History of Wyoming - Chapter XXXVI


Troops Operating Against Savages - Divided Into Small Detachments - Redmen Have Things Their Own Way - Indian Affairs And The Indian Question - The Powder River Campaign Discussed And Determined By Generals Pope, Dodge And Connor - General Connor Issues His Instructions To Colonel Cole And Makes Known His Plan Of Campaign - Departure Of The Expedition - Captain George F. Price Left In Command At Fort Laramie - Pope Abolishes The District Of The Plains - Assigns Connor To The District Of Utah -General F. Wheaton Assigned To The District Of Nebraska With Headquarters At Fort Laramie - Indian Depredations On The Telegraph And Mail Line After General Connor's Departure For Powder River.

    The operations against Indians by the government had reached large proportions by the 1st of July, 1865. A considerable column of troops was operating south of the Arkansas. Another force on the north side of that river and still another on the Smoky Hill and Republican. Besides those mentioned there were troops in Colorado, and a still larger force in Nebraska. In what is now Wyoming and the two Dakotas there was even a greater number than the combined armies employed in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The various tribes of the mountains and plains had little difficulty in holding their own against the troops in the field. The war had developed great leaders among the savages. These chieftains had secured by their peculiar methods of attacking trains, stage coaches and stations along the mail routes, a large number of arms and a corresponding amount of ammunition. By making war a trade and their chief business in life, they had succeeded to an extent that surprised even themselves. With great forethought they had planned to keep their families in the wilderness, away from danger, so that they could operate against the whites without being annoyed by the care of the helpless ones. They carried on, what would be termed among white men,, a gorilla warfare and it was impossible for the government to successfully operate against them for the reason that they refused to be brought to battle. It is useless to deny that they were a source of much annoyance to the government. They knew the country thoroughly and managed to fight the troops sent against them on battle fields chosen by themselves. The laws of civilized warfare were unknown to them and consequently they took advantage of every circumstance that would permit of the capture of emigrant trains containing men, women, children and merchandise. The men were killed and scalped, the women were carried into a captivity that was worse than death, the children were sometimes killed but oftener carried to their villages in the mountains to be brought up as savages. Emigrants too often ventured across the plains badly armed or in such small numbers as to be an easy prey to war parties. To add to the difficulties there was too often bad judgment used by military commanders who had charge of the war against Indians. Plans of campaigns were made and carried out which fell far short of reaching the desired end. The officers in the east who had the management of campaigns against western Indians, as a rule, little understood the more modern Indian. The savage was continuously underated, that is his ability to conduct war. The fact that the hostiles in some respects had made rapid strides in the arts of war seemed to be entirely unknown to those who managed our armies. Five or ten men were expected to guard a stage station that was certain to be attacked by ten or twenty times their number, and the same thing applied to guards furnished to trains and mail coaches. The soldiers, as a matter of course, were continually getting the worst of it. Regiments sent on this service melted away. Not only were our soldiers killed, but the savages were encouraged to keep up the war because they were successful. A few of the officers understood the situation, and recommended the employment of a large force to hunt down the savages and conquer a peace, but this plan was objected to because war on such a scale meant the expenditure of millions of dollars. Then we had in the eastern country a peace party, that is a class who were opposed to killing Indians. They considered and argued that a great Christian government was in poor business when it sent men to the plains to butcher Indians. We heard a great deal about robbing Indians of their lands and driving them from their homes. They claimed that when white people were killed by the natives it was a misfortune, but that the poor, untutored savage could not be blamed; that the duty of the government was to civilize and Christianize these red men, but under no circumstances was it justifiable to kill them. When pressed closely they always ended up with the argument that white people had no right in the Indian country and if they were killed it was their own fault. These men were the impracticables; they refused to see that as society and civilization existed and had existed since the landing of the May Flower, the Indian must give way to a force that was as irresistable as the power which placed the sun in the heavens. Colonists who settled Cape Cod and all New England wrested the land from the native tribes. The Jamestown Colony did the same thing, and so the conquest went on until all the land east of the Missouri was acquired. There was but a single exception and that was the Schuylkill settlement of Pennsylvania. William Penn bought his land with cheap trinkets, and for this he was called honest and a Christian in his dealings though he paid not a tenth of the price per acre that was afterwards paid by the government to the wild tribes for the lands beyond the Missouri.
