Another IAGenWeb Project
EXPEDITIONS AGAINST THE INDIANS—SULLY'S EXPEDITION—HIS FORCE LEAVES SIOUX CITY AND FOLLOW UP THE MISSOURI—EXPECT TO FORM A JUNCTION WITH SIBLEY'S FORCES AT APPLE RIVER—ON ARRIVING THERE FIND SIBLEY HAS BEEN THERE AND TURNED BACK—BATTLE OF WHITE STONE HILL—THE RETURN TO SIOUX CITY SIBLEY'S COMMAND—MOVE ACROSS MINNESOTA—FIGHT THREE BATTLES BEFORE REACHING THE MISSOURI—ON REACHING THE MISSOURI FIND THAT SULLY HAS NOT YET ARRIVED—REST TWO DAYS AND THEN TURN BACK—THE EXPEDITIONS OF 1864—RELIEF BY CAPTAIN FISK—EXPEDITION TO DEVIL'S LAKE IN 1865.
IN THE summer of 1863 two expeditions were sent by the United States government against the Sioux. One of these expeditions was fitted out in Sioux City under the command of General Alfred Sully, and proceeded up the Missouri River with the intention and expectation of forming a junction with the other which was fitted out at St. Paul, under the command of General H. H. Sibley, and went across the country to the upper Missouri, expecting to meet General Sully upon their arrival there. But the two forces failed to connect. General Sully's predecessor, General Cook, although a good man, had had no experience in fitting out expeditions of this kind, and General Sully found on his arrival to assume the command that many things that were absolutely essential had been overlooked. These defects it took time to remedy. At that time there were no railroads west of the Mississippi, and for supplies they had to depend on the navigation of the Missouri, and that was always a very uncertain contingency. This season it proved more so than usual, as it was very dry.
After many vexatious delays, the expedition left Sioux City some time in June with the expectation of forming a junction with Sibley's command about the last of July or the first of August. Sully's force was made up of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry, the Nebraska Second, a battery of four pieces, and the Sioux City Cavalry, and numbered about three thousand. The summer was one of the dryest on record. In that country of tall grass and running streams, the horses often suffered for want of food and water. The vegetation was absolutely burned up and many of the streams had gone dry. It was not the design of the General to follow the river in its windings, but to cut across from one bend to another, in order to shorten the distance. In doing this he was sometimes compelled to make forced marches of from twenty to thirty miles to the river for water. Most of the small lakes in that region had gone dry and those that had not were so impregnated with alkali that the water could not be used. The water of the Missouri River is known to be thick with the light, yellow sand that forms the bluffs through which it runs. Upon boiling the water this sand settles to the bottom and the water remains remarkably clear and pure. It has to be treated in this way to make it fit for cooking purposes.
The expedition had for a guide a full blooded Blackfoot Indian by the name of "Fool Dog," assisted by a French half-breed by the name of La Fromboise. Whether this was the same Joe. La Fromboise that piloted Captain Bee's expedition from Fort Ridgley to Jackson in 1857 is not fully known, but it is more than probable that he was. The expedition proceeded up the river as rapidly as possible, considering the obstacles they encountered. As they neared the place appointed for making the junction with Sibley's forces, they learned through the Indian scouts that Sibley had been there, and not finding Sully's column there, had turned back. In order to test the truth of this report, the General sent forward a detachment under the lead of the Indian guide to investigate the facts, while the main body went into camp on Long Lake Creek and remained there until the messengers returned.
Upon their return with the information that the Indians had crossed the Missouri and that Sibley had taken the back Track for St. Paul, it became necessary for Sully to change his plans. Most of the officers believed that since the Indians had crossed the Missouri, it would be necessary for the troops to do the same if they expected to meet them, but when the matter was suggested to the Indian guide, he would only shake his head, give an expressive grunt and point to the east; accordingly, when General Sully put his column in motion, he acted on the guide's advice and moved in that direction until the third of September, when he encountered a large body of Indians in camp at White Stone Hill.
These were in part the same that General Sibley had driven across the Missouri River a month before, but had crossed back heavily reinforced from the wilder tribes on the other side. They had been watching Sibley closely, and knew all the details of his movements and thought when he turned back on the first of August that they had nothing farther to fear, and so they went to work securing their winter supply of buffalo meat and skins, in which they were phenomenally successful. They had heard nothing of General Sully's expedition up the river, and were wholly ignorant of his movements.
