Ash Hollow and Cheyenne Expedition

In 1856, eight years after our last look at the eastern edge of the Mountain country, there had not been much alteration in its appearance in the matter of settlements. There still remained the two pueblos on the Arkansas, one at the mouth of the Fontaine Que Bouille, the present city of Pueblo, Colorado, and the other some thirty miles farther up the stream, called Hardscrabble. The former was established in 1840, and the latter two or three years later. Their character may be gathered from the following extract from a letter of Indian agent Fitzpatrick, in 1847: “About seventy-five miles above this place (Fort Bent), and immediately on the Arkansas River, there is a small settlement, the principal part of which is composed of old trappers and hunters; the male part of it are mostly Americans, Missouri French, Canadians, and Mexicans. They have a tolerable supply of cattle, horses, mules, etc., and I am informed that this year they have raised a good crop of wheat, corn, beans, pumpkins, and other vegetables. They number about one hundred and fifty souls, and of this number there are about sixty men, nearly all having wives, and some have two. These wives are of various Indian tribes, as follows, viz., Blackfoot, Assinaboines, Arickeras, Sioux, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Snake, Sinpitch (from west of the Great Lake), Chinnook (from the mouth of the Columbia), Mexicans and Americans. The American women are Mormons: a party of Mormons having wintered there, and, on their departure for California, left behind two families. These people are living in two separate establishments near each other; one called “Punble” (Pueblo?) and the other ‘ Hardscrabble;’ both villages are fortified by a wall twelve feet high, composed of adobe (sundried brick). These villages are becoming the resort of all idlers and loafer’s. They are also becoming despots for the smugglers of liquors from New Mexico into this country; therefore they must be watched.”

There were also the trading posts, as formerly, but the chief trace which the white man had left was by the wearing of thousands of wagon wheels along the Platte and the Arkansas. There was also a well marked road along the foothills from north to south. The country was still occupied by the same Indian tribes, but their boundaries were fixed to a certain extent. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes, by the treaty of Fort Laramie, in 1851, held the lands east of the mountains, between the North Platte and the Arkansas, as far as the junction of the South Platte on the former, and the old Santa Fe road crossing (near Dodge City) on the latter. To the south of the Arkansas were the Kiowas and Comanches, and north of the Platte were the Sioux. These Indians belong to the plains, but their conflicts with the settlers of the mountains and foothills are within our province. The Arapahoes have lived in this general locality from the period of our earliest knowledge of them. They call themselves Atsina (“Good Hearts”). They are also called the Fall River Indians and the Gros Ventres of the South. In origin they are allied to the Caddoes. Their number in 1822 was estimated at 10,000, which was probably about three times their real number, and in 1842 at 2500.

The Cheyennes, though closely confederated with the Arapahoes, are of entirely different stock. They belong to the great Algonquin family, and, when first known to the whites, lived on a branch of the Red River of the North. Here, about a century ago, they became embroiled with the Sioux through a collision between two of their hunting parties. The Sioux were far the stronger, and the bloody war that resulted seemed so certain to destroy the Cheyennes that they retired west of the Mississippi. Their powerful foe still pursued and oppressed them, so they determined to move again; this time to the west of the Bad Lands, where they hoped to rest in peace. The main body of the nation started in the spring, leaving a large party which was to remain for four months, to hunt and to keep back the Sioux. When these last went after the others the Sioux followed on their trail, and overtook them on the Big Cheyenne. The Cheyennes were besieged for many days; at length their warriors made a night sortie, while the squaws and children escaped across the river; many of the warriors were killed, but the remnant reached the main band. The Cheyennes located along the eastern border of the Black Hills, and grew in wealth and numbers. They acquired horses, and joined their neighbors in raiding the Mexican settlements. Their men ranked among the best warriors, and their squaws were the most chaste women of the plains. In 1822 they were estimated at 3250, and in 1847 at 5300. These numbers would be more nearly correct if reversed. Their number did not exceed 3000 in 1847, and they were then complaining of their decrease. Previous to this date differences had arisen among them, growing out of their southern journeys for the purposes of trade and war, and they separated into two bands, one remaining about the North Platte, in coalition with the Ogallalla Sioux, and the others ranging generally on the Arkansas. The Arapahoes also separated into north and south bands, on account of a factional fight, and both bands allied themselves to the Cheyennes. Although those tribes were dissimilar in many respects, their confederations proved close and lasting ones. They fought each other’s battles and shared each other’s triumphs; treated together, went on reservations together, and still remain in the same close communion.

