1861 Iowa and Minnesota had been settled to about the 94th meridian. West of this line only the strong of heart ventured. Many new pioneers were establishing habitation along the Little Sioux River in northwest Iowa. Small communities such as Spirit Lake in Dickinson County, Peterson in Clay County, Cherokee in Cherokee County, and Correctionville and Smithland in Woodbury County. Rivers, streams, and springs being their only source for water except when it rained. The latter was soft and stored for bathing, washing hair, etc. The Spirit Lake Massacre occurred in 1857 which brought the building of fortification in the village of Spirit Lake and manned by government troops.
When the Civil War started back east, the regulars at the western forts were pulled to fight against the South. Men from northwest Iowa were asked to volunteer their services to replace these regulars. Besides being strong of body and mind, these volunteers had to have their own horse. The state of Iowa could not supply a mount for them.
This group assembled in Sioux City, Iowa, and were mustered into the Sioux City Cavalry on November 14, 1861 for a term of three years. Commanding was Captain Andrew Millard, aided by 1st Lieutenant James Sawyer and 2nd Lieutenant Jacob Coplan. Their information can be found in the ROSTER.
What happens the winter of 1861-1862 is only conjecture. Until more descendants are found with letters written by these troopers and passed down, we may never know exactly what they did. The "History of Northwestern Iowa" states small groups of these volunteers were assigned to the villages, previously alluded to, along the Little Sioux River after the blockhouses were erected. Before this we know they trained hard, lived under extreme weather conditions, and kept the settlers of this area somewhat at ease as they patrolled from Estherville to Sioux City.
1862 There were a sizable number of Native Americans, mostly Dakota, camping along the Minnesota River during the spring and summer. Ft. Ridgely was occupied by volunteers and New Ulm was growing. It is thought that, perhaps, Confederate agents talked with leaders of the tribes. They observed the scant protection and in August, proceeded to drive the White's from the area. Numbers of killed varied, but 800 to 1000 White's were said to have lost their lives. Chief Little Crow and Inkpaduta led the depredation to the Iowa border and on into Dakota Territory. A man came walking into Estherville, IA, with a son under each arm. Both boys had been beaten badly, their mother killed. One boy died a short time later. Lt. Sawyer and his platoon arrived at Spirit Lake a short time after. They were divided into three groups, one going to Okoboji, one to Estherville, and one staying in Spirit Lake. Captain Millard and the rest of the command were stationed at Correctionville, Cherokee, Paulina, and Sioux City. Other pioneer husbands and sons assisted these troopers patrolling in northwest Iowa.
Word of the killings spread throughout the area. Governor Kirkwood in Iowa ordered the establishment of the Northern Border Brigade. Lt. Sawyer of the Sioux City Cavalry resigned, and was brevet a Lt. Colonel to lead this Brigade. They built blockhouses at Estherville, Peterson, Correctionville, Cherokee, and Sioux City. As Iowa's coffers were short, this unit was mustered out after only a few months service.
Meanwhile, the Sioux City Cavalry patrolled and rushed to any threat they received word about. Their presence in northwest Iowa kept any ideas of preying on settlers a fruitless task.
All settlers northwest of a line from Ft. Ridgely in Minnesota to Ft. Randall in Dakota Territory removed from their abodes or paid with their lives. All habitations were then destroyed by the Dakota. This included settlements such as Sioux Falls and Flandreau, Dakota Territory, then in existence. Authorities from Dakota Territory, with it's capitol in Yankton, Minnesota, and Iowa prayed to Washington for aid to help protect their people.
1863 Washington finally responded with a plan which was executed by General Pope, then in charge of the Northwest Territory. His office in Wisconsin directed volunteers be assembled to form an army in Minnesota and Iowa. The Minnesota branch was to push west and the Iowa branch to push north from the Missouri River and entrap the ravagers of the Minnesota River Massacre in-between. Our interest lies with the Iowa branch.