Sully broke camp at Long Lake Creek either the first or second day of September. Soon after changing his course and starting east, unmistakable signs of the close proximity of Indians were abundant and growing more so. Carcasses of recently slain buffaloes were encountered in increasing numbers, and everything indicated that a large force was near. The guides are reported to have told the officers that in all probability the Indians were at one of three different points curing their meat. Acting on this theory, the General sent forward two detachments, with orders for one to take the right and the other the left, and advance rapidly, while he with the main body would move more deliberately.
This was the order of advance on the third of September. Major House, of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry, had command of one of the advance battalions. His force numbered about three hundred. About two P. M. they sighted the Indians some six or eight lodges being in sight. Here the guides were in favor of halting and sending back for reinforcements, but the Major seeing no signs of a large force, continued to move forward, until, on reaching the crest of a ridge, he saw spread out before him a camp of four to five hundred lodges.
By this time he was discovered by the Indians, and it was too late to retreat, and the only thing for him to do was to halt his men and assume a defensive position and be mighty quick about it. He had no time to lose. The Indians outnumbered hint at least seven to one, and had they charged at once, he might have met the same fate that overtook Custer a dozen years later. At any rate there would have been a bloody battle. But the Indians saw that House's force was not formidable, and they were in no hurry. They had a "palaver" with the scouts and interpreter, and when told there was a much larger force near, they didn't believe it, but all the same, when House sent his messengers back for reinforcements, some Indian runners followed them to find out whether they had been told the truth or not. On coming in sight of Sully's force and noting its strength, they hurried back to report.
It was between four and five o'clock P. M. when the messengers sent back by House reached headquarters. The force had gone into camp and were just ready to partake of their coffee and hard tack when the messenger galloped up to head-quarters to report. The bugles immediately sounded "Boots and Saddles," the boys sprung for their horses, and in an incredibly short space of time were taking a headlong gallop toward the Indian rendezvous, leaving a sufficient force to guard the camp. The distance was not far from ten miles and was covered by the troops in about an hour. The Indian runners got in just ahead of them, and the Indian lodges came down all at once as though a cyclone had struck them. Up to this time they believed Major House's force was all they would have to contend with, and they felt strong enough to resist him.
The General's plan was to send one force around them to the right and another to the left, with orders to form a junction in their rear, while he with the reserve would remain on the other side. It was not the General's intention to bring on an engagement at once, but, if possible, to secure the surrender of the Indians without a fight. While he was negotiating to that end, the Nebraska Second precipitated an engagement by firing without orders, and in an instant all was confusion. La Fromboise, the interpreter, was caught between the lines when the firing commenced, and he had a serious time getting back to headquarters. It was about sundown when the firing began, and it was kept up vigorously on both sides until the gathering darkness put an end to the conflict. The men remained in position and stood holding their horses by the bits all night.
About ten o'clock the Indians made a rush and succeeded in breaking through the lines of the Sixth Iowa, and a large number effected their escape, while the balance, consisting of a motley crowd of Indians, squaws and papooses, surrendered. The camp, with all their tepees, bedding and provisions, fell into the hands of the troops and were destroyed next day.
The loss on the part of the troops was twenty-two killed and fifty wounded. The Indian loss is unknown, but was very severe. Two hundred and twenty-five dead bodies were counted in one ravine. During the night the General sent back a surgeon with a guard to the main camp for much needed medical supplies. This party on their way lost their course and wandered about all that night, the next day and the next night in a vain endeavor to find the camp. Finally, despairing of that, they determined to reach the Missouri River if possible, and "taking a due west course," they soon came into camp, much to their own surprise and to the relief of the General, who was beginning to feel some anxiety about them, fearing that possibly they might have been picked off by some stray body of savages.
The battle of White Stone Hill has never been given the prominence by historians that its importance would seem to demand, but the reason is not far to seek. By comparing dates it will be found that this engagement was fought about two weeks previous to the great battle of Chickamauga, and by the time the news of it reached civilization, the country was in a state of wild excitement over that event, and for the time being, the single division fighting savages on the northwestern border was almost forgotten. But for all that, the battle of White Stone Hill ranks as one of the decisive battles of the country. The importance of a battle does not depend on the numbers engaged, or the losses sustained, but on the far reaching results that follow, and it was at White Stone Hill that the power of the Sioux nation for aggressive warfare was effectually broken.
