IN concluding to go into camp for a brief period on the banks of the Arkansas two important objects were in view. first, to devote the time to refitting, reorganizing, and renovating generally that portion of the command which was destined to continue active operations during the inclement winter season; second, to defer our movement against the hostile tribes until the last traces of the fail season had disappeared and winter in all its bitter force should be upon us. We had crossed weapons with the Indians time and again during the mild summer months when the rich verdure of the valleys served as bountiful and inexhaustible granaries in supplying forage to their ponies, and the immense herds of buffaloes and other varieties of game roaming undisturbed over the Plains supplied all the food that was necessary to subsist the war parties and at the same time allow their villages to move freely from point to point; and the experience of both officers and men went to prove that in attempting to fight Indians in the summer season we were yielding to them the advantages of climate and supplies; we were meeting them on ground of their own selection, and at a time when every natural circumstance controlling the result of a campaign was wholly in their favor; and as a just consequence the troops, in nearly all these contests with the red men, had come off second best.
During the grass season nearly all Indian villages are migratory, seldom remaining longer than a few weeks at most in any one locality, depending entirely upon the supply of grass; when this becomes exhausted the lodges are taken down and the entire tribe or band moves to some other point, chosen with reference to the supply of grass, water, wood, and game. The distance to the new location is usually but a few miles. During the fall, when the buffaloes are in the best condition to furnish food and the hides are suitable to be dressed as robes, or to furnish covering for the lodges, the grand annual hunts of the tribes take place, by which the supply of meat for the winter is procured. This being done, the chiefs determine upon the points at which the village shall be located; if the tribe is a large one, the village is often subdivided, one portion or band remaining at one point, other portions choosing localities within a circuit of thirty or forty miles.
Except during seasons of the most perfect peace, and when it is the firm intention of the chiefs to remain on friendly terms with the whites at least during the winter and early spring months, the localities selected for their winter resorts are remote from the military posts and frontier settlements, and the knowledge which might lead to them carefully withheld from every white man. Even during a moderate winter season it is barely possible for the Indians to obtain sufficient food for their ponies to keep the latter in anything above a starving condition. Many of the ponies actually die from want of forage, while the remaining ones become so weak and attenuated that it requires several weeks of good grazing in the spring to fit them for service - particularly such service as is required from the war ponies.
Guided by these facts, it was evident that if we chose to avail ourselves of the assistance of so exacting and terrible an ally as the frosts of winter - an ally who would be almost as uninviting to friends as to foes we might deprive our enemy of his points of advantage and force him to engage in a combat in which we should do for him what he had hitherto done for us; compel him to fight upon ground and under circumstances of our own selection. To decide upon making a winter campaign against the Indians was certainly in accordance with that maxim in the art of war which directs one to do that which the enemy neither expects nor desires to be done. At the same time it would dispel the old-fogy idea, which was not without supporters in the army and which was confidently relied on by the Indians themselves, that the winter season was an insurmountable barrier to the prosecution of a successful campaign. But aside from the delay which was necessary to be submitted to before the forces of winter should produce their natural but desired effect upon our enemies, there was much to be done on our part before we could be ready to cooperate in an offensive movement.
The Seventh Cavalry, which was to operate in one body during the coming campaign, was a comparatively new regiment, dating its existence as an organization from July, 1866. The officers and companies had not served together before with much over half their full force. A large number of fresh horses were required and obtained; these had to be drilled. All the horses in the command were to be newly shod, and an extra fore and hind shoe fitted to each horse; these, with the necessary nails, were to be carried by each trooper in the saddle pocket. It has been seen that the men lacked accuracy in the use of their carbines. To correct this, two drills in target practice were ordered each day. The companies were marched separately to the ground where the targets had been erected and under the supervision of the troop officers were practised daily in firing at targets placed one hundred, two hundred, and three hundred yards distant. The men had been previously informed that out of the eight hundred men composing the command a picked corps of sharpshooters would be selected, numbering forty men and made up of the forty best marksmen in the regiment.
As an incentive to induce every enlisted man, whether non-commissioned officer or private, to strive for appointment in the sharpshooters it was given out from headquarters that the men so chosen would be regarded, as they really would deserve to be, as the eliteof the command; not only regarded as such, but treated with corresponding consideration. For example, they were to be marched as a separate organization, independently of the column, a matter which in itself is not so trifling as it may seem to those who have never participated in a long and wearisome march. Then again no guard or picket duty was to be required of the sharpshooters, which alone was enough to encourage every trooper to excel as a marksman. Besides these considerations, it was known that, should we encounter the enemy, the sharpshooters would be most likely to be assigned a post of honor and would have superior opportunities for acquiring distinction and rendering good service. The most generous as well as earnest rivalry at once sprung up, not only between the various companies, as to which should secure the largest representation among the sharpshooters, but the rivalry extended to individuals of the same company, each of whom seemed desirous of the honor of being considered as one of the best shots.
