PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
WINTER CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE HOSTILES
The Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry; Custers Seventh Cavalry;
Attack the Camp of Blackette; Rescue of Two Captive Women.
After the battle of the Arickaree these Indian forces broke up into small bands and retired into the solitudes of their winter camping ground. It has been stated by historians that the battle of the Arickaree was the turning point and end of Indian troubles in Kansas. However, that was not the case, as we shall see what occurred later.
While the military operations by Colonel Forsythe and Colonel Carpenter were going on in the north, General Alfred Sully was operating in the southern part of the state to subdue the hostile tribles of Indians in that part of the country, without success.
In the meantime the war department had decided to attempt a winter campaign against the hostiles; to seek them out and surprise them in the security of their winter quarters, and administer such punishment as would deter them from committing further depredations upon the settlements.
Accordingly Governor Crawford issued a proclamation calling for volunteers, and under the U. S. military supervision the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry was organized, twelve companies of one hundred men each. Ten companies leaving Topeka direct for the Indian Territory, and two companies by the way of Fort Hays. Camp Supply being the meeting rendezvous.
At the same time General Custer with the Seventh U. S. Cavalry started from Fort Hays to cooperate with the Nineteenth Kansas. In regard to this campaign I will quote from an address by Hon. Horace L. Moore before the Kansas State Historical Society, January 19, 1897:
On November 12th, the column moved south into the Indian country to Camp Supply, about one hundred miles from Fort Dodge, and began to search for Indian villages. On the morning of the 26th Major Elliott in command of a battalion of the regiment, struck the trail of a war party. As soon as the information reached Custer the whole command was put in rapid pursuit, and continued until midnight on the 27th, when the camp of the Indians was discovered by one of the Osage guides, whose quick ear heard the distant barking of a dog.
The column immediately halted and after the officers had located the village divided the command into four nearly equal parts. Custer retaining one, he sent the others to take positions on the other three positions, two of them were ordered to make a wide detour of several miles and unite below the village; another was to attack from the right; while Custer with three companies was to lead the attack from the position the troops then occupied. Upon arriving at their position they were to wait the dawn and the signal for the attack to begin. Just in the gray of the morning, at the concerted signal, the troops dashed upon the startled enemy, completely surrounding the camp. In a few moments the camp was in possession of the troops, but the undaunted savages taking refuge behind trees and in ravines maintained for several hours a desperate conflict. No quarters were given in this battle and it continued as long as a warrior was left to fight. It proved to be Black Kettles camp. He and all his warriors were killed except a small number who took advantage of the cover of thick brush, mounted their ponies and bursting through the weak part of the line of environing troops, escaped to the prairie. Many squaws and children, too, were killed and wounded, being unavoidablly struck by indiscriminate firing. It was a terrible slaughter, a terrible vengeance for the Indian atrocities.
The battle being ended, Black Kettles herd of five hundred ponies were rounded up, after the captured squaws had been allowed to select as many animals as they required to carry them, their children, their household effects, the remainder were killed; the tepees were taken down, and with their camp equipment were placed in piles and burned, making the destruction of the camp complete.
At this time a new danger develped. Black Kettles camp was one of a series of camps of five different tribes of hostile savages, which extended for many miles along the river, and contained many fighting men. The sound of the attack on Black Kettle aroused the nearest camp; the alarm spread down the river with the speed of the swifest ponies, while the old men and women gathered up the ponies and property, the
NOTE: Custer was very much criticized by Eastern humanitarians for having attacked the Indian camp containing sleeping women and children, forgetting that if Indians were to be fought that this was the best way to do it, and that it was no shock to the Indian themselves, as it was their own method of warfare.
fighting men poured out of the camp fully armed and equipped and rushed to the assistance of Black Kettle, and in due time as many as a thousand warriors in battle costume swarmed upon the adjacent hill. They were prudent, however, and fell back when attacked, but promptly reformed when the troops were withdrawn. In only one of these encounters Major Elliott and nineteen enlisted men were killed. In his pursuit, not suspecting the vicinity of other camps or Indians, Major Elliot suddenly found his little band of brave men surrounded by an overwhelming horde of enemies, who attacked him on all sides, having their horses killed they made their last stand on foot, where they were all killed.
