The author of this well known and well regarded work begins her story of army life as a young officer’s wife on the western frontier with all the naivety and trepidation one might expect. She was married to an army officer of the 18th U. S Infantry, George Washington Grummond and their post was to be the far flung outpost of Fort Phil Kearney, Wyoming, which was soon to be the centre of the maelstrom which was ‘Red Cloud’s War.’ Grummond was one of the ill-fated detachment who rode out of the fort to the ‘Fetterman Massacre’ of 1866 and thus, by disobeying orders, put himself into the history books as a participant in the worst disaster suffered by the U. S Army at the hands of the Plains Indian tribes until George Armstrong Custer—together with elements of the 7th Cavalry—was eradicated at Little Big Horn some 10 years later. Frances Grummond, as the author was at the time, was widowed and understandably distraught. She was comforted by the post commander’s wife, Margaret Carrington who wrote, Ab-sa-ra-ka—Home of the Crows. Margaret Carrington died in 1870 and Mrs Grummond subsequently became the second wife of Colonel Henry B. Carrington. This book is an essential work on the Indian Wars of the mid-nineteenth century in America, it provides valuable insights into army life and also recounts a notable incident in American frontier history. An essential component of any library of the subject as well as being an engrossing and fascinating view of how women of the time dealt with extraordinary danger and adversity.
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The trail led across a dry timbered branch that joined with Crazy Woman Creek probably an eighth of a mile below the road. This dry creek was a veritable sand pit, and it was extremely heavy pulling through it. We had to follow down this sandy bed about a hundred yards before getting out on to the rise between the two creeks.<br>
The entire detachment was in this dry bed urging the teams through the sand, when to our complete astonishment a volley of arrows and rifle-shots were poured into us. The shots were accompanied with a chorus of savage yells, and the timber and brush above and about us was fairly alive with Indians. Fortunately no one was hurt by the first onslaught and a detail of ten men under Lieutenant Bradley hurriedly charged up the bank ahead of the lead team and drove a gang of painted devils back toward the Crazy Woman Creek. By almost superhuman exertions the wagons and ambulances were brought up out of the dry sandy bed and hurriedly corralled on the little rise between the creeks.<br>
The corral was under a hot fire from the Indians, and really before it had been completed, Lieutenant Daniels’ horse came tearing into the corral, with the saddle turned under him and a couple of arrows sticking in his neck and two more in his flank. The horse was of course riderless. A second later, Lieutenant Templeton appeared riding up out of the dry bed of the creek hatless, two or three arrows in his horse’s withers and flanks, and an arrow in his own back. Templeton was bleeding profusely from a wound in the face, and his whole visage was one of extreme terror, and as soon as he reached the corral he reeled and partly fell from his horse. He was lifted from the saddle in a state of complete collapse. He merely uttered, “Daniels! My God, Indians! They wasn’t buffalo.” Poor Templeton was quickly laid in one of the wagons for protection, as the Indians were fast closing in around the corral. Already two of the mules had been killed and had to be cut out of the teams. We stood the red devils off as well as we could, but it very soon became evident that we must get out of that hole or every last one of us would be massacred in a very few minutes. <br>
It was thereupon decided that we should bunch the wagons, two in front with the two ambulances next, and the other three to follow behind, and in this way retreat to a high knoll south of us about a half mile away between the two creeks. We would thus get away from the timber that was sheltering the Indians and would stand some show of giving them as good as they sent. The two dead mules belonged to the cook wagon team, and consequently this somewhat disarranged affairs. We had not more than got started when another of the mules was disabled by a bullet, and it had to be cut out. The rear guard of seven men under Lieutenant Bradley held the Indians off until the mule was cut out. There being no time to lose, as the Indians were constantly being reinforced, we determined to abandon the cook wagon and make our retreat as rapidly as possible. This was done and then it was a fight for life. <br>
A party of Indians seeing what we were up to undertook to cut off our retreat and to take possession of the hill we were aiming for.<br>