Although living thus, each tribe retained its own language, and very few of either learned the language of the other. Their means of communication was the universal sign language of the Indians, which has been brought to a remarkable state of cultivation by the Indians of the plains. This distinctiveness of language is probably due to the character of the Arapahoe tongue, which is harsh and guttural, and very difficult to learn or understand. It has even been said that two Arapahoes have difficulty in understanding each other in the dark, when signs cannot be used, but this is doubtful, and, if true, is due to the constant use of the sign language and not to scantiness of vocabulary. Sign language is used among all savages, and, to a greater or less extent, by all civilized peoples. Among them all it is in many respects similar, and, what is more remarkable, duplicate signs for the same idea are often duplicated in the same way in different continents. This indicates that certain signs are the natural expressions for certain thoughts, and that such communication is in fact less artificial than vocal language. The experiment of bringing Indians and deaf mutes together has often been tried during visits of Indians to the East, and they always communicate readily, the signs being, of course, ideographic. A very wonderful demonstration of the extent of natural meaning in signs and expression was a test exhibition by President Gallaudet, of the National Deaf Mute College, at Washington, in which he related intelligibly to a pupil the story of Brutus ordering the execution of his two sons for disobedience, without making a motion with hands or arms, or using any previously determined sign or other communication, but simply by facial expression and motion of the head. To illustrate the natural sign theory, let us take the expression of peace or friendship. To the savage the obvious natural thought would be to show that he had no weapons, which is easily done by exposing the empty hands. When one is mounted, or it is inconvenient to lay down the weapons, the same thought is conveyed by exposing the opened palm of the right hand; this is sometimes supplemented by moving the hand towards the party communicated with, signifying that although armed, you are disarmed as to him. This is the sign that Logan made to the white hunters on the Juniata, more than a century ago, at the same time further expressing the thought by spilling the powder from the pan of his rifle, and they understood him at once.

On the other hand the long distance signal of friendship, when mounted, is an illustration of purely artificial signs. The person desiring to communicate the message of amity turns his horse and rides him back and forth two or three times, over a space of forty or fifty paces. If the approaching party be friendly, he clasps his hands above his head, or interlocks the fingers as far as the first joints, and rests his hands on his forehead, as though shading his eyes from the sun. The first answer is possibly derived from the white man’s habit of shaking hands, but this is not certain; the Natchez Indians used it in 1682 in saluting La Salle’s party, as they descended the Mississippi. The second answer is of uncertain origin, but is also ancient; an Illinois chief used it on the occasion of a visit by Father Marquette, who mistook it for a sign of reverence indicating that he was dazzled by his visitor. Another artificial sign is that for white man, which is made by drawing the horizontal, flattened hand, palm down, or the index finger alone, across the forehead from left to right, just above the eyebrows. Other signs are derived from the verbal expressions of ideas. Thus, the common Indian expression of deceit is to say one has a double or forked tongue; this is expressed in sign language by touching the left breast with the right hand, and carrying it thence to the mouth, from which a forward motion is made with the hand closed, excepting the first and second fingers, which are extended and slightly separated. So, with the Klamaths, the word for crazy or mad is from a root signifying a whirling motion, and the sign is a rotary motion of the hand close to the head.

The signs for the different tribes usually correspond with the tribal name, though they are sometimes indicated by reference to their mode of dressing the hair, or other tribal peculiarities. The Crows are designated by bringing the flattened hands to the shoulders, and, by a wrist movement, imitating a bird flapping its wings. The Arapahoes or “Good Hearts” are designated by touching the left breast with the fingers. They are also called “Smellers” by some bands, and the corresponding sign is seizing the nose with the thumb and index finger, or touching the first finger to the right side of the nose. The Cheyennes are usually called “Cut arms” or “Cut wrists,” from the mutilations they practice in the sun dance and other religious ceremonies, and are designated by drawing the first finger of the right hand, or the bottom of the flattened hand, across the left arm, as though gashing it. They are also called “Dog eaters,” which is signified thus: make the sign for dog, by extending the hand in front of and below the hip, and drawing it back, marking with the extended first and second fingers the upper contour of an imaginary dog, from head to tail; then make the sign for eating, by bringing the thumb together with the first and second fingers, above and a little in front of the mouth, and moving them quickly to the mouth several times. A motion of the hand or the first finger across the throat, as if cutting it, indicates the Sioux or “Cutthroats” – the Coupes Gorges of the French trappers. The Brulé (Burnt) Sioux, or Si-can-gu (“Burnt Thighs”), are designated by rubbing the palm of the hand, fingers down, in a small circle on the upper part of the right thigh. This hand received its name from being caught in a prairie fire about the year 1763. The Nez Perce and Caddoes are both designated by passing the extended index finger from right to left under the nose, referring to their ancient practice of piercing the nose. A forward motion of the index finger towards the left, in a sinuous course, indicates the Shoshonees or “Snakes.”