Extract from General Sheridans report after the battle:
We moved due south until we struck the Washita, near Custers battle field of November 27th, having crossed the main Canadian with the thermometer about eighteen degrees below zero. The command marched in the afternnon and made camp about dark. As wood was abundant it was determined to lay over until the storm subsided. The next day General Sheridan, with several officers of the Nineteenth and Seventh, visited the battlefield to determine if possible the fate of Major Elliot and his men. It took but a few minutes to discover the bodies on the bank of a tributary of the Washita, called Sargeant Major Creek (as the Sergeant Major was one of the killed), on the south side of the battle field. They were lying in a circle feet to the center, and a pile of empty cartridge cases by each man told how dearly he had sold his life. The bodies were stripped of clothing except the knit undershirt and the throat of every one of them had the appearance of having the thyroid cartillage cut out. None were scalped, and none of the bodies had been molested by wolves. The men all lay with their faces down, and the back was shot full of arrows. Wagons were sent for the dead buried that night in a grave dug on the north bank of the river, opposite the scene of the battle.
On his way back to camp Dr. Baily of Topeka, the surgeon of the Nineteenth, discovered the body of a white woman and a little boy two years old. The woman had been shot in the forehead and the child killed by striking his head against a tree. The mother had a piece of bread concealed in her bosom as though she had attempted to escape from the camp. The next morning the woman was laid on a blanket on her side and
the boy in her arm, and the men ordered to march by to see if possibly someone might identify her. It was Mrs. R. F. Blinn, captured by the Kiowas Octover 6th, going from Lyon to Dodge. The body of the woman and child were taken along and finally buried in the government cemetery at Fort Arbuckle. On the 2th of November, a number of Mexican traders had been in the Kiowa camp, and she had taken opportunity to send a letter out by them. It is dated Saturday, November 7th, 1868, and reads: as follows:
Kind Friends, whoever you may be: I thank you for your kindness to me and my children. You want me to let you know my wishes. If you could only buy us of the Indians with ponies or anything let me come and stay with you until I can get word to my friends, they would pay you, and I would work and do all I could for you. If it is not far from their camp, and you are not afraid to come, I pray that you will try. They tell me as near as I can understand, they expect traders to come and they will sell us to them. Can you find out by this man and let me know if it is white men? If it is Mexicans, I am afraid they would sell us into slavery in Mexico. If you can do nothing for me, write to W. F. Harington, Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas, my father. Tell him we are with the Cheyennes, and they say when the white man makes peace we can go home. Tell him to write to the Governor of Kansas about it, and for them to make peace. Send this to him. We were taken on the ninth of October, on the Arkansas, below Fort Lyon. I can not tell whether they killed my husband or not. My name is Mrs. Clara Blinn. My little boy, Willie Blinn, is two years old. For our sakes do all you can, let me hear from you again; let me know what you think about it. Write to my father; send him this. Goodbye, Mrs. R. F. Blinn. I am as well as can be expected, but my baby is very weak.
Besides Major Elliott and his men, Captain Louis M. Hamilton was also killed, and Colonel Albert Barnitz shot through the lungs.
A train of thirty wagons, with the camp equippage, rations and forage, was coming up on the trail with eighty men and there was great danger that it would be discovered and destroyed by the Indians that now menaced Custer. To divert attention from that direction and to deceive the Indians, Custer put his troops and prisoners in motion down the valley toward
the Indian villages. The ruse was successful, the Indians galloped with all possible haste to protect their homes, then as soon as night began to fall he faced about and rapidly marched back on his trail to meet the train. The command then marched back to Camp Supply, arriving without incident.
At this time Custer was reenforced by the arrival of the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry under Colonel Crawford, and with General Sheridan along set out on the 7th of December to complete the conquest of the refractory tribes. At Fort Cob, negotiations were had with Kiowas, Apaches and Arapahoes, resulting in the return of these tribes to their reservations. The Cheyennes, however, kept beyond the reach of communication, and Custer with the Seventh and the Nineteenth Kansas set out March 2nd to bring them to terms. They marched from Fort Sill with intention to find Little Robes band of Cheyennes. The course was west across the north fork of the Red river and across Salt fork of the Red river until the command reached Gypsum creek. Here the command was divided, most of the train and all the footsore and disabled were sent to the north fork and along the state line with orders to halt on the Washita until joined by the balance of the command.