To be able to determine the matter correctly a record of every shot fired by each man of the command throughout a period of upwards of one month was carefully kept. It was surprising to observe the marked and rapid improvement in the accuracy of aim attained by the men generally during this period. Two drills at target practice each day, and allowing each man an opportunity at every drill to become familiar with the handling of his carbine and in judging of the distances of the different targets, worked a most satisfactory improvement in the average accuracy of fire; so that at the end of the period named, by taking the record of each trooper's target practice I was enabled to select forty marksmen in whose ability to bring down any warrior, whether mounted or not, who might challenge us, as we had often been challenged before, I felt every confidence.
They were a superb body of men, and felt the greatest pride in their distinction. A sufficient number of non-commissioned officers who had proved their skill as marksmen were included in the organization-among them, fortunately a first sergeant whose expertness in the use of any firearm was well established throughout the command. I remember having seen him, while riding at full speed, bring down four buffaloes by four consecutive shots from his revolver. When it is remembered that even experienced hunters are usually compelled to fire half a dozen shots or more to secure a single buffalo, this statement will appear the more remarkable. The forty sharpshooters being supplied with their complement of sergeants and corporals and thus constituting an organization by themselves, only lacked one important element, a suitable commander; a leader who, aside from being a thorough soldier, should possess traits of character which would not only enable him to employ skilfully the superior abilities of those who were to constitute his command, but at the same time feel that esprit de corps which is so necessary to both officers and soldiers when success is to be achieved.
Fortunately, in my command were a considerable number of young officers, nearly all of whom were full of soldierly ambition and eager to grasp any opportunity which opened the way to honorable preferment. The difficulty was not in finding an officer properly qualified in every way to command the sharpshooters, but, among so many who I felt confident would render a good account of themselves if assigned to that position, to designate a leader par excellence. The choice fell upon Colonel Cooke, a young officer whose acquaintance the reader will remember to have made in connection with the plucky fight he had with the Indians near Fort Wallace the preceding summer. Colonel Cooke, at the breaking out of the rebellion, although then but a lad of sixteen years, entered one of the New York cavalry regiments, commencing at the foot of the ladder. He served in the cavalry arm of the service throughout the war, participating in Sheridan's closing battles near Richmond, his services and gallantry resulting in his promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. While there were many of the young officers who would have been pleased if they instead of another had been chosen, there was no one in the command, perhaps, who did not regard the selection as a most judicious one. Future events only confirmed this judgment.
After everything in the way of reorganization and refitting which might be considered as actually necessary had been ordered another step, bordering on the ornamental perhaps although in itself useful, was taken. This was what is termed in the cavalry "coloring the horses," which does not imply, as might be inferred from the expression, that we actually changed the color of our horses, but merely classified or arranged them throughout the different squadrons and troops according to the color. Hitherto the horses had been distributed to the various companies of the regiment indiscriminately, regardless of color, so that in each company and squadron horses were found of every color. For uniformity of appearance it was decided to devote one afternoon to a general exchange of horses.
The troop commanders were assembled at headquarters and allowed, in the order of their rank, to select the color they preferred. This being done, every public horse in the command was led out and placed in line: the grays collected at one point, the bays, of which there was a great preponderance in numbers, at another, the blacks at another, the sorrels by themselves; then the chestnuts, the blacks, the browns; and last of all came what were jocularly designated the "brindles," being the odds and ends so far as colors were concerned-roans and other mixed colors-the junior troop commander, of course, becoming the reluctant recipient of these last, valuable enough except as to color.
The exchanges having been completed, the men of each troop led away to their respective picket or stable lines their newly-acquired chargers. Arriving upon their company grounds, another assignment in detail was made by the troop commanders. First, the non-commissioned officers were permitted to select their horses in the order of their rank; then the remaining horses were distributed among the troopers generally, giving to the best soldiers the best horses. It was surprising to witness what a great improvement in the handsome appearance of the command was effected by this measure. The change when first proposed had not been greeted with much favor by many of the troopers, who by long service and association in time of danger had become warmly attached to their horses; but the same reasons which had endeared the steed to the soldier in the one instance soon operate in the same manner to render the new acquaintances fast friends.
Among the other measures adopted for carrying the war to our enemy's doors, and in a manner fight the devil with fire, was the employment of Indian allies. These were to be procured from the reservation Indians, tribes who, from engaging in long and devastating wars with the whites and with other hostile bands had become so reduced in power as to be glad to avail themselves of the protection and means of subsistence offered by the reservation plan. These tribes were most generally the objects of hatred in the eyes of their more powerful and independent neighbors of the Plains and the latter, when making their raids and bloody incursions upon the white settlements of the frontiers, did not hesitate to visit their wrath equally upon whites and reservation Indians. To these smaller tribes it was a welcome opportunity to be permitted to ally themselves to the forces of the Government and endeavor to obtain that satisfaction which, acting alone, they were powerless to secure. The tribes against which we proposed to operate during the approaching campaign had been particularly cruel and relentless in their wanton attacks upon the Osages and Kaws, two tribes living peaceably and contentedly on well-chosen reservations in southwestern Kansas and the northern portion of the Indian Territory.
