Boots and Saddles/Appendix
THE YELLOWSTONE EXPEDITION OF 1873.
Extracts from Letters written by General Custer to his Wife during the Expedition to the Yellowstone in 1873.
[Many of the letters from which the following extracts are taken are very long, but so much of them is of a personal nature that I have sought here to give only those portions that convey an idea of the camp-life and daily experiences of a campaign on the frontier.
I regret that I have not the letters giving an account of the Indian fights. I have substituted a copy of General Custer's official report to complete the story of the summer of 1873.—E. B. C.]
Camp on Heart River, D. T., June 26, 1873.
When I may have an opportunity to send this, or when it may reach you, I cannot tell; but I will have it ready, and when the first courier leaves he shall carry these tidings to you.
This is our sixth day out from Fort Rice. We reached this river yesterday about noon, and are remaining in camp to-day as it is somewhere in this locality that we expect to find the railroad engineers, and Lieut. D—— and four companies of infantry that left Fort Rice before you did.
Our march has been perfectly delightful thus far. We have encountered no Indians, although yesterday we saw the fresh tracks of about fifteen ponies, showing that they are in our vicinity.
I never saw such fine hunting as we have constantly had since we left Fort Rice. I have done some of the best shooting I ever did, and as you are always so interested I want to tell you about it. I take twenty-five picked men with me, and generally have several officers in the party besides. It is not necessary to go out of sight of the column, as the game is so abundant we can even eclipse your story about antelope running into the men's arms! They actually ran through our wagon-train, and one was run over by a wagon and caught! Tom immediately remarked, "Well, by George, we can beat Libbie's story now!"
The first day out the dogs caught an antelope and I shot one, since when I have brought in from two to four daily. Day before yesterday the members of our mess killed eight antelope. But I must tell you of some of my recent shots with my new Springfield rifle.
Three days ago F——— and I with a party were out in sight of the column, when an antelope started up fully two hundred yards distant, and ran rapidly parallel to us. I fired five times at it while running, at this distance. It then stopped, and I got about twenty-five paces nearer when I fired off-hand, aiming directly at the head. It fell, and I measured the distance, which proved to be one hundred and seventy yards, and the antelope was found to be shot through the head. Of the five shots which I had fired at it while running at a distance of two hundred yards, four had struck the antelope, one breaking its thigh and two going through its body.
Yesterday a fine large buck came bounding over the hill across our path. He was so far that no one seemed to think it worth while to aim at him, but I thought I would try. Jumping off my thorough-bred, Vic, in an instant I had my rifle at my shoulder and levelled at the buck, which was running at full speed. I pressed the trigger, and waiting an instant to give the bullet time to reach its mark, the buck was seen to fall lifeless in the grass. To be accurate in the distance I requested F——— to measure it. He did so, and found it to be two hundred and eighty yards. Galloping to where the antelope had fallen, I found him shot directly through the centre of the neck, about one foot from the head, the neck being broken by the shot. I put him entire on the orderly trumpeter's horse and sent him to the wagons to be carried to camp, where I butchered him. He was the fattest antelope I ever saw.
I sent H——— and M———'s messes each a quarter. I have not only been fortunate enough to keep our own mess supplied with game every meal since we left Fort Rice, but have had quantities to send to the infantry officers, to the band, and to many of our own officers.
Poor Fred and Tom! They have accompanied me frequently—Fred always along—and yet neither of them has been able thus far to kill a single antelope. I tease them a great deal, for they use the Winchester rifle. It is remarkably accurate up to one hundred yards, and not so beyond that distance.
You know when Tom takes a notion to get anything of mine how very persistent he is. Well, his latest dodge is to obtain possession of my Springfield rifle, which I allow my orderly, Tuttle, to carry. Night before last he carried it off to his tent without saying anything about it; but Tuttle slipped down while Tom was at breakfast and recaptured the rifle!
I wish you could have seen one of our hunting-parties coming into camp a few days ago, after a hunt of not more than four hours, in sight of the column all the time. My orderlies and I had four antelope strapped to our saddles; then came Captain F———, with a fine, large buck strapped behind him and a saddle in his front, while his orderly was similarly loaded; then McD——— and his orderly, each with a splendid antelope on his saddle, while others of the men who had accompanied me were well provided with game—except poor H———. He and the four men of his company who went with us had equal chances with the rest, but they had nothing. The officers give H——— no rest now on the subject of antelope; the last advice given him was that his only chance now is to spread his fish-net (which the officers ridicule him for bringing into such a country as this) and catch the antelope in that way! Tuttle killed two antelope at one shot with my Springfield at pretty long range.
Yesterday Fred and I had an exciting time with an elk that swam the river twice near us, but we only succeeded in wounding him before he got away to the bluffs beyond sight of the command, where we did not deem it prudent to follow him.
I am glad that I posted myself with regard to taxidermy; for yesterday, after reaching camp, I devoted all the afternoon to preparing the head of the antelope I killed for preservation. The antlers the officers think the finest they ever saw. I have prepared the entire head, and the skin of about one foot of the neck. I also have a beautiful set of elk antlers that I hope to get through safely. I carry them strapped on top of the ambulance of Mary, our cook.
I do not think we are going to have any serious difficulty with the Indians—at least this is General Rosser's opinion. He thinks this expedition is too large and unwieldy to perform the desired work promptly, and I agree with him.
There is an officer temporarily detailed with the command who inspires my respect because he regards the wishes of his mother so highly. He has some fine rifles at home, but did not bring any with him, merely to please his mother, who feared that if he brought his guns along he would be tempted to wander off alone hunting.
It is four days since I began this letter, but we have been moving in the mean while, so that but little opportunity for writing has been allowed.
With the ten companies of the 7th I started to join the engineers, leaving the infantry and train to follow us. I marched thirty miles over a bad country, besides building a bridge over a stream thirty feet wide and ten feet deep. I superintended and planned it, and about one hundred and eighty men worked to complete it. About twenty men had to cross the stream before the bridge could be begun. An officer must go with them, so I detailed McD——— and twenty of his men. They had to strip off and swim across. You ought to have heard the young officers on the bank hooting at McD——— when he was preparing to lead the "light brigade" across the water! I built a bridge in about two hours, over which the whole command and wagon-train passed.
The officers have a good joke on Lieut. H———. Nearly all of them have killed antelope, so Mr. H——— concluded he must kill his. He went out yesterday near the column and soon espied an antelope quietly lying in the grass about one hundred yards distant. Quickly dismounting from his horse, he crawled on the ground until near enough, as he thought, to kill it. Taking deliberate aim he fired, but the ball fell short a few feet; yet the antelope was not disturbed. This is not unusual. Again he took aim this time with great care, fired, and to his joy he saw the fur fly from the antelope. Never doubting but that he had given him a mortal wound, Mr. H——— leaped into his saddle and galloped up to the antelope to cut its throat. Imagine his disgust to find that the antelope had been dead several days, and had already been taken possession of by the flies! The officers will never let him hear the last of it.
Well, I have joined the engineers, and am having such pleasant visits with General Rosser. We talk over our West Point times and discuss the battles of the war. I stretch the buffalo-robe under the fly of the tent, and there in the moonlight he and I, lying at full length, listen to each other's accounts of battles in which both had borne a part. It seemed like the time when we were cadets together, huddled on one blanket and discussing dreams of the future. Rosser said the worst whipping he had during the war was the one I gave him the 9th of October, when I captured everything he had, including the uniform now at home in Monroe. He said that on the morning of that fight, just as the battle was commencing he was on a hill on our front, which I well remember, watching us advance. He was looking at us through his field-glass, and saw and recognized me as plainly as if I had been by his side. I was at the head of my troops—all of which I remember—and advancing to the attack.
Rosser said as soon as he recognized me he sent for his brigade commanders and pointed me out to them, saying, "Do you see that man in front with long hair? Well, that's Custer, and we must bust him up to-day."
"And so," General Rosser continued, "we would have done had you attacked us as we thought you intended to; but instead of that you slipped another column away around us, and my men soon began calling out, 'We're flanked! we're flanked!' then broke and ran, and nothing could stop them."
Rosser wanted to meet you at the crossing, but failed, and wrote to his wife to try and see you in St. Paul, but you had already gone through.
He too asked if you did not accompany me almost everywhere; so you see what an extended reputation for campaigning you have. And, do you know, he tells me he thinks I am anxious to get back to you. But I did not tell him that I was already counting the days.
I killed another antelope yesterday, two the day before, and two the day before that. Mary made us a delicious pot-pie out of two curlew I shot. Whenever the subject of pot-pies comes up, Mr. Calhoun, Tom, and I at once begin talking of the place where we got the best pot-pies we ever tasted. One will say, "I'll tell you where you can get the very nicest pot-pie you ever put in your mouth," and before he can go any further the other two will call out, "At mother's."
I saw the most beautiful red-deer yesterday I ever have seen. It was a new species to me; of the deepest red, as red as the reddest cow you ever saw. I was too far away to get a shot.
All the officers were up at my tent last night at twilight, sitting under the awning in front, all jolly, all good-humored, full of their jokes, and prouder than ever of the 7th, as they modestly compared the regiment with the infantry.
This letter of forty-four closely-written pages would make a Galaxy article so far as its length goes; suppose you send me a check for it as the Galaxy people do for theirs?
You must read a good deal of it to mother, or tell her of its contents, and say that this time this letter must do for the family. I hope your going home will be a comfort to her and improve her health.
