Isaiah Dorman: A requieum for the black man at the Little Big Horn
On the afternoon of June 25, 1876 as Major Reno lead his hasty "charge" out of the clump of trees to which his initial attack and skirmish line had been reduced, several men of his command both alive and mortaly wounded were abandoned. One such man, Isaiah Dorman, lay dying, partially pinned under his dead horse. He had formerly served his country well as an army scout and interpreter. Now he was to give the most precious gift that a patriot can give to his country- his life. Who was this wasicun sapa, this "black white man" as he was known to the Sioux?
There are many stories from the Sioux history describing a large, "black white man" who was welcomed in their villages as early as 1850. He was known as Azinpi or "Teat," meaning teat or nipple, which in the Sioux language sounds like Isaiah. This man had worked as a trapper and trader. He was known to travel both with a horse and a mule, and seemed to want to avoid contact with the white settlers. Little else is known of Dorman, and there is no known picture of him. Although not certain, it is thought that he might have been aformer slave of the D'Orman family of Louisiana in the late 1840s. A search of wanted posters of that period shows that a Negro slave by the name of Isaiah was a fugitive. Dorman is known to have first appeared at a white settlement in 1865, after the Civil War was over. At this time he was married to a young woman of Inkpaduta's band of the Santee Sioux. He is known to have settled at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory near the present site of Bismarck. He supported himself by cutting wood for the fort. Soon he became known to the officers of the fort as a jovial, sober, and trustworthy person. He was fond of tobacco, but abstained from the spirits. In the fall of 1865 he was hired as a wood cutter by the trading firm of Durfee & Peck. Due to his size and strength, it was said that "Old Teat" could cut a cord of wood faster than a helper could stack it.
When the post commander and his quartermaster learned of Dorman's ability with the Sioux language and his knowledge of the land, he was hired in November, 1865, by Lt. J, M, Marshall to carry the mail between Ft. Rice and Ft. Wadsworth. Dorman made the 360-mile round trip without difficulty. When he was not carrying mail, he went back to cutting wood. When it became too dangerous for soldiers to carry the mail in 1867, he was again hired at the rate of $50/month, quite a sum for a black man in those days. In September, 1871, he was hired by a Capt. Henry Inman to serve as guide and interpreter for a party of engineers making the Northern pacific Railroad Survey. He was paid $100/month. He next served as an interpreter for the army at Ft. Rice at a salary of $75/month.
When Custer was preparing to set out for the Little Big Horn expedition, he issued Special Order No. 2 requesting that Isaiah Dorman be assigned to him as an interpreter. Dorman, then about 55 years old was eager to have the opportunity to see his Indian friends once more. The rest is history.
Ironically, more has been recorded about Dorman in death than in life. One of Reno's scouts, George Herendeen stated "I saw Indians shooting at Isiah and squaws pounding him with stone hammers. His legs below the knees were shot full of bullets..." Others have described his legs as being riddled with buckshot. By most accounts, he died a slow and painful death. Pvt. Slaper said that he was "badly cut and slashed, while unmentionable atrocities had been commited." A Pvt. Roman Rutten passed Dorman as he escaped from the valley fighting. He described Dorman as being on one knee, firing carefully with a non-regulation sporting rifle. Dorman was stated to have looked up and shouted, "Good-bye, Rutten!" A more fanciful story attributed to Stanley Vestal states that while Dorman lay dying, Sitting Bull happened to pass by and kindly offered his former friend kind words and a drink of water. Sitting Bull is said to have chased the vengeful Indian women away from Isaiah, but after he left, the women returned and Dorman's body was stripped and mutilated. Others have stated that in addition to the mortal chest wound and the wounds to his legs, he was later found with his torso and head full of arrows and according to the memoirs of John Burkrman, had a picket pin driven through his testicles. Obviously all of the Inians did not take too kindly to Dorman being with the invading cavalry.