Realizing that if they wished to make any considerable progress the company must travel by some other means than on foot, the expedition started in sleds drawn by mules. The original intention was to strike directly across the country in order to reach the afflicted people as soon as possible. But this route had to be abandoned, for it was soon found to be impracticable owing to the depth of the snow. Captain Bee in reporting upon the march stated that he took, "by advice of experienced guides, a long and circuitous route down the valley of the Minnesota, as far as South Bend, for the purpose of following, as long as possible, a beaten track."
Concerning the difficulties encountered on the trip Captain Bee reported that "the season was unpropitious for military operations; the snow lay in heavy masses on the track which I was following, but these masses were thawing and could not bear the weight of the men, much less that of the heavy sleds with which I was compelled to travel. "The narrative of a single day's march is the history of the whole: wading through deep drifts; cutting through them with the spade and shovel; extricating mules and sleighs from sloughs, or dragging the latter up steep hills or over bare spaces of prairie; the men wet from morning till night, and sleeping on the snow. Such were the obstacles I encountered while still on the beaten track, the terminus of which was a farm belonging to a man by the name of Slocum. From this point to the Des Moines was an unbroken waste of snow.
The route mentioned by Captain Bee would have taken him down the valley of the Minnesota for forty-five miles to Mankato‐every mile of which would have carried him east of his objective point, Springfield. From Mankato, it must have been necessary to double back for twenty-five miles following the course of the Watonwan to Madelia, a few miles southwest of which was the farm of Isaac Slocum. This was as far as any road could be followed, since the region beyond was a wilderness.
Indeed Slocum's was the westernmost white settlement in that section of the country. Captain Bee was still nearly fifty miles to the northeast of Springfield. At the mouth of the Little Rock River, only a few miles below Fort Ridgely, Captain Bee secured a young half-breed guide, Joseph La Framboise, who was reputed to know the country well. But under the conditions then existing no guide could be expected to be infallible. The difficulties encountered only attested too well what could be looked forward to in the future. Agent Flandrau and his interpreter Philander Prescott, a French Canadian voyageur, also accompanied the party.
According to Flandrau "the first day's march was appalling." Indeed, at the close of this first day's struggling he was willing to call the whole undertaking hopeless, because so "much time had elapsed since the murders were committed, and so much more would necessarily be consumed before the troops could possibly reach the lake, that I felt assured that no good could result from going on." On the following day Flandrau and Prescott, with "a light sleigh and a fine team", forged ahead to Slocum's farm in the hope of learning more details of what had taken place at the lakes. Finding the road beyond this point impassable they turned back.
At South Bend, on March twenty-second, they met Captain Bee's expeditionary force. Feeling the absolute impossibility of pushing beyond Slocum's, they advised him to turn back. Although Captain Bee admitted the apparent hopelessness of the task, his military training prompted him to reply: "My orders are to go to Spirit Lake, and to do what I can. It is not for me to interpret my orders, but to obey them. I shall go on until it becomes physically impossible to proceed further. It will then be time to turn back". And so he pressed on.
On the morning of March twenty-sixth Captain Bee and his company of men left Slocum's for Springfield. Thus it happened that on the same morning that Inkpaduta and his party left Heron Lake, taking the direction of Springfield, the Fort Ridgely relief party left Slocum's, pushing toward the same point. But mark the difference in their relative rate of progress. While Captain Bee, encumbered with the ponderous army equipment, found progress nearly impossible, Inkpaduta, unimpeded by equipment of any kind save rifles and scalping knives, easily covered the distance from Heron Lake to Springfield in one day.