Little Indian Dick and Lt. Heyl

Two interesting characters that enriched the fort’s history must be considered together. They are ‘Little Indian Dick’ and Lieutenant Heyl.

Charles Heath Heyl was 2nd Lieutenant in Company A of the 23rd Regiment of Infantry. This unit garrisoned the fort from April 1875 to December 1876. Heyl was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army in 1873. He and his company served in Arizona before coming to Fort Hartsuff. While there he was cited for “…gallant service in action against Indians on the…Verde River Arizona on 24 May 1874.

While Lt. Heyl served at Fort Hartsuff, he led the detachment of soldiers involved in the Battle of the Blowout. This battle took place northwest of present day Burwell in the sandhills north of the Calamus River. The battle occurred on the 28th of April of 1876. Sergeant W.H. Dougherty was killed and buried at the fort cemetery two days later. One of the Sioux Indians from Spotted Tail’s Brule Agency was either killed or severely wounded.

As a result of this battle, three Medal of Honor were awarded. Two went to corporals in the detachment. The third medal was later awarded to Lt. Heyl “…for most distinguished gallantry.”

The Medal of Honor was authorized by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1863. Often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, it is correctly the Medal of Honor. During the three decades of the Indian Wars, only 421 Medals of Honor were awarded. Of this total, only 38 were awarded to Infantrymen. Of the five such medals awarded in Nebraska and Kansas during that period, four went to soldiers associated with Fort Hartsuff.

Leander Herron won his in Kansas in the year 1868. He was a sawmill engineer at the fort in 1874-75. Corporals Jeptha Lytton, Patrick Leonard and their leader Lieutenant Charles Heyl won theirs as a result of gallantry displayed at the Battle of the Blowout in 1876.

There are thirty Medal of Honor winners buried in Nebraska. There are very few living recipients in the state, the most famous of those is Senator Robert Kerrey.

Heyl came from a well-to-do family. The Indian boy he adopted lived for some time with Heyl’s sisters in New Jersey, far removed from his Arizona mountain origin.

The Indian child called Little Indian Dick was officially named Richard Deltche Heyl. He was approximately four years old when his parents were killed in battle. The 1961 Mead account from Back in Pioneer Days reads “…his father was an Apache Indian Chief.” A story was published in 1931 (NSHS) titled Fort Hartsuff and the Local Pioneer Life. It was written by Ora Clement based on accounts by her mother who was a teacher at the town of Calamus near Fort Hartsuff.

Clement states that “most memorable of the pupils at Calamus school was little Indian Dick, Flathead Indian…” She describes his cranial features as “…his head flattened almost to the thickness of a man’s two palms… Dick was a bright pupil and could read and spell better than many of the paler and older boys and girls.” She probably meant to refer to his head shape rather than his tribal origin in calling Dick a ‘Flathead’, that appellation is sometimes attached to bands in the Northwest and elsewhere. He was also referred to in other sources as a Ute Indian. We have more reliable evidence from the National Archives that he was a Dan Carlos Apache.

Dick was a good speller and a good shot! His teacher inquired as to the reason he was not bringing his lunch to school as usual. Dick informed her it was because the mess sergeant was not preparing it. Upon inquiring ‘why’, Dick responded, “Because I shot him.” He explained that the cook “…had bullied and tantalized him when none was by to protect him. He watched his chance and when he caught the unsuspecting cook bending over some task the little rascal let an arrow fly. He had the unerring aim of his forebears and the weapon struck squarely in the broadest portion of the cook’s anatomy, to Dick’s delight and the cook’s pain and indignation.” The cook had withheld his lunch in retaliation. The matter was soon settled in Dick’s favor when Lt. Heyl was informed of the facts.

Indian Dick was a playmate of a boy his age, Ross herron, whose father was mentioned earlier as a steam engineer at the fort sawmill. Herron’s daughter, Hildred Mead of St. Paul, organized the story of Little Indian Dick. Mead relates that the two boys would hunt frogs and squirrels along the small streams near the fort. The soldiers and officers made them bows and arrows from willow branches.

An interesting oral narrative regarding Indian Dick was told to this writer several years ago. It was related to the informant by a soldier who had served at Fort Hartsuff, was discharged here and lived out his life in the town of Ord. He recalled that: “Indian Dick was a much better athlete than his fort playmates and schoolmates. The white boys would rig the races or impose a handicap on Dick in the jumping contests. Once they placed fresh cow-pies in the broad jump impact area to reduce the length of his leaps.” This third hand story rings true. Every account describing Lieutenant Heyl’s ‘capture’ of Indian Dick are similar: “Upon seeing the soldiers and realizing his parents were dead he ran like a deer and was only with great difficulty caught in the canyons.”

Although Lieutenant Heyl had killed Dick’s father, he had promised the dying chief to adopt and care for the child. This he did and they seemed to have developed a very close relationship. Dick attended Carlisle Institute and led a successful life, dying in Wilmington, Delaware in 1940.