Tell D——— if she is going to come into the Custer family she must be prepared to receive little billet-doux something the size of this volume!
Tom says, "Tell Libbie I intended writing, but when I saw the length of this letter I knew that there was nothing left to tell her!"
Yellowstone River, July 19, 1873.
Well, here we are, encamped on the banks of the far-famed and to you far distant Yellowstone! How I have longed to have you see, during our progress, what seems to me almost like another world. Truly can this interesting region be termed the "Wonder-land!"
When the command arrived at what was supposed to be a distance of about fifteen miles from the river, it became necessary and important to ascertain where the steamboat with supplies that had come by river was located. I volunteered to go on a steamboat hunt, as I had hunted almost every other species of game; so taking two troops and leaving our tents and wagons, I started on a search for the Key West. Several of the officers applied to go, and General Rosser, who is always ready for a trip of this kind, accepted my invitation to accompany us.
No artist—not even a Church or a Bierstadt—could fairly represent the wonderful country we passed over, while each step of our progress was like each successive shifting of the kaleidoscope, presenting to our wondering gaze views which almost appalled us by their sublimity.
We passed over a region so full of cañons and precipices. Much of our journey was necessarily made on foot, our horses being led in single file, except my own noble "Dandy." He seemed to realize the difficulties of the route, and although permitted to run untethered, he followed me as closely and carefully as a well-trained dog.
Sometimes we found ourselves on the summit of a high peak, to ascend which we had to risk both life and limb, and particularly imperil the safety of our horses. Once we came to a steep declivity which neither man nor horse could descend. It was impossible to retrace our steps, as the sides of the peak were so steep our horses could not turn about without great danger of tumbling hundreds of feet. Asking the rest to wait a moment, I looked about and discovered a possible way out to our left, provided a huge rock which lay in the path could be removed. Bidding Tuttle "Look out," and uttering a few words of caution to Dandy, who seemed to comprehend our situation and say, "All right, don't mind me," I left him clinging to the soft and yielding soil of the mountain. I succeeded in dislodging the rock after some work, and sent it leaping down the rocky side leading to the valley, sometimes taking hundreds of feet at one plunge. The way being clear, a simple "Come on, Dandy," and we took the advance, followed by the rest. We were well repaid for our risk and trouble by the grandeur of the scenery that lay spread out beneath us.
I am making a rare collection of the fossils that the country is rich in—vegetable and mineral specimens. I hope you will approve of my plan of disposal of them: I intend to give them to the college at Ann Arbor. What would you think to pass through thousands of acres of petrified trees, some of which are twelve feet in diameter, with trunks and branches perfect! The fallen trunks of some as they lie on the ground are so natural in grain and color, the officers are sometimes deceived and sit down, thinking them but lately felled.
To return to my search for the steamboat. After struggling through the beds of deep cañons and climbing almost inaccessible peaks, we finally emerged into the valley of the Yellowstone. We were still obliged in crossing swales to struggle on by walking, leading, climbing, and stumbling, and after a ride of ten miles we came to where the boat was moored.
Every one is congratulating F——— on getting the place I applied to Rosser for, as a member of the party of engineers. He will get $60 a month, and a prospect later of advancement and higher salary. It is such a pleasure when I can help young men who evince a disposition to help themselves. I never forget those who gave me my first encouragement in life. How I have wished that some of our home boys, who possess talent and education, but lack means and opportunity, would cast themselves loose from home and try their fortunes in this great enterprising western country, where the virtues of real manhood come quickly to the surface, and their possessor finds himself transformed from a mere boy to a full-fledged man almost before he realizes his quick advancement. It is such a comfort to me to feel independent. Much as I dote on my profession, and earnestly as I am devoted to it, yet should accident cast me adrift and I be thrown upon my own resources, I have not a fear but that energy and a willingness to put my shoulder to the wheel would carry me through and with reasonable success.
In this country, no man, particularly if moderately educated, need fail in life if determined to succeed, so many and varied are the avenues to honorable employment which open on all hands before him.
The climate is perfect out here; not five men are sick out of the whole ten troops, and one poor fellow who was about to be discharged before we left for disability, as he was thought to be in consumption, is now well and does not desire his discharge. Though it is July we sleep under blankets constantly.
Regarding the dogs, I find myself more warmly attached to Tuck than to any other I have ever owned. Did I tell you of her catching a full-grown antelope-buck, and pulling him down after a run of over a mile, in which she left the other dogs far behind? She comes to me almost every evening when I am sitting in my large camp-chair, listening to the band or joining with the officers in conversation. First she lays her head on my knee, as if to ask if I am too much engaged to notice her. A pat of encouragement and her fore-feet are thrown lightly across my lap; a few moments in this posture and she lifts her hind-feet from the ground, and, great, overgrown dog that she is, quietly and gently disposes of herself on my lap, and at times will cuddle down and sleep there for an hour at a time, until I become so tired of my charge that I am compelled to transfer her to mother earth; and even then she resembles a well-cared for and half-spoiled child, who can never be induced to retire until it has been fondled to sleep in its mother's arms.
Tuck will sleep so soundly in my lap that I can transfer her gently to the ground and she will continue her slumber, like a little baby carefully deposited in its crib. As I write she is lying at my feet. She makes up with no other person.
I have just told Tom if he expects letters from you, he must write first. He answers that he would like to know what he can find to write "after she receives that book from you." And one might think that the eighty pages of this letter had exhausted every subject, but there is much I must leave untold.
I am prouder and prouder of the 7th, Libbie; not an officer or man of my command has been seen intoxicated since the expedition left Fort Rice. H——— and I have our periodical official tussles, as usual, but I see a great deal of him and like him better than ever.
We have just parted with a member of the expedition who is not a loss to us, for he is a gossip but not viciously inclined—rather the contrary. He peddles tiresome tales without meaning harm. Everybody in the 7th Cavalry camp is content to attend to his own business and not meddle with other people's affairs.
You will scarcely credit what I am about to tell you, but it is an undeniable fact: here we have been encamped for several days with pickets and guards surrounding our camp for its protection.
Our march here was over a stretch of wild, almost unknown country, supposed to be infested with hostile Indians. Small parties were not deemed safe beyond sight of our column, and yet to-day imagine our surprise to see a plain white covered spring-wagon, drawn by two mules and accompanied by a single individual, approach our camp from the direction we came more than one week ago. It proved to be the travelling-conveyance of an humble priest, who, leaving Fort Rice seven days ago, traversed alone and unguided, except by our trail, through more than two hundred miles of hostile and dangerous country, fording rivers winding through deep and almost impassable cañons, toiling over mountains, at each step liable to be massacred by hostile Indians. The country was entirely new to him, he never having been west of Fort Rice before. He came believing he could be of spiritual benefit to many who would otherwise be wholly deprived of such comfort. He carried no arms, adopted no special precautions for his safety, but with a simple and unpretentious cross reverently erected and borne above his travelling-wagon, he took his life in his hand and boldly plunged into the wilds of this almost unknown region, evidently relying upon Him who ruleth over all, to guide and protect him in his perilous journey. This to me is an act of Christian heroism and physical courage which entitles this humble priest to immeasurable honor and praise.
Yellowstone River, above Powder River, July 31, 1873.
. . . The Josephine is unloading her cargo about one mile below here, and leaves for Bismarck within an hour. We expected to have an opportunity to write letters to-day, but as the boat receives five hundred dollars a day it is important to discharge her as soon as practicable.
The command is not in camp yet. I took a squadron and started ahead to find a road. You have no idea what difficulty we have, looking out a route through this country over which it is possible to move a train. Yesterday I took two companies and travelled about forty miles. To-day we reached the Yellowstone at 9.30.
We have been sleeping since (and it is now 4 p.m.) under the large trees standing on the river bank. I have just received one letter from you, and I think it is the first instalment only, for I hear there are seven sacks of mail on board the boat. I am sorry I am compelled to write under such hurried circumstances. I am lying on the ground, using my horse-blanket for a desk.
Official Report of the Engagements with Indians on the 4th and 11th ultimo.
Head-quarters Battalion 7th Cavalry,
Pompey's Pillar, Yellowstone River, Montana, Aug. 15, 1873.
