They were urged on, moreover, by actual want, and after waiting as long as they could, and seeing no prospect of relief, they broke out into open hostility. They knew that the great Civil War was raging, draining the country of its fighting men, and they seized the opportunity to right their wrongs in their own savage way. They had other and older grievances, but this was sufficient.
The Lower or Redwood Agency was fourteen miles above Fort Ridgeley, on the Minnesota River. The excitement here was intense for a month before the outbreak. A "Soldiers' Lodge," a secret organization, designed to stir up the tribe to hostile action, was formed, and succeeded at length in exciting the passions of the Indians to the required pitch. Early on the morning of August 18th a party of one hundred and fifty Sioux under Little Crow began an indiscriminate massacre of the whites on both sides of the river. All the buildings at the Agency were burned.
News of the massacre reached Fort Ridgeley before noon, and Captain Marsh, of the Fifth Minnesota Volunteers, started at once for the Agency with forty-eight men. This small force was surrounded by the Sioux at the ferry opposite the Agency, and one-half of them killed, the rest escaping by flight. Messengers were now sent by Little Crow to other Indian bands, many of whom at once joined him.
That night a converted Indian notified the people at Hazlewood, the mission station six miles above the Upper Agency, of their danger, and forty-two persons, including the missionaries Riggs and Williamson, with their families, made their escape. Their safe passage through the numerous scattered bands of hostiles on their route seems almost miraculous. On the very day of the outbreak—just a day too late—seventy-two thousand dollars for the payment of the Indians reached Fort Ridgeley.
For nearly three weeks the Indians had it all their own way, meeting with no effectual resistance, so many of the men being absent in the Union army. Their depredations extended throughout the whole western portion of Minnesota, and into Iowa and Dakota. They were repulsed from Forts Ridgeley and Abercrombie, and from the settlements at New Ulm and Hutchinson. In two weeks fifteen or twenty of the frontier counties were almost depopulated. When a stop was finally put to their devastations, more than six hundred victims had fallen, and two hundred persons, mostly women and children, had been made captive.
By the last of August a small force had been collected at Fort Ridgeley, and one hundred and fifty men, under Colonel Joseph P. Brown, were, as soon as possible, sent to the Lower Agency as a burial party. After performing this sad service, no signs of Indians being visible, they encamped for the night at a place called "Birch Coolie." At dawn next day the camp was suddenly attacked, and, as it was in a most exposed situation, the men fought at a great disadvantage. In three hours nearly one-half the force had been killed or disabled. When relieved by Colonel Sibley they had been thirty-one hours without food or water.
Late in September, Sibley's troops moved up the valley, and fought the battle of Wood Lake, which terminated the contest. Sibley's camp was attacked by eight hundred Indians early in the morning. After a sharp action of an hour and a half a charge was made, led by Lieutenant-colonel Marshall, of the Seventh Minnesota Volunteers, and the Indians fled in all directions; the chiefs Little Crow, Little Six, and their followers escaped to the British Possessions. The Indian camp, left in charge, of the converted Indians, with all the plunder, fell into the hands of the victors, and the white prisoners, two hundred in number, regained their liberty.
That the lives of these prisoners had been spared was owing in great measure to the heroic exertions of Paul, a friendly Indian, head deacon of Mr. Riggs's Indian church. The Upper band, to which he belonged, had withheld their support from Little Crow's followers, and condemned their action as hasty and ill-advised. But for the feud between the Upper and Lower Agency Indians, the contest would have been much more serious, and would have lasted much longer. A number of the captured Sioux were hung during the following winter.
Next year a combined force of Sioux and Blackfeet, numbering some twelve or fifteen hundred warriors, were committing depredations and outrages on the Minnesota settlers. An expedition was sent against them under General Alfred Sully. The Indian camp was discovered, and on Sully's approach the Indians scattered, taking with them whatever they could carry. The troops charged at full speed, endeavoring to surround and drive them back to their camp, in the hope of capturing the entire band. Soon the whole force was actively engaged, each lean fighting "on his own hook." The battle raged in every direction, and lasted far into the night.
General Sully at length recalled his scattered command, and building large fires remained under arms all night. At daylight next morning it was discovered that the Indians had gone, leaving their dead and wounded, their plunder, and all their property of every description.
This battle of White Stone Hill was the severest blow the Sioux had ever received. They lost about 100 killed and wounded, 156 prisoners, 300 lodges, 1000 ponies, and all their supply of meat for the winter, besides other property of value to them. General Sully's loss was 20 killed and 38 wounded.
