The iconic times of cowboys and Indians—by one who was there
Although this book’s title suggests a particular focus on one notable event in the history of the American Western Frontier it is also a recollection by the author of life as a ‘westerner’ in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, during the post-Civil War years from around 1870-90. Collins gives us many insightful details of life on the Great Plains, of the cattle trails, the ‘cowpunchers’ who drove the legendary herds along them and of the many fights and skirmishes fought between the settlers, the U.S army and the Indian tribes who were engaged in a last, desperate struggle to maintain their way of life. The subject of the book’s title was a noteworthy event of the so called ‘Cheyenne Exodus’ and in 1878 and was the last Indian raid in Kansas. Dull Knife and his band of Northern Cheyenne were forcibly removed from their lands and took to the warpath, eventually slaughtering between 75 and 100 settlers around the Cimarron area before fleeing from their pursuers. They were eventually caught in Nebraska and Dull Knife was taken prisoner. This is an excellent first-hand account of the western expansion of the United States by one who lived through them and will be appreciated by all students of the subject.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
By this time the whole country was aroused. The news was heralded abroad on the wings of the wind. The newspapers, as is their custom, in glaring headlines, magnified the extent of the depredations, and gave alarming accounts of the atrocities committed by the Indians. Everybody was on the lookout, those in the neighbourhood fearing a visitation of the marauders, and those far away living in expectation of the next savage depredation. The excitement reached such a high degree of intensity that the department ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis to take charge of the field of action, which for some time had been a field of inaction as the gentleman who was supposed to be at the head of the movement against the Indians was but a poor apology for a successful military commander. It may be well to remark that this man was soon relegated to the military scrap-heap in disgrace. <br>
When Lieut.-Col. Lewis was notified of the appointment, he responded with alacrity. He set out at once from Dodge City with his command. He soon was on the trail of the Indians. A short journey westward brought him to the point where the band had crossed the Arkansas on their way northward.<br>
In the meantime the Indians were pursuing their way with considerable speed. They may have realized that another expedition would be organized to follow on their trail, or another commander would be put in charge of the one they had left so unceremoniously on the night of their escape, but whatever their conclusions were, they did not stop to commit any more outrages until they reached the North Beaver, or Sand Creek. On their arrival there, they saw they were about to have a fight on their hands, as the lieutenant-colonel had followed their trail with such speed that he was almost upon them. Escape for the time being was out of the question, and they resolved to fight. Lewis did not want to kill them, but preferred to have them surrender and return to the reservation. Such idea did not enter into Dull Knife’s calculations, and he decided to fight rather than return to the place of his recent abode.<br>
It was now getting late in the afternoon. Considerable sharp-shooting had been done on both sides for some time, and then a skirmish took place. Each party was doing what execution it could without exposing itself to any more danger than was necessary. The Indians endeavoured to make every shot count as their ammunition was getting scarce, and the soldiers were employing the same mode of warfare as their opponents, though it was not the scarcity of powder, but rather the desire to preserve their anatomy from the missiles of the enemy that induced them to seek shelter behind every bush and hillock. The lieutenant-colonel was a busy man, directing the operations of his troops, and looking after things in general. The battle lagged along until evening, without much evidence of success for either party. Towards evening Lewis rode out to the firing line to get a closer view of things and to lend his men the encouragement of his presence. When he reached the zone of fire, one of the Indian scouts approached him and advised him to dismount from his horse as he would very probably be shot if he remained exposed in such a manner to the fire of the enemy. The lieutenant-colonel did not heed the advice so freely given by his scout, and in less than ten minutes he received a bullet in the thigh. The missile struck an artery, and as a result, the lieutenant-colonel died a few hours later from loss of blood, (My authority for the above statement is G. W. Brown, who was lying not twenty feet away when the scout gave the warning of danger). He piloted the ambulance bearing the lieutenant colonel under the command of Lieutenant Gardner and escort to Fort Wallace that same night, as he was familiar with that part of the country owing to the fact that he had hunted buffalo all through that section of the country in the early days. After the escort had proceeded on its journey for about six miles, a rider returned to the lieutenant and told him that the lieutenant-colonel had died. This sad news was a shock to the company, as he was a man of the highest type of bravery, and his demise was regretted by every man in the command. When the news was first broken to the troops a look of grim determination settled upon the countenance of every man, which meant that at the first opportunity they would avenge the death of him who they loved so well. The fortunes of war averted the blow for the present, for, during the night, Dull Knife and his followers fled, leaving nothing behind but the embers of his camp fires to show where he had taken his stand. The soldiers started in hot pursuit, as they did not want their enemies to go unpunished. They had not followed the trail very far when they learned that the Indians had divided their forces and gone in different directions. Wild Hog, the chief adviser of Dull Knife went towards the north-east, over to Sappa Creek, where he and his followers murdered over forty persons, pillaged their stock and burned what they could not conveniently carry off. Dull Knife with the rest of the band headed due north. This division of the Indians compelled the soldiers to adopt the same method of procedure. They were accordingly organized into two divisions and set off in hot pursuit of their wily foes. <br>From this time onward the expedition assumed the character of a running fight. This system of pillage, and plunder, on the part of the Indians, with the pursuit on the part of the soldiers, was maintained until the 7th Cavalry, under General Samuel D. Sturgis succeeded in capturing both bands on the Niobrara River in the vicinity of the place in which Camp Niobrara was built, and about 15 miles east of Camp Sheridan. This event occurred in the month of October, 1878, but I cannot give the exact date of the occurrence. The captives were then taken as prisoners of war to Fort Robinson, Neb., or, as it was then called, Camp Robinson. They were placed in the guard house and held there until New Year’s night, 1879, when they broke out, killed the guards and made their escape through the sand hills until they had almost reached the Wyoming line.