    Up to midsummer 1865, Generals Pope, Dodge and Connor were of one mind in regard to methods to be employed in bringing the hostiles to terms. Connor had said that the soldiers must hunt them down like wolves before any attempt should be made to form a treaty. This, in his judgment, was the only way to secure lasting peace. He wanted the government to reward good Indians, but to punish bad ones with a heavy hand. General Pope, as I have shown in a previous chapter, argued somewhat the same way and instructed the generals under him to follow out this method of warfare in the campaigns against the Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahoes and some other tribes. Not only did he approve of the plans submitted to him by General Dodge (these were Connor's) but he urged the campaign pushed forward without delay. On July 28th General Connor issued his instructions to Colonel Cole, who was to have command of the right column of the army invading the Powder River country. The troops which were to compose this column were the Second Missouri Light Artillery, equipped as cavalry, 797 officers and men; Twelfth Missouri Cavalry, 311 officers and men; total 1,108; one section of three-inch rifle guns and a train of 140 six-mule wagons. The mules furnished were unbroken and the drivers were equally as bad as the mules. The route was by way of Columbus, then up the north bank of the Loup, thence to the Niobrara River and up that stream to the head waters of Wounded Knee Creek, from thence down the valley to White Earth River, where they struck the old trail of the American Fur Company, used by General Harney in 1855. This trail was followed to the South Fork of Cheyenne River when a northwest course was taken which led to Belle Fourche River. The expedition followed up this stream to White Wood Creek and from thence directly west to Pine Creek, where it was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Walker of the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry, who was in charge of the center column of invasion, and his command consisted of 700 cavalry, which had left Fort Laramie on August 2nd, passing through the Black Hills. The left column was commanded by Colonel J. H. Kidd, Sixth Michigan Cavalry, and composed of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, ninety officers and men; Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, ninety officers and men; Sixth Michigan Cavalry, 200 officers and men, and Pawnee Scouts, ninety-five officers and men, total 475. The west column was commanded by Capt. Albert Brown, Second California Cavalry, composed of Second California Cavalry, 116 officers and men and Omaha Scouts, 84 officers and men, total 200. Each column was supplied with artillery. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was instructed to take forty days supplies on pack mules. The west column was to be accompanied by wagon trains containing supplies and material for the construction of a post either on Powder River or Tongue River. The general rendezvous for the different columns was to be on Rosebud River. Fire signals were arranged for the direction of the different columns. General Connor's idea was to bring the Indians to battle, but failing in this he intended to change his plan of campaign on arriving at the rendezvous. The west column left Fort Laramie on July 30th, and at La Bonta General Connor joined it and directed its general movements to the Powder River country. He issued strict orders to each of the commanders to keep scouting parties in their front and on their right and left flanks. One paragraph in these orders attracted great attention in the east. It was this, "You will not receive overtures of peace or submission from Indians, but will attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age." This paragraph will soon be heard from in high official quarters. On the day Connor left Fort Laramie to join the troops on Powder River General Dodge telegraphed from Fort Laramie to General Pope, pouring out his troubles to that officer. His dispatch reads, "General Connor is laboring under great difficulty. Stores that should have been at Laramie six weeks ago are stuck in the mud, and the columns here started out half shod and half rationed. There is not one foot of the road but what we have a guard near our trains, and it uses up troops beyond all conception. Every regiment that has come here so far has been dismounted or horses unserviceable. There is one regiment here now that has waited here six weeks for horses, and the prospect of getting them is is about as good here as it was there. I have not horses enough to mount even an escort, but we will overcome it all if it will only stop raining and let us have a few weeks of solid road."
    The day following General Connor's departure from Fort Laramie a portion of the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry, the regiment which was to compose the center column of the advance against the Indians on Powder River, mutinied. It was the same old story, they had enlisted for the war, and it being over they were determined to go home. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker made a strong appeal to the men but it was all to no purpose and he finally asked Assistant Adjutant General Price, who was in command of the District of the Plains, during Connor's temporary absence, for assistance. That officer sent him two howitzers, double shotted, and ordered him to do his talking to mutineers with grape and canister. A part of the regiment remained loyal and with the aid of these Walker quelled the mutiny before the arrival of the artillery, which was on the way. Seven of the ringleaders were put in irons and a court was convened the following day to try them. Those engaged in the mutiny, finding that the matter was taking serious shape and that they were about to lose their good name, hastened to express the sorrow they felt for their unwise and disloyal conduct. These troops, notwithstanding their mutinous behavior, left Fort Laramie on the morning of August 2nd filled with enthusiasm and a determination to make their part of the Powder River expedition a success.
