No Tears for The General

Langdon Sully’s No Tears for the General (American West Publishing, 1975) is a whitewashed panegyric written by Sully’s [white] grandson. Sully is the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, the bravest, the most noble. . . . The praise is so continuous and so strong, it makes the work almost unbearable. While this is the only biography of Alfred Sully written, it is deeply flawed.

Here is a glaring example of how the record has been cleansed of things apparently Langdon didn’t like: In 1863 (or so), Sully had a relationship (maybe a marriage) with a Yankton woman. They had a daughter, Mary. Mary became the wife of Philip Deloria. Their daughter was Ella Deloria, an extremely important Native scholar, linguist, and author. Ella Deloria is the aunt of Vine Deloria, author of “Custer Died for Your Sins.” Mary and Alfred went their separate ways (I don’t know who left whom) and he married a white woman in 1866.

Langdon does include a clue to this marriage, on pg. 243 (note 13). “Alfred’s second wife, Sophia, was aware of the relationships between soldiers and Indians of the Sioux tribes on the frontier. She refused to let her husband hang the pictures of the Indian girls in her house.” The painting referenced is a depiction of buffalo skins being tanned. Sully says of the two girls in the painting “one near the horse is called Pen-han-lota, or Red Crane, the other Ke-me-mem-bar, or Butterfly.” I do not know the name of the Mary Sully’s mother. Perhaps she one of these women?

While at Ft. Randall, charges were filed by the regional Indian Agent against Sully for “abusing Indians.” While the documentation for the accusations is in the Alfred Sully papers at Yale used by Langdon Sully for research, this is also omitted from the book.

All authors have to pick and choose which details to include and which to omit. A major thesis of the book, however, is that Sully knew the Native Americans better than any white man, and that he was sympathetic to their plight. Arguing that while omitting such details is misleading, at best. Use the book for its primary sources; be very wary of interpretations and portraits.

My point is not that Sully needs to be condemned. He was a complicated and interesting man, and this work does him scant justice. He married a Mexican woman in 1850; she and Sully’s son died in childbirth. He led the massacre at Whitestone Hill. He married and had a child with a Yankton woman. He was accused of ‘abusing Indians.’ He painted romantic pictures of Native American lifestyles. He left his Yankton wife behind and started a new family. How does one person do such seemingly opposite things?