Crawford County, Iowa, IAGenWeb


Murder of Yellow Smoke

Chief of the Omaha Indians

Dunlap, Iowa, 1868

The following is an account of the murder of Yellow Smoke, the Chief of the Omaha Indians, in Dunlap, Iowa, in 1868. Dunlap is located just south of the Crawford County border in Harrison County.

Chief Yellow Smoke was the last keeper of the "Sacred Pole" which was the symbol of the tribe's well-being, the center piece of their ceremonies and the subject of their sacred songs. His name came from the yellow smoke stain on the pole. The sacred pole was displayed in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. and now rests with the Omaha Tribe at Macy, Nebraska.

The Omaha Tribe inhabited the area in Western Iowa which includes the Yellow Smoke Park area in Crawford County. This area was likely a part of their tribal hunting grounds.

Yellow Smoke Park is a 321-acre recreation area located one mile east of Denison on Highway 30. The park provides RV and tent camping, 4 miles of hiking and biking trails, picnicking, open and enclosed shelters, swimming, fishing, boating, and more.(Source: Denison, Iowa, website.

December 5, 1868. The New York Times.

A special dispatch from Dunlap, Iowa situated on the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, says on the morning of Nov. 27, Yellow Smoke, Chief of the Omaha Indians, visited that place during the evening, and was drugged with liquor by a party of roughs with the intention of robbing him.

During the night they quarreled, and during the fight Yellow Smoke was struck on the head by one of the party and his skull was crushed. He succeeded in getting to where there were several hundred Indians encamped, about four miles east of town. He expired on Wednesday morning.

Nothing was done in the matter until last night, when several were arrested. One of the principal parties is still at large. The Chief was always noted for being very friendly and strictly honorable. His band comprises some 1,500 warriors, who according to reports, are gathering in fast and are greatly excited. Yellow Smoke was buried yesterday.

The following was written by G. Smith Stanton, a pioneer from New York to Woodbine, Iowa in 1865. He was a graduate student from the Columbia College Law School of New York. Because of health reasons had decided to start a stock ranch on a large tract of land in western Iowa left to him in the will of his grandfather, Judge Daniel Cady. Daniel Cady was a New York Lawyer and a Supreme Court Judge.

From the book written by G. Smith Stanton "When the Wildwood Was in Flower" G. Smith Stanton later became mayor of Woodbine, Iowa.

While I was attending a meeting of the Masonic Lodge of which I was a member, at the little frontier town of Dunlap, Iowa, we were called to defend the town from a threatened attack from the Omaha tribe of Indians. The Indians had been camped for a couple of weeks by the Boyer River, about a mile from the town.

The chief was Yellow Smoke. He was a great gambler, and a successful one at that. He often visited the saloons of the town for a game of cards and to see what show there was to get his hands on some firewater.

Yellow Smoke unfortunately, sat down one night in a game with some toughs, who purposely got him drunk to rob him. They stole his money and an elegant fur robe, and in the Melee Yellow Smoke was killed. The toughs fled the town.

As soon as the tribe heard of Yellow Smoke's death they came for the body and demanded the men who killed him. The body was took away and buried, and sent word to the town authorities that they wanted the men who had killed their chief.

There were four hundred bucks in the Indian camp, armed to the teeth, and as Dunlap had only about five hundred inhabitants all told, things began to look a little dubious.

The authorities sent back word, which was the truth, that the men who killed Yellow Smoke were not residents of the place and had fled from the town. The Indians wouldn't believe it, and demanded the men at once or they would come after them. We all knew what the result of the expedition would be.

A committee, of which I was member, from the lodge visited the Indian Camp to try and appease then, and assure them that the men had left. At the suggestion of one of the members, we dressed in our Masonic regalia, what a fortunate suggestion!

To the astonishment of all of us, the Indians on our approach greeted us with Masonic signs, and assured us they would believe what we told them. Our statement proved satisfactory. The Indians having obtained Masonic signs in some unaccountable manner, undoubtedly saved Dunlap from wiped off the map; that is, it looked that way.

But there is one thing certain; from what I knew of the caliber of Dunlap citizens and the out-of-town members of the lodge who were present at that particular time, the Omaha tribe of Indians would have been somewhat reduced before the wiping-out process was completed.

Submitted by Phyllis Heller