    Captain George F. Price, Acting Assistant Adjutant General at Fort Laramie telegraphed General Dodge on August 15th, protesting against reducing the force operating against Indians along the telegraph line and mail line. He claimed that the government should furnish troops to protect men who were proposing to open up and develop the country. He continues, "I repeat, and but give the experience of every military man who has served on the frontier and understands Indian character, that a half way exhibition of power will only result in evil - deplorable evil. These Indians have repeatedly declared that they do not want peace. We should fight them like the fiends they are until they come begging on their hands and knees for mercy. When they do this then we can afford to make peace. They are now proud and insolent. Have been able until lately to dash down on a road and destroy everything. They should not only see the power of the government, but also feel it. If peace is made with them before they are punished it will not last six months; scarcely longer than the time it will take to deliver the presents. That which appears to be a cruel policy East is really humanity to Indians, to say nothing of the outrages committed by them upon our women and children. It will be hazardous to weaken our force on the mail and telegraph line. In many places have not now sufficient troops We can hardly obtain men to do the necessary camp and post duties, so great is the demand for escort and scouting duty. The stage company has finally agreed to place the stock on road between Collins and Sulphur Springs. That could have been done three weeks ago if they had not been scared almost to death about the loss of a few broken-down horses and mules. The General does not yet know the infantry brigade has been ordered back. He should have another infantry regiment for this district and Powder River. One thousand infantry and one regiment of cavalry should be sent to Utah. When you arrive can talk with you fully on these subjects, telling you exactly what General Connor's ideas and plans are. The mail road and telegraph line all quiet. Our cavalry overtook Indians who committed depredations at Big Laramie several days ago, whipped them badly and is still after them. Quartermaster and commissary stores are arriving at the different depots, and all work pertaining to winter is being pushed as rapidly as it can under the circumstances."
    Captain Price was an experienced Indian fighter and his knowledge gained in the field was' worth more to the government than huge volumes of theories advanced by eastern sentimentalists. This officer, General Dodge well knew, was honest in all he said and did. His opinions did have weight with the General, but alas, that commander was practically without power to furnish a sufficient number of troops to properly punish the Indians. Before another year rolled around it was clearly proven that General Connor and his assistant adjutant general knew what they were talking about. General Pope and even General Grant became advocates of these same methods of fighting Indians before the year 1866 had come and gone. The mistakes of the people in Washington were many during the closing months of 1865. The Indian was encouraged to keep up hostilities. The Redman had in a few years outgrown his bow and arrow and had become an expert with the latest improved weapons. Once he could not stand before infantry or cavalry, soon he was to defy the best drilled squadron.
    On August 22d General Pope abolished the District of the Plains and established the District of Nebraska, which included the territories of Nebraska and Montana and that portion of Dakota lying west of the west boundary of the flrst-named territory, this, of course was the territory which afterwards became Wyoming. The headquarters of this district was Fort Laramie. Brigadier and Brevet Major General F. Wheaton, U. S. Volunteers was made commander. He also created the district of Utah, which included the territory of Utah; with headquarters at Salt Lake City. Brigadier General Connor was placed in command and when this officer returned from the Powder River expedition he visited Denver and from there went to Salt Lake. This closed the labors of General Connor in Wyoming. The War Department failed to properly appreciate his services but not so Major General G. M. Dodge. That gallant officer during General Connor's absence on the Powder River expedition visited Fort Laramie and also made a hasty visit to Fort Connor on Powder River, and, on his return, spoke in the highest terms of the management of the expedition and its results. After General Connor's return to Fort Laramie General Dodge telegraphed him: "I congratulate you and thank you for the success you have met with. Please extend my thanks to your command for their success and for the fortitude they have shown under such trying circumstances and hardships." General Pope maintained a dignified silence.
    It has long been a recognized fact that opportunities make men. This brought to the front during the civil war great leaders and gave us Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and hundreds of others. This war on the plains was the opportunity which developed great leaders among the Indians and the country was soon to hear from them and the government to feel their power. General Wheaton, the new commander of the District of Nebraska, headquarters at Fort Laramie, on August 23d, received a letter from General Pope, suggesting that Fort Kearney, Cottonwood, Julesburg, Fort Laramie, and Platte Bridge should each be garrisoned by three infantry and two cavalry companies, and that if a post should be established at Powder River, it should be garrisoned by four companies of infantry during the winter with the addition of a company of cavalry in the spring. If it was decided to establish a post on the Sweetwater, one company of cavalry and one of infantry would .be sufficient to garrison it. This small force was to hold in check 15,000 or 20,000 well armed savages who were on the war path. All other troops were to be mustered out of the service. This mistaken policy on the part of the government was to cost many lives and many millions of dollars within the next two years.
