Three Indian Campaigns

Nez Perce Tipis, Montana, 1871

Nez Perce Tipis, Montana, 1871

They were at once attacked, Colonel Lewis leading the advance upon their position. Unfortunately in the first assault, he fell, mortally wounded. In the temporary confusion resulting from this, night closing in, the Indians took advantage of the darkness to continue their flight. The following morning the trail was followed, and on the morning of the 29th, it was discovered that the Indians had succeeded in escaping through the second line of troops, posted, with a view to their interception, on the Kansas Pacific Railway.

The pursuit was at once commenced by all the troops which had been watching the line of the Kansas Pacific road, as also the column which had fought the battle under Colonel Lewis. The command of this force fell to Captain Mauck, of the Fourth Cavalry, an officer of ability, courage, and energy, whose command being infantry in wagons, and cavalry, was the only force in the field then fit to pursue the well-mounted Cheyenne. The Indians on the days following the battle, in which they undoubtedly lost considerably in killed and wounded, though only one Indian killed was found on the field, commenced murdering and devastating through the settlements on the Beaver, the Solomon, and the Republican rivers, killing every man they encountered, and stealing the horses they found. In this way, the Cheyenne re-equipped themselves, while the pursuing force had to continue the pursuit on jaded horses, many of which had marched farther than had the Indians.

In the meantime, the utmost activity on the part of the troops of another military department that of the Platte prevailed, and a new line to intercept the fleeing hostiles was formed along the Union Pacific Railway in Nebraska.  Though here the hope of intercepting the savages was not great, as the line to be watched was long, and the troops to occupy it were few, and as was feared the Indians passed through unseen. This practically put an end to all hope of successful pursuit, as the country beyond was well known to the Indians, and by scattering in the sandhills of the Platte country they could defy discovery. It only remains to follow with Mauck, the indomitable captain of cavalry, to complete for the purposes of this paper the work of his pursuit. After marching On an average forty miles for five days, commencing September 30th, he came to the crossing by the Indians of the railway, and replenished his subsistence for men and animals, and then crossing two rivers, the North and South Plattes, pursued the fugitives for twenty-three miles. This was on October 5th. The next day, which was his last in the pursuit, he marched forty miles. Here, in consequence of orders, he swerved from the trail and sought a much-needed rest for his command.

The recital of the march and pursuit, as it has been given in brief, conveys only a faint idea of the trials, suffering, and anxieties in such an Indian campaign. Let us look at the facts.  The command of Captain Mauck, starting from Port Elliott and joining in the pursuit of the renegades, marched seventeen consecutive days, making an aggregate of over thirty-five miles a day. It crossed three important rivers, fought a battle in which the field officer commanding the entire force was mortally wounded, and traversed a distance of over six hundred miles, camping often without wood or water, and suffering at times from extreme changes of temperature cold at night and heat by day. In consequence of the wounding of Colonel Lewis, the only medical officer with the command had to be left behind, and yet in the face of the fact that a battle without medical assistance meant an increased death rate in the command, this heroic officer and his brave men pressed on, loaded with anxieties and nearly exhausted with the exertion, and nothing could have saved the Indians from this unrelenting chase but their refurnishing themselves with fresh horses in unlimited numbers just at the critical time of the pursuit.

South Platte River, Colorado

South Platte River, Colorado

It may be remarked, in concluding the recital of the events of this campaign, that in the course of two months after the cessation of the pursuit, this refugee band of Cheyenne were either annihilated or captured, and the remnant returned to the distasteful reservation, where they were forced to live. It is not our purpose to follow the troops in their sufferings from the intense cold of winter during the completion of this work. The Indians protested that they would rather die, and by their own hands, than return to the reservation. The desperateness of the struggle against savages impelled by such sentiments can readily be imagined.

In speaking of this campaign and those of two years preceding, General Sheridan, in his report for the year, says: “These wars might have been regarded as inevitable, and therefore a sufficient number of soldiers should have been provided to meet them, but it was not done, and hence the fatal results which followed. No other nation in the world would have attempted the reduction of these wild tribes and occupation of their country with less than 60,000 or 70,000 men, while the whole force employed and scattered over the enormous region described never numbered 14,000 men, and nearly one-third of this force has been confined to the line of the Rio Grande to protect the Mexican frontier. The consequence was that every engagement was a forlorn hope, and was attended with a loss of life unparalleled in warfare. No quarter was given by the savages, and the officers and men had to enter upon their duties with the most barbarous cruelties staring them in the face in case of defeat. It would have been less expensive if an army of 60,000 or 70,000 men had been maintained; and, moreover, the blood of gallant officers, soldiers, and citizens would not have rested on our hands.”

Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife

Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife

In the period before the Civil War, battling with the savages of our plains was quite a different matter. Then, while the advantage of numbers was still on the side of the Indian, the whites had greatly the advantage in arms. There was then never any hesitation on the part of an army detachment, however small, in attacking any force of Indians, however large. The bow, tomahawk, and spear, rudely made, though skillfully handled, were never a match for the firearms of the white man. It was an unwritten law of the frontier, religiously observed, that arms and ammunition should never, at any price, be furnished the Indians. This has all been changed. Now the most approved arms and the best ammunition are accessible to the Indian, made so by the cupidity of the traders who infest the frontier; and the Indian today is a more dangerous foe than would be a like number of veteran soldiers. To prove this it is only necessary to compare the list of casualties in recent Indian wars with those among civilized nations, bearing in mind the numbers engaged.

Incidents Of Indian Campaigning In Arizona

The following events connected with the subjugation of the Apache, given substantially in the words of an accomplished officer who took part for several years in the Indian wars in Arizona, afford an illustration of another phase of the occupation of the army on the frontier in so-called times of peace.

A parallelogram formed by a line from Camp Verde eastward to the White Mountains, south to the San Carlos, continued westward to Camp McDowell, and thence north to the point first named, would contain 15,000 square miles of rocky mountain peaks, deep canyons, heavily wooded mountain streams, and dark pine forests. Here and there beautiful little valleys or parks are found, each an isolated oasis, and it is in this isolation and the intervening barriers that the peculiar difficulties of the region for campaigning purposes are discovered.

Apache Teepees in Arizona

Apache Teepees in Arizona

After incredible upward toil along the zigzag trail, the scouting party reaches the sharp rocky ridge, whence the almost precipitous descent begins to the pleasant campground far below, and it is plainly seen from the commanding height that the beautiful grassy plain is of very limited extent, and shut in on all sides by almost impracticable mountains. Thus are anticipations of rest and refreshment somewhat dashed by the prospect of the interminable, heart-breaking, rock-climbing struggle to begin again at daybreak.  In most wild mountain regions the narrow berme on the edge of streams, or the bed of the stream itself, is the only passable route, but here the mountain torrents that pour out in every direction from the great ranges pass for the most part through dark precipitous box canons, which cut off communication between the parks, strung together like beads by the pure, clear, deep streams, and all who would penetrate the mountain ranges must do so by painfully climbing their rugged sides.

In this Apache paradise, many varieties of climate are found. Prom the cool shade of the pine forests on the Black Mesa to the burning sandy wastes that form the valleys of the Salt and Gila rivers, one passes from one extreme to the other but would prefer rather to remain in the worst than encounter the torture of a journey over the miles on miles of confused and jumbled masses of rocky mountain-peaks to reach the better.

The theatre of operations thus faintly outlined, as well as adjacent portions of the immense territory of Arizona, has been for many years the scene of innumerable conflicts between the troops and the many Apache tribes. A record carefully compiled by the historian of one of the cavalry regiments which .took its share of the sufferings and hardships of the mountain scouting between the years 1875 shows that in that period the regiment had ninety-seven combats with the marauding savages.

Early in the year 1872, it became evident that a portion of the Arivipa Apache were using Camp Grant as a base of supply and pushing their marauding parties out in every direction into the settled parts of the territory. The dread entertained by the settlers for these marauders is best appreciated when the character and mode of warfare of the mountain tribes are understood. As an old wagon-master remarked to a cavalry officer: We have a horror of them that you feel for a ghost. We never see them, but when on the road are always looking over our shoulders in anticipation. When they strike, all we see is the flash of the rifle resting with secure aim over a pile of stones, behind which, like a snake, the red murderer lies at full length.

All the Apache are footmen, mountain climbers. They will steal horses and use them, but when driven into the mountains the horses become a part of their rations. Graceful, well-formed, with legs of steel wire, light and active as a cat, the Apache on the rocky hillside is unapproachable, and to fight him, with any chances of success, he has to be attacked with skill and great caution at gray dawn in his bivouac far up among the rocks.  Many a surprise has been effected by night marches against natural fortresses absolutely unassailable in the daytime by any number of men, and where, if the Indians had discovered the ascending columns, even in the night, they could have repulsed them with a great slaughter.

As a first step in the campaign, the commanding general directed that all warriors receiving rations should be counted every day, at a place to be selected, within five miles of the post. In order that the officer detailed for this delicate and dangerous duty might be able to identify and keep a record of the young men, a metal tag stamped with a number was issued to each Indian of fighting age.

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