There is a tradition among the plains Indians that the sign language originated with the Kiowas, who were originally the go betweens in the commerce of northern and southern Indians and Mexicans, but this is not within the range of possibility. They could not have communicated it so universally over the continent, and it is certain that the language existed in many places before there was any extensive commerce on the plains. There is little doubt that they extended and improved it, as other tribes in other localities have done also, so that no tribe at present uses purely natural signs. It is certain that there are divergences in meaning in many cases; that some tribes have carried the language to greater perfection than others, and that many signs are altogether conventional. The reader must also remember that what would appear natural to one accustomed to signs, might not appear so to one who had given the matter no thought. A slight, unintentional gesture may entirely alter the meaning that an amateur sign talker is desirous of conveying. Thus, Baillie Grohman undertook to say to an Arapahoe, “How has it come to pass that the bravest of the brave, the man of all men, the dearest friend I have among the Arapahoes, has grown such a flowing beard ?” but only succeeded in informing the gentle savage, “that his face was like a young maiden’s, and his heart that of an old squaw.”

For communicating at long distances the Indians have devised many ingenious expedients. When a party is searching for anything, its discovery is usually communicated by riding rapidly in a circle; the same sign is also used as a signal of danger, or when it is desired for the party communicated with to be on the alert. Horsemen riding to and fro, passing one another, inform the beholder that an enemy is at hand. If riding back and forth abreast, the meaning is that game is discovered. Blankets are frequently used in long distance signaling. The discovery of buffalo is announced by facing the camp and spreading the blanket, the upper corners being held in the outstretched hands. Instruction to pass around a place is given by pointing the folded blanket in its direction, drawing it back towards the body, waving it rapidly in front of the body only, and then throwing it out to the side on which the party signaled is desired to go. When it is desired to signal the discovery of something sought, and the discoverer has no blanket, the information is communicated by throwing a handful of dust in the air. A novel mode of signaling at night, in use among the Sioux, is by fire arrows, which are prepared something like sky rockets, by attaching moistened powder to the arrowheads. The meaning given to various flights of these arrows is always agreed upon for special occasions. Another very common mode of signaling is by columns of smoke, sometimes rising steadily, and sometimes in puffs, made by covering the fire briefly with a blanket. Perhaps the most ingenious method ever used was signaling by the reflections of the sun on hand mirrors, which was highly perfected among the Sioux. General Dodge once saw a Sioux chief put his warriors through a long drill, giving his directions entirely by the reflections of a small glass. This system has never been communicated to the whites, though the Indians say they have no further use for it, having abandoned war. It was much used in their operations against Fort Phil Kearney.

The government of western tribes is rather complex. They have usually a head chief, whose power in ordinary matters is supreme, but still not sufficient to crush an organized opposition of large extent. Below him are sub-chiefs, who control various bands of the tribes and have absolute control over their immediate followers. Any change of the settled policy of the tribe, or matter affecting the common interest, is controlled by the council, or assembly of all the warriors who choose to attend. The police power is in the hands of certain chosen men whom they call “soldiers,” from their analogy to the warriors of the whites. Says Parkman, in speaking of the Sioux soldiers, “The office is one of considerable honor, being confided only to men of courage and repute. They derive their authority from the old men and chief warrior of the village, who elect them in councils, occasionally convened for the purpose, and thus can exercise a degree of authority which no one else in the village would dare to assume. While very few Ogallalla chiefs would venture without risk of their lives to strike or lay hands upon the meanest of their people, the ‘ soldiers,’ in the discharge of their appropriate functions, have full license to make use of these and similar acts of coercion.” With the Cheyennes this body is enlarged and performs many other duties, partaking of the nature of a fraternity rather than an official organization. They are called “dog soldiers,” which is equivalent to Cheyenne soldiers, the name of the tribe being an Anglicism of the French chien, or rather of the feminine form, chienne, which was given them on account of their fondness for dogs as food. The Dame is always pronounced, and formerly was frequently written, Shian. Of this body General Dodge says, “Among these ‘dog soldiers’ are many boys who have not yet passed the initiatory ordeal as warriors. In short, this guild comprises the whole working force of the band. It is the power which protects and supplies the women and children. A war party is under the command of the chief. The home, or main camp, with its women and children, horses, lodges, and property of every kind is under the control and protection of the ‘dog soldiers.’ From them emanate all orders for marches. By them the encampments are selected. They supply the guards for the camp, designate the hunting parties and the ground they are to work over, and when buffalo are sought, they select the keen eyed hunters who are to go in advance and make all the arrangements for the surround. One of the most important functions of the ‘dog soldiers ‘ is the protection of the game. Crimes against the body politic, or violations of the orders of the chief, are punished severely: sometimes by death, at other times by beating and destruction of property. In these cases the chief acts; but he must have at least the tacit consent of the Council, and the active assistance of the ‘dog soldiers.’ Nearly all crimes against individuals are compounded by the payment of damages, the amount of which is assessed generally by the chief, assisted in important cases by two or more prominent men. A violation of the ‘dog soldiers’ ‘ rules is at once met by a sound beating.” The independence of this organization and its ability to defy the power of the chiefs has caused the name of “dog soldiers” to be applied, in some instances, to bands of renegades; but this is a perversion of the real meaning of the term, and it is never used in that sense by the Cheyennes.