    Seeing how matters stood, General Dodge, who was at Fort Laramie, made one more effort and to this end used all his personal influence with General Pope. He telegraphed him as follows on August 31st: "I consider the Indian matters here of so much importance, and knowing no one can judge of them so well as when he is on the ground, that I desire to make one proposition to the government. If the government will allow me to keep General Connor in the field with not to exceed 2,000 men of his present force, leaving the forces you have designated to garrison posts on the plains, I will settle these Indian difficulties before spring, satisfactorily to the government, and bring about peace that will be lasting. I may do it in a month or two or it may take longer. The additional expense to the government will be the pay of that number of troops for the time detained. All the stores, forage, etc., to support them are here and en route. As soon as we settle with them we can send these troops in and take 2,000 more from our posts in addition and muster them out. General Connor left Powder River with sixty days' supplies, and I am satisfied if we will allow him time he will settle the matter before he returns. Should he come back by our orders without settling the matter, the entire Indian tribes will be down on our lines, and we will have our hands full and more too."
    In view of what followed the next year, General Dodge's request should have been granted. Had Gen. Connor made a winter campaign in the Powder River country the power of the combined tribes in that section would have been broken forever and the terrible massacre which closed the year 1866 could not have occurred. Instead of granting this all-important desire on the part of General Dodge, Connor was ordered to return to Fort Laramie with all his troops except the small garrison to be left at Fort Connor and to arrive at that post not later than the 16th of October. This was a fatal mistake and the government paid dearly for it. On September 15th, General Dodge addressed a letter from Horse Shoe Station to General Pope in which he gives him some important information from Powder River. I make a short extract, as it shows the real feelings and intentions of the savages:
    "Arrived here today on my return from Powder River. That post is well located; right in the heart of the Indian country, and is an important post. The Indian trails all cross at or near it, and it will have a good effect hereafter in holding in check Indians. I have not heard from General Connor since August 24th. We cannot reach him now. They have done a good deal of work on Powder River; got up the stockade and commenced the quartermaster's store up there, the Powder River stores not having reached Laramie yet. From Laramie to Powder River, then to Virginia City is an excellent wagon road; good water, grass, and wood all the way, and the most direct road that can be got. The travel over it in another season will be immense; it saves at least 450 miles in distance. After the Indians attacked Colonel Sawyers' wagon road party and failed in their attempt, they held a parley. Colonel Bent's sons George and Joe Bent appeared on the part of the Indians and Colonel Sawyers gave them a wagon load of goods to let him go undisturbed, Captain Williford, commanding escort, not agreeing to it. The Indians accepted the proposition and agreed to it, but after receiving the goods they attacked the party and killed three men. Bent said there was one condition on which the Cheyennes would treat, viz: The hanging by the government of Colonel Chivington. He also said that the Indians considered that they were strong enough to fight the government; preferred to do it; that they knew the government would withdraw troops in the fall; then they would have it all their own way again. Expressed great fear about General Connor and said they were concentrating everything to meet him, which is true. Since he left no Indians have troubled the mail and telegraph line, but all are moving north, stragglers and all. At Fort Connor they kill a few of them as they pass every few days. There is one band of Arapahoes in Medicine Bow Mountains, who are committing depredations around Denver, on Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson Creeks. They belonged to the band that were at Cow Creek treaty."