No assistance in fighting the hostile tribes was desired, but it was believed, and correctly too, that in finding the enemy and in discovering the location of his winter hiding-places, the experience and natural tact and cunning of the Indians would be a powerful auxiliary if we could enlist them in our cause. An officer was sent to the village of the Osages to negotiate with the head chiefs and was successful in his mission, returning with a delegation consisting of the second chief in rank of the Osage tribe, named Little Beaver, Hard Rope, the counsellor or wise man of his people, and eleven warriors, with an interpreter. In addition to the monthly rate of compensation which the Government agreed to give them, they were also to be armed, clothed, and mounted at government expense.
Advices from General Sheridan's headquarters, then at Fort Hays, Kansas, were received early in November, informing us that the time for resuming active operations was near at hand and urging the early completion of all preliminaries looking to that end. Fort Dodge, on the Arkansas River, was the extreme post south in the direction proposed to be taken by us, until the Red River should be crossed and the northwestern posts of Texas could be reached, which were farther south than our movements would probably carry us. To use Fort Dodge as our base of supplies and keep open to that point our long line of communications would have been, considering the character of the country and that of the enemy to be encountered, an impracticable matter with our force. To remedy this a temporary base was decided upon, to be established about one hundred miles south of Fort Dodge at some point yet to be determined, from which we could obtain our supplies during the winter.
With this object in view an immense train consisting of about four hundred army wagons was loaded with forage, rations, and clothing for the supply of the troops composing the expedition. A guard composed of a few companies of infantry was detailed to accompany the trains and to garrison the point which was to be selected as the new base of supplies. Everything being in readiness, the cavalry moved from its camp on the north bank of the Arkansas on the morning of the 12th of November and after fording the river began its march toward the Indian Territory. That night we encamped on Mulberry Creek, where we were joined by the infantry and the supply train. General Sully, commanding the district, here took active command of the combined forces. Much anxiety existed in the minds of some of the officers, remembering no doubt their late experience, lest the Indians should attack us while on the march, when, hampered as we should be in the protection of so large a train of wagons, we might fare badly. The country over which we were to march was favorable to us, as we were able to move our trains in four parallel columns formed close together. This arrangement shortened our flanks and rendered them less exposed to attack.
The following morning after reaching Mulberry Creek the march was resumed soon after daylight, the usual order being: the four hundred wagons of the supply train and those belonging to the troops formed in four equal columns; in advance of the wagons at a proper distance rode the advance guard of cavalry; a corresponding cavalry force formed the rear guard. The remainder of the cavalry was divided into two equal parts, and these parts again divided into three equal detachments; these six detachments were disposed of along the flanks of the column, three on a side, maintaining a distance between themselves and the train of from a quarter to half a mile, while each of them had flanking parties thrown out opposite the train, rendering it impossible for an enemy to appear in any direction without timely notice being received.
The infantry, on beginning the march in the morning, were distributed throughout the train in such manner that should the enemy attack, their services could be rendered most effective. Unaccustomed, however, to field service, particularly marching, the infantry apparently were only able to march for a few hours in the early part of the day, when, becoming weary, they would straggle from their companies and climb into the covered wagons, from which there was no determined effort to rout them. In the afternoon there would be little evidence perceptible to the eye that infantry formed any portion of the expedition save here and there the butt of a musket or point of a bayonet peeping out from under the canvas wagoncovers, or perhaps an officer of infantry "treading alone his native heath," or better still, mounted on an Indian pony, the result of some barter with the Indians when times were a little more peaceable and neither wars nor rumors of wars disturbed the monotony of garrison life.
Nothing occurred giving us any clue to the whereabouts of Indians until we had been marching several days and were moving down the valley of Beaver Creek, when our Indian guides discovered the trail of an Indian war party, numbering, according to their estimate, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty warriors, mounted and moving in a northeasterly direction. The trail was not over twenty-four hours old, and by following it to the point where it crossed Beaver Creek almost the exact numbers and character of the party could be determined from the fresh signs at the crossing. Everything indicated that it was a war party sent from the very tribes we were in search of; and the object, judging from the direction they had been moving and other circumstances, was to make a raid on the settlements in western Kansas.
As soon as we had reached camp for the night, which was but a short distance from the point at which we crossed the Indian trail, I addressed a communication to the senior officer, who was commanding the expedition, and, after stating the facts learned in connection with the trail, requested that I might be permitted to take the cavalry belonging to the expedition, leaving the trains to be guarded by the infantry, whose numbers were ample for this purpose, and with the Indian scouts as trailers set out early the next morning, following the trail of the war party, not in the direction taken by them, as this would be an idle attempt, but in the direction from which they came, expressing the conviction that such a course would in all probability lead us direct to the villages of the marauders, which was the ultimate object of the movement we were thus engaged in. By so doing we might be able to strike a prompt blow against our enemies and visit swift punishment upon the war party, whose hostile purposes were but too evident.