The advance guard held their ground like heroes and fought every foot of the way. The teams were kept on the run and then came the charge of twelve men under Lieutenant Wands and Lieutenant Skinner up the hill for its possession. The Indians were poor shooters, and wounded only one man in the charge, and then, the cowards they were, broke and ran from the hill. Captain Marr, who had a Henry rifle, a sixteen shooter, used it with wholesome effect on the running Indians, and stopped two of them permanently. They were gathered up, however, by a bunch of Indian horsemen and carried away.<br>
In the meanwhile the rear guard was holding the Indians in check from the creek side, and the wagons and ambulances were safely brought to the hill. A corral was immediately made, with the mules inside the corral. The ambulances were protected by the wagons, and all the stock in fact were sheltered inside the corral.<br>
From the hill it could be seen that the Indians were receiving constant reinforcements, and we were fairly surrounded by between two and three hundred of them. <br>
Rifle pits were dug just outside the corral, and we lay there in the scorching sun, famishing for water. But the Indians were between us and the much desired water, and in fact it seemed as if Indians were everywhere. Off to our left three or four hundred yards was a high sandy ridge, that terminated in a knoll down at the creek. Between the corral and this ridge was a deep narrow cleft in the earth, that led in a crooked course down toward the creek. We did not know of the existence of this ravine until a shower of arrows flew from it toward the corral, which succeeded in wounding three of the men.<br>
Chaplain Wright was one of the men slightly wounded by the fusillade of arrows from the ravine, and he and a gallant young soldier named Fuller volunteered to charge the ravine and drive the Indians out of it. Wright was armed with but an old-fashioned “pepper box” seven shooter pistol, but undaunted and furiously mad he and Fuller started on the run for the ravine. A moment later we heard a strange volley of shots, something like the modern rapid fire guns, and several Indians were observed climbing up out of the ravine and making hot haste for the ridge to the west. <br>
We hurried their departure with a volley from the rifle pits and saw one of them tumble and roll back down the hill and disappear into the ravine. Fuller and Wright appeared again from a point fifty or more yards down the ravine and shouted that they had got two of the devils and that the ravine was clear down as far as the creek. Wright had killed an Indian in the ravine with the “pepper box,” it having gone off altogether, thus accounting for the strange volley we had heard.<br>
The Indians began to get very cautious and were not disposed to take any more chances in the ravine. However, parties of them would mount their ponies, and swinging themselves to the off side of them would make a ferocious dash close to the corral, and fire at us from under their horses’ necks. Two more men were wounded by these charges and matters began to look very serious for us. Over half of the detachment were now wounded, several of them seriously, and they were making piteous calls for water.<br>
The middle of the afternoon wore away, and finally it was determined that a heroic effort should be made to secure water from the creek by way of the ravine at our left. A detail of gallant fellows loaded themselves down with canteens and a couple of buckets and started for the creek. They were covered by a detachment of like number, and further protection was guaranteed them from the wagons.<br>
The Indians did not seem to catch on to the move, and instead of following the water detail, renewed their attack on the wagons with great vigour. The two ladies were angels of mercy and tenderness and looked after the wounded most heroically and bravely. During the absence of the water detail we suffered no casualties, and the detail returned, having met with unbounded success. The water tremendously refreshed all of us, and the poor thirsty animals were also given a portion.<br>
The Indians by this time discovered that something had happened to revive our spirits and they determined on a concerted attack to finish us. They made two charges on the corral but were repulsed. We lost, however, one man killed, Sergeant Terrel, and three more wounded. The Indians again withdrew out of range for conference and our own condition was now becoming so desperate that a council of war was held. It was solemnly decided, that in case it came to the worst that we would mercifully kill all the wounded and the two women and then ourselves. The thought then occurred to Chaplain Wright that the attempt might be made for one or two of the command to cut through the Indians, and make the ride back to Fort Reno for reinforcements.