James Swisher.

How I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience online

. (page 18 of 21)
Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 18 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

visit, by rail, Fort Riley, where his family was then
located; and for this, and other matters connected
with that campaign, Custer was court-martialed! This
proceeding appears to have been purely malicious,
prompted by the dislike of some inferior officers over
whom Custer had exercised pretty severe discipline.
The charges were drawn by one whom he had severely
reprimanded for drunkenness. He had left Fort Wal-
lace without orders, because, under the circumstances,
he thought proper to report to his commander in per-
son. To this they added the fact that he went on to
Riley to visit his family, and thus constructed a charge
that he had abandoned his post for his private con-
venience! Mean as this attack was, it was successful.
Custer was suspended from rank and pay for one year!

Meanwhile another summer campaign was under-
taken against the hostile Indians, with equally barren


results. General Sully marched, in 1868, against the
combined Cheyennes, Kioways and Arapahoes, whom
he struck near the present Camp Supply. If this was
a "drawn battle," that is the best that can be said of
it. Sully retired, badly crippled, and made no further
attempts. At the same time General " Sandy " For-
sythe, with a company of scouts and plainsmen enlisted
for the purpose, was hunting for the hostile Sioux on
the Northern affluents of the Republican. He found
them. They also found him. Of his total force of
fifty-one men, six were killed and twenty wounded;
all their horses were captured, and the command was
only saved from annihilation by the arrival of re-in-
forcements. The Noble Red Man evidently understood
his business better than the Generals opposed to him.
The people of Colorado grew sarcastic. Western
people often do when mail and supplies are cut off
for weeks at a time. It appeared that the mountain
territories were in a fair way to be isolated from the
rest of the country. California Joe, a scout who had
been with several of the commanders, thus "gave in his

u I've been with 'em when they started out after
the Injuns on wheels in an ambulance as if they
war goin' to a town funeral in the States, and they
stood about as much chance o' ketchin' the Injuns as
a six-mule train would o' ketchin' a pack o' coyotes.
That sort o' work is only fun for the Injuns; they
don't want anything better. Ye ought to seen how
they peppered it to us, and w r e doin' nothin' all the


time. Some war afraid the mules war a goin 5 to stam-
pede and run off with all our grub, but that war on-
possible; for, besides the big loads of corn and bacon,
thar war from eight to a dozen infantry men piled into
every wagon. Ye'd ought to heard the quartermaster
in charge o' the train tryin' to drive the men outen the
wagons and git them into the fight. He was an Irish-
men, and he sez to 'em: 'Git out of thim waggins.
Yez 'ill have me tried for disobadience ov orders for
marchin' tin men in a waggin whin I've orders but
for eight.' "

But the rude common sense of General Sheridan,
soon after his arrival on the plains, put an end to sum-
mer campaigning. He and Sherman united in asking
for the restoration of Custer; and, on the i2th of No-
vember, 1868, that officer, at the head of his command
again, started out on his famous Washita campaign.
Soon after the departure from Fort Dodge, on the
Arkansas, the command was overtaken by a violent
snow-storm; but this the commander thought all the
more favorable to his plans. General Sheridan could
only point out to Custer the neighborhood of the hos-
tiles' camp, and leave all details to his judgment. With
four hundred wagons, and a guard of infantry for them,
and the Seventh Cavalry in fighting order, he pressed
rapidly southward to the edge of the Indian country,
where a camp was established for the wagons, as a
base of supplies, and the cavalry pressed on. California
Joe and other scouts accompanied the expedition, be-
sides a small detachment of Osage Indians, headed by