In these views I was sustained by the opinions of our Indian allies, who expressed confidence in their ability to take the trail and follow it back to the villages. The officer to whom my application was submitted, and whose sanction was necessary before I could be authorized to execute my proposed plan, returned an elaborate argument attempting to prove that no successful results could possibly attend the undertaking I had suggested, and ended with the remark that it was absurd to suppose for one moment that a large military force such as ours was, and accompanied by such an immense train of wagons, could move into the heart of the Indian country and their presence remain undiscovered by the watchful savages for even a single day. This specious reasoning sounded well-read well-but it gave no satisfaction to the men and officers of the cavalry, all of whom thought they saw a fine opportunity neglected. However, we shall strike this trail again, but on different ground and under different circumstances. Great as was our temporary disappointment at being restrained, the result satisfied all of us that, for very different reasons from those adduced to withhold us from making the proposed movement, all, as the sequel proved, was for the best.
On the sixth day after leaving our camp on the north bank of the Arkansas the expedition arrived at the point which was chosen as our future base, where the infantry were to remain and erect quarters for themselves and storehouses for the military supplies. The point selected-which was then given the name it now bears, Camp Supply-was in the angle formed by Wolf and Beaver creeks, about one mile above the junction of these two streams. These streams by their union form the north fork of the Canadian River. The exact geographical location of the point referred to is lat. 36 deg. 30 min., long. 99 deg. 30 min., being in the neighbor-hood of one hundred miles in a southerly direction from Fort Dodge on the Arkansas.
We of the cavalry knew that our detention at this point would be but brief. Within two or three days of our arrival the hearts of the entire command were gladdened by the sudden appearance in our midst of strong reinforcements. These reinforcements consisted of General Sheridan and staff. Hearing of his near approach, I mounted my horse and was soon galloping beyond the limits of camp to meet him. If there were any persons in the command who hitherto had been in doubt as to whether the proposed winter campaign was to be a reality or otherwise, such persons soon had cause to dispel all mistrust on this point. Selecting from the train a sufficient number of the best teams and wagons to transport our supplies of rations and forage, enough to subsist the command upon for a period of thirty days, our arrangements were soon completed by which the cavalry, consisting of eleven companies and numbering between eight and nine hundred men, were ready to resume the march. In addition we were to be accompanied by a detachment of scouts, among the number being California Joe; also our Indian allies from the Osage tribe, headed by Little Beaver and Hard Rope. As the country in which we were to operate was beyond the limits of the district which constituted the command of General Sully, that officer was relieved from further duty with the troops composing the expedition and in accordance with his instructions withdrew from Camp Supply and returned to his headquarters at Fort Harker, Kansas, accompanied by Colonel Keogh, Seventh Cavalry, then holding the position of staff officer at district headquarters.
After remaining at Camp Supply six days nothing was required but the formal order directing the movement to commence. This came in the shape of a brief letter of instructions from Department headquarters. Of course, as nothing was known positively as to the exact whereabouts of the Indian villages, the instructions had to be general in terms. In substance, I was to march my command in search of the winter hidingplaces of the hostile Indians and wherever found to administer such punishment for past depredations as my force was able to. On the evening of November orders were issued to be in readiness to move promptly at daylight the following morning. That night, in the midst of other final preparations for a long separation from all means of communication with absent friends, most of us found time to hastily pen a few parting lines, informing them of our proposed expedition and the uncertainties with which it was surrounded, as none of us knew when or where we should be heard from again once we bade adieu to the bleak hospitalities of Camp Supply. Alas! some of our number were destined never to return.
It began snowing the evening of the 22d and continued all night, so that when the shrill notes of the bugle broke the stillness of the morning air at reveille on the 23d we awoke at four o'clock to find the ground covered with snow to a depth of over one foot, and the storm still raging in full force. Surely this was anything but an inviting prospect as we stepped from our frail canvas shelters and found ourselves standing in the constantly and rapidly increasing depth of snow which appeared in every direction. "How will this do for a winter campaign?" was the half sarcastic query of the Adjutant, as he came trudging back to the tent through a field of snow extending almost to the top of his tall troop boots, after having received the reports of the different companies at reveille. "Just what we want," was the reply. Little grooming did the shivering horses receive from the equally uncomfortable troopers that morning.
Breakfast was served and disposed of more as a matter of form and regulation than to satisfy the appetite; for who, I might inquire, could rally much of an appetite at five o'clock in the morning and when standing around a camp fire almost up to the knees in snow? The signal, "The General," for tents to be taken down and wagons packed for the march, gave every one employment. Upon the principle that a short horse is soon curried, and as we were going to take but little with us in the way of baggage of any description, the duties of packing up were soon performed. It still lacked some minutes of daylight when the various commanders reported their commands in readiness to move, save the final act of saddling the horses, which only awaited the signal sounds of the chief bugler at headquarters. "Boots and saddles" rang forth and each trooper grasped his saddle and the next moment was busily engaged arranging and disposing of the few buckles and straps upon which the safety of his seat and the comfort of his horse depended.
While they were thus employed, my horse being already saddled and held near by, by the orderly, I improved the time to gallop through the darkness across the narrow plain to the tents of General Sheridan and say good-by. I found the headquarters tents wrapped in silence, and at first imagined that no one was yet stirring except the sentinel in front of the General's tent, who kept up his lonely tread, apparently indifferent to the beating storm. But I had no sooner given the bridle-rein to my orderly than the familiar tones of the General called out, letting me know that he was awake and had been an attentive listener to our notes of preparation. His first greeting was to ask what I thought about the snow and the storm, to which I replied that nothing could be more to our purpose. We could move and the Indian villages could not. If the snow only remained on the ground one week, I promised to bring the General satisfactory evidences that my command had met the Indians. With an earnest injunction from my chief to keep him informed, if possible, should anything important occur, and many hearty wishes for a successful issue to the campaign I bade him adieu.