Between the Cheyennes and Arapahoes and the white trappers of early days there was peace or war as happened to suit the parties respectively. In 1841 the Indians had become quite hostile, and a severe engagement occurred between Cheyennes and Sioux and sixty men under Mr. Frapp, of St. Louis, on Snake River, in which the Indians lost eight or ten warriors, and the whites four, besides their leader. Fremont found them hostile at the times of his several expeditions, but avoided trouble by threatening the vengeance of the “Great Father” in case of any injury to his party. In 1845 Colonel Kearny marched along the foothills from Fort Laramie to Fort Bent, and summoned the Indians to a grand council. When convened, he informed them that any future injury to the whites would be severely punished, and showed his power by parading the dragoons, firing a howitzer, and sending up a rocket. The Indians were much impressed and promised good behavior, which promise they kept for many months. During the summer of 1847 the Kiowas, Apaches, Pawnees, and Comanches were at war with the whites, and doing much damage; it was estimated that they killed 47 men, destroyed 330 wagons, and run off 6500 head of stock. In the winter, efforts were made to bring the Cheyennes and Arapahoes into a coalition against the whites, but Lieutenant colonel Gilpin (afterwards governor of Colorado) marched two companies of cavalry into the midst of their villages, and camped there all winter. This movement, with their enmity to the Pawnees, determined them in the course of friendship, and they abandoned all intercourse with the hostile tribes. Before this time a party of Arapahoes, under circumstances of base treachery, had murdered two trappers named Boot and May. Their tribe was much frightened over the anticipation of vengeance by the whites, and hastened to send a valuable present of horses to Fort Laramie in atonement. Bordeaux, the trader there, declined to accept them. Still more terrified, they sent in offering to surrender the murderer, but Bordeaux declined this also. They then returned to their lodges in despair, expecting a. terrible punishment, but weeks passed, and no dragoons came, so their courage rose again. They grew more insolent and bold, and this feeling spread to the neighboring tribes until all were ready for the hostilities which broke out in 1854, beginning with the Sioux.

The Sioux were the most extensive of the western nations. Their name in their own language is Dakota, the word Sioux being an abbreviation of Nadowessioux, which is a term of contempt given them by their Algonquin enemies’, the Chippewas. They also call themselves O-ce-ti Sakow’-n, or the Seven Council Fires. Their tradition is that in the far past they were all of one council fire, but separated on account of intestinal strife. These council fires, as usually counted, are:

(1) The Mde-wa-kan-ton-wan, or Village of the Holy Lake;
(2) the Wah-pe-ku-te, or Leaf Shooters;
(3) the Wah-pe-ton-wan, or Village in the Leaves;
(4) the Sis-se-ton-wan, or Village in the Maish;
(5) the I-hank-ton-wan-na, or End Village;
(6) the I-hank-ton-wan, or End Village;
(7) the Te-ton-wan, or Prairie Village.

Some count only six fires, esteeming the 5th and 6th, which are commonly called Yanktonnais and Yanktons, to be the same. The first four are called by the other Sioux Isanti, or, as it is commonly written, Santee, meaning People of the Leaves, on account of their forest homes. The French called them Gens du Lac. We have to deal only with the last division, though in all the Sioux ware there were always more or less of the other sections among the hostiles. The ending of the names above given signifies a village, from ton-wan-yan – to form a village, to dwell. Ordinarily the last syllable is dropped, and the Indians referred to are called the Sissetons, the Tetons, etc. As to pronunciation, the letter n in these names, preceded by a or o, has the French nasal sound. The Tetons (the word means Boasters or Arrogant Ones) or prairie Sioux have also seven principal divisions:

(1) The Si-can-gu, Brulé, or Burnt Thighs;
(2) the I-taz-ip-co, Bowpith, Sans Arcs, or Nobows;
(3) the Si-ha-sa-pa, or Blackfeet;
(4) the Mi-ni-kan-ye (Min-ne-con-jous) or Those who Plant by the Water;
(5) the Oo-hen-on-pa, Two Boilings or Two Kettles;
(6) the O-gal-lul-las. Wanderers or Dwellers in the Mountains;
(7) the Unk-pah-pahs (Oncpapas), or Those who Camp by Themselves.

