Nelson Appleton Miles.

Personal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire online

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Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 14 of 51)
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ing numbers more than twelve to one. Nothing could be finer than the
fortitude of the commanding officer, Colonel Forsyth, who, though twice
wounded and with a broken leg, continued to direct and command during
the nine days that the siege lasted. Another illustration of heroic cour-
age was that of the men creeping out of the entrenchments, taking the
risk of being captured and tortured, yet successfully getting through the
large body of Indians that surrounded the little command. The old
frontiersmen " Pet " Trudeau and " Jack " Stilwell, the latter not much
more than a boy, were the first to make the attempt, and their success
was complete. It was one of the most notable feats in the records of
border warfare.

At midnight of September the 17th they left General Forsyth's com-
mand in company, started south, and after crawling through the lines
immediately surrounding the island, with their blankets on and wearing
moccasins they had made from their boot tops, they passed out over a bald
hill, thinking it better to make the attempt in that direction than to try
to crawl out by some of the ravines, which they had every reason to be-
lieve were full of Indians. It afterward transpired in conversation be-
tween Stilwell and some of these same Indians, that they made a lucky stroke
in not attempting to make their escape either by the water-course or
the ravines adjacent. They were headed off and interrupted so often by
seeing Indians that they only succeeded that night in making three miles,
which brought them almost to the top of the divide between the Arickaree
and South Republican. They crawled into a washout, or head of a hollow,
the banks of which were overgrown with tall grass and sunflowers, where
they were satisfied they would not be found that day, as they had been
careful to leave no trail behind them. They could hear the firing all day
long and at night they knew that their party was still holding out.

As soon as it became dark they started south again, meeting two par-
ties of Indians during the night, which delayed them considerably ; and
just at daylight on the second morning they reached the South Republican,


to find that they had gotten within about half a mile of the Sioux and
Cheyenne village, something they did not expect. It was learned after-
ward that the trail turned south about one mile west of where the battle
was going on.

They crawled under the river bank and got between the river and a kind
of bayou, in the tall grass, and lay there the remainder of that day.

The Indians crossed very near them during the day ; in fact they lay
not over thirty feet away from where the latter stopped and watered their
horses and talked for some time. They could hear the Indians mourning
in the village for their dead, and also saw them taking out several bodies
for sepulture on scaffolds.

That night as soon as it was dark they crossed the south fork of the
Republican and started south again. The morning of the third day found
them on the high rolling prairie between the head of Goose Creek and the
stream they had just left. They had decided now to travel in day time ;
but by eight o'clock in the morning they saw the advance of what they
afterward learned was the Dog Soldiers, separated and moving south from
the Sioux, the latter going north. It was therefore necessary to change
their plans for the day.

In looking for a place to hide they accidentally discovered some yellow
weeds growing up around a buffalo carcass. They crawled to the carcass
with the intention of breaking the weeds off to cover themselves with, so as
to more effectually hide. The buffalo had evidently been killed the winter
before, as the frame was almost intact, with a small piece of hide still ad-
hering to the upper ribs. They crawled in as near as possible to this dried
carcass and lay there. One of the mounted Indian scouts approached very
near during the morning, scanning the country in all directions for over
half an hour, and not over one hundred yards from where they lay.

It was then that the " rattlesnake business," so widely published, took
place. There was a snake in the carcass, and he crawled around and made
it very uncomfortable for his new neighbors. Stilwell finally spit tobacco
juice on his head which caused him to vacate the premises.

That night Trudeau broke down completely, and seemed for a while to
lose his mind; but after they had reached some water and he had drunk
freely of it, and after he had vomited two or three times, Stilwell persuaded
him to eat a piece of the horse meat he had in his pocket. This revived
him. and they traveled on.

The fourth morning being foggy they had no trouble in traveling by
day time. They struck the Denver wagon road about eleven o'clock, about



twenty miles west of Fort Wallace and met two mounted couriers going
to Colonel Carpenter's command, then lying at Lake Station, some sixty
miles from where General Forsyth was besieged. They gave the couriers
a full account of what had happened, and told them as nearly as possible
General Forsyth's position. Colonel Carpenter, as soon as these men ar-
rived, responded promptly and marched with his entire force to General
Forsyth's relief, meeting a second party of two that had also come through
the Indian lines; which accounts for this last two getting back to Forsyth
before Stilwell and Trudeau did. The latter reached Fort Wallace just
at sundown and reported to Major Bankhead, who was in command.
Bankhead had but twelve mounted men in the post. He took the



fantry in wagons, together with two small cannon his command consisted
of about 130 men and with Trudeau and Stilwell started back at mid-
night, traveling night and day with the exception of one night, when
they camped on what was called Thick Timber, a small stream running
into the Republican, where they had a little brush with the Indians, and ar-
rived at the island the next day after Colonel Carpenter had got there.

