Sheridan County Wyoming
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Building Fort Phil Kearney
Winter Hard on Indians.
We asked Jim Bridger how the Indians managed to live in the Winter, and he replied that but for their ponies and dogs many of them would starve. Some of them also went to the Government posts. It has been said that Red Cloud was a great warrior. Here is a typical of his fighting:
Picket Hill at Fort Phil Kearny overlooked the fort and one could see from there a man with the naked eye and could count all the men in the post. The Indians moreover had field glasses and spy glasses so they could easily have counted the men.
After the pickets retired for the night the Indians used to get on Picket Hill and copy all of our signals for the enjoyment of those in the fort.
After the massacre we had not more than 100 men, sick and wounded included, while Red Cloud had 6,000 or 8,000 men. The Crow Indians told us the next Summer that at the time of the massacre, Red Cloud got his warriors together to take the three forts, changed his mind and decided to take Phil Kearny first, then divide his warriors and massacre the troops at Fort C.S. Smith and Fort Reno, but that the 81 men at Kearny put up such a stiff fight he gave it up as a bad job.
Think of it 81 men were too tough a lot to be handled by Red Cloud with his 6,000 warriors.
We abandoned the three forts about the middle of July, 1868, and marched to Fort D.A. Russell. After living so long away from where there were vegetables and having a lot of cripples with the scurvy, we thought the Government would furnish vegetables, but not one vegetable did we get. The men chipped in mostly and traded bacon, coffee, and flour for vegetables. During the three years I was in the Army the Government never furnished us with any vegetables. Ours was indeed a "Forgotten Battalion."
After a rest of about four days, my company, Co. A, was detailed to guard the U.P. Railroad from Sibney, Nebr to Cheyenne, Wyo. Six men and a "noncom" were at each station with headquarters at Pine Bluffs, a distance of about 100 miles. I had charge of six men at Buford Station, about 35 miles from Cheyenne, and east of there. The rest of the regiment was sent down in Nebraska to hunt on the Republican and Blume Rivers Indians who had been killing settlers and freighters.
The soldiers captured a few prisoners and brought them back to North Platte, Nebr. They were turned loose a short time after, given some rations and told to be good. I suppose they were until the next Spring. Two Indians, chiefs, I think, were sent to Omaha Barracks, held for some time and then shipped home.
In the Spring of 1869, I went to work for J.W. Ilif (sp?), a cattleman. His stock ranged along north of the South Platte, where the towns of Easton and Greeley are now located, thence east to Fremont's Orchards, Fremont, Nebr. and north to the U.P. Railroad. He was the only cattleman in the country at that time.
I rode all over the country from Fort Collins to Sidney and north to Pumpkin Creek and Laurence Forks, Horse Creek. One man, a Mr. Sims, had a few cattle at the head of Horse Creek and Dick and Dan Latham at the Fort Laramie Crossing. In nearly two years riding there I never saw a buffalo. The report was that the Government had beat the Indians out of such a wonderful hunting ground. They said the whole country was full of game and made believe the Indians were robbed.
As I remember, the Government paid for every foot of land taken from the Indians. When I was working for Ilif the Indians would pass back and forth going south into Kansas and Nebraska, and north into the Dakotas and Wyoming. they burned one of our ranches in the Winter of 1869. It was close to where Grover, Colo., now stands, but we were all well armed and they kept clear of us.
They left the trail occasionally and killed cows so they could get the unborn calves to eat. They left their mark sometimes along the U.P. They killed several people at different times. Once I remember was at Pine Bluffs, where they killed a son of "Pine Bluff" Tracy. They took toll at the Bluffs several times, also at Sidney, Nebr., and at Point of Rocks, west of Sidney.
Sometime about the middle of May, 1870, they ran off a band of Ilif (sp?) horses from Simpson Canon, Chalk Bluffs. The horses were at North Platte in possession of the Sioux Indians the next year. Once later in the Spring of 1870 two of us were driving a herd of beef cattle to Cheyenne from Simpson Canon. At Chalk Bluffs we ran into a band of Indians 17 in number. The Indians didn't start anything, and we did not either. That was about seven miles east of Cheyenne.
Many of the Indians we fought were peaceable at later fights. We had to fight them all at one time or another, however. At the time of the Custer massacre, June 26, 1876, for example, the Arapahoe Indians were at the Wind River Agency in Cheyenne in the Indian Territory, being fed by the Government. The site of the Fetterman massacre, Dec. 21, 1866, was about 60 miles south of the Custer field, and 10 years earlier in time.
