Rescue of the German Sisters from the Cheyenne in Gray County, TX

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Rescue of the German Sisters
from the Cheyenne in Gray County, TX

Original Source:  The Pampa Daily News, Pampa, Texas, November 8, 1936

The following is an accurate and vivid account of the only large scale Indian battle that took place in Gray County. The sight of the battle has been marked with a granite monument which will be dedicated this afternoon. The author of the dramatic story of the fight wrote his account using information obtained from General Miles and Lieutenant Baldwin. The U.S. Army version by Brigadier General W.C. Brown U.S.A., Retired.

We have all heard of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" and of Picket's charge and many of us have heard of other charges but few have heard of "The Charge of the Wagon Train" which resulted in the awarding of that much coveted decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Infantry Lieutenant who led his gallant wagons to the fray. This six-mule-team charge unique and thrilling took place about fifteen miles southeast of Pampa in Gray County Texas on the north bank of McClellan Creek. But let us turn back for a moment to the state of Georgia. The German family consisting of father, mother, a boy and six girls had left Georgia in April 1870 to find a home in Colorado. Poor, but with indomitable spirits so characteristic of a great portion of those who seek homes in the west where economic conditions afford better opportunities, this family group made enroute three stops ranging from four to thirty months. At each of these, the family worked to earn sufficient funds to push a little further west.

Not Well Informed

They finally arrived at Ellis, Kansas, which at that time was about the eastern limit of the zone of danger from hostile Indians. Although uneasy, they had no adequate conception of the dangers ahead, and so pushed on along over the old stage route which in a general way led up the valley of the Smoky Hill River. By September 10, 1874 with their one wagon and cattle, they were within a days journey from Fort Wallace, Kansas and comparative safety. On the following morning as they were leaving camp, they were suddenly attacked by a band of seventeen "Dog Soldiers" under Kicking Horse. The parents, Steven 19, Rebecca 20 and Joanna 15, were all killed and scalped in the presence of the four terrified surviving sisters who were carried off as captives. The details of the harrowing experiences of these four girls is so simply and pathetically told in "Girl Captives of the Cheyenne" by Mrs. Grace E. Meredith, niece of Katherine, that we leave these experiences to be told by her.

Story of Rescue

Our story has to do with an incident of the Indian Territory expedition of 1874 commanded by Colonel Nelson A. Miles and specifically concerned with the magnificent sudden onslaught on Gray Beard's camp on November 8, 1875 which resulted in the re-capture of Julia and Adelaide. On November 4, 1874 the headquarters and a portion of the troops composing the Indian Territory expedition commanded by Major General Nelson A. Miles, then Colonel of the 5th United States Infantry was camped on the north bank of the Red River bordering the staked plain of Texas. The term "staked plain" came from a series of poles or stakes that had been driven to outline a route for cowboys and their herds making a practicable route which led by water holes, springs and small lakes. A detachment from this command was organized composed of Troop D, Sixth Cavalry, Lt. Gilbert E. Bailey commanding. Lt. Frank D. Baldwin, Fifth United States Infantry, who is Chief of Scouts was assigned to command the detachment. Gen. Miles' verbal instructions to Lt. Baldwin were:

Empty Wagons

"I want you to take this detachment of Cavalry, Infantry and scouts, one mountain howitzer and a train of twenty-three six-mule-teams with empty wagons and proceed north and eastward. Should you run across no Indians or trains which you deem advisable to attack or follow, you will convey the train to the supply camp on the Washita River. Should you find any considerable body of Indians, you will communicate with me and attack or pursue as you may deem expedient." Under those instructions, the detachment left the main camp at 10 PM November 4, 1874. The personnel of this command could not be an offensive fighting force. It was intended only to act on the defensive as a convoy to the large wagon train. This was the real mission of this detachment. A train is always a great impediment to an active command when in the field and moving through a country infested by an active cunning enemy never encumbered by any surplus equipment that impedes instant and rapid movement either in attack or escape.

Too Few Troops

Before going further, let it be vividly impressed on mind that this detachment was only the proper strength to ensure the safe convoying of the train through a section of the country overrun by large bands of hostile Indians. To divert any portion of the troops constituting the envoy for any purpose that would prevent their defending the train would be hazardous if not almost unwarranted except under unusual conditions. It would only be risking the destruction of the detachment, and above all the train and property with very doubtful chances of success. From the information gather from scouts and captured hostile Indians, it was certain that the four German girls were alive. They were held by their captors and were with Gray Beard, head chief of the strongest hostile tribe in that section. His exact whereabouts was not known, but it was more than probable that he would be found in the most out of the way and inaccessible place in the country. Under these conditions, no command detachment moved that did not have in mind the meeting of Indians. But foremost in the minds of all was the rescue of the white captives, whatever the risk or hazard might be.

Bitterly Cold

After leaving the main command, Lt. Baldwin moved as rapidly as possible, Infantry and wagons through the hills and valleys following no trails, thus taking advantage of a natural screen. After three days and nights of marching, camp was established in a dense forest of Cottonwood on the bank of McClellan Creek. Only fires necessary for cooking coffee were lighted, although it was a bitterly cold night. The following morning, November 8, scouts were sent out before daybreak, so as to carefully examine before resuming the march. The country to the north and east was very rough and hardly passable for wagons. The command had just started from camp when scout W.F. Schmalsle came back at breakneck speed reporting that the advance guard had discovered a large band of hostiles. "We are sure it is Gray Beard's Band! His teepee is there! " he reported.