The student is cautioned not to be misled into the belief that the 6th tribe is of Irish origin, by the fact that their name is put “O’Gallalla” in one of their treaties with the government. The country of the Tetons was west of the Missouri, north of the Platte, and east of the mountains; the Yanktons and Yanktonnais held the eastern side of the Missouri from Sioux City to about the line of the Northern Pacific railroad; the Santees were in Minnesota and Eastern Dakota, gradually retiring before the settlements.

In the late summer of 1854 a large number of Brulés, Ogalallas, and Minneconjou were camped below Fort Laramie, waiting for their annual presents. On August 18th an ox belonging to some Mormon emigrants was taken and killed by a Minneconjou, who was camped with the Brulés. The whites said it was stolen, and the Indians that it had given out and been abandoned. The Bear (Mah-to-I-owa), 1 chief of the Brulés, came to the fort, reported his version of the story to Lieutenant Fleming, commanding, and said that if a detachment were sent for the Indian he would be surrendered. Lieutenant Grattan, with eighteen men and two howitzers, was sent after him. The Indians were camped between Gratiot’s and Bordeaux’s trading houses, distant respectively five and eight miles from Fort Laramie, between the Oregon road and the river. The Ogalallas were nearest the fort and the Brulés farthest from it, with the Minneconjou between. The Brule camp was semicircular in form, with the convex side to the river, and was bordered by a slight, abrupt depression, heavily grown with bushes. The Bear came out, but either could not or would not surrender the accused, as he had promised. Grattan then moved forward towards the centre of the camp, where the teepee of the accused stood, with the intention of taking him by force, and as he did so the warrior of the camp and many from the other camps pressed angrily forward and massed around the teepee and in the bushes, to resist the attempt. At this show of resistance, Grattan ordered his men to fire, and their guns were scarcely discharged before their commander and the greater part of themselves fell dead from a return volley, while the remainder were surrounded by a thousand or more of infuriated warriors, and exterminated in an inconceivably short time. Only one man escaped, and he died of his wounds two or three days later. The Indians menaced the fort for a time, but withdrew without accomplishing any damage, and the fort was soon afterwards reinforced by troops from Fort Riley, The Bear was killed in this affair, and Little Thunder succeeded to the chieftainship. The band separated from the other tribes, though accompanied by many of their warriors, and struck the whites whenever opportunity presented. Their principal successes were the destruction of a mail party and the murder of Captain Gibson. The latter was leading a train of Missourians up the Platte in June, 1855, when, at Deer Creek, thirty miles below the North Platte Bridge, two Indians rode up and asked where the captain was. He was pointed out, and while one shook hands with him, the other shot him dead, after which they fled. Several days later an emigrant party was attacked at the same place by eighteen Indians, who lanced one man and one woman, and drove off sixteen head of horses.

On August 4, 1855, Kansas matters having become more quiet. General Harney marched from Fort Leavenworth with thirteen hundred men for the country of the hostiles. As he rode out of the fort he remarked to Mr. Morin, “By God, I am for war – no peace,” and he experienced no change in his sentiments. He had learned Indian fighting thoroughly in the Black Hawk, Seminole, and other wars, and believed in decisive measures. He had brought the Seminole hostilities to a close by hanging thirteen of the hostile chiefs. The Indians are not long in learning the character of an opponent, and they knew what to expect from Harney. Billy Bowlegs used to say, “Harnty catch me, me hang; me catch him, he die.” The command reached Fort Kearney without incident, and having replenished their supplies continued their march on the 24th. On September 2d they reached Ash Hollow, a celebrated point in the early history of the plains. It is the lower valley of Ash Creek, a tributary of the Platte, in Northwestern Nebraska, and was afterwards the location of old Sidney Barracks; it must not be confounded with the town of Sidney, that lies to the southwest, on Lodge pole Creek. Here information was received that the hostile Brulés were encamped in force on Blue water Creek (Me-ne-to-wah-pah), a stream on the north side of the Platte and two miles above Ash Hollow. General Harney at once prepared for an attack. Colonel Cooke, the former commander of the Mormon battalion, was sent at three o’clock in the morning, with four companies of cavalry, to cut off their retreat. Under the guidance of Joe Tesson, an old trapper, the command approached the creek several times, but found a succession of villages for four miles up the stream. About sunrise they succeeded, without attracting attention, in reaching a position half a mile above the upper village, in the bed of a dry gulch which opened to the creek. At half past four Harney moved forward with the infantry. As he approached the lower village, the Indians struck their lodges and began retreating up the creek, while Little Thunder came forward and began a parley. To this Harney was not averse, knowing that their retreat was cut off. He told the chief that his warriors had insulted our citizens and murdered our troops, and now, these warriors, whom he said he could not control, must be surrendered or they must fight. While they were talking, a commotion among the more distant Indians announced to the soldiers that the cavalry had been discovered. Little Thunder returned to his warriors, and, without waiting for any answer to his demand, Harney advanced, firing. At the first volley the dragoons rode out of the defile and charged down the valley. As they came in sight, the infantry gave one wild yell and dashed forward. The Indians saw their danger and fled towards the bluffs on the west side of the valley, pursued by the infantry, while the cavalry directed their course to cut off the fleeing Indians. The battle then became a chase, the Indians urging their fresh ponies to their utmost speed, and throwing away everything that could hamper their flight. The dragoons pursued them from five to eight miles, until scattered and far beyond the support of the infantry; they then turned back to camp. In this engagement the Indians lost eighty-six killed, of whom a number were women and children, five wounded, and seventy prisoners, women and children, besides fifty horses and mules captured, a large number killed, and all their provisions, robes, camp utensils, and equipage destroyed. In the camp was found a lot of the plundered mail, some of the clothing taken at the Grattan massacre, and two white women’s scalps. The loss to the troops was four killed and seven wounded.