Trudeau never recovered, but died the next spring. He lies buried at
Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory.

Judge S. E. Stilwell is now a United States Commissioner at Anadarko,
Oklahoma Territory.


It was afterwards admitted by the Indians themselves that not less
than seventy-five of their own number had been killed.

After this affair troops were sent to the field of action from other
departments. The services of volunteers from Kansas were accepted,
and operations against the hostiles were pressed. General Ouster was sent
south with eleven companies, and struck the trail of a band of Cheyennes
under Black Kettle. On the 27th of November he came upon the Cheyenne
camp, consisting of fifty-one lodges, and with his usual impetuosity charged
upon the village. The weather was cold and snow lay deep on the ground.
Black Kettle and a number of his warriors were killed, all the arms and
ammunition captured, fifty-three women and children were taken pris-
oners and the village was destroyed.

On Christmas day, 1868, a Comanche village was burned, and General
Sheridan regarded his winter campaign as having proved a success. At
midnight on the last day of the year, to quote his own words, "a delegation
of the chief fighting men of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes, twenty-one in
all, arrived at this place on foot, their animals not being able to carry
them. They had ruled the village. They begged for peace, and permission
for their people to come in, asking no terms, but for a paper to protect
them from the operations of our troops while en route. They report the
tribes in mourning for their losses, their people starving, their dogs all
eaten up, and no buffalo."

" This," he reports, " gives the final blow to the backbone of the Indian
rebellion;" which, however, proved to be only a temporary check. The
troops were at no time able to close with the main body of the Indians, and
while Custer's pursuit and attack was a success so far as one particular
band was concerned, yet even that success was not achieved without serious
loss. Major Joel H. Elliott, while in pursuit of a portion of Black Kettle's
band which had escaped, overtook them on the Washita, where they
turned, and being reinforced by warriors from the main camp, destroyed
his entire command.

Through the earnest solicitation and coaxing by those in charge of the
administration of Indian affairs, the Indians were at last induced to come
in and make a display of surrender and peaceful disposition, and it was
again officially announced that the end of the Indian wars had been
reached. The prophecy was made that no more would occur in the south-
west, yet as these same troops returned north, moving back toward their
various stations in the early spring of 1869, the Indians followed, and re-
opened hostilities by depredations upon the settlements along the Saline,


the Solomon, and the Republican Rivers, in Kansas, and a condition of
affairs very similar to war was inaugurated, and continued for five years.
The Indians practically remained masters of the plains country up to 1874.

My first impression of the plains country was obtained after leaving
Fort Leavenworth, in the Spring of 1869, as we passed out through the fer-
tile valleys of Kansas to what was then the terminus of the western rail-
way system, Ellsworth. There we took a construction train, which was
carrying rails and material, a short distance further to the westward to
what was then known as Fort Hays, where I found the headquarters of my
regiment, the Fifth United States Infantry. The plains were then a wild,
weird waste of rolling prairie and valley. Along the lowlands and river
courses were occasionally trees and tall grass, with here and there a grove
or small forest, but generally speaking, the face of the upland country was
covered with a close mat or carpet of buffalo grass not more than one or
two inches in height, while on the hillsides sage brush and bunch grass
were found.

General Custer had a command near Fort Hays at that time, and
while I had known this gallant young general during the war, I had never
had opportunity to see much of him and his gentle and refined wife, who,
whenever possible, accompanied him in camp and field. Mrs. Miles being
with me, we frequently met them socially, and enjoyed many hunts and
pleasure parties together. Little did we think at that time that the one
who had won such high distinction as a cavalry leader and able general in
the great civil war, should within the next few years win a special renown
as one of the prominent frontier officers, and meet so tragic a death

" In a barren land and lone
Where the Big Horn and the Yellowstone"

unite, or that his wife in becoming the faithful historian of his life
and stirring deeds would herself attain marked distinction in the field of
literature, as well as popularity on the rostrum.

My first experience upon the plains was romantic and filled with novel
and exciting incidents. Here we found abundance of game, including
buffalo, deer and antelope, and here, with Custer and a party of officers
and soldiers, I enjoyed my first buffalo chase. I came to look on my
horses and dogs as friends and companions. The former were used in the
chase and the latter in the pursuit of small game. Here I watched the
tremendous strides that were making in the construction of railroads and
the extension of channels of communication and commerce, and the steady



westward march of settlements as the long trains of cars came laden with
immigrants, not only from the East, but from all parts of Europe, and
established hamlet after hamlet, and village after village, farther and still
farther toward the western horizon.

