Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cheyenne "Sand Man" of 1971: Supernatural Forces and the History of the American West

A friend of mine recently told me that through his exploration of northwest Oklahoma on an off-road dirt bike, he believes he stumbled upon the exact location of the infamous June 1838 Battle of Wolf Creek. This battle, fought between various Plainsmen Indian tribes (Cheyenne and Arapahoe vs. Comanche, Kiowa and Apache), is considered by historians to be the largest intertribal Indian battle ever fought on the southern plains. Shortly after, the Plainsmen Indian tribes joined forces together to fight the intruding white man, laying aside any tribal animosity in pursuit of a common cause.

My friend invited me to join him in exploring the area with him, which led me to do a little research on the 1838 battle which occurred northwest of Enid, Oklahoma. During my investigation I came across an interesting and little known discovery in 1971 that ties directly to The Battle of Wolf Creek and the role of the supernatural in the American West. Forty years ago the skeletal remains of a Cheyenne warrior was accidentally uncovered on some farm land near the location of the Wolf Creek battle. The Cheyenne warrior had been buried in full battle regalia with his face painted red, his elaborate hair pipe and concho (shell) earrings still in place, a  heavily beaded blanket wrapping the remains, and the warrior's parasol and weapons carefully placed by his side. Mary Jane Warde, retired history professor and former director of Indian cultural artifacts for the Oklahoma Historical Society, believed the warrior was a participant in The Battle of Wolf Creek due to the location of the burial spot and the dating of the artifacts buried with the warrior, materials certified through historical documents as being purchased by the Cheyenne Tribe at Bent's Fort (Colorado) in the late spring of 1838.

Here is where the story gets very interesting.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was called to the site. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) would be approved by Congress nearly twenty years after the body's discovery, but the OSBI handled the Indian gravesite with respect, mostly because of the one man charged with the facial recreation of the skeleton. Harvey Pratt, a young law enforcement agent in 1971 who would later become associate director of the OSBI, was himself a Cheyenne Indian and a direct descendent of a Cheyenne Arrow Keeper named White Thunder. Harvey Pratt began his scientific examination and facial recreation of the Cheyenne skeleton back at OSBI's headquarters in Oklahoma City but was immediately thwarted in his efforts by what he called "supernatural occurances." Pratt reported to his superiors that the warrior "died with spiritual powers in full force."

Lest one scoff at such a statement by criminologist Harvey Pratt, the expertise of Mr. Pratt should be examined. Mr. Pratt is considered one of the leading forensic criminologists in the nation. He has assisted national and state crime agencies, including the FBI, in solving several cases, such as the Green River Killer (Gary Ridgeway), the BTK Killer (Dennis Rader), the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders (Gene Leroy Hart), the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing and many other crimes of national significance. He lectures at universities and law enforcement conferences and is now in his late 60's. Mr. Pratt's opinion of what happened to him in 1971 during the investigation and examination the Cheyenne warrior has not changed. In April 2000, during the Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Mr. Pratt presented a lecture entitled "The Reconstruction of the Sand Man."

Mr. Pratt named the uncovered Cheyenne warrior "The SAND MAN."

The "supernatural occurances" which affected invesigator Harvey Pratt included dreams, visions and apparations that affected his ability to reconstruct the face of the Sandman. Mr. Pratt found himself mentally and phyically unable to even begin the exacting process of reconstruction. Mr. Pratt informed his superiors that the Sand Man had prepared his "medicine" before battle just as he had readied his bow, lance, and shield. This "medicine" was supernatural. This warrior had died with his medicine in full force.
Before going into battle, Cheyenne warriors would prepare themselves spiritually through rituals performed within the Cheyenne camp, waiting to move into battle until the medicine men, through the authority of the Arrow Keeper of the southern Cheyenne gave their approval. For a detailed explanation of how the Cheyenne prepared for battle see the free on-line 1905 book entitled The Cheyenne, Volume 1. The elaborate "medicine" invoked the spirit realm to enable the Cheyenne warriors to defeat their enemy. There is no question among the Cheyenne today that spiritual forces were at work in battles of the American west.

 Whether or not those forces were good or evil, forces of light or darkness, real or imagined may be debated by modern whites, but the experiences of 21st century criminologist Harvey Pratt should cause every skeptic of the supernatural to at least pause. Steven Spielburg's new movie about the American west cowboy and aliens,  Aliens and Cowboys, is sure to be a 2011 blockbuster, but the unfortunate side effect of this movie is to dull the senses of the modern American to the reality of the supernatural. While the concept of aliens intermingling with cowboys may make for good movies, it leads some to scoff at all things supernatural or to simply explain away all such phenomenon through natural science. In short, many intellectuals may be dulled by fantasy movie regarding the real facts of the supernatural in the American west and/or modern day. Criminologist Harvey Pratt may not be interested in making a movie about the supernatural, but frankly, a movie based upon events surrounding the Sand Man rather than a story line produced through the imagination of a Hollywood producer may reap benefits for American culture.

The supernatural exists. What it is may not be fully understood or seen by many in American, but the fact that it does exist can be confirmed experiences like those of Harvey Pratt in investigating the Sand Man. Whether or not a person is religious, it would serve all people well this Easter weekend to stop and consider the fact that the natural world is not all there is. The Cheyennes and other Plainsmen Indians understood this clearly.

The Sand Man was re-interred at Fort Supply, Oklahoma in 2000. The Sand Man remains an intriguing glimpse into supernatural forces and their role in the American West. For years I worked with the Tulsa Police Department and a specialized task force that examined crimes involving the occult. Those occultists who dabbled with what are called "the dark arts," ritual "drugs" and other occultic practicse will quickly proclaim their belief in the supernatural realm. Modern science might quickly explain away such things as hallucinations, "delusional thinking" or "chemically imbalanced" brain waves. Point taken. However, for those who wish to naturally explain away all such supernatural occurances through natural means, I point to criminologist Harvey Pratt and his work with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 1971 and ask the question:

"Can science also naturally explain away Mr. Pratt's 'supernatural occurances' while working on the Sand Man?" Those who say, "Yes, science can explain it away" are also those who most likely attempt to explain away all concepts of the supernatural, life after death, and the role of the supernatural in the history of the world. I accept that there is a hidden realm, governed by a good God who "puts all things in subjection to Himself."