Frank Grouard was a real person (google him). I came across this remarkable document in 2012. The manuscript of which he spoke was never found, but Frank’s letter sent me off on a quest of my own.
The letter printed below was found in 1945, in the attic of an old New York City brownstone that was set for demolition. The man who found it was a worker on the project and he brought it home to show his wife and young daughter. When the man died in 2005, his daughter came across the letter while going through his things. She very kindly allowed me to make a copy of it when I told her about my plans of writing a book about the Sioux Nation and the injustices perpetrated against those noble people.
Here is the letter in its entirety along with two pictures of the man. The only changes that I made to the document were to add punctuation and correct the spelling.
My name is Frank Grouard and some folks say I’ve led a pretty interesting life, and I reckon compared to some I have. The reason people think such a thing is because I lived with the Sioux for six years and they read about me in the newspapers after the Little Bighorn.
Sitting Bull saved my life when others in his tribe wanted to kill me. Of course, later on he wanted to kill me himself. And the funny thing is that the ones who wanted to kill me in the first place saved me from Sitting Bull’s wrath. Sitting Bull and me had a falling out over some Blackfeet I killed. But they were trading whiskey to our band and there was no end to the trouble it was causing.
Because of my association with the Sioux, and after the Little Bighorn, fellas came up to me wanting to write the story of my life, but I told them all the same thing … no. I told them that my life wasn’t all that interesting. But they kept coming and I kept saying no. That is, until that ruckus out at Wounded Knee. So when this newspaper fella from Chicago approached me and said he wanted to write the story of my life, I said alright. But there was a method to my madness. And please believe me, to allow anyone to put down on paper the follies of your youth is indeed madness.
The reason I allowed the book to be written in the first place is because there was another story I wanted told. And to do so would take money. So I took the money I received for my life story and gave it to another newspaper fella to write the life story of someone else. The only difference being this second newspaper fella was from New York.
People think that my six years with the Sioux is something to write home about. Well, when I was with Sitting Bull, I met a White Man that had lived with them for forty years. He was as much Sioux as Sitting Bull. Of course, when I knew him, he had only been with them about twenty-five years.
His name was Yellow Hair and we became fast friends. Not because we were both White Men. Because I may have considered myself white, but he was Dakota right down to his moccasins. I don’t know why we hooked up, but we did.
We spent many a night talking. I told him of my life, of being born in Tahiti of a white father and a native woman. I told him how my family, my mother, father, my two siblings and myself, came to San Francisco when I was seven-years-old. How after a year my mother took my brothers back to Tahiti and my father and I stayed in America. I never saw them again.
And Yellow Hair told me of his life. He told me of his journey from Concord, Massachusetts. He told me of his time on the Oregon Trail and he told me how he became a Dakota. There were many things he told me in the years that I knew him.
I am told that I have a photographic memory. That is, I remember everything, not just what I see, but what I hear as well. I remember every word Yellow Hair spoke to me. These memories are not swimming at the top of my head; I have to pull them up, but they’re there.
I knew of Yellow Hair’s extraordinary life. We were both at the Little Bighorn on that summer day in ’76. By then I had left Sitting Bull’s band. I led General Crook to Goose Creek on 25 June 1876, and from there I saw the smoke signals that said Long Hair—Colonel Custer to you—was dead. I rode the seventy miles to the Little Bighorn, getting there just before midnight. I found the Seventh wiped out. From the hill where Custer’s body lay, I could see the celebratory dances taking place around the campfires and I took out my glass as to get a better look. And there he was, Yellow Hair, standing there and talking to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse just as calm as apple pie. I wanted badly to talk to my old friend, but it would have been worth my life if I had traipsed down into that camp on that night. I later found out that Yellow Hair was the only White Man that day to go up the hill on which I stood and come back down alive.
When I heard what happened at Wounded Knee, I set out to fill in the fifteen years of Yellow Hair’s life since I last saw him. I tracked down men of the Mdewakanton band of Sioux who had lived with him. I spoke with squaws that had known him. In short, I ran down anyone and everyone who could tell me of his life from the winter of ’75, when I left Sitting Bull, and the summer of ’90 when I heard about him at Wounded Knee.
When I thought I had the true picture of his life, I hired that New York gent to put it down on paper. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not much with words. So, for six months me and him would sit in his home and I would talk. I would talk as though I was there watching Yellow Hair’s life unfold before me. I put together the things he told me and the things that others have said about him until I think I have a pretty good grasp on his life.
Because no one has ever heard of him, his name wasn’t in the newspapers like mine was; no one wants to publish this manuscript. But I’ll keep on trying until the day I die. I am ashamed that people think me a man of adventure when a man like Yellow Hair goes unnoticed.
Frank Grouard, 1898