John G. Bourke’s excellent book, ‘On the Border with Crook’ (also published by Leonaur), describing his time on General George Crook’s staff during the American Indian Wars of the post Civil War period, is rightly regarded as an abiding classic of the history of the United States Army on the western frontier. Those who have read it and those who wish to discover more about this turbulent period of pioneer days and national expansion in North America will glean much from this book by Charles King. A captain in the 5th Cavalry, King has brilliantly described the Sioux Campaign of 1876 as only one who personally experienced it can. He begins his narrative in June of that year days before the disastrous Battle of the Little Big Horn which cost both Custer and a substantial portion of his 7th Cavalry command their lives. For those who are interested in the period King provides an invaluable source work which benefits from being recounted in an easygoing and entertaining style. Within these pages appear the Fight on the War Bonnet, the march to the Big Horn, activities on the Tongue and Rosebud, the Slim Buttes Fight and many other interesting incidents of the campaign. Previous editions of this book have included ‘Stories of Army Life’—three of King’s own whimsical and irrelevant fictional pieces—these have been removed from this Leonaur edition.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Ragged and almost starving, out of rations, out at elbows and every other exposed angle, out of everything but pluck and ammunition, General Crook gave up the pursuit of Sitting Bull at the head of Heart River. The Indians had scattered in every direction. We had chased them a month, and were no nearer than when we started. Their trail led in as many different directions as there are degrees in the circle; they had burned off the grass from the Yellowstone to the mountains, and our horses were dropping by scores, starved and exhausted, every day we marched. There was no help for it, and only one thing left to do. At daybreak the next morning the orders came, “Make for the Black Hills—due south by compass—seven days’ march at least,” and we headed our dejected steeds accordingly and shambled off in search of supplies.<br>
Through eleven days of pouring, pitiless rain we plodded on that never-to-be-forgotten trip, and when at last we sighted Bare Butte and halted, exhausted, at the swift-flowing current of the Belle Fourche, three fourths of our cavalry, of the Second, Third, and Fifth regiments, had made the last day’s march afoot. One half our horses were broken down for good, one fourth had fallen never to rise again, and dozens had been eaten to keep us, their riders, alive.<br>
Enlivening incidents were few enough, and—except one—of little interest to Milwaukeeans. That one is at your service. On the night of September 7th we were halted near the head-waters of Grand River. Here a force of one hundred and fifty men of the Third Cavalry, with the serviceable horses of that regiment, were pushed ahead under Major Anson Mills, with orders to find the Black Hills, buy up all the supplies he could in Deadwood, and then hurry back to meet us. Two days after, just as we were breaking up our cheerless bivouac of the night, a courier rode in with news that Mills was surrounded by the Indians twenty miles south, and every officer and man of the Fifth Cavalry whose horse had strength enough to trot pushed ahead to the rescue. Through mud, mist, and rain we plunged along, and by half-past ten were exchanging congratulations with Mills and shots with the redskins in as wealthy an Indian village, for its size, as ever we had seen. Custer’s guidons and uniforms were the first things that met our eyes—trophies and evidence at once of the part our foe had taken in the bloody battle of the Little Big Horn. Mills had stumbled upon the village before day, made a magnificent dash, and scattered the Indians to the neighbouring heights, Slim Buttes by name, and then hung on to his prize like a bull-dog, and in the face of appalling odds, till we rode in to his assistance. That afternoon, reinforced by swarms of warriors, they made a grand rally and spirited attack, but ’twas no use. By that time we had some two thousand to meet them, and the whole Sioux nation couldn’t have whipped us. Some four hundred ponies had been captured with the village, and many a fire was lighted and many a suffering stomach gladdened with a welcome change from horse-meat, tough and stringy, to rib roasts of pony, grass-fed, sweet, and succulent. There is no such sauce as starvation.<br>
Next morning, at break of day, General Crook, with the wounded, the Indian prisoners, his sturdy infantry, and all the cavalry but one battalion of the Fifth Regiment, pushed on for the south through the same overhanging pall of dripping mist. They had to go. There wasn’t a hard-tack north of Deadwood, and men must eat to live.
The First Battalion of the Fifth he left to burn completely the village with all its robes, furs, and Indian treasures, and to cover the retreat. <br>
As the last of the main column disappeared through the drizzle, with Mason’s skirmishers thrown well out upon their right flank, a light wind swept upward the veil of smoke and mist, and the panorama became evident to us and to the surrounding Indians at one and the same moment. There was no time to take observations—down they came with a rush.