The Seventh and the Nineteenth then pushed up the Salt Fork, and on the sixth of March struck the trail of the Indians. It was broad and easy to follow as an ordinary country road. The scanty rations were now reduced to one-half, and the pursuit now began in earnest. At the headwaters of the Salt Fork the trail turned north and skirted along the Leano Estacato. The Trail led through a sandy mesquite country, entirely without game, although the streams coming out of the staked plain furnished plenty of water. By the 12th of March rations were reduced again. The mules were now dying very fast of starvation, as they had nothing to live on except the buds and bark of cottonwood trees cut down for them to browse on. Every morning the mules and horses that were unable to travel were killed by cutting their throats, and the extra wagons were run together and set on fire. On the 17th the command came onto Indian campfires with embers still smoldering. The rations were all exhausted on the 18th and the men subsisted from that on on mules meat, without bread or salt.
On the afternoon of the 20th the Nineteenth Kansas came
in sight of a band of ponies off to the west of the line of march, which was in a northwest direction. In a few minutes Indians began to cross the line of march in front of the command, going with all haste towards the herd. The regiment quickened its pace and I directed the line of march to the point from where the Indians were coming. In another mile the head of the column came upon a low bluff over looking the bottom of Sweetwater, and saw a group of 250 Cheyennes lodges stretching up and down the stream and not more than a hundred yards from the bluff. The men thought of the long marches, the short rations, the cold storms, of Mrs. Blinn and her little boy, of the murders in Kansas, and when the order in front to line was given, the rear companies came over the ground like athletes. But there is many slip twix the cup and the lip. Lieutenant Cook, Seventh Cavalry, rode up to the commanding officer, and touching his hat, said, The general sends his compliments, with instructions not to fire on the Indians. It was a wet blanket saturated with ice water. In a minute another side came up with orders to march the command a little up stream and down into the valley to rest. The order was executed and the regiment formed in column of companies with orders to rest. The men laid down on the ground or sat on loge, but always with carbines in hand. Custer was close by sitting in a circle of Indian chiefs holding a pow wow. In two or three minutes an officer of the Seventh came up and in a low tone asked that a few of the officers put on their side arms and drop down one at a time to listen to the talk. While Custer talked he watched the officers as they gathered around, and in a few minutes he got up on his feet and said: Take these Indians prisoners. There was a sharp struggle, and guarded with loaded guns formed a line around these half dozen chiefs, and Custer continued to talk. But he had pulled out another stop. The tone was different. He told them they had two white women of Kansas, and they must deliver them up to him. They had denied this before, but now they admitted it, and said the women were at another camp, fifteen miles further down the creek. He told them to instruct the people to pick up this camp and move down to the camp mentioned, and we would come down the next day and get the women. The principal chiefs were Fat Bear, Big Head and Dull Knife.
As soon as the chiefs were taken prisoners, the warriors mounted their pones and armed with guns and bows and ar-
rows circled around the bivouac of the troops. They looked very brave and warlike. They wore head-dresses of eagle feathers, clean buckskin leggins and moccasins, and buckskin coats trimmed with ample fringe. Lieutenant Johnson, commissary of the Nineteenth, watched them awhile, then remarked: This is the farthest I ever walked to see a circus. In a surprising short time after Custer gave them permission, the whole camp was pulled down, loaded on to ponies, and not an Indian was in sight except the half dozen held by the guards. Another night of stout hearts but restless stomachs, and in the morning the command began a march of fifteen miles down the Sweetwater to the other camp. The trail was broad and fresh for five miles, then it began to thin out and begin to get dimmer and dimmer until at the end of ten miles not a blade of grass was broken. At the end of fifteen miles an old camp was reached, but no Indians had been there for two months. The regiment bivouacked for the night, and Custer had the head chief taken down to the creek, a riata put around his neck, and the other trown over the limb of a tree. A couple of soldiers took hold of the other end of the rope, and by pulling gently, lifted him up to his toes. He was let down, and Romeo, the interpreter, explained to him that when he was pulled up clear from the ground and left there he would be hung.
