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Tribute To Scarlet Crow

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan

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Mr. President, I rise today to pay tribute and restore honor to a Native American who contributed much to the expansion of our Nation and the development of what would later become my home State of North Dakota.

After seeing an exhibit at the Library of Congress recently, I became interested in learning more about the Native Americans who are buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Through my research, I came across the name of Scarlet Crow. Scarlet Crow, a member of the Wahpeton Sisseton Sioux Tribe, died in Washington, DC., under mysterious circumstances in 1867, and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery east of Capitol Hill.

I learned from further research that Scarlet Crow's death certificate reported his cause of death to be suicide. But the facts reveal a different, more tragic story.

In February 1867, Scarlet Crow left a family that included eight children to undertake a long journey from the Dakota Territory to Washington, DC. He was a tribal chief who came here to renegotiate a treaty with the U.S. Government. He was, in fact, one of many Native Americans who came to the Nation's capital in those days to negotiate in good faith, only to discover that the United States continued to mistreat Native Americans by forging agreements the Government subsequently failed to honor.

Before his work here was done, tragedy struck. Scarlet Crow was reported missing on February 24th that year. Two weeks later, his body was discovered near the Occoquan Bridge in Northern Virginia several miles outside Washington. At first, his death was reported to be a suicide. But investigators later described evidence that could not support that conclusion.

The mystery of what really happened to Scarlet Crow still remains. We do know that criminal investigators pointed out that the cloth Scarlet Crow would have used to hang himself would not have supported a weight of more than 40 pounds. The branch from which he supposedly hung himself would have broken under the weight of a small child, they said. In addition, his blanket was folded neatly by his body, with no signs of a struggle. Despite this evidence, which might suggest that Scarlet Crow was murdered, there is no record that anyone followed up on the investigation. And today, Scarlet Crow's death certificate still lists suicide as the cause of death.

There are no records to tell us when and how Scarlet Crow's family learned of his death, or what happened to his family afterward. Records do tell us, however, that he was an honorable and trustworthy man who devoted his efforts to a peaceful life with the settlers who came to tame the great Midwest. He is described in one Government letter as an industrious man who worked to promote agriculture among his fellow Native Americans. And at one time, it was reported that his ``laborious habits had made him a prosperous farmer,'' a prosperity that was later lost during hostilities in 1862.

In 1916, Congress voted to provide a headstone for Scarlet Crow's grave, at the request of North Dakota Senator Asle J. Gronna. Since that action nearly a century ago, the memory of Scarlet Crow has been relegated to obscurity.

The mysterious circumstances of Mr. Crow's death and the unusual story about his burial in the Congressional Cemetery led me to visit the cemetery recently to locate his tombstone.

The cemetery has fallen into some disrepair over the years and it is in some ways a rather forlorn place. Perhaps as we move forward with our planning for this year, Congress can find the resources to restore dignity to our Congressional Cemetery. In the meantime, I urge my colleagues to find time to visit this cemetery. And while there, I hope you will pause a moment in tribute to this dedicated Native American, Scarlet Crow, whose life came to such a tragic and untimely end in our Nation's capital.