SI Vault
William Chapman
November 25, 1963
A hunter's recollection of a Sioux Indian, an Irish lord and his own good luck
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November 25, 1963

Two Doubles A World Apart

A hunter's recollection of a Sioux Indian, an Irish lord and his own good luck

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It is about this time of year, as instinct joins with hunting laws to tell me that my pursuit of pheasant and quest for grouse has ended for the season, that I begin to truly savor this sport I enjoy so much. Winter turns me into an outdoorsman moved perforce indoors. My mind has a way of responding to this situation by producing from who knows what recesses whole hosts of hunting recollections, vivid flashes of events so long gone that they should by all rights have vanished from my consciousness forever. Thus it happened the other evening that two names came to my mind almost in the same second: Littleghost and Lochamilton, the first a Sioux Indian, the second an Irish lord; the first a lean, proud man of fierce bearing, the second a bulging pompous fellow whose nobility, I fear, stemmed more from his lineage than his heart. Why both at once? I wondered. And then with a pleased flush I realized the connection that my memory had so surprisingly made for me. These were the men, many years and thousands of miles apart, who saw me make the two most dramatic bird shots of my life.

I remembered, too, a girl named Ilsa MacLeod.

Wakpala, where my friend Ambrose Littleghost lives, is a Sioux Indian village on Standing Rock Reservation. The plains, torrid and dusty in summer and bitter and blizzardy in winter, roll down from the Rockies in western Montana to meet the Missouri near by. I spent several years there directing an Episcopal Church mission school for Indian children.

To the east from the river is a long, dreary reach of precarious grain-farming land that should never have been put to the plow. The threat of drought exists every year. There is a story told of an early settler who was earnestly plowing the baked gumbo. A Sioux, standing by and watching, chuckled every now and then.

"What's funny?" the farmer finally asked.

"Got the wrong side up," the Indian said.

He was right; the land should have been left for grazing, but if that had been done there would never have been all that wonderful pheasant shooting. It is well known that South Dakota has the best pheasant hunting in the world. Why do these birds thrive in a climate that ranges from 115� in the summer to 40� below in the winter and in a locale where the wind is blasting most of the time? The answer seems to be that the soil of this country is impregnated with limestone that was ground up thousands of years ago by the last glacier, and the birds consume it along with their regular diet of wheat and other seeds. This results in an egg with an unusually hard shell and a strong chick whose bones axe well fortified with calcium and whatever else pheasant bones should be fortified with. The adults are vigorous, durable, heavily feathered and larger than those found almost anywhere else. The males are startlingly gorgeous.

When the shooting season opens in October there is a strong concentration of hunters in the grainfields on the east bank of the Missouri, across the river from the Standing Rock Reservation. Many birds soon find it prudent to take off for the opposite shore, where they are seldom shot at, for the Sioux have little interest in bird shooting. Deer hunting—that is something else again. Nearly every Sioux cabin will house a deer rifle. Things have not changed much since that day in early January 1805 when Lewis and Clark, camping on the Missouri in this very neighborhood, made an entry in their journal, "Pocapsahe also visited us and brought some meat on his wife's back."

Because of this feeling for hunting, the Sioux always appreciate skillful shooting—even when the quarry is a bird. So what I did that marvelous day all too many years ago in front of my two Indian friends, Ambrose Littleghost and his cousin, Chet Four Bear, could hardly have been better.

We left the mission school by car. I had two Ithaca 12-gauge guns, and I gave one of them and a bag of shells to Littleghost, a unique Indian in that he could handle a shotgun. He insisted on riding in the baggage rack atop the car, and before we had reached a long slope known as Mad Bear's he had potted a couple of sharp-tailed grouse. Ambrose loved to shoot from the top of the car as it bounced along the grassy plain, and he was very good at it.

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