James Swisher.

How I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience online

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dates about seven or eight sleepers.

The Indians are natural hunters. Some of the tribes
possess a great many excellent horses. They wander
and hunt over a vast scope of country. The Indians
have certain days of festivity and public rejoicing,
when large crowds of them assemble together. They



then have, as the principal part of the day's entertain-
ment, horse-races, foot-races, and wrestling-matches.
Shooting at a mark is another one of their pastimes,
which is indulged in by the hour. They usually select


as a target, some object on a steep hillside, and then
watch, by the little puff of dust, to see where the ball
strikes. Each shot, be it good or bad, produces the
same effect upon the swarthy spectators.

The Indians are always ready to trade for horses or


guns. They never trade for anything they cannot move
about with them. Often they will exchange a splen-
did horse, saddle and bridle for a gun, which, though it
may be a good one, is worth not more than forty dollars,
while the horse would, perhaps, command over one hun-
dred dollars. They are all lovers of whisky, and when
they can procure it in sufficient quantities, they use it
to great excess. When drunk, they are very noisy,
and some of them are dangerous.

Their modes of disposing of their dead differ in
different tribes. The Sioux place their dead bodies in
trees, or on a platform, supported by four stakes driven
into the ground, whichever is the more convenient; for,
on the plains, sometimes they may be hundreds of miles
from timber. The Utes sometimes bury the body in
the ground, and sometimes place it along the side of
some ledge, where it is weighted down with rocks. If
an Indian is afflicted with a malarial disease, he is gen-
erally left to get well as best he can. If he dies, his
body is either left without any attention, or is burned.
I was in Utah Territory when Black Hawk, one of
the war chiefs of the Indians there, died from some
disease he had contracted. His people burned his
body, and one of his favorite horses with it.

At one time, near Manti, some of the Mormon boys
were following a trail that led to the mountains above.
At a certain place, where there were ledges and bowl-
ders without number, they heard some strange noise
proceeding from the rocks. Upon investigation they
found an aged Indian woman, who, on account of sick-



ness, had been unable to keep up with the train of her
comrades. They had, therefore, taken and weighted
her down with rocks, to suffer and starve to death;
and, but for the timely assistance of the Mormon boys,
who helped her down to an empty cabin, outside of
town, where
she was cared
for, she soon
would have
been where
n o assistance
could have
reached her.

The Indians
have doctors,
or medicine
men, among
them. When
one of the tribe
is attacked with
sickness his
comrades gath-
er around him
in the evening. BLACK HAWK.

Some of them will walk around his couch, and most
dismally howl until tired out, when fresh ones take
their places. Some will be dancing and singing with all
their might. Others are out in the darkness shooting,
and making all the noise in their power. In this way
they keep up a dreadful racket during the whole night.


I have tried to gain admittance at such times, but
always found sentinels surrounding the camp, who
would allow no one to enter. They told me that this


demonstration was made for the purpose of keeping
off the evil spirits, that were supposed to hover around
the couch of the sick one, ready to convey his spirit


away. They think that, if they can keep up a sufficient
noise and racket, they will be able to frighten the evil
spirits away. The Indians are a very superstitious race
of people. They believe in the future existence of
mankind, but in this peculiar way. They think that, if
an Indian is very courageous and brave, and obtains to
that higher point of excellence in this life which, in
their minds, constitutes him a "big brave," the good
spirits will hover around his dying couch, and, at his
last breath, will speed away, on swift wings, with his
immortal spirit to a land that is beautiful beyond de-
scription; filled w r ith sweet, fragrant flowers, and all
kinds of game in never-ending abundance; where he
may roam and hunt at will by the side of rivers of
clear water, filled with the most beautiful fish. Such,
they think, will be the future home of the good Indians.
But, if an Indian is not good in their opinion, when he
dies his soul is borne away on the wings of an evil
spirit, to a land that is barren, wild, and desolate;
where there is neither game nor fish. They seem,
therefore, to have some sort of wisdom in these mat-
ters, even in their ignorance, that is far superior to
some of the creeds and practices of their more-enlight-
ened fellow men. I refer to Mormonism, Mohammed-
anism, and such like.

