A History of the Sioux War, and a Life of Gen. George A. Custer, with a Full Account of his Last Battle/Chapter 9

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After regaining his position at the mouth of the Big Horn River, Gen. Terry called for reinforcements and additional troops were at once put in motion for his camp; but as they had to be collected from all the various stations on the frontier—some of them very remote from railroads—considerable time elapsed before their arrival.

During this period, the bands which had broken off from the main body of hostiles, and the young men at the agencies, continued their old and well-known methods of warfare, stealing horses on the frontier and killing small parties of citizens; while the constant communication by the hostiles with the Indians at the agencies made it evident that supplies of food and ammunition were being received. To prevent this, Gen. Sheridan deemed it necessary that the military should control the agencies, and at his request, the Secretary of the Interior, July 22d, authorized the military to assume control of all the agencies in the Sioux country.

About the same date Medicine Cloud, a chief, who had been sent from Fort Peck, in May, with a message to Sitting Bull inviting him to visit Fort Peck with a view to reconciliation, returned to the agency. To the invitation, Sitting Bull had replied:—

"Tell him I am coming before long to his post to trade. Tell him I did not commence. I am getting old, and I did not want to fight, but the whites rush on me, and I am compelled to defend myself. But for the soldiers stationed on the Rosebud, I with my people would have been there before that. If I was assured of the protection of the Great Father, I would go to Fort Peck for the purpose of making peace. I and others want the Black Hills abandoned, and we will make peace."

While awaiting reinforcements, Generals Terry and Crook were separated by about 100 miles of rough territory, the hostile Indians were between them, and for reliable communication with each other it was necessary to send around by the rear nearly 2000 miles. The carrying of dispatches direct was a work of the most arduous and perilous nature, and in doing it, and in reconnoitering, brave and gallant deeds were performed.

On the 6th of July, Gen. Crook sent out Lieut. Sibley of the 2nd Cavalry with 25 mounted troops and two guides, Gerard and Baptiste, to reconnoiter the country to the front, and learn if possible the movements of the enemy and the whereabouts of Terry's division. The party marched all night, and in the morning were near where the Little Big Horn debouches from the mountains. Here, from an eminence, they espied a large body of Indians marching eastward as though meditating an attack on the camp at Goose Creek. Concealing themselves as well as they could, they watched the movements of the enemy; but a great shout soon warned them that their trail had been discovered, and hundreds of savages immediately set out to follow it, uttering terrific cries.

The fugitives galloped toward the mountains, and seemed to outrun their pursuers; but about noon, while going through a ravine, a sudden volley was fired upon them from the surrounding slopes, and many Indians charged down upon them. They wheeled, and took refuge in the woods, but three horses were already wounded. Taking the ammunition from the saddles, and leaving their horses tied to the trees to divert the enemy, they now moved stealthily and unseen from the ground, and escaped behind adjacent rocks; then they climbed over steep and slippery places till exhausted, and while halting for a rest knew by the repeated firing that their horses were undergoing an attack.

All that night they toiled among the mountains, and on the morning of the 9th reached Tongue River. As they had left their rations behind, they suffered much from hunger, and two of the men were so weak they could not ford the deep stream, and remained behind. When near the camp one of the guides went ahead for assistance, and a company of cavalry brought in the exhausted men.

Having urgent occasion to communicate with Gen. Crook, Gen. Terry, by the promise of a large reward, induced a professional scout to make an attempt to reach him, but he soon returned unsuccessful. No other scout would undertake the task, and as a last resort a call for volunteers was made, in response to which, 12 soldiers promptly offered their services for the hazardous duty without hope of pecuniary reward. Three of these, Privates Wm. Evans, Benjamin F. Stewart, and Joseph Bell, of the 17th Infantry, were selected. They set out on the 9th of July, reached Crook's camp on the 12th; and returned on the 25th accompanied by three Crow Indians who had arrived from Terry's camp on the 19th. The three soldiers were thanked by their commander, in a General Order, "for a deed reflecting so much credit on the Service."

Partial reinforcements having reached Gen. Crook, on the 16th of July he broke camp and moved gradually along the hills toward Tongue River. On the 3d of August, just before sunset, an additional regiment, the 5th Cavalry, ten companies, under Col. W. Merritt, "marched into camp with their supply wagons close on their heels, presenting a fine appearance, despite the fatigue and dust of the march."

Gen. Crook's fighting force now numbered about 2000 men. Among them were over 200 Shoshone and Ute Indians, sworn enemies to the Sioux, led by Washakie, a well known Shoshone chief. These Indians were thus spoken of by a correspondent who saw them at Fort Bridger, drawn up in line before starting to join Gen. Crook:—

"In advance of the party was a swarthy temporary chief, his face covered with vertical white streaks. In his right hand, hanging to the end of a window-blind rod, were the two fingers of a dead Sioux. Another rod had a white flag nailed to it—a precaution necessary to preserve them from being fired upon in proceeding to the seat of war. The faces of the rest had on a plentiful supply of war paint. Once in line, they struck up a peculiar grunting sound on a scale of about five notes. One of the braves, afflicted with a malady peculiar to the Caucasian race, began to brag what he'd do when he got to the seat of war, winding up in broken English, 'Me little mad now; bime by me heap mad.' Old Washakie, their chief, wants to die in battle, and not in bed."

On the 5th of Aug., Gen. Crook cut loose from his wagon trains and started in pursuit of the Indians who, it was ascertained, had left the foot of the Big Horn Mountains, July 25th, and moved eastward. His route was north-easterly, across the Panther Mountains to Rosebud River. On the 8th of Aug. the troops were ten miles north of the battle-ground of June 17th, and near the site of a deserted village. The country west of the Rosebud had been burned over, and a trail recently traveled by large numbers of Indians led down the valley. Upon this trail the march was continued.