The policy of removing the eastern tribes to the far West brought on, as we have seen, the Black Hawk and Seminole wars. Our recent troubles with the wild tribes of the plains have been occasioned by the policy of restricting them to fixed places of residence, or reservations, and by the non-fulfillment of our treaty obligations. The rush to the mining regions, and the building of the Pacific Railroad through the Indian country, let in a constant stream of emigration, drove away the buffalo, and was felt to be a serious injury by the Indians. It is not to be wondered at that they stubbornly resisted. Their right to the country as their permanent home had been solemnly guaranteed to them by the treaty at Fort Laramie in 1851.
These wild tribes have a mode of government apparently patriarchal, but in reality almost republican. Each member of a band does as he pleases, and obeys his chief when he likes. The authority of the chief is based solely upon his prowess in war.
The family is the basis of their organization. The members of a family generally travel, hunt, and fight together, in time constituting with its marriage connections a band varying from two to twenty or thirty lodges. These bands, connected more remotely by blood with other bands, constitute a tribe which may number from two to thirty or forty bands. These tribes again have a still more remote blood connection with other tribes, constituting a nation such as that of the Sioux, which comprises the Yankton, Brulé, Teton, Ogalalla, and other tribes.
Like the rest of his race, the wild Indian of the plains believes in two gods, equal in wisdom and power. The good god who favors and protects him, and the bad god who does all he can to harm him. If an Indian means to steal a horse, or the wife of his friend, it is to the good god that he looks for success. Death, sickness, and every disaster are in the hands of the bad god, and to him the Indian constantly prays for mercy and indulgence. No prayer is necessary to the good deity; he will do his best without being asked. In only two ways can the soul be prevented from entering paradise, by scalping or by strangulation. The first is annihilation, the second closes the only avenue by which the soul can leave the body.
The Indian has no code of morals, no conception of right and wrong; bad and good are the words nearest in meaning to those. He will tell you it is bad to steal from a man of his own band, because he will be beaten and kicked out of the band if detected; but it is good and praiseworthy to steal from all others. The expert thief is held in high honor, and is almost the equal of the brave and skilful warrior. The Indian is a great boaster, and is very fond of "blowing his own trumpet."
For a wife, a certain number of ponies, saddles, buffalo-robes, etc., are paid. These the lover places near the door of his mistress's lodge over-night. If, when morning comes, they have not been removed, his suit has been rejected. But if the ponies have been sent to the herd and the other articles taken, the lover's offer is accepted. There is no marriage-ceremony, or formality of any kind.
"Medicine" is a great word with the Indian. He applies it to everything mysterious and unaccountable. It has a specially religious meaning, whatever he can refer to the good god being "good medicine," while everything the opposite of that is "bad medicine." When things go wrong with him, his medicine is bad; that is, he is for the time in the power of the bad god. Every Indian carries about with him a medicine-pouch, in which is kept some charm that will insure him success in whatever he is about to undertake. In each tribe there is a "medicine chief," who is the authority in spiritual affairs. In battle he must prove the efficacy of his medicine by risking his life where the danger is greatest, to show the perfect safety it insures.
The variety of dialects among the Plains Indians led long ago to the adoption of a sign language, an almost perfect means of communication in constant use to this day.
Of the Comanches a recent writer says: "These fierce, untamed savages roam over an immense region, eating the raw flesh of the buffalo, drinking its warm blood, and plundering Mexicans, Indians, and whites with judicial impartiality. Arabs and Tartars of the desert, they remove their villages (pitching their lodges in regular streets and squares) hundreds of miles at the shortest notice. The men are short and stout, with bright, copper faces and long hair, which they ornament with glass beads and silver gewgaws."
Catlin says of them: "In their movements they are heavy and ungraceful, and on their feet one of the most unattractive and slovenly races I have ever seen; but the moment they mount their horses they seem at once metamorphosed, and surprise the spectator with the ease and grace of their movements. A Comanche on his feet is out of his element, and comparatively almost as awkward as a monkey on the ground, without a limb or a branch to cling to; but the moment he lays his hand upon his horse his face even becomes handsome, and he gracefully flies away an altogether different being."
In 1866 the military department of the Missouri, comprising the vast region between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, was the home of the warlike Sioux, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Cheyennes, Comanches, Apaches, Navajos, and Utahs. Emigration to the gold regions of Montana, then recently discovered, followed the Powder River route. For its protection, the military posts of Phil Kearney and C. F. Smith were established in the Sioux territory. Government was at once warned that this measure would be resisted. A treaty was tried. It was signed by some of the Indians, but Red Cloud, their great chief, refused his assent, withdrew from the council, and, placing his hand upon his rifle, said, "In this and the Great Spirit I trust for the right."