Later I took station at Fort Marker, which was found more agreeable
and more within the confines of civilization, and still later at Fort Leaven-
worth, one of the most delightful of posts, of which I have already given
some account.

After the establishment of the Council of Indian Delegates at Ocmulgee,
Indian Territory, in December, 1870, an effort was made on .the part of the
government to place all the Indians in the United
States on separate tracts of land or reservations, there
to be guarded against all molestation from the whites.
That the Indians might take kindly to this plan it
was proposed that the reservations should be large
enough to provide ample room for their reasonable
needs, say six hundred acres to each. It was not ex-
pected that all the tribes would readily assent to the
proposition, as it contemplated their removal
from familiar haunts to remote parts of the
country, and in fact the opposition to such ef-
forts at removal brought about many difficulties
with them. The " Modoc War " was a case in
point. This tribe numbered only a few hun-
dred, and were removed by the government
from their fine lands near the boundary line
between Oregon and California to a reservation
where the soil was so poor that they would
not accept it, and went back in wrath to their old homes, in defiance of
the United States authorities.

Finding that a determined attempt was about to be made to bring them
into subjection, a few of the Modocs, under the leadership of Captain Jack
and Scarfaced Charley, withdrew to the lava beds to make the best resist-
ance in their power. Here they were surrounded, but they held out stoutly,
and it seemed impossible to dislodge them. In their inaccessible fastnesses
they could defy a hundred times their number, and it was plain that many
lives would have to be sacrificed before they were whipped into submission.
April 11, 1873, four members of the Peace Commission, headed by Ma-
jor-General Edward E. S. Canby, met the leaders of the disaffected band




under a flag of truce. While the conference was in progress the Indians
suddenly, upon a preconcerted signal, assailed the white men, killing
General Canby and Dr. Thomas on the spot and badly wounding Dr.

From this time the war was pushed with vigor, and in July following
they were forced to surrender. Captain Jack and two associates were




tried, convicted and hanged
for the murder of the commis-
sioners, and the remainder
were removed to a reservation
where they adopted peaceful
pursuits, and ever since have
remained peaceful.

General Canby was one of

the ablest officers that ever held a commission under our government.

The General Commanding the Army paid him a deserved tribute in

General orders, as follows :

WASHINGTON, April 14, 1873. \
General Orders, JVo 3.

It again becomes the sad duty of the general to announce to the army the death of
one of our most illustrious and most honored comrades.


Brigadier-General Edward R. S. Canby, commanding the Department of the Columbia,
was, on Friday last, April 11, shot dead by the chief "Jack," while he was endeavoring to
mediate for the removal of the Modocs from their present rocky fastness on the northern
border of California to a reservation where the tribe could be maintained and protected
by the proper civil agents of the government.

That such a life should have been sacrificed in such a cause will ever be a source of
regret to his relations and friends; yet the general trusts that all good soldiers will be
consoled in knowing that General Canby lost his life " on duty " and in the execution of
his office, for he had been specially chosen and appointed for this delicate and dangerous
trust by reason of his well-known patience and forbearance, his entire self-abnegation, and
fidelity to the expressed wishes of his government, and his large experience in dealing
with the savage Indians of America.

He had already completed the necessary military preparations to enforce obedience
to the conclusion of the Peace Commissioners, after which he seems to have accompanied
them to a last conference with the savage chiefs in supposed friendly council, and there
met his death by treachery, outside of his military lines, but within view of the signal
station. At the same time one of the Peace Commissioners was killed outright, and
another mortally wounded, and the third escaped unhurt.

Thus perished one of the kindest and best gentlemen of this or any country,
whose social equalled his military virtues. To even sketch his army history would pass
the limits of a general order, and it must here suffice to state that General Canby began
his military career as a cadet at West Point in the summer of 1835, graduating in 1839,
since which time he has continually served thirty-eight years, passing through all the
grades to major-general of volunteers and brigadier-general of the regular army.

He served his early life with marked distinction in the Florida and Mexican Wars,
and the outbreak of the Civil War found him on duty in New Mexico, where, after the
defection of his seniors, he remained in command and defended the country successfully
against a formidable inroad from the direction of Texas. Afterward transferred east to
a more active and important sphere, he exercised various high commands, and, at the close
of the Civil War was in command of the Military Division of the West Mississippi, in which
he had received a painful wound, but had the honor to capture Mobile, and compel the
surrender of the rebel forces in the Southwest.

Since the close of the Civil War he has repeatedly been chosen for special command by
reason of his superior knowledge of law and civil government, his known fidelity to the
wishes of the Executive, and his chivalrous devotion to his profession, in all which his
success was perfect.