After I had mounted my horse, and had started to rejoin my command a staff officer of the General, a particular friend, having just been awakened by the conversation, called out, while standing in the door of his tent enveloped in the comfortable folds of a huge buffalo robe, "Good-by, old fellow; take care of yourself!" and in these brief sentences the usual farewell greetings between brother officers separating for service took place. By the time I rejoined my men they had saddled their horses and were in readiness for the march. "To horse" was sounded, and each trooper stood at his horse's head. Then followed the commands "Prepare to mount" and "Mount" when nothing but the signal "Advance" was required to put the column in motion. The band took its place at the head of the column, preceded by the guides and scouts, and when the march began it was to the familiar notes of that famous old marching tune, "The girl I left behind me."
If we had entered into a solemn compact with the clerk of the weather-this being before the reign of "Old Probabilities"-to be treated to winter in its severest aspect, we could have claimed no forfeiture on account of non-fulfilment of contract. We could not refer to the oldest inhabitant, that mythical personage in most neighborhoods, to attest to the fact that this was a storm unparalleled in severity in that section of country. The snow continued to descend in almost blinding clouds. Even the appearance of daylight aided us but little in determining the direction of our march. So dense and heavy were the falling lines of snow that all view of the surface of the surrounding country, upon which the guides depended to enable them to run their course, was cut off. To such an extent was this true that it became unsafe for a person to wander from the column a distance equal to twice the width of Broadway, as in that short space all view of the column was prevented by the storm. None of the command except the Indian guides had ever visited the route we desired to follow, and they were forced to confess that until the storm abated sufficiently to permit them to catch glimpses of the landmarks of the country they could not undertake to guide the troops to the point where we desired to camp that night. Here was a serious obstacle encountered quite early in the campaign.
The point at which we proposed to encamp for the night was on Wolf Creek, only some twelve or fifteen miles from Camp Supply, it not being intended that our first day's progress should be very great. We had started, however, and notwithstanding the discouraging statements of our guides it would never do to succumb to opposition so readily. There was but one course to pursue now that the guides could no longer conduct us with certainty and that was to be guided-like the mariner in mid-ocean-by the neverfailing compass. There are few cavalry officers but what carry a compass in some more or less simple form. Mine was soon in my hand, and having determined as accurately as practicable, from my knowledge of the map of the country, the direction in which we ought to move in order to strike Wolf Creek at the desired camping ground, I became for the time guide to the column and after marching until about two P.M. reached the valley of Wolf Creek, where a resting place for the night was soon determined upon.
There was still no sign of abatement on the part of the weather. Timber was found along the banks of the creek in ample quantity to furnish us with fuel, but so imbedded in snow as to render the prospect of a camp fire very remote and uncertain. Our march of fifteen miles through the deep snow and blinding storm had been more fatiguing to our horses than an ordinary march of thirty miles would have been. Our wagons were still far in rear. While they were coming up every man in the command, officers as well as enlisted men, set briskly to work gathering a good supply of wood, as our personal comfort in camp in such weather would be largely dependent on the quality and quantity of our firewood. Fallen and partly seasoned trees were in great demand and when discovered in the huge beds of snow were soon transformed under the vigorous blows of a score of axes into available fuel. It was surprising as well as gratifying to witness the contentment and general good humor everywhere prevailing throughout the command. Even the chill of winter and the bitterest of storms were insufficient to produce a feeling of gloom, or to suppress the occasional ebullition of mirthful feeling which ever and anon would break forth from some Celtic or Teutonic disciple of Mars.
Fires were soon blazing upon the grounds assigned to the different troops and upon the arrival of the wagons, which occurred soon after, the company cooks were quickly engaged in preparing the troopers' dinner, while the servants of the officers were employed in a similar manner for the benefit of the latter. While the cooks were so engaged, officers and men were busily occupied in pitching the tents, an operation which under the circumstances was most difficult to perform satisfactorily for the reason that before erecting the tent it was desirable, almost necessary, to remove the snow from the surface of the ground intended to form the floor of the tent; otherwise the snow, as soon as a fire should be started within the tent, would melt and reduce the ground to a very muddy condition. But so rapidly did the large flakes continue to fall that the most energetic efforts of two persons were insufficient to keep the ground properly clear; such at least was the experience of Lieutenant Moylan, the Adjutant, and myself, in our earnest endeavors to render our temporary abiding place a fit habitation for the night.
