A History of the Sioux War, and a Life of Gen. George A. Custer, with a Full Account of his Last Battle/Chapter 10



On the 10th of October, as a train escorted by two companies of the 6th Infantry was carrying supplies from Glendive Creek to the cantonment at the mouth of Tongue River, it was attacked by Indians, and was obliged to return to Glendive with a loss of sixty mules.

Lieut. Col. Otis was in command at Glendive, and on the 14th he again started out the train and personally accompanied it. The train consisted of 86 wagons, 41 of which were driven by soldiers, who had taken the places of as many citizen teamsters too demoralized by the recent attack to continue in the service. The military escort numbered with officers 196 men. The following interesting narrative of subsequent events is from the report of Col. Otis:—

"We proceeded on the first day 12 miles, and encamped on the broad bottom of the Yellowstone River, without discovering a sign of the presence of Indians. During the night a small thieving party was fired upon by the pickets, but the party escaped, leaving behind a single pony, with its trappings, which was killed. At dawn of day, upon the 15th, the train pulled out in two strings, and proceeded quietly to Spring Creek, distant from camp about three miles, when I directed two mounted men to station themselves upon a hill beyond the creek, and watch the surrounding country until the train should pass through the defile. The men advanced at swift pace in proper direction, and when within 50 yards of the designated spot, they received a volley from a number of concealed Indians, when suddenly men and Indians came leaping down the bluff. The men escaped without injury to person, although their clothing was riddled with bullets. I quickly advanced on the skirmish line, which drove out 40 or 50 Indians, and making a similar movement on the opposite flank, passed through the gorge and gained the high table land. Here, three or four scouts, sent out by Colonel Miles, from Tongue River, joined us. They had been driven into the Tongue upon the previous evening, there corraled, had lost their horses and one of their number, and escaped to the bluffs under cover of the darkness. The dead scout was found and buried.

"The train proceeded along the level prairie, surrounded by the skirmish line, and the Indians were coming thick and fast from the direction of Cabin Creek. But few shots were exchanged, and both parties were preparing for the struggle which it was evident would take place at the deep and broken ravine at Clear Creek, through which the train must pass. We cautiously entered the ravine, and from 150 to 200 Indians had gained the surrounding bluffs to our left; signal fires were lighted for miles around, and extended far away on the opposite side of the Yellowstone. The prairies to our front were fired, and sent up vast clouds of smoke. We had no artillery, and nothing remained to us except to charge the bluffs. Company C, of the 17th Infantry, and Company H, of the 22d Infantry, were thrown forward upon the run, and gallantly scaled the bluffs, answering the Indian yell with one equally as barbarous, and driving back the enemy to another ridge of hills. We then watered all the stock at the creek, took on water for the men, and the train slowly ascended the bluffs.

"The country now surrounding us was broken. The Indians continued to increase in numbers, surrounded the train, and the entire escort became engaged. The train was drawn up in four strings, and the entire escort enveloped it by a thin skirmish line. In that formation we advanced, the Indians pressing every point, especially the rear, Company C, 17th, which was only able to follow by charging the enemy, and then retreating rapidly toward the train, taking advantage of all the knolls and ridges in its course. The flanks, Companies G, 17th, and K and G, 22d, were advanced about 1000 yards, and the road was opened in the front, by Company H, 22d, by repeated charges.

"In this manner we advanced several miles, and then halted for the night upon a depression of the high prairie, the escort holding the surrounding ridge. The Indians now had attempted every artifice. They had pressed every point of the line, had run their fires through the train, which we were compelled to cross with great rapidity, had endeavored to approach under cover of smoke, when they found themselves overmatched by the officers and men, who, taking advantage of the cover, moved forward and took them at close range. They had met with considerable loss, a good many of their saddles were emptied, and several ponies wounded. Their firing was wild in the extreme, and I should consider them the poorest of marksmen. For several hours they kept up a brisk fire and wounded but three of our men.

"Upon the morning of the 16th, the train pulled out in four strings, and we took up the advance, formed as on the previous day. Many Indians occupied the surrounding hills, and soon a number approached, and left a communication upon a distant hill. It was brought in by Scout Jackson, and read as follows:—


"I want to know what you are doing traveling on this road? you scare all the buffalo away. I want to hunt on the place. I want you to turn back from here: if you don't I will fight you again. I want you to leave what you have got here, and turn back from here.

"I am your friend,Sitting Bull.

"I mean all the rations you have got and some powder; I wish you would write as soon as you can."

"I directed the Scout Jackson to inform the Indians that I had nothing to say in reply, except that we intended to take the train through to Tongue River, and that we should be pleased to accommodate them at any time with a fight. The train continued to proceed, and about eight o'clock the Indians began to gather for battle.

"We passed through the long, narrow gorge, near Bad Route Creek, when we again watered the stock, and took in wood and water, consuming in this labor about an hour's time. When we had pulled up the gentle ascent, the Indians had again surrounded us, but the lesson of the previous day taught them to keep at long range, and there was but little firing by either party. I counted 150 Indians in our rear, and from their movements and position I judged their numbers to be between 300 and 500. After proceeding a short distance, a flag of truce appeared on the left flank, borne by two Indians, whom I directed to be allowed to enter the lines. They proved to be Indian scouts from Standing Rock Agency, bearing dispatches from Lieut. Col. Carlin, of the 17th Infantry, stating that they had been sent out to find Sitting Bull, and to endeavor to influence him to proceed to some military post and treat for peace.