The Mormon obtains glory in a higher or lower
degree, according as he increases his chances by mar-
rying additional wives, each new wife lifting him a step
higher toward perpetual happiness.




[ From WESTERN WILDS, by permission.*}

N a bright Sunday in June, 1876, while the nation
was on the top wave of the Centennial enthusi-
asm and the opening of the Presidential campaign, the
news went flashing over the wires that General George
A. Custer and all his command lay dead in a Montana
valley, the victims of a Sioux massacre. With him had
died his two brothers, his brother-in-law and a nephew;
and of all that entered that battle not one white man
survived. For a brief space there was hope that it
might be a false report, but soon followed official
papers which confirmed every ghastly detail of the first
dispatches. For a few days the public sorrow overcame
all other considerations; then, by natural revulsion, sor-
row gave place to indignation, and that in turn to a
fierce demand for investigation and a victim. The
public must have a victim when there has been a mis-
fortune. Then ensued a performance which was no
credit to us as a nation. His opponents attacked Pres-
ident Grant as the real cause "of Custer' s death; his
friends foolishly defended the President by criticising

*To the kindness of Mr. J. H. Beadle, author, and Messrs. Jones Brothers
& Co., of Cincinnati, publishers, of that very able work, WESTERN WILDS,
I am indebted for this chapter on The Custer Massacre, and the following
one on Where Shall ive Settle? which I am sure my readers will find both
very interesting and very valuable. THE AUTHOR.


Custer; the latter's friends in the army savagely at-
tacked Major Reno and Captain Benteen as being the
cause of the General's misfortunes, and thus the many-
sided fight went on. Before stating any facts bearing
on this issue, a brief sketch of General Custer's previous
experience on the plains is in order.

George Armstrong Custer was born at New Rum-
ley, Ohio, December 5, 1839, and was consequently
but thirty-seven years old at the time of his death. At
ten years of age he went to live with an older sister in
Monroe, Michigan, and ever after considered that place
his home. There, on the ninth of February, 1864, he
married Elizabeth, only daughter of Judge Daniel S.
Bacon. He entered West Point as a cadet in 1857,
and graduated four years after away down in the
list. Worse still, he was court-martialed for some
minor breach of etiquette, and, badly as officers were
needed just then, had some trouble in getting located
in the army. But we long ago learned that rank at
West Point by no means settles the officer's later
standing in the army. Soon after graduating he was
made Second Lieutenant, and assigned to Company
"G," Second United States Cavalry, and arrived just
in time to take a little part in the Bull Run battle and
stampede. A little later he served on the staff of General
Phil. Kearney, and early in the summer of 1862 was
made full captain and aid-de-camp of General McClellan.
And this contributed not a little to some of his trou-
bles in after years, as he was an enthusiastic " McClellan
man," and by no means reticent in his views. Ani-


mosities were excited during that controversy which
were not settled till long afterward.

Little by little Custer fought his way up, and the
last year of the war the country was charmed and ex-
cited by the brilliant movements of Brigadier-General
George A. Custer, of the United States Cavalry. After
the war we almost lost sight of him. Except that Pres-
ident Johnson took him, along with a few others, as
one of the attractions of that starring tour, " swinging
'round the circle," we hear no more of Custer till the
army was reorganized in 1866, and he was once more
a captain in the United States Cavalry, this time on the
plains. But it was a different sort of army from that
with which he had won his early honors. Language
fails to portray the utter demoralization of our regular
army from 1865 to 1869 or '70. All the really valua-
ble survivors of the volunteer army had returned to
civil life; only the malingerers, the bounty-jumpers, the
draft-sneaks and worthless remained. These, with the
scum of the cities and frontier settlements, constituted
more than half the rank and file on the plains. The
officers, too, had been somewhat affected by the great
revolution. The old West Pointers were dead, or re-
tired on half pay, or had grown to such rank in the
volunteer army that they could not bear to drop back
to their old position in the regular service. The offi-
cers consisted of new men from West Point; of men
who had been appointed from civil life or from the vol-
unteer army, in most instances to oblige some politi-
cian; and a few men like Custer, to whom military life



was both a pleasure and a legitimate business. Deser-
tion was so common among the private soldiers that it
entailed no disgrace anywhere in the West. Hundreds
enlisted simply to get transportation to the Rocky
Mountains, and then deserted. When our wagon-train
was on its way to Salt Lake in 1868, a deserter trav-
eled with us two days, dressed in his military clothing,
and without the slightest attempt at concealment. In
this wretched state of the service in the West, Custer
was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and
put in command
of the Seventh
United States