Acting Assistant Adjutant-general Yellowstone Expedition:
Sir,—Acting under the instructions of the Brevet-major-general commanding, I proceeded at five o'clock, on the morning of the 4th instant, with one squadron of my command, numbering about ninety men, to explore a route over which the main column could move. Having reached a point on the Yellowstone River, near the mouth of Tongue River, and several miles in advance, and while waiting the arrival of the forces of the expedition, six mounted Sioux dashed boldly into the skirt of timber within which my command had halted and unsaddled, and attempted to stampede our horses. Fortunately our vedettes discovered the approach of the Indians in time to give the alarm. A few well-directed shots soon drove the Indians to a safe distance, where they kept up a series of yells, occasionally firing a few shots. As soon as the squadron could mount, I directed Captain Moylan to move out in pursuit, at the same time I moved with the troops in advance, commanded by First Lieutenant T. W. Custer. Following the Indians at a brisk gait, my suspicions became excited by the confident bearing exhibited by the six Sioux in our front, whose course seemed to lead us near a heavy growth of timber which stood along the river bank above us. When almost within rifle range of this timber, I directed the squadron to halt, while I with two orderlies, all being well mounted, continued after the Sioux in order to develop their intentions. Proceeding a few hundred yards in advance of the squadron, and keeping a watchful eye on the timber to my left, I halted. The six Indians in my front also halted, as if to tempt further pursuit. Finding all efforts in this direction unavailing, their plans and intentions were quickly made evident, as no sooner was it seen that we intended to advance no farther, than with their characteristic howls and yells over three hundred well-mounted warriors dashed in perfect line from the edge of the timber, and charged down upon Captain Moylan's squadron, at the same time endeavoring to intercept the small party with me. As soon as the speed of the thorough-bred on which I was mounted brought me within hailing distance of Lieutenant Custer's troop, I directed that officer to quickly throw forward a dismounted line of troopers, and endeavor to empty a few Indian saddles. The order was obeyed with the greatest alacrity, and as the Sioux came dashing forward, expecting to ride down the squadron, a line of dismounted cavalrymen rose from the grass and delivered almost in the faces of the warriors a volley of carbine bullets which broke and scattered their ranks in all directions, and sent more than one Sioux reeling from his saddle. This check gave us time to make our dispositions to resist the succeeding attacks, which we knew our enemies would soon make upon us. The great superiority of our enemies in numbers, the long distance separating us from the main command, and the belief, afterwards verified, that the woods above us still concealed a portion of the savage forces, induced me to confine my movements, at first, strictly to the defensive. The entire squadron (except the horse-holders) was dismounted and ordered to fight on foot. The Indians outnumbering us almost five to one were enabled to envelop us completely between their lines, formed in a semicircle, and the river which flowed at our backs. The little belt of timber in which we had been first attacked formed a very good cover for our led-horses, while the crest of a second table-land, conveniently located from the timber, gave us an excellent line of defence. The length of our line and the numbers of the enemy prevented us from having any force in reserve; every available officer and man was on the skirmish-line, which was in reality our line of battle, even the number of men holding horses had to be reduced, so that each horse-holder held eight horses. Until the Indians were made to taste quite freely of our lead they displayed unusual boldness, frequently charging up to our line and firing with great deliberation and accuracy. Captain Moylan exercised command along the entire line; Lieutenant Custer commanded the centre; my adjutant, Lieutenant James Calhoun, commanded the right; and Lieutenant Charles A. Varnum, the left. The first Indian killed was shot from his pony by "Bloody Knife," the Crow who acted as my guide and scout. Soon after Private Charles P. Miller, of "A" troop 7th Cavalry, succeeded in sending a carbine bullet directly through the body of a chief who had been conspicuous throughout the engagement. At the same time it was known that our firing had disabled many of their ponies, while owing to our sheltered position the only damage thus far inflicted upon us was one man and two horses wounded, one of the latter shot in three places.
Finding their efforts to force back our line unavailing, the Indians now resorted to another expedient. By an evidently preconcerted plan they set fire in several places to the tall grass which covered the ground in our front, hoping by this means to force us back to the rear, and thus finish us at their pleasure. Fortunately for us there was no wind prevailing at the time, while the grass was scarcely dry enough to burn rapidly. Taking advantage of the dense curtain of smoke which rose from the burning grass, the Indians, by following the course of the flame, could often contrive to obtain a shot at us at comparatively close range; but my men, observing that there was no danger to be apprehended from the slowly advancing flames, could frequently catch an opportunity to send a shot through a break in the curtain of smoke, and in this way surprised the Indian by the adoption of his own device.
The fight began at 11.30 a.m., and was waged without cessation until near three o'clock, all efforts of the Indians to dislodge us proving unsuccessful. The Indians had become extremely weary, and had almost discontinued their offensive movements, when my ammunition ran low. I decided to mount the squadron and charge the Indians, with the intention of driving them from the field.
Captain Moylan promptly had his men in the saddle, and throwing forward twenty mounted skirmishers, under Lieutenant Varnum, the entire squadron moved forward at a trot. No sooner did the Indians discern our intentions than, despite their superiority in numbers, they cowardly prepared for flight, in which preparation they were greatly hastened when Captain Moylan's squadron charged them and drove them "pell-mell" for three miles.
Five ponies killed or badly wounded were left on the battle-ground or along the line of their flight. So rapidly were they forced to flee that they abandoned and threw away breech-loading arms, saddle equipments, clothing, robes, lariats, and other articles comprised in an Indian outfit.
Among the Indians who fought us on this occasion were some of the identical warriors who committed the massacre at Fort Phil. Kearney, and they no doubt intended a similar programme when they sent the six warriors to dash up and attempt to decoy us into a pursuit past the timber in which the savages hoped to ambush us. Had we pursued the six warriors half a mile farther, instead of halting, the entire band of warriors would have been in our rear, and all the advantage of position and numbers would have been with them.
So far as the troops attacked were concerned, the Indians, to offset their own heavy losses, had been able to do us no damage except to wound one man and two horses; but unfortunately two non-combatants, Veterinary Surgeon John Honsinger, 7th Cavalry, and Mr. Baliran, of Memphis, Tenn., in endeavoring to come from the main column to join the squadron in advance, were discovered by the Indians during the attack, and being unarmed were overtaken and killed almost within view of the battle-ground. Fortunately the Indians were so pressed as not to be able to scalp or otherwise mutilate the remains.
On the 8th instant we discovered the trail of a large village, evidently that to which the party that attacked us on the 4th belonged. The course of the trail led up the Yellowstone, and apparently was not more than two days old. Acting under the authority of the Brevet-major-general commanding, I ordered my command, consisting of four squadrons of the 7th Cavalry, in readiness to begin the pursuit that night. The Brevet-major-general also directed the detachment of guides and Indian scouts under Lieutenant Daniel H. Brush, 17th Infantry, to report to me for temporary service. Leaving all tents and wagons behind, and taking with us rations for seven days, we started in pursuit at ten o'clock on the night of the 8th instant, having waited until that hour until the moon should enable us to follow the trail. Following the trail as rapidly as the rough character of the country would permit, daylight next morning found us nearly thirty miles from our starting-point. Concealing horses and men in a ravine, a halt of three hours was ordered to enable the horses to graze and the men to obtain refreshments. Renewing the march at eight o'clock, the pursuit was continued without halting until noon, when, to avoid discovery, as well as to obtain needed rest for men and animals, it was decided to conceal ourselves in the timber, and await the cover of night to continue the pursuit.
Starting out at 6.30 p.m., the trail was followed rapidly for six miles, when, to our disappointment, we discovered that the Indians had taken to the river, and crossed to the east side. In following their trail to this point it was evident that the movement of the Indians was one of precipitate flight, the result of the engagement on the 4th. All along their trail and in their camping-places were to be found large quantities of what constitutes an Indian's equipments, such as lodge-poles, robes, saddle equipments, arms, and cooking utensils. In a hastily abandoned camp-ground nearly two hundred axes, besides a great many camp-kettles and cups, were found.
My entire command was disappointed when the trail showed that the Indians had crossed to the other side, particularly as our rapid marching had carried us to the point of crossing, the evening of the day on which the last of the Indians had crossed over, so that one more march would have enabled us to overhaul them. Bivouacking in a belt of timber on the river bank, we waited until daylight to begin an attempt to cross the command over the river, which at this point is about six hundred yards wide. At early dawn the entire command forded the river to an island located about the middle of the channel; but our difficulties in the way of crossing here began, as the volume of water and the entire force of the current were to be encountered between the island and the opposite bank—the current here rushes by at a velocity of about seven miles an hour, while the depth of the water was such that a horse attempting to cross would be forced to swim several hundred yards. Still, as we knew the Indians had not discovered our pursuit, and were probably located within easy striking distance of the river, it was most desirable that a crossing should be effected. To accomplish this, Lieutenant Weston, 7th Cavalry, with three accomplished swimmers from the command, attempted to cross on a log-raft, carrying with them a cable made of lariats. The current was so strong that Lieutenant Weston's party were unable to effect a landing, but were swept down the river nearly two miles, and then forced to abandon the raft and swim to shore.
Lieutenant Weston, with characteristic perseverance and energy, made repeated attempts afterwards to carry the cable over, but although succeeding in reaching the opposite bank in person was unable to connect the cable with the shore. Almost the entire day was spent in these unsuccessful efforts, until finally a crossing in this manner had to be abandoned. I then caused some cattle to be killed, and by stretching the hides over a kind of basket-frame prepared by the Crow guide, made what are known among the Indians as bull-boats; with these I hoped to be able to connect a cable with the opposite bank at daylight next morning, but just at sunset a small party of Indians were seen to ride down to the bank opposite us and water their ponies. They discovered our presence, and at once hastened away. Of course it was useless now to attempt a surprise, and the intention to cross the river the following morning was abandoned.
At early dawn the next day (the 11th instant), the Indians appeared in strong force on the river bank opposite us, and opened a brisk fire upon us from their rifles. No attention was paid to them until encouraged by this they had collected at several points in full view, and within range of our rifles, when about thirty of our best marksmen, having posted themselves along the bank, opened a well-directed fire upon the Indians and drove them back to cover.
In the mean time strong parties of Indians were reported by our pickets to be crossing the river below and above us, their ponies and themselves being so accustomed to the river as to render this operation quite practicable for them. Captain French, commanding the right wing, was directed to watch the parties crossing below, while Colonel Hart, commanding the left wing, posted a force to discharge this duty with regard to parties crossing above. It would have been possible, perhaps, for us to have prevented the Indians from effecting a crossing, at least when they did, but I was not only willing but anxious that as many of them should come over as were so disposed. They were soon reported as moving to the bluffs immediately in rear of us from the river. Lieutenant Brush was directed to employ his scouts in watching and reporting their movements—a duty which they discharged in a thorough manner.