This celebrated chief, born at the Forks of the Platte in 1830, is six feet and six inches in height, and possesses wonderful sagacity and eloquence. His numerous warriors, in their red blankets and paint, are said to have covered the hills like a red cloud, hence his name. He was made a chief for his bravery, and claims to have fought in eighty-seven battles, having been several times wounded. He had risen to be head chief at the age of thirty, and when he declared war to the knife against the white men who should invade his country, the delighted warriors all flocked eagerly to his standard. After a long and harassing war he gained his point. The United States garrisons were withdrawn, the road through the region was abandoned, and the reputation of Red Cloud was established among the Indians as the greatest warrior in the world.
Before this was brought about, the forts had been closely besieged, emigrant travel had ceased, and the country was overrun with hostile Indians. A wood party from Fort Phil Kearney was attacked; Colonel Fetterman with half the garrison went to its relief, and, in the fight that followed, every man of the force was killed. By the end of July following, Red Cloud had gathered three thousand warriors, and had resolved on the destruction of the fort.
Near it a working party was early one morning engaged in cutting fuel, protected by Brevet-major Powell's company of fifty-one men. Expecting all attack, fourteen wagon-bodies made of boiler iron were lifted from the wheels and arranged in a compact circle. This the frontiersman calls a corral; this was the stronghold. Here a watchful guard was kept, and to this shelter all were to fly in case of attack.
Suddenly, a rush upon the herders in charge of the cattle, the guard, and the workmen, separated them from the escort, and forced them to fly to the fort. The Indians at once turned their attention to the corral. Here were two officers, twenty-six private soldiers, and four citizens distributed around in the wagons, which, in order to confuse the enemy, were so covered with blankets as to entirely conceal the defenders. The odds were terrific. Eight hundred splendidly mounted warriors dashed head-long upon their apparently insignificant foe, but Major Powell and his handful of brave men had made up their minds to sell their lives dearly.
On they came. A steady and effective fire thinned their ranks. Others took the places of the fallen, and rode close up to the corral, but could see no enemy. Nothing was visible but the covered wagon-beds; but before the constant and accurate fire from these the assailants steadily diminished, until, routed and disheartened, they turned and rapidly retreated. Thousands of Indian spectators swarmed over the elevated plateaux which rose on all sides from the corral.
After consulting the principal chiefs, Red Cloud decided to make another attack, this time on foot, and with his entire force. Warriors armed with Spencer or Winchester carbines, taken in the Fetterman massacre, were sent forward as sharp-shooters. Crouching on the ground, covering themselves with shields or bunches of grass, they approached and opened fire upon the wagon-beds. The soldiers returned their fire so rapidly that their gun-barrels became overheated. Spare guns had been placed in each wagon, to be used by selected marksmen.
Red Cloud's nephew, anxious to win renown and to become his uncle's successor, now gathered two thousand warriors in the plains. When within five hundred yards they rushed forward, and had nearly reached the corral when they were obliged to turn and fly, so deadly was the fire. Again and again they charged, only to repeat their failure, and it was not until after three hours of energetic but futile effort that the attack was finally abandoned.
The Indians could not understand their ill success, but concluded that the white men had made some "medicine guns" which "would fire all the time." They were not far wrong. Among the supplies recently received by the garrison were some breech-loading rifle-muskets, combining extremely long range and accuracy with the utmost rapidity in firing. The Indian loss was not far from three hundred. Powell had one officer and two privates killed, and two privates wounded.
After waiting a year for the Government to fulfill the treaty made by the Peace Commissioners in 1867, for the settlement of all Indian difficulties, starvation staring them in the face, some dissatisfied Cheyennes, in the fall of 1868, went upon the war-path, committing outrages against the whites on the Saline River. This was the opportunity that General Sheridan, who then commanded in that quarter, desired, and he at once prepared for a vigorous winter campaign. "Experience," said he, "has taught us the lesson, that the Indian, mounted on his hardy pony and familiar with the country, is almost as hard to find while the grass lasts as the Alabama on the ocean." The Indians were supposed to be on the head-waters of the Red River, immediately south of the Antelope hills.
On the morning of November 23rd, Lieutenant-colonel George A. Custer, with the Seventh Cavalry, moved in this direction, through the falling snow, from his camp on the North Canadian River, and on the evening of the 26th struck the trail of a war-party, which proved to be Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes. Corralling his wagons, and leaving a small escort with them, Custer followed the trail, and before daylight carne upon Black kettle's village.
It was this chief who, at a council held at Fort Ellsworth, Kansas, in the winter of 1866-67, had with great eloquence entreated the Great Father—for such is the title by which they know the President—to stop the building of the iron road, which would soon drive away the buffalo and leave his red children without food.
