What was known as the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was entered into in Mississippi with the Choctaw Indians September 27, 1830;1 pursuant to the terms of the treaty, in 1832 the movement of the Choctaw to their new home between the Canadian and Red rivers was under way but they were in danger from incursions of the Comanche and Pani Picts2 or Wichita, and the Kiowa tribe, who came east as far as the Washita and Blue rivers; these Indians had also evinced a hostile attitude toward white citizens and had attacked and plundered Santa Fe traders, trappers, and other unprotected travelers.
A party of twelve traders had left Santa Fe in December, 1832, under Judge Carr of Saint Louis for their homes in Missouri. Their baggage and about ten thousand dollars in specie were packed upon mules. They were descending the Canadian River when, near the present town of Lathrop in the Panhandle of Texas, they were attacked by an overwhelming force of Comanche and Kiowa Indians. Two of the men, one named Pratt, and the other Mitchell, were killed; and after a siege of thirty-six hours the survivors made their escape at night on foot, leaving all their property in possession of the Indians. The party became separated and after incredible hardship and suffering five of them made their way to the Creek settlements on the Arkansas and to Fort Gibson where they found succor. Of the other five only two survived. The money secured by the Indians was the first they had ever seen.3
Colonel Arbuckle on May 6, ordered4 a military force to Red River with instructions to ascend the Blue and Washita, and scour the country between North Fork of the Canadian and Red rivers where white soldiers had never been seen. They were ordered to drive to the west any Comanche or Wichita Indians found there and if possible, to induce some of their chiefs to come to Fort Gibson for a conference where they might be impressed by the power of the United States in order to give security to the emigrating Indians.
George B. Abbay
This force left Fort Gibson May 7, 1833, and made their first camp just across Arkansas River. It was composed of two select companies of the Seventh Infantry and the three companies of rangers in charge of Lieutenant-colonel Many5 of the infantry. The rangers were commanded by Captains Boone, Ford, and Bean. On June 2, when they were nearing Red River between Washita and Blue rivers, approximately in the southern part of what is now Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, one of the rangers named George B. Abbay was surprised by a band of Indians and carried off. The whole expedition under Colonel Many joined in the pursuit of the Indians estimated by Captain Boone to number one hundred fifty to two hundred, who crossed the Washita and left a trail of horses, buffalo robes, saddles, bows and arrows, but made their escape with the prisoner. The troops continued the pursuit for twelve days in a westerly direction, but were forced to abandon it when they arrived near where is now Fort Sill, as their food had given out and they had passed beyond the buffalo range. The men were so worn out and ill from the hardship of the effort to rescue their companion, that Many was forced to abandon the object of the expedition and return to Fort Gibson, where they arrived early in July.6 Abbay was subsequently killed by his captors south of Red River, but before his fate was known he was the subject of considerable correspondence concerned with plans to effect his recovery. The anxiety and grief of his parents are manifest in the pathetic letter of his father:7
“Mount Paraira, Ralls County State of Missouri, March 25th 1834; Dear Sir; It is with pain I have to address you with this letter. My son George Abbay was taken a Prisoner on the 2nd of June last by the Pawnee Peak Indians and is still a prisoner with them, and they will not give him up. I have used every means in my power to Obtain him by Ransom or otherwise but all in Vain, he was One of the Mounted Rangers in Capt. Nathan Boones Company. If the Captain has or has not reported him I should like to know of you from your Office, Will you condescend so far as to write to me, on that subject, and let me know what has, & can be done to Obtain my Son. I wish the President with yourself to send on a special message to Col. Dodge of the Mounted Dragoons at Fort Gibson with an appointment to him & his command to go on to the Pawnees Peak Towns & Release my son. He has now been a Prisoner for nine or Ten Months. And I hope the sympathy of your heart and that of United States President (General Jackson) will not let a loving Father & tender Mother go down with sorrow to their grave for the lofs of their son. Should you disapprove of my plans, you will please to adopt any other in your wisdom that you may think best to obtain him. And I will go with them (if permitted) & will have my son or they shall walk over my body a dead corps, although I am now sixty five years of age. Please to answer this letter as soon as any thing can be done. And I hope to Remain. Dear Sir, Your most obt. Jonathan Abbay. Sen. NB The Osage Friendly Indians & the Pawnee Peak Indians have had a Fight about my son but they could not obtain my Son. And in the Battle the Osage Indians took from the Pawnee Peaks twenty of their Chiefs. If I was able I would buy one or two of their Chiefs from the Osages, & would go on home with them & make an exchange for my son. I am Sir, truly yours, J. Abbay sen.”