Little Beaver and Hard Rope, who did excellent ser-
vice. After a terrible winter march, the command,
eight hundred strong, arrived at the bluff of the Washita
at midnight, and saw below them, in the ' moonlight,
the hostile camp. It was evident, at a glance, that the
Indians trusted implicitly in the old army habit of fight-
ing them only in Summer. They had no scouts out,
and were buried in repose. The command w r as divided
into four nearly equal detachments; and, by making
wide detours, the Indian camp was completely sur-
rounded before daylight. The night was terribly cold,
but no fire could be lighted, and the suffering was
intense. As Custer stood upon the brow of the hill,
and peered through the darkness into the camp, he dis-
tinctly heard the cry of an Indian baby, borne through
the cold, still air, and reflected with pain that, under
the circumstances, there was so much probability that
the troopers' bullets would make no distinction of age
or sex. Soon after daylight the attack was made.
Although taken by surprise, the Indians fought des-
perately, but were utterly routed. It practically an-
nihilated Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes. A hun-
dred and three warriors were killed; fifty-three squaws
and children captured, eight hundred and seventy-five
ponies taken and a vast amount of other property. Of
the force, two officers and nineteen men were killed,
three officers and eleven men wounded. In the very
hour of victory Custer discovered that this was but one
of a long line of villages, extending down the Wash-
ita; but he had struck such terror that the others did



not gather force sufficient to attack, and he returned to
camp in safety.

And here it may be noted that, in plains' travel and
fighting, there is no difficulty so great as dealing with
the wounded. With all the appliances furnished our


army surgeons, there must still be many deficiencies;
and, with the ordinary plainsman, a bad wound is
either certain death or a long and terrible struggle, in
which nothing saves the man but an iron constitution.
In the old days a regular backwoods' science grew up


among trappers and voyageurs; they treated gunshot
wounds and broken bones, extracted bullets and arrows,
or amputated shattered limbs in a way that would have
amazed the faculty, but was singularly successful. The
camp-saw and a well-sharpened bowie-knife were their
surgical instruments; their cauteries, hot irons; and
their tourniquets, a handkerchief twisted upon the
limb with a stick run through the knot and turned to
press upon the artery. f Arrows w r ere often drawn
through the limb, the feathers having been cut off;
and bullets flirted out of an incision quickly made with
a sharp razor. In winter the wounded limb was al-
most frozen by snow or ice applied before the amputa-
tion; in summer there was nothing for it but to suffer
it through. An old voyageur, with but one arm, gave
me an account of his losing the other, which made my
" each particular hair to stand on end." The arm was
completely shattered below the elbow; it was amputa-
tion or death, and the party was a thousand miles from
any surgeon. But with knife, saw, and red-hot iron
the job was skillfully done; he survived such rude
surgery without a shock to his fine constitution.

After a brief rest Custer was again sent to the
Washita, where he alternately negotiated with and
threatened the savages, until he had recovered some
captives they held, and located the Indians near the
forts. And here originated the difficulty between him
and General W. B. Hazen, then in charge of the southern
Indians Custer maintaining that Satanta's and Lone
Wolf's bands of Kioways had been in the fight against


him, Hazen denying it. It was six years before the
matter was settled, Hazen producing unquestionable
evidence that he was right. We find evidences, from
time to time, that Custer was somewhat hasty in his
judgments, and very impulsive in giving utterance to
them in short, that he had some of the faults as well
as all the virtues of a dashing, impetuous man.

For two years there was peace on the plains; but
in the spring of 1873, the first Yellow Stone expedition
went out. From Yankton the Seventh Cavalry, with
Custer in command, marched all the way to Fort Rice,
six hundred miles, Mrs. Custer and other ladies accom-
panying the column on horseback. There the ladies
halted; but it was not until July that the entire expedi-
tion started cavalry, infantry, artillery and scouts,
numbering seventeen hundred men all under com-
mand of Major-General D. S. Stanley. The main ob-
ject was to explore the country, and open a way for
the surveyors of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Cus-
ter, as usual, was put in the lead, and soon after reach-
ing the Yellow Stone had several skirmishes with the
Indians, who were desperately resolved against the
passage of a railroad through the country. If they
could only have looked forward over the next year of
the financial world they might have been spared all
anxiety on that point. During this march the sutler
and veterinary surgeon of the Seventh Cavalry were
murdered by a Sioux called Rain-in-the-Face; and out
of that matter grew the latter's hostility to Custer, and
perhaps the latter's tragic death three years after.