Mo-ka-ta-va-ta., or Black Kettle, was described at this time as a fine-looking man, of middle age, with heavy features and frame. He possessed great influence with his tribe, and by his wise counsels had more than once averted war. His dress was simple, with the exception of a massive necklace of crescent-shaped silver plates, from the front of which depended a heavy silver medal bearing the profile in relief of Washington. It had been presented long ago to one of Black Kettle's ancestors, and was worn with evident pride. This friendly chief—for such he was known to be—narrowly escaped with his life at the Chivington massacre in 1834, and was a victim in that we are about to describe.
Custer divided his command into four parties, one of which remained with him; the others were stationed on three sides of the village, completely surrounding the Indians. At dawn the bugle sounded the charge, and the entire command dashed rapidly into the village. The Indians were completely surprised, but realizing their danger they quickly seized their rifles, bows, and arrows, and springing behind the nearest trees, or leaping into the stream and using the bank as a rifle-pit, began a vigorous and determined resistance. Mingled with the exultant cheers of the whites could be heard the defiant warwhoop of the warriors, who, from the first, fought with a desperation and courage which no race of men could surpass.
At the first onset a number of the Indians rushed through the lines. Many had sought shelter behind logs and trees, and under the banks of the stream which flowed through the centre of the village, and to dislodge them it was necessary for the cavalry to fight on foot in the Indian style. Slowly but surely the Indians were driven out of these defences, and were either shot down or pushed beyond the scene of action. The women and children remained within the lodges and became prisoners. The village was burned and eight hundred horses slaughtered. One hundred and three warriors, including the chief, Black Kettle, were killed, and fifty three women and children captured.
For fifteen miles along the Washita, the lodges of the Arapahoes, under Little Raven, the Kiowas, under Satanta and Lone Wolf, and numerous bands of Cheyennes, Comanches, and Apaches extended. At the news of Custer's onslaught they collected and attacked him in turn, but were repulsed, and at nightfall Custer withdrew. His loss was twenty-one killed, including Major Elliot and Captain Hamilton, and eleven wounded.
This was a hard blow, and, according to General Sheridan, it fell upon the guiltiest of all the bands, that of Black Kettle. "It was this band," says he, "that without provocation had massacred the settlers on the Saline and Solomon, and perpetrated cruelties too fiendish for recital." On the other hand, Indian Agent Wynkoop says: "I know that Black Kettle had proceeded to the point at which he was killed, with the understanding that it was the locality where those Indians that were friendly disposed should assemble. In regard to the charge that Black Kettle was engaged in the depredations committed on the Saline and Solomon during the summer of 1865, I know the same to be utterly false, as he was at that time camped near my agency on the Pawnee Fork." In the language of Superintendent Murphy, of the Osage Agency, "Black Kettle was one of the best and truest friends the whites ever had among the Indians of the plains."
One of the actions of this war furnishes a remarkable instance of heroism and endurance. Brevet-colonel George A. Forsyth, with fifty men, while on a scouting expedition, had camped, on the night of September 16th, on the Arickaree Ford of the Republican River. There were a few inches of running water only in this stream. A small island directly behind the bivouac was fringed with willows, and bore a few stunted trees.
At daybreak a party of Indians rushed upon the camp, but were driven back. Forsyth, seeing their overwhelming numbers, and realizing at once the advantage of the cover, slight as it was, afforded by the island, and the disadvantage to the Indians of having to charge over the sandy bed of the stream, decided to take position on the sand island, which was separated from the mainland by a mere thread of water. The movement was effected, and the men, distributed in a circle, were ordered to lie down, and as soon as possible to dig rifle-pits for themselves in the sand. While this was being done, an annoying fire was kept up by the Indians, by which Forsyth was twice wounded, three men killed, and a number of others hit. Under their leader's direction the best shots were keeping the Indians at bay, while the others were digging for life, using the bodies of their slain horses as a parapet.
About nine o'clock a charge was made, with unearthly yells, by three hundred mounted warriors. A heavy skirmish line pressed closer and closer, with so galling a fire that not a man could expose a hand or an arm to return it. Everything was, however, put in readiness, the guns of the dead and wounded were loaded and placed near the best shots on the threatened side. When the Indians were within thirty yards of the rifle-pits, and their skirmish fire had ceased, for fear of hitting their friends, the intrenchment so silent hitherto suddenly became alive.
"Now !" shouted Forsyth, and a rapid and effective fire tumbled the leaders from their ponies. Still they pressed on, yelling and whooping, and down they went under the deadly fire of the brave defenders of the island. Roman Nose, their gigantic war chief, and Medicine Chief, another of their leaders, both fell close to the intrenchment. The assailants wavered; a ringing cheer and another well-directed volley from the soldiers and they turned and fled, vanquished and demoralized. Two other charges were made and repelled during the day, and at nightfall a heavy rain set in. Every horse and mule had been killed by the enemy's fire. Lieutenant Beecher and five others had been killed or mortally wounded, and seventeen were wounded severely.