'Tis true that Sibley had driven them out of Minnesota and across the Missouri River, but he was no sooner out of sight than they crossed hack again apparently just as strong as ever. But from Sully's crushing defeat they never recovered. The burning of their camp and the destruction of their camp supplies and provisions occurred the next day, and is described by those who witnessed it as a very exciting affair, and was accompanied by many tragic and highly dramatic incidents, which, if properly written up, would make a decidedly sensational chapter.
After the affair at White Stone Hill, General Sully was ordered by the War Department to build a fort on the upper Missouri to be called Fort Sully. Accordingly he selected the site and commenced operations. The troops did not take very kindly to the work and at first the progress was decidedly slow. The boys claimed they didn't enlist to build forts, but the General pointedly informed them that they would have to complete that fort, if it took all winter, before they would be allowed to go down the river. When they saw that further kicking was useless, they took hold in earnest, and in a short time the fort was completed and the column started down the river, arriving in Sioux City some time early in December. Sergeant A. Kingman, of the Sioux City Cavalry, was in command of the squad that did the first day's work in the erection of Fort Sully.
In the meantime, Sibley's command, which was to have formed a junction with Sully's on the upper Missouri, rendezvoused at Camp Pope, about twenty-five miles above Fort Ridgley, and near the Lower Agency. It was Sibley's original intention to make his trip by way of Devil's Lake, as the remnant of Little Crow's followers were supposed to be rendezvoused there. On the seventh of June, 1863, General Sibley arrived at the point of departure. His force consisted of about four thousand men, three-fourths of whom were infantry, and eight pieces of artillery, fully equipped .and officered, and accompanied by two hundred and twenty-five six-mule wagons. They broke camp and started west on the sixteenth of June. Of course the Indians knew of the expedition being sent against them, and fell back. At first their retreat was toward the British line, but later they changed their course in the direction of the upper Missouri. When the General became satisfied of this change, of course he abandoned his idea of going to Devil's Lake, and decided to push forward as rapidly as possible toward the Missouri.
He therefore formed a permanent post at Camp Atchison, about fifty miles southeast of Devil's Lake, where he left all of his sick and broken down men and a portion of his train, with a guard to defend them if attacked. He then started west on the twentieth of July, with about fifteen hundred infantry, six hundred cavalry and his artillery, and twenty-five days' rations. He crossed the James River on the twenty-second, and on the twenty-fourth reached the vicinity of Big Mound. Here the scouts reported large bodies of Indians, with Red Plume and Standing Buffalo among them. The forces of the Indians were reported much larger than they really were, and the General corralled his train and threw up breastworks. About three P. M. an attack was made by the Indians. The battle was fought in the midst of a terrific thunder storm. Colonel McPhail's sabre was knocked from his hand by lightning, and one private was killed by the same force. The Indians were defeated with, a loss of about eighty. Judge Flandrau, writing of this engagement, says: "The battle of Big Mound was a decided victory and counted heavily in the scale of advantage, as it put the savages on the run for a place of safety and materially disabled them from prosecuting further hostilities."
On the morning of the twenty-sixth the command again moved forward, and about noon the scouts reported Indians, and soon large bodies of them became visible. In this action, as in the former one, the Indians were the attacking parties, making three separate and distinct attacks on Sibley's forces, but being beaten off each time they finally withdrew. Sibley's men immediately threw up earthworks to guard against a night surprise. This action is known as the battle of Dead Buffalo Lake. Judge Flandrau further says:
"The General was now convinced that the Indians were going toward the Missouri with the purpose of putting that river between themselves and his command, and, expecting General Sully's force to be there to intercept them, he was determined to push them on as rapidly as possible, inflicting all the damage he could in their flight. * * * But low water delayed Sully to such an extent that he failed to arrive in time, and as the sequel will show, they succeeded in crossing the river before Sibley could overtake them."
