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Eagle Woman: Mrs. Matilda Galpin
One of the most important people living at Fort Rice in 1864 was Matilda Galpin. Her husband was a trader and had been appointed the post sutler (a sutler sold supplies). She was one of three women living at Fort Rice during the terrible winter of 1865. Her friendship was important to Julia Larned, a survivor of Fort Dilts, who worked with her husband to operate a private bakery for the soldiers. Elizabeth Cardwell, the wife of a private in the First U.S. Volunteers, felt the comfort of Matilda Galpin’s medical skills at the birth of her baby in the spring.
Matilda Galpin was also known by the name her family had given her as a child: Eagle Woman That All Look At (Wambdi Autepe Win), or simply Eagle Woman. Her father was the famous Two Kettle Teton leader, Two Lance. Her mother was a Hunkpapa Dakota known as Rosy Light of Dawn. She inherited her mother’s status as a Hunkpapa. When her parents died, she married Honore Picotte, a trader for the American Fur Company at Fort Pierre. Around 1850, she married Charles Galpin.
She gave important assistance to both of her husbands. Through her family ties, she was able to help her husbands engage in trade with the Dakotas. She was also able to create peaceful relations between the traders and the Dakotas and later helped to bring several Dakota tribes to Fort Rice to talk peace. Her skills as a diplomat were recognized and respected by both the Dakotas and the officers of the Army.
Eagle Woman was able to live and work in both cultures. She understood that life on the northern Great Plains was changing with the arrival of more and more white people. She also understood the power of the Army. Often described as a very intelligent woman, she did what she could to avoid war and promote peace.
Eagle Woman was also a woman of great courage. One day, at the end of March 1865, she saw two Dakota men trying to set fire to Fort Rice. She approached them and ordered them to leave. The fort did not burn and the men were captured the next day.
Another attack on the sawmill at Fort Rice on May 26, 1865 led to the wounding of Lieutenant Wilson, who supervised the log-cutting operations. Three arrows hit his arm, his leg, and his chest and caused him to fall from his horse, fracturing his hip bone. Mrs. Galpin (as she was usually known at the fort) saw his attackers riding toward him to take his scalp. She ran to help and protect Lt. Wilson. As she held him, she chased off his attackers by scolding them and shouting: “This man belongs to me now! You can not mutilate him or touch him! Begone, every one of you!” They fled. She then waved her shawl in the air to draw the attention of rescuers who carried Lt. Wilson to the post surgeon.
In the fall of 1865, Charles and Matilda Galpin visited several tribes including the Blackfoot Sioux, Brulé, Hunkpapa, Miniconjou, Oglala, Sans Arc, Two Kettle, and Yanktonai villages to invite the leaders to participate in peace talks at Fort Rice. Most agreed to come, but a snowstorm prevented most of them from attending. The council eventually led to treaties in 1868 providing some of the tribes with reservations.
Another treaty signed in 1882 and 1883 by representatives of many Dakota tribes created separate agencies within the Great Sioux Reservation. The only woman to sign the treaty was Eagle Woman. She signed the section creating Standing Rock Agency with her mark next to the name Matilda Galpin.