Fort Wallace, the nearest point from which succor could arrive, was one hundred miles away. Forsyth's men were without provisions, and surrounded by nine hundred well-armed warriors. A well was dug, the dead animals' flesh was cut into strips for food, the line was strengthened with saddles and dead animals, and two men were despatched at nightfall through the enemy's lines to Fort Wallace. Day after day the heroic band sustained the steady fire of the Indians, but by the fifth day the suffering from hunger, as the meat could no longer be eaten, was intense. By this time the Indians began to disappear, and by the seventh day all had left, but the beleaguered force was too weak to move. At last, on the morning of the ninth day, succor arrived.
The Indians encountered were Northern Cheyennes, Brulé and Ogalalla Sioux, and "Dog Soldiers," the banditti of the plains. Their loss is said to have been thirty-five killed and one hundred wounded.
Notwithstanding the provisions of the treaty made with the Sioux and the Northern Cheyennes by the Peace Commissioners in 1868, securing to them the right of limiting on their old territory, these Indians were ordered by General Sheridan to give up their hunting-grounds and to go upon a reservation. They stood upon their rights and resisted, and another Sioux war was the result.
Three columns of troops, under Generals Crook, Terry, and Custer, were sent against them in May, 1Si6. Crook, after an indecisive action with the Sioux, fell back to the Tongue River. Sitting Bull, their leader, was at this time between the head-waters of the Rosebud and the Big Horn, the main tributary of the latter being known as the Little Big Horn. It was at this place that the gallant Custer fought his last battle.
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were chiefs of bands who were implacably hostile, and to their villages drifted all the discontented Indians from various quarters. They occupied a singularly advantageous position near the head of the Yellow stone, surrounded by the "bad lands," which prevented the whites from near approach, and centrally situated with regard to the Indian agencies, from which they were annually supplied with the best of arms and ammunition by the United States Government, in accordance with treaty stipulations.
Sitting Bull is described as a heavily built Indian, with a massive head and brown hair—a most unusual color for an Indian. His totem is a buffalo bull sitting on his haunches. He possesses much force of mind, with a genius for war, and a stubborn heroism, admirable in the champion of a race. He was born in 1537, near old Fort George, on Willow Creek, below the mouth of the Cheyenne River, and was the son of Chief Jumping Bull. The order requiring him to go on a reservation was in violation of his treaty rights, and the attempt to enforce it was a national disgrace.
"I want peace," said the chief to General Miles, in an interview with that officer soon after the battle with General Crook, "but if the troops come out to me I will fight them. I want to hunt buffalo and to trade. I don't want rations nor annuities. I want to live as an Indian."
A village of the Northern Cheyennes was surprised by General Mackenzie, and their entire stock of provisions for winter, their buffalo robes, and all their property burned. It was winter, and those who escaped were utterly destitute. In the following spring their chief, Hump, with some of his followers, surrendered to General Miles. Handing his belt and gun to the general, he said, "Take these; I am no longer chief or warrior."
When asked why he had put himself in opposition to the Government, he replied, "I never went to war with the whites. The soldiers began chasing me about, for what cause I do not know to this day. I dodged as long as I could, and hid my village away, but at last they found it, and I had no alternative but to fight or perish."
The battle of the Rosebud is a good illustration of Indian warfare on the plains. When a charge is made upon them, those in front of the charging force break and give way, while those on the sides close in to attack and harass the flanks and rear of the attacking force. If the latter should unfortunately be carried too far by the excitement of the chase, its destruction is almost certain. The Indian is a superb horseman, his pony quick and wiry, and, avoiding a direct attack, the retreating warriors wheel, collect again, fall upon the flank and rear of their assailants, overwhelm them, and then withdraw with lightning rapidity to repeat the manoeuvre with others.
General Crook advanced upon the enemy's position, with his cavalry on the left, his infantry and his Indian allies on the right. The cavalry charged, only to find the enemy already withdrawn, and taking another strong position beyond. A second and a third charge, with a similar result, left the cavalry far in advance and in danger of being overwhelmed. General Crook sent an aid to recall it. In the attempt to fall back it found itself completely surrounded. The Indians had poured in upon them from all quarters— front, flank, and rear. With perfect steadiness the troops moved on, and after a brief but fierce hand-to-hand encounter the environing mass was rent asunder, and the troops regained their position. Their courage and discipline had saved them from destruction.