It was but
nominally a
cavalry regi-
ment. The men
were there, and
the horses, with

guns, equip- "GO WEST."

ments, an organization and a name; but as a cavalry
regiment he had to make it, and he did it so well
that it soon became the reliable regiment of the
frontier. The new Colonel's career, for some time
to come, was among the hostile Indians of Western
and South-western Kansas then the worst section
of the Far West for Indian troubles. The tourist
who glides rapidly and with such keen enjoyment
through this region, by way of the Kansas Pacific



or Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Road, can scarcely
conceive that but a few years have elapsed since it
contained thousands of murderous savages; for it is
a noteworthy fact that nothing so soon moderates
the danger of Indian attacks as a railroad. It seems
that, even if no fighting is done, the mere presence of
the road, with daily passage of trains, either drives the
Indians away or renders them harmless. But in the
early days the routes to the Colorado mines were
raided at regular intervals. One year there would be
almost perfect peace; the next a bloody Indian war. It
seems to have been the policy of the Indians to behave
well long enough to throw emigrants off their guard;
then to swoop down and murder and plunder with im-
punity. The region between the Smoky Hill and the
Republican was particularly noted for bloody encount-
ers. It was raided in turn by Sioux, Cheyennes and
Arapahoes, and often by all three in concert. Every
ravine and knoll on the route has its own local legend
the details, a blending of the ludicrous and horrible.
Tradition relates that two bold settlers started for the
mines in a time of profound peace, just after the In-
dians had concluded a most solemn treaty and shaken
hands over their promise to live in eternal peace with
the whites; the settlers, in Western mirthfulness, paint-
ing on their white wagon-cover the words, " Pike's
Peak or Bust." A scouting party sent out from some
post came upon them on the Upper Republican, just
in time to see the savages vanishing in the distance.
The oxen lay dead in the yoke. Beside the wagon



were the corpses of the two settlers, transfixed with
arrows. They had "busted.''

In 1864 the savages broke out worse than ever, car-
rying off several women captive from the settlements
in Kansas. In 1865 there was a precarious peace; but
in 1866 and '67 the Indians raided every part of the
stage road. Meanwhile the noted "Chivington massa-
cre " had occurred, and General P. E. Connor had, by


extraordinary exertions, killed some Montana Indians;
both events were seized upon by Eastern "human-
itarians," and for a while they succeeded in completely
paralyzing all portions of our army. And here it may
be observed that our peculiar, tortuous, uneconomical
and most unsatisfactory Indian policy, is the result of a
certain conflict of forces highly liable to occur in a free
republic. There is, first, a small but eminently respect-


able and powerful party, which is opposed to fighting
the Indian at all, and think that he might be fed and
soothed into keeping the peace; and that, at any rate,
it would be cheaper to feed all the Indians to repletion
than to fight them. And, as to this last point, they
are emphatically correct. There is, next, a consider-
ably larger number, mostly on the frontiers, who believe
in a war of extermination, but they have little or no
political influence. There are, also, the traders and
agents, some honest and some otherwise, whose inter-
ests are involved ; and the sensible middle class, who
believe in keeping treaties with the Indians, and
thrashing them if they break treaties. Of course, it
sometimes happens that one of these parties is ahead,
and then another. As a result, our policy is strangely
crooked, inconsistent, and expensive. The Indian no
sooner gets accustomed to one policy than another is
adopted ; he has scarcely learned to trust one officer till
another is in his place, who takes a malicious pleasure,
apparently, in undoing all that the former has done.
This uncertainty entails frightful expense, both in treas-
ure and life. But it is a difficulty inseparable, appar-
ently, from our form of government.

