The following report was written by trooper Z.T. Mullin and read at the dedication of the Whitestone Hill Battlefield:
I remember very distinctly the event which we are gathered here to commemorate. Although a beardless boy only sixteen years of age at that time, I was a private in Company L of the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry. The expedition, which was composed of the 6th Iowa Cavalry, the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry, one Company of the 7th Iowa Cavalry [Company I], and one company of Artillery, after a march along the Missouri River from Omaha to old Fort Pierre, arrived the latter place about August 10th. Near this frontier post we built Fort Sully, named after General Sully, who was in command of the expedition. Leaving there about August 25th the command took a north-easterly direction, with Devils Lake as the objective point, where the Indians in large numbers were supposed to be. Between Fort Sully and the place where we now stand no house or other sign of civilization was seen. In fact there was no settlement between Yankton, a village of about one thousand inhabitants and Fort Pierre, excepting Bon Homme, a boat landing and Tacketts Station, and Fort Randallo. Between Fort Pierre and this place the only things seen were vast herds of buffalo and antelope. The country was a vast uninhabited desert, and buffalo grass the only vegetation . I t was barren and unpromising and little did one realize the great fertility of the soil and the wonderful development to come.
After marching several days, the scouts came in one evening and reported that the camp fires of the Indians were to seen to the west of us on the Missouri River. The scouting party was called for to start in the morning at daylight. Two men from each of the twenty companies of the command composed this party. I was one of the number volunteering. An all day ride of fifty miles brought us to the bottom lands of the river, which was yet two miles distant. We set camp on a small stream, the name of which I do not recall, expecting to find the enemy in the morning. The next morning we marched down to the timber which fringed the river bank; but no Indians were to be found. Our forced march was all in vain. Our steps were retraced. Arriving at Goose Creek, as I recall it, the starting place of the day before, to find that the command had moved on a short distance in an easterly direction.
I had suffered greatly all day from the heat and the too hearty indulgence in buffalo meat, and was unable to proceed further that day. The Lieutenant in command left several men with me, and with the balance of the scouting party proceeded to overtake the command, promising to send back an ambulance in the morning for me. About eleven o'clock the next day the ambulance arrived, and it was, I assure you, joyously welcomed, as I was unable to ride my horse, and as it was "in the air" that we were in "Indians' country." I did not, with my small squad of men, care to be detached so completely from the main body of the army. We came to them the next day. I rode in the ambulance another day. Then on September 3rd, I was able to ride my horse.
We went into camp about 2 o'clock. The horses had been picketed out to grass, the cooks were preparing dinner-buffalo chips being used for fuel-when suddenly a bugle sounded, the order was: "Every man to his horse, cut his saber, and take only his revolvers and gun." It required but a brief period and all was ready for the wild race of twelve miles, to where the Indians,-estimated at four thousand in number-had been discovered by the scouts of that day. They had struck their teepees-eight hundred altogether-and formed a hollow square in the valley where we are now congregated, their provisions, camp equipment, their teepees, dogs, and all their belongings , the warriors being placed on the outside, evidently awaiting the attack.
The sixth Iowa Cavalry formed on one side of this valley; our regiment, the second Nebraska Cavalry, on the other. It was near sunset, and after a period of waiting, the order to fire was given and the battle was on. The Indians evidently had many U.S. Army guns, captured the year before in Minnesota. The battle lasted until sometime after dark, when the Indians cut their way through one of the companies of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry, killing, as I recall it, about thirty of the soldiers of that Regiment. They escaped, taking with them their dead warriors, leaving their squaws, papooses and all their camp equipment and provisions on the field, where they were found the next morning in great confusion. Many dead and wounded Indian women and children, may dogs and ponies, and the many dead soldiers, was the view before us the next morning at daylight. The night was one of pandemonium. With the barking of the dogs, the neighing of the ponies, the wailing of squaws and children in the black darkness of the night will never be forgotten.
We withdrew from the field after some time and laid on our arms all night. The shooting of the dogs by the pickets, which in many cases were supposed to be Indians prowling about, prevented any one from sleeping. We were called out several times during the night, supposing the Indians were attacking. They, however, did not attack in force that night, nor did they make a serious demonstration until two days later, on the 5th.
It is useless to speak of the privations, anxiety, that we experienced for several days, nor of the pathetic scenes that followed.
The following letter was written by Trooper F.E. Caldwell of Fort Creek, NE.
Yours of January 2nd received and contents noted. The battle of Whitestone Hill was fought on the third day of September, 1863, The troops engaged were commanded by General Alfred Sully and consisted of the Second Nebraska Cavalry by Colonel Robert Furniss, Sixth Iowa Cavalry by Colonel Wilson, a battalion of Cavalry raised in and about Sioux City[Sioux City Cavalry], and a battery of four twelve-pound guns. Cannot call to memory what the battery was called, but I think the artillerists were detailed from the other regiments and commanded by Lieutenant Krume. The Indians were the same that butchered the inhabitants of New Ulm, Minn., led by Chief Little Crow.
