Historic Pianos and Music – Postscript

Almira Russell Hancock

There’s one more story about music and a piano in Mrs. Hancock’s book. It’s not quite clear when this event took place, but since she references President Pierce, it probably happened in Missouri when Winfield Hancock was still a captain.

I hope you find the description of the scene entertaining and a reminder of the unexpected dangers awaiting military wives on the American frontier in the years book-ending the Civil War.

This recalls to mind another occasions when [Captain]* Hancock felt called upon to entertain a half-dozen Sioux chieftains, who were en route to Washington for a visit to their “Great Father,” President Pierce. The open piano at once claimed their attention, and was closely inspected with evident curiosity, though not expressed by word or gesture…

When this was observed, I was requested to give them some music, which seemed to have “power to soothe the savage,” for immediately negotiations commenced through an interpreter to purchase the “big Captain’s” squaw, along with the “music table.” Beads, robes and blankets were first offered for the exchange. When the “big Captain” rejected these, supposing the inducements were not sufficient, they added ponies to an increased number of robes and trinkets of all kinds. Their indignation and dissatisfaction were apparent and quickly made evident by their leaving the house in Indian file, without a glance here nor there, seeming deaf to the interpreter’s appeals to return.

Notes and Sources:

Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock by Almira Russell Hancock, page 64

**The original text says “General Hancock” but Almira routinely calls her husband by his final military rank throughout the book; he was not a general when President Pierce was in office. I’ve adopted “captain” as the choice word to hopefully avoid confusion.

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