by Joe Myers
On September 3, 1779 in southern Colorado, governor and military commander Juan Bautista de Anza defeated a war party of Comanche under the leadership of Cuerno Verde (Green Horn). Historians have generally assumed that the war bonnet of Cuerno Verde had two horns, but a description of the war bonnet of the Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose might give pause to this notion.
George Hyde received letters from an aging George Bent and turned them into the book Life of George Bent, where he described the war bonnet of Roman Nose as having only one horn.
George Bent, born in 1843 was the son of William Bent and Owl Woman. His maternal grandfather was White Thunder, a high priest in the Cheyenne Nation and keeper of the medicine arrows. George was sent east (St. Louis) at age 10 to be educated and ended up fighting briefly in the Civil War on the Confederate side. He returned to the Cheyenne in 1863 and married the niece of chief Black Kettle. The Colorado militia attacked the peaceful village of Black Kettle in 1864 (Sand Creek Massacre); they killed one third to one half of the friendly Indians, as well as seriously wounding George. He soon joined a fighting clan of the Cheyenne, the Dog Soldiers, and fought against the white man for a number of years. During that time he became well acquainted with Roman Nose, suggesting he first met him in 1865.
George wrote that Roman Nose was a member of the Hi-moi-yo-quis or Crooked Lance Society and was never a chief, nor even the head man of any of the soldier societies. His first reference to the war bonnet was in the battle on the Powder River. George wrote: “We crossed over, and now Roman Nose rode up on his fine white pony, wearing his famous war bonnet that nearly touched the ground even when he was mounted……” He noted that Roman Nose was known as a great warrior and reported as a leader in all fights when Cheyenne were engaged, including the Fetterman Massacre in Wyoming. Roman Nose was far south at that battle however, between the Platte and the Arkansas Rivers.
In another battle at Beecher’s Island, George noted that the first charge was not led by Roman Nose as generally reported; rather George believed he was some twenty miles away at the village. There was a lot of excitement when Roman Nose actually arrived, and George wrote: “Donning his famous one-horn war bonnet, he rode to the head of the Indian line….”
Roman Nose was a southern Cheyenne, and as a boy visited the northern Cheyenne in Montana where he had a vision. In his dreams he saw a serpent with a single horn in its head; this was the reason White Buffalo Bull (a northern Cheyenne medicine man) made the headdress with only one horn instead of a traditional one with two buffalo horns. The horn was in the center of the forehead, and the long tail had eagle feathers, four red, then four black and four red and so on; it was made carefully, using nothing from the white man, such as cloth, thread or metal. Plains Indians were very superstitious, and when the
bonnet was taken from its case, it was held over a live coal on which was sprinkled a pinch of powder from a medicine root. It was then raised toward the sun four times, unwrapped and held up to the north, west, south and east. Once donned, Roman Nose then used sacred medicine paint on his face – Indian yellow on his forehead, red across his nose, and black across his mouth and chin. He carefully avoided eating certain foods, and could not go into a lodge where a baby had been born for four days. White Bull warned him never to eat anything that had been touched by metal and that if he violated this rule he would die in his next battle. That is exactly what happened.