My Life on the Plains, by Gen. George A. Custer

Chapter Two.

Gen. Hancock's Campaign.

THERE are two classes of people who are always eager to get up an Indian war-the army and our frontiersmen.

     I quote from an editorial on the Indian question, which not long since appeared in the columns of one of the leading New York daily newspapers. That this statement was honestly made I do not doubt, but that instead of being true it could not have been farther from the truth I will attempt to show. I assert, and all candid persons familiar with the subject will sustain the assertion, that of all classes of our population the army and the people living on the frontier entertain the greatest dread of an Indian war, and are willing to make the greatest sacrifices to avoid its horrors. This is a proposition the assertion of which almost carries its proof with it.

     Under the most auspicious circumstances, and in time of peace with the Indians, the life of an army officer on the Plains or along our frontier is at best one involving no little personal discomfort, and demanding the sacrifice of many of the luxuries and benefits which he could obtain were he located within the limits of civilization. To many officers, service in the West amounts almost to social exile. Some can have their families with or near them. There is a limited opportunity for social intercourse; travel from the States, to and across the Plains, either for business or pleasure, is uninterrupted, and mail facilities with friends and relations in the States are maintained.

     An Indian war changes all this. The troops must prepare to take the field. Provided with but few comforts, necessarily limited in this respect by the amount of transportation, which on the Plains is narrowed down to the smallest practicable, the soldier bids adieu- often a final one-to the dear ones at home, and with his comrades in arms sets out, no matter how inclement the season, to seek what? fame and glory? How many military men have reaped laurels from their Indian campaigns? Does he strive to win the approving smile of his countrymen? That is indeed, in this particular instance, a difficult task. For let him act as he may in conducting or assisting in a campaign against the Indians, if he survives the campaign he can feel assured of this fact, that one-half of his fellow-citizens at home will revile him for his zeal and pronounce his success, if he achieves any, a massacre of poor, defenseless, harmless Indians; while the other half if his efforts to chastise the common enemy are not crowned with satisfactory results, will cry "Down with him. Down with the regular army, and give us brave volunteers who can serve the Government in other ways besides eating rations and drawing pay."

     An unsuccessful campaign, under which head nineteen out of twenty may reasonably be classed, satisfies no portion of the public and greatly dissatisfies that portion of the western population whose knowledge of the murders and depredations committed by the Indians is, unlike that of the people of the States farther east, of too recent origin to be swept away by false notions of clemency. During the continuance of the campaign both officers and soldiers are generally cut off from all communication with the friends left behind. Couriers, sent as bearers of a few despatches and letters, are sometimes under cover of the night enabled to make their way back to the forts; but even these fail sometimes. I now recollect, circumstance of two trusty scouts being sent with despatches and a small mail to make their way from the southern portion of Kansas to Fort Dodge on the Arkansas. When we saw them again we beheld their lifeless, mangled remains, their bodies pierced with numerous arrows, and mutilated almost beyond recognition-our letters scattered here and there by the savages, who had torn open the little canvas mail-bag in search of plunder. The Indians had surrounded these faithful fellows when within about ten miles of the end of their perilous journey. The numerous empty cartridge shells which lay around and near the bodies of the two men proved how persistently and bravely they had struggled for their lives.

     The opening of an Indian campaign is also the signal for the withdrawal of all privileges and enjoyments, such as leaves of absence, visits from eastern friends, hunting and pleasure parties of all kinds. The reception from the East of all luxuries and delicacies for the table and of all current literature, such as the numerous railroads being constructed in the West, particularly the two Pacifics, render easy of procurement, ceases; and not only the private soldier but the officer is limited in his mess fare to an indifferent portion of the ordinary ration. Is it probable or reasonable that these objects and results, the principal ones generally, so far as the army as individuals is concerned, would be considered sufficient to render either officers or soldiers "eager to get up an Indian war"? I have yet to make the acquaintance of that officer of the army who, in time of undisturbed peace, desired a war with the Indians. On the contrary, the army is the Indian's best friend so long as the latter desires to maintain friendship. Is it pleasant at all times, and always interesting, to have a village of peaceable Indians locate their lodges near our frontier posts or camps. The daily visits of the Indians, from the most venerable chief to the strapped papoose, their rude interchange of civilities, their barterings, races, dances, legends, strange customs, and fantastic ceremonies, all combine to render them far more agreeable as friendly neighbors than as crafty, bloodthirsty enemies.