On the 23d of June, General Custer, with the Seventh Cavalry, was ordered up the Rosebud to follow the Indian trail. After a night-march the command found itself, on the morning of the 25th, in the valley of one of the branches of the Little Big Born, and in the vicinity of the Indians. The command was divided into three detachments—one led by Custer, one by Major Reno, and a third by Captain Benteen. Reno was to take the village at the upper end, Custer at the lower extremity. Reno attacked, but so feebly that he was easily driven back. Both detachments failed to support Custer, and he, with only five companies, was compelled, single-handed, to sustain the encounter with the entire Indian force. His orders were, "not to let the Indians escape," and in obedience to these he flung himself upon them in full confidence that, with the co-operation of the other detachments of his force, he should inflict a severe punishment upon them.
Moving rapidly down the river to the ford, Custer was met by the Sioux about six hundred yards east of the river. They were surprised and in confusion, but seeing the small force in front of them, surrounded and attacked it, with confidence in their overwhelming numbers. Hundreds of Indians on foot and on ponies poured over the river, and filled the ravine on each side of Custer's men. They drove the troops back up the hill, Custer all the while making successive stands on the higher ground. They then made a circuit to the right around the hill, and drove off and captured most of the horses, the cavalry being dismounted and fighting on foot. The troops made a final stand at the lower end of the hill, and there they were all killed, the fight lasting from two o'clock till sunset.
Not a man of the five companies was left alive. The Indian force was estimated at from two thousand five hundred to three thousand warriors.
A subsequent examination of the ground revealed the fact that, about three-quarters of a mile from the river, Captain Calhoun's company were all slain. A mile beyond, on the ridge parallel to the stream, fell Keogh's company, his right resting on the bill where Custer fell, held also by Yates's company. On the most prominent point of this ridge Custer made. his last desperate stand, and here he went down, fighting heroically to the last. On the line of a ravine nearer the river were found the bodies of Captains Smith's and Custer's companies, their situation indicating that they had made a desperate effort to make a stand or to gain the woods. Sitting Bull and his warriors are now (1883) prisoners at Fort Randall, Dakota, having voluntarily surrendered to the United States authorities.
Some time before this battle, a council had been held with a number of chiefs at Fort Dodge, Kansas. Extravagant promises of future good conduct were made by all, but especially by the "peculiarly savage and insolent Satanta." So effective and convincing was the oratorical effort of Satanta, that at the close of his address he was presented with the uniform coat and hat of a major-general Within a few weeks, Satanta returned the compliment by attacking the post where this council was held, arrayed in his new uniform.
The great rival of Red Cloud was Spotted Tail, who had long been head chief of the Ernie band of Sioux. He was the earnest friend and coadjutor of the white man in the work of pacification. He was large and commanding in figure, and possessed great oratorical and executive abilities. A feud existed between him and a chief named Crow Dog. They met near the Rosebud Agency, August 6, 1881, and the latter shot Spotted Tail dead.
Northern California was the home of the Modoc tribe of Indians. The remains of their ancient villages, found along the shores of the lakes, the streams, and the forest springs, attest the fact of the former greatness of this now almost extinct tribe.
They had ever been an obstinate, treacherous, and unconquerable race, and their decline is explained by their frequent wars with the fierce tribes around them, as well as with the early white settlers of Northern California and Oregon. Emigrant trains were obliged to pass through dark canons and under precipitous cliffs, whence these warriors would suddenly rush upon them, slaughter the emigrants, and capture their supplies.
On October 14, 1864, when the old chief Schonchin buried the hatchet, and agreed to war with the pale-faces no more, he said, mournfully,
"Once my people were like the sands along you shore. Now I call to them, and only the wind answers. Four hundred strong young men went with me to the war with the whites; only eighty are left. We will be good, if the white man will let us and be his friends forever." The old chief kept his word.
By the treaty made at this time, the Modocs, Snakes, and Klamaths agreed to repair to a reservation set apart for them in Southern Oregon. They all went, except a strong band of Modocs, under Captain Jack, who remained at their old home near Clear Lake, about sixty miles from Klamath, without being seriously disturbed until 7869.
In that year this band was induced to go to the reservation, but the Klamaths, their hereditary enemies, picked a quarrel with them, and they soon returned to their old home. As they positively refused to go back to the reservation, the military were called upon. Pursued by the soldiers, they took refuge in the remarkable natural formation known as the Lava Beds, from whence they bade defiance to the troops.
This lava valley is bounded by walls of more than one thousand feet in height. At numerous points are seen miniature volcanic rents, formed by the bursting out of steam or gases from below, and in some places there are subterranean galleries or caverns, having a diameter of fifteen or twenty feet, extending indefinitely in either direction. These rents or chimneys probably communicate with subterranean passages. They were wholly inaccessible to the troops. The Indians knew perfectly the paths leading through these fearful chasms.
