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Superior’s connection to Custer

Ron Taggert

As I sat reading a recent copy of Wild West magazine, I gazed on an article titled, “Right as Rain-in-the-Face.” There were several photographs of this Native American hero of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, but one caught my eye. The photo featured Rain-in-the-Face and his wife circa 1889. The imprinted notation at the bottom of the print was “D.F. Barry – West Superior, Wis.”

The article depicts Rain-in-the-Face as a fierce warrior against Custer’s troops at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Apparently, prior to the battle, Rain-in-the-Face had been arrested in 1874 by Thomas Custer, brother of George Armstrong Custer. The arrest was for murdering an Army veterinarian in Montana Territory. While captive at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory, Rain accuses Thomas Custer of mistreating him. From that time forward his hatred and rage grew for both Custers. Rain escaped custody and sent Thomas Custer a buffalo skin on which he drew a bloody heart, thought to be a warning of things to come.

Soon Rain found himself facing both Custer brothers at the Little Big Horn River in June 1876. During the fierce battle, Rain recounts that he rode through many soldiers to find his mortal enemy, Thomas Custer. Rain soon found him and Custer recognized him and seemed terrified.

Rain shot Thomas Custer at close range with a revolver. He then “…leaped from my pony, and cut out his heart ...”

David F. Barry would become one of America’s finest photographers. He became fast friends with Rain-in-the-Face. He photographed him many times over a period of years. He also photographed Thomas Custer and George Armstrong Custer before the expedition that ended their lives. He photographed Buffalo Bill Cody, Sitting Bull, Gall, Red Cloud, Annie Oakley, and soldiers Reno, Benteen, Gen. Gibbon, Gen. Crook, and most importantly, he photographed the scene of the Last Stand at the Little Big Horn.

These photos are used by historians still in their quest for the truth about the battle.

David F. Barry came east following the “Indian Wars” and settled in Superior, Wis. He had been apprenticing for O.S. Goff at Fort Abraham Lincoln near what is now Bismarck, N.D. By time he got to “West Superior, Wis.” He was already famous for his photography and especially for his depictions of famous Indians.

Barry set up a studio in two locations in West Superior, 1312 Tower Ave. and 1316 Tower Ave. He continued to do photography but used the time in Superior to market his photographs of the Native Americans and the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He was hailed at Madison Square Garden. Barry travelled with Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull as they toured the nation. But he continued to reside in Superior.

In an article reported and published in the Superior Telegram dated Feb. 17, 1915, it has Barry awaiting a photographic session with another notable Native American chief, Chief Blackbird of the LaPointe Chippewa Tribe. Chief Blackbird told the reporter through an interpreter that Superior was the scene of many bloody fights between the Chippewa and the Sioux. He was staying at the Superior Hotel and would be sitting for Superior’s well known photographer of famous Indians, D.F. Barry.”

Another favorite subject of Barry was Gall, thought to be the “War Chief” responsible for the attack on Custer. Gall and Sitting Bull were fast friends and compatriots until a falling out when both had escaped to Canada. Gall crossed back into the United States to surrender at Fort Buford. Barry wanted desperately to photograph the surrender and Gall. He left immediately for Fort Buford. Gall was “haughty and scornful and eyed Barry with disdain.” Barry had offered to pay Gall and the others $6 per person to sit for him. Gall demanded and later got $21 for the sitting. Gall refused to pose and pulled the robe down and pulled Gall’s shirt open exposing his chest. Before Gall could object, the photo was snapped. Later Gall returned to Barry alone and demanded to see the image. Barry refused to show Gall the plate. Gall tried to push his way into the darkroom and Barry shoved him back out. Gall grasped his knife but Barry retrieved a revolver and the fight was over. Gall retreated. No one was harmed.

David F. Barry lived in Superior until his death in 1934. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Superior. He was known by the Native Americans as “The Little Shadow Catcher” or in Lakota — Icastinyanka Cikala Hanzi. Today his photos are at auction for thousands of dollars. His stationery garners hundreds of dollars for a blank envelope.

Ron Taggart of Lake Nebagamon is a criminal investigator for the state of Minnesota who minored in in history at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and was at the “New Siege” of Wounded Knee in 1973. He has worked with the American Indian Movement’s Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt. While he lived in Duluth, Gordon, and now in Lake Nebagamon, he said he never had heard of D.F. Barry until seeing his stamp in the corner of the plate of Rain-in-the-Face in “Wild West” magazine.