A History of the Sioux War, and a Life of Gen. George A. Custer, with a Full Account of his Last Battle/Chapter 2



General Crook started from Fort Fetterman, W.T., March 1st, 1876, at the head of an expedition composed of ten companies of the 2d and 3d Cavalry under Col. J.J. Reynolds, and two companies of the 4th Infantry, with teamsters, guides, etc., amounting in all to nearly nine hundred men. His course was nearly north, past the abandoned Forts Reno and Phil. Kearney to Tongue River. He descended this river nearly to the Yellowstone, scouted Rosebud River, and then changed his course to the south-east toward Powder River. At a point on the head of Otter Creek, Crook divided his command, and sent Col. Reynolds with six companies of cavalry and one day's rations to follow the trail of two Indians discovered that day in the snow.

Col. Reynolds moved at 5 p.m. of the 16th, and at 4.20 a.m., after a night's march of thirty miles, was near the forks of Powder River. The following extracts are copied from a letter written to the New York Tribune:

"A halt was called here and the column took shelter in a ravine. No fires were allowed to be kindled, nor even a match lighted. The cold was intense and seemed to be at least 30° below zero. The command remained here till about 6 o'clock, doing their uttermost to keep from freezing, the scouts meantime going out to reconnoitre. At this hour they returned, reporting a larger and fresher trail leading down to the river which was about four miles distant. The column immediately started on the trail. The approach to the river seemed almost impracticable. Before reaching the final precipices which overlooked the riverbed, the scouts discovered that a village lay in the valley at the foot of the bluffs. It was now 8 o'clock. The sun shone brightly through the cold frosty air.

"The column halted, and Noyes's battalion, 2d Cavalry, was ordered up to the front. It consisted of Company I, Capt. Noyes, and Company K, Capt. Egan. This battalion was ordered to descend to the valley, and while Egan charged the camp, Noyes was to cut out the herd of horses feeding close by and drive it up the river. Capt. Moore's battalion of two companies was ordered to dismount and proceed along the edge of the ridge to a position covering the eastern side of the village opposite that from which Egan was to charge. Capt. Mills's battalion was ordered to follow Egan dismounted, and support him in the engagement which might follow the charge.

"These columns began the descent of the mountain, through gorges which were almost perpendicular. Nearly two hours were occupied in getting the horses of the charging columns down these rough sides of the mountain, and even then, when a point was reached where the men could mount their horses and proceed toward the village in the narrow valley beneath, Moore's battalion had not been able to gain its position on the eastern side after clambering along the edges of the mountain. A few Indians could be seen with the herd, driving it to the edge of the river, but nothing indicated that they knew of our approach.

"Just at 9 o'clock Capt. Egan turned the point of the mountain nearest the river, and first in a walk and then in a rapid trot started for the village. The company went first in column of twos, but when within 200 yards of the village the command 'Left front into line' was given, and with a yell they rushed into the encampment. Capt. Noyes had in the meantime wheeled to the right and started the herd up the river. With the yell of the charging column the Indians sprang up as if by magic and poured in a rapid fire from all sides. Egan charged through and through the village before Moore's and Mills's battalions got within supporting distance, and finding things getting very hot, formed his line in some high willows on the south side of the camp, from which he poured in rapid volleys upon the Indians.

"Up to this time the Indians supposed that one company was all they had to contend with, but when the other battalions appeared, rapidly advancing, deployed as skirmishers and pouring in a galling fire of musketry, they broke on all sides and took refuge in the rocks along the side of the mountain. The camp, consisting of 110 lodges, with immense quantities of robes, fresh meat, and plunder of all kinds, with over 700 head of horses were in our possession. The work of burning immediately began, and soon the whole encampment was in flames.

"After the work of destruction was completed the whole command moved rapidly up the river twenty miles to Lodgepole Creek. This point was reached at nightfall by all except Moore's battalion and Egan's company. Company E was the rear guard, and assisted Major Stanton and the scouts in bringing up the herd of horses; many of these were shot on the road, and the remainder reached camp about 9 p.m. These troops had been in the saddle for 36 hours, with the exception of five hours during which they were fighting, and all, officers and men, were much exhausted.