     As to the frontiersman, he has everything to lose, even to life, and nothing to gain by an Indian war. "His object is to procure a fat contract or a market for his produce," adds the journal from which the opening lines of this chapter are quoted. This seems plausible and likely enough. But does that journal, and do the people who believe on this question as it does, know that there are two reasons-more are not required-why its statement is a very great error? First, our frontier farmers, busily employed as they are in opening up their farms, never have any produce to dispose of; but consider themselves fortunate if they have sufficient for their personal wants. They are never brought in contact with the Indian except when the latter makes a raid or incursion of at least hundreds of miles, and attacks the settlements. It is another case of Mohammed and the mountain. The frontiersman never goes beyond the settlements. The Indian forsakes his accustomed hunting-grounds when ambitious of obtaining scalps or plunder, and visits the settlements.

     The only ground upon which the frontiersman can be accused of inspiring or inciting a war with the Indian is, that when applied to by the latter to surrender his life, family, and property, scalp thrown in, he stoutly refuses, and sometimes employs force to maintain this refusal.

     I have shown that this abused class of the pioneers of civilization have no hand in the fat contracts. Who are the fortunate parties? With but rare exceptions our most expensive expeditions against the Indians on the Plains have been supplied by contracts made with parties far inside the limits of civilization, who probably never saw a hostile Indian, and who never even visited the Indian country. The supplies are purchased far from the frontiers, in the rich and thickly settled portions of the States, then shipped by rail and boat to the most available military post, from which point they are generally drawn by huge trains of army wagons, or carried on pack animals.

     Of the many important expeditions organized to operate in the Indian country, none, perhaps, of late years has excited more general and unfriendly comment, considering the slight loss of life inflicted upon the Indians, than the expedition organized and led in person by Major-General Hancock in the spring of 1867. The clique generally known as the Indian ring were particularly malevolent and bitter in their denunciations of General Hancock for precipitating, as they expressed it, an Indian war. This expedition was quite formidable in appearance, being made up of eight troops of cavalry, seven companies of infantry, and one battery of light artillery, numbering altogether about 1,400 men. As General Hancock at the time and since has been so often accused of causelessly bringing on an Indian war, a word in explanation may not be amiss.

     Being in command of the cavalry connected with the expedition, I had ample and frequent opportunities for learning the true purposes and objects of the march into the heart of the Indian country. I know no better mode of explaining these than by quoting the following extract from letters written by General Hancock to the agents of the various tribes with which we expected to be brought in contact: "I have the honor to state for your information that I am at present preparing an expedition to the Plains, which will soon be ready to move. My object in doing so at this time is to convince the Indians within the limits of this department that we are able to punish any of them who may molest travellers across the Plains, or who may commit other hostilities against the whites. We desire to avoid if possible any troubles with the Indians, and to treat them with justice, and according to the requirements of our treaties with them; and I wish especially in my dealings with them to act through the agents of the Indian Department as far as it is possible so to do. . . . If you as their agent can arrange these matters satisfactorily with them, we will be pleased to defer the whole subject to you. In case of your inability to do so, I would be pleased to have you accompany me when I visit the country of your tribes, to show that the officers of the Government are acting in harmony. I will be pleased to talk with any of the chiefs whom we may meet."

     Surely there was no hostile intent here expressed. In another communication to the agents of different tribes, General Hancock, in referring to certain murders which had been recently committed, and which had been traced to the tribes in question, said: "These cases will now be left entirely in the hands of the Indian Department, and I do not expect to make war against any of the Indians of your agency unless they commence war against us."

     It may be asked, what had the Indians done to make this incursion necessary? They had been guilty of numerous thefts and murders during the preceding summer and fall, for none of which had they been called to account. They had attacked the stations of the overland mail route, killed the employees, burned the stations, and captured the stock. Citizens had been murdered in their homes on the frontier of Kansas; murders had been committed on the Arkansas route. The principal perpetrators of these acts were the Cheyennes and Sioux. The agent of the former, if not a party to the murder on the Arkansas, knew who the guilty persons were, yet took no steps to bring the murderers to punishment. Such a course would have interfered with his trade and profits. It was not to punish for these sins of the past that the expedition was set on foot, but rather by its imposing appearance and its early presence in the Indian country to check or intimidate the Indians from a repetition of their late conduct. This was deemed particularly necessary from the fact that the various tribes from which we had greatest cause to anticipate trouble had during the winter, through their leading chiefs and warriors, threatened that as soon as the grass was up in the spring a combined outbreak would take place along our entire frontier, and especially against the main routes of travel. To assemble the tribes for the desired council, word was sent early in March to the agents of those tribes whom it was desirable to meet. The agents sent runners to the villages inviting them to meet us at some point near the Arkansas River.

