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Building Fort Phil Kearney
Part II

The following article appeared in the National Tribune, on June 14, 1928. It is an eye-witness account of the living conditions in the military forts in the 1860s, written by William Murphy, a survivor of the Fetterman Massacre. This was generously contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Don Houck of Bellevue, WA, and we sincerely appreciate this gift! It was transcribed by Kathie MacDonald, and we appreciate her hard work! This is the second of the four part series.

Building Fort Phil Kearny
About 300 Men Composed the Garrison
Wood Train Attacked on Dec. 6, 1866
Fetterman's Company Sent to Relieve the Wagon Train
Reinforcements Sent Under Command of Capt. Tenyck

By WILLIAM MURPHY, Co. A, 18th U. S.

At this time the 2d Battn. of the 18th Inf. was divided up by leaving the two companies at Fort Reno to relieve two volunteer companies. Four companies went 65 miles north of Reno and built Fort Phil Kearny. Two companies went 90 miles farther north and built Fort C. F. Smith, on the bank of the Big Horn, which left four companies at Phil Kearny.

I was among those left at this place. We started in building the Fort Phil Kearny stockade, which was 600 feet by 800 feet in dimensions. The logs were set three feet in the ground, projected eight feet, and were hewed on two sides to a touching surface. We also built quarters for the officers, warerooms, suttler's store, guardhouse, stockade for the mules, and quarters for the men.

There were approximately 250 men at the fort, but I could not vouch for the exact number. I was a member of Co. A, of 48 men. Co. K was the largest and had about 65 men, if I remember correctly. Some time after we established the fort, Co. C, of the 2d U. S. Cav., arrived with some 60 men, which made about 300 men all told. Some reports stated that we had a mounted infantry, but that was a mistake. It was made up of about 30 men who were detailed out of the infantry company at the fort.

On Dec 6, 1866, the wood train was attacked. In itself this was nothing unusual, as it was almost an every-day occurrence. Col. Carrington with Co. C, of the 2d Cav., and some mounted men went to its relief. The Indians retreated and crossed the Pineys, and Carrington followed them and nearly got trapped. This was two or three miles north of where the massacre occurred Dec. 21 following.

It was at this time that Lieut. Bingham and Sergt. Bowers were killed. In Carrington's report he stated that Lieut. Bingham had charge of the mounted men. Carrington himself had charge of the command. Bingham was on the skirmish line and was on the right flank with Sergt. Bowers and John Donovan.

Carrington saw his danger and had the "recall" sounded. That left Lieut. Bingham, Sergt. Bowers, and John Donovan cut off by the Indians. They dismounted for a short time, but decided that their only chance was to run the gauntlet, as their commander had retreated to a higher point. Lieut. Bingham and Sergt. Bowers were pulled off their horses by the Indians. John Donovan was armed with a Colt's army revolver and a single-short Star carbine, using a cooper cartridge, the same as a Spencer carbine.

The revolver, he told me, was all that saved him when the Indians were on each side of him trying to pull him off his horse, for just in the nick of time he shot one on each side. He was a bunkie of mine and a good man, and was a Civil War veteran. We both belonged to the same comany—2d Battn., 18th U.S. He told me that Bingham was unarmed except for a cavalry saber.

The Phil Kearny Massacre.
We had had a fine Fall, with cool nights, and on this day the wood train left as usual about 7 o'clock to go to the timber. As I remember, we mounted guard as usual at 8 o'clock.. I was in the Orderly Sergeant's office giving him the money for the milk when the order to have Co. A. to go to the relief of the wood train.

They "fell in" in front of our quarters, which was the northwest men's quarters of the garrison. The main gate was at the north end of the stockade. The road ran by the west end of the quarters and passed by the Adjutant's office and all officers' quarters to the Government storerooms and into the stock corral.

The bastion of the stockade was at least 200 feet from where the men fell in in front of the quarters. I see in Carrington's report that one of his alibis was that the guard at the bastion heard him tell Fetterman not to leave the wood train.

I was standing right there and saw the men start on a double-quick and go up over Sullivans Hill, and I am certain that this report was wrong. As a matter of fact, from the position of the troops the guard could not have heard this or any command given, for he would have had to hear the command thru the buildings.

Another of his reports was that Maj. Powell was ordered to take the detail, but as Capt. Fetterman was the senior officer he stepped up and took charge. The facts of the case are that Capt. Fetterman was the Captain of Co. A and it is ridiculous to think that Maj. Powell would think of taking command of Co. A. Fetterman was at the fort for only a short time; not over 15 days, from my recollection.

I did not see the mounted men go out. They never passed thru the main fort, but went out either the east or the west side of the stockade where the stock was kept. At the noon hour we could hear volleys plainly and they continued for a long period of time.

About 2 o'clock or 2:30 Col. Carrington ordered reinforcements of about 45 men under Capt. Tenyck to go out. They went at a double-quick, or as fast as they could, until they came to the crossing of the Big Piney.