Tents up at last, dinner was not long in being prepared, and even less time employed in disposing of it. A good cup of strong coffee went far toward reconciling us to everything that had but a few moments before appeared somewhat uninviting. By this time a cheerful fire was blazing in the center of our tent; my comfortable bed of buffalo robes was prepared on a framework of strong boughs, and with my ever-faithful dogs lying near me I was soon reclining in a state of comparative comfort, watching the smoke as it ascended through the narrow apex of the tent, there to mingle with the descending flakes of snow. In regard to the storm still prevailing outside, and which in itself or its effects we were to encounter the following morning and for an indefinite period thereafter, I consoled myself with the reflection that to us it was as an unpleasant remedy for the removal of a still more unpleasant disease. If the storm seemed terrible to us, I believed it would prove to be even more terrible to our enemies, the Indians.
Promptly at the appointed hour, four o'clock the following morning, camp was bustling and active in response to the bugle notes of reveille. The storm had abated, the snow had ceased falling, but that which had fallen during the previous twenty-four hours now covered the ground to a depth of upward of eighteen inches. The sky was clear, however, or, to adopt the expressive language of California Joe, "the travellin' was good overhead." It is always a difficult matter the first few days of a march to inculcate upon the minds of the necessary hangers-on of a camp, such as teamsters, wagon-masters, etc., the absolute necessity of promptness and strict obedience to orders, particularly orders governing the time and manner of marching; and one or two days usually are required to be devoted to disciplining these unruly characters. When the hour arrived which had been previously designated as the one at which the command would begin the second day's march, the military portion were in complete readiness to move out, but it was found that several of the teams were still unharnessed and the tents of the wagon-masters still standing.
This was a matter requiring a prompt cure. The officer of the day was directed to proceed with his guard and after hastening the unfinished preparations for the march to arrest the wagon-masters and most dilatory of the teamsters and compel them to march on foot as a punishment for their tardiness. This was no slight matter, considering the great depth of the snow. So effective was this measure that not many hours had elapsed before the deposed drivers and their equally unfortunate superiors sent through the officer of the guard a humble request that they be permitted to resume their places in the train, promising at the same time never to give renewed cause for complaints of tardiness to be made against them. Their request was granted, and their promise most faithfully observed during the remainder of the campaign.
All of the second day we continued to march up the valley of the stream we had chosen as our first camping ground. The second night we encamped under circumstances very similar to those which attended us the first night, except that the storm no longer disturbed us. The snow did not add to our discomfort particularly, save by increasing the difficulty of obtaining good and sufficient fuel. Our purpose was to strike the Canadian River in the vicinity of Antelope Hills, which are famous and prominent landmarks in that region, and then be governed in our future course by circumstances. Resuming the march at daylight on the morning of the third day, our route still kept us in the valley of Wolf Creek, on whose banks we were to encamp for the third time.
Nothing was particularly worthy of notice during our third day's march except the immense quantities of game to be seen seeking the weak shelter from the storm offered by the little strips of timber extending along the valleys of Wolf Creek and its tributaries. Even the buffaloes, with their huge, shaggy coats-sufficient, one would imagine, to render the wearer indifferent to the blasts of winter-were frequently found huddled together in the timber and so drowsy or benumbed from the effects of the cold as to not discover our approach until we were within easy pistol range, when the Indian guides and our white scouts who rode in advance would single out those appearing in best condition and by deliberate aim bring them down. Details of a few troopers from each company were left at these points to cut up the butchered game and see to its being loaded in the company wagons as the trains came along. In this way a bountiful supply of good fresh meat was laid in, the weather favoring the keeping of the meat for an indefinite period.
Occasionally we would discover a herd of buffaloes on the bluffs overlooking the stream. Then would occur some rare scenes of winter sport: a few of the officers and men would obtain permission to leave the column and join in the chase-an indulgence that could be safely granted, as no fears were entertained that hostile Indians were in our immediate vicinity. The deep snow was a serious obstacle to exhibiting speed, either in the buffalo or his pursuers. It was most laughable to witness the desperate and awkward efforts of buffalo, horse, and rider in the frantic endeavor to make rapid headway through the immense fields of snow. Occasionally an unseen hole or ditch or ravine covered up by the snow would be encountered, when the buffalo or his pursuer, or perhaps all three-horse, rider, and buffalo-would disappear in one grand tumble in the depths of the snowdrifts, and when seen to emerge therefrom it was difficult to determine which of the three was most badly frightened.
Fortunately no accidents occurred to mar the pleasure of the excitement. Seeing a fine herd of young buffaloes a short distance in the advance, I determined to test the courage of my stag-hounds Blucher and Maida. Approaching as near the herd as possible before giving them the alarm, I managed to single out and cut off from the main herd a fine yearling bull. My horse, a trained hunter, was soon alongside, but I was unable to use my pistol to bring the young buffalo down as both the dogs were running close to either side and by resolutely attacking him endeavoring to pull him down. It was a new experience to them; a stag they could easily have mastered, but a lusty young buffalo bull was an antagonist of different caliber. So determined had the dogs become, their determination strengthened no doubt by the occasional vigorous blows received from the ready hoofs of the buffalo, that I could not call them off; neither could I render them assistance from my pistol, for fear of injuring them.
