The author of this book was a young officer in the Union Army—a cavalryman of the 7th Iowa Cavalry—when in 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, he was ordered to the Western frontier to assist in dealing with potential uprisings by the Indian tribes in Omaha. Fortunately for posterity he decided to keep a daily journal and this together with reference to the lengthy correspondence he sent to his family concerning his activities has enabled the author to leave us a substantial, highly detailed and well written account of army life on the frontier and Indian warfare from the perspective of the horse soldier. This is an interesting and engaging book about a 'war within a war' against a formidable, elusive, fierce and resolute enemy. The scenes in which Indian forces literally surround the writer’s beleaguered garrison are especially riveting.
When we had finished with this telegraph wire, Captain O’Brien observed a smoke over the promontory, and called my attention to it. He said: “What do you think that smoke can be? It is this side of the post, and yet beyond the hill. Go carefully up with your field-glass, and see what is the matter, and see what those black specks mean up the Lodgepole valley.” I went up on horseback, looking in all directions, and could see no indications of Indians nor ambuscade, and finally peeped over the hill Indian fashion through a cactus bush. And lo, and behold I could see Indians scattered everywhere in front of us; they were crossing the river, running around the stage station, blacksmith shop and telegraph office, which were burning. The haystacks of the stage station were also burning. Back on the hills west of the post was a large group of Indians, apparently motionless, while between us and the fort was a body of Indians running around and evidently shouting and yelling and having a good time, although they were so far off I could hear no noise. I came down to see the Captain, and told him what I had seen, and I said, “You go up there, and see what you think about the matter.” He came down, and said, “There is a large body of Indians crossing on the ice north, and a large body at the stage station a mile this side.” <br>
The question then was what to do. What could 15 men do with a thousand Indians on the war-path in front with no outlet for retreat and no place for defence?<br>
There appeared in the present juncture only one thing to do that had any wisdom in it, and that was to make a bold dash for the fort; because if the whole gang of Indians got after us we could find no shelter and we could not hold them off. The Captain ordered the gun shotted with “canister.” Canister was a large tin can fitting the calibre of the gun and filled with iron balls. The boys called it “canned trouble.” The gun having been loaded, one of the soldiers carried a friction primer so as to be able to fire the gun quickly from horseback without dismounting. The Captain detailed me as an advance guard with my field-glass to go on ahead and feel the route along the cape of the promontory and to prevent an ambuscade.<br>
We started on, and we went just as fast as we dared. We went around the point, carefully inspecting the road. I went ahead about two or three hundred yards, and we were visible to the Indians up at the post only for a short time as we rounded the cape, but were not recognized, on account of the film of smoke from the burning stage station. Then there was a little rise in the ground ahead of us, that kept us out of sight from the post, and by following around the rim of it outside of the road, we were able to go unseen a little nearer to the post. And so it happened that we got up within much less than two miles of the post, and there did not seem to be any alarm among the Indians. We then rushed our horses, and determined to make a bold dash for the post. As we came over the hill we deployed at intervals of about twenty yards, with our artillery and coach up in the centre of the line. Some of the Indians began to see us; then we went a-howling and yelling towards the post. It did not take us long to pass the burning stage station. The Indians were rallying on both sides of us, and shooting at us from a distance; they did not know but what a regiment was coming behind us. Around the cape behind us then came a squad of Indians on the run.<br>
When we got to the stage station it was a sight. A lot of the Indians were there before us, and they started away. We saw that a large number of Indians were carrying off corn from the stage station. There were so many of them that they had sanded a road across the ice of the river, and this road was about six feet wide. Their ponies being unshod, they could not carry the corn across without the road being sanded; it was too slippery. There were enough of them to sand the entire road, and there was a line of them all around the burning stage station. There were animals killed; a couple of horses; and a cow, that had been grazing around. Chickens were killed. It seemed as if the Indians thought it was a funny thing to shoot an arrow down through a chicken and pin the chicken to the ground. We saw chickens still fluttering that were thus pinned down to the ground.<br>
We fired the canister at the Indians ahead of us. The post was still a mile off, and they had evidently seen us coming. There was no use of our trying to compete with the Indians, who were flocking in on both sides, in pistol-firing. Captain O’Brien ordered all the boys to draw sabres, and we started. After we had gone about two hundred yards a group of Indians were in front of us. Our men at the post had run the other howitzer out, and began firing shells directly at us, and we stopped long enough to fire a shell towards the post. The Indians in front of us got out of the way, and the post kept firing in our direction. The Indians did not understand the situation. Our appearance had been too sudden. They did not know it was a bluff. They did not know what was behind us, or what the smoke might conceal. They did not dare to charge us, but got out of our way and hovered on our flanks. We, all the time, were going as fast as our horses would carry us toward the post. We went through with the Indians firing and cavorting all over the prairie.