Early in 1874 began the memorable Black Hills ex-
pedition, an undertaking that began in the grossest in-
justice and ended in wholesale murder. From the first
discovery in California, rumors had constantly prevailed
of great gold placers in the Black Hills, but the region
was a mystery. The Warren Expedition, in 1857, had
gone around the whole district, but the Sioux emphat-
ically prohibited them from entering it, stating that it
was sacred ground. Other expeditions proved that the
region was a great oval, about a hundred by sixty
miles in extent, cut up by numerous low mountain
ranges covered with timber; that it possessed, as do all
such mountainous regions, a more rainy climate than
the plains, and scores of little valleys of great fertility.
It is obvious from the lay of the country, that the re-
gion cannot contain any great area of agricultural land,
but quite probable that it abounds in good mountain
pastures and timbered hills. The tenacity with which
the Sioux clung to it only the more convinced the
Westerners that it contained gold by millions, and many
were the exciting stories told. The treaty of 1868 con-
firmed it to Red Cloud and other chiefs in person in
Washington, and the Black Hills were declared inviola-
ble a section of the Indian reservation never to be
trespassed upon by white men. The Custer expedition
of 1874 was undertaken in direct violation of that treaty,
and upon the half-avowed principle that treaties were
not to be kept with Indians, if whites needed the
country in question. Consistent with this ill-faith the
expedition was made the occasion of ridiculous exag-


geration, not to say downright falsehood. Correspond-
ents were sent along with descriptive powers suited to
an earthly Eden, and they described one; explorers
went to find gold by millions, and they found it. The
country needed a sensation, and the Government took
the contract of supplying it. When the expedition had
returned, and the brilliant correspondents had made
their report, General Hazen undertook to moderate pop-
ular enthusiasm by portraying the high plains as they
generally are; but the public rejected him, and found
in his testimony only another evidence of his animosity
to General Custer. The general result was, settlement
of the Black Hills before the Indian title was extinguished
and another* expensive and fruitless Indian war.

The next year Rain-in-the-Face, a noted brave of
the Uncpapa Sioux, was arrested for the murder of Dr.
Honzinger and Mr. Baliran, of the Yellow Stone Expedi-
tion of 1873. He was brought before Custer, thoroughly
examined, and sentenced to death, but managing to
escape, joined the hostile band of Sitting Bull, and sent
word that he was prepared to take revenge for his im-
prisonment. There is evidence, though not quite con-
clusive, that this Indian gave Custer the death-blow.
Here it is necessary to point out an important distinc-
tion in the organization of different bands. The
ordinary Indian government is patriarchal, and in
many bands a majority of the families are in some
way related to the chief; but, though the chieftainship
is nominally hereditary, its continuance in any line
finally depends on the prowess of the claimant. If he


fails in any particular, another chief at once supplants
him. Hence the absurdity of the plan generally adopted
by our Government, of trying to choose chiefs for the
Indians, or to recognize one rather than another. If
the young men cannot have the leader they want, they
generally join the "hostiles." These bands are made
up on an entirely different plan by convenience rather
than relationship. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, or some
other active fighter, gets a reputation as war chief, and
all the discontented braves join him; as a rule there
are few women in such a band, and the number of men
is, therefore, apt to be underrated on distant view. Still
more distinct is a third class, commonly known as
"dog soldiers." These are outcasts or runaways from
all the tribes, who get together in squads of from five
to five hundred; sometimes they dissolve and melt into
the original tribes; sometimes are merged into some
one big tribe, or simply wear out. Their communica-
tion at first is entirely by the " sign language ;" if to-
gether long enough, a new Indian dialect arises from
the jargon of so many tongues. It has occasionally
happened that a large band of "dog soldiers" would
capture women enough for their wants, conquer a ter-
ritory for themselves, and in time grow into an entirely
new tribe. Thus the Comanches, Arapahoes and
Apaches are said to have descended from the original
Shoshonees; while the Navajoes resulted from the
union of part of the old Aztecs with an offshoot of the
Shoshonees or of the original Athabascan stock, from
which the latter sprang.