After the troops had done all they could to drive out the Indians, without attaining their object, the job was turned over to the Peace Commissioners, who were instructed to effect their removal to the Coast Reservation in Oregon. Several "talks" were held with Captain Jack and his leading men, but without result, the Indians assuming a defiant attitude.
On the morning of April 11, 1873, the commissioners, General E. R. S. Canby, A. B. Meacham, Rev. Dr. E. Thomas, Mr. Dyer. and Riddle, the interpreter, and his squaw, went by agreement to a. spot about three-fourths of a mile from their camp, where they met Captain Jack, Schonchin (son of the old chief), Boston Charley, and five other leading Modocs. They had no guns, but each was provided with pistols.
The party sat down in a circle. Mr. Meacham opened the "talk," and was followed by General Canby and Doctor Thomas. What they said was intended to pacify the Indians. When the last speaker had ended, John Schonchin began a reply, but had said but a few words when, as if they were the signal for an attack, the work of massacre begun.
In less than a minute a dozen shots had been fired, and the affair was over. The first shot was fired by Captain Jack himself, who shot and killed General Canby. Mr. Meacham was shot by Schonchin, and Doctor Thomas by Boston Charley. Mr. Dyer barely escaped, being fired at twice. Riddle, the interpreter, and his squaw also escaped.
The troops immediately rushed to the spot, when they found the dead bodies of General Canby and Doctor Thomas. Meacham, who was badly wounded over the left eye by a pistol-shot, was taken to the camp, and afterwards recovered. The murderers escaped in safety to the Lava Beds.
In the following May, Boston Charley gave himself up, and volunteered to guide the troops to Captain Jack's stronghold. This led to the capture of the entire band, a number of whom, while being transported in wagons to head-quarters, were murdered by Oregon volunteers. In July the trial of the prisoners took place, and Captain Jack, Schonchin, Boston Charley, and Hooker Jim were executed at Fort Klamath. They richly deserved their fate for their treacherous deed.
The small remainder of the Modoc tribe are now on a reservation in the Indian Territory.
Troubles between the Indians and their white neighbors caused the Government, early in 1877, to order the removal of Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Percés from their home in the Wallowa Valley, Oregon, to the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho, where, since 1863, the larger part of the tribe had resided. Joseph, with about five hundred Indians, rightfully claimed the Wallowa Valley under the treaty of 1855, and it had also been conceded to them by President Grant in 18T3. Two years later this concession was revoked, and, "in the interests of peace," General Howard was directed to "induce" Joseph to remove.
When the commissioners, appointed in 1876 to effect this object, asked Joseph to abandon the valley, the chief replied,
"I was made of its earth and grew up upon its bosom. As my mother and nurse, it is too sacred in my affections to be valued by or sold for silver and gold. . . . I ask nothing of the President. I am able to take care of myself and disposed to live peaceably. I and my band have suffered wrong, rather than do wrong. One of our number was wickedly slain by a white man last summer, but I would not avenge his death. But, unavenged by me, the voice of that brother's blood would call the dust of their fathers back, to purple the land, in protest of this great wrong."
Both physically and mentally the Nez Percés are a fine race. Their agent says of them, "Of all the Indians I have ever seen, they are by far the most intelligent, truthful, and truly religious. Their chief, Joseph, is a man of courage, intelligence, quick perception, and other qualities sufficient to rank him much above the average man, white or red."
The attempt to remove these Indians was resisted, and some of the whites who had settled on their lands were killed. General Howard at once sent two companies of United States cavalry, under Captain Perry, to the scene of disturbance. This officer was ambushed and defeated at White Bird Canon, losing a lieutenant and thirty-three men—one-third of his force. Finding the Indians posted in a deep ravine on the Clearwater River, near the month of Cottonwood Creek, General Howard attacked and defeated them, capturing their camp and much of their provisions. Twenty-three warriors were killed, a larger number wounded, and some prisoners were taken. His loss was thirteen killed, and two officers and twenty men wounded.
Joseph now began his famous retreat eastward, towards the buffalo country, with Howard in close pursuit, taking what is called the Lolo trail, through a pass of the Bitter Root Mountains, into Idaho. The long pursuit continued across plains, over mountains, and through forests, much of the way being a desolate and exceedingly difficult country for one thousand three hundred miles, and it lasted seventy-five days. The Indians were accompanied by their women and children. They took with them a large herd of ponies, which supplied then with remounts whenever they were hard pressed.