While this was transpiring I had mounted my command and formed it in line close under the bluffs facing from the river, where we quietly waited the attack of the Indians in our front. The sharp-shooting across the river still continued, the Indians having collected some of their best shots—apparently armed with long-range rifles—and were attempting to drive our men back from the water's edge. It was at this time that my standing orderly, Private Tuttle, of "E" troop, 7th Cavalry, one of the best marksmen in my command, took a sporting Springfield rifle and posted himself, with two other men, behind cover on the river bank, and began picking off the Indians as they exposed themselves on the opposite bank. He had obtained the range of the enemy's position early in the morning, and was able to place his shots wherever desired. It was while so engaged that he observed an Indian in full view near the river. Calling the attention of his comrade to the fact, he asked him "to watch him drop that Indian," a feat which he succeeded in performing. Several other Indians rushed to the assistance of their fallen comrade, when Private Tuttle, by a skilful and rapid use of his breech-loading Springfield, succeeded in killing two other warriors. The Indians, enraged no doubt at this rough handling, directed their aim at Private Tuttle, who fell pierced through the head by a rifle-bullet. He was one of the most useful and daring soldiers who ever served under my command.
About this time Captain French, who was engaged with the Indians who were attacking us from below, succeeded in shooting a warrior from his saddle, while several ponies were known to be wounded or disabled. The Indians now began to display a strong force in our front on the bluffs. Colonel Hart was ordered to push a line of dismounted men to the crest, and prevent the further advance of the enemy towards the river. This duty was handsomely performed by a portion of Captain Yates's squadron. Colonel Hart had posted Lieutenant Charles Braden and twenty men on a small knoll which commanded our left. Against this party the Indians made their first onslaught. A mounted party of warriors, numbering nearly two hundred, rode boldly to within thirty yards of Lieutenant Braden's position, when the latter and his command delivered such a well-directed fire that the Indians were driven rapidly from that part of the field, after having evidently suffered considerable loss.
Unfortunately Lieutenant Braden received a rifle-ball through the upper part of the thigh, passing directly through the bone, but he maintained his position with great gallantry and coolness until he had repulsed the enemy. Hundreds of Indians were now to be seen galloping up and down along our front, each moment becoming bolder, owing to the smallness of our force which was then visible.
Believing the proper time had arrived to assume the offensive, orders to this effect were accordingly sent to Colonel Hart and Captain French, the two wing commanders. Lieutenant Weston was directed to move his troop "L" up a deep ravine on our left, which would convey him to the enemy's position, and as soon as an opportunity occurred he was to charge them, and pursue the Indians with all the vigor practicable. Immediately after, Captain Owen Hale was directed to move his squadron, consisting of "E" and "K" troops, in conjunction with "L" troop, and the three to charge simultaneously. Similar dispositions were ordered in the centre and right. Lieutenant Custer, commanding "B" troop, was ordered to advance and charge the Indians in front of our centre, while Captains Yates and Moylan moved rapidly forward in the same direction. Before this movement began, it became necessary to dislodge a large party of Indians posted in a ravine and behind rocks in our front, who were engaged in keeping up a heavy fire upon our troops while the latter were forming. It was at this point that the horse of Lieutenant Hiram H. Ketchum, Acting-assistant-adjutant-general of the expedition, was shot under him. My own horse was also shot under me within a few paces of the latter.
The duty of driving the Indians engaged in sharp-shooting was intrusted to Lieutenant Charles A. Varnum, 7th Cavalry, with a detachment of "A" troop, 7th Cavalry, who soon forced the Indians back from their cover.
Everything being in readiness for a general advance, the charge was ordered, and the squadrons took the gallop to the tune of "Garryowen," the band being posted immediately in rear of the skirmish line. The Indians had evidently come out prepared to do their best, and with no misgivings as to their success, as the mounds and high bluffs beyond the river were covered with groups of old men, squaws, and children, who had collected there to witness our destruction. In this instance the proverbial power of music to soothe the savage breast utterly failed, for no sooner did the band strike up the cheery notes of "Garryowen," and the squadrons advance to the charge, than the Indians exhibited unmistakable signs of commotion, and their resistance became more feeble, until finally satisfied of the earnestness of our attack they turned their ponies' heads and began a disorderly flight. The cavalry put spurs to their horses and dashed forward in pursuit, the various troop and squadron commanders vying with one another as to who should head the advance. The appearance of the main command in sight, down the valley at this moment, enabled me to relieve Captain French's command below us, and he was ordered to join in the pursuit. Lieutenant McIntosh, commanding "G" troop, moved his command up the valley at a gallop, and prevented many of the Indians from crossing. The chase was continued with the utmost vigor until the Indians were completely dispersed, and driven a distance of nine miles from where the engagement took place, and they were here forced back across the Yellowstone, the last pony killed in the fight being shot fully eight miles from the point of attack.
The number of Indians opposed to us has been estimated by the various officers engaged as from eight hundred to a thousand. My command numbered four hundred and fifty, including officers and men. The Indians were made up of different bands of Sioux, principally Uncpapas, the whole under command of "Sitting Bull," who participated in the second day's fight, and who for once has been taught a lesson he will not soon forget.
A large number of Indians who fought us were fresh from their reservations on the Missouri River. Many of the warriors engaged in the fight on both days were dressed in complete suits of the clothes issued at the agencies to Indians. The arms with which they fought us (several of which were captured in the fight) were of the latest improved patterns of breech-loading repeating rifles, and their supply of metallic rifle-cartridges seemed unlimited, as they were anything but sparing in their use. So amply have they been supplied with breech-loading rifles and ammunition that neither bows nor arrows were employed against us. As an evidence that these Indians, at least many of them, were recently from the Missouri River agencies, we found provisions, such as coffee, in their abandoned camps, and cooking and other domestic utensils, such as only reservation Indians are supplied with. Besides, our scouts conversed with them across the river for nearly an hour before the fight became general, and satisfied themselves as to the identity of their foes. I only regret that it was impossible for my command to effect a crossing of the river before our presence was discovered, and while the hostile village was located near at hand, as I am confident that we could have largely reduced the necessity for appropriation for Indian supplies the coming winter. . . .
The losses of the Indians in ponies were particularly heavy, while we know their losses in killed and wounded were beyond all proportion to that which they were enabled to inflict upon us, our losses being one officer badly wounded, four men killed, and three wounded; four horses killed and four wounded.
Careful investigation justifies the statement that including both days' battles, the Indians' losses will number forty warriors, while their wounded on the opposite bank of the river may increase this number.
(Signed)G. A. Custer,
Lieutenant-colonel 7th Cavalry,
Brevet-major-general, U. S. A., commanding.
"Stockade" on the Yellowstone River, September 6, 1873.
. . . I know you will rejoice when your eyes fall upon the date and heading of this letter, and you learn that we are thus far on our homeward journey, all safe and well. This letter is to be a short one (after having finished the letter I underscore the word), as it has only been decided a few hours ago to despatch three of our Indian scouts from here to Fort Buford—one hundred and twenty miles distant by river, only eighty by land—with mail, and to bring back what awaits us in return. As there are many official matters for me to attend to between now and to-morrow morning—the time of the departure of the scouts—I do not hope to give you but the main points of a letter, the details to be filled up by word of mouth.
I am here with six companies of cavalry, having separated from the main expedition several days ago on the Mussel Shell River, and marched to this point direct, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles. The mules of the large trains began giving out; forage was almost exhausted, the horses being allowed only about three pounds per day, fourteen pounds being regular allowance. The country was entirely unknown; no guides knew anything of the route before us. General ——— did not think it wise to venture into the unknown and uninviting region with his command. But I did not feel inclined to yield to obstacles, and made an application to take the main portion of the cavalry and strike through for the stockade direct instead of turning back. I asked that the railroad engineers be allowed to continue with me. Consent was given and we started.
At head-quarters it was not believed that I would get through. So strong was this impression, that in the official order issued for my movement there was a clause authorizing me to burn or abandon all my wagons or other public property, if, in my opinion, such steps were necessary to preserve life. I could not help but smile to myself as I read that portion of the order. I had no idea of burning or abandoning a wagon. After we had separated from the main column, the chief of the engineers remarked to the officers, "How positively sanguine the general is that he will make this trip successfully." And so I was. I assured him from the first, and from day to day, that the 7th Cavalry would bring them through all right. We had the good-luck to strike across and encounter, instead of serious obstacles, the most favorable country yet met by us for marching. Hitherto we had made about fifteen miles per day; when we started on this trip we marched twenty-two miles one day and thirty-five the next, and so on, and brought in every wagon with which we started, reaching here about seven o'clock the morning of the sixth day from our separation.
The main command headed back towards the Yellowstone, and expects to be twelve or thirteen days in making the trip. I am going to send an officer with his squadron in charge of fourteen wagons loaded with forage to the relief of the rest of the command.
Our location for next winter is settled. We shall be at Fort Lincoln, and the decision is satisfactory to me. I presume you wish you were here to give the lieutenant-colonel of the battalion a little advice as to what companies shall be designated for each station. So far as this reason alone is concerned, I am glad that you are not here, as I not only would not wish you to attempt to influence such a decision, but that no person or persons might have just ground for imagining that you had done so. The officers are hinting strongly in the endeavor to ascertain "Who goes where?" but thus far none are any the wiser, for the simple reason that I have not decided the matter yet in the case of a single troop.