In 1876, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led the hostile
Sioux, and to them rapidly gathered all the discon-
tented young braves from the agencies. As near as
can be determined, the latter chief began the season
with eight hundred braves the former with nearly
twice as many. Their position was the best that mili-
tary art could have selected. From it the affluents of
the Yellow Stone ran northward; the lower affluents of
the Missouri eastward; on the east and north it was
doubly protected by the "bad lands;" northwest and
west were rugged mountains, and southward the high
plains stretched for many hundred miles. Around the
extreme outer edge of the hostile country, from north-
west and north to north-east and east, ran the Mis-
souri; on that stream were located all the agencies, and
from them, through " friendly" Indians, went a constant
stream of supplies to the warriors. By careful exam-
ination of the books (after the damage had been done),
it was proved that these bands received in five months
fifty-six cases of arms, containing one thousand one
hundred and twenty Winchester and Remington rifles,
and four hundred and thirteen thousand rounds of pat-
ent ammunition, besides considerable quantities of loose
powder, lead and primers. It takes many such lessons
as this to convince the American people that this ma-
chine we call government is the most awkward, ex-
pensive and inefficient of all human inventions; and yet
the lesson is not learned, for in spite of daily multiply-
ing evidences of its inherent inefficiency, new parties
start up every year, urging that government should run



our schools and churches, our mills, mines and work-
shops, our social, moral and industrial institutions.
Daily is the lesson thrust upon us, that whatever gov-
ernment does is done wrong; and daily we hear fresh
demands that government should do things which it
was never organized to do. The plain English of the
foregoing figures is, that government first armed the
savages with repeating rifles; then sent an inferior force
to attack them on ground of their own choosing.

Three columns were to
proceed from three points
and converge on the hos-
tile region: Gibbon east-
ward from Fort Ellis,
Montana; Crook north-
ward from Fort Fetter-
man; and Terry westward
from Fort Abe Lincoln,
just across the Missouri
from Bismarck, Dakota.
Of course they could not
start at the same time. General Crook, with seven
hundred men and forty days' supplies, started the
ist of March, and reached and destroyed the village
of Crazy Horse, on Powder River, the i7th of March.
But the Indians got away with most of their ani-
mals and supplies. The Gibbon column did not figure
greatly till the junction with Terry on the Yellow
Stone. Meanwhile the Terry column, in which Gen-
eral Custer was the leading spirit, was delayed in a



score of ways. It could not start as early as that of
Crook anyhow, as it was to move through a colder
latitude, and, while waiting, Custer was summoned to
Washington. The Belknap investigation was in prog-
ress, and Hon. Heister Clymer, Chairman of the House
Committee, got it into his head that Custer could give
important information. In vain did Custer dispatch
that he really knew nothing about the case, and Terry
urge that his call to Washington would delay and im-
peril the expedition. Clymer was all the more cer-
tain Custer had important information, and should be
brought before the committee and rigidly interrogated.
On the 6th of March, Custer telegraphed a request
that he might be examined at Fort Lincoln. This
Clymer flatly refused. Custer had to go to Washing-
ton, and there it was found that he really knew noth-
ing about the case, and had only, as was natural to one
of his impulsive nature, talked freely about what he had
heard. But Heister Clymer had the satisfaction of
compelling . a General to come before his committee,
and delaying Custer's march after Sitting Bull a whole
month. Then President Grant took hold. The grim,
impassive, hard-to-change General Grant took rt into
his head that Custer's talk about the case had been an
intentional affront to him ivhy, no one ever knew.
He refused to see Custer, though the latter repeatedly
called at the White House, and once sent in a card,
asking in plain terms for a reconciliation.

Custer then called at the office of General Sherman,
only to learn that the latter was in New York, and


might not return for some time; then, on the night of
May i ? took the train for Chicago. Next day Sherman
returned, and telegraphed to General Sheridan at Chi-
cago, that Custer "was not justified in leaving here
without seeing me (Sherman) or the President," and or-
dered that Custer remain at Saint Paul till further orders.
Somebody was evidently playing sad havoc with Cus-
ter' s character and plans. He had, perhaps, talked too
much that was his fault, if any thing but it is im-
possible for the non-military mind to see any other
harm he had done. He was in genuine distress. He
telegraphed at length to General Sherman, and then to
President Grant, and the final result was that, after a
deal of red tape all around, he received permission to
go with the expedition, in command of his regiment,
the Seventh United States Cavalry. The Terry col-
umn consisted of the Seventh Cavalry entire, three
companies of the Sixth and Seventeenth Infantry, with
four Gatling guns and a small detachment of Indian
scouts, about eight hundred men in all. Gibbon
was coming in from the west with four hundred men,
and Crook had made another start from the south with
fifteen hundred men. Thus there were twenty-seven
hundred armed men, distributed on the circumference
of a circle about three hundred miles wide, to con-
centrate near the center where the hostiles were sup-
posed to be.