Such a dreadful blow had never before been struck at the plains Indians, and it produced a valuable result. Harney marched on to Fort Laramie and thence across the country to Fort Pierre, but before he left Laramie he sent word to the Indians that the murderers must be surrendered. After he started, the Indians came in numbers to Fort Laramie, and asked permission to camp in the neighborhood. This was granted, and soon after the garrison was surprised to see five warriors in full war costume approach the fort, chanting their death songs. They were a part of the murderers whose surrender had been demanded, and came, as they said, to throw their lives away for the good of the tribe. They were Red Leaf, Long Chin, two brothers of the dead chief Mahto-Iowa, and Spotted Tail. Of the remaining two murderers, one had fled and one was too sick to be moved. After these had surrendered, Red Plume and Spotted Elk, two leading men, came in and offered themselves as hostages for the peace, and all seven, with their squaws, who had accompanied them, were sent to Fort Leavenworth for further proceedings. The Sioux of the plains were evidently conquered, and Harney was entitled to the credit of quieting them, for this action on the Bluewater, which has since become commonly known as the fight at Ash Hollow, was the only engagement that occurred. At Fort Pierre, General Harney held a council with all the Sioux bands, in March, 1856, at which they all agreed to be peaceable in the future. They made reparation for all property stolen, and agreed to surrender the man who killed the cow and the man who killed Gibson. At this time General Harney also authorized the appointment of a native police force, the first instance of the kind among the Western tribes.

The people – especially those of the West – accorded General Harney the praise which the results of his campaign merited, but the War Department appeared inclined to question the means rather than to admire the end. There appears to have been bad blood between Lieutenant general Scott and General Harney, for some reason not satisfactorily explained, and it was understood throughout the army without much delay that Scott objected seriously to the killing of women and children that had occurred at Ash Hollow. Colonel Cooke, in his official report, which was not published for a year after Harney’s, and then on express Congressional call, says, “I will remark that in the pursuit, women, if recognized, were generally passed by my men, but that in some cases certainly these women discharged arrows at them.” Colonel Sumner, in his final report of the Cheyenne expedition, two years later, goes more bluntly to the point, saying, ” I have the pleasure to report, what I know will give the Lieutenant general commanding the army the highest satisfaction, that in these operations not a woman nor a child has been hurt.” The matter drifted along until the summer of 1857. Harney had then received orders to take command of the expedition into Utah, and was making his preparations, when he received a summons to appear before a court-martial in Washington, and the command of the Utah expedition was turned over to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston. For a time things looked gloomy for Harney; but he had friends, and he was a fighter in a political way as well as ou the field.

