Isaiah Dorman

 

We’ll probably never know the date of Isaiah Dorman's birth. It is widely believed he was born into Louisiana slavery in the 1840’s. In the 1850’s slave owners from Louisiana named D'Orman sent out wanted posters for an escaped slave named Dorman. Isaiah was known to travel with a horse and a mule, and seemed to avoid contact with the whites during this time. After the Civil War was over, he settled down at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory near present day Bismarck. He supported himself by cutting wood for the fort and was said to be so big and strong that no wood stacker could keep pace with him.

During the 1850’s, Isaiah was living with the Lakota tribe as a trapper and trader in the Dakota Territory. No one knows for sure how Isaiah Dorman came to the West. Through his trading and trapping trips, Dorman became friends with the Lakota Sioux and quickly learned their language. Isaiah became friends with many of the Indians, who appeared to take in the "Black White Man" as one of their own. Isaiah married a Lakota woman named Visible, and had two sons, Baptiste and Pierre Black Hawk. Some say Visible was a god-daughter of Sitting Bull and that the two were friends.

Dorman's knowledge of the terrain and Lakota language caught the attention of the US Army in 1865. He was hired in November 1865 to carry the mail on a 360-mile round trip between Fort Rice and Fort Wadsworth. I’ve read multiple accounts of Isaiah’s pay rate for this job, ranging between $50-$100. This was an extraordinary amount of money, even by white pay standards, earning many times more than the soldiers. By the 1870’s Isaiah was serving his country as an US Army guide and scout, and may have accompanied the 7th Cavalry on the 1874 Black Hills Expedition.

On May 14,1876 General Custer asked that Dorman be attached to the 7th Cavalry as he prepared for the upcoming campaign against the Lakota and Cheyenne. Dorman accepted the position of scout and interpreter, and was reportedly looking forward to seeing his old Indian friends.

Isaiah Dorman met his maker on June 25, 1876 along with other members of the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. Isaiah was part of Major Marcus Reno’s detachment that participated in the valley fight. Isaiah sustained gunshot wounds to both legs, some say it was from a shotgun blast. To further complicate his legs wounds, Isaiah’s horse went down also, pinning him under it. As the Indian Braves pushed the Troopers back into the timber, Private Roman Rutten is alleged to have passed Dorman as he fled to cover. Private Rutten saw Dorman on one knee, firing carefully with a personal sporting rifle. Isaiah Dorman, realizing his fate, looked up and shouted, "Good-bye, Rutten!" Unable to free himself, Isaiah was abandoned, as Major Reno was routed back across the river to the high ground.

From their positions of safety, the retreating Troopers saw Indian women striking Isaiah with hatchets and stone hammers. After the battle Isaiah’s body was discovered about thirty feet from fellow scout Charles Reynolds. Like the other wounded 7th Cavalry combatants, Isaiah was tortured and mutilated. His body was full of arrows in the body and head, slashed with knives, and a stake driven through his testicles. Cheyenne fighter Wooden Leg, who knew Isaiah, said he saw Dorman wounded on the battlefield and briefly spoke with him before he was killed. Isaiah’s mortal wound was said to be a gunshot to the chest.

After the battle concluded, and the Indians moved on, like the other Army combatants Isaiah was buried where he fell. In 1877 he was moved to the 7th Cavalry mass grave atop Last Stand Hill, where he is listed on the battle monument there. Isaiah now has a marker on the Reno Battlefield where he fell in service to his country. Unfortunately the marker is on private property and I was not able to view it on my July 2008 visit to the battlefield.

I know of no photographs of Isaiah and I’ve been unable to locate even a sketch of him, only descriptions saying he was "very big" and "very black". Anyone having more information on this "black white man", as he was known to the Sioux, please contact me with it. A man born into slavery who defied racial stereotypes (so soon after the US Civil War), accomplished much, and gave his newly found freedom and life for his country deserves to have more than Isaiah Dorman has been given. Isaiah, you are one of the unknown patriots who gave his life for his country that day. I hope all can look at the battle as what it was, a clash of governments, and view all the fallen as heroes to their respective cultures. Like Isaiah, they were all brave men.

 

Isaiah Dorman's grave on Last Stand Hill

 

 

 

 

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