When fatigued by a long and laborious career, in 1869, he voluntarily consented to
take command of the Department of the Columbia, where he expected to enjoy the repose
he so much coveted. This Modoc difficulty arising last winter, and it being extremely
desirous to end it by peaceful means, it seemed almost providential that it should have
occurred in the sphere of General Canby's command.

He responded to the call of his government with alacrity, and has labored with a pa-
tience that deserved better success but alas ! the end is different from that which lie and
his best friends had hoped for and he now lies a corpse in the wild mountains of Califor-
nia, while the lightning flashes his requiem to the furthermost corners of the civilized



Though dead, the record of his fame is resplendent with noble deeds well done, and no
name on our Army Register stands fairer or higher for the personal qualities that command
the universal respect, honor, affection and love of his countrymen.

General Canby leaves to his country a heart-broken widow, but no children.
Every honor consistent with law and usage shall be paid to his remains, full notice of
which will be given as soon as his family can be consulted and arrangements concluded.

By command of General Sherman,
WILLIAM D. WHIPPLE, Assistant Adjutant-General.

M 10














URING the progress of the events I have described, there was no
long period during which the frontier settlements were entirely
secure from the devastations of marauding bands of Indians.
Yet, after a long season of mingled peace and war, the main
camps had been gathered in and given reservations in the Indian
and other Territories. These bodies of Indians numbered many
thousands, and while they were apparently at peace they were
constantly sending out bands, large and small, which were committing
depredations upon the settlers of Texas, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico,
Nebraska, Montana, and Dakota. Among the causes of a want of security
was the fact that these wild savages were placed in large numbers on
reservations remote from civilization and under no control, restraint, or
influence stronger than that exercised by u single agent, appointed usually
on account of some political consideration. They saw only the worst fea-
tures of civilization, being subjected in very slight degree, if at all, to
the enlightening influences which exist among civilized people.

Accustomed as they were from childhood to the wild excitement of the
chase, or of conflict with some other hostile tribe, taught that to kill was
noble and to labor degrading, these Indians could not suddenly change
their natures and become peaceable agriculturists. Without occupation,
they led a listless, indolent life, the very foundation of vice and crime.


Through direct and indirect means they were permitted and encouraged
to provide themselves with the most modern and improved weapons, and
the use of these weapons inflamed their savage natures and gave them un-
due confidence in their own strength.

One of the strongest causes of unrest among them, and one that will
have the same influence upon any people, was the fact that the promises
made them to induce them to go on reservations were not always carried
out by the government authorities. They had been removed from their
natural source of supply, the direct range of the buffalo, but under distinct
treaty stipulation that they were to be provided with shelter, clothing and
sustenance sufficient in quantity and quality to satisfy their wants. Part
of these treaty stipulations were not fulfilled. They were sometimes for
weeks without their bread-rations. Their annual allowance of food
was usually exhausted in six or seven months. Thus they were either
overfed or half-starved ; a condition which very naturally tended to create
great dissatisfaction among them and arouse their turbulent spirits. They
would usually remain peaceable during the winter, but an outbreak in the
spring or summer was the usual result. Another cause for dissatisfaction
was the rapid construction of railways west, or southwest through their
territory, and the steady advance of the settlement toward the setting sun.

The construction of the railways, and the building of towns and villages
along the valleys that they had occupied for generations, resulted in the
destruction of their places of sepulture, or the receptacles their customs
provided for the repose of their dead, which were regarded by them as
most sacred. One instance of this kind occurred near Wallace, Kansas,
where a wood-contractor had set a large body of men to work cutting
wood in the beautiful grove among the branches of which the Indians had
for many years been accustomed to deposit the remains of their dead.
This they did by placing the corpse, attired in the richest garments they
owned, bedecked with all the most beautiful ornaments and paraphernalia
of which they were possessed, and wrapped in shrouds, blankets or robes,
upon a platform built among the branches of the trees. This forest held
the remains of hundreds of the departed, who according to the Indian be-
lief had gone to the spirit land. Annually, or whenever the camp moved
into that vicinity, the relatives of the departed were accustomed to come
and, making offerings to their spirits, depositing some article valuable to
them at the base of the tree or scaffold in token of remembrance and af-
fection, to chant their requiems and make their accustomed demonstra-
tions of mourning, frequently cutting their flesh as a mark of deep grief



and devotion for the loved ones who had passed beyond this life. When
it was seen by the Indians that the woodmen were about to cut down the
trees of this grove, they sent a deputation to the contractor to beg him to

spare their cemetery, as it was to them
a sacred spot. But their prayers were
ruthlessly disregarded. So
intensely did this outrage
move the tribe, that they set
out to obtain revenge by
the murder of every white
inhabitant they could
find in that vicinity.

Another cause of dis-

Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 14 of 51)