In March, 1834, Sam Houston, then in Washington wrote a long letter to the Secretary of War giving his views about the Indians who were supposed to have captured Abbay and the possibilities of effecting his recovery. Governor Stokes’s commission also was called on for information on the subject.
The expedition in 1833 was a failure. Instead of bringing home hostages of the western tribes to impress with the prowess of the white men, they had lost a prisoner to the Indians. Because of the fact that the year for which the rangers had enlisted was soon to expire, they were obliged to consume a great deal of time intended for exploring and seeking out Indians, in the killing and drying of buffalo meat before their return to Fort Gibson, which place they reached after an absence of fifty-four days. Thirty days of that time they lived on buffalo meat alone, without either bread or salt and for the last eight days before reaching Fort Gibson subsisted on buffalo meat boiled with tallow.
Flooding at Fort Gibson
During the absence of the expedition there was almost incessant rain and an extraordinary rise in the streams of the country which was particularly disastrous in the vicinity of Fort Gibson. Distress on Arkansas River was said to be indescribable. That river, the Verdigris, and Grand, were reported higher than ever known before. At Fort Gibson several houses, fences, corn and other property belonging to the post were swept away. Colonel Arbuckle had a large farm about twenty miles below Fort Smith which was inundated with a loss to him of four thousand dollars. Other residents in that neighborhood lost much property. On the Verdigris, the trading houses of Colonel Chouteau and Colonel Hugh Love were swept away, together with most of their merchandise, Chouteau’s loss being over ten thousand dollars. Two of the buildings at the Creek Agency on the Verdigris were washed down stream with a large amount of Government property, including rifles and traps intended for the Indians, of the value of twelve thousand dollars. It was reported also that the village of Van Buren was flooded.8
Rangers Merge with Dragoons
Experience had shown that the ranger organization was of little value. Undisciplined, they were organized as mounted free lances. The experiment had not long continued when Congress by the Act of March 2, 1833, provided for the establishment of a regiment of dragoons in place of the rangers with which most of of the latter were merged. The rangers were authorized during the Black Hawk War but were not recruited in time to be of service in that disturbance. Henry Dodge9 of Wisconsin, was appointed to command them. He had earlier headed a company of mounted volunteers in the War of 1812 and had subsequently been a field officer in another organization. Upon the breaking out of the troubles with Black Hawk, he had raised a company of volunteers and had several successful skirmishes with the Indians in Illinois.
When the rangers were merged with the dragoons, Major Henry Dodge was placed in command of this regiment. Major Stephen Watts Kearny, of the Third Infantry, was selected as Lieutenant-colonel. Captain Richard B. Mason of the First Infantry, was appointed major March 4, 1833. Jefferson Davis, only a few years out of West Point, became a first lieutenant in the regiment on the fourth of March, 1833, and adjutant during 1833 and 1834. Captains Boone, Ford, and Bean, and most of the other officers and the privates in the companies of rangers at Fort Gibson, took similar positions in the dragoon regiment.
Five companies of dragoons were soon recruited in eastern states and concentrated at Jefferson Barracks. The recruits had generally disposed of their clothing in anticipation of securing uniforms upon their arrival at that station. In this they were destined to be sadly disappointed. At the approach of winter, before any clothing or arms or many of their horses had been received, they were ordered to march to Fort Gibson. Encountering severe winter weather on the march and being inadequately clothed and organized, many men of these companies suffered severely before reaching Fort Gibson. The citizens of Saint Louis gave a farewell dinner to Colonel Dodge upon his departure to the western wilds and on the twentieth of November, the regiment left Jefferson Barracks for the frontier.
The cavalcade consisted of the regiment, baggage wagons, and retainers; eighteen prisoners sentenced for desertion and other offenses, wearing handcuffs and chains, marched under guard. Passing through southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, through Fayetteville and across Illinois River, after a march of five hundred miles they arrived at Fort Gibson on the afternoon of December seventeenth; keeping on their course for two miles below the post, they went through the canebrake to a point on Grand River where they were directed to camp.
