South Dakota, USA
|Death: ||Jan. 8, 1899|
New York, USA
In memory of Billy Three Claws
Age: 21 years old
Aka: Billy Three Crows
New York Times Article
January 24, 1898
Indians in Sunday School
THE WORLD: SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 1899.
BILLY THREE CLAWS,
GOOD INJUN, DEAD
BILLY THREE CLAWS
Billy Three Claws a full blooded Oganala Sioux Indian, a figure that sculptors and others could worship and an exile from everything that his nature fitted him to enjoy, died at St. Joseph's Hospital last Sunday.
Three Claws could have fought and bled gloriously for his tribe or he could have withstood all the hardships of a savage life. But the strain of conforming to a superior civilization was too much for him. The doctors diagnosed his illness more accurately have attributed it to a simple weariness of life.
He was only twenty-five years old and a wonderfully stalwart specimen of manhood. His grandfather was Sitting Bull, and the warrior instincts were strong in Three Claws. His Indian pride and reticence kept him from protesting against life in a New York boardinghouse upon an income derived from such "odd jobs" as his friends could provide for him. Nevertheless, the monotony and restrictions fairly corroded his savage fibre, and finally the fibre gave way.
Three Crows knew and said he would die. Three months ago he came to New York, out of employment, and applied to Mrs. Harriet Maxwell Converse, the friend of all Indians.
"It is only for a little while, " he said, when begging for help. "Three Claws will not live long."
An Indian seer and fortuneteller had told him that he would die in October, and Three Claws, fully half of whose make-up was pure superstition, believed him. Later his attention was called to the fact that he had survived October and he smiled sadly.
"Three Claws will die soon," he perisisted.
New York did not offer a wide field of employment even for an Indian of Three Claw's versatility. He had first come East as one of the painted, shrieking horsemen in the Wild West show, and he did not object to this, though it seemed tame to him. One day he was seriously injured in a hurdle race and was sent by Buffalo Bill back to Rosebud, S. D., where he had previously lived. His next engagement was with "The Great Train Robbery" theatrical company, which brought him East again. Three Claws picturesque made him and admirable stable figure and his quick intelligence enabled him to become a very good actor as well. But the Indian's bad luck clung to him. The company was reduced and Three Claws was destitute and friendless. It was then that he went to Mrs. Converse, who secured him a temporary position as model in the Natural History Museum.
For two days Three Claws stoically discharged the duties of his new position. Then he came to Mrs. Converse laughing boyishly.
"Three Claws has run away," he announced. "They put him in a room with skeletons. They would have done something to dreadful to him."
The presence of a few skulls about the room where the Indian had passed had seeded to him of terrifying significance. He distrusted all explanations and was only induced to return on condition that he be placed in a room free from relics of dead human beings.
There is a memorial of Three Claws at the museum. It is a superb bust, modeled by Sculptor Kasper Mayer and giving an excellent idea of the Indian's wonderfully statuesque physique.
No one who saw Billy Three Claws as he wondered about New York, weary and silent, a month ago will ever forget him. He looked to be a god of the forest, yet he could not compete with the meanest laborer. He was perpetually and in every point at a disadvantage. And he knew it better than any one else.
As to physical symmetry, he was perfect-6 feet tall and 180 pounds in weight. His shoulders were broad, his head held high and erect, and his hair hung straight and long. He could not imitate the strut or shuffle of the white men who cheerfully bullied and unconsciously terrorized him. He walked with a firm, gliding, panther-like step.
Three Claws was not happy. He was a child, and amusements that a city could offer him were far too sophisticated for his comprehension. His one self-indulgence consisted in the purchase of a new cravat as often as he saw one that was sufficiently bright colored. Red cravats in particular were all that Three Claws and modern civilization had in common.
Next to bright ties in consoling power came his religion. For the descendant of a long line of savage chieftains was a Roman Catholic, and one of the few possessions that he left behind him is a Catholic prayer-book translated into a musical Indian dialect. This was due to the training which he had received in boyhood from the Jesuit priests at St. Francis's Mission in South Dakota. Three Claws did not forget these lessons and just before he died discussed intelligently the chief articles of the Catholic religion.
"Do you want to go to heaven?" some one asked him.
"For a little while," the Indian replied, guardedly. "Just to see my friends. Then I should like to come back."
It was learned that he did not want to be buried in his Western home, and it was according to his own wish that he would be buried last Tuesday in St. Raymond's Roman Catholic Cemetery. His last expressed wish was for a Christian burial. The directors of the Buffalo Bill company sent the money for the funeral expenses and for the purchase of a little lot in the cemetery, where other Catholic Indians will be buried.
The friends of Three Crows, have speculated in vain as to the significance of his name. It is well known that the Sioux mother names her child after the first object which her eyes light upon after his birth. What sort of phenomenon "Three Claws" may indicate is very uncertain and while the name "Three Crows" is more easily explicable, it does not seem likely that a Sioux Indian should be named after the tribe's bitterest enemies, the "Crow" tribe.
Transcribed by Geri Neumann
Note: No headstone
St. Joseph Hospital donated the grave. Billy Three Crows is interred with five people.
As of Oct 10, 2011, a representative for the Sitting Bull Foundation has confirmed that Billy Three Claws, Aka: Three Crows is not related to Sitting Bull.
For genealogy purposes.
Old Saint Raymonds Cemetery
New York, USA
Plot: Section: 4,
Created by: New York Historian
Record added: Sep 26, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 77120484