It is a delicate, and in some respects an undesirable task, as all, so far as I know, desire to go to Fort Lincoln. If no accident occurs, we shall reach there before October 1st—less than a month from this date, and probably less than ten days from the time you receive this, so that all your anxiety about me will be at an end. I do not intend to relax my caution on the march between here and Lincoln, as I do not forget that the two officers killed last year met their deaths near the close of the expedition.
I think I told you in my letter of eighty pages about my chasing elk four miles and killing three. Since then I have had the good-fortune to kill a fine large buck-elk taller than "Dandy," weighing, cleaned, eight hundred pounds, and with the handsomest pair of antlers I ever saw, and such a beautiful coat. I killed him only a mile and a half from camp, sent for a wagon, and carried him entire back with us, when the officers and men, and even those belonging to the scientific party, flocked to the grassy plot in front of my tent to see him.
The photographer who accompanied the scientists hitched up his photograph-wagon and drove over to take a picture of what they called the "King of the Forest." All the officers and the photographer insisted that not only the game but the hunter should appear in the picture. So I sat down, dressed as I was in my buckskins, resting one hand on an antler, and you may judge of the immense size of the elk when I tell you that as I sat there my head only reached to about half the height of the antlers. The picture is to form one of the series now being collected on the expedition under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institute.
Since the expedition started I have become acquainted with the gentlemen of the scientific corps, particularly with the zoologist and the taxidermist. The latter has been kind enough to make me a pupil of his, and I can now preserve animals for all practical purposes. I have been able to supply the gentlemen referred to with many specimens of animals, and, in return, they have not only taught me but supplied me with all the means necessary to preserve prepared animals.
You should see how very devoted I am to this, to me, very pleasant and interesting pastime. Often, after marching all day, a light may be seen in my tent long after the entire camp is asleep, and a looker-on might see me, with sleeves rolled above the elbow, busily engaged preparing the head of some animal killed in the chase. Assisting me might be seen the orderly and Hughes, both, from their sleepy looks, seeming to say, "How much longer are we to be kept out of our beds?"
I have succeeded so well in taxidermy that I can take the head and neck of an antelope, fresh from the body, and in two hours have it fully ready for preservation. I have prepared a most beautiful buck-antelope head and neck for Tom. He intends it for his sweetheart, and will send it by express from Bismarck.
I have just finished heads for two officers, which they intend as presents for their wives, and one I shall give to the Audubon Club. Then I have the heads of two black-tailed deer, of a buck and doe antelope for us, and the head and skin with claws of a grisly-bear. The latter is not thoroughly cured, owing to our constant marching and the immense amount of fat contained in the neck and hide. The ne plus ultra of all is the "King of the Forest." I have succeeded in preserving him entire—antlers, head, neck, body, legs, and hoofs—in fine condition, so that he can be mounted and look exactly as in life. To prevent the hair being rubbed, I have caused the head to be well covered with grain-sacks, and this, with the entire skin, to be sewed up securely in canvas.
The scientists informed me that there were but few specimens on this continent of elk preserved entire, and none so fine as mine. When I first began work on it I only intended to save the head, neck, and antlers, but finding that I was able to save the whole, I decided upon the latter course. Had I kept the head and neck only, it was intended for you; but having it complete alters my intention, as it would require a room to contain it. So I have concluded, with your approval, to present it to the Audubon Club in Detroit.
I have a fine buffalo head for you, beautifully haired and with symmetrical horns. A pair of sage-chickens, a pair of curlew, and a jack-rabbit complete my present collection. . . .
One day I shot three antelope without changing my position, the nearest of the three being three hundred and twenty yards from me.
Our mess continues to be successful. Nearly every day we have something nice to send to Lieutenant Braden. Only think of him, with his shattered thigh, having to trail over a rough country for three hundred miles! He is not transported in an ambulance, but a long stretcher arranged on wheels about thirty feet apart, pulled and pushed by men on foot. They carry him much more steadily than would horses or mules. It requires a full company of men each day to transport Mr. Braden in this way. He is with the main command, but was doing well when we left. The day the command divided I had the band take a position near the route where the rest of the expedition would pass, and when he and his escort approached they struck up "Garryowen." He acknowledged the attention as well as he could.
Upon our arrival here what was our joy to find quite a large mail awaiting us! It had been forwarded from Rice and Lincoln to Fort Buford, and from there came here by scouts. I received four letters from you. . . . Do you know, on the 4th of August—the very day you were writing me one of the letters I received—I was fighting, probably at the same time. . . . After I received my four letters I threw myself down on the bed to read them. When any one poked his head inside my large and comfortable tent, and ventured a question, you can probably imagine the brevity and abruptness of a certain man's replies. My communication was strictly Biblical, being either "Yea, yea, or Nay, nay."
East Bank of the Yellowstone, September 10th.
. . . When I began my letter, a few days ago, announcing our safe return to the stockade, I said you must only expect a few lines; but those few lines stretched out until they covered five sheets of letter-paper. I could now cover five times five and then only have begun my letter, but where the time is to be found I cannot tell.
We are just taking the men across the river on the Josephine, which arrived yesterday. My head-quarters and about half the troops are over, the rest will have followed by night. As Sheldon & Co., publishers of the Galaxy, say, I am going to "boil down" this letter to as many brief allusions as possible.
Instead of waiting here for the rest of the command to move, to-morrow will find us on our way to Lincoln. I take six troops of the 7th, two companies of infantry, and with the engineers set out on our return. We rely confidently on reaching Lincoln before October 1st. The reports brought by those who came on the boat place everything in a bright light regarding our new quarters at Lincoln.
I think we will have a charming garrison this winter. I wish we had some one competent to give us lessons in private theatricals. I learn by the boat that Department Head-quarters have telegraphed to Lincoln that it is possible I may wish to take a long leave. They almost take it for granted I will go, but I shall not. Do you remember, on my return from the Washita campaign, I was offered a leave in a similar manner? I have no desire to be absent from my post now. . . .
I have enjoyed a few very great luxuries to-day. At dinner, on the Josephine, for the first time this season (September 10th) I tasted new potatoes and cucumbers; but these were not the greatest. What do you imagine was a greater luxury? RAW ONIONS!!!! Even at this great distance I almost tremble when I inform you that I not only had onions for dinner, but the captain of the boat gave me a whole bushel of fine large ones. I supped on RAW ONIONS; I will probably breakfast, lunch, and dine on them to-morrow, and the next day, and the day after ad libitum ad infinitum, until—not time, but onions—shall be no more. As one by one I dispose of each goodly-sized fragment of a huge onion, I remark, sotto voce, "Go it, old fellow! Make the most of your liberties! You are on the home-stretch now, and school soon commences;" in other words, "If you intend to eat raw onions, now is your only time, for 'missus is comin'.'"
I would be glad to have every one of the officers now with me stationed at my post. My relations with them, personal and official, are extremely agreeable. They are all counting on going to Lincoln, but I know some of them will have to be disappointed. . . .
The steamer Josephine will probably leave for Lincoln to-morrow or next day, and should reach there in four or five days, so that you should receive this letter in about one week. . . . The steamer brought me two splendid letters from you, one dated the 18th, another the 25th of August. I received them on the 9th, which is pretty quick, considering. . . .
My collection of geological specimens for the Michigan University is growing satisfactorily. The Indian battles hindered the work of collecting, while in that immediate region it was unsafe to go far from the command. . . .
P.S.—Good-morning! . . . I am sitting in my large, comfortable tent, writing before breakfast. And now I must refer to a matter which thrusts itself upon my attention almost daily, yes, hourly, and that is the great degree of comfort which I have enjoyed throughout this long and ever-changing march; and it is all due to your thoughtfulness and foresight, and the manner in which you fitted me up surpasses all my comrades. No mess has compared with mine in its appointments and outfit. I have the best cook, and certainly no bed can equal mine. Whenever I look around me I see the evidences of your handiwork and care for my welfare. . . .
You never knew people more enthusiastic over the 7th than the engineers connected with the railroad party. . . . Well, I must terminate this letter, as I see no likelihood of my being able to tell you one-tenth of what I have to say. However, we will have all winter in our "brand, spankin'" new house to talk it over and over. . . .
Here I have reached my thirty-second page of this large paper. I only thought of writing three or four, and have "boiled down" as hard as I could. . . .
Fort Lincoln, September 23, 1873.
. . . Where are the numerous bridges now which you have been crossing and recrossing in regard to our return being delayed until late in October, perhaps until the first of November? Well, here we are, not only "as good as new," but, if anything, heartier, healthier, and more robust than ever.
I have not drawn a single unhealthy breath since we started on the expedition, and if ever a lot of hardy, strong, and athletic young fellows were assembled in one party, it is to be seen in a group of the officers of the 7th. What a history and reputation this 7th Cavalry has achieved for itself! Although a new and young regiment, it has left all the older fellows in the lurch, until to-day it is the best and most widely known of any in the service.
I am provoked to think I wrote you a long letter on the Yellowstone, also a telegram, and intrusted them to an officer who was to take passage in the steamer Josephine, and leave about the time we did. It should have reached here several days before we arrived, but I took six troops of cavalry and the engineers, crossed the Yellowstone to this side, and reached Fort Lincoln in eight days.