There was nothing left for me to do but to become a silent although far from disinterested participant in the chase. The immense drifts of snow through which we were struggling at our best pace would soon vanquish one or the other of the party; it became a question of endurance simply, and the buffalo was the first to come to grief. Finding escape by running impossible, he boldly came to bay and faced his pursuers; in a moment both dogs had grappled with him as if he had been a deer. Blucher seized him by the throat, Maida endeavored to secure a firm hold on the shoulders. The result was that Blucher found himself well trampled in snow, and but for the latter would have been crushed to death. Fearing for the safety of my dogs I leaped from my horse, who I knew would not leave me, and ran to the assistance of the stag-hounds. Drawing my hunting-knife and watching a favorable opportunity, I succeeded in cutting the hamstrings of the buffalo, which had the effect to tumble him over in the snow, when I was enabled to despatch him with my pistol.
On that afternoon we again encamped in the same valley up which we had been moving during the past three days. The next morning, following the lead of our Indian guides, who had been directed to conduct us to a point on the Canadian River near the Antelope Hills, our course, which so far had been westerly, now bore off almost due south. After ascending gradually for some hours to the crest or divide which sloped on the north down to the valley of the stream we had just left, we reached the highest line and soon began to gradually descend again, indicating that we were approaching a second valley; this the Indians assured us was the valley of the Canadian. Delayed in our progress by the deep snow and the difficulty from the same cause always experienced by our guides in selecting a practicable route, darkness overtook us before the entire command arrived at the point chosen for our camp on the north bank of the Canadian.
As there is little or no timber found along the immediate banks of that river as far up as we then were, we pitched our tent about one mile from the river and near a small fresh-water tributary whose valley was abundantly supplied with wood. If any prowling bands or war parties belonging to either of the tribes with which we were at war were moving across the Canadian in either direction it was more than probable that their crossing would be made at some point above us and not more than ten or fifteen miles distant. The season was rather far advanced to expect any of these parties to be absent from the village, but the trail of the war party discovered by our Indian guides just before the expedition reached Camp Supply was not forgotten, and the heavy storm of the past few days would be apt to drive them away from the settlements and hasten their return to their village.
We had every reason to believe that the latter was located somewhere south of the Canadian. After discussing the matter with Little Beaver and Hard Rope, and listening to the suggestions of California Joe and his confreres, I decided to start a strong force up the valley of the Canadian at daybreak the following morning, to examine the banks and discover, if possible, if Indians had been in the vicinity since the snow had fallen. Three full troops of cavalry under Major Joel H. Elliot, 7th Cavalry, were ordered to move without wagons or otro impedimiento, each trooper to carry one hundred rounds of ammunition, one day's rations and forage. Their instructions were to proceed up the north bank of the Canadian a distance of fifteen miles. If any trail of Indians was discovered pursuit was to be taken up at once, at the same time sending information of the fact back to the main command, indicating the number and character of the Indians as determined by their trail and particularly the direction in which they were moving, in order that the main body of the troops might endeavor, if possible, to intercept the Indians, or at least strike the trail by a shorter route than by following the first detachment. A few of our Indian trailers were designated to accompany the party, as well as some of the white scouts. The latter were to be employed in carrying despatches back to the main command should anything be discovered of sufficient importance to be reported.
In the meantime I informed Major Elliot that as soon as it was fairly daylight I would commence crossing the main command over the Canadian-an operation which could not be performed hastily, as the banks were almost overflowing, the current being very rapid and the water filled with floating snow and ice. After making the crossing I would, in the absence of any reports from him, march up the bluffs forming Antelope Hills and strike nearly due south, aiming to encamp that night on some one of the small streams forming the headwaters of the Washita River, where we would again unite the two portions of the command and continue our march to the south.
Major Elliot was a very zealous officer, and daylight found him and his command on the march in the execution of the duty to which they had been assigned. Those of us who remained behind were soon busily occupied in making preparations to effect a crossing of the Canadian. California Joe had been engaged since early dawn searching for a ford which would be practicable for our wagons; the troopers and horses could cross almost anywhere. A safe fording place, barely practicable, was soon reported and the cavalry and wagon train began moving over. It was a tedious process; sometimes the treacherous quicksand would yield beneath the heavily laden wagons and double the usual number of mules would be required to extricate the load. In less than three hours the last wagon and the rear guard of the cavalry had made a successful crossing.
Looming up in our front like towering battlements were the Antelope Hills. These prominent landmarks, which can be seen from a distance of over twenty miles in all directions, are situated near the south bank of the Canadian, and at 100 deg. W. longitude. The Antelope Hills form a group of five separate hillocks, and are sometimes called Boundary Mountains. They vary in height above the average level of the Plains between one hundred and fifty and three hundred feet. Two of the hills are conical and the others oblong; they are composed of porous sandstone, and are crowned with white and regular terraces about six yards in depth. From the summit of these terraces one enjoys a most commanding view. On the left is to be seen the red bed of the Canadian, whose tortuous windings, coming from the southwest, direct their course for a while northwards and finally disappear in a distant easterly direction. The horizon is but an immense circle of snowy whiteness, of which the center is the point of observation. Here and there a few acclivities rise above the Plains, divided by rows of stunted trees, indicating a ravine or more frequently a humble brook such as that on whose banks we camped the night previous to crossing the Canadian. It never occurred to any of us when folding our tents that bleak winter morning on the bank of the Canadian that there were those among our number who had bidden a last and final adieu to the friendly shelter of their canvas-covered homes; that for some of us, some who could but sadly be spared, the last reveille had sounded, and that when sleep again closed their eyes it would be that sleep from which there is no awakening. But I am anticipating.
