Three Indian Campaigns

The two troops of cavalry followed closely on their trail. Two other troops of cavalry were ordered from Fort Elliott, Texas, about two hundred miles distant, to join in the pursuit, while the infantry garrisons of Forts Dodge, Supply, and Lyon were ordered out along the Arkansas River to intercept or overtake the escaping band. Nor was this all. Allowing for the failure of the more southern cordon of interceptors, a second line of troops to watch for and cut off the escaping party was formed along the line of the Kansas (Union) Pacific Railway.

And lest all these should fail, further dispositions were made still to the north on the line of the retreat along the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska and Wyoming Territory, which the fleeing Indians must cross on the way to their journeys end.

The first news of the refugees was received just one week from the time of their escape. They were reported on Bluff Creek, near the Kansas line, about two hundred miles from the point of departure, gathering and killing cattle for their subsistence. Just five days after the Cheyenne were located on Bluff Creek a force of some two hundred men, including some fifty citizens, came up with the Indians on Sand Creek, and had a skirmish with them about dark.   Three days after this first skirmish the trail of the Cheyenne was found east of Pierceville, about seventy-five miles beyond Sand Creek, showing they had crossed to the north of the Arkansas. Thus the hope of intercepting them on this river had vanished.

As soon as this had been satisfactorily arrived at, Colonel Lewis took the field from Fort Dodge with such detachments of troops as were at hand. The only cavalry he had were two troops which had just joined him, marching since September 20th from Fort Elliott, in Texas, heretofore mentioned. Colonel Lewis marched rapidly from Fort Dodge in a north-westerly direction, and at the end of two days overtook the fugitives on a tributary of the Smoky Hill River. In the meantime he had come up with three troops of cavalry. The Indians were strongly entrenched, and evidently ready for battle.

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 mean time 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 sand hills 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.

It may he 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.”

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