The appearance of this canebrake where is now intensively cultivated potato land,10 was described by a member of the Dragoons in a book he wrote about his experiences.11 Stretching itself along the margin of the river, it presented an apparently impenetrable breastwork of dense green which extended beyond the reach of the eye. Its tall and slender stem reared itself in the air to a height of thirty or forty feet. From the intersecting joints of the cane grew long and spiral bunches of leaves, which retained their life and green-ness throughout the winter. And towering above their heads were massive oaks, pecans, and walnut trees that grew to an immense size on the rich bottom land.
They made their way with excessive toil through the gigantic cane which was so close together that their horses could not move forward without breaking through by main force. Floundering about, counter-marching and retracing their steps, they could find no place to camp and after waiting for an answer to an inquiry sent to Colonel Arbuckle, they were directed to camp on a sand bar projecting into Grand River. There they pitched their tents and weary and half starved, having eaten scarcely anything for two days, they spent the first night at their new station.
The next day the dragoons laid out a camp for winter quarters in a little stretch of woods skirting the prairie and near a lake within one and one-quarter miles of the post and called it Camp Jackson. At first, provided only with tents, they suffered severely from the cold and they were obliged to resort to the woods-man’s expedient of building a large fire in front of the open tent which by the reflection of the back tent-wall, in a manner retained the heat as long as the fire was burning. Provided with only one blanket and obliged to sleep on the low, wet ground their rest was far from comfortable. Later, large barrack rooms built of the timbers cut out of the woods and covered with oak clapboards, were erected at the edge of the woods upon higher ground. Each one of these structures housed a troop of about sixty men and they were but little more comfortable than the tents; for they leaked badly and during wet weather the man who owned a buffalo skin was extremely fortunate, for only when wrapped in this could he sleep without getting wet.
The flood of the previous summer had swept away the corn fields, as well as the surplus corn so that there was almost none in the country for the horses of the dragoon regiment, which were obliged to subsist on the cane. There were no stables and the life of the horses through that bitterly cold winter was more cheerless than that of the troopers. The winter clothing and rifles of the Dragoons were being forwarded on board the steamer Little Rock, which struck a rock and sunk just above the village of that name, and it was weeks before the salvaged property of the Dragoons, in a badly damaged condition reached Fort Gibson.
Soon after his arrival at Fort Gibson and establishment at Camp Jackson, Colonel Dodge addressed a letter12 on Christmas day, 1833, to the Adjutant-general reporting that no arrangements had been made for quartering his troops or horses, but that Colonel Arbuckle had purchased eight thousand bushels of corn for him which would be delivered on the bank of Grand River.13 However, on February second he wrote that the thermometer was twelve degrees below zero and the ice was six inches thick on the river so that it was impossible for the boats to ascend the rivers with the corn. The horses had been turned into the canebrake, but the extreme cold had frozen that food supply and the horses were suffering. Colonel Dodge expressed his disappointment at the quality of the arms issued to his men by the arsenal; but he found from the drills he had put them through that the men in his command knew nothing at all about the use of fire arms. However he took occasion to speak in high terms of Captain Nathan Boone, who had preceded him to Fort Gibson. He recommended that Boone and Ford be placed in command of two of the companies of dragoons.
“Captain Boone is a first rate officer for the woods service. He commanded a company of U. S. Rangers under my command in 1812. He is a good woodsman and would be valuable on an expedition and has good knowledge of the southwestern frontier.”
Determined not to be cast down by their hardships the Dragoons made the best of their surroundings; within the barn-like barracks they entertained themselves with musical efforts and on the ample space of floor, groups of Creeks, Osage, and Cherokee from their neighboring settlements, held powwows and dances in which they were frequently joined by the troopers. The Indian accompaniment, effected by patting the hands upon the knees with a gutteral sound from the lungs, was aided by two or three cracked fiddles. Around a tallow candle, in a corner of the building, were to be seen players engaged in thumbing over a deck of cards that were hardly distinguishable through the dirt that covered them; in some of the bunks could be seen others stretched and reading Robinson Crusoe or the Life of Colonel Gardner or General Marion, which with three or four other books formed the whole of the regimental library.
Spring finally came for the exiles in camp and the rigors of winter remained only as a memory; the parakeets in large and happy flocks whistled as they sported through the trees; the prairie bedecked itself with azure larkspur, painted cup, American primrose, wild verbena, and wild indigo, and other habiliments of spring; the soft tints of the swelling buds of the forest trees turned green as the elm, sycamore, pecan, and walnut assumed the vernal garb that obscured the parasite mistletoe with which brown limbs were decked through the winter; the sassafras sent forth a delicious fragrance and the white of the dogwood, plum, and hawthorn blooms vied with the magenta of the redbud to decorate the landscape in brightest hues.
