Fingernail Woman's Story

my Great Great Grandmother

Charles Edward Clay - Lulu Fingernail Woman (Wiya Sake) (full-blood Oglala, Lakota, Sioux)

Charles Edward Clay b. 18 Nov 1838, Bermuda, Bedford, Virginia, m. (1) c 1867, by Indian custom in Wyoming, Lulu Fingernail Woman, b. Abt 1855, an Oglala Sioux Indian. Fingernail Woman d. aged about 54 years old on 14 Jul 1902, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota and was buried in the Indian cemetery there. Records state that Fingernail Woman was  orphaned at young age and had a sister whose name is unknown.

Charles Clay and Fingernail Woman likely met while he served as Suttler's Clerk at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, after he came west as a bullwhacker after the Civil War was over and his well-known and well-educated Virginia family had lost almost everything. The VA Clay family have ancestors who helped settle Jamestown, VA and can trace their heritage back through English Kings and Queens. Charles Clay was able to bring some of the books in the family library to Wyoming and when the University of Wyoming began he donated the first 100 books to it from those he had freighted west with him. C. E. Clay was a second cousin to the famous orator, Henry Clay of Kentucky. C. E. Clay served on Wyoming's First State Legislature in 1891 and voted to allow women to vote in elections.

Fingernail Woman was staying near Fort Laramie with Red Cloud's band of Oglala Sioux and family legend says that Clay either won her in a poker game or bought her from a Lieutenant at the fort. What ever the truth is, she was only about 13 or 14 years old when she had her first child by Clay in 1868. There were only a few white women in the area and most men took Native American women as wives until white women moved in to the area after the tribes were forced onto reservations and it was considered safe to come out west. Then, with few exceptions, most men "threw away" their Indian wife and children and married white women.

Charles Clay and Fingernail Woman eventually moved to the Chugwater and Douglas, Wyoming areas where he continued to run a freight business and small mercantile stores. All of Charles and Fingernail Woman's children were born here. Their only son, Johnnie Clay died here at the age of five. Some of Charles Clay's siblings moved from Virginia to be near him. One of his sisters married into the Ayers family near Douglas, WY and their son gave the scenic Ayres Natural Bridge landmark to the state of WY as a gift.

Clay was involved in local politics and a street in the small town of Chugwater, Wyoming was named for him. His homestead was north of Chugwater at the base of the high, vertical cliffs. The homestead site can be seen in the photo below. The Sioux used these cliffs to hunt buffalo and run them off of them where they were butchered at the bottom. Chugwater got its name from the sound the buffalo made when hitting the earth from such a long fall. Fingernail Woman would often join her people to help on these hunts and visit friends. Because Charles Clay had an Indian wife, the Sioux did not attack him or his businesses.

Charles Edward Clay's Children by Lulu Fingernail Woman:

                        i       Hattie Clay b. c 6 Mar 1868, near Chugwater Creek, Wyoming,  d. 30 Apr 1880, Cheyenne, Wyoming, of  consumption, aged 12 years.
                        ii      Johnnie Clay b. 4 Oct 1870, Chugwater Creek, near Chugwater, Wyoming, d. 29 Jun 1875, aged 5 yrs 8 mos 25 ds - buried in Cheyenne, WY
                        iii     Susie Clay b. 1871, near Chugwater, Wyo on the homestead on Chugwater Creek, m. (1) 28 Aug 1889, in Douglas, WY, to William Morris, m. (2)                                aft 1899, William Cox and had one daughter.  Susie Clay died 17 Jan 1944, at  St. Joseph, Michigan.
                       iv      Emma B Clay b. 28 Feb 1873, near Douglas or Chugwater, Wyo, m. (1) Abt 1889, in Wyo?,  ___ Smith, m. (2) ca 1894, John Landon
, b. 2    Sep 1861 and who d. 14 Apr 1921, Denver, Colorado, in a streetcar / wagon accident. John Burch broke the first ground for
                                the construction of Fitzimmon's Army Hospital near Denver, CO with his slip and team. Emma Clay Burch died 03 Sep 1926, Denver, CO.
                                Emma and John Burch had  7 children, one of whom was my grandmother.