"These scouts informed me that they had that morning reached the camp of Sitting Bull and Man-afraid-of-his-horse, near the mouth of Cabin Creek, and that they had talked with Sitting Bull, who wished to see me outside the lines. I declined the invitation, but professed a willingness to see Sitting Bull within my own lines. The scouts left me, and soon returned with three of the principal soldiers of Sitting Bull—the last named individual being unwilling to trust his person within our reach. The chiefs said that their people were angry because our train was driving away the buffalo from their hunting grounds, that they were hungry and without ammunition, and that they especially wished to obtain the latter; that they were tired of war, and desired to conclude a peace.

"I informed them that I could not give them ammunition, that had they saved the amount already wasted upon the train it would have supplied them for hunting purposes for a long time, that I had no authority to treat with them upon any terms whatever, but they were at liberty to visit Tongue River, and there make known conditions. They wished to know what assurance I could give them of their safety should they visit that place, and I replied that I could give them nothing but the word of an officer. They then wished rations for their people, promising to proceed to Fort Rock immediately, and from thence to Tongue River. I declined to give them rations, but finally offered them as a present 150lb. of hard bread and two sides of bacon, which they gladly accepted. The train moved on, and the Indians fell to the rear. Upon the following day I saw a number of them from Cedar Creek, far away to the right, and after that time they disappeared entirely.

"Upon the evening of the 18th I met Col. Miles encamped with his entire regiment on Custer Creek. Alarmed for the safety of the train, he had set out from Tongue River upon the previous day."
While Col. Otis was thus gallantly advancing with his train, Col. Miles, of the 5th Infantry, fearing for its safety, had crossed the Yellowstone before daybreak on the 17th and started toward Glendive. He met Col. Otis, as above stated, on the evening of the 18th; and on being informed of the attack on the train, started in pursuit of the enemy. On the 21st, when about eight miles beyond Cedar Creek, a large number of Indians appeared in front of the column, and two of them, bearing a white flag, rode up to the line. They proved to be the Standing Rock ambassadors who had met Col. Otis; and brought word that Sitting Bull wished a conference with Col. Miles. Lieut. H.R. Bailey accompanied the two friendly Indians to the hostile camp, and there arranged with Sitting Bull's white interpreter for a meeting to take place between the lines.

The troops rested on their arms in line of battle while Col. Miles with a few officers rode forward and halted about half way between the two forces. Sitting Bull with a dozen unarmed warriors presently emerged from the hostile lines and walked slowly forward in single file. Col. Miles' party dismounted and advanced to meet them, and the council began. The scene was picturesque and exciting; and the occasion one of much anxiety to the troops who remembered the assassination of Gen. Canby—especially so when dozens of armed warriors rode forward and surrounded the little group.

The "talk" was long and earnest; the Indians wanted an "old-fashioned peace," with privileges of trade—especially in ammunition, and demanded the discontinuing of supply trains and the abandonment of Fort Buford. Col. Miles explained that he could only accept surrender on the terms of absolute submission to the U.S. Government. At evening the conference was adjourned to the next day, and the parties separated as quietly as they had assembled.

In the morning Col. Miles moved his command north, so as to intercept retreat in that direction. At about 11 a.m., Sitting Bull, Pretty Bear, Bull Eagle, John, Standing Bear, Gall, White Bull and others, came forward, marching abreast, and met Col. Miles and several officers on a knoll half way between the opposing lines. The Indians asked to be let alone, and professed a wish for peace, but such a peace as Col. Miles could not concede. "After much talk by the various chiefs, Sitting Bull was informed once and for all that he must accept the liberal conditions offered by the Government or prepare for immediate hostilities; and the council dispersed—Sitting Bull disappearing like a shadow in the crowd of warriors behind him."

"The scene," wrote a correspondent of the Army and Navy Journal, "was now most animated. Col. Miles sent for his company commanders, and they came charging over the field to receive his final instructions. On the other side, the Sioux leaders rode hither and thither at full speed in front of their line, marshaling their men and haranguing them, calling on them to be brave. Sitting Bull's interpreter, Bruey, rode back to ask why the troops were following him? He was answered by Col. Miles, that the non-acceptance of the liberal terms offered was considered an act of hostility, and he would open fire at once. The whole line then advanced in skirmish order. One company occupied a knoll on the left with the 3-inch gun, the first shell from which was greeted with a hearty cheer from the advancing line. The Indians tried their old tactics and attempted rear and flank attacks from the ravines, but they found those vital points well protected by companies disposed en potence, which poured in a torrent of lead wherever an Indian showed himself. The firing then became general along the whole line. Some of the sharpest shooting was done by the Sioux, and many officers only escaped "close calls" by the ends of their hair. Two enlisted men were wounded. Finally, Sitting Bull, finding his old plan of battle frustrated by that solid infantry skirmish line advancing upon him with the relentless sternness of fate, began a general and precipitate retreat."

The pursuit was resolutely kept up. The Indians fled down Bad Route Creek and across the Yellowstone, a distance of 42 miles, abandoning tons of dried meat, lodge-poles, camp equipments, ponies, etc. The troops on foot followed rapidly, not stopping to count the dead or gather the plunder; and the result was, that on the 27th of October five principal chiefs surrendered themselves to Col. Miles, on the Yellowstone, opposite the mouth of Cabin Creek, as hostages for the surrender of their whole people, represented as between 400 and 500 lodges, equal to about 2,000 souls. The hostages were sent under escort to Gen. Terry, at St. Paul, and the Indians were allowed five days in their then camp to gather food, and thirty days to reach the Cheyenne Agency on the Missouri River, where they were to surrender their arms and ponies, and remain either as prisoners of war or subject to treatment such as is usually accorded to friendly Indians.

Sitting Bull was not among the chiefs who surrendered; during the retreat, they said, he had slipped out, with thirty lodges of his own special followers, and gone northerly.