We took everybody by surprise, and beat the steamer here, so that your letter and telegram are still on the boat somewhere between this point and the stockade. You may rely upon it that no grass grew under our feet on our return march. I knew that my family—consisting of one—was in advance somewhere, and, as the saying is, I just "lit out." I am so comfortably fixed in my large, heavy canvas railroad tent that was given me on the expedition, I am sure that you and I could live comfortably in it all winter.
I am much pleased with the appearance of the citizens who have come across the river from Bismarck to pay their respects and offer congratulations on the summer's campaign. Some of the Yankton gentlemen are here attending court, and they also came over to see me.
I have just had a telegram from General Sheridan: "Welcome home."
Fort Lincoln, September 28, 1873.
. . . When you find that I have just sent the 7th Cavalry band to serenade ——— on his departure, you will say to yourself, "He has been too forgiving again." Well, perhaps I have. I often think of the beautiful expression uttered by President Lincoln at the consecration of the Gettysburg monument, and feel how nearly it expresses my belief, "With malice toward none, with charity for all!" and I hope this will ever be mine to say.
Adopting your wise and deserved suggestion, I have at last written my long delayed letter to Mr. Ford, and among other things told him I would send him per express the skins of two young elk that I killed, to have them tanned, and a pair of shoes made for each of us. So, you see, I did as I generally do, obeyed my "other half," who nine times out of ten is right, and generally the tenth time, too.
During a halt of two days, just before we started for home, I wrote a long Galaxy article, and shall mail it with this. Not only did I do that instead of resting, because of the appeals of the magazine editors, but it behooved me to get off my contributions with some regularity; for if I stop now, those who attribute them to you would say all the more it was because you were not along to do the work for me. If people only knew the amusement they have afforded us by laying the responsibility of these articles on your shoulders.
I must not forget to tell you that during the expedition I killed with my rifle and brought into camp forty-one antelope, four buffalo, four elk, seven deer (four of them black-tails), two white wolves, and one red fox.
Geese, ducks, prairie-chickens, and sage-hens without number completed my summer's record.
No one assisted me in killing the antelope, deer, or elk, except one of the latter.
One porcupine and a wildcat I brought in alive. Both of these amiable creatures I intend to send to Central Park. . . .
LETTERS FROM THE BLACK HILLS, 1874.
The following Extracts are taken from Letters sent from the Expedition to the Black Hills, referred to in Chapter XX.
Thirteen Miles from Fort Lincoln, July 3, 1874.
. . . Yesterday was a hard day on the trains. The recent rains had so softened the ground that the heavily-loaded wagons sunk to the hubs, and instead of getting in camp by noon as we expected, one battalion did not get in until after dark. But we had a good dinner, and every one is feeling well this morning. I am making a late start in order to give the mules a chance to graze.
I send you by bearer a young curlew, as a playmate to the wild-goose. Should it live, its wings had better be clipped. Grasshoppers are its principal diet.
Our mess is a great success. Last night, notwithstanding the late hour at which we reached camp, Johnson, our new colored cook, had hot biscuit, and this morning hot cakes and biscuit. We will not be over twenty or twenty-five miles from the post to-night. The men are standing around waiting to take down the tents, so I must say good-bye.
Prospect Valley, Dakota,
Twelve miles from the Montana line, July 15th.
. . . We are making a halt of one day at this charming spot, in order to rest the animals and give the men an opportunity to wash their clothes. I will begin by saying everything is and has been perfectly satisfactory. Every one—officers, men, and citizens—are in the best of health and spirits.
We have marched through an exceedingly interesting country. We are now in the most beautiful valley we have seen thus far, and encamped on a small tributary of the Little Missouri, and about five miles from the latter. So beautiful did this place seem to us when we first came in sight of it, I directed the engineer-officer, who is making a map of the country, to call it Prospect Valley.
Three days ago we reached the cave referred to, before we started, by the Indian called "Goose." It was found to be about four hundred feet long, and just as he described, the walls and top covered with inscriptions and drawings. The prints of hands and feet are also in the rocks. I think this was all the work of Indians at an early day, although I cannot satisfactorily account for the drawings of ships found there.
"Bos," though this is his first expedition, takes to life on the plains as naturally as if bred to it. One of the officers says he thinks it must "run in the blood." He has to go through the usual experience that falls to all "plebs." Every one practises jokes on him, but he has such a good disposition it does not even ruffle him. I know that you would espouse his cause against us if you had seen him take some bits of rocks out of his pocket every night after we had reached camp, and put them to soak in his wash-basin. They were given to him by Tom, who assured him that they were sponge stone—a variety that softened by keeping them in water for a certain length of time. After a few nights of faithful practice it dawned upon him that he was again the victim of a practical joke, and he quietly dropped them by the way without saying a word. You need not trouble yourself to take up arms in his defence, for he gets even with us in the long-run.
He has been so pleased with his mule from the first, and has praised him to me repeatedly. He is a good animal, for a mule, but endurance, in his constitution, rather triumphs over speed. I could not resist taking advantage of the country to play a trick on "Bos" one day.
The land was undulating, and you know how it always seems as if one could surely see for miles beyond when the top of each divide is reached, and how one can go on all day over the constant rise and fall of the earth, thinking the next divide will reveal a vast stretch of country. "Bos" rode beside me, and I invented an excuse to go in advance; I made "Vic" gallop slowly over the divide, and when out of sight on the other side I put spurs to him and dashed through the low ground. When "Bos" came in sight I was slowly ambling up the next divide and calling to him to come on. He spurred his mule, shouted to him, and waved his arms and legs to incite him to a faster gait. When he neared me I disappeared over another divide, and giving "Vic" the rein only slackened speed when it became time for "Bos" to appear. Then, when I had brought my horse down to a walk I called out, "Why on earth don't you come on?" Believing that the gait he saw me take had been unvarying, he could not understand why I lengthened the distance between us so rapidly. I kept this up until he discovered my joke, and I was obliged to ride back to join him and suit "Vic's" steps to those of his exhausted mule. . . .
No Indians or signs of Indians were seen from the time we left Lincoln until the day before yesterday, when about twenty were discovered near the column. They scampered off as soon as observed. Yesterday we came where they had slept. The officer on rear-guard duty saw about twenty-five following our trail.
Signal smokes were sent up all around us yesterday afternoon by the Indians, and some were seen watching us after we reached camp, but no hostile demonstrations have been made. Our Indian guides say the signals may be intended to let the village know where we are, so that they may keep out of our way. . . .
We expect to reach the base of the Black Hills in about three days. Professor Winchell and Mr. Grinnell discovered yesterday the fossil remains of an animal belonging to some extinct race which in life exceeded in size the largest elephant. . . .
I am gradually forming my annual menagerie. I have one live rattlesnake—for Agnes—two jack-rabbits, half grown, one eagle, and four owls. I had also two fine badgers, full grown, but they were accidentally smothered. . . .
These are the first lines I have written since my last letter to you, nearly a fortnight since, and you cannot imagine how tired my hand and arm have become already. I have made no attempt to write on the march; the short time I have after reaching camp every day is devoted to rest and sleep. . . .
General "Sandy" is delighted with the 7th Cavalry; he says no regiment compares with it except perhaps the 4th. There has not been a single card-party nor a drunken officer since we left Lincoln. . . .
Our mess is a decided and gratifying success. Johnson is not only an excellent cook but very prompt. We breakfast at four o'clock every morning. Every day I invite some officer to dine with us.
I remember your wishes and ride at the head of the column, keeping inside our lines all the time, although it is a great deprivation to me not to go outside and hunt. I feel exactly like some young lady extremely fond of dancing, who, having a cold, has been forbidden by her anxious mamma to do more than look on at some elegant party. I received my orders from my commanding officer before starting, and I am going to try and render strict obedience.
. . . In looking for a road I sometimes get a mile or perhaps two ahead of the command, but I always have seventy or eighty men with me, and after to-day I mean to take in addition two more companies. I have no intention of getting beyond sight and hearing of the main column. There is an advance-guard always, and the Indian scouts at the front and on the flanks. . . .
I have killed six antelope at the head of the command. . . . Only think! one-fifth of the time expired day before yesterday, and by the time this reaches you one-third of our time of separation will have passed.
We will not be delayed in our return later than I expected when we left Fort Lincoln. . . .
As I write, the dogs surround me: "Cardigan" is sleeping on the edge of my bed, "Tuck" at the head, and "Blücher" near by. . . . I am not certain whether I will be able to send back more scouts or not. This mail is to be carried by two Rees, Bull Bear and Skunk's Head. Bloody Knife is doing splendidly on this trip.
There is not a single man on the sick-report in this entire command—a fact which the medical officer regards as unprecedented. . . . We will move into the valley of the Little Missouri to-morrow, and probably follow that stream to the Black Hills. You may judge of the fine country we have passed over by the fact that our mules and beef-herd have actually improved since we left Lincoln. We have travelled two hundred and twenty-seven and a half miles, and in a straight line we are one hundred and seventy miles from Lincoln. I must stop now, and write my official report.
Camp near Harney's Peak, August 2, 1874.
I wish you could see me at this moment as I am prepared to write to you. First I must tell you that I cannot send a very long letter—not that I have not volumes to say to you, but for reasons which I will briefly explain. In the evening, after reaching camp, I am too much occupied and have too much hard work to find time to write. After dinner I usually take an escort and search out a few miles of road for the following day. When I return I am ready to hasten to my comfortable bed.