Soon there was felt in the case the power of William H. Russell, of the firm of Majors, Russell & Co. The greatness of these names is but a memory now in the West, and in the East they are forgotten, though people who knew Washington City thirty years ago may remember Mr. Russell, the great contractor, who daily dashed along Pennsylvania Avenue behind four blooded grays. They were the great freighters of the plains, who, for several years before the rebellion, controlled all transportation of a public nature from the Missouri to the mountains. They commenced business early in the ’50’s with twenty wagons and two hundred oxen, from which they grew until, in 1859, they employed 5000 wagons, 20,000 oxen, 10,000 horses and mules, and 4000 men. They inaugurated and owned the famous Pony Express, by which, with its 1000 fleet horses and 100 trusty men, the mail was carried from St. Joseph to Sacramento. What a change came over them! The failure of Congress to pass the appropriation bills, in the spring of 1860, paralyzed their business, which then amounted to $8,000,000 a year. Russell was arrested as a defaulter, and died so poor that his friends paid his funeral expenses. Mr. Waddell of the firm died penniless; A. B. Miller was recently living in Denver, Colorado, in reduced circumstances; and Majors, the only one of them that came up again, is a millionaire in Salt Lake City. But to resume, Russell was very influential with the administration, so much so that he procured the appointment of Gen. Joe Johnston as quartermaster-general of the army after the death of General Jesup. He induced Buchanan to put a summary end to the court-martial, by making Harney a brigadier – general, a rank he already held by brevet, and putting him in command in the West. Harney went out to Utah, but after a brief stay went on to Oregon, where he was soon quarrelling with Scott again over the occupation of the island of Haro and the cashiering of Lieutenant De Hart.

Terrorizing as was the blow struck on the Bluewater to the Sioux; it seemed to have no effect on the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. It was too late in the season of 1855 to proceed against them, and the expedition which was planned, for the spring of 1856,” to compel them to release the captives held by them, restore the property taken, and deliver up the criminals,” was given up because the troops were needed in Kansas again. Immunity from punishment only made the Indians more bold. On August 24, 1856, a war-party of eighty Cheyennes attacked a mail-party within a few miles of Fort Kearney, and severely wounded the conductor. Capt. G. H. Stuart was sent in pursuit of the marauders with forty-one men, and overtook them at about four o’clock on the following afternoon. Dividing his force, he charged their camp from two sides. The Indians fled, but were hotly pursued, and suffered a loss of ten killed, eight or ten wounded, twenty-four horses and mules and much other property captured. On this same day another party of Cheyennes attacked a train of four wagons on Cottonwood Creek, about thirty miles below Kearney. This train belonged to A. W. Babbitt, Secretary of Utah, who was conveying a large amount of public money and valuable property to Mormondom. The Indians here killed two men, wounded one, carried off Mrs. Wilson, and killed her child. On the 30th a party of Cheyennes and Arapahoes attacked a small party of emigrants eighty miles above Kearney, killed one woman, wounded one man, and carried off a child four years of age. On September 6th a party of Cheyennes and Arapahoes attacked a Mormon train on the Platte, and killed two men, one woman and a child, besides carrying off a woman. These particulars of outrages committed by the Cheyennes, long after the Sioux had made peace, are mentioned because an impression has been created by certain Indian-ring gentlemen, who will be mentioned more expressly hereafter, that the Cheyennes were ever friendly to the whites. Many well meaning but poorly informed people have been drawn into this delusion. Mr. Longhridge, of Iowa, in descanting on the “Sand Creek massacre,” even went so far as to say that the Cheyennes “had done more to make travel across the plains safe to the whites than any other class of people.” Major general Persifer F. Smith wrote from Fort Leavenworth, on September 10, 1856, “This tribe must be severely punished, but no trifling or partial punishment will suffice, and as no one can be spared from this neighborhood I will postpone extensive operations until the spring.” The beauty of a winter campaign was not yet appreciated.

In the summer of 1857, Col. E. V. Sumner was sent against them with six companies of cavalry and three of infantry. On July 29th, while marching down Solomon’s Fork, the cavalry, which was about three miles in advance of the infantry, came suddenly upon some three hundred warriors, drawn up in line of battle across the valley. The troops wheeled into line and charged at once. “The Indians,” says Colonel Sumner, “were all mounted and well armed; many of them had rifles and revolvers, and they stood with remarkable boldness until we charged and were nearly upon them, when they broke in all directions and we pursued them seven miles. Their horses were fresh and very fleet, and it was impossible to overtake many of them. There were but nine men killed in the pursuit, but there must have been a great number wounded.” The loss to the troops was two killed and nine wounded. On July 31st Sumner found their principal village, from which they had fled in great haste, leaving one hundred and seventy lodges standing, and in them a large amount of supplies of every kind, all of which were destroyed. Sumner then continued his search for the Indians, but they separated into small parties and avoided him, a move which they accomplished more easily because his troops had no provisions but fresh beef, the cattle being driven as they marched. Early in September he received orders to break up the command and detach all but two companies of dragoons to join the expedition into Utah. He obeyed with reluctance, for he said he thought the Cheyennes had “not been sufficiently punished for the barbarous outrages they have recently committed.” The punishment was severer than it seemed, for the buffalo did not range in their country that summer, and the movements of the troops prevented them from making any preparation for the ensuing winter by hunting elsewhere.

