This well known account of army life on the western frontier, by the wife of Colonel Henry B. Carrington the post-commander of Fort Phil Kearney during ‘Red Cloud’s War’ of 1866-68, appears in this Leonaur edition in its revised form, having been substantially enhanced by Colonel Carrington himself after his wife’s death in 1870. This additional material provides much additional and valuable historical information that will interest any student of the events of the period. Colonel Carrington was a central personality in the events described in Margaret Carrington’s book because, with her two children, she accompanied her husband as he built the fort and commanded the soldiers who would defend this dangerous outpost in Wyoming. She shared his experiences of the ensuing conflict and, as the fort was all but under siege by Plains Indian tribes, of the well known ‘Wagon Box Fight’ and more significantly the disaster that was the infamous ‘Fetterman Massacre.’ Margaret Carrington wrote her journals at the suggestion of General Sherman who had the foresight to consider that doing so was a useful occupation for all officers’ wives. Thus we may thank Sherman for not only ensuring posterity was provided with the minute detail of life on a frontier army post often absent from first hand narratives, but also—if inadvertently—that some of the most notable events in the history of the U. S Army’s struggle with the Sioux and their allies were chronicled.:br> Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It seemed long, but was hardly twelve minutes before Captain Ten Eyck, Lieutenant Matson, Dr. Hines, and Dr. Ould, with a relieving party, were moving, on the run, for the scene of action. We had all watched Captain Fetterman until the curve of Sullivant Hills shut him off, and then he was on the southern slope of the ridge, apparently intending to cut off the retreat of the Indians from the train. Wagons and ambulances were hurried up; the whole garrison was on the alert; extra ammunition for both parties was started, and even the prisoners were put on duty to give the guard and all available men their perfect freedom for whatever might transpire. Couriers were sent to the woods to bring back the train and its guard, to secure its support, as well as from the fear that the diversion of Captain Fetterman from his orders might still involve its destruction; and shortly Captain Arnold came to report that the whole force of armed men left at the post, including guard and everything, was but one hundred and nineteen men.<br>
Until the wagons galloped out of the gate, we could see a solitary Indian on the highest part of Lodge Trail Ridge; but he soon disappeared. All this time firing was increasing in intensity, and in little more than thirty minutes,—after one or two quick volleys, the rattle of file-firing, and a few scattering shots,—a perfect silence ensued. There were then many anxious hearts, and waiting was perfectly terrible! The movements of Captain Ten Eyck were watched with in tensest interest. The pickets could give no information, and a messenger sent upon Sullivant Hills could see neither Indians nor troops. It was just before Captain Ten Eyck’s party reached the top of the hill across the Piney, north of the Virginia City road, that all firing ceased.<br>
Soon Orderly Sample was seen to break away from the command and make for the fort, with his horse, on the run. He brought the message that the valleys were full of Indians, and that several hundred were on the road below, yelling and challenging them to come down; but nothing could be seen of Fetterman. As was afterward learned, this party was on the very field of carnage, and doubtless they were completing their robbery and butchery. It was after dark when Captain Ten Eyck returned, with forty-nine of the bodies, and made the terrible announcement that all were killed.<br>
To a woman whose house and heart received the widow as a sister, and whose office it was to advise her of the facts, the recital of the scenes of that day, even at this late period, is full of pain; but at the time, the Christian fortitude and holy calmness with which Mrs. Grummond looked upward to her Heavenly Father for wisdom and strength, inspired all with something of her same patience to know the worst and meet its issues.<br>
The body of Lieutenant Grummond had not been rescued, and there was some faint hope that stragglers might yet come in and break the absolute gloom of the tragedy by some explanatory and redeeming feature.<br>
At last the wood train came in, having seen nothing of Fetterman, not even having heard the firing, or suspected any additional danger after repulsing their own immediate assailants. Imagination only can suggest how wide-sweeping would have been the massacre had any considerable portion of the hostile bands renewed the attack upon the train after the successful decoy of the others to inevitable destruction.<br>
With the next morning came a meeting of officers, with universal disinclination, generally expressed, to venture a search for the remaining dead. The safety of any small party seemed doubtful, and the post itself might be imperilled by a large draft upon the garrison. But the colonel had made up his mind, and freely expressed his purpose “not to let the Indians have the conviction that the dead could not be rescued;” and besides this, the very men who had passed through the war without blanching began to form ideas of the numbers and barbarity of the Indians, which threatened to take away one-half their real strength.<br>
So the colonel informed Mrs. Grummond that he should go in person, and would bring home her husband. Captain Ten Eyck, Lieutenant Matson, and Dr. Ould went with the party. Long after they left, and they left with the cheerful Godspeed of every woman and soldier of the garrison, on a holy mission, the pickets, which were distributed on the line of march, indicated their progress, and showed that neither the fort nor the detachment could be threatened without such connection of signals as would advise both and secure co-operation whatever might ensue.
Long after dark, the wagons and command returned with the remaining dead, slowly passing to the hospital and other buildings made ready for their reception.<br>
Lieutenant Grummond’s body was found, and eventually accompanied us on our midwinter’s march back over the plains.<br>
A careful roll-call of the garrison was had, and the body of every missing man was found. Wheatley and Fisher were discovered near a pile of rocks, surrounded by expended cartridges, proving that their Henry rifles had done good service. All the bodies lay along or near a narrow divide over which the road ran, and to which no doubt the assailed party had retreated when overwhelming numbers bore down upon them. Captains Fetterman and Brown were at the point nearest the fort, each with a revolver shot in the left temple, and so scorched with powder as to leave no doubt that they shot each other when hope had fled. So ended lives that were full of pride and confidence in the morning.