11 November 2021

Private Frank Bear-Heel

Gravesite of Private Frank Bear-Heel at Fort Douglas Cemetery, Veterans Day 2021.

This is the gravesite of Private Frank Bear-Heel (~1872-1893) at Fort Douglas Cemetery in SLC as it appears on Veterans Day of 2021.

Private Bear-Heel (Ma-to Sig-ti-e) was a Native American of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. He served in the U.S. Army, Company I (for Indian) of the 16th Infantry and was stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah, when he died.

The “Indian Companies” were an experiment in the 1890s by the U.S. Army. The Army’s stated purpose of the program was cultural integration, specifically to:
  1. Withdraw enlistees from the warlike tribes and give satisfactory employment to a considerable number of young men who were generally dissatisfied and liable at any time to become hostile;
  2. Educate the Indians in the rules and customs of civilized warfare, unlike the savage warfare they were accustomed;
  3. Transform the Indian character from that of savage enemy to that of friend and citizen of the U.S.
Only 780 Native American’s enlisted in the program, half of the nearly 1,500 slots that were authorized. Many of the enlisted were Sioux from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and were surviving family members to the Sioux killed on January 29, 1891 at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

Private Bear-Heel died at Fort Dougals by suicide on August 28, 1893, after he heard that his father had died; he was buried with military honors in the Fort Douglas Cemetery. Private Bear-Heel was the only death of the 16th Infantry, Company I while they were stationed at Fort Douglas between 1893-1895.

A Salt Lake Herald Republican newspaper article described Pvt Frank Bear-Heel as about 21 years old, the oldest son of Bear Heel, a respected member of the Two Kettle Brule Sioux Tribe. He enlisted at Rosebud Agency on December 27, 1892. He was described as intelligent and able to speak and write English (which was not a requirement to enlist). He was an able Soldier in good standing and a popular man.

SL Herald 1893-05-29; SL Herald 1893-08-30, Fort Douglas Museum exhibit; Warriors in Ranks: American Indian Units in the Regular Army 1891-1897 by Robert Lee.
Pvt Bear-Heel’s U.S. Army internment form showing his native name as Mato Sigete
Photos of Co I, 16th Inf at Fort Douglas. From Fort Douglas Museum exhibit
The exhibit of Co I, 16th Inf at Fort Douglas Museum

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