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Yellowstone County History


No. 1.-Col. Robert R. Livingston, First Nebraska Cavalry, commanding Eastern Sub-District of Nebraska[1].



Fort Kearny, Nebr. Ter., February 18, 1865.


SIR:    I have time honor to report that, in obedience to verbal instructions received from the general commanding district, I moved from post to Fort Rankin, Cob. Ter., on the 30th ultimo, arriving at the latter post on the night of the 3d instant, about 4 a. in., hurriedly taking with me such troops as were available for the march from the various posts of this sub-district, a mounting in all to 300 men, all of whom had but lately returned from the expedition under Brig. Gen. B.B. Mitchell toward the Republican River. I marched the whole distance, 210 miles, in four days. On my arrival at the post of Alkali, on the afternoon of the 2d instant, I ascertained that Capt. N. J.  O'Brien and Lieutenant Ware, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, had left there the morning of the 1st instant for Julesburg, Cob. Ter.; that Indians had been reported in force about the post of Fort Rankin, and that Lieutenant Brewer, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, fearing Captain O'Brien might be attacked, had sent thirty men and one mountain howitzer to Beauvais Station to meet and escort the captain to his post. Captain O'Brien had been detained behind his command at O'Fallon's and Alkali by business connected with transferring one mountain howitzer to each of these posts, by order of General Mitchell. While the troops sent to escort Captain O'Brien to his post were absent there from, leaving the garrison at Fort Rankin only fifteen strong, I discovered a large column of smoke in the direction of Julesburg from Alkali and immediately thereafter received telegram from Fort Rankin stating Indians had attacked and were burning the Julesburg stage station.

I immediately ordered the troops to prepare for an early start, and marched day and night until I arrived at Julesburg, where I learned that three bodies of Indians, none of which were less than 600 strong, had appeared around the fort the morning of the 2d instant. Their attack on the stage station was evidently a ruse to obtain possession of the fort. Just out of howitzer range on the west amid north were stationed bodies of Indians, while the third body destroyed the stage station; their intention evidently being to induce the weakened garrison of Fort Rankin to attempt a defense of the station, thereby leaving the fort an easy prey. Lieutenant Brewer wisely determined to hold his post and could give no protection to the station, which was consumed in a most tantalizing manner, each building being consumed separately, the Indians firing one and then waiting to see the effect; then another, and so on ‘till all were consumed. Captain O'Brien amid the escort sent to meet him came in sight too late to do anything toward saving the buildings. Upon his approach the Indians slowly withdrew and allowed him to enter the fort. As soon as daylight broke, after my arrival at Fort Rankin, I dispatched scouts to the west, where the Indians were reported to be encamped. The scouts returned, reporting that they found an encampment of about 300 warriors apparently evacuated the previous day. I then sent detachment out toward Valley Station and Pole Creek Crossing to repair telegraph lines and scout the country. They returned next (lay, stating that twelve miles of line on the Denver road and thirty-three miles on the Laramie road were utterly destroyed. The command on the Laramie road also reported an extraordinarily large Indian trail one mile in width to have crossed that road about twenty-five miles west of Fort Rankin about two days since; while the Overland on the Denver road reported that they had found an encampment on the north side of the South Platte, twenty-three miles west of Fort Rankin, which had apparently been abandoned two or three days only, and estimated to contain 800 lodges, some of which were of the largest size known to be used by Indians. Anticipating that these Indians might swing around to the east after crossing North Platte, I advised you by telegraph that I considered it unadvisable to follow them with my small force, fearing that the road east of Fort Rankin might be infested by them during the advance of my command should I pursue them. On reflection, deemed it not impracticable to obtain additional forces from Laramie and increase my command to a numerical strength sufficient to punish the Indians if met; and learning from the scouts out that the enemy was evidently passing round to the north of Laramie, I applied to district headquarters for permission to send an express to Fort Laramie with orders to have the troops of that post cooperate with me in a combined movement against these Indians, intending to extend the pursuit as far as Horse Creek if necessary, where it was supposed by those best informed in Indian habits that the enemy would move to.  In answer to my request, the general commanding district informed me his instructions were such as prevented him from granting my request, and directing me to repair the telegraph line. After some further correspondence by telegraph on the subject of repairing telegraph lines I set to work with my whole energy to replace the broken portions of the lines, which were found to be most effectually destroyed; the poles being cut close to the ground and carried off, while the wire was twisted and entangled in the most inextricable manner, a large portion of it being carried away. I sent to Cottonwood for poles, whence I obtained 315 on the 10th instant at 4 a. m., Captain Kuhl, First Nebraska Cavalry, having by superhuman exertion procured poles and wagons, and forwarded them under orders to march day and night. At 8 a. in., 10th instant, I started out the poles on both lines, the repairing party on the Denver line consisting of 100 men and two pieces of artillery, under command of Capt. E. B. Murphy, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, the artillery being commanded by Lieut. Eugene F. Ware, Seventh Iowa Cavalry. The command on the Laramie line consisted of Capt. John Wilcox, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, and 100 men and one piece of artillery, whom I had sent out twenty-four hours previously to dig holes for poles on that line, and Captain Weatherwax, First Nebraska Cavalry, and 100 men with one piece of artillery accompanying poles.


