September 14, 2020 — The noted Hunkpapa Lakota warrior, Rain-in-the-Face, died at his home on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota on this date in 1905.

His name was one that often carried terror with it, and he was among the Indian leaders who defeated General George Armstrong Custer and the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment at the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Born near the forks of the Cheyenne River in about 1835, he was not the son of a chief. He once said to Charles A. Eastman that he had to work for his reputation. Rain-in-the-Face loved to fight and play the boyish games. He took pride in being a tough opponent.

When he was about 10 years old, Rain-in-the-Face got into fight with a Cheyenne boy older than him. He got the best of the boy, but was hit hard in the face several times. His face was spattered with blood and streaked where the paint had washed away, as if from rain. It was that incident that named him forever.

Rain-in-the-Face participated in a raid on Fort Totten in 1866. He painted the usual eclipse of the sun on his face half black and half red. Hohay, the Assiniboine leader of the raid, challenged Rain-in-the-Face and his friend, Wapaypay, to ride right through the fort. The dare was accomplished without injury to either.

In 1868, he fought the U.S. Army at the Fetterman massacre near Fort Phil Kearney in Montana and was on the warpath during the Black Hills War near the Tongue River.

When Rain-in-the-Face returned to the Standing Rock Reservation, he was betrayed by some of the reservation Indians and captured by Tom Custer, George’s brother. He was taken to Fort Abraham Lincoln and imprisoned. Eventually freed by a sympathetic soldier, he returned to the reservation.

It was this humiliating imprisonment for which Rain-in-the-Face swore vengeance on Tom Custer, and he boasted that one day he would cut out Custer’s heart.

Rain-in-the-Face then fled to the Powder River and, in the spring of 1876, joined the hostile Sioux under Sitting Bull, traveling with them to the Little Big Horn River in early June.

Some say that Rain-in-the-Face was involved in the death of George Custer. He would only say, “Some say I killed the Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother [Tom Custer] because he had caused me to be imprisoned. In that fight, the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognized our near neighbors. Everything was done like lightning.”

This feat was further popularized by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “The Revenge of Rain in the Face.”

On September 14, 1905, Rain-in-the-Face died after a lengthy illness at his Standing Rock Reservation home.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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