For three or four years their behavior was quite exemplary, and this change of heart came at an opportune season, for in the next year was made the discovery of gold, which caused the settlement of the eastern slope of the mountains. In the summer of 1858 a party of about one hundred men, mostly Georgians and Cherokee Indians, led by Green Russell, started from the Missouri to look for gold on the eastern slope of the Rookies. They found indications, but no paying placers, and all but thirteen of them started back in disgust. On the next day Russell struck pay in Cherry Creek, and soon after in Dry Gulch, both on the plains near Denver. They took back enough gold to interest everyone who learned of it, and in the spring of 1859 a considerable emigration began. Among those who turned from previously intended courses to look at the new diggings was John Gregory. He knew that placers on the plains were very certain to mean deeper deposits in the mountains, and made his search in the tangled ravines of the foothills, which resulted in the discovery of Gregory’s Gulch. From that time the future of the mines was assured. The wildest stories were current concerning the wonderful riches of the region. Benton’s jest about the “ankle deep” and “knee deep” gold in California was put in the shade by some genius who reported that the gold on Pike’s Peak was in layers on the surface, and was collected by parties of men who slid down the mountain on a narrow, each tooth of the harrow cutting up a long shaving of gold. Within three years there were probably 80,000 immigrants to the “Pike’s Peak” country, of whom, however, a large number returned to their homes, or went elsewhere.

Concerning these settlers there is one very extraordinary thing to be noticed – the Indians never complained of any bad treatment at their hands. The cause of the mutual good feeling was partly due to Ash Hollow and Summer’s expedition, but more than anything else it was due to the fact that the whites were locating on ground which lay between the territory of the mountain tribes and those of the plains, and was never permanently occupied by either. The consequence was that the settlers neither interfered with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes nor the Utes, but had their friendship sought by each party for the purpose of acquiring arms and ammunition to light the other. While the Indians fought each other the prospectors made their way all through the foothills and the mountains of the main range. To this day the hunter and prospector find their old workings and the decaying boards of their flumes in the ravines on the western slope of the Snow Mountains, which are the main divide in Colorado. In time of war, when all provocations were summed up, the Indians accused the whites, in a general way, of intruding on their lands and driving away the buffalo, but in the “weak piping time of peace” they had nothing to say of this. On February 18, 1861, the Arapahoe and Cheyenne chiefs made a treaty at Fort Wise, which contained this uncommon clause: “In consideration of the kind treatment of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes by the citizens of Denver and the adjacent towns, they respectfully request that the proprietors of said city and the adjacent towns be permitted by the United States government to enter a sufficient quantity of land to include said city and towns, at the minimum price of $1.25 per acre.” The Senate struck out this clause, but in the capacity of a solemn declaration by the Indians it stands unimpaired by the amendment. Of course it cannot be said to be conclusive proof that the Indians were particularly anxious to do something for their white friends. It was, more probably, the result of a few presents by the town companies to induce the Indians to recommend a favor that injured them in no respect; but in the absence of any accusation of mistreatment by the whites, it is satisfactory evidence of the real state of feeling.

This treaty is a celebrated one, and the reader will find himself repaid in remembering some of its provisions, for it was the foundation of the subsequent troubles with the Cheyennes. By it the southern tribes of Cheyennes and Arapahoes ceded all their lands except a triangular tract, bounded on the west, practically, by meridian 28° 30′ west of Washington, on the northeast by the Big Sandy, and on the southeast by the Purgatoire or Las Animas. It recited that these tribes were very desirous of adopting an agricultural life, and made provisions for such a change. Finally it provided that right of way should be had across their lands for “all roads and highways laid out by authority of law.” In this phrase there was a world of significance. Whether or not the chiefs understood that the right to build a railroad would be claimed under it is uncertain, but whether they did or not it is certain that their warriors wanted no railroad, no such cession of lands as had been made, and no agricultural life. They said that they preferred to remain hunters, and would do so; that the buffalo would last a hundred years. Dissatisfaction was expressed at once, and depredations followed soon afterwards. They threatened to kill their chiefs if they did not repudiate the treaty. The war of the rebellion had its weight in increasing the hostile feeling, and at length the Kansas Pacific road was begun, directly through their country. All these things worked towards war, and culminated in the open hostilities of 1864.Citations:

  1. “The Bear” is not a full translation of this name, that being the signification of Mah-to. Mr. Reed translated it “The Bear that Scatters” but I-o-wa means a pen, or pencil, or other instrument for writing. The name has been printed, perhaps as a result of illegible writing, “Mah-to-Lo-wan.” Lo-wan is the Sioux verb ” to sing.”[]


Pueblo Colorado,

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