Colonel Gibbons, who, with one hundred and fifty men, attacked the Indians on Wisdom River, Montana, was greatly outmatched, and was placed upon the defensive, losing twenty-nine officers and men killed and wounded. His entire force would have been killed or captured but for Howard's approach. At Camas Prairie, the Indians turned upon Howard, and succeeded in stampeding and running off his pack -train. Colonel Sturgis had a fight with them on the Yellowstone, below the mouth of Clark's Fork.
The Indians had reached the Missouri River, near Cow Island, on September 22. They would, perhaps, have accomplished their purpose of joining Sitting Bull in the British Dominions had not Colonel Miles, with his comparatively fresh troops, been so situated that by moving promptly he could easily pursue and intercept them. That officer, marching across the country from Tongue River, crossed the Missouri, and on September 30th overtook the Nez Percés at Bear Paw Mountain, near the mouth of Eagle Creek, when a severe engagement took place, in which the Indians lost six of their leading chiefs and twenty-five warriors, besides forty-six wounded. Miles lost two officers and twenty men killed; four officers and thirty-eight men wounded. General Howard came up during the contest, but took no part in it. The band soon afterwards surrendered, and is now in the Indian Territory. Thus ended one of the most remarkable Indian wars on record.
"Throughout this extraordinary campaign," says General Sherman, "the Indians displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise. They abstained from scalping, let captive women go free, did not murder indiscriminately as usual, and fought with scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications."
In closing this chapter we must not omit some mention of the man who, after Daniel Boone, takes the highest rank in our border annals as a pioneer, guide, and Indian fighter. Like Boone, Kit Carson had, in addition to the skill, sagacity, courage, and self-reliance common to his class, the still rarer qualities of modesty, sobriety, disinterestedness, and perfect self-control.
Christopher—commonly called "Kit"—Carson was a native of Kentucky. His early life was occupied in hunting and trapping, and he became famous for his skill in these pursuits, and as a reliable guide and leader. Later he accompanied Fremont in this capacity in his explorations of the Rocky Mountains, and in his narrative the latter speaks in the highest terms of Carson. Though small in stature, Carson was broad-chested, compact in form, and remarkably quick and active, and what he lacked in strength he made up in agility. During the Civil War, in which he attained the rank of brevet brigadier-general, he rendered great service to the Union in New Mexico, Colorado, and the Indian Territory.
We must content ourselves with a single example of Carson's heroism and disinterestedness—a feat worthy the best days of chivalry—performed while accompanying Fremont's second expedition.
One day a man and a boy, Mexicans—all who had escaped from an Indian onslaught on a party of six—arrived in camp. The wife of the man and the parents of the boy were of this party, and they were full of anxiety to learn the fate of their relatives. Thirty horses belonging to the party had fallen into the hands of the Indians.
Touched by the grief of the survivors, Carson and a companion named Godey resolved to pursue these robbers of the desert, and deliver the captives if alive, or avenge them if dead. They followed the trail all day, and at night by the light of the moon, until it entered a defile and became difficult to trace. Afraid of losing it, at midnight they tied their horses and lay down to sleep in silence and darkness. At daylight they resumed the pursuit, and about sunrise discovered the Indians. Dismounting, and tying their horses, they crept cautiously to a rising ground, from the crest of which they perceived an encampment of four lodges close by.
Proceeding quietly, they had got within thirty or forty yards when a movement among the horses discovered them to the Indians. Raising a war-shout, the two avengers instantly charged into their camp, regardless of the number of enemies that four lodges would imply. The Indians received them with a volley of arrows, shot from their long-bows, one of which pierced through Godey's shirt-collar, barely missing his neck; the two men discharged their rifles with steady aim, and rushed in. Two Indians were stretched on the ground; the rest fled, except a lad who was captured.
Masters of the camp, they found that preparations had been made to feast a large party. Several of the best of the captured horses had been killed, skinned, and cut up, for these Indians made no other use of their surplus horses than to eat them. Releasing the boy, they gathered up the surviving horses, fifteen in number, and returned to camp, which they reached in the afternoon of the same day. They had travelled a hundred miles in the pursuit and retreat, and all in thirty hours. The remainder of the unfortunate Mexican party had all been massacred.
This was a most remarkable instance of successful daring and disinterested achievement. Two men, in a savage desert, pursue day and night an unknown body of Indians into the defiles of an unknown mountain, attack them at sight, without counting their numbers, putting them to flight—and for what? To punish a band of savage marauders, and to avenge the wrongs of Mexicans whom they did not know.
The Story of Indian Wars
This story of Indian Wars is featured in the book entitled the Indian History for Young Folks by FrancIs F. Drake and was published by Harper Brothers in New York and London in 1919.