We have reveille regularly at a quarter before three, so that it behooves one to get to bed as early as possible. . . . To-day has been letter-day. Charlie Reynolds leaves in the morning with the mail for Fort Laramie. I am going to explore some twenty-five or thirty miles in that direction, and Reynolds will go with me. I take five companies. Two others started off in another direction this morning to be absent three days; so you see they are kept moving. I will be gone three days; the next day after that we turn our faces northward and begin our homeward march. I must not forget to explain the other reason why I cannot send you a letter of thirty pages or so this time—one of those that Tom calls my "little notes" to you. I was busy with the office duties until ten to-day, and then I began my official report. I had so many interruptions I was at last driven to print "Engaged" on a placard and pin it on the front of my tent; I tied up the flaps, shutting myself in until the twenty-two pages of my report were written.
It is now a quarter to one. Breakfast is at four, and "Boots and Saddles" will sound at five. I wish I could go more into detail in describing the expedition, which has exceeded all previous ones, and in success has surpassed my most sanguine expectations.
I did not hope to have my wagon-train with me, and here it has followed me everywhere. We have discovered a rich and beautiful country. We have had no Indian fights and will have none. We have discovered gold without a doubt, and probably other valuable metals. All are well, and have been the entire trip.
My report, which you will see, will contain much that I would have sent you in a letter. . . .
P.S.— . . . We have marched forty-five miles to-day, in a southerly direction from Harney's Peak, and are now encamped on the south fork of the Cheyenne River, about ninety miles from Fort Laramie. Reynolds leaves us here. We are now all seated or lying around a camp-fire, writing the closing words to our letters. . . .
I must say good-bye. A few days more and we shall be at home, for we start north at five o'clock in the morning. . . .
Bear Butte, Dakota, August 15th.
Though we shall so soon be at home, I must send a few lines by the scout who takes the official despatches. I cannot tell you how busy I have been, and how hard and constantly I have worked to try and make the expedition successful. I have attempted to be several other things besides commanding-officer—particularly guide—since the expedition started.
Now that we have been in and through the Black Hills, I have the satisfaction of knowing that the whole undertaking has proved a success, exceeding the expectations of the most sanguine. I think that my superior officers will be surprised and gratified at the extent and thoroughness of our explorations. . . .
The photographer who accompanied us has obtained a complete set of magnificent stereoscopic views of Black Hills scenery, so I will not attempt to allude to this lovely country until I can review it with you by aid of the photographs. I send you one that will show you that at last I have killed a grisly after a most exciting hunt and contest. . . . Colonel Ludlow, Bloody Knife, and Private Noonan are with me in the group, as we constituted the hunting-party. The bear measured eight feet. I have his claws.
The scouts are on their ponies waiting for the mail, and I must hasten. . . .
It would have been such a treat to have had you see all that we have seen this summer, and shared the enjoyment of this beautiful land. But, never mind, you shall come next summer, for we all hope to return again. . . .
No Indians have been seen lately, but I intend to be careful until the end of the trip. . . .
LETTERS FROM THE YELLOWSTONE, 1876.
Extracts from Letters written on the Second Expedition to the Yellowstone, during the Summer of 1876.
Forty-six Miles from Fort Lincoln,
May 20th, 1876—9.15 p.m.
. . . It has just been decided to send scouts back to Lincoln. They leave here at daylight, and will remain there thirty-six hours, returning to us with despatches and mail. We are having the "parrot's time" with the expedition.
It is raining now, and has been since we started. The roads are fearfully bad. Here we are on the Little Muddy, after marching four days, and only forty-six miles from home. Everybody is more or less disgusted except me, and I feel the relief of not having to bear the responsibility of the delays.
The elements seem against us, but a wet season and bad roads can be looked for always in this region in the months of May and June.
We have not seen any signs of Indians thus far, and hardly look for any for a few days yet. I have been extremely prudent—sufficiently so to satisfy you. I go nowhere without taking an escort with me. I act as if Indians were near all the time. The mess prospers well. Tom and I have fried onions at breakfast and dinner, and raw onions for lunch!" The scouts that were left at Lincoln joined us yesterday about 10 a.m. with the mail. I wish that you knew how good it was to get the letters. You must send me more by the scouts we send out to-morrow. . . . Since beginning this letter it is decided that they go at once, for I know it is best to get them out of camp at night; so they have been directed to saddle-up immediately, and I must therefore cut this letter short.
I said this evening that if I was sure this expedition would go no farther the next four days than it has those just past, I would be glad to take despatches to Lincoln and return, just for the sake of getting home again for a few hours. . . .
On Little Missouri, May 30th—10 p.m.
. . . I am determined to sit up, even though it is ten o'clock, and write to you, notwithstanding I have had a tremendous day's work. I breakfasted at four o'clock, was in the saddle at five, and between that hour and 6 p.m. I rode fifty miles over a rough country, unknown to everybody, and only myself for a guide.
We had halted here for one day in order to determine the truth of the many rumors which you and all of us have heard so long and often, to the effect that the hostile Indians were gathered on the Little Missouri River, with the intention of fighting us here.
I suggested to General Terry to send out a strong scouting-party up the river to find out all that could be ascertained. He left the matter to me, and I took four companies of cavalry and a part of the scouts, and at five o'clock we were off. The valley of the river averages about one mile in width, hemmed in on both sides by impassable Bad Lands. The river is crooked beyond description.
To shorten the story, we marched the fifty miles and got back before dark, having settled the question beyond a doubt that all stories about large bodies of Indians being here are the merest bosh. None have been here for six months, not even a small hunting-party.
We took pack-mules with us to carry feed for the horses. When we lunched, all the officers got together and we had a jolly time.
Only think, we found the Little Missouri River so crooked and the Bad Lands so impassable that in marching fifty miles to-day we forded the river thirty-four (34) times. The bottom is quicksand. Many of the horses went down, frequently tumbling their riders into the water; but all were in good spirits, and every one laughed at every one else's mishaps.
General Terry just left my tent a few moments since, and when I asked him not to be in a hurry he said, "Oh, I'll leave you, for you must be tired and want to go to bed." I did not tell him that I was going to write to you before I slept.
Bloody Knife looks on in wonder at me because I never get tired, and says no other man could ride all night and never sleep. I know I shall sleep soundly when I do lie down; but, actually, I feel no more fatigued now than I did before mounting my horse this morning. . . .
What I am going to tell you is for you alone. But ——— came to me the other day, and asked me to arrange that he should be stationed at our post next winter. He says he wants to be in a garrison where the duty is strict, and, above all, he desires to prove that he is, and desires to be, a man, and he believes that he could do much better than he has if he could serve under me. He says the very atmosphere of his post seems filled with evil for him. I have a scheme by which I think I can accomplish his coming, and I believe that you will approve.
The scouts reached here in good time, and glad was I to get my letters. . . .
In Camp, about Ten Miles West of the Little Missouri,
. . . We left camp about eight o'clock. After marching a few miles, Tom, "Bos," and I, taking some men, started on a near route across the country, knowing that we would intercept the column later on. This is the second time I have left the main command, and both times they have lost their way; so you see my "bump of locality" is of some use out here. We reached this camp about three-quarters of an hour from the time we left the column, but the latter strayed off, and while we were here by 9 a.m., the rest did not reach here until two o'clock. When they found they were lost, the officers all assembled at the head of the column to consult together and try and find the right way.
To-day, while out with Tom and "Bos," we were riding through a part of the country filled with small buttes, in which it was easy to lose one's self. "Bos" stopped a few moments as we were riding through a ravine, and dismounted to take a pebble from his pony's shoe. I observed it, and said to Tom, "Let's slip round the hill behind 'Bos,' where he can't find us, and when he starts we'll fire in the air near him." The moment we passed out of sight our entire party galloped around the hill behind him and concealed ourselves. Tom and I crawled to the top of the hill and peeped through the grass without being seen. Sure enough, "Bos" thought he was lost, as we could nowhere be seen in the direction he expected to find us.
Tom and I were watching him, and just as he seemed in a quandary as to where we were, I fired my rifle so that the bullet whizzed over his head. I popped out of sight for a moment, and when I looked again "Bos" was heading his pony towards the command, miles away. I fired another shot in his direction, and so did Tom, and away "Bos" flew across the plains, thinking, no doubt, the Sioux were after him. Tom and I mounted our horses and soon overhauled him. He will not hear the last of it for some time.
Charlie Reynolds killed two big-horn sheep to-day and gave me the finest of the two heads. I have it in my tent now and hope to preserve it, although I came away without my preservative powders.
Nearly all my amusement is with "Bos" and Tom. We lunch together every day. . . . I have about made up my mind that when I go on expeditions like this you are to go too. You could have endured this as well as not. . . .
Powder River, about Twenty Miles above its Mouth,
June 9, 1876.
. . . We are now in a country heretofore unvisited by white men. Reynolds, who had been guiding the command, lost his way the other day, and General Terry did not know what to do about finding a road from O'Fallon's Creek across to Powder River. I told him I thought I could guide the column. He assented; so Tom, "Bos," and I started ahead, with company D and the scouts as escort, and brought the command to this point, over what seems to be the only practicable route for miles on either side, through the worst kind of Bad Lands. The general did not believe it possible to find a road through. When, after a hard day's work, we arrived at this river by a good, easy road, making thirty-two miles in one day, he was delighted and came to congratulate me.
Yesterday I finished a Galaxy article, which will go in the next mail; so, you see, I am not entirely idle. Day before yesterday I rode nearly fifty miles, arose yesterday morning, and went to work at my article, determined to finish it before night, which I did, amidst constant interruptions. It is now nearly midnight, and I must go to my bed, for reveille comes at three.