One by one the huge army wagons with their immense white covers began the long ascent which was necessary to be overcome before attaining the level of the Plains. As fast as they reached the high ground the leading wagons were halted and parked to await the arrival of the last to cross the river. In the meantime the cavalry had closed up and dismounted, except the rear guard, which was just then to be seen approaching from the river, indicating that everything was closed up. I was about to direct the chief bugler to sound "To Horse," when far in the distance on the white surface of the snow I descried a horseman approaching us as rapidly as his tired steed could carry him. The direction was that in which Elliot's command was supposed to be, and the horseman approaching could be none other than a messenger from Elliot. What tidings would he bring? was my first thought. Perhaps Elliot could not find a ford by which to cross the Canadian, and simply desired instructions as to what his course should be. Perhaps he has discovered an Indian trail-a fresh one; but it must be fresh if one at all, as the snow is scarcely three days old. If a trail has been discovered, then woe unto the luckless Indians whose footprints are discoverable in the snow; for so long as that remains and the endurance of men and horses holds out, just so long will we follow that trail, until the pursuer and pursued are brought face to face or the one or the other succumbs to the fatigues and exhaustion of the race.
These and a host of kindred thoughts flashed in rapid succession through my mind as soon as I had discovered the distant approach of the scout, for a scout I knew it must be. As yet none of the command had observed his coming, not being on as high ground as where I stood. By means of my field glass I was able to make out the familiar form of Corbin, one of the scouts. After due waiting, when minutes seemed like hours, the scout galloped up to where I was waiting and in a few hurried, almost breathless words informed me that Elliot's command after moving up the north bank of the Canadian about twelve miles had discovered the trail of an Indian war party numbering upwards of one hundred and fifty strong; that the trail was not twenty-four hours old, and the party had crossed the Canadian and taken a course a little east of south. Elliot had crossed his command and at once taken up the pursuit as rapidly as his horses could travel. Here was news and of a desirable character. I asked the scout if he could overtake Elliot if furnished with a fresh horse. He thought he could. A horse was at once supplied him and he was told to rejoin Elliot as soon as possible, with instructions to continue the pursuit with all possible vigor and I would move with the main command in such direction as to strike his trail about dark. If the Indians changed their general direction, he was to inform me of the fact; and if I could not overtake him by eight o'clock that night Elliot was to halt his command and await my arrival, when the combined force would move as circumstances might determine.
My resolution was formed in a moment and as quickly put in train of execution. The bugle summoned all the officers to report at once. There was no tardiness on their part for while they had not heard the report brought in by the scout they had witnessed his unexpected arrival and his equally sudden departure-circumstances which told them plainer than mere words that something unusual was in the air. The moment they were all assembled about me I acquainted them the intelligence received from Elliot, and at the same time informed them that we would at once set out to join in the pursuit, a pursuit which could and would only end when we overtook our enemies. And in order that we should not be trammelled in our movements it was my intention then and there to abandon our train of wagons, taking with us only such supplies as we could carry on our persons and strapped to our saddles. The train would be left under the protection of about eighty men detailed from the different troops and under command of one officer, to whom orders would be given to follow us with the train as rapidly as the character of our route would permit. Each trooper was to carry with him one hundred rounds of ammunition, a small amount of coffee and hard bread, and on his saddle an equally small allowance of forage for his horse. Tents and extra blankets were to be left with the wagons. We were to move in light marching order as far as this was practicable.
Then taking out my watch, the officers were notified that in twenty minutes from that time "The advance" would be sounded and the march in pursuit begun-the intervening time to be devoted to carrying out the instructions just given. In a moment every man and officer in the command was vigorously at work preparing to set out for a rough ride, the extent or result of which no one could foresee. Wagons were emptied, mess chests called upon to contribute from their stores, ammunition chests opened and their contents distributed to the troopers. The most inferior of the horses were selected to fill up the detail of eighty cavalry which was to remain and escort the train; an extra amount of clothing was donned by some who realized that when the bitter, freezing hours of night came we would not have the comforts of tents and camp-fire to sustain us.
If we had looked with proper dread upon the discomforts of the past three days, the severity of the storm, the deep snow, and our limited facilities for withstanding the inclemencies of midwinter even when provided with shelter, food, and fire, what was the prospect now opened before us when we proposed to relinquish even the few comforts we had at command and start out on a mission not only full of danger, but where food would be very limited, and then only of the plainest kind? Shelterless we should be in the midst of the wide, open Plains, where the winds blow with greater force, and owing to our proximity to the Indians even fires would be too costly an aid to our comfort to be allowed. Yet these thoughts scarcely found a place in the minds of any members of the command. All felt that a great opportunity was before us, and to improve it only required determination and firmness on our part. How thoroughly and manfully every demand of this kind was responded to by my command, I will endeavor to relate in the next chapter.