Personal Life of Chief Solomon Iron Nation

Solomon Iron Nation (Muz-zah-wy-ak-tay was his Lakota name) was the chief of the Lower Brule Sioux. He was born in what is now western South Dakota in 1815. Historical accounts of Iron Nation are scant, but he grew up at a time when the Lakota Sioux were the most powerful force on the northern plains. Iron Nation’s band, the Lower Brule (Kul Wicasa) hunted buffalo on the plains and interacted with Anglo culture by participating in the fur trade.

Iron Nation was born just nine years following the completion of the Lewis and Clark Missouri River expedition into a West unknown to America’s white society. His life spanned from that time to when the Dakota Territory population exploded with Eastern settlers who formed present day South Dakota. He bridged the area’s transformation from an isolated, unknown frontier to a growing territory and on to South Dakota’s 1889 statehood. By all historical accounts, Iron Nation was a positive force during this transitional period for South Dakota.

Lower Bule Chief Iron Nation

Chief Solomon Iron Nation in traditional Head Chief dress – 1867

James Pachuta Byrnes and Jenny Standing Cloud Byrnes

1895 wedding photo of James Pachuta Byrnes and Jennie Standing Cloud Byrnes, daughter of Chief Standing Cloud

The Iron Nation Family

Solomon was the son of the Chief of the entire band of the Brule Tetons before the Brule split into two separate groups (the Lower and Upper Brules). Iron Nation’s father stayed with the Lower Brule following this split. Missionaries most likely gave him the first name Solomon to reinforce his future as a strong and peaceful leader. As a young man Solomon’s sister was killed by four raiders from a rival warring tribe. He tracked them to a night camp on the Missouri River near the North Dakota border and avenged his sister’s tragic death. This brave act led to the Lower Brule tribe selecting him as their Head Chief after his father had died.

Solomon Iron Nation had a daughter named Maggie, who at a young age bore a son named James Pachuta Byrnes.  Due to her young age, she had to leave her son in the care of Chief Iron Nation who raised James Pachuta from childhood.  James Pachuta’s father was an assistant Army Surgeon located at Fort Hale, which was situated along the Missouri River within the Lower Brule Reservation.  The father’s name was James Carroll Byrnes.  Little is known about James Carroll Byrnes except that he was a military medical doctor from Boston, where he returned upon his early departure from the Lower Brule Reservation.  After James Pachuta’s birth, Chief Iron Nation was said to have given his grandson the middle name of “Pachuta” (a near Lakota word for medicine) in recognition that his father, James Carroll Byrnes, was a “medicine person” or “doctor”.

NOTE:  The term “Pachuta” was  an Anglo-Saxonized  word from the Lakota expression “Pezuta” or “Pezutawicasta”.  The single Lakota word “Pezuta” standing alone means “medicine” while that Lakota verbalism combined with “wicasta” (“pezutawicasta” means doctor (or in some cases “medicine man”).  The alteration of the Lakota articulation (Pezuta to Pachuta) may have been made during James Pachuta’s childhood by the early government Indian Education system which was notorious for it’s ill-conceived attempts to forcibly “assimilate” young Indian students most notably by altering names.  James Pachuta Byrnes, after reaching adulthood, went on to marry (in1895) Jenny Standing Cloud, the daughter of another Lakota Sioux chief.  Therefore, the descendants of James Pachuta Byrnes (Iron Nation’s grandson) have ancestral ties to two Lakota Sioux Indian chiefs.

Leading as His World Fell Apart

In his lifetime, it must have seemed that the world was falling apart. Yet in that time of trouble, Iron Nation clung to the basic desire to see his people survive and live on into future generations. In 1865 when the government tried to persuade him to become a farmer he is quoted as having said, “We have planted corn and the frost killed it. We would rather hunt buffalo for that is sure. Our women and children are never hungry or cold when we hunt buffalo.”

Chief Solomon Iron Nation died on November 14, 1894. Iron Nation gave a white name to his grandson and chose to have a below-ground “white man’s” Christian burial instead of the traditional above-ground burial for a Chief. This decision along with his conversion to Christianity made him a very controversial figure, though one that made decisions to protect his people.

Messiah Episcopal Church Solomon Iron Nation
Messiah Episcopal Church, built in 1884. Chief Iron Nation was baptized as a Christian in this Church. He is believed to be the first Lakota Sioux Chief to be baptized into the Christian religion.