He was a proud Oglala Sioux warrior in a forgotten grave, a reported veteran of the Battle of the Little Bighorn stranded in a foreign land. For 100 years, he lay beneath a tree in a London cemetery, but today, borne on the strains of Lakotan chants and Anglican hymns, Chief Long Wolf turned toward home.
It was the beginning of the end of a remarkable odyssey that will carry the chief back to his ancestral burial grounds at Wounded Knee in South Dakota -- a journey that began by chance with a purchase at a used bookstore half a dozen years ago by a housewife from Worcestershire with a passion for Native Americans.
"When I read the story, the story was so explicit that I actually had to find the grave," Elizabeth Knight said today, referring to an essay on Long Wolf's life in the book she bought, as a polished, black hearse carried the chief's flag-draped casket away. "So I went to the grave and left a promise, kissed the stone and went away and tried to find the family."
Today the chief's descendants joined Knight for a service that was as moving as it was unique. In a city that saw precedent shattered earlier this month with the memorial service for Princess Diana, the ceremony staged for Chief Long Wolf at St. Luke's parish church may also rank as one of the most unusual ever staged in a London sanctuary.
The service mixed traditional organ music with the banging of Indian drums, biblical verse with Sioux prayers and Anglican robes with Native American headdress -- all witnessed by an audience riveted by the dignity of the send-off given to the old Indian chief.
"It means he's set free," said Wilmer Mesteth, the Sioux tribal spiritual leader, who came to London with the chief's family. "He'll be among his own people. His bones will remain with us. The spirit remains with the bones and the bones will finally be at rest among his own."
According to his family, Chief Long Wolf was at the Little Bighorn in 1876 when Sioux forces destroyed the 7th Cavalry under the command of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. After the Sioux were later defeated, he joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show that toured successfully in the United States and Europe, rather than accept a life of submission with his vanquished brethren in the United States.
In London, the Wild West Show played to large crowds at Earl's Court, an outdoor arena in a neighborhood west of central London.
Chief Long Wolf died in 1892 at the age of 59. According to the family's history, he had been ill with pneumonia, and shortly before his death he requested that a wolf be carved on the headstone at his grave. Another story that circulated today said he had been taken to a hospital after a fall, contracted pleurisy and died, but there was no way of determining the story's accuracy.
A press release issued by the Royal Parks, which oversees the cemetery, said the autopsy of Chief Long Wolf reported that the chief was "covered in gun shot wounds and sabre cuts," lending support to the family legend that he had engaged in combat at Little Bighorn.
Cody bought a grave site for the chief at Brompton Cemetery, where thousands of soldiers are buried. It was a handsome plot described in the advertisements of the day as "a select spot" in a prominent area of the cemetery. "You'd have paid a premium price for it," said James Mackay, who is overseeing a restoration of the long-neglected cemetery.
Chief Long Wolf was buried a dozen feet below the ground, and a few months afterward, a 17-month-old Indian girl named Star, whose father was in the Wild West Show and who died from a fall off a horse, was buried above him. There the two were left and nearly forgotten.
Six years ago, however, Knight found a book by a Scottish adventurer in a bookstore close to her home in Worcestershire. The book included what was described as "a lament" about the life and times of Chief Long Wolf. "I've always been in sympathy with Native Americans for having suffered and having retreated," she said today. "So this lament struck a chord in me." She came to London and without much difficulty found the grave site described in the old book.
And then she set off on the more difficult task of finding the chief's relatives. She purchased ads in Native American and other publications in the United States and in 1992 was amazed and thrilled when she received a reply from John Black Feather, the chief's great-grandson.
"It was exactly 100 years to the day that Long Wolf was laid to rest, which was June 13, 1892," Knight said. "It was June 13, 1992."
Black Feather's wife, Judith, had spotted Knight's ad in the Lakota Times, now called Indian Country Today. She knew from her mother-in-law, Chief Long Wolf's granddaughter Jessie Black Feather, that the chief had been buried in London.
Long before the ad appeared, Jessie Black Feather had told her daughter-in-law that the chief was somewhere in London. "My mother-in-law said, He's in London and you travel all the time, so you go over and look for him,'" Judith Black Feather said. "I told my husband to tell her it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. So then we just were patient."
Their patience was rewarded with Knight's advertisement. Once the family and Knight were in contact, it took years to gain the necessary permission to arrange for the chief's delicate exhumation and repatriation to the United States and to raise the money to cover the costs through community functions and donations.
This morning, a coffin that carried the remains of both Chief Long Wolf and Star, draped with the U.S. and Sioux flags, was carried from its grave to the cemetery gate on a carriage drawn by two draught horses. The bearded driver, wearing a black bowler hat, black jacket, thick-soled black boots and a lap robe and carrying a whip, looked as if he were part of Victorian England and the era when Chief Long Wolf was buried.
Behind the carriage, Jessie Black Feather, now in her eighties, marched along with her son John, in Indian headdress, his wife, Judith, their son, and several other Native Americans, the sound of drums echoing through the old cemetery. A horde of cameras recorded every step.
At St. Luke's Church some blocks away, the Rev. William Heald presided over services that he said had "very little precedent liturgically." Lady Polwarth, the grand-niece of the author of the book describing the chief's life, read from the Bible, and an English quartet sang a Lakotan memorial song. Two descendants of the chief sang the hymns "How Great Thou Art" (known here as "O Lord My God") and "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder" in both Lakotan and English; the tribal spiritual chief prayed over the coffin; and after a final hymn, the coffin was carried from the church by four men in morning coats.
Outside in the churchyard, Knight, her composure back in check, said she was grateful for having had the chance to play a part in sending the chief and little Star back home. "It's the most remarkable day of my life," she said. "I can't believe it." CAPTION: Sioux watch as the chief's remains are taken from a London cemetery. CAPTION: Jessie Black Feather, Chief Long Wolf's granddaughter, looks at the flag-draped coffin containing her grandfather's remains during the church service in London. CAPTION: Oglala Sioux from South Dakota stand with the chief's granddaughter, Jessie Black Feather, right, as his remains leave a London cemetery.