In the spring, volunteers were assembled in Davenport, IA. Two cavalry units, the 6th & 7th Iowa Volunteers were formed. Also infantry regiments along with a howitzer company. The 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry was sent to Omaha for duty on the Oregon Trail. A howitzer company and the 6th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry were sent to Sioux City on the Missouri, General Alfred Sully waiting to command. He knew the 2nd Nebraska Volunteer Cavalry was on it's way to Sioux City. He also knew his record would look better by making the Sioux City Cavalry a part of the 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. General Sully said of this unit, " A better drilled or disciplined company than the Sioux City Cavalry can not be found in the regular or volunteer service of the United States." It became Company I, 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry officially on July 14, 1863, while they were on march north along the Missouri River to meet the Minnesota Regiment. Because of their experience in Northwest Iowa and the training they had received, Gen. Sully assigned them as his guard of the headquarters unit, a very prestigious position. They undoubtedly walked with a little more swagger and sat a little taller in the saddle after this assignment.
The Army left Sioux City mid June and moved toward Yankton, Dakota Territory, where practically all South Dakotans resided because of the killings. It was not safe to be at their habitations. Not until 1865 did they start to return knowing most renegades were west of the Missouri River.
The Army continued on to Fort Randall and then to Fort Pierre reaching the latter about August 10th. Supplies were low and a barge was expected to be waiting for them. However, the river was also low and the barge was way behind schedule. Fort Pierre had been in existence since before 1850 and many Native Americans lived in the vicinity as was customary at most forts in that period. Gen. Sully opted to move further north, to the confluence of the Cheyenne River, and there build a new fort to be called Fort Sully. Gen. Sully's orders were to meet up with Gen. Sibley of the Minnesota Command to cut the retreat of the Indians. However, Gen. Sibley engaged in many small skirmishes and had reached the Missouri River by the end of July. Waiting for Gen. Sully for a week or so, he turned his forces eastward and returned to Minnesota before his supplies ran out. There was no communication of this to Gen. Sully, so Gen. Sully proceeded with the original orders. This was to proceed up the Missouri River and thence toward the Devil's Lake area thus forming the jaw of the pincher.
Gen. Sully's provisions finally arrived at Fort Sully, and about August 26th they proceeded northeasterly with summer supplies only. A trooper recalled it being close to 120 F followed by a hail storm which froze their tents in the morning. Gen. Sully said this was the worst storm he ever engaged. Some animals were killed by the hailstones. The command was in chaos trying to escape the beating stones.
Word came of a large gathering of the enemy near the James River. The General proceeded toward that place. At the "point" was a company of the 2nd Nebraska or the 6th Iowa. Next came the General and Company I with some of the headquarters staff. Following them was the artillery battery and all the wagons in double file. Then the ambulance and finally the rear guard company. This whole line was flanked with the 2nd Nebraska on the right and the 6th Iowa on the left. Around noon on Sept. 3rd, the command went into camp mode, picketed the horses, prepared dinner, and began eating.
Major House of the 6th Iowa in the meantime was on a scouting assignment searching for the enemy. He had a few hundred troopers with him. He spotted the enemy camp and sent word to Gen. Sully and mounted an attack. As the attackers came around the hill, Major House could see the desperate situation he put his command in. There were hundreds and hundreds of the enemy in front of him. Discretion being the better part of valor, he proceeded to parlay with the chiefs until reinforcements arrived. The braves painted their faces for battle as the women took down the tepees and prepared to withdraw.
Back at the camp where the Unit was eating, the runner from Major House came galloping in. Shortly "boots and saddles" was sounded with word to "cut sabers", take only guns and ammunition and form up quickly. Off they charged with the 6th Iowa on the left, the 2nd Nebraska on the right, and Company I with Gen. Sully leading the charge. It took them about an hour to cover the twelve miles arriving about 4:00 in the afternoon. The 6th Iowa took the hill on the left, the 2nd Nebraska the hill on the right, and Company I charged the middle and bullets began flying. Many of both human and animals fell dead or wounded. It wasn't until the howitzers began firing did the enemy retreat with the soldiers after them. Finally at dark the carnage stopped. The troopers laid on the ground until morning having to listen to the moaning of the wounded and dying. Men and women, children, dogs and horses. The sound was indescribable and never forgotten by the participants.
September 4th was spent aiding the children and wounded as well as destroying all remnants of the Indian camp. On the 5th the command started for Fort Pierre but were attacked and a small skirmish ensued. However, it didn't last long and the command resumed the march toward the Missouri River. This "Battle of Whitestone Hill" ended hostilities between the Whites and Indians of any magnitude east of the Missouri River.
