Personal experiences of war against the Plains Indians
With the conclusion of the Civil War the American nation turned once again to its 'Manifest Destiny' in earnest, and as the influence of the 'white man' became an ever greater burden upon the hitherto wild western frontier the inevitable escalation of antipathy and open warfare flared with the indigenous Indian tribes of the Great Plains. The 'Winter Campaign ' of 1868 saw the military men who had become household names during the war between the States—among them Sheridan and Custer—once more in the field to subjugate the Sioux, the Cheyenne and their allies. This campaign is reported here by one who took part in it—one of that resolute breed of nineteenth century journalists the special correspondent. So the story of Forsyth's defence of Beecher's Island, The Battle of the Washita and other famous and notable fights are eloquently recounted within these pages together with the writers own personal experiences of camp, campaign and conflict. This is an excellent chronicle of the Plains Indian Wars and an essential addition to every library of the subject. Available in hardback with dust jacket for collectors and a softback edition.
It was Friday, October 23, when the troopers started afresh. The line of march lay in a north-westerly direction, towards the Little Beaver. The weather was delightfully clear and bracing. The plain, hardened by recent rains, rendered the marching less toilsome than before.<br>
Two days had elapsed. The column pushed forward with rapid steps, the animals instinctively hastening towards watering places and camp. Officers and men scanned the country in every direction, in expectation of spying some detached band of savages watching their line of march, and indicating their proximity to the scene of fresh encounters. But the bold horsemen did not appear. Immense herds of buffaloes, with all the appearance of a sense of security, were seen far and near, grazing upon the broad undulations which swept away on all sides. The aged bulls, banished from the herd like so many trusty sentinels, at times snuffed the air, and seeing nothing to excite alarm, returned to their accustomed habits. The cows, and their progeny in the inner circle, confiding in the watchfulness of the outposts of the herd, grazed with perfect composure. The antelope, startled at imaginary dangers, could be seen galloping in the distance. The diminutive prairie dogs rushed to and fro, vigorously wagging their stumpy tails, barking fiercely, and popping in and out of their subterranean dwellings. The wolf might be seen lying in wait for his prey, or skulking out of the way of something more formidable than his questionable prowess would tempt him to encounter.<br>
All of the second day the column moved onward. The rapidity of the march was accelerated by the destruction of fifteen wagons. The signs of Indian war-parties were growing more frequent, but as yet no hostile warrior had been seen. It was four o’clock in the afternoon as the column reached the summit of a “divide.” Two hundred warriors, mounted and painted, with bows strung, now rose as if by magic. It was evident from their actions that they had no disposition to attack, their object being to retard the movement of the column. They resorted to the practice of firing the dry grass to the windward as an impediment to the march.<br>
Detachments of troopers, well mounted, made several dashes, but the savages, with their usual skill, avoided an encounter. From the persistence exhibited in declining an engagement, it was apparent that their main body had not as yet come up, and, until they were ready, it were a fruitless task to essay forcing an action. The troops, therefore, pushed forward, carefully protecting their flanks and rear from surprise.<br>
The third day, the column, in battle array, with trains in the centre, moved out of camp at an early hour. An engagement was surely expected A distance of ten miles having been traversed, a strong party of savages took position in front as if determined to dispute, with firmer resolution, the further progress of the troops. A squadron of cavalry, under Kane, Schenofsky, and Forbush, was ordered forward on the charge. The savages withdrew, while the troopers, for a distance of three miles, kept up a vigorous pursuit. The squadron now halted, and fell back to the main body. The Indians, in turn, charged. At this juncture, Pepoon’s scouts were also ordered to the front. The engagement now become more general, A number of men, dismounted, advanced as skirmishers. The savages fought on horseback, galloping along the front of the skirmishers, dodging behind their horses at an imaginary bullet, or firing as a favourable opportunity offered.<br>
As the column reached the summit of a commanding eminence, immense clouds of dust, rising in the distance, indicated another large body moving away in great haste. There was now no doubt of the fact that the savages in front were a strong covering party to delay the advance of the column, while their families, lodges, and stock were being hastened out of the reach of danger.<br>
With these inducements ahead, the men used every exertion to overtake and fall upon the moving villages. A dash made at this time brought the troops in possession of hundreds of cedar lodge-poles, four hundred dried buffalo hides, and a large amount of other abandoned property. These were destroyed. Late in the evening, utterly exhausted in the chase, the column went into camp. During the day, the savages sustained a loss of ten warriors and seventy ponies killed, while on the side of the troops but several men were wounded. During the entire night, by the light of the burning plain, the flight of the savages could be traced for miles in the distance.<br>
The following morning, the column resumed the pursuit without opposition. During the night the savages had withdrawn, and were miles away. The country had become more broken and difficult to travel. Further pursuit was in vain. After several day’s fruitless marching, the command retraced its steps to Fort Wallace.