After the Battle of the Greasy Grass (White men refer to it as the Battle of the Little Bighorn)  June 25 and 26, 1876, where Custer and his soldiers were killed by the Sioux, Cheyenne's, and some members of other tribes, the US Army began rounding up all Native Americans with a vengeance to force them onto reservations. It made no difference if the individual was a part of the battle in Eastern Montana Territory or not, all Native Americans in the west were punished in many ways. The US Army did not care if they killed the Native Americans or not while trying to put all tribes into reservations to take away their nomadic lifestyle.

The Clays knew that the Army would be coming to take her to a reservation so Fingernail Woman left her husband and 3 daughters and joined up with the respected warrior, Crazy Horse and his band of people to try to escape the soldiers. The buffalo, the main source of survival for the Plains Indians, were being brutally being exterminated to eliminate them so the Indians had no way to make shelters, clothing, tools, or use them as a food source. Soon there were none left to feed the people and the other larger animals were soon consumed or deliberately killed by the advancing Army and food was difficult to find. The people began starving and freezing without proper clothing or blankets.

The Army relentlessly pursued the bands trying to avoid capture secure in the knowledge that the harsh winter and almost no food would force them to eventually surrender. Some of the weak and injured people began to surrender as they were not able to survive without doing so. That winter began early and was a very cold one. The snow was deep. The Army systematically killed all game animals they came across and destroyed the tipis, weapons and belongings of the people they found to force the people to surrender.

Fingernail Woman, and an unidentified woman and child turned them selves in to the reservation on or around November 8, 1876, probably because they had no male to try to provide food for them and they were starving and cold. We do not know if the unidentified woman is her sister and child of hers or not, but it is possible they were. Fingernail Woman is listed four times under her married name of "Mrs. Clay" in the Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger but she had surrendered before Crazy Horse and the majority of the band presented themselves to the Red Cloud Agency on May 6, 1877 in a sick and starving condition with few weapons and almost no ammunition.

Lulu Fingernail Woman Clay  ( Indian spelling for Fingernail Woman: Wi-Sake or Wiya Sake) was given a white first name, "Lulu" by the authorities on the reservation but is best known by the surname "Clay" in records.  She was fairly lucky in being named Lulu. Many other Native American women were given derogatory and insulting first names for official names by the whites. The women generally were not allowed to chose a name for themselves and the whites could not understand the meaning of the Lakota language to translate into anything remotely like the names meant.

Fingernail Woman died c age 58, in July 1902. She had been married to several other Indian husbands after being forced to live the rest of her life on the reservation and had several Indian children, none of whom survived over the age of 21, most dying very young. The only two children that survived past the age of 21, were her were her two half blood daughters, Susie and Emma by Charles E. Clay. She never saw them again or communicated with them after leaving them in 1876. Life on the reservation, then and now, was hard to survive. She had to be tough to have lived as long as she did and through the dangerous events that happened to her. (see Fingernail and Woman)

Charles Edward Clay then m. (2) 19 Oct 1876, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Mary Agnes Abney, b. Dec 1859, MO, d. 1904, Elma, Washington. Mary A. Abney was from a prominent Cheyenne WY business family and she took the three half-blood daughters in and raised them with their children. Hattie Clay, the eldest daughter died after C. E. had been married to Mary Abney about 4 years. The white children of C. E. Clay and Mary A. Abney were never told that the two surviving girls were part Indian.  Sometime around the turn of the century the Clays moved to the state of Washington. Clay had been hired to serve as the Elma, WA Sheriff. He was kicked in the groin, at age 68, while arresting a drunk and died of peritonitis. Charles E. Clay died 18 Aug 1905, Elma, Washington. He served in the Confederate Southern Army: Co. A, "Clay  Dragoons" 2nd VA Cavalry, William R. Terry, Captain. He was captured and either escaped or was released several times while serving in the War Between the States.

Hattie Clay died age 12, of consumption shortly after this picture was taken in 1880. Eldest daughter of C. E. Clay and Fingernail Woman. Shaputis collection