Crook first found the enemy. On the 8th of June,
his force had a skirmish with the Sioux, and repulsed
them. A week later his Indian scouts reported that


they had seen Gibbon's command on the other side of
the hostile Sioux, on the Tongue River. On the i6th
Crook pushed rapidly forward toward the hostiles.
Next morning Sitting Bull attacked his camp in great
force and with astonishing vigor. It was not exactly
a surprise, but all must agree that Crook gained no
advantage, and that Sitting Bull handled his forces
admirably. Twice during the action he succeeded in
getting his warriors into positions where they poured
an enfilading fire into Crook's command. Meanwhile
Generals Terry and Gibbon had communicated, and
the latter had shown, by thorough scouting, that the
hostiles were as yet all south of the Yellow Stone. A
glance at the map will show that the Powder, Tongue,
Rosebud, and Big Horn, run north into the Yellow
Stone, and the Little Horn into the Big Horn; and
that, after these various scouts, it was certain the hos-
tiles were somewhere on those streams. Accordingly
Terry commenced scouting for them in that direction.
So far the general plan had worked well; its defect
now appeared to be that Gibbon and Terry were
separated from Crook by at least a hundred miles of
mountainous country, and that in that region some-
where were the hostiles, in good position to move
either way. The whole object of this plan was to pre-
vent the Indians getting away without a fight, and as
to that it was a perfect success. The contingency of
the Indians being well prepared for a fight had appar-
ently not been considered.

Careful scouting narrowed the field, and finally it


was decided that the Indians were either at the head
of the Rosebud or on the Little Horn, a ridge about
fifteen miles wide separating the two streams. Terry
and Gibbon, on the Yellow Stone, near the mouth of
Tongue River, then held a council, and decided that
Ouster's column should be pushed forward to strike
the first blow. Crook was too far south to be consid-
ered in this arrangement at all. The general plan is
briefly stated in Terry's dispatch to General Sheridan,
from the former's camp at the mouth of the Rosebud,
just before the final movement, as follows:

Traces of a large and recent camp of Indians have been discovered twenty
or thirty miles up the Rosebud. Gibbon's column will move this morning on
the north side of the Yellow Stone (see map), where it will be ferried across
by the supply steamer, and whence it will proceed to the mouth of the Little
Horn, and so on. Custer will go up the Rosebud to-morrow with his whole
regiment, and thence to the head-waters of the Little Horn, thence down the
Little Horn.

The object, of course, was for Custer to head off the
escape of the Indians toward the east, while Gibbon
would move up the Big Horn and intercept them in
that direction. It has been absurdly said that Custer
disobeyed or exceeded the general orders he received
from Terry; but, in fact, those orders were so very
"general," that, aside from the instructions as to route
and sending scouts to seek Gibbon, they might have
been condensed to " Go ahead, do your best; I trust all
to you." Similar orders directed the march of Gibbon
up the Big Horn. Should both columns march equally,
all else being equal, it would result that they would
come together on the Big Horn, some distance above


(south) the junction of the Little Horn. There appears
to have been no special order given as to rates of
marching; and so far the witnesses do not agree very
well as to what either commander was to do if he
struck the Indians first. The reasonable supposition
is, that it was understood beforehand that they were to
fight on sight. It was hardly to be supposed that Sit-
ting Bull would accommodate them by slowly retiring
before either, until the other could come up in his rear.
Custer's command received rations for fifteen days.
Thus supplied, and thus directed with only general or-
ders and plenary powers under them, Custer and his
cavalry set out up the Rosebud on the afternoon of
June 22, 1876, which is the last account we have from
him in person. Thereafter his movements are known
only by the report of Major Reno, who succeeded to

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21

Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 18 of 21)