General Henry Leavenworth
General orders14 of February 12, 1834, directed Brevet Brigadier-general Henry Leavenworth to assume command of all the troops on the southwestern frontier with headquarters at Fort Gibson. He arrived there from Fort Towson on April 28, 1834, and assumed command of the post which he did not relinquish until June 12, when, the dragoons having departed for the west he bestowed the command on Lieutenant-colonel Many. On June 2, Leavenworth issued an order creating three additional posts in advance of Fort Gibson; one at the mouth of the Washita to be commanded by Captain Dean in charge of companies A and C of the Third Infantry, then at Fort Towson. Dean was directed to cut a road from Fort Towson to the mouth of the Washita and there erect block-houses and quarters for the troops of his command. Brevet Major Birch was directed to proceed up the road just being cut on the north side of the Arkansas to the mouth of the Cimarron and there establish a post to be occupied by two companies of the Seventh Infantry from Fort Gibson. Captain Dawson who was then engaged in constructing a road to connect these posts was directed to take up his station with his two companies at the mouth of Little River where the road from the Arkansas would cross the Canadian. Bridges were to be built, ferry boats constructed and provisions made for moving troops over the road.15 The first post was called Camp Washita. The one on the Canadian was sometimes called Camp Canadian but was officially known as Fort Holmes. The third at the mouth of the Cimarron was designated Camp Arbuckle in compliment to General Arbuckle. The troops remained at these stations until fall, when after the death of General Leavenworth they were removed by order of Colonel Many.16
One of Leavenworth’s first acts at Fort Gibson was to provide an escort of a company of dragoons for a body of traders going from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe; Captain Wharton17 was assigned to this duty by orders of Colonel Dodge May 9, 1834. He was directed to proceed north to White Hair’s village of the Osage18 and there await the arrival of the caravan of Santa Fe traders, whom he was to accompany and protect from attacks by the prairie Indians. He performed this duty, proceeding westward on Arkansas River to the limits of the United States, parted from the traders on June 27, and returned to Fort Gibson July 18.
General Leavenworth then gave orders for laying out a road from Fort Gibson to the mouth of the Washita. The remaining five companies of dragoons were enlisted during the winter and afterward organized at Jefferson Barracks; and in the spring and summer they were marched to Fort Gibson. Company F, whose members were recruited mostly from Boston, arrived at Fort Gibson after a twenty-four days march from Saint Louis; Company G, enlisted largely in Indiana, came down two days later; and with the arrival of Companies H, I, and K, in a few days, the scene at the encampment became one of great animation in preparation for an extensive summer campaign. The blacksmiths’ shops were in constant operation. Tailors and saddlers had all they could do, and no one had time to be idle.
Half of the regiment was daily detailed to watch the horses while grazing on the prairies, a trying employment for the troops exposed to the broiling sun, as the thermometer was registering daily over one hundred degrees. Besides these duties the officers were endeavoring to get the troopers into some kind of form; without discipline, experience, or training, these green soldiers were about to embark on a most arduous campaign that was to take an appalling toll of life.
The day the expedition of rangers and infantry left Fort Gibson under Colonel Many the previous summer, a report was received at the post that a party of Osage had returned to Clermont’s village with a number of Pawnee scalps and prisoners. Pawnee was the elastic term by which they roughly classified prairie Indians in the southwest and denoted particularly Pawnee Picts or Pique, Tawehash or Wichita Indians. The story of the taking of these scalps and prisoners was a tragedy in the lives of these western tribes.