Messenger to Miles

Schmalsle was at once dispatched to find Gen. Miles, then only eight miles to the rear to inform him that Gray Beard's camp had been located and would be attacked at once, although it was evident that the convoy was greatly outnumbered by the hostiles. Miles sent Maj. Compton with Company H, Sixth Cavalry to Baldwin's support, but Compton did not arrive until the close of the engagement. The large number of wicky-ups and teepees and herds of ponies grazing in the vicinity caused the first realization of the desperate situation at hand and the degree of responsibility involved in determining to attack so large a force which outnumbered the convoy at least two-to-one. It seemed almost rashness to attack, but Lt. Baldwin knew his men and knew they would fight. He also felt that he had the important element of surprise in his favor.

Double Columns

The train guard was brought to the front, the train forming in double columns with lead teams on a line with the most advanced troops. The wagonmaster was informed that he would have no train guard, and that the safety of the train depended on its keeping abreast of the front-line troops. Thus, the wagon train for the time being enjoyed the distinction of being in the "front line". Without halting a moment, this formation was completed. The fighting force was in single line, a train and howitzer in the center. Under the circumstances, this was the best formation for an offensive attack, but to succeed it must be expeditiously carried out. Without hesitation, Lt. Baldwin rode ahead a few yards and the hostile camp was discovered less than a mile away. It was a reckless undertaking, but this was no time to think of that. The troops having reached the crest of the divide, the trumpeter sounded "the charge" and as the clear shrill notes of that thrilling call echoed through the valley reaching the ears of the Indians, which was evidently their first warning of any danger, yelling troopers, wagontrain and all rushed madly down the slope into and through the camp like a hurricane.

A Grand Sight

The charge was spectacular, grand and most effective in results. Old soldiers believe it was the first instance of an engagement where every man, hoof and wheel was used in the first onslaught on an enemy's camp. There was a stampede on the part of the Indians and not one of them was found in the camp excepting those who had been disabled. They retreated to the westward, reaching the staked plain only a short distance away. The command closely followed, not stopping an instant at the camp, but keeping on to where the warriors made a stand. The Indians held their position for some time, thus enabling their squaws and children to get out of reach of the troops. Taking then only the time necessary to reform the command as at the start, the advance was resumed. It was not difficult to force the enemy back, although there was a constant fusillade of shots poured into the advancing line at long range which fortunately was not effective. This was returned with deliberation and effect by the troops, and the hostiles were driven back in much confusion. After reaching this position, the command was on the plain and the view presented as far as the eye could reach was a vast exposure of comparatively low, level, barren country covered with squaws and children in full flight from one to three miles away. The obstinate braves however, were gathering again to contest the advance, keeping between the troops and their fleeing squaws and children. Then the Infantry was put back into the wagons and all hands had a short rest. The aggressive forward movement was resumed. All efforts to impede the advance of the troops were feeble. The howitzer was brought to bear upon them and finally the mounted troops were offered to charge, which was done with most satisfactory results. The Indians were breaking up and no subsequent demonstration was made by them that was at all formidable. After being followed for about twelve miles, the Indians scattered and shortly, not a brave was in sight. The pursuit was then discontinued, owing principally to the utter exhaustion of both men and animals. The troops had been four hours under fire, all this time advancing as rapidly as possible. Subsequently, Gen. Miles and four troops of Cavalry joined the convoy.

Indians Scattered

The results of the engagement were the utter defeat land scattering of Gray Beard's band of more than three-hundred Cheyenne warriors. The capture of his camp with his entire paraphernalia and many ponies, and last, but most important of all, the rescue of two of the white children, Julia and Adelaide German. There is no doubting that the Indians would have murdered these girls had it not been for the sudden attack of the troops. The spectacle presented by twenty-three six-mule-teams and wagons in double column flanked by the Cavalry charging down the slope at a run, [the wagons, it should be remembered, were empty save for a few Infantry men in each] was extremely terrifying. Instead of being a source of weakness as is usually the case, the train was actually an asset in this instance. The children were found in Gray Beard's abandoned teepee by a soldier of Company D, Fifth Infantry. Their story was heart rending and they were in a most pitiable condition. Scarred, bruised and sunburned so to be almost beyond recognition, their clothes in rags and themselves in a starving condition, they were taken in charge and carefully looked after by Dr. Junius L. Powell, Medical Department, and soon restored to normal health.

Baldwin Honored

For this rescue, Lt. Baldwin was, for the second time in his military career, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation accompanying it reads "The Congress of the United States to Captain Frank D. Baldwin, Fifth United States Infantry, for rescuing with two Companies, two white girls by volunteer attack upon Indians whose superior numbers and strong position, would have warranted delay for reinforcements, but which delay would have permitted the Indians to escape and kill their captives." Lt. Overton and Bailey were breveted for gallantry in action in the same battle in what is now Gray County, Texas. [Taken from the Pampa Daily News, Pampa, Texas Sunday morning, November 8, 1936.]


This page was last updated November 18, 2011.