We joined the Sixth Iowa at Sioux City and left that place sometime in June, and marched up the Missouri river to Crow Creek, where we stopped several weeks, and then went on to the mouth of the Sheyenne river and there left the river and went towards Devils lake, where we were told the Indians were in force. At Fort Pierre we engaged a guide. The Frenchman we hired was Frank LaFramboise, but the real guide was a full blooded Indian called Fool Dog. At fort Pierre we were ordered to go in light marching order. Did not carry much, but rations and ammunition. Left our overcoats and took one blanket and dog tents, and suffered with the cold. At the mouth of the Sheyenne one day at noon the thermometer registered 120 in the shade. That afternoon there was a hail storm and the next morning our dog tents were frozen solid. We went on and when we reached the Jim river we came to the buffalo country , and there were thousands of them. Soon we struck signs of Indians. Struck trails, found small camping places, carcasses of buffalo with the meat stripped from the bones. We kept on going several days. In the meantime scouts to locate the Indians were sent out, and a reward offered to the one that first brought the news.
We had camped for noon and picketed our horses, eaten our dinners, when a horseman was seen coming like the wind, and rushed to headquarters. In an instant the bugler blew, boots and saddles, and in just eighteen minutes we were in line. One battalion was left with train. General Sully rode down the line on his iron gray horse (it was a saying when the iron gray comes out look for trouble). Boys you did d--d well. Fours to the right march. Trot march, and we were soon on a run, and we made that twelve miles in about an hour. We came on the Indians. They were warned of our coming, and were preparing to move or fight. Our regiment rode to the right of them and the Sixth Iowa to the left. We were dismounted and fought for one good hour. The bullets flew like hail and the yelling and screaming, it seemed to me was the most terrible that ever racked human ears. A number of our men were killed, more wounded, and we began to think our scalps were in danger, for the Red skins far outnumbered us, and were as well armed. When the battery came, unlimbered and began to pour it in to them about the fourth shot they broke and ran. Part of them ran right through the Sixth Iowa and stampeded the horses and some of the men were killed.
The Indians scattered in all directions. We mounted and followed them some distance. Night came on and we halted, formed a hollow square and laid on our arms until daylight. Here we made a mistake. We should have gone back to the battle ground where our dead and wounded lay. In the night some of the Indians returned to the battle field chopped our wounded and dead and scalped them, and carried off their own dead. Thirty of theirs were piled and covered with stones and rubbish. Our wounded were killed with arrows. In some cases the missiles were clear through them. When we returned to the battle field at daylight it was a sight I do not care to see again. Tepees, some standing, some torn down, some squaws that were dead, some that were wounded and still alive, young children of all ages from young infants to 8 or 10 years old, who had lost their parents, dead soldiers, dead Indians, dead horses, hundreds of dogs howling for their masters. Some of the dogs were packed with small poles fastened to a collar and dragging behind them. On the poles was a platform on which all kinds of articles were fastened on--in one instance a young baby. The first thing General Sully did was to care for these children. We gathered about sixty of them. We had captured about 150 prisoners, both bucks and squaws, and the children were turned over to them. Sully ordered all the property destroyed, tepees, buffalo skins, and all their things, including tons and tons of dried buffalo meat and tallow. It was gathered in wagons, piled in a hollow and burned, and the melted tallow ran down that valley in a stream. Hatchets, camp kettles and all things that would sink were thrown into a small lake. He sent troops to scout in force to destroy all scattering Indians he could find, but this was uphill business, for when they found one hid in the grass he would spring up and go to shooting, and was almost sure to kill from one to three men before he was brought down. In two days there were more soldiers than Indians killed.
As we were out of rations, except dried buffalo meat, Sully dispatched a courier to Pierre, to have a steamboat come up the river to the mouth of the Sheyenne with rations. We gathered up or destroyed all our trophies, loaded the little orphans into the government wagons, drove our prisoners and a lot of sore backed ponies and struck for the river as fast as possible. The boat was there and the rations were dealt out to us without stint, and that bacon, coffee and hardtack was food fit for a king. We brought the prisoners down to Fort Pierre, and I suppose they were kept all winter and turned loose in the spring.
This is the history of the battle of Whitestone Hill, as near as I can recollect, after the lapse of nearly 38 years as seen from my point of view. Will close with a few incidence. Lieutenant Krume and a party in overhauling a tepee, an Indian jumped up in their midst and killed two men and wounded another with arrows before he was killed. Two pickets saw what seemed to be one of those dogs howling. They shot it and it was an Indian with between twenty and thirty white women's scalps on his person.