Wade the Icy River.
Cool nights had caused ice to form on the edges of the stream, but this stream was hard to cross at any time of the year. The men had to remove their shoes and stockings to get across. At that time Col. Carrington's orderly, a man by the name of Sample, met the reinforcements and told Capt. Tenyck that the men were all dead and that the Indians were all over the ground where the men had been.

Some of the men said that this was Sample's second trip out with information. I could not say, as I saw him but the once for certain. In reply to this Capt. Tenyck said that there were not enough Indians in the country to kill the men.

He advanced along the road with a few men on each side on the ridges as skirmishers. When they got to the top of the divide which separates the Piney Creek from the Peno Valley, where the men had been stationed, they found that the Indians had withdrawn from where they had massacred the soldiers and seemed to be rehearsing the battle.

They were shooting, shouting, and charging up and down the hill over and over again. I supposed the hill must have been as much as a mile away from where the men were massacred.

Our first thought was that the battle was still going on, but a man from my company by the name of McLain, who had been with the haying party and was familiar with the road, said, "There are the men down there, all dead."

Sure enough. There was at that time a large stone that had the appearance of having dropped from a great hight (height) and thereby split open, leaving a space between the pieces men could pass thru, which made a good protection for a small body of men—I should say for about 25 or 30. Around this rock was where the main body of the men lay.

There were just a few down on the side of the ridge north of the rock not more than 50 feet from the main body. Along down the ridge farther north and east we found the bodies of Capt. Brown, the two citizens, Wheatly and Fisher, and also a man of my company by the name of Beaber. They were scalped, stripped, and mutilated.

Soldier on horseback Corrections Noted..
They must have put up a hard fight, as they were all armed with breech-loading rifles, and alot of empty shells lay all around. The Indians had given Beaber an extra dose. It looked as though they had first stripped him and then filled his body with arrows, as they were sticking out of him all over like porcupine quills.

He had straight black hair and looked something like an Indian himself. He had passed thru the Civil War, as had three-fourths of the men that were killed. In some reports of the massacre it was stated that the men were ambushed, but looking over the ground anyone could see, and can now see, that they had a very good position for the arms that were used in those days. There was no stampede or ambush.


In Carrington's book he stated that he sent two wagon loads of ammunition to them by the relief, but the fact was that he sent two empty wagons and an ambulance and possibly one box of ammunition of 1,000 rounds (certainly not more than that). These conveyances were used in bringing in the dead, and could have been sent by the Colonel for no other purpose.

His statement on the face of it is impossible of belief. In the first place he would not have sent two loads (40,000 rounds) for a detail of 100 men, and in the second place there was not even one load—20,000 rounds—in the three forts.

After the massacre it was reported that there was in the fort an average of 50 rounds per man for the survivors, and the men undoubtedly killed after they ran out of ammunition.

They started out with 20 rounds each and undoubtedly used some of this on their detail work before the massacre. On the ground around the rocks there were thousands of arrows, a lot of which were picked up by our men. We had known for a long time that we were short of ammunition.

It was customary, I understood to have the guards have target practice when they came off guard, but our guns were loaded when we got into the Indian country and were kept so. We had no target practice of any kind.

At the time of the massacre they tried to show that Capt. Tenyck showed cowardice and took a roundabout way, but this was not true. One thing was sure about Tenyck—there was no cowardice in his make-up. He could not have taken a roundabout way if he wanted to do so, as his command was in plain sight of the fort.

There was an Indian riding around near where the bodies of the dead were lying. He hollered for the men to come down. Capt. Tenyck told some of the men to go down and load the wagons and ambulances with the bodies. All of the bodies were stripped, scalped, and mutilated with the exception of two who were not scalped, but the Indians had drawn a buffalo bag over their heads.

We returned to camp without firing a shot. It was dark when the 45 men under Capt. Tenyck returned to the fort.

At the fort all was excitement. The magazine at the fort was a half dugout located on the parade grounds. The men worked all night there building a stockade all around it with green planks and putting water and provisions inside in case of a siege. The next afternoon Col. Carrington, with about 50 men, went after the balance of the bodies. They dug a long trench and put two or three bodies into each box.

A day or two after the massacre the weather turned bitterly cold and the men were badly frozen trying to bury the dead. There was a heavy fall of snow, which drifted the roads and ravines badly. The master of transportation had deserted some time in November and with him in his pockets went the money for our supply of wood and hay.

It was reported that he went to Canada. We had to go seven miles for pine wood for the officers. The men got green cottonwood from the Piney bottoms and fed the tops to the mules. The poor mules ate holes thru the logs in their stables.

We had to go to Reno, 65 miles away, for corn. The snow was very deep and it took several days to make the trip. The men suffered terribly as there was not shelter for men or mules, and they were three or four nights out on the roads. The mercury dropped to 25 and 40 below zero and kept that way for about six weeks.

Our shoes were made of cheap split leather and the shoddy clothes that were furnished at that time were not any protection. One thing in our favor was that after the first few days' storm we had very little wind. Burlap sacks were at a premium and saved our lives. We wrapped them about our shoes to keep from freezing, for there were not overshoes or rubbers to be had at the fort. A few years later soldiers were furnished fur overcoats.

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 3