     General Hancock, with the artillery and six companies of infantry, reached Fort Riley, Kansas, from Fort Leavenworth by rail the last week in March; here he was joined by four companies of the Seventh Cavalry and an additional company of the Thirty-seventh Infantry. It was at this point that I joined the expedition. And as a very fair sample of the laurels which military men may win in an Indian campaign by a zealous discharge of what they deem their duty, I will here state, in parenthesis, that after engaging in the expedition, some of the events of which I am about to relate, and undergoing fatigue, privations, and dangers equal to those of a campaign during the Rebellion, I found myself at the termination of the campaign again at Fort Riley in arrest. This is not mentioned in a fault-finding spirit. I have no fault to find. It is said that blessings sometimes come in disguise. Such proved to be true in this instance, although I must say the disguise for some little time was most perfect.

     From Fort Riley we marched to Fort Harker, a distance of ninety miles, where our force was strengthened by the addition of two more troops of cavalry. Halting only long enough to replenish our supplies, we next directed our march toward Fort Larned, near the Arkansas, about seventy miles to the southeast. A march from the 3d to the 7th of April brought us to Fort Larned. The agent for the Comanches and Kiowas accompanied us. At Fort Larned we found the agent of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Apaches; from the latter we learned that he had, as requested, sent runners to the chiefs of his agency inviting them to the council, and that they had agreed to assemble near Fort Lamed on the 10th of the month, requesting that the expedition would remain there until that date. To this request General Hancock acceded.

     On the 9th of April, while encamped awaiting the council, which was to be held the following day, a terrible snow-storm occurred, lasting all day until late in the evening. It was our good fortune to be in camp rather than on the march; had it been otherwise, we could not well have escaped without loss of life from the severe cold and blinding snow. The cavalry horses suffered seriously, and were only preserved by doubling their ration of oats, while to prevent their being frozen during the intensely cold night which followed, the guards were instructed to keep passing along the picket lines with a whip, and to keep the horses moving constantly. The snow was eight inches in depth. The council, which was to take place the next day, had to be postponed until the return of good weather. Now began the display of a kind of diplomacy for which the Indian is peculiar. The Cheyennes and a band of the Sioux were encamped on Pawnee Fork, about thirty miles above Fort Larned. They neither desired to move nearer to us nor have us approach nearer to them. On the morning of the they sent us word that they had started to visit us, but discovering a large herd of buffalo near their camp, they had stopped to procure a supply of meat. This message was not received with much confidence, nor was a buffaloes hunt deemed of sufficient importance to justify the Indians in breaking their engagement. General Hancock decided, however, to delay another day, when, if the Indians still failed to come in, he would move his command to the vicinity of their village and hold the conference there.

     Orders were issued on the evening of the 12th for the march to be resumed on the following day. Later in the evening two chiefs of the Dog Soldiers, a band composed of the most warlike and troublesome Indians on the Plains, chiefly made up of Cheyennes, visited our camp. They were accompanied by a dozen warriors, and expressed a desire to hold a conference with General Hancock, to which he assented. A large council fire was built in front of the General's tent, and all the officers of his command assembled there. A tent had been erected for the accommodation of the chiefs a short distance from the General's. Before they could feel equal to the occasion, and in order to obtain time to collect their thoughts, they desired that supper might be prepared for them, which was done. When finally ready they advanced from their tent to the council fire in single file, accompanied by their agent and an interpreter. Arrived at the fire, another brief delay ensued. No matter how pressing or momentous the occasion, an Indian invariably declines to engage in a council until he has filled his pipe and gone through with the important ceremony of a smoke. This attended to, the chiefs announced that they were ready to "talk." They were then introduced to the principal officers of the group, and seemed much struck with the flashy uniforms of the few artillery officers who were present in all the glory of red horsehair plumes, aigulets, etc. The chiefs seemed puzzled to determine whether these insignia designated chieftains or medicine men.