It is unnecessary to trace the causes which led to
Hancock's campaign against the Indians in 1867. It
was a formidable affair on- paper, but accomplished
nothing. Our whole force consisted of eight troops of
cavalry, seven companies of infantry, and one battery
of artillery, the whole numbering 1,400 men. General
Hancock, with seven companies of infantry, four of


the Seventh Cavalry, and all the artillery, marched from
Fort Riley to Fort Harper, and there was joined by
two more troops of cavalry. Thence they marched
southeast to Fort Larned, near the Arkansas. The
hostile Indians, consisting of Cheyennes and Sioux, had
appointed a council near by ; but all sorts of difficul-
ties seemed to arise to prevent their coming up to time.
First, there was a heavy snow, although it was the
second week in April 5 and the runners reported that
the bands could not come. Then word came that they
had started, but found it necessary to halt and kill some
buffalo; and, again, that they had once come in sight, but
were afraid on account of so many soldiers being present.
Then General Hancock proceeded up the stream to
hunt the Indian camp, and was met by an imposing
band of warriors. Another parley ensued; midway be-
tween the hostile forces Generals Hancock, A. J. Smith
and others met Roman Nose, Bull Bear, White Horse,
Gray Beard and Medicine Wolf, on the part of the
Cheyennes, and Pawnee Killer, Bad Wound, Tall-Bear-
that-walks-under-Ground, Left Hand and Little Bull
and Little Bear, on the part of the Sioux. There was
no fighting ; but after a few days more of excuses, the
mounted Indians suddenly departed. Then it was dis-
covered that the whole proceeding was but a well-
played ruse to enable the Indians to get their women
and children to a place of safety, and leave the warriors
free for contingencies. The accomplished commanders
of the American army had been tricked by a lot of dirty
savages. Custer in the lead, pushed on with all possible



speed after the Indians, but in vain. They had struck
the stage stations on the Smoky Hill route, and mur-
dered several persons; and the war was begun. It
ended decidedly to the advantage of the Indians.

Ouster's first experience in actual Indian-fighting
was while escorting a wagon-train loaded with sup-
plies from Fort Ellis. The Indians had selected for the
fight a piece of ground well cut up with gullies an


admirable system of " covered ways " by which they
hoped to get close up to the wagons without being
discovered, and then make a charge. But the watch-
ful eye of a scout discovered their plan, and brought
on the conflict on ground more favorable to the whites.
The train was simultaneously attacked on all sides by
six or seven hundred well-mounted Indians, outnum-
bering Ouster's party twelve to one. The savages


attacked in the manner known as "circling" that is,
riding round and round the whites, hanging on the
opposite side of their horses so as to be shielded, and
firing over the animal's back and under his breast. The
scout, Comstock, had predicted a long and obstinate
battle: " Six hundred red devils ain't a goin' to let fifty
men stop them from getting the sugar and coffee that's
in these wagons." And they did not yield the prize as
long as there was hope. The soldiers were located
around the wagons in skirmish order. The Indians en-
circled them in a much larger ring; but, though the fir-
ing continued for hours, only a few Indians were hit, so
difficult was it to take aim at the swiftly-flying horse or
rider. All this time the train moved slowly on over the
comparatively level prairie, the teamsters shivering with
terror, and scarcely needing the command to " keep
closed up one team's head right against the next
wagon." This fight lasted three hours, and had the
Indians maintained it much longer, the soldiers would
have run out of ammunition. But the savage scouts,
posted all around on the highest points, gave warning
that something was wrong; and soon the whole band
ceased firing and galloped off. Five of them had been
killed and several wounded. The cause of their sud-
den retreat proved to be Colonel West's cavalry com-
mand, which soon arrived.

Custer's next anxiety was for Lieutenant Kidder
and his party of eleven men, who were known to be
moving across from the Republican to Fort Wallace,
through a country now swarming with hostile Indians.