"Upon arriving at Lodgepole, it was found that General Crook and the other four companies and pack-train had not arrived, so that everybody was supperless and without a blanket. The night, therefore, was not a cheerful one, but not a murmur was heard. The tired men lay upon the snow or leaned against a tree, and slept as best they could on so cold a night. Saturday, at noon, General Crook arrived. In the meantime a portion of the herd of horses had straggled into the ravines, and fallen into the hands of the Indians."

The village thus destroyed was that of Crazy Horse, one of the avowedly hostile chiefs. "He had with him," wrote Gen. Crook, "the Northern Cheyennes, and some of the Minneconjous—probably in all one-half of the Indians off the reservations." The Indian loss was unknown. Four of Reynolds' men were killed, and six men including one officer were wounded. The whole force subsequently returned to Fort Fetterman, reaching there March 26th.

The results of this expedition were neither conclusive conclusive or satisfactory. Therefore, Gen. Sheridan determined to proceed more systematically by concentric movements. He ordered three distinct columns to be prepared to move to a common centre, where the hostiles were supposed to be, from Montana, from Dakota, and from the Platte. The two former fell under the command of Gen. Alfred H. Terry, Commander of the Department of Dakota, and the latter under Gen. Crook. These movements were to be simultaneous, so that Indians avoiding one column might be encountered by another.

Gen. Crook marched from Fort Fetterman on the 29th of May, with two battalions of the 2d and 3d Cavalry under Lieut. Col. W.B. Royall, and a battalion of five companies of the 4th and 9th Infantry under Major Alex. Chambers, with a train of wagons, pack-mules, and Indian scouts, all amounting to 47 officers and 1,000 men present for duty. This expedition marched by the same route as the preceding one, to a point on Goose Creek, which is the head of Tongue River, where a supply camp was established on June 8th. During the preceding night a party of Sioux came down on the encampment, and endeavored to stampede the horses, bringing on an engagement which resulted in the discomfiture and retreat of the enemy. On the 14th, a band of Shoshones and Crows—Indians unfriendly to the Sioux—joined Crook, and were provided with arms and ammunition.

The aggressive column of the expedition resumed the march forward on the morning of the 16th, leaving the trains parked at the Goose Creek camp. The infantry were mounted on mules borrowed from the pack-train, and each man carried his own supplies consisting of only three days' rations and one blanket. At night, after marching about 35 miles, the little army encamped between high bluffs at the head waters of Rosebud River.

At 5 a.m. on the morning of the 17th the troops started down the valley of the Rosebud, the Indian allies marching in front and on the flanks. After advancing about seven miles successive shots were heard in front, the scouts came running in to report Indians advancing, and Gen. Crook had hardly time to form his men, before large numbers of warriors fully prepared for a fight were in view.

The battle which ensued was on both banks of the Rosebud, near the upper end of a deep canyon having sides which were steep, covered with pine, and apparently impregnable, through which the stream ran. The Indians displayed a strong force at all points, and contested the ground with a tenacity which indicated that they were fighting for time to remove their village, which was supposed to be about six miles down the Rosebud at the lower end of the canyon, or believed themselves strong enough to defeat their opponents.

The officers and men of Crook's command behaved with marked gallantry during the engagement. The Sioux were finally repulsed in their bold onset, and lost many of their bravest warriors; but when they fled they could not be pursued far without great danger owing to the roughness of the country. The Indian allies were full of enthusiasm but not very manageable, preferring to fight independently of orders. Crook's losses were nine soldiers killed, and twenty-one wounded, including Capt. Henry of the 3d Cavalry. Seven of the friendly Indians were wounded, and one was killed.

Gen. Crook was satisfied that the number and quality of the enemy required more men than he had, and being encumbered with wounded he concluded to retreat. The night was passed on the battle-field, and the next day he started for his camp on Goose Creek, which was reached June 19th. Couriers were sent to Fort Fetterman for reinforcements and supplies, and the command remained inactive for several weeks awaiting their arrival.

The battle of the Rosebud was fought not very far from the scene of Custer's defeat a few days later, and Gen. Crook concludes that his opponents were the same that Custer and Reno encountered.

"It now became apparent," says Gen. Sheridan in his report "that Gen. Crook had not only Crazy Horse and his small band to contend with, but that the hostile force had been augmented by large numbers of the young warriors from the agencies along the Missouri River, and the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies in Nebraska, and that the Indian agents at these agencies had concealed the fact of the departure of these warriors, and that in most cases they continued to issue rations as though they were present."