All the wire I had obtained up to this time was insufficient to fill the gap on the Laramie line, and I directed a party to proceed to Mud Springs, seventy miles west of Fort Rankin, on Laramie road, to telegraph for the necessary wire to be sent from there, with instructions to march it day and night to the broken line. On the 11th instant I was informed by my troops on Laramie road that Lieutenant-Colonel Collins, Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, commanding Western Sub-District of Nebraska, had fought the Indians on 4th instant at Mud Springs; had skirmished with them until the 9th instant, when he left them at mouth of Rush or Willow Creek. The families and plunder had evidently crossed the North Platte at mouth of Rush Creek, where the ice was carefully sanded to enable cattle to cross, and the warriors or fighting parties of Indian force were loitering behind to defend them and check pursuit. I confess that I then regretted deeply that I had not moved my whole force in that direction, as I had at first desired, for I felt that, in connection with Colonel Collins' troops, we could have punished these Indians severely and probably retaken a good portion of the stock and property they had carried off. I, however, confined myself to the task assigned me, and, by dividing each repairing party into a day and night corps, succeeded in completing the circuit on the Denver line on the 12th instant, and on Laramie line on 17th instant. The heavy windstorm of the 16th instant injured the line at time crossing of South Platte, which was repaired and communication opened with California on 18th instant. I cannot speak in too high terms of praise of the conduct of the officers and men of my command. To Captain Murphy, Seventh Iowa; Captain Wilcox, Seventh Iowa; and Captain Weatherwax, First Nebraska Cavalry, I am greatly indebted for their ceaseless efforts to carry out my instructions, instilling every officer and man of their commands with zeal to repair the injuries done to the telegraph with utmost dispatch. Having accomplished the work assigned me, I directed the troops to return to their respective posts and put them-selves in readiness for the field immediately.


I beg respectfully to call the attention of the general commanding district to my monthly report of military operations in this sub-district and the fact that every prediction therein contained has been verified.  My frequent requests for additional troops, I am aware, have been seconded strongly by him but for some reason unknown to me a perfect silence is the only response I have received in reply to urgent demands for more troops.

I see but one method of protecting this road through my sub-district, which is applicable to all other portions of the road, and unless adopted I fear that additional trouble with the Indians will follow. I would establish posts every twenty-five miles along the road, with garrisons of 100 men each. At each post the Overland Stage Company should have a stage station. Halfway between these posts that company should have stage stations and permanent guards of twenty-five men, and one commissioned officer should be stationed at these for protection of property and furnishing relays of mounted escorts to the coaches, which escorts should accompany the stages from post to post each way. By this means the transit of the mails and passengers would be insured; but I feel satisfied that no assurance of safety can be given otherwise.

I would also earnestly beg that steps be taken at once to establish a telegraph office at every military post. The importance of this is too apparent to need comment, for where a large force of the enemy threatens any one post under present distribution of telegraph offices no re-enforcements can be obtained except from those posts where telegraph offices are already established, numbering now only five in a distance of 210 miles, and separated from fifty to sixty miles apart.  The attention of the general commanding is earnestly entreated to this improvement in the defense of this road.

This Indian war has been steadily increasing in magnitude since its commencement, and I have no doubt a concentration of hostile Indians will take place next spring on some of the branches of Big Cheyenne River, having a system of raiding operations in view along the full extent of the line from Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Last spring, though superior in extent to the anticipated operations of the coming season, the Indians succeeded in distracting plans of pursuit by simultaneous attacks hundreds of miles apart, and I look for a repetition of that plan for the reason that it was then successful. I think it altogether probable that the road east of Fort Kearny will be attacked in the spring, and we should make timely provisions for defense at once, by establishing new posts and giving that portion of the line protection. To this end I would recommend posts at Wood River, Center, Grand Island, and another halfway from Grand Island to Columbus; one at Columbus, for the protection of the road to Omaha; and on the road to [Fort] Atchison I would recommend posts at Sand Hill Station, Mud Creek, Pawnee Ranch, Little Blue Station, and Big Sandy Station. These additional posts would call for an additional force-at least 500 men to the present aggregate of this sub district. This would give us a defensive system of protection to transit of material over the great Platte route; but, to make the route more secure, offensive operations on a large scale should be vigorously carried on against these hostile Indians, and the war should be so conducted as to compel every warrior to defend his own wigwam instead of leaving it in security while engaged in plundering and murdering our citizens on these Indian raids. Various conjectures have been made as to the present locality of these hostile Indians. My scouts and Colonel Collins', who were on the trail, believe them to have gone toward L’Eau~qui~cour~, or Niobrara River, ultimately to reach the Mauvaise Terre country; but that is only conjecture, and I am of the opinion that the way to find them, encumbered as they are with plunder and cattle, they cannot travel with.rapidity, and I have no doubt, unless their proverbial cunning misleads us, they will be easily found, inasmuch as they seem defiant and made no exertions to keep out of Colonel Collins' way, but, on the other hand, confidently charged his command at Rush Creek.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON, Colonel First Regiment Nebraska Cavalry Veteran Volunteers, Commanding Eastern Sub-District of Nebraska.


Asst. Adjt. Gen., District of Nebraska, Omaha, Nebr. Ter:


[1] War of the Rebellion, Vol 48-1 (Reference-YGF Files) CHAP. LX.]       OPERATIONS ON THE NORTH PLATTE RIVER.    Pg 89

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