     General Hancock began the conference by a speech in which he explained to the Indians his purpose in coming to see them, and what he expected of them in the future. He particularly informed them that he was not there to make war, but to promote peace. Then expressing his regret that more of the chiefs had not visited him, he announced his intention of proceeding on the morrow with his command to the vicinity of their village and there holding a council with all of the chiefs. Tall Bull, a fine, warlike-looking chieftain, replied to General Hancock, but his speech contained nothing important, being made up of allusions to the growing scar city of the buffaloes, his love for the white man, and the usual hint that a donation in the way of refreshments would be highly acceptable; he added that he would have nothing new to say at the village.

     Several years prior to the events referred to, our people had captured from the Indians two children. I believe they were survivors of the Chivington massacre at Sand Creek, Colorado. These children had been kindly cared for, and were being taught to lead a civilized mode of life. Their relatives, however, made demands for them, and we by treaty stipulation agreed to deliver them up. One of them, a little girl, had been cared for kindly in a family living near Denver, Colorado; the other, a boy, had been carried East to the States, and it was with great difficulty that the Government was able to learn his whereabouts and obtain possession of him. He was finally discovered, however, and sent to General Hancock, to be by him delivered up to his tribe. He accompanied the expedition, and was quite a curiosity for the time being. He was dressed comfortably, in accordance with civilized custom; and, having been taken from his people at so early an age, was apparently satisfied with the life he led. The Indians who came to our camp expressed a great desire to see him, and when he was brought into their presence they exhibited no emotion such as white men under similar circumstances might be expected to show. They evidently were not pleased to see him clothed in the white man's dress. The little fellow, then some eight or ten years of age, seemed little disposed to go back to his people. I saw him the following year in the village of his tribe; he then had lost all trace of civilization, had forgotten his knowledge of the English language, and was as shy and suspicious of the white man as any of his dusky comrades. From older persons of the tribe we learned that their first act after obtaining possession of him was to deprive him of his "store clothes" and in their stead substitute the blanket and leggings.

     Rightly concluding that the Indians did not intend to come to our camp as they had at first agreed to, it was decided to move nearer to their village. On the morning following the conference held with the two chiefs of the Dog Soldiers, our entire force therefore marched from Fort Larned up Pawnee Fork in the direction of the main village, encamping the first night about twenty-one miles from the fort. Several parties of Indians were seen in our advance during the day, evidently watching our movements; while a heavy smoke, seen to rise in the direction of the Indian village, indicated that something more than usual was going on. This smoke we afterwards learned arose from the burning grass. The Indians, thinking to prevent us from encamping in their vicinity, had set fire to and burned all the grass for miles in the direction from which they expected us. Before we arrived at our camping-ground we were met by several chiefs and warriors belonging to the Cheyennes and Sioux. Among the chiefs were Pawnee Killer of the Sioux and White Horse of the Cheyennes.

     It was arranged that these chiefs should accept our hospitality and remain with us during the night, and in the morning all the chiefs of the two tribes then in the village were to come to General Hancock's head quarters and hold a council. On the morning of the 14th Pawnee Killer left our camp at an early hour, for the purpose, as he said, of going to the village to bring in the other chiefs to the council. Nine o'clock had been agreed upon as the hour at which the council should assemble. The hour came, but the chiefs did not. Now an Indian council is not only often an important but always an interesting occasion. And, somewhat like a famous recipe for making a certain dish, the first thing necessary in holding an Indian council is to get the Indian. Half-past nine o'clock came, and still we were lacking this one important part of the council. At this juncture Bull Bear, an influential chief among the Cheyennes, came in and reported that the chiefs were on their way to our camp, but would not be able to reach it for some time. This was a mere artifice to secure delay. General Hancock informed Bull Bear that as the chiefs could not arrive for some time, he would move his forces up the stream nearer to the village, and the council could be held at our camp that night. To this proposition Bull Bear gave his assent.

