GENERAL SULLY'S CAMPAIGN OR FIGHTING INDIANS FROM AN AMBULANCE
(Letter) from A. C. Rallya
Dear Comrade Webb
I will now relate a few things that I remember in the Sully campaign of 1868. Troop I 7th US Calvary left Fort Wallace in the spring of 1868 being ordered to join the regiment at Fort Hays. Arriving there in good shape we were surprised to find that the 7th US Calvary had a new commander General Sully as General Custer had been suspended from the Army for one year. And let me say right here that I think it should have been for all time. And I think it would had it not been for General Sheridan. No doubt you know why. We stayed at Fort Hays only long enough to be fitted out for the warpath. Before leaving we were told that I Company would have a new commander at Keogh and would be on General Sully's staff. This was sorrowful news as every man in the troop idolized Captain Keogh. However we were not going to lose him entirely and would see him every day and did as he kept close touch with us to see that we were properly treated. Captain Cox was our new troop commander. Don't know where he came from but did not amount to much. We did not know where we were going but we're on our way to bringing up at Fort Dodge. After a short stay there we crossed the Arkansas River and started south. On our way we were told that this was to be known as the Sully Campaign after Indians and right here let me say that it will never be forgotten by those who took part in it and will be remembered as at least the worst the 7th US Calvary ever took part in. We did not have much fighting to do until we got into the sand hills and then and there we were up against it proper and trying to cross forks of Canadian and Cimarron River we lost several wagons and mules swamped in the quicksand. The only one of the scouts and guides in my estimation that amounted to anything was California Joe and he knew but little of that part of the country. California Joe was a tall raw boned red headed old scout whose appearance and makeup would indicate that soap, water, common brush had been forgotten for a long time. What he lacked in makeup he more than made up in bravery as he was like a tiger in that respect. His only aim during life was to kill Indians and revenge for the massacre of his wife and children. He joined our expedition at Fort Dodge and wanted nothing for anything that he might do to help us along which he did on many occasions. His only wish was to be given a free hand in killing Indians. He said 'give me a horse and mule, something to eat, also plenty of ammunition and when you see the smoke from my ol long tom you can reckon there is one Indian less to fight. We did see the smoke from that long tom many a time. He usually wore an old blue army overcoat and government boots with cartridge box, saddle pockets and nose bag full of ammunition. He had a quart bottle of forty rod, an overcoat, pocket and you could imagine perhaps his appearance riding the small mule in his number fourteen boots almost touching the ground. I never saw him take a drink of water and one day I asked him why it was. His reply was that water would rot your boots and he would not take any chances with his stomach. When Colonel Jack Romeo did not find a passage way through the sand hills we were obliged to turn back and recross the river. From that time on we were kept busy fighting Indians and every day brought more. We were told not to waste our ammunition but wait until the Indians came close in and were about to pull us out of the saddles and then fire. Wagon train was doubled up in order to be able to corral our wagons rapidly should occasion require it. However we did make out to fight our way back without doing that. The Indians circled our train several times drove our advance and rear guard in also our flankers. The Indians however were darn poor shots and once in a while they would hit a wagon or mule. The only man lost on that trip that I can recall was Captain Hamilton's orderly. He was allowed to lag behind the rear guard one morning as we were starting on our days march. A bunch of Indians swooped down on the poor man and took him off. That morning our troop was at the head of the column and close to headquarters. Sergeant Andrews of our troop hastened to Keogh and requested permission to take a detail and try to rescue the man. Keogh requested permission of General Sully and he reluctantly gave consent. Andrews grabbed a dozen or so of us kids and had the best horses and we were off. Not giving a thought about our own lives as the hills and ravines were lined with Indians. They had perhaps two miles the best of us but we gained on them rapidly. My horse was not fast but could run all day so I was at the head of the party. After a few miles run we got so close to them that they drew their bows and arrows and thinking that we would rescue our man they shot several arrows into his body. He did not fall from his horse as I think he was tied on but loped down in the saddle badly hurt. At that time the Indians did not many firearms and this bunch did not seem to have any. However I would prefer a bullet to an arrow anytime. General Sully had gotten out of his ambulance and was keeping tab on us. He perhaps thought we were getting too far ahead from the command so he had his bugler sound the recall. Andrews called our attention to it and said the only thing to do was turn back or get into trouble so you could imagine the status of our minds when turning back and leaving our comrade to his fate. Maybe you think I did not say some hard words for a long time after that and yet we cannot tell what might have happened to us if we had kept going. There might have been another Kidder or Major Elliott slaughter. However on occasions like that we never thought of danger but would ride through hell to rescue a comrade. The Indians seemed to think they had us licked and every day they would receive reinforcements. They became more daring and when they became too numerous and daring General Sully would crawl out of his ambulance, have his orderly help him on his horse, then look things over and perhaps order a charge made. This state of affairs continued from day to day for some time and finally the Indians commenced disappearing. I don't know why unless they thought we were not worth wasting any more ammunition on. We went into camp not far from where camp supply was established a little later. We stayed here until Custer was restored to command and poor old General Sully went back into his ambulance to his former command at Harker and so ended the Sully campaign.
Yours in comradeship,
A. C. Rallya Troop I 7th US Cavalry 1866-71 Los Angeles, CA