Living Link To The Trail

As the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Nation prepares for commemorating the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial next summer, they might want to consider asking Melissa Annis to share her stories of her grandfather, Chief Yellow Hawk.

Annis is a Cheyenne River Sioux who is getting up there in years, says the 90-year-old woman. But you would never know it by the way she zips around her house and buddies up like best friends to her great-granddaughter, Cache, a grade school girl.

Living in the heart of Eagle Butte, S.D., Melissa is anxious to talk about the time when Lewis and Clark came up the river, deep into Sioux country. She wasn’t alive at the time, of course, but she does possess endearing memories of that moment in history. Her memories have been passed on from her grandfather, Chief Yellow Hawk.

What really gets Melissa going and goads her into digging for old photographs is not talk about Lewis or Clark. It’s the chance to speak about her grandfather whom she admired and adored as a child.

It was a public relations gesture to hand out Jefferson Peace Medals to tribes along the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago. The medals were token symbols used in an attempt to establish peaceful relations with tribes and to introduce them to their new ``Great White Father.’’ Chief Yellow Hawk was one of many tribal chiefs to be handed one.

While Lewis and Clark and their fellow explorers are long gone, there are expedition descendents alive today. Indians like Melissa represent a direct, living link to the trail.

For years, Melissa’s family kept Chief Yellow Hawk’s peace medal. According to Melissa’s son, Keith, the medal ended up in the hands of other relatives in recent years. In visiting with Melissa in her living room, she seems to care little about the medal. The peace token pales in importance compared to memories of her grandfather Chief Yellow Hawk.

Melissa Annis and her great granddaughter Cache Hebb, 7 hold a picture of Yellow Hawk, Melissa's grandfather who met with the Lewis and Clark expedition when it passed through the current Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in S. Dakota. They are seated here in front of Melissa's home on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in S. Dakota.

Melissa shares those memories of her grandfather, beginning with that long ago day when Chief Yellow Hawk offered to help guide the explorers up along the Missouri River towards the West.

"They picked up my grandfather down there where the Cheyenne Agency is. They picked up my grandfather and Gilbert. You know the Gilberts down there? Well, their grandfather was one of them. They lived down there for many years. And they went up the Missouri River. Oh, they went clear down to, well, they met up with a lot of Indian people. Some of them didn’t have the same language. We were Sioux. We talked Sioux. So they picked up some Indians. My grandfather, he went too, my grandfather Yellow Hawk. They were younger then. They went all the way to, let me see how far? I think all the way to the mouth of what do you call it, not to the ocean, the Columbia. But my grandfather came back. I don’t remember just where. This is such a long story. I wish I could remember all the things mother used to tell me—getting on that boat. I think there were three Indians that got on with them. It seems to me I had another relative that got on in Montana. They went all the way to the Columbia River. At that time everything was wild so they hunted here and there, some fishing too, you know, and then they cooked out on the shore. They had stuff on the boat, too, you know. Oh, if I could just remember. Ninety. I’m 90. In several months, I’ll be 91.

"There was no one like him, Grandpa Yellow Hawk. He told so many stories. We’d have to all sit around him. He’d tell stories in Indian, you know? He was a good grandfather. Ruby and Edith lived with him. They could tell you more. My dad was the older boy they had. When he went to school they changed his name. They changed a lot of names. Gilberts had an Indian name. They changed that name, too, when they went to school. Yellow Hawk they changed to West. My name was West ‘til I got married.

"Yeah, and then, let’s see, I was young. I can still remember what he looked like. I was little when he passed away. They lived south of here on the Cheyenne River. And he had to see us all before we went back to school. They’d load us up on the wagon in that hot August month, in the month of August. From there we’d go clear over there in the wagon. I used to dread that but I was glad to see Grandpa. We’d go see Grandpa, you know? The first day we’d ask him, ‘You have any stories for us?’ I don’t know if they were true or not but he always had a story for us. I had another grandfather. He’s another one. He’s a storyteller, too. You could get a lot outta of Edith and Ruby."


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