This, the fifth volume in Cyrus Townsend Brady’s well regarded series, American Fights and Fighters, differs somewhat in format from other its companion volumes. Whilst Brady is always informative, accurate, original and entertaining his books have a tendency to include material where the subject matter appears to have appealed to Brady at the time and was thereafter in need of a home in one of his works. This volume, Northwest Fights and Fighters, focuses specifically on two wars, the Nez Percé War and the Modoc War, which the United States Army fought against the indigenous Indian tribes of the north west in the period following the American Civil War. The Nez Percé War was fought against that tribe under Chief Joseph’s inspired leadership and the Modoc War was a gruelling, bitter campaign fought in the inhospitable lava beds. The accounts and recollections of these two war comprise the entire book and Brady therefore deals with his subjects in some detail. He has particularly drawn upon the first hand narratives of those combatants who fought on both sides of the conflicts and this very much enhances the book’s value, since these accounts rarely appear elsewhere in print. In the Nez Percé section Brady of course deals with the actions at White Bird Canyon, Cottonwood, Clearwater, Big Hole and all the pivotal aspects of the campaign. The Modoc War outraged the American people after the murder of the so called ‘peace commissioners’ by the Modoc leader Captain Jack and this and many other aspects of the campaign are dealt with in considerable depth. Leonaur have already published, or will publish all of Brady’s Fights and Fighters series and together they provide a well regarded and classic library of Americans at war—particularly on the ever turbulent frontiers of its Westward expansion.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It was now two o’clock in the morning, and the men suffered with cold, for even the summer nights are cold in these mountains, and they had neither overcoats nor blankets, having left all these with the wagons. The smouldering campfires flickered fitfully in the pale star light, and the smoky lodges of the savages presented a most fantastic picture, as the dying lights blazed with ever-changing weirdness upon them. Eagerly the soldiers watched the scene, and with bated breath thought of the awful tragedy that the rising sun would look upon in that now peaceful valley.<br>
“They have no idea of our presence,” said Bostwick, the half-breed scout. “After a while you will see some fires built up if we remain undiscovered.”<br>
Sure enough, in the course of an hour squaws began to come forth from their lodges, and replenish their waning fires.<br>
As these blazed up they stood about them, jabbered, turned, and warmed themselves, yawned, and then one by one returned to their skin couches and betook themselves again to sleep. And again the soldiers and their citizen allies were left to meditate, and in whispers to commune with each other.<br>
As soon as it was light enough to see to move advantageously the little army was again astir; but its movements were yet as silent as the grave. Under whispered orders and with stealthy tread Sanno’s and Comba’s companies, deployed as skirmishers, descended the bluff into the valley, groped their way through the willow thickets, waded the icy river, the water coming nearly to their armpits. Logan, Williams and Rawn, with their companies, were sent to the extreme right to cross and attack the camp near Ruby Creek, while Lieutenant Bradley, with his handful of soldiers and citizen scouts, was sent down the stream with orders to cross and strike the camp lower down.<br>
As the light increased the troops were advancing cautiously, when an Indian, who had crawled out of his lodge and mounted a horse, rode out of the willows directly in front of Bradley’s men and within a few feet of them. He was en route to the pony herd on the hill side above, and so quietly had the advance been made that even he had not heard or seen the men, and was within a few feet of them when he emerged from the thicket of willows. He and his horse were instantly shot down. <br>
The order had been given:—<br>
When the first shot is fired charge the camp with the whole line.<br>
And most eagerly was this order obeyed. Volleys were fired into the tepees, and with an eager yell the whole line swept wildly into the midst of the slumbering camp. The surprise was complete. The Indians rushed from their lodges panic-stricken by the suddenness and ferocity of the attack. They ran for the riverbanks and thickets. Squaws yelled, children screamed, dogs barked, horses neighed, snorted, and many of them broke their fetters and fled.<br>
Even the warriors, usually so stoical, and who always like to appear incapable of fear or excitement, were, for the time being, wild and panic-stricken like the rest. Some of them fled from the tents at first without their guns and had to return later, under a galling fire, and get them. Some of those who had presence of mind enough left to seize their weapons were too badly frightened to use them at first and stampeded, like a flock of sheep, to the brush.<br>
The soldiers, although the scene was an intensely exciting one, were cool, self-reliant and shot to kill. Many an Indian was cut down at such short range that his flesh and clothing were burned by the powder from their rifles. Comba and Sanno first struck the camp at the apex of the V, and delivered a melting fire on the Indians as they poured from the tepees. For a few minutes no effective fire was returned, but soon the Indians recovered in a measure from their surprise and, getting into safe cover behind the riverbanks, and in some cases in even the very bed of the stream, opened fire on the soldiers, who were now in the open ground, with terrible effect.<br>
The fire was especially destructive on the right or upper end of the line where the river made a short bend. As Logan, with a valour equal to that of his illustrious namesake, swept forward, he and his men found themselves directly at the backs of the Indians hidden in this bend, who now turned and cut them down with fearful rapidity. It was here that the greatest slaughter of that day took place. Logan himself fell, shot through the head, and at sight of their leader’s corpse his men were desperate. Regardless of their own safety, they rushed to the riverbank and brained the savages in hand-to-hand encounters, both whites and Indians in some cases falling dead or wounded into the stream and being swept away by its current.<br>
In twenty minutes from the time the first shot was fired the troops had complete possession of the camp, and orders were given to destroy it. The torch was applied with a will, and some of the canvas lodges with the plunder in them destroyed, but the heavy dew had so dampened them that they burned slowly, and the destruction was not as complete as the men wished to make it. Many of the lodges were made of skins, and these would not burn at all.<br>
Though the Indians were driven from their camp they were not yet defeated. Joseph’s voice and that of his lieutenants, White Bird and Looking Glass, were heard above the din of the battle, rallying their warriors and cheering them on to deeds of valour.