Soon after getting the supply train into camp, Comstock,
the scout, was appealed to for his opinion as to Kidder's
chances. It was far from encouraging. But Corn-
stock's reply to the officers contains some hints worth
recording. Said he: "Well, gentlemen, there's several
things a man must know to give an opinion. No man
need tell me any pints about Injuns. Ef I know any-
thing, it's Injuns. I know jest how they'll do anything,
and when they'll take to do it; but that don't settle the
question. Ef I knowed this young lootenint, ef I knowed
what sort of a man he is, I could tell you mighty nigh
to a sartainty all you want to know; for, you see, Injun-
huntin' and Injun-fightin' is a trade all by itself; and,
like any other bizness, a man has to know what he's
about, or ef he don't, he can't make a livin' at it. I
have lots o' confidence in the fightin' sense o' Red
Beard, the Sioux chief, who is guidin' the lootenint, and
ef that Injun can have his own way, there is a fair
show for his guidin' 'em through all right; but, there
lays the difficulty. Is this lootenint the kind of a man
that is willin' to take advice, even if it does come from
an Injun? My experience with you army folks has
allays been that the youngsters among ye think they
know the most; and this is 'specially true ef they've
jist come from West Pint. Ef one o' 'em young fel-
lers knowed half as much as they bleeve they do, you
could'nt tell 'em nothin'. As to rale book larnin', why
I spose they've got it all, but the fact of the matter is,
they could'nt tell the difference 'twixt the trail of a war
party and one made by a huntin' party to save their



necks. Half uv 'em, when they first cum here, can't
tell a squaw from a buck, because they both ride strad-
dle; but they soon larn. But that's neither here nor
thar. I'm told that this lootenint we're talkin' about
is a new-comer, and that this is his first scout. Ef
that be the case, it puts a mighty unsartain look on the
whole thing; and, 'twixt you and me, gentlemen, he'll
be mighty lucky ef he gets through all right. To-mor-
row we'll strike the
Wallace trail, and I
can mighty soon tell
whether he's gone
that way."

Next day the re-
lief party, led by
Custer, came on
Lieutenant Kidder's
trail, and after a brief 'f
examination Com- '
stock pronounced:


that twelve American horses, shod all around, have
passed at a walk; and when they went by this pint
they war all right, because their horses are movin'
along easy, and no pony tracks behind 'em, as would
be ef the Injuns had an eye on 'em. It would be
astonishin' for that lootenint and his layout to git into
the fort without a skrimmage. He may, but ef he
does, it'll be a scratch ef ever there was one; and I'll
lose my confidence in Injuns."


Custer ordered the command to hurry up, and, fol-
lowing the trail, they came, in a few hours, upon two
dead horses with the cavalry brand, but stripped of all
accoutrements. A little farther, and they saw that the
American horses had been going at full speed, while
all around Comstock pointed out the minute but abund-
ant evidences that the Indians had fought them from
all sides, the pony tracks being numerous. A little
farther, and they entered the tall grass and thickets
along Beaver Creek, and there saw several buzzards
floating lazily in the air, while the trail was sprinkled
with exploded cartridges and other debris. That told
the tale. Nor were they long in finding the dead. The
sight made the blood even of these brave men curdle.
Lieutenant Kidder and his companions lay near to-
gether, stripped of every article of clothing, and so
brutally hacked and mangled that all separate recogni-
tion was impossible. Every skull had been broken,
every head scalped; the bodies were mutilated in an
obscene and indescribable manner, and some lay amid
ashes, indicating that they had been roasted to death.
The scalp of Red Bead, the friendly Sioux, lay by his
body, as it is contrary to their rules to carry away the
scalp of one of their own tribe; nor is it permitted
among most Indians to keep such a scalp or exhibit it.
The exact manner of their death cannot be known, but
all the surroundings showed that they had fought long
and well. Custer's command buried them on the spot
where found, whence the father of Lieutenant Kidder
removed his remains the following winter.


Custer marched on to Fort Wallace with all possi-
ble speed, .but troubles multiplied. The soldiers had
begun to desert. Forty men took "French leave" in
one night! The next day thirteen men deserted in
broad day, in full view of the command, seven mounted
and six on foot. After a desperate run the latter were
captured, two slightly and one mortally wounded. It
is to be noted that they were then in a region where
the deserters apprehended no danger from Indians.
Two men were killed by the Indians after all danger
was thought to be past. From Fort Wallace the com-
mand marched eastward to Fort Hayes. The war
was over and Custer applied for and obtained leave to

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Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 17 of 21)