     At 11 A.M. we resumed the march, and had proceeded but a few miles when we witnessed one of the finest and most imposing military displays, prepared according to the Indian art of war, which it has ever been my lot to behold. It was nothing more nor less than an Indian line of battle drawn directly across our line of march; as if to say: thus far and no farther. Most of the Indians were mounted; all were bedecked in their brightest colors, their heads crowned with the brilliant war- bonnet, their lances bearing the crimson pennant, bows strung, and quivers full of barbed arrows. In addition to these weapons, which with the hunting-knife and tomahawk are considered as forming the armament of the warrior, each one was supplied with either a breech-loading rifle or revolver, sometimes with both-the latter obtained through the wise foresight and strong love of fair play which prevails in the Indian Department, which, seeing that its wards are determined to fight, is equally determined that there shall be no advantage taken, but that the two sides shall be armed alike; proving, too, in this manner the wonderful liberality of our Government, which not only is able to furnish its soldiers with the latest improved style of breech-loaders to defend it and themselves, but is equally able and willing to give the same pattern of arms to their common foe. The only difference is, that the soldier, if he loses his weapon, is charged double price for it; while to avoid making any such charge against the Indian, his weapons are given him without conditions attached.

     In the line of battle before us there were several hundred Indians, while farther to the rear and at different distances were other organized bodies acting apparently as reserves. Still farther were small detachments who seemed to perform the duty of couriers, and were held in readiness to convey messages to the village. The ground beyond was favorable for an extended view, allowing the eye to sweep the plain for several miles. As far as the eye could reach small groups or individuals could be seen in the direction of the village; these were evidently parties of observation, whose sole object was to learn the result of our meeting with the main body and hasten with the news to the village.

     For a few moments appearances seemed to foreshadow anything but a peaceful issue. The infantry was in the advance, followed closely by the artillery, while my command, the cavalry, was marching on the flank. General Hancock, who was riding with his staff at the head of the column, coming suddenly in view of the wild fantastic battle array, which extended far to our right and left and not more than half a mile in our front, hastily sent orders to the infantry, artillery, and cavalry to form line of battle, evidently determined that if war was intended we should be prepared. The cavalry, being the last to form on the right, came into line on a gallop, and, without waiting to align the ranks carefully, the command was given to draw saber. As the bright blades flashed from their scabbards into the morning sunlight, and the infantry brought their muskets to a carry, a most beautiful and wonderfully interesting sight was spread out before and around us, presenting a contrast which, to a military eye, could but be striking.

     Here in battle array, facing each other, were the representatives of civilized and barbarous warfare. The one, with but few modifications, stood clothed in the same rude style of dress, bearing the same patterned shield and weapon that his ancestors had borne centuries before; the other confronted him in the dress and supplied with the implements of war which the most advanced stage of civilization had pronounced the most perfect. Was the comparative superiority of these two classes to be subjected to the mere test of war here? Such seemed the prevailing impression on both sides. All was eager anxiety and expectation. Neither side seemed to comprehend the object or intentions of the other; each was waiting for the other to deliver the first blow. A more beautiful battle ground could not have been chosen. Not a bush or even the slightest irregularity of ground intervened between the two lines which now stood frowning and facing each other. Chiefs could be seen riding along the line as if directing and exhorting their braves to deeds of heroism.

     After a few moments of painful suspense General Hancock, accompanied by General A. J. Smith 6 and other officers, rode forward, Hancock very naturally inquired the object of the hostile attitude displayed before us, saying to the chiefs that if war was their object we were ready then and there to participate. Their immediate answer was that they did not desire war, but were peacefully disposed. They were then told that we would continue our march toward the village and encamp near it, but would establish such regulations that none of the soldiers would be permitted to approach or disturb them. An arrangement was then effected by which the chiefs were to assemble at General Hancock's headquarters as soon as our camp was pitched. The interview then terminated, and the Indians moved off in the direction of their village, we following leisurely in rear.