Squaws and Children Not There.
For a year or two before the Custer massacre, my partner, Peter Banna, and I had a contract to haul Indian goods to the warerooms at Camp Carlin and some to the I.W. French warerooms on the corner of 15th Avenue and Eddy Street, Cheyenne, Wyo. The goods consisted of flour, bacon, coffee, sugar, hard-tack, and some boxes of merchandise. There was a large quantity of it.
From Cheyenne the goods were freighted by bull trains and mules to a Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agency Dakota. Some years afterward they moved the depot to Sidney, Nebr. and freighted the goods from there, as it was a shorter haul.
At the time of the Custer massacre, Sitting Bull's children, squaws, and old men were well taken care of at the agency while he was out killing settlers and stealing stock. Some writers said the old men and the squaws were the ones that mutilated the Custer dead, but this was not so, for they were not there.
In the latter part of the year 1927, Gov. Johnson, of Oklahoma, made a statement printed in a Kansas City paper stating that the Indians always kept their agreements and all treaties, especially the treaty of 1867, laying all the blame on the Government for all the Indian wars. I can only be charitable and credit him with ignorance and good intentions certainly his statement lacked truth.
This was directly opposite from most experience of those having to deal with the Indians. I do not claim that all wrong was on one side, but I do claim that the Indian could never be trusted and never paid any attention to the treaty in question. Red Cloud in particular, to the best of my knowledge, never kept a treaty he made.
Little publicity or public recognition has ever been given the Indian War veteran and his accomplishments. They are indeed a forgotten people, and the only ones in American history so treated. They seem to have been put in the same class with the police in a city. They were so placed for the purpose of being shot at and abused. Their deeds were in a country little known and against an enemy that was not a National menace as in other wars. The natural result was that they were shelved when other veterans were getting pensions and monuments.
They traveled thru snow and cold without shelter and were expected to do the impossible, such as traveling 50 to a hundred miles in a day on foot to get to the scene of some depredation by Indians.
The popular idea was that they were no good anyway. Settlers that now enjoy their ranches in Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, New Mexico, and all of the Western States, in fact, should stop and think that at least one Indian War veteran lost his life for every township in the entire territory described.
Jim Bridger, a Western Character
In 1908 when I went to the reunion in Sheridan, WYo., Col. Carrington, with his wife, five soldiers, and two citizens were all we could rally. All but three are now dead. Mrs. Wheatly, the wife of the Wheatly that was killed at the massacre, married a man by the name of Breckenridge and lived on a ranch about five miles up the river from Fort Laramie. As I remember, she had two boys when she lived at Fort Phil Kearny. Lieut. Grummond's widow married Col. Carrington.
James Bridger was with us all the Summer of 1866 up until late in the Fall. If Carrington and the officers had followed the advice of Bridger I do not think there would have been nearly as many of our men killed. He told the officers not to follow the Indians and to send more men on escort duty, but they thought he was old and did not know anything about Indian warfare.
As I knew him he was nothing like the Jim Bridger as pictured in the film, "The Covered Wagon," which I saw in 1926. I never saw him under the influence of liquor and I know he did not have any squaws along with him. He must have been between 60 and 70 years of age at that time, but he was quite spry, was a good story teller and could speak the Indian language.
To correct a wrong impression about Col. Fetterman I wish to make one statement for those that may be interested. He was charged with disobeying orders. I am sure he did not disobey orders the morning of the massacre. Maj. Powell told some of the truth about the massacre, but in the phraseology of the days he was "squelched."
When I was in Sheridan in 1908 there was a distinct feeling in the air that I should not say anything about it. The party went out to where the "wagon-box fight" took place, but did not take John Stwan or me along. I was on the massacre ground in July of 1908 and noted that the ledge of stone where the men were massacred was gone completely. It had been removed for some reason, but it would have been better to have left it. It was about where the monument now stands.
Just a little side light and a few comments on how the regular solders was treated by Uncle Sam in those days. In the first place he was not taught anything about "first aid," and was not furnished anything for firstaid use unless at a fort. Men were sent out on escort of wagon trains and if wounded had nothing to bandage the wound or stop the bleeding.
Usually the wounded man was put on top of the freight wagon on the goods in it and in the Summer this was next to the wagon sheet, where he would burn up from the rays of the sun while in Winter it was freezing cold. Often it would be several days before the wounded man could see a doctor. You will have noticed from this article that there was no doctor at the Fetterman massacre, none at the "wagon-box fight", and there was never one sent out with escort in those days.