The rest of this year was spent finishing the fort, going on patrol, and laying in provisions for the long winter ahead in Fort Sully. Parts of the command garrisoned the northern forts and the rest returned to Ft. Randall, Yankton, Camp Cook in Sioux City to spend the winter. Part of Company I went on to Spirit Lake and the 2nd Nebraska proceeded to Omaha where it was mustered out as their enlistment was up.
1864 It was not until spring that the command was able to leave Sioux City and proceed to Fort Sully. Again it was Gen. Pope's plan for 2500 men under Sully to engage the Sioux in battle. Infantry from Minnesota were sent to the Missouri to meet up with Sully's command. They were to man strong forts along the river. They met June 30th at the mouth of Burdoch Creek and marched north along the Missouri River arriving at the mouth of the Cannonball River on July 7th. Here they built Fort Rice which took until July 26th. The majority of hostile Indians, 5000 to 6000, had moved to the Little Missouri River about 200 miles northwest of Fort Rice. Gen. Sully's command left the fort and met up with the Indians. He tried talking to their chiefs but had no success. General Sully's forces engaged in a heated skirmish which only ended under a barrage of howitzer and long range firearms. The Indians had no such weapons so scattered. This was called the Battle of Killdeer Mountain located near what now is Killdeer, North Dakota.
The command continued northwest until it reached the Yellowstone River and then down to Fort Union at the junction of the Missouri River arriving about August 19th. Letters of a little later march in this vicinity will give us an idea of the hardships faced by these troopers. New youngsters now knew why the older troopers let their beard and mustache grow. The Dakota sun could burn the skin right off. That was the reason, also, for the wide-brimmed hat.
"Crossing the alkali flats, the horses churned up billows of white powder that stuck to the sweating faces of the men and burned. At a shallow pond left by a recent storm, where the command stopped to rest, the air was filled with the braying of the tortured mules--thirsty, sore-backed, their fetlocks bloodied by prickly pear," a trooper wrote. Horses faired no better. Rattlesnakes were always a problem. The ground had to be pounded to scare the snakes before tents could go up. Boots had to be checked in the morning before putting them on or there may not be room for the foot. Ride a while, walk awhile to rest the horses. Grasshoppers flying up in your face from the tall grass. And if there was no wind, you could feel the trickle of sweat running down your shirt both front and back.
Noon breaks were hardtack, dried bacon or jerky, and water. Don't run out of water in the afternoon as it may be a long time to fresh water that evening. Some of those shortcuts weren't as short as hoped.
At first you worried about ambush. As the days wore on, that became lost in the whirl of thoughts of home with its soft bed, dry conditions during the storms, being called dad again, and, of course, being with your beloved spouse or parents. The routine of Army life just a thing of the past. You think to yourself, how did I get a thousand miles from home? I enlisted to protect my family in Northwest Iowa. But here I am. So I'll make the best of it and do whatever is asked of me.
The command reached Ft. Berthold on August 29th. Company G of the 6th Iowa will stay the winter under command of Captain Moreland. As the command moved south toward Ft. Rice, word was received on Sept. 8th that a wagon train commanded by Captain Fisk from Minnesota was under attack near the Heart River. Col. Dill and 600 troopers were sent to the rescue. The Fisk command returned safely to Ft. Rice meeting the main command on its way south. Next stop was Ft. Sully, then Ft. Pierre, and finally Ft. Randall. Company K,L, and M of the 7th Iowa to spend the winter there under Col. Pattee. General Sully with Company I, 6th Iowa, and Dakota A and B returned to Yankton and Camp Cook at Sioux City. It is November, 1864. Company I's three  year enlistment is up. Most will be discharged. Those joining in 1863 will be assigned to new companies. The Sioux City Cavalry, now Company I, 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, is mustered out, it is history. May they rest in Peace.
The upper Midwest owes these volunteer troopers a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made to bring stability to the region. There were 94 original troopers in the Sioux City Cavalry. Seven more joined them in 1863. None were killed in the line of duty. One died in May 1863 before they became Company I. Seven were discharged because of disability. One resigned. One was AWOL. Six re-enlisted Nov. 1864 at muster.
The battle of Whitestone Hill and Killdeer Mountain did not end hostilities between the Indians and Whites as history shows. However, it was the last encounter of any significance east of the Missouri River and in the upper Midwest. A well kept North Dakota State Park now sits at Whitestone Hill, about 20 miles northwest of Ellendale and the Killdeer Mt. Battlefield has a North Dakota Historical Marker, north of Killdeer, ND.