  That is my goal as well.  That said, I feel it is important, as I begin this creative endeavor, that I first invite the One who created me into the process.  I then invite you to join us.

 

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