On the twenty-eighth of July, the Indians were again seen, and this time in immense numbers. They had evidently been largely reinforced from the other side of the river. They made a hot fight of it, but were finally defeated at all points and fled in panic and rout to the Missouri. They were hotly pursued, and on the twenty-ninth the troops crossed Apple Creek and, pushing on, struck the Missouri the thirtieth. The Indians had succeeded in crossing with their families, but in a very demoralized condition. It was at this point that the two forces were to have formed a junction. Had Sully arrived in time to prevent the Indians from crossing the river, the complete destruction or capture of the savage forces would have been the result. This delay was no fault of Sully's, but was caused by insurmountable obstacles.
This battle was known as the battle of Stony Lake, and in point of numbers engaged and the stubbornness with which it was contested, it was one of the most important Indian battles of the war. The Indians having crossed the Missouri, further pursuit was abandoned and General Sibley, after resting his men a couple of days, started on his return march the first day of August.
This campaign practically ended the Indian occupation of the state of Minnesota, but the United States authorities decided not to let the Indian question rest on the results of the operations of 1863, which left the Indians in possession of the country beyond the Missouri, rightly conjecturing that they would construe their escape into a victory. Consequently two expeditions were planned for the summer of 1864, similar to those of the previous year, but this time both expeditions were under the immediate command of General Sully. The Sioux City Cavalry, the company to which most of those enlisting from here belonged, which had been detailed for duty at the General's headquarters the previous year, were not made a part of the force on this expedition, from the fact that their time would expire and the men be entitled to their discharge before the force would return to Sioux City in the fall. They were accordingly stationed at Vermilion.
The Iowa brigade in the expedition of 1864 was composed of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry, a regiment of Kansas infantry and Brackett's Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry. This brigade was under the immediate command of General Sully. The Minnesota brigade was composed of the Eighth Minnesota Infantry mounted on ponies, the Second Minnesota Cavalry and the Third Minnesota Battery. This brigade was under the command of General Sibley, but after the two brigades formed a junction at the crossing of the Missouri, Sully assumed the command of the entire force. The crossing was made on boats that belonged to Sully's command.
The Minnesota force left Fort Snelling on the first day of June and moved westward without incident or accident, reaching the Missouri on the first of July, where they found Sully, who had arrived with his force the day before. Sully, with the Iowa forces, came up the river as before, and after forming a junction with the column from Minnesota, crossed to the other side of the Missouri. The column was immediately directed toward the Cannon Ball River, where eighteen hundred lodges were reported to be encamped, but the Indians fled before the approach of the troops. On the second of August the Indians were found in large numbers on Big Knife River in the Bad Lands. These Indians had murdered a party of Idaho miners the year before, and had given aid and comfort to the Minnesota refugee Indians. They were immediately attacked and after a spirited engagement were defeated with severe loss.
On the next day, August third, the command moved west through the Bad Lands, and just as they emerged from this terribly rough country, they were sharply attacked by, a very large body of savages. This fight lasted through two days and nights and was stubbornly contested, but the Indians were finally defeated at all points and fled in confusion. General Sully then crossed to the west side of the Yellowstone, where he found two government steamers awaiting him with ample supplies. On this trip he located Forts Rice, Stephenson and Berthold. On reaching Fort Rice, he found that considerable anxiety was felt there in regard to the fate of Captain Fisk, who, with fifty men, had left the fort as an escort to a train of Idaho emigrants, and had been attacked one hundred and eighty miles west of the fort and had been compelled to intrench. He had sent for reinforcements. General Sully sent him three hundred men, who extricated him from his dangerous position. Another expedition was sent out under Sully to Devil's Lake in 1865. Since that time the Indian troubles have been beyond the Missouri.
In referring to the Indian war of 1862 and 1863, Judge Flandrau writes as follows:
"In the numbers of Indians engaged, together with their superior fighting qualities, their armament and the country occupied by them, it ranks among the most important of the Indian wars fought since the first settlement of the country on the Atlantic coast, but when viewed in the light of the number of settlers and others massacred, the amount of property destroyed and the horrible atrocities committed by the savages, it far surpasses them all."
More time and space has been given to the Indian war in Minnesota than was at first intended, but it seems impossible to give an intelligent idea of the exposed condition of the Iowa frontier in any other way. Judge Flandrau's articles have been freely quoted. They are regarded as the most reliable and readable of anything on the subject. Most of the facts relating to the Minnesota campaign have been compiled from his works.
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