Kappler, op. cit., vol. ii, 221. ↩
Called by early French traders Pani Pique tattooed Pawnee, and known to the Kiowa and Comanche by names meaning Tattooed Faces. [U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, Handbook of American Indians, part ii, 947.] The French called them Panis, and the Spaniards, Towiaches according to Sibley. – American State Papers “Indian Affairs” vol. i, 723. ↩
For Gregg’s interesting account of this attack, see Thwaites op. cit., vol. xx, 133 ff. It is described also in U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, Annual Report for 1895-96, Part i, 254 ff, where it is said that the Kiowa commemorated the event on their calendar as the “Winter they captured the money”, and the occasion on which their chief Blackwolf was killed. ↩
Arbuckle to Many, May 6, 1833, Adjutant-general’s office, Old Files Division, 90 A. 1833. ↩
James B. Many was born in Delaware and entered the army from that state as first-lieutenant in the Second Artillery and Engineers on June 4, 1798. As Lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh Infantry he came to Fort Gibson in 1824 where he saw many years of service and was at one time in command. June 1, 1831, Many was brevetted colonel for ten years faithful service in one grade; he died February 23, 1852. Many was frequently mentioned by Pike in connection with his exploration of the upper Mississippi in 1806. ↩
Many to Arbuckle July 4, 1833, Adjutant-general’s office, Old Files, 90 A. 1833. George B. Abbay, born in Woodward County, Kentucky, enlisted at Cave Spring, Missouri, at the age of thirty years, August 4, 1832, for one year in Captain Nathan Boone’s company of mounted rangers. ↩
Jonathan Abbay to Secretary of War, March 25, 1834, Indian Office, Retired Classified Files 1834 Upper Missouri. ↩
This, one of the greatest floods in the history of the country was noticed in a United States geological report (Hempstead, Fay. A Pictorial History of Arkansas, 245), and in many official letters concerning the removal of the Indians. This year was memorable with the Indians also for the great fall of meteors on November 13. The Kiowa noted it on their calendar as “Winter that the stars fell.” – Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report for 1895-1896 (Washington, 1898), Part ii, 260. ↩
Henry Dodge was born at Vincennes, Indiana, October 12, 1782. He commanded a company of volunteers in the War of 1812-15 and rose to rank of Lieutenant-colonel of Mounted Infantry. During the Black Hawk War he served as colonel of the Michigan Mounted Volunteers from April 15 to July 1, 1832, and on June 21 he became major of the newly organized Mounted Rangers. He was on March 4, 1833, made colonel of the Dragoon Regiment, with which he served at Fort Gibson. In 1836 he was appointed governor of Wisconsin and superintendent of Indian Affairs and served until 1841. He was delegate in Congress from that year until 1845 and United States Senator from Wisconsin from 1849 to 1857. He died in Burlington, Iowa, June 19, 1867. ↩
The value of this land for the growth of potatoes was discovered at an early day. In the summer of 1828 the troops stationed at Cantonment Gibson raised eighteen hundred bushels of potatoes from four and one half acres of ground, some of which weighed one and one-half pounds. – Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), January 27, 1829, p. 3, col. 1. ↩
[Hildreth, J.] Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains, 76 ff. ↩
Dodge’s Military Order Book, 63. This is a manuscript document in the handwriting of Colonel Dodge, containing his military orders and correspondence from August, 1832, to March, 1836. This interesting and valuable document is in the possession of the Historical Department at Des Moines, Iowa. It contains a number of letters written at Fort Gibson pertaining to the preparations that were being made for the expedition in the summer of 1834 to the prairie Indians in the west. ↩
Anticipating the great demand for grain for the horses of the Dragoons about to arrive, speculators bought up all corn available and on January 30, 1834, Colonel Arbuckle sent Lieutenant Collins to Louisville to purchase ten thousand bushels of that grain to be shipped by boat to Fort Gibson. (Adjutant-general, 47 A. 1834). ↩
[Hildreth, J.] op. cit., 102. ↩
Leavenworth to Jones, Adjutant-general, April 29, 1834, Adjutant-general’s office L. 1834, 101. Leavenworth’s order 21, Ibid., 137 M. 1834. ↩
Camp Arbuckle was abandoned November 11, 1834, but not, however, before a blockhouse had been erected, ground cleared, and certain defensive works inaugurated. As these remained standing for many years, although unoccupied save by occasional trading parties enroute to and from Santa Fe, it became known in that section as old Fort Arbuckle (Reservation Division, Adjutant-general’s office, Outline Index, Military Forts and Stations, A. page 376). On an undated map in the War Department made by Lieutenant Steen prior to 1841, on the west side of Arkansas River and on the north bank of the Cimarron is indicated “Camp Cedar”. ↩
Clifton Wharton was born in Pennsylvania and entered the army from the District of Columbia. As captain he was transferred to the Dragoons March 4, 1833, and saw many years of service at Fort Gibson and surrounding country. He was commissioned a major July 4, 1836, and Lieutenant-colonel June 30, 1846. He died on July 13, 1848. ↩
White Hair’s village was near Grand River in what is now southeastern Kansas. ↩