Meantime, Gen. Terry had been reinforced by six companies of the 5th Infantry under Col. Nelson A. Miles, six companies of the 22d Infantry under Lt. Col. Otis, and other detachments, until his command numbered about the same as Gen. Crook's. On the 25th of July, he started for the mouth of the Rosebud and there established a base of operations. On the 8th of Aug., with his troops and a train of 225 wagons with supplies for 30 days, he moved down the west bank of the Rosebud; and on the 10th, when 35 miles from its mouth, made a junction with Crook's command. Col. Miles with the 5th Infantry was sent back to the mouth of the Rosebud to patrol the Yellowstone, aided by steamboats, and intercept the Indians should they attempt to cross the river.

The trail which Gen. Crook had been following now turned from the Rosebud eastward, and its pursuit was promptly and steadily continued by the united forces. It led the troops across to Powder River and down its valley. On the 17th of August they were encamped near the mouth of Powder River, on both sides of the stream; and here the two commands separated on the 24th of August.

As the principal Indian trail had turned eastward toward the Little Missouri, Gen. Crook's column took up the pursuit in that direction. On the 5th of Sept, when on the headwaters of Heart River, a small party of Indians were discovered going eastward,—the first hostile Indians seen since leaving Tongue River.

The trail had now scattered so that it could be followed no longer, and Crook decided to push for the Black Hills settlements. His troops were nearly out of food, and suffering from want of clothing, and bad weather. Cold rains prevailed, and camp life with no tents, few blankets, and half rations, bore hard on the soldiers. Meat was scarce and some of the horses were killed to supply food.

On the 7th of Sept., Capt. Anson Mills with 150 men and a pack-train, was sent ahead with directions to obtain food at the Black Hills settlements about 100 miles distant, and to return to the hungry column as soon as possible. Gerard, the scout, accompanied the detachment, and on the evening of the 8th, he discovered a hostile village of 40 lodges and several hundred ponies. Capt. Mills retreated a few miles, hid his men in a ravine, and at daybreak next morning dashed into the village. The Indians were completely surprised and fled to the surrounding hills, from which they exchanged shots with their assailants. The lodges were secured, with their contents consisting of large quantities of dried meat and other food, robes, and flags and clothing taken from Custer and his men. 140 ponies were also among the spoils.

A small party of the Indians had taken possession of a narrow ravine or canyon near the village, and in trying to dislodge them several soldiers were wounded. By direction of Gen. Crook, who had reached the field with reinforcements, the Indians in the ravine were informed that if they would surrender they would not be harmed. An old squaw was the first to take advantage of the offer, and was followed by 15 women and children, and, lastly, by three warriors, one of whom, the chief American Horse, had been mortally wounded.

Later in the day, before the troops had left the village, the Indians appeared in force and began a vigorous attack. Infantry were at once thrown out along the slope of the bluffs and, "about sundown it was a very inspiring sight to see this branch of the command with their long Springfield breech-loaders drive the enemy for a mile and a half to the west, and behind the castellated rocks." The captives in camp said the attacking Indians were reinforcements from the camp of Crazy Horse further west. This engagement is known as the battle of Slim Buttes. Our losses during the day were three killed, and 11 wounded including Lieut. Von Leuttroitz.

During the march of Sept. 10th a number of Indians came down on the rear, but were repulsed with a loss of several killed and wounded. Three soldiers were wounded in this skirmish.

The remainder of this long and difficult march was successfully accomplished. On the 16th, Gen. Crook reached Deadwood, a Black Hills settlement, and was cordially received by the inhabitants. In a speech made by the General on this occasion, he said:—

"Citizens: while you welcome me and my personal staff as the representatives of the soldiers who are here encamped upon the Whitewood, let me ask you, when the rank and file pass through here, to show that you appreciate their admirable fortitude in bearing the sufferings of a terrible march almost without a murmur, and to show them that they are not fighting for $13 per month, but for the cause—the proper development of our gold and other mineral resources, and of humanity. This exhibition of your gratitude need not be expensive. Let the private soldier feel that he is remembered by our people as the real defender of his country."
After parting with Gen. Crook, Aug. 24th, Gen. Terry crossed the Yellowstone and marched down its left bank, his object being to intercept the Indians Crook was following if they attempted to cross the river. On the 27th he left the river, and moved northerly into the buffalo range where hunting parties were detailed who secured considerable game. The country was parched, the small streams dry, and water scarce. A scouting party made a detour to the north and west, but no Indians could be found. On the 5th of Sept. the whole command was at the mouth of Glendive Creek, where a military post had been established.

Gen. Terry now decided to close the campaign and distribute his troops to their winter quarters. The Montana column under Col. Gibbon started on the return march to Fort Ellis, 400 miles distant; Lieut. Col. Otis of the 22d Infantry, with his command, remained at Glendive Creek, to build a stockade and co-operate with Col. Miles, who was establishing a winter post at the mouth of Tongue River; and Gen. Terry with the balance of the troops started for Fort Buford at the mouth of the Yellowstone.

Hearing that Sitting Bull with a large band had recently crossed to the north side of the Missouri River near Fort Peck, Terry sent Reno with troops—then en route to Fort Buford—in pursuit. Reno marched to Fort Peck, and thence to Fort Buford, but encountered no Indians. A reconnoitering party under Long Dog had been near Fort Peck, and that chief passed one night at the agency. They did not want rations or annuities, but desired plenty of ammunition, for which they were ready to exchange 7th Cavalry horses, arms and equipments.