The grizzled old savage seemed to understand the matter fully, and then Custer told him if they did not bring those women in by the time the sun got within a hands breadth of the horizon on the next day, he would hang those chiefs on those trees. He let the old chiefs son go to carry the mandate to the tribe. It was a long night, but everybody knew the next afternoon would settle the matter in some way. As the afternoon drew on the men climbed the hills around the camp, watching the horizon, and about four P. M. a mounted Indian came on to the ridge a mile away. He waited a few minutes, then beckoning with his hand to someone behind him, he came on to the next ridge, and another Indian came on to the ridge he had left. There was another pause, then the two moved up and a third came in sight. They came up slowly this way, until at last a group of a dozen came in sight, and with glass could be seen that there were two persons on one of the ponies. These were the women.
The Indians brought them to within 200 yards of the
camp, where they slid off their ponies, and Romeo, the interpreter, who had met the Indians there, told the women to come in. They were still clinging to each other, as though determined not to be separated whatever might occur. I met them at the foot of the hill, and taking the elder lady by the hand asked if she was Mrs. Morgan. She said she was, and introduced the other as Miss White. She then asked, Are we free now? I told her they were and she asked, Where is my husband? I told her he was at Hays and recovering from his wounds. Next question: Where is my brother? I told her he was in camp, but did not tell her we had to put him under guard to keep him from marring all by shooting the first Indian he saw. Miss White asked no questions about her people. She knew they were all dead before she was carried away. Custer had an A tent, which he brought along for headquarters, and this was turned over to the women.
I forgot to say that on the trip a scouting party had chased an Indian who got away from them, but lost a bundle, which was thrown into one of the wagons. On examination it proved to be some stuff that he had bought of some of the traders, thread, beads, and a variety of things. The bundle was given to the women, and in a surprisingly short time they had a calico dress apiece.
The story the women told us of their hardships, the cruelty of the squaws, the slavery to which they were subjected, their suffering during the long flight of the Indians to escape the troops ought to cure all the humanitarians in the world. The women told us the Indians had been killing their dogs and living on the flesh the last six weeks. At the retreat that night the band played Home Sweet Home. The command marched the next morning for the rendezvous on the Washita. It was a couple of days march, but when the end came there was coffee, bacon, hard bread and canned goods. Any one of them was a feast for a king. From Washita to Supply, Supply to Dodge, Dodge to Hays, where the women were sent home to Minneapolis, Kansas.
The troops proceeded to Fort Hays, where the Nineteenth Kansas was mustered out of service, April 18, and the three Indian chiefs held as prisoners were turned over to the commanding officer at Fort Hays. The squaws and children of Black Kettles band had been sent to Fort Hays and confined
in a large stockade, built for their reception. The chiefs were placed in the stockade with them, but fearing an attempt would be made by the tribe to release them it was decided to confine the chiefs in the guard house. When a detail appeared to take the Indians out of the stockade, the latter supposed they were to be taken out to be tortured and killed, whereupon they attacked the guard, Fat Bear driving a knife deep into Sergeant Hogan, Fifth Infantry, sergeant of the guard, inflicting a dangerous wound, whereupon there was a scrimmage, the guard fired; Bid Head and a squaw were killed. Fat Bear was run through the body with a bayonet and died three days later, Dull Knife was wounded but recovered. Later in the summer the Cheyennes having returned to their reservation and promised to be good, Dull Knife and the remainder of the Indian prisoners were released and restored to their tribes.
Custers operations struck terror to the hearts of the Cheyennes and broke the spirit of all the southern Indians. He not only annihilated Black Kettles band of 130 warriors, killed their ponies, burned their village and carried off their squaws and children prisoners, but followed the remainder of the tribe in midwinter, to the remotest fastness of their retreat and compelled them to surrender their white prisoners without ransom, carried off three of their principal chiefs as hostages for the prompt return of the tribe to their reservations. Our Indian
Custer monument near Fort Hays