    On the night of September 30th a number of Indians belonging to the bands of Little Thunder and Spotted Tail attacked a quartermaster's supply train on the North Platte, not far from what is now the eastern line of Wyoming. There were but two wagons in the train, eight men and one woman. The white men made a desperate resistance and at last succeeded in driving off the Indians, but they took with them all the mules belonging to the train. One of the white men, J. H. Temple was killed and three others, Anthony Shilling, James Ireland and Alfred Acres were severely wounded. Fortunately a detachment of cavalry came up the road and assisted the train men in carrying the wounded to a nearby ranch. Unfortunately these troops arrived too late to be of assistance in the fight. During the next fifteen days there were numerous attacks made on stations along the telegraph line east of Fort Laramie. These Indians all appeared to be on their way to Powder River as they went in that direction. It was astonishing to witness the carelessness of many emigrants while passing through the Indian country. It was hard to make them observe even ordinary precautions. In reply to officers and soldiers, who warned them against Indians, they invariably said they were not afraid and these were the very ones who met with mishaps. Men of experience knew that the price of safety was constant vigilance and that carelessness led to woeful consequences. Many of the women among these emigrants were exceedingly reckless and were constantly declaring that there was no danger to be apprehended from Indians. One case will illustrate the class referred to. Early in October a train encamped late one afternoon just above Bridger's ferry. In this train was a father, mother, two grown sons and a daughter of eighteen. When the train halted these people pulled out of the line and went up the river some little distance above the others. Before night set in a gentleman connected with one of the other wagons, seeing the exposed position taken by this family, went to them and suggested the danger of a location so remote from the other wagons. The head of the family admitted that it was not good policy and seemed on the point of moving back when his wife spoke up and said that the place was good enough; that the horses had fine feed and the family were enjoying the privacy of a separate camp, and, with a lofty toss of her head, remarked that she did not believe there were any Indians within fifty miles, and further, stated that she was tired of this constant talk about danger which did not exist. The well meaning fellow traveler went back to his wagon and this woman who was so anxious to enjoy the privacy of a separate camp kept her family where they were. During the night there was an Indian attack on that part of the camp which was isolated and all their horses, four fine ones, were run off. The young men and their father turned out to defend their stock but too late, they were gone. One of the boys, who had struggled hard to secure the animals, came back to the wagon with an arrow sunk deep in his shoulder. After much difficulty the arrow point was removed but it left a dangerous wound.
    On October 24th, General Pope telegraphed General Grant as follows: "Is it to be expected that the United States furnish mounted escorts for the overland stages? Such service is enormously expensive, as it kills off both horses and men at a fearful rate, and requires a very large force, more than the government is willing to allow. With the sums appropriated to carry the mail, the company ought to be, and is, able to furnish enough men itself to accompany the coaches. If the military are to furnish mounted escorts, they had best carry the mails themeselves. With one-fifth the amount paid to the mail company the military in this department can carry the mails regularly without additional expense to the government. I would be glad to be informed whether I am required to furnish mounted escorts to the coaches. If so, it will need more troops than we have specified and a constant supply of horses. The stage company threatens to draw off their coaches and stock and stop carrying the mail unless I furnish mounted escorts."
    To the above General Grant replied on the following day: "You need not furninsh escorts to the overland stages except when it can be done without inconvenience or expense. The route should be as well protected as practicable with the means at your disposal, and when troops are moving over it they might move with the stages. With the colored and regular troops sent to you, can you not now muster out of service all the volunteers remaining?"
    The President was in favor of making peace with the Indians; General Grant favored a new treaty with these providing there was any hope of such a peace being lasting. The Indian Department was anxious that peace commissioners be appointed and sent among the Indians. The Indian sympathizers and admirers wanted peace at any price. General Pope thought that the time had not yet come when a lasting peace could be made with the Indians in Wyoming, but he announced himself as ready to do his duty and follow instructions. The Arapahoe, Sioux, and Cheyennes were willing to talk peace and secure supplies which were very much needed to take the place of those destroyed by General Connor and General Sully. Red Cloud, who was fast coming to the front as the master mind among the hostiles, did not care to talk but he allowed the other chiefs to indulge in this harmless pastime, while he took good care not to commit himself to a policy that would be detrimental to his own personal ambition, which was to become the one great leader among the powerful Sioux tribes. With the close of 1865, the peace talk reached a climax and it became generally understood that there would be a conference at Fort Laramie in the spring and accordingly messengers were sent to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes as well as to the numerous bands of Sioux, inviting them to come to Fort Laramie in the spring, and before the winter passed it was generally understood that from 20,000 to 30,000 Indians would participate in the grand peace conference. All that winter was heard the certainty of the coming peace which should make everybody happy. General Wheaton, who commanded at For t Laramie, was enthusiastic, and all the news which found its way into eastern journals, from this fort indicated that the peace conference of 1866 was to be an affair reflecting credit on all concerned. Old Jim Bridger and other mountain men of experience did not feel willing to express the opinion that the Indians were honest in their peace talk. They would wait and see what the savages had to say after grass came. General Pope was out of patience with those people who were willing to hazard everything on the peace conference, but he said little. The War Department was anxious to muster out all the volunteers and these organizations were, as far as possible, hurried to points where they could receive their discharge. The council was to open in May and General Wheaton had abundant evidence to prove that all the Indians in the disputed region would be at Fort Laramie at the appointed time to do the smoking and talking and it was thus that the winter of 1865-6 closed in.