Edwin H. Allison autobiography (ca. 1882)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Rob S. Cox
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Edwin H. Allison autobiography
Creator: Allison, Edwin Henry, 1847-1919
Inclusive dates: ca. 1882
Extent: 277 pages
This collection contains the autobiographical writings of Edwin H. Allison, a scout in the western United States who participated in the capture of The Gall and Sitting Bull.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1947. M-644.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Preferred Citation

Edwin H. Allison Autobiography, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


A chance encounter with a party of "Sitting Bull's Indians" while driving a herd of cattle to Fort Buford, Montana, gave Edward Allison the idea that he could single-handedly bring an end to hostilities on the plains through direct negotiations. A some-time scout with the U.S. Cavalry, Allison had wide experience in the west, spoke enough of the language to be understood, and knew the Hunkpapa culture just well enough to avoid serious blunders. Somewhat rashly, and definitely at considerable risk, Allison rode to the camp in Canada in which The Gall, Sitting Bull, and about half of Sitting Bull's followers had sought refuge from the army. After a few frightening moments, Allison was accepted into the camp and was well treated, though only because he carefully concealed his identity and intentions. Despite his cordial reception, however, and despite winning over The Gall to the idea of peace, he was rebuffed by Sitting Bull. Allison left the Hunkpapa camp to relay news of The Gall's willingness to "come in," aware that he had succeeded in only half of his plan.

Receiving official approval from Gen. Alfred Howe Terry at the Standing Rock Agency, Allison rode out a second time to the Hunkpapa camp late in October, 1880. Under tense circumstances, the camp having just survived a raid by the Blackfeet , Allison convinced eighteen of Sitting Bull's followers to return to Fort Buford as "voluntary prisoners," while The Gall took his band to the Poplar Creek Agency. Sitting Bull, however, along with several of his followers, stood firm in rejecting negotiation. At Poplar Creek, Allison's plan nearly unraveled when, as Allison put it, some soldiers overreacted to the tense meeting with their former enemies, and mounted an "unnecessary" attack, killing an old woman and wounding one man. Under Allison's urging, however, the Indians refused to return fire and successfully managed to surrender without further incident.

In the meantime, Allison persuaded Crow King to ride out and defuse the situation and prevent the Indians who had escaped from alarming Sitting Bull. This done, Sitting Bull withdrew again into Canada, where he remained with only 43 families and 51 warriors, by Allison's count. Sitting Bull's forces were "so insignificant that they ceased to be regarded as enemies worthy of attention" (p. 76) and Gen. Terry ordered Allison to make no further effort to bring them in.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Edwin H. Allison autobiography was prepared for publication after he had settled in Dayton, Ohio, in the late 1880s, and is accompanied by several other brief, unpolished essays written at approximately the same time. The autobiography is probably a working draft, and the present manuscript lacks pages 7-23. Further, there are a number of additional, somewhat rougher pages of writing, with some duplicate pagination. Though Allison was not a professional writer, his narrative is an unusually engrossing one, filled with action and insights into his own thoughts in the best tradition of the dime novel. That Allison was a scout in the west and participated in the capture of the Gall and Sitting Bull, of course, makes the material of considerable significance for understanding the nature of "diplomatic" and military relations between the Hunkpapa and whites, but it also provides documentation of variations in white perceptions of the Hunkpapa during the days in which white military supremacy was firmly exerted.

Among the associated essays are ones describing the Great Buffalo slaughter of 1880; one considering the question whether "the Indian" is really lazy; a discussion of the Indian way of life that includes commentary on their religion, dancing, recreation, and hunting; and a piece on Indian sign language and spoken language that includes a brief discussion of Sitting Bull's name.

Subject Terms

  • American bison hunting.
  • Gall, ca. 1840-1894.
  • Hunkpapa Indians--Montana.
  • Indians of North America--Montana.
  • Indians of North America--Wars--1866-1895.
  • Sitting Bull, 1834?-1890.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Volume   1  
Edwin H. Allison autobiography,  ca. 1882 [series]

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

Allison, Edwin Henry. The surrender of Sitting Bull : being a full and complete history of the negotiations conducted by Scout Allison, which resulted in the surrender of Sitting Bull and his entire band of hostile Sioux in 1881. A vivid description of Indian life, and thrilling adventure / written by Scout Allison, in his own graphic style (Dayton, Ohio : Walker Litho. and Printing Co., 1891)

Standing Rock Indian Agency papers, 1876-1906, c. 80 items. Clements Library Manuscript Division.

Partial Subject Index

Blackfeet Indians
  • pp. 64-66
Brave Bear
  • pp. 78-82
Brotherson, D. H.
  • p. 44
  • pp. 83-90
Carlin, William Passmore, 1829-1893
  • p. 61
Crow King
  • pp. 73-76
Dakota Indians
  • See Hunkpapa Indians
  • p. 39
Fort Buford (Mont.)
  • p. 44
Gall, c. 1840-1894
  • p. 40-43, 55-58, 63-73
  • p. 49, 58
Hunkpapa Indians--Montana
  • 33-82 passim
Hunkpapa Indians--Recreation
  • See essays
Indians of North America--Language
  • See essays
Indians of North America--Montana
  • Passim
Indians of North America--Wars--1866-1895
  • 33-82 passim
Indians of North America--Wit and humor
  • pp. 55-56
Johnson, Joseph
  • pp. 78-82
Montana--Description and travel
  • pp. 45-51
  • pp. 78-82
Poplar Creek Agency (Mont.)
  • pp. 68-73
Sitting Bull, 1837?-1890
  • 33-82 passim
Standing Rock Agency (N.D.)
  • pp. 59-61
Terry, Alfred Howe, 1827-1890
  • p. 59-62
War--Psychological aspects
  • p. 36-39