     A march of a few miles brought us in sight of the village, which was situated in a beautiful grove on the banks of the stream up which we were marching. The village consisted of upwards of three hundred lodges, a small fraction over half belonging to the Cheyennes, the remainder to the Sioux. Like all Indian encampments, the ground chosen was a most romantic spot, and at the same time fulfilled in every respect the requirements of a good camping-ground; wood, water, and grass were abundant. The village was placed on a wide, level plateau, while on the north and west, at a short distance off, rose high bluffs, which admirably served as a shelter against the cold winds which at that season of the year prevail from these directions. Our tents were pitched within half a mile of the village. Guards were placed between to prevent intrusion upon our part. A few of the Indian ponies found grazing near our camp were caught and returned to them, to show that our intentions were at least neighborly. We had scarcely pitched our tents when Roman Nose, Bull Bear, Gray Beard, and Medicine Wolf, all prominent chiefs of the Cheyennes, came into camp with the information that upon our approach their women and children had all fled from the village, alarmed by the presence of so many soldiers, and imagining a second Chivington massacre to be intended.

     General Hancock insisted that they should all return, promising protection and good treatment to all; that if the camp was abandoned he would hold it responsible. The chiefs then stated their belief in their ability to recall the fugitives, could they be furnished with horses to overtake them. This was accordingly done, and two of them set out mounted on two of our horses. An agreement was also entered into at the same time that one of our interpreters, Ed. Guerrier, a half breed Cheyenne who was in the employ of the Government, should remain in the village and report every two hours as to whether any Indians were leaving the village. This was about seven o'clock in the evening. At half past nine the half-breed returned to headquarters with the intelligence that all the chiefs and warriors were saddling up to leave, under circumstances showing that they had no intention of returning, such as packing up such articles as could be carried with them, and cutting and destroying their lodges this last being done to obtain small pieces for temporary shelter.

     I had retired to my tent, which was located some few hundred yards from that of General Hancock, when a messenger from the latter awakened me with the information that General Hancock desired my presence at his tent. Imagining a movement on the part of the Indians, I made no delay in responding to the summons. General Hancock briefly stated the situation of affairs, and directed me to mount my command as quickly and as SILENTLY as possible, surround the Indian village, and prevent the departure of its inhabitants. Easily said, but not so easily done. Under ordinary circumstances, silence not being necessary, I could have returned to my camp, and by a few blasts from the trumpet placed every soldier in his saddle almost as quickly as it has taken time to write this sentence. No bugle calls must be sounded; we were to adopt some of the stealth of the Indian-how successfully remains to be seen.

     By this time every soldier, officers as well as men, was in his tent sound asleep. How to awaken them and impart to each the necessary order? First going to the tent of the adjutant and arousing him, I procured an experienced assistant in my labors. Next the captains of companies were awakened and orders imparted to them. They in turn transmitted the order to the first sergeant, who similarly aroused the men. It has often surprised me to observe the alacrity with which disciplined soldiers, experienced in campaigning, will hasten to prepare themselves for the march in an emergency like this. No questions are asked, no time is wasted. A soldier's toilet on an Indian campaign is a simple affair, and requires little time for arranging. His clothes are gathered up hurriedly, no matter how, so long as he retains possession of them. The first object is to get his horse saddled and bridled, and until this is done his own toilet is a matter of secondary importance, and one button or hook must do the duty of half a dozen. When his horse is ready for the mount the rider will be seen completing his own equipment; stray buttons will receive attention, arms be over hauled, spurs restrapped; then, if there still remain a few spare moments, the homely black pipe is filled and lighted, and the soldier's preparation is completed.

     The night was all that could be desired for the success of our enterprise. The air was mild and pleasant; the moon, although nearly full, kept almost constantly behind the clouds, as if to screen us in our hazardous under taking. I say hazardous, because there were none of us who imagined for one moment that if the Indians discovered us in our attempt to surround them and their village, we would escape without a fight-a fight, too, in which the Indians, sheltered behind the trunks of the stately forest trees under which their lodges were pitched, would possess all the advantage. General Hancock, anticipating that the Indians would discover our approach, and that a fight would ensue, ordered the artillery and infantry under arms to await the result of our moonlight venture.

     My command was soon in the saddle, and silently making its way toward the village. Instructions had been given forbidding all conversation except in a whisper. Sabers were so disposed of as to prevent clanging. Taking a camp-fire which we could see in the village as our guiding point, we made a detour so as to place the village between our selves and the infantry. Occasionally the moon would peep out from behind the clouds and enable us to catch a hasty glance at the village. Here and there under the thick foliage we could see the white, conical-shaped lodges. Were their inmates slumbering, unaware of our close proximity, or were their dusky defenders concealed, as well they might have been, along the banks of the Pawnee, quietly awaiting our approach, and prepared to greet us with their well-known war-whoop? These were questions that were probably suggested to the mind of each individual of my command. If we were discovered approaching in the stealthy, suspicious manner which characterized our movements, the hour being midnight, it would require a more confiding nature than that of the Indian to assign a friendly or peaceful motive to our conduct. The same flashes of moonlight which gave us hurried glimpses of the village enabled us to see our own column of horsemen stretching its silent length far into the dim darkness, and winding its course, like some huge anaconda about to envelop its victim.