As a slight evidence that I am not very conceited regarding my personal appearance, I have not looked in a mirror or seen the reflection of my beautiful (?) countenance, including the fine growth of auburn whiskers, since I looked in the glass at Lincoln.
On Yellowstone, at Mouth of Powder River,
June 11th—10.30 p.m.
. . . This morning we left our camp on Powder River, I acting again as guide. The expedition started to make its way through unknown Bad Lands to the mouth of the river. General Terry felt great anxiety in regard to the trip, as he feared that we could not get through with the wagons. He had been down the river to its mouth with cavalry, and he and those with him said that wagons could not make the march in a month, and the Bad Lands looked still more impracticable. He came to my tent before daylight, and asked me if I would try to find the road. He seems to think I have a gift in that way, and he hoped that we might get within ten miles of the river's mouth to-day. What rendered our condition more embarrassing was that the men had only rations for one day left.
I started with one company and the scouts, and in we "plunged boldly." One company had been sent out the previous day to look for a road, and their failure to return the same day increased the anxiety. I thought likely they had lost their way and had slept in the Bad Lands. Sure enough we found them about 10 a.m.
After passing through some perfectly terrible country I finally struck a beautiful road along a high plateau, and instead of guiding the command within ten miles of here we have all arrived and the wagon-train beside.
If you will look on the map near my desk you will find the mouth of Powder River and our present location on the Yellowstone, almost due west from Lincoln. Follow up the Yellowstone a short distance, and the first stream you come to is the Tongue River, to which point we will move after resting three or four days. We will there be joined by the six companies of the regiment now absent on a scout, and I shall then select the nine companies to go with me. . . .
The steamer Far West leaves for Fort Buford to-morrow. . . . As I was up at three this morning, and have had a hard day's march, and as it is now going on to twelve, I must hie to bed to get a little rest and slumber. . . .
Monday, June 12th—before Breakfast.
. . . . I rose early this morning, without waiting to be called to breakfast, in order that I might write my letter. The Yellowstone is very high; steamers loaded to their utmost capacity can go up some distance above the mouth of the Big Horn. I wanted to send you a letter that I wished you to read and afterwards re-mail, had I not thought you might have found an opportunity to come up the river in the Josephine. The new supplies for our mess—of onions, potatoes, and dried apples—have just come from the boat.
"Tuck" regularly comes when I am writing, and lays her head on the desk, rooting up my hand with her long nose until I consent to stop and notice her. She and Swift, Lady and Kaiser sleep in my tent.
You need not be anxious about my leaving the column with small escorts; I scarcely hunt any more.. . .
Mouth of Tongue River, June 17th.
. . . I fear that my last letter, written from the mouth of Powder River, was not received in very good condition by you. The mail was sent in a row-boat from the stockade to Buford, under charge of a sergeant and three or four men of the 6th Infantry. Just as they were pushing off from the Far West the boat capsized, and mail and soldiers were thrown into the rapid current; the sergeant sank and was never seen again. The mail was recovered, after being submerged for five or ten minutes. Captain Marsh and several others sat up all night and dried it by the stove. I was told that my letter to you went off all right, also my Galaxy article. The latter was recognized by a young newspaper reporter and telegraph operator who came up on the train with us from St. Paul, and he took special pains in drying it.
With six companies of the 7th, the Gatling battery, the scouts, and the pack-mules, I left the mouth of Powder River Thursday morning, leaving all our wagons behind, and directing our march for this point, less than forty miles distant. General Terry and staff followed by steamer. We marched here in about one and a quarter days. The boat arrived yesterday evening. . . . The officers were ordered to leave their tents behind. They are now lying under tent-flies or in shelter-tents. When we leave here I shall only take a tent-fly. We are living delightfully. This morning we had a splendid dish of fried fish, which Tom, "Bos," and I caught a few steps from my tent last evening.
The other day, on our march from Powder River, I shot an antelope. That night, while sitting round the camp-fire, and while Hughes was making our coffee, I roasted some of the ribs Indian fashion, and I must say they were delicious. We all slept in the open air around the fire, Tom and I under a fly, "Bos" and Autie Reed on the opposite side. Tom pelted "Bos" with sticks and clods of earth after we had retired. I don't know what we would do without "Bos" to tease. . . .
Yesterday Tom and I saw a wild-goose flying over-head quite high in the air. We were in the bushes and could not see each other. Neither knew that the other intended to fire. Both fired simultaneously, and down came the goose, killed. Don't you think that pretty good shooting for rifles?
On our march here we passed through some very extensive Indian villages—rather the remains of villages occupied by them last winter. I was at the head of the column as we rode through one, and suddenly came upon a human skull lying under the remains of an extinct fire. I halted to examine it, and lying near by I found the uniform of a soldier. Evidently it was a cavalry uniform, as the buttons on the overcoat had "C" on them, and the dress-coat had the yellow cord of the cavalry uniform running through it. The skull was weather-beaten, and had evidently been there several months. All the circumstances went to show that the skull was that of some poor mortal who had been a prisoner in the hands of the savages, and who doubtless had been tortured to death, probably burned. . . .
We are expecting the Josephine to arrive in a day or two. I hope that it will bring me a good long letter from you, otherwise I do not feel particularly interested in her arrival—unless, by good-luck, you should be on board; you might just as well be here as not. . . . I hope to begin another Galaxy article, if the spirit is favorable. . . .
Mouth of Rosebud, June 21, 1876.
. . . Look on my map and you will find our present location on the Yellowstone, about midway between Tongue River and the Big Horn.
The scouting-party has returned. They saw the trail and deserted camp of a village of three hundred and eighty (380) lodges. The trail was about one week old. The scouts reported that they could have overtaken the village in one day and a half. I am now going to take up the trail where the scouting-party turned back. I fear their failure to follow up the Indians has imperilled our plans by giving the village an intimation of our presence. Think of the valuable time lost! But I feel hopeful of accomplishing great results. I will move directly up the valley of the Rosebud. General Gibbon's command and General Terry, with steamer, will proceed up the Big Horn as far as the boat can go. . . . I like campaigning with pack-mules much better than with wagons, leaving out the question of luxuries. We take no tents, and desire none.
I now have some Crow scouts with me, as they are familiar with the country. They are magnificent-looking men, so much handsomer and more Indian-like than any we have ever seen, and so jolly and sportive; nothing of the gloomy, silent red-man about them. They have formally given themselves to me, after the usual talk. In their speech they said they had heard that I never abandoned a trail; that when my food gave out I ate mule. That was the kind of a man they wanted to fight under; they were willing to eat mule too.
I am going to send six Ree scouts to Powder River with the mail; from there it will go with other scouts to Fort Buford. . . .
June 22d—11 A.M.
. . . I have but a few moments to write, as we move at twelve, and I have my hands full of preparations for the scout. . . . Do not be anxious about me. You would be surprised to know how closely I obey your instructions about keeping with the column. I hope to have a good report to send you by the next mail. . . . A success will start us all towards Lincoln. . . .
I send you an extract from General Terry's official order, knowing how keenly you appreciate words of commendation and confidence, such as the following: "It is of course impossible to give you any definite instructions in regard to this movement; and were it not impossible to do so, the Department Commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy, and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders, which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy."
- The general's brother.
- This reference is to himself.
- His favorite hunting-horse.
- It is now in Detroit.
- Lieutenant Braden was wounded in the battle described in the official report which accompanies this letter.
- I have copied the words as he printed them.
- Here follows a description of Fort Lincoln. His sanguine temperament made it seem little short of an earthly paradise. He did not seem to realize that the prosaic and plain Government buildings were placed on a treeless and barren plain. In a carefully prepared plan of our house which he had drawn, he gave the dimensions and description of each room, and over the door of his library a triple underlining of his words, "MY ROOM," and the motto, "Who enters here leaves hope behind." He thus began, before we had even occupied the house, playfully to threaten any one who disturbed his writing or studies.
- The officer to whom reference is made had been a persistent and exasperating enemy of my husband during the summer, and I could not forget or forgive, even after apologies were offered, especially as they were not offered in the presence of others.
- Our younger brother.
- This was our young visitor, whose horror of snakes General Custer well knew.
- This reference to commanding officer meant his wife, whose authority only extended to precautionary instructions as to his safety and health. The reiterated petition was that he should never leave the column alone.
- Nothing but excessive fatigue and a determination to make the best of everything could have prompted him to describe it as comfortable. On the first day's march out from garrison a careless soldier forgot the three boards that were intended to keep the bedding from absorbing the dampness in case of rain. During the entire summer, owing to this piece of forgetfulness, the mattress was laid down every night on ground that was always uneven and sometimes wet.
- The scout mentioned in Chapter XXVI. It was on this trip to Fort Laramie, carrying the despatches and mail, that he suffered such hardships and peril.
- They both took advantage of their first absence from home to partake of their favorite vegetable. Onions were permitted at our table, but after indulging in them they found themselves severely let alone, and that they did not enjoy.
- We had been extremely anxious about the officer to whom my husband refers, and longed to save him from himself. Since he is gone, I think that I am not betraying confidence in quoting from this letter.
- This reference to the color of his beard, which he only allowed to grow on campaigns, was a reminder of the fact upon which we had long since agreed: that though Titian might have found beauty in that tint, we did not.
- She was my husband's favorite dog.
- This letter was scorched and defaced, but fortunately I could read it all, thanks to those who sat up all night to dry the mail.