     The method by which it was determined to establish a cordon of armed troopers about the fated village was to direct the march in a circle with the village in the center, the commanding officer of each rear troop halting his command at the proper point and deploying his men similarly to a line of skirmishers-the entire circle, when thus formed, facing toward the village, and distant from it perhaps a few hundred yards. No sooner was our line completely formed than the moon, as if deeming darkness no longer essential to our success, appeared from behind her screen and lighted up the entire scene. And a beautiful scene it was. The great circle of troops, each individual of which sat on his steed silent as a statue, the beautiful and in some places dense foliage of the cotton trees sheltering and shading the bleached, skin-clad lodges of the red man, while in the midst of all murmured undisturbedly in its channel the little stream on whose banks the village was located, all combined to produce an artistic effect as beautiful as it was interesting. But we were not there to study artistic effects. The next step was to determine whether we had captured an inhabited village, involving almost necessarily a fierce conflict with its savage occupants, or whether the red man had again proved too wily and crafty for his more civilized brothers.

     Directing the entire line of troopers to remain mounted with carbines held at the "advance," I dismounted, and taking with me Guerrier, the half-breed, Dr. Coates, one of our medical staff, and Lieutenant Moylan, the adjutant, proceeded on our hands and knees toward the village. The prevailing opinion was that the Indians were still asleep. I desired to approach near enough to the lodges to enable the half-breed to hail the village in the Indian tongue, and if possible establish friendly relations at once. It became a question of prudence with us, which we discussed in whispers as we proceeded on our "tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are creeping," how far from our horses and how near to the village we dared to go. If so few of us were discovered entering the village in this questionable manner it was more than probable that, like the returners of stolen property, we should be suitably rewarded and no questions asked. The opinions of Guerrier, the half-breed, were eagerly sought for and generally deferred to. His wife, a full-blooded Cheyenne, was a resident of the village. This with him was an additional reason for wishing a peaceful termination to our efforts. When we had passed over two-thirds of the distance between our horses and the village, it was deemed best to make our presence known. Thus far not a sound had been heard to disturb the stillness of the night. Guerrier called out at the top of his voice in the Cheyenne tongue. The only response came from the throats of a score or more of Indian dogs which set up a fierce barking. At the same time one or two of our party asserted that they saw figures moving beneath the trees. Guerrier repeated his summons, but with no better result than before.

     A hurried consultation ensued. The presence of so many dogs in the village was regarded by the half-breed as almost positive assurance that the Indians were still there. Yet it was difficult to account for their silence. Guerrier in a loud tone repeated who he was, and that our mission was a friendly one. Still no answer. He then gave it as his opinion that the Indians were on the alert, and were probably waiting in the shadow of the trees for us to approach nearer, when they would pounce upon us. This comforting opinion induced another conference. We must ascertain the truth of the matter; our party could do this as well as a larger number, and to go back and send another party in our stead could not be thought of.

     Forward was the verdict. Each one grasped his revolver, resolved to do his best, whether it was in running or fighting. I think most of us would have preferred to take our own chances at running. We had approached near enough to see that some of the lodges were detached some distance from the main encampment. Selecting the nearest of these, we directed our advance on it. While all of us were full of the spirit of adventure, and were further encouraged with the idea that we were in the discharge of our duty, there was scarcely one of us who would not have felt more comfortable if we could have got back to our horses without loss of pride. Yet nothing, under the circumstances, but a positive order would have induced any one to withdraw. The doctor, who was a great wag, even in moments of greatest danger, could not restrain his propensities in this direction. When everything before us was being weighed and discussed in the most serious manner, he remarked: "General, this recalls to my mind those beautiful lines:

Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in thy flight,
Make me a child again just for one night-
this night of all others."

     We shall meet the doctor again before daylight, but under different circumstances.

Previous   Next   Table of Contents